Banff Mountain Film Festival UK & Ireland Tour

I’m not an outdoorsy, extreme sports kind of a girl.

It’s been so many years since I last rode a bike that I’m pretty sure I’d need stabilisers if I tried it now. The one time I rather optimistically thought I might try my hand at climbing, I ended up completely paralyzed by fear, clinging to the wall with my eyes squeezed shut, a mere six feet off the floor. And I’d love to find a skiing holiday appealing, I really would. But I don’t. It just looks a bit cold and tiring.

All this suggests that I’m probably not the target audience for the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is currently touring the whole, entire world (seriously, check the tour schedule). The tour brings a selection of award winning short films celebrating mountain culture to thirty-odd provincial arts centres across the UK and Ireland. I’ve never heard the term ‘mountain culture’ before and I’m not sure I could tell you what it is – even now – but I went along to Malvern Theatres on Friday night with family and friends, not quite knowing what to expect but looking forward to something different.

The films I saw in Malvern were really wonderful. They were hilarious, terrifying, moving and – sorry, but the cliché is true in this instance – life-affirming.

I watched Reel Rock: Honnold 3.0 – breath held, palms sweating, peering through my fingers – whilst the incredible and quietly cocky climber Alex Honnold tackled the Yosemite Triple: Mt. Watkins, El Capitan and Half Dome. In 24 hours. The vast majority of it without ropes. Y’know, as you do.

My heart swelled with sheer joy at the sight of a Jack Russell Terrier bombing along behind her mountain biking owner in Lily Shreds Trailside. The dog in that film is clearly having the time of her life.

The group of mountain bikers hanging around an urban park in Strength In Numbers reminded me fondly of the Mucca Mad Boys from the wonderful Angry Boys: still hanging out with their gang from school and not quite ready to grow up just yet.

And I was utterly baffled but amazed by the seriously hardcore “off-width” crack climbing subculture: full of salt-of-the-earth Americans jamming various parts of their body into cracks in rocks to climb. Reel Rock: Wide Boyz followed two Brits as they took on America’s hardest off-width. There was a lot of blood.

But Crossing The Ice – winner of the Grand Prize, Best Film on Adventure & Exploration and the People’s Choice Award – really stuck with me, partly because of the extraordinary courage and determination of cheerful Aussies Cas and Jonesy, who journeyed unassisted to the South Pole and back, but mostly because of their unwavering friendship. Without doubt, my favourite part of the whole festival was the scene on Christmas Day, in a freezing cold tent in the middle of Antarctica, when one revealed to the other that he’d been saving a bit of bacon every day as a surprise.

Above all else, the strength of character in these films is what made me love them. Some of the shorter films lacked the compelling characters but the extraordinary feats and stunning landscapes made up for that.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the Banff Mountain Film Festival – and I’m certainly not your average Banff festivalgoer – but I really enjoyed the evening and would urge you to get along to the tour if you get a chance. I’ve already pencilled it in to my calendar for 2014.


Introducing… Film Fortnight!

Yesterday, I was forced to visit a well-known high street DVD rental store. It’s been a long time since I’ve been inside said store but LoveFilm’s ongoing beef with Universal means that there was really no other (legal) way of watching Senna (other than buying it, which I’m not bothered enough to do, or borrowing it – thanks Rob!).

It turns out I’m not actually a member so I signed up for new membership. Seriously, guys… A *paper* form?! *Requiring* a landline number?!

We’ll forgive them that though, because then they gave me 14 free rentals: one a day for two weeks. Now, I realise that they do this because most people won’t go in every single day for a fortnight to rent a film and fair play to them. Times are tough in the rental market and I’ve now been in the store two days in a row so something has worked. Eventually, I might even buy a bag of Butterkist while I’m in there.

Now, I like nothing more than a challenge (see also: Bus Challenge, Nail Challenge, etc.) and I am absolutely determined to rent and watch a film every day for fourteen days. Chris is on board, we have a list of more than fourteen films that we’d like to watch and we’ve got pretty quick meals planned for weeknights so it’s totally doable.

We’re two days in now and so far we’ve seen Senna and Tyrannosaur (or at least, I’ve seen Tyrannosaur and Chris went to the climbing wall instead). Both are excellent films. Senna is a wonderful piece of documentary making with a gripping story, an incredible feat considering it is made entirely of archive footage. It portrays the same, intriguing will to race as TT3D did (although it does it much, much better) and the inevitable conclusion to the film is genuinely emotional.

Tyrannosaur is a draining experience: bleak and dark and harrowing. But the performances are incredible and there is a wonderful tenderness between the two protagonists between bouts of extreme violence. I haven’t seen The Iron Lady, but I’d bet any amount of money Meryl Streep’s performance in that isn’t as good as Olivia Coleman’s in Tyrannosaur, even if the Best Actress awards suggest otherwise.

