“It really is kind of fortuitous in a back-handed kind of way that the film is going out in this moment…” Mike Hodges BLACK RAINBOW interview (THN)

BWBC

(c) Arrow Films

Out on Blu-ray this month from Arrow Films is Black Rainbow (1989), the obscure and underrated supernatural thriller from writer/director Mike Hodges.

Rosanna Arquette stars as medium Martha Travis, who finds herself dealing not only with alcoholic father Walter (Jason Robards) but chilling messages from the future. Tom Hulce plays journalist Gary Wallace, who gets mixed up with the family and small town corruption.

Get Carter (1971) and Flash Gordon (1980) are Hodges’ best known movies but he’s had a diverse career including the likes of The Terminal Man (1974) and of course Black Rainbow. We sat down to talk about how the film came and went, together with fascinating insights into his life and creative process…

Contains spoilers about the plot of Black Rainbow

 

THN: What sparked the idea for Black Rainbow?

MH: It’s got many strands in some ways. I went to America on World In Action (long running documentary series) in the early Sixties. I went to Detroit and I interviewed the Reuther brothers, who were left wing United Automobile workers. I then learnt the mayhem that surrounded the setting up of unions in America. And both the brothers had been shot in their own homes, much as it is in Black Rainbow, through the window of their homes. One lost an eye and the other one had a withered arm. So that’s sort of one element. The unions were really upended and the whole process of providing protection for American workers was lost, as indeed it has been here really.

Then when I was travelling around looking for locations and things I started buying the local newspapers. They had wonderful names like the Bee, the Sentinel, the Bugle… I bought them because I wanted to find out about ordinary American people’s lives away from the big cities. One story that kept coming up all the time was workers, usually union officials or foremen, being beaten up or on some occasions even being murdered. When the investigation was pursued it was usually found they were whistleblowing on health and safety breaches.

The second element, and probably much more important in a sense, was I wanted to find a way of looking at society – or civilization or whatever you want to call it – ahead of what I thought was very dangerous territory we were moving into, and how unstable it all is. So I came across Doris Stokes, who is a medium, she used to do big shows and I watched her several times and I got a documentary about her. I watched how she played the audience. I realized, once I started playing with the idea that time is a man made effort to control things, that if I had her slip ahead in time then I could start having her talk about what she was seeing in the future. And therefore I had a way of airing my concerns about what we were heading into.

It’s very odd that the film, which was lost… pretty big in Europe and Japan and various other places but here we got terrible distribution… I find it very ironic that when the film got lost, it’s now being revived during a pandemic! It really is kind of fortuitous in a back-handed kind of way that the film is going out in this moment. It carries much more resonance, even than when I made it in some ways.

BR1

(c) Goldcrest Films

Casting-wise, you had Jason Robards, a veteran actor, with the younger Rosanna Arquette and Tom Hulce. Both experienced but at different stages of their careers. How did you all work together and build the relationships in the movie?

That was all written before we brought them together. Burt Lancaster was interested in playing Walter. He considered it for some time, I’m glad he eventually decided against it because I was able to get Jason. Because with Burt, the film would have been compared, unfairly, to Elmer Gantry (1960), which he was in with Jean Simmons. Secondly, he’s too strong a character. It’s very difficult for Burt Lancaster to play a weak man. Jason had done all those amazing Eugene O’Neill Broadway productions. He was into that character.

Rosanna… she was very brave to take this on, because the character that she plays questions the existence of God, questions the raison d’etre of religion. She suggests in many cases “maybe what I’m telling you is untrue”, and any kind of afterlife is ridiculous. In America a lot of actresses didn’t want to do this role and I suspect it was because of that. And of course the agents tend to step in, so if there is any sense of controversy over what the character is portraying they will step in, as it’s liable to damage that person’s career. I was very grateful to her for doing it. I went to about six actresses and they liked it but none of them wanted to play it.

Tom Hulce was the last actor on board. He’s just highly professional, the least showy role. He’s terrific in it.

Black Rainbow is an American story made by a British company (Goldcrest). Did that make a difference in terms of how it turned out? Would it have been different with major studio backing?

It’s difficult to say. My dealings with Hollywood were kind of odd, in the sense that with Get Carter for example, I had to fight tooth and nail for the casting. They wanted to put American stars into it, Telly Savalas and people like that. I had to resign about twenty times, saying “I’m just not doing the film if you’re going to fill it up with actors who are fine in their own right, they’re just not right for this film!” You always had that fight. Then after that The Terminal Man, which I wrote, produced and directed myself, I didn’t really have a problem with the studio. I didn’t really work much more with American companies.

Goldwyn (the Samuel Goldwyn Company) did A Prayer For The Dying. The shooting of it wasn’t a nightmare but the editing was, they took it away and re-edited it without asking me, or showing me the result. They put new music on it. So I’m wary of the studio, but I would be very curious to know if it had been made for the Americans what would have happened, I don’t know.

