The Iron Giant @ LeedsYoungFilm Festival

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This week has seen the Leeds Young Film Festival in full swing and it has been fantastic.  As well as a great programme of films and events the cost is phenomenally good value.  I bought a family ‘Golden Ticket’ which covered 2 adults and up to 4 kids for any film or event, and there were plenty every day, for …… £40.  Yes that’s right £40 so basically that’s covered me for a week of the Easter holidays and hats off to the organisers for having such an illuminating approach to ticket pricing as it enabled us to get the programme and have a look and plan a great week of film and activities without having to be selective due to cost.  Highlights have included My Neighbour Totoro, The Sparticle Mystery Event and The Odd Life of Timothy Green which I think is one of the most intelligent and emotional children’s films I’ve seen in years and in CJ Adams, the boy who plays Timothy, a real star has been found I think.

However despite all of the great films there was only one that I wanted to make sure I did not miss and that was the Iron Giant, a film I have seen scores of times but never on the big screen.  I wrote a preview for the film over on Culture Vultures and reprise much of that here as it is one of my favourite films and one you really should hunt down if you have not seen it.  The film is brilliantly by Brad Bird (of The Incredibles, Ratatouille and The Simpsons fame) from the Ted Hughes novel (The Iron Man).  Whenever I mention, ok rave, about this film I’m always amazed at the amount of people who have never seen it and indeed on release in 1999 it did not fare well at the box office but it is now rightly regarded as an animation classic and has garnered bucket loads of awards including BAFTA, Hugo Award, Nubela award nomination, 9 Annie Awards and was rated in a poll in 2010 as the 5th greatest animated film of all time.  So why haven’t people seen it?  At the time of it’s ‘failure’ on release Brad Bird criticised Warner Brothers for simply not understanding what they had on their hands, a genuinely intelligent animated film and failing to sell it to audiences.   If you love great cinema, brilliant storytelling, fantastic animation, multi layered intelligent children’s films then you simply must get track down this film and it was, I have to admit, sumptuous to watch it on the big screen for the first time.

Without giving too much away to those who have not seen it, the film tells the story of the friendship between a lonely 11 year old boy (Hogarth) and a giant metal robot that lands on earth.  Whilst there are a number of other themes in the film the key to it is the development of the friendship between Hogarth and the Giant. Who after all did not want a giant robot as a friend when they were a kid?  The giant has a childlike quality to him as he attempts to understand the world that he has landed on and the complexities of human relationships – why would other people be scared of him? – and Hogarth tries to explain the world around him.  Why do we have guns and what do we need them for?  Why do we die? What happens to us when we die? What choices do we make? – Big themes for anyone to get to grips with and one of the most beautiful themes of the film is that last one of choices – You are who you choose to be – as behind the childlike qualities of the giant there also might lurk danger, is he all that he appears to be or could he be dangerous? Are people right to be scared of him? There are elements here for those who know the story of Frankenstein, a creation to be feared or someone misunderstood?

Hogarth gets help to hide the Giant from the Town’s ‘alternative type’ Dean who runs the local scrap yard and is also a sculptor turning the scrap metal into art, something that quite clearly marks him out as an oddball in small town America in the 50’s, as well as his love of jazz and no doubt beatnik authors. Dean, Hogarth and the Giant make a great alliance.  The fact that Brad Bird chose to set the film in 1957 was a masterstroke as it enables the film to reflect on the paranoia at the time, Sputnik had been launched, kids were learning to hide under tables incase of nuclear attack, there was the fear of the Red Menace and this is brought out cleverly in the film.  I can’t help but think Brad is asking the question of America – have we moved on at all ? A government agent is sent out to investigate the reported sightings of the Giant and is determined to make his mark so that he can go back to Washington a hero with a promotion to something bigger.  As a result he has an agenda which will not let him see the Giant for anything else other than a threat and hypes up the possible danger in every report back to headquarters.  How prescient was this as a couple of years after the release real life government agents were exaggerating the threat posed by non existent weapons in the middle east which fed paranoia similar to the Cold War and also triggered an armed reaction.

