Five LIFF28 Picks - From Funny Vampires to Shin Bet

LIFF time of year is the best time of year! We'll be at the festival again for a smattering of days throughout its sixteen day run. Here are my five picks of things to catch if you're going, or to look out for elsewhere if you're not. Ben's five will be along shortly.

If you've not been to LIFF before then do check out our coverage of LIFF27, where plenty of good films were seen, in amongst attempting to eat most of Leeds' gourmet (or otherwise) food.


Friday 7th November 15:00 @ Everyman Leeds Trinity
Saturday 8th November 17:00 @ Everyman Leeds Trinity

Reconstructions in documentaries rarely sit well with me, but The Green Prince, a documentary about the son of a Hamas founder, Mosab Hassan Yousef, who ends up spying for Shin Bet, is too tantalisingly political to dismiss it on that grounds. That said... I currently can't get it into my schedule.


Saturday 8th November 16:30 @ Vue in the Light
Tuesday 11th November 14:00 @ Vue in the Light

And this is why I can't get The Green Prince into my schedule. The first film I added, I haven't heard a bad word about Timbuktu and have in fact heard many, many positive ones that put it up there as amongst the best of the year. Painting a picture of a locale ruled by religious fundamentalists, this is another one too topical to pass up.



Saturday 8th November 18:30 @ Leeds Town Hall
Monday 10th November 20:30 @ Vue in the Light

Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi become vampires in a Horror-Comedy that, frankly, I really cannot wait for and needs no greater sell than the first half of this sentence.


Friday 14th November 20:30 @ Leeds Town Hall
Saturday 15th November 20:00 @ Hyde Park Picture House

LIFF do a good line in Eastern Action and this from South Korea looks a good bet to deliver the goods this year. A police officer covers up his murderous mistake by burying the body in his mother's coffin, leading to an investigation by his own partner.


Friday 14th November 15:30 @ Leeds Town Hall
Sunday 16th November 15:00 @ Cottage Road Cinema

Also know as 'The Ghibli Documentary', this is by all accounts a lovely look inside the world of the famed Japanese animation studio.


The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Super Mario Bros. - Blu-ray Review

'Elements of the games are awkwardly woven into the confused narrative, only to then be altered to the point of being unrecognisable'.

It's almost impossible now to objectively review Super Mario Bros. considering the abysmal reputation it has developed over the twenty-odd years since its release. It's not just popular and critical opinion that has continued to go against the film; three of the stars - Bob Hoskins, Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo - have since publicly lambasted the film, with Hoskins even going as far as saying Super Mario Bros. was the one thing he would go back and remove from his career if he had the power to do so.

But is this really a film which deserves such outright hate? Whilst they certainly crafted a film with numerous problems (I'll come to those in a minute), there's also evidence that, initially at least, co-directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel simply wanted to tell an entertaining action fantasy story. There's undeniable imagination - however misplaced it may end up - in the way the world of the film is realised, and arguably nothing here which could be considered offensive (well, unless you're a Nintendo fan - again, I'll get to that later). The opening twenty minutes or so of the film genuinely hold promise, with brothers Mario (Hoskins) and Luigi (Leguizamo) introduced nicely within a perfectly acceptable family-friendly take on Brooklyn.

Then we come to the problems, too sizeable and significant to ignore. Around the time that the Mario Brothers follow Luigi's kidnapped date Daisy (Samantha Mathis) through a portal to a parallel dimension ruled by reptilian dictator King Koopa (Hopper), the film dissipates any potential for success it may have held through a plot too meandering, convoluted and ludicrous to work. Tonally the film is all over the place, Morton and Jankel clearly unsure of (or in disagreement over?) who they are actually making their film for. The action consistently feels targeted squarely at kids, whereas the characters and settings feel more like attempts at gritty real-world versions of their video game counterparts designed for an older audience. The script flip-flops uncontrollably between the two, resulting in an alienating, indecipherable mess.

Perhaps, however, the answer to why Super Mario Bros. is so loathed by many is its treatment of the beloved Nintendo franchise it takes as its creative base. There are numerous references to the Mario game franchise throughout the film, from character names to music and sound effects, but those that actually bear any resemblance to their appearance in the video game can be counted on one hand. So the Goombas go from sentient mushrooms to shrunken-headed dinosaur-men; Yoshi becomes a reject from Jurassic Park; and Luigi doesn't even have a moustache. The fact that elements of the games are awkwardly woven into the confused narrative, only to then be altered to the point of being unrecognisable, just feels like a slap in the face to Nintendo fans - who undoubtedly should have been the film's primary audience.