They certainly would have wanted it to be scarier, but I wanted it to unfold in its own time and its own way, and allow the audience to absorb what was happening. And I think they would have wanted it to be much more Hitchcockian and frightening… I mean, it is frightening but it’s not the conventional edge of the seat kind of movie, biting your nails and the rest of it.

At one point White Heat with James Cagney is shown playing on a TV. Burt Lancaster was nearly involved. Were you looking to make something that was a bit old school Hollywood?

Obviously I’m in my eighties now, and when I was starting to go to the cinema it was in the Fifties and there was a great period of American films. I loved particularly Billy Wilder, Ace In The Hole, Double Indemnity… these were great films. Then of course there was the British industry. It was collapsing when I started Get Carter in the Seventies, there was no industry really. You didn’t go from film to film as you used to under the studio system. I’ve always been influenced by, and I admire, that period of filmmaking.

The comparison between Black Rainbow and Get Carter is odd in many ways, because Newcastle was on the cusp in 1969 when I shot there. I’d been on a minesweeper during my National Service and I’d been all up the east coast going into the most poverty-stricken fishing resorts. Grimsby, Hull, everything… eventually I’d gone into North Shields. I drove up the east coast because I wanted to change the location from Ted Lewis’s book (Jack’s Return Home) and I wanted to incorporate the sights I’d seen during my two years on board minesweepers. We were the Fishery Protection Squadron. The sentiment of the film is exactly the same as in the novel, but I just wanted a different location.

All the ports going up the east coast, they hadn’t gentrified but they’d lost their character. In Hull for example there was a pub called the Albert Hall, it was huge and had sawdust on the floor and there were all these punch ups in there and god knows what. Stuff I wanted to incorporate. They’d all vanished 10 years since I was in the Navy.

And then I remembered North Shields, but of course this time I’m driving so I have to go in via Newcastle. So I see Newcastle for the first time in my life and I think ‘This has got to be the location’. To explain how someone like Jack… not because of the Geordies, they’re lovely people… you can see with the poverty there you might get someone as psychotic as Jack Carter. So I caught Newcastle literally on the cusp. They were pulling down the Scotswood Road, T Dan Smith was in charge so the place stank of corruption as well.

Then back in Charlotte, when I was shooting Black Rainbow, I found a city in exactly the same state. It was on a cusp, just like Newcastle so as a filmmaker you’ve got this wonderful balance between the past, i.e. the films you were talking about, the Hollywood movies, and the future really. In Charlotte there’s a gleaming citadel in the middle of the city and surrounding it you’ve got all this Hopper-esque imagery… you know, Edward Hopper, the American artist who epitomized loneliness with the most incredible paintings… and you had this decaying corruption. That’s another element that came into the making of the film.

 When you make a far out type of project like Flash Gordon, do you have a different approach? Or are there real places you think of when putting these fantastical landscapes together…?

 When Dino (De Laurentiis) asked me to make Flash Gordon I said “Look, I’m the wrong director.” When Nic Roeg left the film, he then came back to me and talked me into doing it. And I’m glad he did, I enjoyed making it and I enjoy the enjoyment it’s given people! It’s a lot of fun Flash. (laughs) But I had never intended to do… one’s career is slightly dictated by the fact you have to earn a living. After I’d finished The Terminal Man, which was not successful at the box office, nor was it critically successful, although I think it may be one of my best films… it was just difficult for me to get finance actually. And here the industry had collapsed, so in part I had to make do with what came my way. Although I resisted it I’m glad ultimately I took it.

When BFI re-released Get Carter, young people saw it for the first time, all the Jack the Lads. The lads’ magazines were onto it like a fly on… cow pats. (laughing) When they then learnt I’d also made Flash Gordon they found the two pretty irreconcilable! Directors make all sorts of different films, like Billy Wilder. If you want to perform a career nowadays, you’ve got to turn yourself into a brand. I mean Hitchcock was very smart in that sense. He just made one sort of film basically. If you want to be successful it’s probably better not to diversify too much because you lose your identity as a director. I don’t know, I can’t answer that.

BR2

(c) Goldcrest Films

The character I found most interesting in Black Rainbow was the hitman (played by Mark Joy). Usually in this type of film he’d be a loner living in the shadows but in this movie you show his family, you show him experiencing all these inconveniences like getting bumped from first class to coach. Then when he finally gets to the scene of the action he’s shot by about 12 gunmen! I was wondering why you approached him that way?