Mansley (the government agent) tricks the army to attack the Giant – how will he react?  This again loops back to the choices we make – You are who you choose to be – and this triggers a part in the film that never ceases to bring a tear to my eye.  Tim McCanlies (script writer) said that “At a certain point, there are deciding moments when we pick who we want to be and that plays out for the rest of your life” he said that films can provide viewers with a sense of right and wrong and expressed a wish that the film would “make us feel like we’re all part of humanity which is something we need to feel” and that is exactly how this brilliant film makes me feel.

This for me then was a highlight among a week of highlights and thanks must go out to all involved for putting on such a great festival.  For those who have not been to the festival before, make a note in your diary now and get yourself along next year it’s a great way to spend time with your family over the Easter hols.

 

 

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Further Up Yonder – The World from the International Space Station

 

 

So we live our lives dotted around this lump of rock hurtling through space and most of us are so concerned with the minutiae of our own existence we very rarely lift our heads up to consider the wonder and beauty of this rock called home.  I’ll never be able to view it the way that those who have travelled into space have and can only dream and marvel of the privilege experienced by that chosen view.  A glimpse of that experience is captured in this truly extraordinary timelapse video created with pictures from the International Space Station showing the Earth as a place of stunning beauty the like of which I have never seen before. The video, called Further Up Yonder, was made by Italian film student Giacomo Sardelli using Nasa stills. Sardelli calls the film a message from the ISS to all humankind and I found it quite awe inspiring and emotional.

School of Rock

I’ve always found the concept of guilty pleasures a bit of an odd one, after all if there is something you enjoy that does not cause harm to others then what have you got to feel guilty about?  I appreciate that the concept effectively derives from some playground rule of what is cool or not and that you can’t admit to liking something that is not deemed to be cool by the rest of the gang but I was never in the cool gang and I’m sure not in the playground any more so I’m a bit mystified as to why the concept even exists.  I suspect that the film School of Rock may fall under this guilty pleasure but I’ll say here and now I have no guilt in admitting my love for this film and it gives me a huge amount of pleasure.  This is a film that I can almost quote word for word and is a go to film for me whenever I want something to make me feel good.  It is a homage to Rock music in all it’s guises all done with a huge smile – what’s not to love.

When my kids were getting into the whole High School Musical thing and then moving on to Mamma Mia I wanted a good fun film that would feature a different sort of music, rock, and along bolts Jack Black with his Gibson SG.  In the film Jack plays Dewy Finn a “fat washed up loser” who gets kicked out of his band as they want to have a serious tilt at the local Battle of the Bands competition.  Dewy’s been mooching off his best mate Ned (Mike White who wrote the script) but with Ned’s new girlfriend (played by Sarah Silverman) wanting Dewy to shape up and get a proper job so that he can pay his share of the rent Dewy faces a dilemma.  It is suggested that Dewy sell his guitars but as Dewy says “would you ask Picasso to sell his guitars?” and Dewy can’t give up his roll serving society by rocking.  Ned is a substitute/supply teacher (or temp as Dewy calls him) and when Dewy takes a call from head the head of a top private school (Joan Cusack) he decides to pass himself off as Ned to earn some money.

