No/Gloss Film Festival 2014 Preview

   As a Bradfordian, it often pains me to give Leeds credit for anything. Alas, when it comes to film, the city has got it nailed on. Not content with inventing the medium, Leeds also boasts the coolest social cinema in the country, an International Film Festival which has managed to secure future Oscar winning pictures with recurring effect and, not least, Neville Longbottom.

   For the last couple of years too, however, the city has also been able to add another unique event to its cinematic calendar. No/Gloss Film Festival, which returns for its third outing in October, is a two day celebration of the best of DIY film-making from around the world; a showcase of the unconventional and underground movies made as the antithesis of the mainstream.

   The movies themselves, spanning the globe, are not connected by any theme or form and shorts, features, documentaries, animations, music videos and experimental images all sit side by side in the line-up. The one bond that each film has in common with one another is that they are created "free from the restrictions of corporate expectations and the clich├ęd, glitzy superficiality we have come to associate the (movie) industry with".

    The 2014 edition, taking place on the 11-12th October at Templeworks, has begun to fill-up with announcements for titles which will be on display at the festival and looks as diverse as ever. Early Bird tickets for the festival are available here (for just £12!) now - for regular updates be sure to like No/Gloss on Facebook and follow them on Twitter too.

   Whilst the full line-up will be available in August, stand-out titles so far include:

Strong Coffee With Vodka

   An absurdist short German comedy, backed with Balkan beats, is a three handed tale of a doormat waiter, a tyrannical boss and a sadistic soy-loving customer who seems to take pleasure in causing pain to her server. Looks set to be an off-kilter and bizarre treat.

El Espejo Humano

  Shot in black and white, the eerie-feeling trailer showcases an apparent true story of a 17 year old-girl struck with social anxieties. With hardly any contact with the outside world, the only thing able to prepare her for the horrors of society are the ugly images which appear on her television.

Ehi Muso Giallo

   Another creepy-feeling European selection. Ehi Muso Giallo, a title which makes references to the art-horror genre popularised in 1970s Italy, tells the tale of a man who awakens to find himself bound and captive with no recollections of how he got there. A duo of torturers, whom the man despises as immigrants, help him reconstruct the events - it soon becomes clear that someone will have to die for the situation to end.

The Princess Bride: An Underrated Classic

   A tale of swashbuckling pirates, rodents of unusual size, cunning Sicilians, murder, torture, chases, blood-thirsty vengeance. And, perhaps more than anything, a story of love, true love. The undying romance of souls entwined in destiny and the deep emotions shared between an ill child and his infinitely patient grandparent. The Princess Bride is each of these and, unbelievably, so much more.

   The film's title is taken from a lengthy tome which a young child, wrapped up in bed and ill, has read to him by his grandfather. Sure, there's kissing involved, but, they agree, perhaps they can skip past those parts and just focus on the exciting bits, the parts with giants and electric eels, the cliffs of insanity and duels to the death. Maybe the book is not as soppy as the title sounds?

   As we settle down to listen to the grandfather's recital, a role sculpted by the immense charisma of Peter Falk, our cynicism melts away as we're presented with a fairytale as enchantingly sincere as one can imagine.

   We're introduced to Buttercup (Robin Wright), a young and beautiful woman who lives on a farm in the country of Florin. She is served by shy and unwavering  farm boy who happily obeys her every command with a content "As you wish". Buttercup realises the subtext of the farm boy's words and deeds - he loves her and, to her surprise, her heart reciprocates the same feelings too.Tragedy strikes, however, when Westley (Carey Elwes) leaves to find a fortune so they can marry - his boat is hijacked by the legendarily merciless Dread Pirate Roberts. There are no conceivable reasons as to why an anonymous farm boy should be shown clemency by a pirate known to leave behind no survivors.

   Buttercup, heartbroken and alone, prepares for a life without Westley. Five years pass with no sign of her one and true love returning so, against her better wishes, Buttercup agrees to marry the oleaginous Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). Little does she know, however, her new relationship puts her in grave danger and she is kidnapped by a trio of outlaws - Sicilian mastermind Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a Greelandic giant named Fezzik (Andre the Giant), and a Spanish fencer Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) who seeks nothing less than brutal vengeance upon the six-fingered man who slayed his father.