There’s quite a lot of humour actually, because you see this guy with his family…he’s an assassin… his daughter asks “What’s the population of the world Daddy?” and he says “Too many.” The phone rings and he’s had to reduce it by one! (laughs) Then when he walks out on his commission, he goes to his garage and there’s a bum sleeping there and he picks him up, throws him aside and says “Club members only.” He later checks into the airport and wants to go in the club, and the receptionist tells him “Club members only”! He’s kicked out. (laughs) I’m glad you find him intriguing, I did too and why shouldn’t a hitman have a conventional family? And of course it all takes place around Christmas. A lot of sad Christmas decorations in a lot of the scenes.

I’m really pleased you liked that character! Villains are the hardest to cast. I was lucky with Get Carter because of John Osborne, who was so great. You tend to go for obvious, physical looking people, I’m interested in finding other ways of portraying them because they come in all different shapes and sizes.

Both Carter and Black Rainbow, they have a curious sense of timelessness. Get Carter could have been Newcastle at any time from the 1940s onwards. Rainbow’s much the same, it could be any time. I don’t think I did it deliberately, it was accidentally. You don’t know when it’s taking place in a way. I’m very glad it’s out now before I kick the bucket!

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

 

 

 

 

Frightfest 2018 ‘Crystal Eyes’ (Mirada de Cristal) Review (THN)

Recreating bygone eras is a tricky business. Most attempts suffer one major drawback – try as they might, they just aren’t the genuine article. A way round this is to nail every little detail, from the font of the opening titles right down to the special effects. This gives people the impression they really are watching something from the time of grainy VHS and good old-fashioned slasher antics.

Crystal Eyes (Mirada de Cristal) pulls off that trick, but goes one better and creates something entertaining and inspired in its own right. Writer/directors Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano have crafted a fiendishly simple homage that stays absurd throughout without veering into spoof territory.

When drug-addled supermodel Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) dies during a fashion show, the emptiest of industries in mid-80s Buenos Aires tries to fill the void. To this end a tribute is planned, which in effect is a clambering exercise for models looking to take the top spot. But there’s a crazed killer at large offing the glitterati in various and visceral ways. It could be any number of the shallow, vindictive and memorable “personalities” on display. Or it could be Alexis herself, risen from the grave with a Giallo-fuelled grudge.

Despite the genre trappings (which the filmmakers revel in) the action has some unusual touches worthy of David Lynch, though in a league of their own. The title track alone is barmier than a box of frogs with lipstick on, part of Pablo Fuu’s synth wave soundtrack which exists on permanent overdrive.

Everyone is acting like they’re in a telenovela, spouting a raft of exposition-heavy dialogue so judging the performances is pointless. Endelman and Leandro Montejano have a real eye for vivid characters and the small touches they introduce are fantastic. At one point a character walks around in heels having just got out of the shower, and a strategically-placed stone backside also raises a chuckle amongst the chills. The malevolent protagonist (played by the brilliantly-named Issis Trash) is creepy yet ludicrous and the action plays out against the backdrop of stylized sets, grimy basements and old architecture.

Every so often you can see the film is shot on digital but given the Eighties pop video vibe that’s a quibble. You could also argue this is more an overextended sketch than anything, but I was truly taken with it.

For casual viewers the nature of the film will be irrelevant, but hopefully they’ll be drawn into what for me was quite a unique mix of elements. Crystal Eyes is a blast and one of the best evocations of the era I’ve seen. A minor triumph and an instant cult classic.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

“My next picture could be a remake of Howard’s End…” Greg McLean ‘Jungle’ Interview (THN)

Out to own is Jungle, the knuckle-gnawing true story of adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg. Ghinsberg was stranded in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, where he faced a terrifying ordeal battling the elements for his very survival.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Yossi in the movie, which is directed by Wolf Creek‘s Greg McLean. We sat down for a chat about raging rapids, rugged Radcliffes and the inhospitable climes of Wolf Creek Season 2…

THN: The film is something of a departure for you. What drew you to the project?

Greg McLean: I wanted to make a movie where people were trying to save a life rather than take it. (Laughs) A lot of my films have been horror films. I thought the true story was incredible, it was very inspiring. When I first read it I thought what these guys did and how it happened was very moving and it was something worth trying to capture on film and share it with audiences.

What involvement did Yossi Ghinsberg have with the production?

He was very involved. He came down to Colombia and Australia where we shot it and was there the whole time. We spent the day together at first, getting to know each other and talking through everything in great detail. Then we went through the script line by line with me saying “Okay this is what the script says. What actually happened?” Just so I knew that going into the film I was completely armed with everything I could possibly get to give us the reality. Then often I would change things, back to his book. Because the book is a virtual telling of the story, obviously from Yossi’s point of view. But it’s a very clear telling of what went down. I was trying to be as accurate as I could.

How did Daniel Radcliffe come to be cast?