At the school Dewy discovers some musical talent in the class so decides to set up a special school project “Rock Band” where he secretly sculpts the class into a rock band to try and win battle of the bands.  In doing so he has to educate them in Rock during which he uses an amazing Rock Family Tree (see top from the film and below reproduced by Frank Reel Reviews) and of course clips and tracks.  The soundtrack is a real treat including as it does some of the following classics

  • Stay Free – The Clash
  • Touch me – The Doors
  • Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio – Ramones cover of Kiss track
  • Sunshin of Your Love – Cream
  • Back in Black – AC/DC
  • Highway to Hell – AC/DC
  • Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
  • Substitute – The Who
  • My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg) – The Ramones
  • The Wait – Killing Joke cover by Metallica
  • TV Eye – The Stooges
  • Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
  • Ballrooms of Mars – T Rex
  • Mooage Daydream – David Bowie
  • Ride into the Sun – The Velvet Underground
  • Set You Free – The Black Keys
  • Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
  • It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) – AC/DC

AC/DC feature heavily and there are other nods to the band as well in that for the final scene at the gig Dewy dresses in school uniform a la Angus Young and of course plays a Gibson SG throughout, the same axe used by Angus.  At first Dewy is just using the kids but as the project progresses he finds out more about what an influence he can be and the kids start to lose the straightjackets of strict parents and a stricter school.  It is an undeniably feelgood film but one with the spirit of rock running right through it.  Richard Linklater who directed clearly has a passion for the music and managed to find a bunch of seriously talented kids to feed off Jack Black’s humour.  They must have had serious fun making this film.

With regards to the music it is unusual to have a film with a Led Zep track in it as they are notoriously demanding in releasing songs for use but as Jack Black says in the making of the film you can’t have a film about rock without having Zepellin featured so he made a begging video which he sent to the band which you get to see on the DVD.  Hilarious.

So guilty pleasure or not if you like rock in any of it’s guises you should watch this film, if you want an antidote to all the made up manufactured bands and plastic pop that surrounds us, watch this film to see how it should be done.

 Now raise your goblet of rock. It’s a toast to those who rock!

Star Wars Infographic

 

It won’t come as a great surprise that I love star wars.  I appreciate that it’s an incredibly cliched thing but I grew up with them, they are the original and the best and I must have watched them a zillion times over the years and of course my kids have also been indoctrinated and their favourite is Return of the Jedi.  It was great today to come across this great art and design blog and a fantastic collection of infographics of the whole series in chronological order.  They made me smile so if you are a fan then go check these out.

 

 

Brave

So when a new Pixar film is announced there is much eager anticipation in our house (and not just from the younger audience, ahem!) and the trailers have been wetting our appetites for Brave for about a year so it was great to head to the flix to see what the latest wizardry from Pixar would entail.  We all very much enjoyed the film but from my point of view it is not one of Pixar’s best, more Bolt than Monsters Inc and it felt very Disney to me. I’ve no idea what influence Disney have over the animation studio but this film lacked some of the quirkiness, intelligence and surrealness that has been a hallmark of Pixar.  Having said that it is by no means a poor film, after all an average Pixar film is considerably better than most of the children’s films that get produced. 

The story centres on Merida, a fiesty firey red headed celt, who would far rather be out shooting her bow, climbing cliffs, riding her horse and generally have a good time than doing her duty to the clan and becoming the proper princess that her mother is despairingly trying to turn her into so that she can be married off to the most suitable heir from among the other clans.  The scene is therefore set for the age old coming of age, duty and responsibility verses freedom, mother and daughter story that has been played out across the generations since storytelling began.  Can you change your destiny ? 

One of the lovely winks to the history of storytelling in the film is the idea that the myths and legends that are told to Merida, and that the clans uphold, are because they are based on ancient truths which is of course mirrored in the animated storytelling that Pixar specialise in as they look to reflect upon and retell us tales based upon the kernals of truth that have been handed down through the myths, legends, folk and fairytales over the years.

One thing you can guarantee in a Pixar film is the quality of the animation and a special mention must be made of Merida’s hair which is quite incredible and catches the eye in a way I’ve not seen since being astonished by the way the Sulley’s fur moved in Monsters Inc.  In fact if they had spent half the time they had spent on getting the hair right on character development across the whole film then they would have hit gold.  I was also mesmerised by the will o’ the wisp who attempts to guide Merida on the right path as she seeks to change her destiny, they reminded me greatly of the underwater Alien in Abyss – mystical, shifting beings who’s motive you are unsure of the.