   Humperdink and his army set sail after the boat manned by the outlaws and heading towards the cliffs of insanity. As does a masked man dressed entirely in black. Buttercup fears for her safety and looks to jump into the ocean to escape - she is warned of the shrieking eels which live under the waves and grow louder in sound as they prepare to dine on human flesh. The grandson (Fred Savage) believes this bit to be too scary and asks to skip this part. Will Buttercup survive? Why have the trio kidnapped her? Will Montoya get to live his dream and say the words: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die"? And who, exactly, is the man in black?

   Rob Reiner directs the film with knowing austerity leaving the flair to the actors who grace the screens and to William Goldman's incredible script. We witness a back and forth sword fight in a duel as exciting as anything put on the big screen since Douglas Fairbanks; Wallace Shawn's vocal turn is a delirious and hilariously energetic masterclass in verbal communication; we care deeply for each character and their fate as, little by little, each twist and turn is plotted out in front of us. We may finally get the ending we were expecting but it is delivered to us in a manner we may not have ever expected.

   There's a lot going on beneath the surfaces, something many have (incorrectly) read as being a spoof or parody of the fantastical form - a bizarre reading of one of the most sincere films to have ever come to life in American cinema history. As Inigo Montoya faces death, believing to have failed his father by not inflicting vengeance in his name and honour, the Spaniard's response is heart-breaking in its brevity: "Kill me quickly".

   Hatred and sorrow have consumed Montoya's heart and come to define him yet, in this moment, he is rendered impotent and useless - was his life really so worthless? His head hangs low, ashamed and overcome with profound grief. Its a fleeting, subtle moment but one which is much closer to high art than cynical satire. It is impossible to imagine a heart so cold as to not be moved infinitely and forever when Montoya comes face to face with the six-fingered man he has been pursuing his entire life. Mandy Patinkin, in the role for which he will forever be associated, brings unspeakable pathos, wit and warmth to a character who will be eternally cherished by those fall head over heels in love with William Goldman's incredible story.

   The Princess Bride is a fairy-tale of wonder, a celebration of romance at its most fantastic, and a reminder, too, that the strongest love can be found in the world around us. A grandfather's unyielding patience is, in its own quiet manner, as impressive as anything we can conceive of in the infinite splendor of our minds.

   As he narrates the eponymous tale to his grandson, we witness a true love story. Will he return to re-read the book the following day his grandson wonders? An affirmative answer is inevitable and, as he replies "As you wish", we know what he meant was "I love you". This is true love, the type found in storybook stories but as real as real can be. Even more remarkably, inconceivably, this type of love does happen every day.

Kevin Smith's Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary

Mae Day

  Before Clerks, the legendary low budget indie movie which inspired a generation of slackers, Kevin Smith produced his debut film Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary during a short-lived stint as a film student.

   Like Kid Icarus and Lost In Manchuria, Mae Day is a documentary about the collapse of a movie - one in which the entertainment stems from disaster. Co-directed with Scott Mosier, Smith's short project was initially intended on sensitively portraying the life of a local transsexual entertainer. Yet, due to poor planning and organisation skills, it becomes apparent that the film will never get off the ground - the subject has become un-contactable and shooting, thus, must be postponed indefinitely.

   Whilst many would accept failure at this point, Smith and Mosier show an ingenious level of resourcefulness. Mae Day changes forms entirely as the co-directing duo turn the cameras back upon themselves in a Mea Culpa of sorts - their documentary is no longer about a transsexual entertainer, but rather, the failures of a team of student film-makers to create such a documentary. Smith and Mosier point their cameras at their peers who discuss the project, and the lack of professionalism and planning on display, and their teachers too.

   Rather remarkably, Mae Day may well be the smartest film of Smith's uneven career - a deep understanding of the non-fiction film form is on display as the students' dissect such film-making techniques with gleeful abandon. Its a documentary about the documentary form, a film about film and is rather smart in a reflexive manner - the stitches which hold the genre together are on full show rather than hiding. Subjects ask for second takes and Smith and Mosier's lines seem rather rehearsed, written.