Even if you've never played a Mario game, however, Super Mario Bros. is ultimately a tedious experience that ends up dawdling from one poorly-judged scenario to the next. There is imagination within the film, but it so rarely manages to evidence itself under the mountain of poor choices piled high upon it.




Super Mario Bros. is available on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 3rd November 2014.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Muppets Most Wanted - DVD Review

'Aside from Kermit, Miss Piggy and recent addition Walter, most of the troupe feel disappointingly underutilised, making this two films on the trot for several Muppet favourites'.

In their usual meta style during the opening number of Muppets Most Wanted, The Muppets musically inform us that "everybody knows the sequel's never quite as good". A knowing reference, of course, to as many follow-up films as you care to mention, as well as wry self-deprecation of this film, the sequel to 2011's The Muppets. In the end, however, it's a joke which ends up as something of a self-fulfilling prophecy for returning director James Bobin, as Muppets Most Wanted struggles to achieve the satisfying levels of entertainment provided by the previous film.

Where Muppets Most Wanted does at times come close to equalling its precursor, however, is through its musical numbers. Bret McKenzie is once again on songwriting duty, providing several catchy tunes that for the most part end up as the film's highlights. Particularly entertaining are the aforementioned opening song - aptly titled "We're Doing A Sequel" - as well as "The Big House", performed by Siberian Gulag prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey) and her inmates, and "I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo In Malibu)", sung by Kermit's nefarious doppelgänger Constantine. That said, there's nothing here to truly match the brilliance of The Muppets' "Life's A Happy Song" or the Oscar-winning "Man Or Muppet". At the opposite end of the scale, Miss Piggy's "Something So Right" clearly wants to replicate the sentiment of the previous film's endearing "Pictures In My Head", but ends up just feeling too bland and humourless.

Away from the music, Muppets Most Wanted hits the mark about as often as it comes up short. The main plot - Constantine replaces Kermit whilst the Muppet head honcho is mistakenly thrown in prison - provides a fairly decent caper for the film to base itself around, even if it is shamelessly episodic with occasional strong echoes of previous Muppet films The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan. Constantine proves an entertaining villain, and even Ricky Gervais as his evil sidekick Dominic posing as The Muppets' new manager just about succeeds in keeping his ever-expanding ego in check. Regularly stealing the film, however, are agents Sam The Eagle of the CIA and Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) of Interpol, a duo who play off each other well and provide many of the biggest laughs. And, as with any Muppet film, there is fun to be had spotting the many, many big name cameos.

What lets Muppets Most Wanted down the most, however, is its treatment of the puppet stars themselves. Aside from Kermit, Miss Piggy and recent addition Walter, most of the troupe feel disappointingly underutilised, making this two films on the trot for several Muppet favourites. The successful efforts put into making The Muppets seem relevant over a decade after their last feature film without rebooting them as such in The Muppets are largely squandered here, with Bobin regularly falling back on some very familiar and safe characterisation and ideas.

Bobin's second Muppet film is ultimately an entertaining watch, even if the early tongue-in-cheek sentiment that sequels rarely match up to the original films is arguably proven to be true in this case. But there's a definite feeling throughout that it wouldn't have take a great deal more effort or ambition behind the scenes to move Muppets Most Wanted closer in quality to its predecessor.



By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Justified: Season One - Online Review

The battle within the Crowders and the battle between they and Raylan ends up on pretty level terms in terms of intrigue with Raylan's personal life'

For anyone who saw and paid attention to 1999's Go - a brilliant and lurid depiction of the 1990s drug and party culture - it was pretty clear that Timothy Olyphant was going to do... something. Quite what that was, considering he plays an ultra-relaxed, perma-topless, high-ish level drug dealer might not have been as clear. You could just have easily have seen him turn into full time Calvin Klein model and tabloid darling, as speak to an animated Chameleon, playing the ethereal part of The Spirit Of The West.

With Justified though, which again sees Olyphant playing a character fairly often at a loss to locate his shirt, it finally all fits exactly what he should be doing. He should be doing this.

