Manchester Lift-Off 2017: Shorts Programme One (1/2)

A selection of shorts from Day 1 of the festival

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Man on Layby 52

Man on Layby 52 was the first documentary short on show at this year’s festival, shining a light onto the life of Charles Ingram. Charles rose to prominence for occupying the titular layby on the A9 in Scotland, one of the countries’ busiest roads, for three years. Directors Ruaridh and Beth captured his stories about losing his business, losing his mother, and his unique way of life.

Based upon the opening few minutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a strong contender for the Best Short Documentary category at this season’s awards. The introductory ariel footage backed by music transitioned superbly into Charles sharing his tales with the audience. From there however the quality quickly diminished. A lack of direction led the film to become aimless, wandering in search of the next stage of the narrative, which culminated in the immensely disappointing ending. A needless and petty dispute over a girl which left neither side looking favourable — a poor finish to a short with such high initial promise.

Directed by Ruaridh M Turner and Beth Woodruff

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Strongboy

Fantasy is an understatement for Keon Hedayati’s Strongboy. It surrounds legendary fighter John L Sullivan as he plunges into madness after rejecting his powers. A messenger of the gods then approaches John, and helps him to regain focus. This short climaxes with a fiery duel between John and another, surrounded by the Master’s of the World.

Hedayati is seemingly a jack of all trade in this, his second directorial effort, with directing, writing, producing and acting all skills on display. Fortunately he does not buckle under the weight of all these roles and the result is a remarkably polished short. Perhaps a little too surreal for some, it is an intense assessment of our society, increasing reliant on technology and losing touch with reality.

Directed by Keon Hedayati

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Nan’s Army

Nan’s Army consists of a collection of interviews with several women who lived in Bristol during World War Two. The women went into detail about their lives during the war, the lasting effects it had upon them in the subsequent years, their view on current day wars and a look to the future. The stories are interwoven with animation, differing in style depending on the emotion the story conveys.

Films like this, I feel, are a necessary part of the documentation of war and its effects, but also in its prevention. Hearing first-hand experiences of bombings, evacuations and the fear of death from the mouth of those present is a poignant reminder of an event relegated to the history books. One of the women made an interesting point about how we should be thankful that war occurs far from us in the present day. I would extend that to an deep-rooted apathy for conflict far away, caused by the over-saturation of today’s media from the internet and other technological advances. Any conflict happening beyond our own borders is quickly forgotten, and it is only until an internal conflict arises that we truly begin to feel. This is in essence the message of Nan’s Army, to avoid history repeating itself.

Directed by Lucy Werrett

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Hope

An interesting twist on the well-established zombie genre, Hope’s zombies lack the taste for human flesh. Instead they are condemned to wander the Earth for eternity, purposeless. We follow as Karl, our focal zombie, is leered at and attacked several times by the unwelcoming uninfected, eventually being buried alive by a couple of prepubescent female thugs.

Karl’s story does not end there, as he is saved by another zombie, and the two fall in love. We watch as they dance and laugh together in a local park before sitting down on a park bench. It is here that the world, once again, changes. The two girls who buried him alive return and shoot Karl’s girlfriend in the head prompting him, and all of zombie-kind, to seek revenge. Fleshy revenge.

This short took me completely by surprise, ending up as my personal favourite of the shorts programme of night one. Zombie films of late tend to lack originality, fading away after the initial hype disappears. Hope distinguishes itself from the crowd in this respect, a unique premise commandingly executed by director Adam Losurdo.

Clear parallels can be drawn to director Edgar Wright in terms of comedic style with Losurdo emulating his comedy techniques such as the humorous entering/exiting of the frame and the use of music synchronised with on-screen action. The latter is seen towards the end of the film during a brilliantly shot standoff between the girls and Karl. References to Spaghetti Westerns are peppered throughout this scene, from through-the-legs camera angles to the backing soundtrack. Overall this was a fantastic short with immense replay value, a must-watch for all zombie fans.

Directed by Adam A. Losurdo

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Body Language Zone

Body Language Zone was by far the most left-field, off the wall short on display during day one. It explored, inevitably, human body language in an office environment and was split into four ‘zones’: Body Language Consult, Touching Instructions, Body Language Management and Guaranteed Free Flow. Each zone involved the lead actress completing a dance routine with voice over instruction layered over.