   Mae Day is a wryly humorous, post-modern dissection of student movie-making - a clever film from a director more known for excelling in the studiously dumb.

Burts' Guinness Rich Beef Chilli Crisps

   My relationship with Burts' Guinness crisps didn't start off exactly on the right foot - indeed, I was less the complimentary about them when I wrote a post on this very site chronicling my first experience of the new collaboration.

   Thankfully, I can report, our relationship has grown to equal that of Mr Darcy and, erm, the lady who he didn't get on with at first but ended up happily ever after. This is entirely due to my eyes being opened with their new flavour of Beef crisps - a flavour, across brands, which I feel is entirely under-rated. From Monster Munch through to Hula Hoops, variants of beef flavouring are amongst the most consistent but least rated - I'm certain that those who take a small amount of time to try Burts' Guinness Rich Beef Chilli crisps will be converted however.

   The first thing to note is the texture of the crisps in the packet here - "crisp" is not simply a noun in this instance but an adjective too. There's no illusion that these will melt in your mouth - each thick fragment snaps between the tongue and teeth in a manner which illustrates the richness of quality for the potato snack.

   Yet, as we all know, the main barometer from which to judge what our American cousins refer to as "Potato Chips" is through flavour - packaging, presentation and texture are all well and good but count for naught if one's taste buds don't respond in a pleasing many.

   Pleasingly, Burts' Guinness Rich Beef Chilli crisps are a pure delight. The tang and zest of the Chilli component of the snack blend perfectly with the traditional Beef flavour - there's a hint of the exotic, but one which never overwhelms. A smoky base, a sweet pizzazz on top and an overall ensemble of excellence make up this surprising blend. It's the perfect synergy which are sure to delight those who like their potato chips on the "hot" side of the spectrum, but also are unlikely to blow the head off of those who favour more traditional flavours.

   I hold my hands up and announce, against all odds, I've been converted to Guinness crisps - you will be too if you try these!

   For more information on Burts visit their site here. You can also follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook too.

Bruce Springsteen's Hunter of Invisible Game Review

   There are very few musicians to whom the label "cinematic" would truly fit - Bruce Springsteen, however, is undoubtedly one.

   His song-book, create over decades of compositions, has seen the singer create scores of earnest laments of honest men and countless tender-hearted ballads of broken souls; his talent with lyrics and sculpting vast soundscapes has seen New Jersey's most famous son paint some of the most stunning visuals of Americana in art history. It would be fair to say if Van Morrison was the music world's Terence Malick, The Boss would be its John Ford.

   Yet, rather sadly, Springsteen has spent much of his career avoiding the organic transition into celluloid star - yes, there's been winning concert films and delightful documentaries, a brief cameo in High Fidelity, and classic songs that have inspired countless movies in the way a Robert Mitchum poster gave its name to one of Bruce's most well loved songs. Until now, however, Springsteen has avoided trading his guitar for a seat behind the camera - something the Born To Run singer looks to put right with his directorial debut Hunter of Invisible Game.

   Unfortunately, and as a huge Springsteen fan I take no joy in saying this, it would seem that the man himself must have been aware of his weaknesses in this area for have postponed what many would have deemed an inevitable career move. Sadly Hunter of Invisible Game, co-directed with Thom Zimny, fails to live up to (admittedly heightened) expectation.

   The aim - to create a languid and evocative contemporary Western is an admirable one. In execution, however, the project is not quite a success - instead of recalling the visual poetry of Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James..., for example, the abstract shots on display add nothing to a linear narrative and, instead, reek of the worst excesses of a student "art" film. That the short "film" is little more than an elongated music video - something which takes us back to the bad old dark days of Will Smith's MV for his Wild, Wild West single - hardly speaks volumes of its achievements.

   The high points of Hunter of Invisible Game invariably revolve around Springsteen's face - his visage tells a remarkable story. It would be a fascinating development were a skilled director, such as P.T. Anderson or the aforementioned Terence Malick, to cast him as a lead in a future project. Perhaps that's where Springsteen's cinematic future lays?

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