Tomorrow, we’re watching something that won’t make me cry…

One Week, Two Films

This week, I finally got round to seeing two films I’ve been thoroughly looking forward to since I first saw the trailers: Sucker Punch and TT3D Closer To The Edge.

The less that is said about Sucker Punch the better.  There are moments of sheer visual brilliance: the scene in the snow with the awesome ‘Army of Me’ by Bjork and the steampunk/zombie Nazi scene looked stunning.  But, ultimately, it’s like watching someone play a really good video game. There is no storyline to speak of, nobody even tries to act (Emily Browning looks hot but does nothing beyond pouting) and I got a bit bored towards the end.

(I wrote more about Sucker Punch than I’d planned.)

TT3D – a film about the annual road race on the Isle of Man and the people who race, manage, marshal and love it – is another thing altogether. When I was a kid, my mum and step-dad went off to the Isle of Man each year, their tent strapped to the back of their GSX-R. A couple of years, they marshalled. My house was adorned with framed photos of TT hero, Joey Dunlop. I’ve never been, but it’s on the list.

The film itself is wonderful. At times, genuinely funny – Guy Martin’s comment on Barry Sheen finding the race too dangerous got a huge laugh – the film doesn’t flinch from the loss that inevitably goes along with racing round the winding roads of the Isle of Man at breakneck speeds. I laughed, I cried and I loved every minute of it.

Guy Martin – the potty-mouthed, masturbation-fixated eccentric and enfant terrible of the TT world – steals the show. It’s easy to see why the film-makers focus on him but it’s a shame that, with the audience rooting for Guy, he sometimes overshadows the sheer achievement of other racers, including the quietly determined Ian Hutchinson. Still, he is hugely entertaining and the film would lose a certain something without him.

Whether or not the film would lose anything if it weren’t in 3D is a tough question. I’ve blogged before about how little I like 3D, but TT3D *almost* pulls it off.  The whole film is so beautifully, cleanly shot – particularly the climactic Senior race – and, when the 3D effect is used subtly, it works really well.  From time to time, though, it felt a little gimmicky and I’m still not sold.

Despite that, it’s a film I’d highly recommend. If you’re a bike fan, the footage of the racing is stunning and the insight in to the race preparations is fascinating. If you’ve never watched a bike race in your life, it is funny, exciting and moving enough to keep you engaged throughout.

People applauded at the end. I’m not kidding.


Thanks to the generosity and kindness of friends, family and colleagues, I find myself thoroughly spoilt and in receipt of a total of £135 of Amazon vouchers, given as leaving and Christmas gifts. My plan was to treat myself to some online shopping during the few, relaxed days after Christmas but they weren’t as relaxed as I’d hoped and so I have still only spent a few pounds on a couple of e-books, ordered directly from my Kindle.

I must admit that, because I hadn’t expected so much, I’ve been a bit stuck as to what to buy. I have no need or desire for any ‘larger’ purchases, e.g. electronic goods or technology – I have all the technology I want; there are things I know I don’t want, e.g. sat nav; household appliances don’t count because they’re boring (though I would quite like a slow cooker and a new iron); and I wouldn’t buy a smartphone from Amazon. (Granted, my beloved six-year-old 30GB white iPod video could and probably will die at any moment and is likely to need replacing but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.)

So I get the rather exciting opportunity but to buy lots and lots of smaller things… Today, I set about the task of bolstering my wish list and thought I’d share some of the items:

Scott Pilgrim on BluRay and volumes 3-6 of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel – I can’t wait to watch the film again and, having been given volumes 1 and 2 of the graphic novel for Christmas, I’m eager to keep reading. I may also get Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost At Sea, which looks lovely.

Le Creuset Mug – I adore the traditional Volcano colour of Le Creuset products and have wanted one of these mugs since I saw them in my favourite kitchen shop in Worcester (which, as an aside, is almost identical to a kitchen shop my mum would take me to as a child, each year, to buy a new cake tin in the shape of my age). I am still debating whether or not to take this in as my office mug.

Baking Made Easy – added to my list on the strength of one episode of the new BBC cookery programme. Because a girl can never have too many baking books and because it really does look easy.

Poach Pods – I got a pair of these for Christmas and they are a revelation. Getting two more so that I can poach more eggs at once.