Someone mentioned Daniel and we looked at the movies he’d been doing. He’d been giving some fantastic performances and was seeking out different roles. He loved the character and what the movie presented as an acting challenge. He’s someone who’s looking for challenging projects and this was one!

What scenes were the most difficult to film?

The scene with the guys stuck on the rock and then going down the rapids was pretty massive. It was really dangerous, we didn’t have a green screen. We were clinging to a rock in a raging river, I was just very, very anxious about that. Because if you fell in that water you wouldn’t be coming out. I didn’t want to lose actors in that river or I’d’ve been in trouble! (Laughs) That was hard work. It was necessary to make it feel as real as we could, short of chucking them in the water and seeing if they survived or not.

How long did you have to spend in the jungle each day?

The sun would come up, then we’d work all day till it went down. We’d rehearse then drive up to the mountains, to these villages around Bogotá (Colombian capital). It was a three hour bus drive along these tiny little roads. We’d get up before dawn and go out to these remote locations. It was fairly crazy! Pretty rugged.

If you were shooting there again, is there anything you would do differently?

No, we were pretty lucky with our cast and crew, they were all incredible troupers, throwing themselves into everything. For such a complex, challenging shoot I think we did pretty damned well to get out of it all alive with no casualties. The opportunity for danger was around us all the time, especially with the rafting sequence.

Your movies are generally set in inhospitable environments. Will you ever make something set in, say, a coffee shop?

I really want to! My goal is to make a movie set in like a Downton Abbey-style location. That would be my dream. (Laughs) I do love being outdoors and using the elements to tell stories but I certainly am drawn to telling other stories as well. So maybe my next picture could be a remake of Howard’s End or something.

That I would like to see.

I could throw in some zombies to beef it up a bit.

Indeed! Crucially, what did Yossi and the guys make of the finished product?

Yossi and Kevin saw it and loved it. They thought that the portrayal of them was really accurate. I think they were impressed with it. My intention was to tell their story as truthfully as I knew how to. What those guys went through was pretty amazing and I think they were happy with the result.

What was it like working with James Gunn on The Belko Experiment, which was a long-gestating project?

That was a script he wrote many years ago when he was first starting out. Everyone loved it but they were too scared of it. He was called about it later on but was busy doing Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 so he went out to look for a director. I pitched to him and he really loved it. He’s a great collaborator. He’s basically a film fanatic, which I am as well. I think being a director himself he was cool in terms of what that role needs. If you gel with someone you kind of just leave them alone. You help them but ultimately you let them make the movie.

I’d like to move on briefly to talk about Wolf Creek. What can you tell us about Season 2?

It’s a completely new storyline from scratch. It starts a bigger story arc that may continue if we go into a new season. The basic concept is about an international tours coach in the Outback. They encounter Mick Taylor and all sorts of craziness happens from there! It’s a character-based thriller and incredibly fun.

Mick Taylor is a well-developed character, which you’ve expanded from movies into TV and also books. What is the secret behind his longevity?

There’s the true crime element… a lot of it is drawn from true life cases. His psychology is fairly accurate to real serial killers from Australia. Also I feel people are fascinated by the nature of evil and he is a purely evil character. We’re drawn to try and understand that. Plus he’s a character audiences love to hate!

 

This interview appeared on THN.

‘Verónica’ Review (Frightfest, THN)

A psychologist (Arcelia Ramírez) lives in a secluded mountain location, having sworn off treating patients for good. However when a call comes in asking her to see Verónica (Olga Segura), she decides to try and crack the mystery surrounding this confrontational yet sensitive figure. The professional thinks this is a getting to know you exercise. Verónica believes that as walking stereotypes they know each other already. From there a battle of wits unfolds, rapidly developing into something more intimate and unnerving.

Shot digitally with stark black and white cinematography and showcasing a chilly, fog-strewn landscape, it’s clear we’re in safe albeit sinister hands with directors Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran. Together with writer Tomas Nepomuceno they’ve conjured a classic thriller scenario. The psychologist’s house with its exposed brick walls contrasts with the great outdoors and its connection to primal instinct and rebirth. Segura is quite hypnotic as she and Ramírez test each others’ boundaries. There’s a chemistry between them that keeps the tension simmering, alongside Daniel Wohl’s pulsating score.

The helmers build the intense atmosphere gradually and when things get erotic it makes sense rather than feeling exploitative. “Chaos makes for better honey,” Verónica remarks as she describes the habits of insects in a sequence so sweltering you could probably fry an egg on it. The filmmakers keep the visual trickery to a minimum, letting the action do the talking, but there’s one extended take that delivers in spades on the “weird yet sexy” front. Horror-wise the movie doesn’t get in your face but a scene involving bloodied splinters in a glass of water sticks in the memory.