Olyphant is perfect as Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens, a man introduced to us carrying out the titular 'justified' murder by giving a known member of a drug cartel 24 hours to leave Miami. When he doesn't, Raylan sits down to dinner with him before promptly shooting him when the drugs lord attempts to kill Raylan first. Duly sanctioned with a forced return to his native Kentucky, and the areas around Harlan County, Raylan's boss-bothering exploits don't quite get as dramatic as that for the rest of the series, particularly seeing as his new boss is the humorously cantankerous Art (Nick Searcy), but the scene has been set for an anti-hero story with a protagonist rebellious enough to root for.

The rest of series one plays out as an odd battle between Raylan and 'reforming' neo-Nazi Boyd Crowder (a compelling Walton Goggins) and a more-intriguing-than-it-has-any-right-to-be love square between Raylan, ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), her current husband Gary (William Ragsdale) and the girl who always liked Raylan back in High School, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), none other than Boyd's sister-in-law, who happens to have just killed her husband. The battle within the Crowders and the battle between they and Raylan ends up on pretty level terms in terms of intrigue with Raylan's personal life, especially given later episodes which see him getting more closely involved to the goings on in Gary's business, as Raylan's estranged father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) also gets prominently introduced. Quite why however, it is accepted as relatively normal that Raylan breaks into Gary and Winona's house at the beginning of the series is anyone's guess.

Like most series that go for a mixture of overall plot movement and a smattering of stand alone episodes, Justified is a show that suffers a handful of peaks and troughs. An early episode about a prison break is pretty weak and has little to contribute, ditto a very cheaply staged hostage situation, whilst Boyd becomes much more interesting when he stops being a neo-Nazi and starts being something arguably even more threatening. It's testament to Goggins that you can never quite tell how truly mad or deliberately obtuse he's being - and sometimes, how much he really wants to help Raylan - and showrunner Graham Yost isn't afraid to make him human too, something emphasised in the series' final episodes, where Justified shows that, in Crowder patriarch Bo (M.C. Gainey), it has a bit more violent bite and criminal conviction than your average toned-down cop show.




Justified is currently streaming on Netflix.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Blacula: The Complete Collection - Blu-ray Review

 'A pair of films that survive as a curiosity from a cinematic time gone by, likely to now be of genuine interest only to genre enthusiasts'.

As part of the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s, both Blacula and its sequel, Scream Blacula Scream, by definition are low budget features that cannot rely on the intricate and expensive special effects of many other entries into the horror genre. Judging either film on their decidedly rough and ready feel seems both unfair and unwilling to enter into the spirit of the genre. The key question which must be asked of both films is whether they manage to do enough to get away with their cut-price execution.

Unfortunately, in the case of the original Blacula, the answer ultimately has to be "no". After a somewhat promising opening sequence set in 18th Century Transylvania and featuring Count Dracula (Charles Macauley) himself, screenwriters Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres fail to introduce a focused narrative for Blacula (William Marshall), or Mamuwalde as he's more often called in the film, to follow once he is awoken in 1970s America. A thin plot in which Mamuwalde believes Tina (Vonetta McGee), a friend of one of his first victims, is the reincarnation of his wife from the 1700s never convinces.

A parallel plot focused upon Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) investigating the deaths of Mamuwalde's victims - coming up with a vampire theory alarmingly quickly for a man of science - also fails to generate much interest, feeling like a drawn out supernatural episode of Quincy, M.E. The horror sequences are consistently underwhelming, and each victim's death feels fairly obvious after being signposted for at least a good few minutes before they bite the dust. The performances are largely amateurish, with only Marshall and Rasulala managing to impress. Even the blaxploitation element feels like something of an afterthought, making Marshall's black spin on Bram Stoker's infamous vampire disappointingly feel like little more than a gimmick.

Scream Blacula Scream, originally released less than twelve months after Blacula, is thankfully an improvement upon the first film in several ways. The plot here, in which Mamuwalde becomes involved in the power struggle within a voodoo cult, provides a considerably more satisfying level of focus throughout the film. The cast too is stronger overall: Marshall improves upon his strong performance in Blacula, and Pam Grier in a central role as a young voodoo queen gives a memorable turn. The horror elements are also better, although still providing campy entertainment rather than anything genuinely scary. There's even some attempt to delve deeper into Mamuwalde's character, exploring whether he is truly evil; whilst it's a thread which fails as often as it succeeds, the effort is admirable. Although as a whole it still feels a bit too thinly spread across its ninety-five minute running time, Scream Blacula Scream is undoubtedly the superior of the two films.