Once Soundtrack – I finally watched Once last night and it was lovely (all the best love stories are unconsummated. See also: Lost in Translation, Brief Encounter). I only recently discovered The Frames thanks to a twitter recommendation but didn’t make the connection. I’m glad I finally did. I really love Glen Hansard’s voice, particularly in this scene:

Elbow’s new album – I guess it’s not cool to like Elbow since they won the Mercury Prize. Well, I still like them. They’re responsible for my all-time favourite song (Powder Blue, but you knew that already) and I walked down the aisle to an Elbow track (the opening bars of Mirrorball).

Natasha Walter’s The New Feminism – I read this as a student specialising in feminism and queer theory, when I was full of optimism about women’s place in the world, and recently enjoyed her follow-up, Living Dolls: The New Sexism. I’m looking forward to re-reading The New Feminism with the benefit of hindsight.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts – I own too many coffee table books but this one looks interesting…

A range of ebooks, including those I’ve already bought – Jonathan Powell’s The New Machiavelli, Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet (started but not finished before I had to give the book back), Sebastian Faulks’s A Week in December, David Nicholls’s One Day, Chris Mullin’s A View From The Foothills (which has been on my wish list for a long time but has suffered from my disinterest in big books – thank goodness for the Kindle), Clare Morrall’s Natural Flights of the Human Mind, and many more…

I haven’t added all of that up but I think I’m up to roughly £100. And hours and hours and hours of pleasure. Can’t quite believe my luck.


What JH has been reading / watching / listening to

N.B. This blog post is a shameless rip off of a similar, but far superior blog post by Bookish Brunette, which can be found here >


A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

These are the best children’s books I’ve read in a long time (though I appreciate I am a mere 11 years late to the party). They are smart and quirky and more than a little macabre. All the best children’s books deal with ‘adult’ themes (see Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials).  Though in no way comparable to Pullman’s trilogy, the way that A Series of Unfortunate Events deals with grief is just wonderful:
“It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” (Lemony Snicket, ‘The Reptile Room’)

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

I am new to Murakami, having only read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle to date. I found Sputnik a much less challenging novel, though I very much liked the continuity of themes (wells, telephones, strange well-dressed women, alienation, the splitting of the self) from the earlier novel and was struck again by the deceptive simplicity of Murakami’s prose. Recommendations for my next Murakami novel will be most welcome.


Up In The Air
I didn’t have particularly high expectations for this film but I really enjoyed it, despite some of its failings. Anna Kendrick is brilliant as an over-ambitious 22 year-old psychology graduate, struggling to balance her views on her career and relationships and, even though the story should be all about George Clooney, I missed her whenever she wasn’t on screen. The film doesn’t have anything earth shattering to say and the endless montages of people reacting to being ‘let go’ are a bit glib. But it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours, with some witty dialogue and heaps of chemistry between George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.

The Devil’s Backbone
Pan’s Labyrinth would probably sit somewhere in my top 5 films of all time but, until now and despite many people urging me to, I’d not seen Guillermo del Toro’s earlier film, The Devil’s Backbone. I think I like it even more than Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a little neater, a perfectly crafted ghost story (although it’s more than that too). Pan’s Labyrinth is more beautiful and other-worldly but I think The Devil’s Backbone is just a more complete film. The ominous, unexploded bomb ever present in the orphanage courtyard, the ghost’s sigh echoed by the climactic sigh of Jacinto and Carmen’s adultery, the parched landscape of Spain at war, the touch of Lord of the Flies towards the end… Wonderful.

Mainly to Odd Blood by Yeasayer, which is an album that gets better with every listen, and to the mix CDs I’ve received in the post from @AllyWickstead and @omrrc this week but that’s for another blog post…

Alice in Wonderland in 3D

It’s possible that my first experience of 3D was not a good one because of the poor quality of the film we chose to see. I’d describe Alice in Wonderland as style-over-substance if only there was any style to it. But the richly drawn, colourful Wonderland I’d expected hasn’t made it to the screen. It just looks like a big – very dark – mess, with poor dialogue trotted out by an endless procession of on-trend British celebs (Matt Lucas x2, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Alan Rickman) and no plot to speak of. The only redeeming feature is Mia Wasikowska, who is an absolutely wonderful Alice. Just enough innocence and curiosity, balanced with just enough feistiness. And beautiful in the most understated way.

Regardless of the film, I don’t think I’m won over by 3D and I’m sure I wouldn’t rush to see a film in anything other than 2D any time soon. Maybe it’s my very poor eyesight, particularly worse in my right eye, my astigmatisms and the fact that I was wearing high index lenses under my 3D specs but I was unable to focus quickly enough on anything to make out the 3D effect. So it was all a just a blur. When the action was still, I was able to make out the effect but it lacked any detail in the background, more a fault of the film rather than my eyesight, I think. Maybe I’ve just got high expectations…is it like that for everyone?

We’re going to see Kick-Ass later this weekend. I have much higher hopes.