You could argue the conclusion doesn’t tie together as well as it should but I was by no means disappointed. This is the directing team’s debut feature and I’d be more than satisfied if it was coming from an established name. The production company call themselves The Visualistas. “That sounds like a boast,” I thought. Well they weren’t kidding. Verónica could be the start of something special.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

 

‘Top Knot Detective’ Review (Frightfest, THN)

Believe it or not, as the twentieth century was drawing to a close, there emerged a show so unique, so ground-breaking and above all so violent that it almost changed the face of the small screen forever. Ronin Suiri Tentai (or Top Knot Detective as it’s become known) showcased the unadulterated genius of Takashi Takamoto (above). A former pop star, he was unexpectedly asked by corporate employer Sutaffu to create a TV show.

The result took Japan by storm – Takamoto played Sheimasu Tantai, a samurai driven by bloody vengeance after the brutal “suicide” of his father at the hands of nemesis Haruto Kioke. Sheimasu used his dangerous and sexy skill-set to battle enemies both great and small. Not even children were safe from the surreal antics, with some of the content genuinely shocking.

That’s what was going on in front of the camera. But what about behind the scenes? The making of Top Knot Detective is even more of an eye-opener. Directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce have exhaustively drained the swamp of this bizarre production to bring unsuspecting viewers the truth behind the anarchic legend. The rivalries! Kioke was the son of Sutaffu’s founder and its main star before Takamoto stuck his iron in the fire. When he was rejected as the title character his bitterness ran deeper than a hippopotamus trying to sprint out of some quicksand. The romance! The addition of Mia Matsumoto to the cast as brave warrior Saku led to sparks flying between her and Takamoto. This tender relationship was savagely nipped in the bud when the big cheeses at Sutaffu learned of their clandestine meetings. The appalling crime! Tensions on the show went beyond creative differences, resulting in a gruesome discovery that will chill you to the core.

How could this fascinating and compelling tale possibly get any stranger? Read on to find out…

***SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you intend fully appreciating the warped artistry of Top Knot Detective***

They made it up. I’ll hold my hands up, they got me.

McCann and Pearce are to be applauded for creating something that looks and feels 100% real. They’ve captured the crappiness of bad TV and the authenticity of a documentary in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s quite an achievement to invent something from Japanese entertainment culture, which is notoriously outrageous anyway, and still make it convincing.

However once I discovered Top Knot Detective had led me up the garden path, I felt I’d been kicked in the cultural nuts. Now I know it’s a gag the power of the story is diminished. A narrative I was really invested in turned out to be an in-joke. A really well-executed one but an elaborate prank nonetheless. There’s plenty to admire here and I’d watch out for what the helmers do next. But with so much that’s enjoyably insane about the material they’re spoofing, is it really worth going to such lengths to satirise the extreme? To paraphrase the great Sheimasu himself, deductive reasoning must be applied to get the bottom of that mystery…

 

This review first appeared on THN.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

SH HOB

One of the best things about having a modern day Sherlock is it introduces people to previous incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s definitive detective. So with a new remastering of The Hound Of The Baskervilles arriving to own, why not give Benedict Cumberbatch the slip for eighty minutes and spend some time in the company of dapper deerstalker-wearer Basil Rathbone?

Accompanied by Nigel Bruce‘s Doctor Watson he set the template for the twentieth century take on Baker Street’s most famous resident, popularizing the character as a master of mystery, his faithful yet bumbling companion tagging along in his wake. Baskervilles remains arguably the best-known Holmes story – somewhat curiously as it’s an atypical adventure in many ways, having more in common with a ghost story than a tale of fiendish deduction. Nevertheless, 20th Century Fox chose this as Rathbone’s debut, a decision that nudged the actor’s career into movie legend. Three quarters of a century on however, does the opening instalment endure…?

It does, and for one very important reason, which like a pontificating Holmes I’ll save for later. First off, the yarn itself, which the Cumberbatch series made a rather convoluted stab at adapting a few years ago. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found face down at his Dartmoor pile, the death resurrects rumours of a monstrous canine who roamed the countryside, supposedly wiping out generations of the family. Holmes and Watson are paid a visit by medical man Mortimer (an entertainingly arch performance by Lionel Atwill, one of many), who fears for Sir Charles’ heir Sir Henry (the baby-faced and top-billed Richard Greene). Watson travels with Sir Henry to the Gothic gloom of Baskerville Hall to investigate, his pipe-puffing friend seemingly taking a back seat. Or does he? Cue an array of forebodingly-lit faces, varying accents and enough fog to choke the Albert Hall.

The production fills the soundstage with untamed moorland, which looks marvellous even by today’s standards. Hilariously the opening proclaims there is “no district more dismal than that vast expanse of primitive wasteland”, perhaps the biggest geographical insult in filmic history, only added to by the natives opting for Scottish accents. Some handsome street sets and model work complete the visual splendour. The supernatural elements of the story are accentuated here, with a scene involving a seance and references to the ancient presence of druidic stones.

