❉ This year’s highlights included the U.K premiere of ‘King Cohen’, Paddy Considine’s second directorial effort and Harry Dean Stanton’s last film.
In its thirteenth year the Glasgow Film Festival keeps proving itself as a festival to be reckoned with. Always evolving it offers a vast selection of cinema that always appeals to the more cult minded cineastes. This year proved no exception with such strands celebrating the centenary of Ida Lupino and her directorial career where you could see her tense, tough 1953 thriller The Hitch Hiker, Karen Gillan attending the world premiere of her Inverness set directorial debut The Party’s Just Beginning and director Ben Wheatley popping in for an In-Person event because he just seems to really like the festival, this being his third annual appearance here. Where else are you going to get the chance to see Dawn of The Dead in a shopping centre, Die Hard in an actual office attended by 80’s fashion attired office workers and Groundhog Day in a B&B every day at the same time for the festivals duration?
I myself managed to check out a good few things but in the end not as much as I hoped or would have liked. But isn’t that showing that a film festival is doing something right?
You Were Never Really Here
Glasgow’s main film institution the GFT has an already impressive sound system. So when Lynne Ramsay requested to the projectionists to turn up the soundtrack for her fourth directorial outing up to 11 it only made an already punishing and edgy film that more of an uncomfortable experience to sit through. However, in this case that was not exactly a bad thing as it heightened and enriched its themes and feelings of paranoia and confusion in a way that you probably won’t experience at your local multiplex, although if that’s the only way you can see it then do it.
The premise at its bare bones is of a hired heavy, literally physically in Joaquin Phoenix’s case here, tasked with rescuing a politician’s teenage daughter from a sex ring. You would be mistaken however for thinking that this was something on the level of Taken or any other number of action films working from the same template. Ramsay and a hulking, hunched over Joaquin Phoenix decide instead to delve into the disorienting mental states his character experiences when his mission goes spectacularly sideways.
The film is a jarring experience. Jonny Greenwood’s stuttering, clattering score aids the discordant sound design and Ramsey, adapting here from a Jonathan Aames novella, is more interested in examining the masculinity and PTSD of her protagonist and what drives his lust for violence and vengeance. Phoenix gives an uncomfortable and unpredictable performance, according to Ramsey he really did deck that drug dealer. But you would rather watch him stretch himself and take chances like this that pay off spectacularly instead of accepting the role of Dr Strange for Marvel which he could have done instead of this.
In the near twenty years she has been directing Lynne Ramsay has only directed four feature length films. Each one completely distinct from the other yet sharing her distinct style and personal vision. Fingers crossed we don’t have to wait too long for film number five.
Valley Of Shadows
With cold weather very much in the forefront of the UK just now there couldn’t be a better time to watch the Norwegian feature Valley Of Shadows (Skyggenes Dal). Light on plot and story it follows the journey of six year old Aslak as he journeys into a vast forest after his missing dog. The cold, miserable weather isn’t the only threat in the forest however. After a spate of sheep mutilations rumours spread among the villages children that a werewolf resides there. Resistant to spoilers as I am I won’t give away what exactly he encounters but it results in an unnerving scene which then resolves itself and presents the film in a more fabled light by its end.
Director Jonas Matzos Gulbrandsen presents the forest impressively. It comes across as a vast, roiling, forbidding and swaying presence that has a life of its own. Just as impressive is the affecting performance the young Adam Ekeli delivers. One scene taking place under a tree in the worst rain imaginable is just as affecting and punishing as anything Leonardo Di Caprio suffered through for The Revenant. Impressively filmed as it is though it does come across as quite measured and is stretched narratively to breaking point and could have been better served as a short film.
Blue My Mind
That fable-like quality also applied itself the next day to a hard-edged urban, modern day narrative and was employed more successfully, and forcefully to the Swiss feature Blue My Mind, which came with a warning in the programme notes for graphic scenes.
Director Lisa Bruhlmann shows us a forceful and honest look at teenage issues such as body image, identity and sexuality through the eyes of its female protagonist 15-year-old Mia when she moves to a new town. Added to these problems is the fact that strange marks begin to appear on her legs and her toes seem to be fusing together. Where this all leads is reminiscent of last year’s Raw and is just as successful in its themes of self-discovery, body horror and eating things you really shouldn’t. It is just as, if not more harrowing in its scenes of teenage partying run amok and unadvised.
The film manages to successfully meld genres together, is nicely shot and proves itself as enticing debut from writer and director Bruhlmann.
One of the highlights of the festivals Future Cult strand was undoubtedly the U.K premiere of the documentary detailing the life and career of the Pope of exploitation cinema Larry Cohen. The film humorously and affectionately details Cohen’s career writing for the early days of television creating such touchstones as The Invaders then when finding himself at odds with producers and broadcasters in regards to his vision moved himself over to low budget cinema where he would only have to answer to himself.