Evaluating the Blacula franchise as a whole, whilst the second film does something to raise the bar after the mediocrity of the first, this is ultimately a pair of films that survive as a curiosity from a cinematic time gone by, likely to now be of genuine interest only to genre enthusiasts. Marshall's performance as the titular vampire is the strongest element of both films, and there are isolated parts within both the original film and its sequel which are undeniably entertaining. In the end, however, the Blacula franchise adds very little to vampire mythology - providing the cheap novelty cinema that the exploitation genre is built upon, but never managing to surpass that.


Blacula
 
Scream Blacula Scream

Blacula: The Complete Collection is available on UK Blu-ray from Monday 27th October 2014.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Trailer Of The Week - The Gambler

Pretty much everything I know about The Gambler comes from the teaser trailer released this week. But with Mark Wahlberg seemingly on form, and John Goodman as dominant on screen during the trailer's seventy-one seconds as he has ever been, this definitely has the potential for excellence. Before you click play, be aware that this is a red band trailer, as Goodman says a certain word beginning with "F" more than a few times throughout.



By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Calvary - Blu-ray Review

'It is difficult to think of more ways to give a nation a thorough kicking than McDonagh manages here, and yet, come the finale, there is a level of willingness to move on. 'Forgiveness', Father James tells us, 'has been highly underrated'.'

Fulfilling the promise of The Guard, Calvary, John Michael McDonagh's second film, sees the director move out of the 'one to watch' category and firmly into the 'must be watched' pigeon hole. A state of the nation address as angry as it is slyly optimistic, McDonagh's searing film is attention-grabbing, shocking and laugh out loud funny in equal measure. It delivers a eulogy for Ireland past and wishes for Ireland future: asking as much for forgiveness as it does demand a 21st Century chance.

At McDonagh's nation's centre there sits, of course, a priest: Brendan Gleeson's Father James, a man who seems lost in an Ireland presented from the very start as a typical, picturebook rendering. Celtic music plays over the opening, as we glide over emerald hills and dramatic beach fronts.

The director though is quick to reveal something rotten at the angelic core. In a bravura opening scene, the camera stays fixed to Gleeson's face as a parishoner uses the sanctity of the confessional box to inform James that he is going to kill him for the church's past ills. The hidden diatribe feels like a metaphor for the rest of the film, and for the inhabitants of James' village, who slowly reveal themselves to be rather like the inhabitants of The Village Of The (Morally) Damned. Aidan Gillen is a searingly cynical atheist doctor. The barman (Pat Shortt) would not look out of place in Royston Vasey.

To rub salt into the wounds of where Ireland has got to, backed of course by the actions of the priesthood, the only other character that shares Father James level of honour and honesty is an outsider: Marie-Josée Croze as a French traveller who comes to this land and is promptly injured in a crash involving drunk locals. It is difficult to think of more ways to give a nation a thorough kicking than McDonagh manages here, and yet, come the finale, there is a level of willingness to move on. 'Forgiveness', Father James tells us, 'has been highly underrated'.

Whilst McDonagh is administering his country-wide beating, the director's exemplary script, surely one of the best of the year, plays out as small stand alone interactions that both contribute to the state of the nation address and work as miniature sketches. The irreverent humour of The Guard is back ('she was either bipolar or lactose intolerant. One of the two') now mixed in with laughs that push issues. 'I don't think Sligo is too high on Al Queda's agenda', James tells army-wannabe Milo (Killian Scott). The threat is, of course, much closer.

The film is McDonagh's - there's a great deal of directorial control here - but that doesn't mean other areas should not be praised. Patrick Cassidy's Celtic-inflected score is beautiful. Gleeson, a reliable presence for some time now, is predictably excellent. In support, Kelly Reilly pushes herself closer to genuine leading lady contention, whilst Gillen is still one of the most beguiling, interesting performers going.

This is McDonagh's picture though. You could call it a calling card, but only if calling cards now come in metre high versions, capable of knocking you out with a wild flail of tempered cardboard. On every level, a superb film.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.