After finishing this short, you will probably be left feeling one of two ways. Either you’ll think ‘Wow, what an incredible depiction of how, with the increase in touchscreen and other electronic devices, the use of using our bodies for communication has disappeared. The exacerbated dance routines by Kim Saarinen humorously serve as a guide to the next generation, who will fail to understand body language as an art.’ Or ‘what the hell was that?’. A short as polarising as this one is sure to have fewer but far more passionate fans, which is evident by the large amount of awards it has won.

Directed by Kim Saarinen

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Click here to go back to the Lift-Off Homepage to check out more reviews and interviews

Review: See No Evil – The Moors Murders

An unsettling insight into the horrific Moors murders

How do you get inside the minds of the horrific Moors Murderers? The 2-part television series See No Evil does just that, giving us a chillingly accurate insight into the lives of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley during the time they kidnapped 5 children aged 10-17. They savagely abused them and buried the remains on the Saddleworth Moors in England between 1963 and 1965. The body of one victim, Keith Bennett, is thought to still be up there and remains unfound to this day.

The production was fully backed by the families of the victims, based on extensive research, interviews and Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith (Matthew McNulty). If not for Smith, the missing children would probably have never been linked back to Brady (Sean Harris) and Hindley (Maxine Peake), each murder leaving no trail whatsoever. Only after their confessions and the forensic analysis of the bodies did we find out their recurrent pattern for killing these children. The children were always alone, and always asked to help look for a lost glove of Myra’s. Ian would reportedly proceed to rape and then strangle the child with a cord or a shoelace. We never see this happen, only through David’s time spent with Ian do we start to see red flags that indicate Ian’s perversion and twisted mind.

In an attempt to include David into their secret, Myra and Ian arrange a live murder for David to witness. This is the only gruesome shot of the 2 episodes, in haunting red lighting Ian wields an axe fourteen times into his last victim, seventeen-year-old Edward Evans. Somehow keeping his cool, David does as he is told and helps clean up the mess. In the early hours of the morning he finally gets home, a total wreck, to his wife Maureen (Joanne Froggatt). Through a mixture of heaving and sobbing from shock, he tells her everything. Maureen coils at the idea that her own sister (Myra), that she knows so well, could be capable of such atrocities. Nevertheless, at the break of dawn the pair rush to the police station. This experience will destroy their lives forever, and is only the beginning of a painful “concatenation of circumstances”.

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Once denounced, the trail of evidence comes together incredibly fast. The discovery of Evans’ body in Brady’s flat along with the axe. Soon followed a suitcase, containing tape recordings and photographs of the sexual abuse of missing ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey. The sound is not heard and the photographs are not exposed, mercifully so. Including the sound of the tape recordings of the young child or the obscene photographs taken of her would have been unnecessary to the depiction of the story. The mere knowledge of their existence is enough and was a card the director did well not to play.

David Smith is initially questioned by the police, as Brady and Hindley attempt to include him in the rape and murder of the children. Public opinion of Smith is convinced he is the third Moors Murderer, and this will follow him and Maureen for their entire lives.

Finally, Brady and Hindley are charged with three counts of murder and concurrent life sentences. It is only in 1985 that Brady confessed to the killings of sixteen-year-old Pauline Reade and twelve-year-old Keith Bennett, of which only the body of Pauline was found in 1987 on Saddleworth Moor. Ian Brady remains imprisoned today, in the high-security Ashworth mental hospital since being diagnosed as criminally insane in 1985. Recently, Brady remorselessly explained that his actions were simply in pursuit of the ‘existential experience’ of it all.

Intended for television in 2006 on the 40th anniversary of the pair’s conviction, this was a remarkable effort in bringing this unsettling story into the light once again. A very well cast, tasteful production that I recommend watching to anyone interested in true stories or the psyche of criminals.

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Cineworld’s IMAX Film Festival 2017

Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man

Today, on the 8th of April 2017, Cineworld is hosting its 2017 edition of the IMAX Film Festival. A chance for movie fans to experience the immersion of the IMAX 3D format for half the price of a standard ticket.