By far the most successful part of the action is that which other adaptations have struggled with: the title creature itself. Saddling themselves with what is essentially a larger than average dog, previous movies have failed to create a memorable monster. Helmer Sidney Lanfield selects an animal that’s convincingly fearsome without being silly, the climactic skirmish between the hound and Sir Henry being particularly well-staged.

I’m maybe going to annoy some purists by saying I’m not the greatest fan of Rathone. To me he comes across like a gameshow host more than a Master Detective, though the famous disguise sequence is a treat. Bruce forms a pleasing contrast to later, hard-eged interpretations of Watson from actors such as Ian Hart and Martin Freeman.

Extras-wise, StudioCanal have laid on a lavish spread of talking head for aficionados. Author Michael B Druxman delivers a potted history of Rathbone’s colourful career and no less an authority than Sir Christopher Frayling gives us his thoughts on Holmes in a meaty forty-five minute dissection.

The conclusion is brisk and possesses a stiffer upper lip than a deceased Baskerville, though a pointed drugs reference at the end may well surprise. This rollicking re-release shows there’s life in the old dog yet.

This review first appeared on THN.

“We’d wrap a work day and we’d all be covered in dust and snot and tears…” Jeremy Saulnier ‘Green Room’ Interview (The Hollywood News)

GR 3Jeremy Saulnier is a colourful director. I mean this in more ways than one – his breakout feature was the bloody and brutal Blue Ruin (a favourite here at THN) and he’s followed that up with Green Room, which takes the spectrum of violence to a whole new level.

The action horror thriller sees a group of disaffected punk rock youths (including Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots) fall foul of a neo-Nazi movement at a gritty venue. Their gig takes a nightmarish turn when they stumble on a murder scene, putting them squarely in the firing line of an army of skinheads, led by the surprising choice of Patrick Stewart.

Praised by critics for its unflinching use of ultraviolence, it’s left its mark on gore fans and further established Saulnier as a helmer to watch. That’s if you haven’t clamped your fingers over your eyes against the carnage. We got on the phone with him for a chat about the distinctive cinematic thrashing…

GR 1

Where did the scenario for Green Room come from, and what made you decide on skinheads versus punk rockers?

The idea was gestating for a long time, it felt very natural. A lot of my films sprout from environments and I figured I wanted to do a movie set in the punk rocker hardcore scene, just because it’s such a part of my youth, I knew it very well and I don’t see it done in an authentic way very often. You set a film in that world and it often takes place in a venue. What if I could have my cake and eat it too, where I’m in a punk rock world and there’s a live performance happening, and it converges with a traditional genre movie, and to fuse those worlds together? So I thought the ideal place would be the green room backstage. It has a little access. It’s part of the world yet separate. And it’s the same reason I had skinheads as adversaries, because they’re part of the punk rock world. They’re natives, you see them at a show and it’s believable, but they’re also at the fringes and separate from the subcultures within punk rock. I saw them as soldiers. They would be the most likely to be organized in criminal activity, the structure and hierarchy – they take marching orders, they actually wear combat boots. It lined up pretty easily for me.

The film is incredibly violent. How did you work that out in terms of the choreography?

I’d pre-visualized the concert venue and we actually built that as a soundstage set, constructing the whole thing from scratch. Being able to design the environment meant a lot less of a translation problem when I went from script to screen and did the choreography. The blocking was already halfway there. I covered the action and make up because I grew up making movies that way, my partners and I were big into action and horror and zombie films and whatnot. That was really fun for me. I’ve used that skillset for twenty years.

Obviously it’s intense to watch. What was the atmosphere like on set?

The days were intense as we had to keep that level of emotional continuity. There were a lot of very intense exchanges, pleading and crying and screaming. So it gets to that level between takes, over and over to cover the whole scene. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting for sure. From the very beginning we cast the movie in a way where we knew we’d feel safe and comforted by each others’ mutual respect and investment in the characters and story we were telling. So it was really quite nice and supportive! We’d wrap a work day and we’d all be covered in dust and snot and tears… even some of the crew members would start crying because it was really intense to watch. Very harrowing and very real. But then we’d have a nice little decompression session and they’d get a bite or a drink. It’s a rare thing I imagine where every single actor is incredibly gracious and great to be around. It was a treat for me.

GR 2

Tell me about Patrick Stewart’s involvement. Did he have much input into his character?    