The interviews include regular collaborators and cult favourites Fred Williamson and Michael Moriarty, who often amusingly contradict just what has been said by the films main subject. Also popping up to show their admiration are Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante offering their own takes on his work and experiences of being roped into situations out of their control and seemingly just dreamt up by the director on the spot.
It highlights just how far this mavericks reach has crept into Hollywood cinema over the past few decades and in the Skype Q&A with himself and the documentary’s director Steve Mitchell he was more than willing to offer more gossip and advice to filmmakers in the audience. And then gently threatening them to stay off his patch.
The great thing about film festivals is taking a chance on seeing something in the programme that holds some interest for you that you have never heard of. Sometimes it can be a disappointment, a promising premise propping up a threadbare film that then vanishes into obscurity. Then there are the times where it pays off spectacularly, igniting a new talent behind or in front of the camera that makes you want to follow them and everything they do. For myself that movie came in the form of the Japanese stop motion animation Junk Head.
This is an intricate, bizarre and often hilarious future shock of a movie, wildly ambitious, not only in the amount of work and detail that has gone into animating and detailing this weird vast environment but into the number of characters and beasts that all have their own individual characteristics. At the end it suddenly develops profound and touching pay offs to themes that Takahide Hori, the director/writer/producer/cinematographer/lighting artist and almost everything else, has been placing subtly through the entire film. The closest thing you could compare it to is as if Tsutomu Nihei and Jan Svankmajer decided to make a feature length Tool video. And where else are you going to see a giant clone mutants genitals obscuring a camera shot?
The story set in the far-off future involves an unnamed human descending into the vast cityscape below to investigate the clone population, who hundreds of years before have abandoned their human counterparts. Everywhere he turns evolution has evolved sideways into a number of differing mutations for each species. Lovingly realised grotesque lethal creatures stalk the hallways dipping down from among the wires and ducts to help themselves to whatever is passing by. Muscular long-limbed females tower over and berate their dwarf like male partners as they scramble among themselves making sure everything ticks along nicely while their wives go off hunting. And mole like figures pop up from time to time with secrets and surprises of their own that pay off awesomely at the end.
There is as far as I can tell no word of a release for this singular work so keep an eye out for it at future festivals.
As much a tribute to Harry Dean Stanton himself as a rare showcase for his rarely displayed leading man talents. It is sad that this is his final film but it’s a beautiful curtain call for one of the greatest character actors ever. It sidesteps the usual clichés that usually come with portraying old age on the screen. Although it is about a mans body and life winding down it has a near carefree attitude about it, dwelling instead on the beauty and pleasure in the small things in life; be it friendship, conversation, accepting that things aren’t how they used to be and smoking cigarettes. Lots of cigarettes.
Actor John Carroll Lynch proves himself to be a natural behind the camera eliciting warm performances from his cast, especially David Lynch who provides a wonderfully touching ode to his missing best friend, who just so happens to be a one hundred-year-old tortoise named President Roosevelt. On paper it may sound whimsical and twee but is anything but due to its no nonsense, unpretentious direction and Stanton’s honest and soulful performance.
Paddy Considine’s directorial follow up to Tyrannosaur approaches boxing cinema from a rarely approached, less explored angle. In painstaking detail, he shows the physical and mental rehabilitation of the effects of a brain injury his character, world champion Matty goes through after a title match. Considine gives a great performance as usual but his sophomore directorial outing feels a tad rushed in its final stretch, especially in psychological terms compared to his own Tyrannosaur. He seems to have no interest in attacking the institution of boxing and how little prepared it is in coming up against such physical and mental afflictions the sport can inflict and instead concentrates on how the boxing community sticks together, or not, to support the fallen. The supporting cast including Jodie Whitaker and Tony Pitts, as Matty’s wife and trainer respectively, deliver affecting performances and it is a cut above and unafraid to show the physical and mental anguish that a brain injury can afflict on its victim and support network.
Sadly, this was where the festival unexpectedly came to a halt for myself as The Beast From The East suddenly arrived causing Glasgow to come to a snowbound standstill. Transport in and out of the city became non-existent and I was unable to attend the screenings of Japanese horror Vampire Clay and the promising Ghost Stories which was kicking off the Fright Fest strand that always dominates the programme and the GFT in its final weekend. Guests for several screenings were unable to reach the festival and screenings had to be sadly cancelled although a valiant effort was made by both the festivals staff and voluntary ushers during those days to keep it running.
By the final day I managed to trudge through the now prevalent thawing brown slush that caked the streets to catch the remastered and restored directors cut of King Hu’s Legend Of The Mountain. This supernatural period piece was a fitting closer to the festival for myself, a rare chance to see such a film rescued on a big screen. In length alone, over three hours, it made up for the lost cinema time I suffered through the previous few days.
Before this unwelcome and unprecedented wintry blast intruded on the festival it was breaking records attendance wise and the talent it was also attracting seemed to be on the rise proving that this is a festival that seems to get bigger and better with every year. Here’s to next February and seeing what they can pull off then.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.