My week in film: SQIFF and more…

Having presented a scattering of screenings since announcing their existence in summer 2014, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival had its inaugural full festival edition last week, running from 24-27 September and opening with the entirely enjoyable, Dyke Hard. Ushered by fabulous pink poodles into CCA theatre, audiences then saw the SQIFF team share the spotlight before the screening, introducing their inclusive ethos by explaining their use of subtitles, British Sign Language interpretation, wheelchair accessible venues and gender-neutral facilities wherever possible. Such a positive attitude to their visitors is a very welcome aspect of SQIFF, and shows their commitment to encouraging engagement from the entire queer spectrum.
2_Teem_Dyke_HardAt Dyke Hard, director Bitte Anderson was present alongside key cast members (appearing in character) to prepare the audience for a low budget B-movie, but her almost apologetic assurances were unnecessary because the film was a thrill from start to finish. The plot sees the titular band formed in high school but fall on hard times when nasty lead singer, Riff (Lina Kurttila) abandons them. When their manager also dumps them and their mobile home is blown up, Dyke Hard members Peggy (Peggy Sands), Scotty (Maria Wågensjo) and Bandito (Alle Eriksson) hit the road aiming for TV’s battle of the bands. Along the way, a Thai boxer called Dawn (Iki Gonzalez Magnusson) joins them helping them to fend off the attempts of an evil millionaire called Moira (Josephine Krieg) to bring them down. Horny ghosts, a sadistic prison warden, bikers, ninjas, and a roller derby gang are all part of the danger Dyke Hard face on the road to musical success.
4_Teem_Dyke_HardThis genre mish-mash was hewn from Anderson’s vision of putting all the ideas thought missing from genre film and queer cinema together in one film, and Dyke Hard certainly utilises the absurdity of the gang’s adventure to witty reflexive effect. Another key success of the film is the way it wraps up its ‘message’ at the end. To love oneself first of all, is delivered with both sincerity and sauciness.

Sadly, this new Dyke Hard fan missed the rest of the weekend’s plethora of shorts, participatory events, retro screenings and parties (due to attending Berwick Film Festival) but the opening night served as a promise of more fun, action and stimulation to come. Roll on SQIFF 2016!

Also viewed: Fruitvale Station (2013) directed by Ryan Coogler, an authentically sensitive impression, based on real events, leading up to the shooting of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) in 2008.

Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival (23-27 September) – installations, a very strong film programme, spooky storytelling and musical performances. Report coming soon for Sight & Sound.

My (two) weeks in film: The Hunt, Alps, The House I Live In and some festive fare

Pre-Christmas deadlines have kept me from my regular writing routine so this week’s reviews are somewhat abridged. The Hunt - main imageThomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012)was tense, invigorating filmmaking that employed a rewarding, and steady pace and showcased a sympathetic, subtle performance by Mads Mikkelsen. Less about fighting a false accusation, than recovering from it, The Hunt tackled issues of child abuse and close-knit communities with humour and a lack of sensationalism that proved engaging viewing.

Alps (2012)by Dogtooth director Giorgos Lanthimos proves that it is possible to make a film more opaque than the latter – and happily demands an involved, inquisitive audience. 13ALPS_SPAN-articleLargeClearly accomplished filmmaking and an important political and social critique of contemporary Greece, nonetheless it would be a stretch to suggest that Lanthimos’ film is enjoyable per se, rather that its playful way with language and blurring of fiction/reality represents an intelligent and vigorous talent.

tokyo-gaorigTokyo-Ga (1985)was a suitable film to watch in the week that saw the anniversary of the birth of legendary director Yasujirô Ozu. Wim Wenders’ ode to the director of over fifty features including much loved Tokyo Story attempts to discover if anything recognisable from the humanity of Ozu’s oeuvre is present in modern Tokyo. Training his camera on fascinating practices such as the creation of wax replicas of restaurant menu options or Americana loving teens, Wenders also tenderly interviews Ozu’s leading man; Chishû Ryû and cinematographer; Yûharu Atsuta – who dedicated his whole career to assisting the great director, and since his death in 1963 laments being unable to find work as satisfying as that with his former colleague.

TheHouseILiveInDocumentary The House I Live In by director Eugene Jarecki combines personal experience with testimonies from professionals related to illegal drugs and their effects; including those from policing, law, imprisonment, psychology, history, media and politics – all of whom tend to support the argument that the War on Drugs has been a failure. Jarecki’s thoughtful voiceover connects persuasively the accounts of said contributors with the first-hand experiences of convicted men and women – predominantly African American – most of whom have been subjected to harsh minimum sentence rulings. This is a first class combination of investigative fervour and thorough, sensitive filmmaking.