There were four fantastic films to choose from:

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • The Jungle Book
  • The Martian

Unfortunately, and this is a large criticism of the event, the films were spread in such a way that it was impossible to see all four, at least at my local cinema. This meant that you could only see two maximum – which is still wonderful don’t get me wrong -but watching all four during the day would have been perfect. The two films that I chose were Star Wars: The Force Awakens over The Jungle Book and The Martian over Fantastic Beasts.

The first was Star Wars, a film that watched far better on the big screen than on a television or laptop. There was not a single empty seat which made the entire experience truly special. An issue about this screening in particular I found was how overwhelmingly full of young children it was. The film is a 12A so that was to be expected but there were many far too young to be present. Another further issue was the amount of people on their phones. This one irks me far more than children. I understand that parents want to see the movies and want to share the experience with their kids, but not going on your phone during the film is just common decency.

The Martian was the second film of the day for me. One that I was far more excited for as it is in my opinion one of the best Sci-Fi films of the 21st Century. It is also the second time it has featured in the festival as it was shown during the 2016 edition alongside Gravity, Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road. Overall this was the best IMAX cinema experience that I have ever had bested only by my first, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Now I’m not saying that it’s a masterpiece but it was a film tailored for IMAX and is the film I lost my IMAX virginity to. The visuals in The Martian were phenomenal and the scenes utilising the 3D aspect worked seamlessly. An example of how to get it right.

After I arrived home from the last showing I found out there was a last minute fifth addition to the festival. My heart sank as soon as I heard the news: Deadpool. One of my most memorable cinema experiences of 2016 and surely one of the most memorable of 2017 had I been there. Nevertheless it was great to see two brilliant films at the cinema for the low price of £5.40. I totally recommend this event next year and can’t wait to see the next selection.

 

 

 

2017 Film Challenge – March

Where does the time go?

March has been a wonderful month for me film-wise as I have attended two film festivals as a journalist, Manchester International Film Festival and Manchester Lift-Off Film Festival. As a result the monthly total is a record 52, 32 of which were shorts but I’ll be including them nonetheless. This takes us over the three digit milestone for a grand total of 102! For this month I’ll be including a Top 5 Features and a Top 5 Shorts section.

Films Watched:

  • Office Space (1999)
  • The Internship (2013)
  • Josephine Doe (MANIFF 2017)
  • Hunter Gatherer (MANIFF 2017)
  • Across the River (MANIFF 2017)
  • Creedmoria (MANIFF 2017)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
  • The Nice Guys (2016)
  • Interstellar (2014)
  • Moana (2016)
  • Jackie Brown (1997)
  • Whiplash (2014)
  • Foxcatcher (2014)
  • Life Itself (2014)
  • Dr No (1962)
  • Lo and Behold (2016)
  • La La Land (2016)
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
  • The Last Laugh (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Layby 52 (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Strongboy (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • The Track (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Nan’s Army (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Faustine (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • The Wolves Beyond the Timber (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Hope (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Body Language Zone (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Retriever (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Spaceman (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • The Botanist (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Happy Tuesday (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Northern Lights (Lift-Off 2017 feature)
  • Enemies Within (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Found (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Wanderlust (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Pazzo and Bella (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Hipopotamy (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Heathen (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • The Cyclops (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • A Battling Body (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Relentless (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Where the Windmills are (Lift-Off 2017 feature)
  • Soldier Bee (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Meat on Bones (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Duke’s Pursuit (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Lost in Spring (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Ascension (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Cabby (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • The Sedate Escape (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Return of the Hat (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Ribbons (Lift-Off 2017 short)
  • Ghosted (Lift-Off 2017 short)

Perhaps a little too wacky for some, especially in it’s climax, but undoubtedly my favourite film of all time Interstellar got it’s first showing of the year. Repeat watches for Whiplash, La La Land and The Nice Guys saw them back in the Top 5 once again. The best debut watch came in the form of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, lesser known but equally fantastic.

Here are my Top 5 Features for March

  1. Interstellar
  2. Whiplash
  3. La La Land
  4. The Nice Guys
  5. Jackie Brown

Very special mention goes to Northern Lights, Foxcatcher and Life Itself

Top 5 Shorts for March

  1. Enemies Within
  2. Found
  3. The Botanist
  4. Retriever
  5. Spaceman

Very special mention goes to Hope, A Battling Body and Ghosted

There will be full coverage of the Manchester Lift-Off Film Festival within a week for those interested in the shorts mentioned above so stay tuned.