So overall the film is good fun, there are plenty of laughs and although the plot loses it’s way a bit it does all come together at the end.  However whisper it but Mulan does this storyline in a much better film.

Hell of the North

A long time ago when I was about half the weight I am now, pre internet and multi channel TV and all the rest of our modern accoutrements, I stormed up the hills of South Wales on a bike put together with various jumbles of kit bought through writing off (then waiting for a long time) before something would eventually get delivered (before breakfast) by the local postie.  In my mind as my skinny legs drove me upwards I was Robert Millar on my way to the polka dot king of the mountains jersey in the Tour de France.  The Tour was about the only race I’d heard of apart from one – Paris Roubaix aka The Hell of the North a place that sounded a million miles away from my South Wales idyll.  Strange pictures of broken men, faces covered in mud and dust was a world away from anything I could imagine riding with the riders looking more as though they’d done a shift down the pits.  In my head the Alps looked no problem but the cobbles of Northern France was never going to be a place for me being a tough place for tough men.  However like a compulsive voyeur, despite my interest in pro cycling fluctuating over the years, Paris-Roubaix is something that I can never take my eyes off and this weekend it will be no different.

Of course when I was younger I thought that its moniker was because of the tough terrain and cobbled roads but later on learnt that it was the description given after riders saw the devastation to the area after riding in the race shortly after World War 1.  For me I think that the trophy is one of the best in sport (a cobblestone)

For detailed history and background to the race then The Inner Ring is your peerless guide, however my favourite thing to rewatch at this time of year is the film A Sunday in Hell which is the bike racing equivalent of the Rumble in the Jungle, an amazing documentary from the 1976 race as the titans of the time Eddie Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Francesco Moser gather to contest the race.  It’s an amazing piece of cinematography and whether you like cycling or not makes for a fascinating documentary.  One thing that always amazes and amuses me about pro racing is the access that journalists have to the protaganists and it was no different back in ’76.  Watch the film and check out where the final interviews take place !

Sit back and enjoy a Sunday in Hell.

Five Truths

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Constantin Stanislavski,  Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook ? Nope me neither and I’m not too hot on my Shakey either so what was I doing after work at Howard Assembly Rooms looking at the Five Truths video / art installation – Getting my head warped that’s what.  On entering the cube where the works are displayed you are assaulted by a dizzying array of images and sounds.  Wrapped around the walls are 10 video screens of differing sizes and I think density of image.  All the screens are showing Ophelia’s mad scene from Hamlet with 2 screens showing an interpretation of the scene for each of Stanislavski, Artaud etc and it took me a while to get my bearings to be honest.  Each film runs for around 10 minutes so you can view the different interpretations of the scene however the way that the screens are orientated meant that for me it was simply impossible to just focus on 2 screens as your eyes or ears would be drawn to an adjoining screen which all added to the feelings of disorientation.

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The adaptations are all striking similar but different at the same time, so while there is dialogue across them the words are often slightly out of sync and in 1 of the screenings a sort of maudlin folk a la PJ Harvey comes warbling out and while the films all start and end at the same time telling the same story they all move at a different paces.

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The same actress wearing the same dress appears in each adaptation and it appears at first glance as though she has been given exactly the same set of objects contained in a clear plastic bag and sat at the same desk.  However as you watch the films small subtle differences emerge so the purse is different, one is holding a phone, one a pebble, one a watch, one has a goldfish bowl but not the others so your sense of similarity and symmetry again gets entangled across the screens.  The whole thing adds up to a striking visual statement, is it art, theatre, cinema, some strange new pop promo video – all are  possibilities.  I drifted into this after work not knowing what to expect and 40 odd minutes of dizzying disorientation later I was left musing again on what art is or can be and how we deal with death and unrequited love.  Stunning stuff.

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