He came to the film late in the process, he kind of swooped in and saved the day for us. We wanted a real presence for the role of Darcy Banker and he was looking for material, and it was perfect for us in terms of the timing and our mutual intentions. He loved how dark it was, and the intense atmosphere. He just kind of jumped on board, it was very high risk. The only thing he wanted more of was a little insight into his backstory. He did his own research, which was great and we also gave him a narrative history of his character based on a lot of research I had put together. The great thing for me was he asked for nothing to be done to the script to accommodate him, he just needed to get his bearings and have a little more to dig into, so once he had that he was on a plane to Portland and he was making the movie, it was crazy!

How did you go about realizing the female side of the film in this testosterone-driven environment? Imogen Poots’ role for example…?

For Imogen’s character it was really about experimenting with the traditional female role in this kind of movie. At first we don’t pay her much attention. She emerges from the shadows and develops, becoming a lot more present, and that was really good to go there and have her take on a traditional male role. The thing about Green Room is that estrogen is just as powerful as adrenaline… or testosterone rather! (Laughs) But they can be joined together through adrenaline! And doing that in a pressurized scenario was really fun.

GR 4

This interview first appeared on THN.

Dem Bones In Da Movies

JA 2We’ve all got them. We just don’t like to think about them. Nevertheless bones are everywhere in the movies. Most commonly they’re used in horror flicks to get a quick and easy shock reaction. Nothing reinforces the grim reality of death better than a skull, or spectral finger pointed in the audience’s direction.

Dig a little deeper however and you’ll find bones have been employed creatively throughout cinema history. Whether entertaining children or even hinting at the nature of the universe, there’s a lot more to the matter than meets the eye… well, ocular socket anyway.

So make sure you’ve drunk your milk because I’m taking you on a rattling good tour of the various ways in which moviemakers have made us aware of what lies just under the skin…

INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

IJ CS​​Harrison Ford may find his next foray with a fedora and bullwhip rather poignant, as the pensionable adventurer excavates yet more danger and derring do for Indiana Jones 5. Spooling back to 2008 though, his last outing featured the remains of an ancient civilization, but one of the like he’d never seen before.

Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull brought Indy face to face with a bonce of unimaginable power, in a belated tale of father-son bonding, flesh-eating ants, Cate Blanchett going the full smoked ham and the important advice that you can avoid a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge.

The big finale, set in an Amazon temple, saw the crystal artefact’s true purpose revealed – in a first for the series Dr Jones got introduced to aliens, and director Steven Spielberg wasn’t in the mood to make them cuddly. The producers put all their eggs in one basket for a climax that had something for everyone… and at its centre was that eerie, all-knowing skull.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE RED SKULL ​                                                            RS

The star-spangled shield slinger is really up against it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at present. Having battled Ultron, he’s locking horns with former friend Iron Man for his third movie, Civil War. But there’s only one true nemesis for Captain America – old war foe The Red Skull.

His terrifying appearance was due to an attempt to become a supersoldier like Chris Evans’ title hero, an experiment which went ever so slightly wrong. Cap then took on Skull over possession of the fearsome Tesseract, a relic capable of giving its user unlimited energy.

This bald bad ass has the full complement of evil credentials. He’s a Nazi. He has an insatiable thirst for power. And above all he’s only got half a face. Woe bedtide the underling who suggests he needs a nose job.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK: TOOTH FAIRIES

DBAOTD

Mad Mexican helmer Gullermo del Toro has a tendency to take established ideas and give them his own warped spin, to great critical and commercial effect. An obscure TV movie about goblins became a passion project for him forty-odd years after it first aired – 2010’s Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.

Handsome yet haunted couple Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes moved into a perilous pile of prime real estate that unbeknownst to them had a history of carnage, care of some child-seeking tiny creatures. The dark dynamo reworked these as tooth fairies, though left the directing honours to comic book guy Troy Nixey.

Why tooth fairies? Because they liked to feast on your pearly whites of course! The monsters enjoyed getting their teeth into your teeth, a concept del Toro had previously explored in Hellboy sequel The Golden Army.

ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING: APATOSAURUS SKELETON

OOODIM

​While you’re marvelling at the rampaging skinless T-Rex at the centre of the Night At The Museum franchise, spare a thought for the movie that came first in that predatory respect –  1975’s One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing.

The Disney classic featured the Natural History Museum as the venue for slapstick-fuelled mayhem. The multi-boned Apatosaurus exhibit was chosen as an unlikely place to hide a microfilm by crusading Brit Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo). From there ensued a battle of wits between the Chinese government and, erm, some nannies.

The film is well-remembered for the spectacle of the former flesh eater being driven around London on the back of a steam lorry. The presence of Peter Ustinov as ethnically questionable character Hnup Wan – alongside Carry On stars Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw – also raised eyebrows.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: JACK SKELLINGTON

JS

One of the most famous onscreen skeletons of all wasn’t made of calcium but modelling clay. Tim Burton proved the perfect candidate to create a heartwarming family tale based on his dark verse, which made Jack Skellington the all-singing, all-dancing focus. Henry Selick sat in the director’s chair, moulding the movie’s plasticine legs.