The-Return-of-the-King-Sam-saves-dayPrior to seeing The Hobbit – which I’m sure I’ll get round to at some point – I decided to re-watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy and was delighted to find that the films are just as enjoyable ten years later. Fellowship grips on to you gloriously and demands you hold on through each passionately detailed set piece that follows in the two subsequent epics.


Other viewing took on a festive theme (of sorts): if it wasn’t Christmas itself, the presence of snow was enough to satisfy.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Andrew Adamson (2005).

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, David Yates(2009)

Miracle on 34th Street, Les Mayfield (1994)

Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson (2000)

Coming up – my best (and worst) lists for 2012 with the promise not to repeat the dozens already widely celebrated and berated.

My week in film: Sightseers, Magic Mike, For a Good Time, Call… and more

The week began playing catch-up with seemingly everyone in the UK (or at least the hundreds of enthusiastic tweeters) who had seen Sightseers (2012) on opening weekend. Ben Wheatley’s third feature following Down Terrace and Kill List emerged at Cannes this year to great acclaim and having just last night won the Best Screenplay Award at the Moet British Independent Film Awards; it looks set to take the US by storm when it premieres at Sundance in January. sightseers-2012-001-chris-and-tina-up-mountain-posing-to-camera_0

The film follows a road trip undertaken by Chris and Tina (writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) to Yorkshire from Birmingham, caravan in tow, in the hope that Chris will finding his writers ‘oeuvre’ and Tina will temporarily escape her world of dogs, knitting and her mother. These romantic aspirations reach darker territory when Chris allows his bitterness and resentment to take violent form and Tina is soon enthralled by the opportunity to unleash her id upon the world. As uncompromisingly bloody as Wheatley’s previous work, Sightseers is also comically broader and delights in musical juxtapositions that render the whole exercise innately fun. Caricatures they may be, but Chris and Tina are also distinctly British creations that ring true as representations of national reserve abandoned in favour of unchallenged, manic, fervour. Chris is aghast at Tina’s newfound rage, a far cry from the ostensible rules of choosing a victim that he initially employs. Unlike other examples of couples on the run however (see Bonnie & Clyde review, below), Wheatley offers another dark comic twist by skewing the idea of lovers united forever in death – but I won’t spoil the ending for you.

I also caught up with a couple of this year’s earlier releases in what turned out to be an excellent double bill. magic-mike-0

Magic Mike (Steven Soderberg) and For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis) both reconsider assumptions about sex-related work (stripping and sex lines, respectively) with a focus on male/male and female/female friendships where business is a component of their intimacy. Despite what you might assume about a film about male stripping, Magic Mike is poignantly as much to do with ageing and the impressionability of youth as it is a fantastic demonstration of Channing Tatum’s dancing and Matthew McConaughey’s depth as an actor. for-a-good-time-call-movie-review


For a Good Time, Call… plays out like a rom-com only this time its female solidarity that’s at stake and the chemistry between Ari Graynor (the new Goldie Hawn that Kate Hudson wishes she was) and Lauren Miller is infectious. They’re also both very funny and entertaining films.



A new addition – though whether it will prevail is questionable – Phantoms (Joe Chappelle, 1998) is my bad film of the week and could safely be considered to include some of the worst acting and dialogue in a film that also features Peter O’Toole. One spectacular example, Sheriff Hammond (Ben Affleck) to Deputy Stu (Live Schreiber) “Are you OK? ‘Cos I need you to be OK, OK?” befophantoms027dh3re they take on the ‘ancient enemy’ in a small, Colorado town. The film does manage to provide some effectively unsettling images in the third act, notably when O’Toole’s Dr Timothy Flyte challenges the ‘phantom’ to reveal itself, only to be faced with the whole town’s possessed inhabitants staring out from the darkness. Live Schreiber is also brilliantly creepy and puts in a sterling effort to bring charisma to a highly derivative, Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Thing creature horror.



Finally I ended this week’s viewing in much the same way it started, with a couple-on-the-run classic, nay, the classic, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Arthur Penn’s highly successful and critically acclaimed cinematic account of real-life criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who robbed many and killed thirteen people in depression era America proved to be even better than I expected. What stood out for me was the complexity of Clyde’s feelings for Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) – that he is portrayed by Warren Beatty as deeply conflicted about corrupting his accomplice and holds off from consummating their attraction to each other until quite near the film’s end. Also a surprise treat was Gene Wilder as car-thief victim turned temporary tag-along, expressing a fearful glee at his captors wild abandon and shock on learning that is female companion is older than he thought – a nice comedic touch.


Also watched: X-Men First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011) a very entertaining super-hero movie that reminded me – through the ethical dilemmas and character’s identity anxiety – why the X-Men are my favourite heroes.