The story is as well-known as a Grimm’s fairy tale, but in case you’re out of the loop, here it is. Skellington was the toast of Halloween Town, until he stumbled upon Christmas Town, and his whole attitude to life changed as he attempted to bring the two sides of the coin together for a bizarre and brutal festive experience.

Jack had quite a pedigree behind the scenes – his elegant vocals came courtesy of regular Burton composer Danny Elfman, but his lines were delivered by Chris Sarandon, better known as vampire hunk Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night.

JURASSIC PARK: RAPTOR CLAW

JP

​Sometimes the smallest things can be the most powerful, an idea ably demonstrated by Steven Spielberg in 1993 game changer Jurassic Park. It wasn’t all giant scaly horrors running around the place gobbling up lawyers and giving Newman from Seinfeld a venom facial.

Before we even saw a “living” dinosaur we were introduced to rebel paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), who gave a mouthy young scamp an education on velociraptor hunting habits at a dig site. His illustrative tool? A rather nasty-looking claw. As the accompanying picture shows it wasn’t long before the kid was seeing those so-called relics in a whole new light.

It was in many ways a quiet scene, but one underscored by a playful bite. Neill’s laid back tones, contrasting with the vivid subject matter being described, set the scene for the theme park-based action horror fest to come. The actor returned for Jurassic Park III. Sadly the claw didn’t.

THE SKULL

PC TS

Though Hammer Studios made a lasting mark on the British horror film it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Amicus Productions, who specialized in gore-filled compendiums. These typically depicted several grisly chapters under the umbrella of one movie. In the mid-Sixties they had a go at beating Hammer at their own game in our next bony slice of terror, The Skull.

Based around the idea of the late Marquis de Sade’s noggin being detached, enabling the decapitator to use its evil powers, the story (by Psycho’s Robert Bloch) starred Peter Cushing as a supernatural anorak who came into possession of the title object, complete with terrifying telepathic abilities. This inanimate neck topper left a trail of death and destruction in its cranial wake.

The Skull has unfortunately not survived well against the likes of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness and The Devil Rides Out, but it carried a welter of talent both in front of and behind the camera: Christopher Lee and Michael Gough shared the screen with Cushing and Freddie Francis lined the lurid lenses.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: BONE THROW

2001

​The most important bone on this list (stop sniggering) is also the most important in human history, according to Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 collaboration with Arthur C Clarke. Trying to get the story of 2001 down in one paragraph would be stupider than a neanderthal eating his own dung, but here are the basics.

Back at the dawn of intelligent life on Earth a monolith appeared, heralding a strange, ominous, mysterious and beautiful introduction into the world of an interplanetary power. Got that? Good. In a lengthy opening sequence we hung out with primitive humanity as they eked out their existence on the barren landscape.

One particular primate discovered the power of a bone as the way forward for his species – an emblem of Mankind’s capacity to create and destroy. He promptly chucked it into the air, where Kubrick cleverly cut from its spinning trajectory to that of a ship hanging in space. The scene straddled our primal past and hi tech future in one striking gesture.​

PREDATOR 2: XENOMORPH TROPHY

P2 AS

This nod to the Dark Horse comic looked like a throwaway thing, but turned out to be the biggest blink and you’ll miss it moment of recent times. ​It was just a fleeting appearance, but the in joke of a xenomorph skull on a spaceship in the latter’s Arnie-free sequel created a momentum that led to a whole other horror franchise.​

Danny Glover felt too old for the shit of Lethal Weapon, but was the right age it seemed for this crock of urban action, which relocated the title monster from the great outdoors to the City of Angels. The climactic scenes saw Glover access the Predator’s crib where he stumbled on its macabre trophy collection.

Over a decade later the potential was capitalized on with Alien vs Predator. It didn’t receive a red hot reception, but gave rise to a bizarre follow up, in addition to the dreadlocked death dealer taking centre stage again for Predators.

JASON & THE ARGONAUTS: UNDEAD ARMY

JA

Animator Ray Harryhausen was one of the driving forces behind stop motion production. If he hadn’t sat there patiently manipulating and snapping all those fantasy creations we wouldn’t have had the spectacles of the Sinbad movies or Clash Of The Titans. From Minotaur to Medusa, he gave generations of kids nightmares.

Jason & The Argonauts, my final entry, was one of his crowning achievements. The bronzed and bearded Todd Armstrong went on a quest across the exotic and creature-strewn Colchis, in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. He encountered various fully-poseable beasties, but Harryhausen saved the best and indeed boniest for last.

The final section of the film showcased a massive swordfight between Jason’s men and a team of skeletal warriors brought up from the earth by the evil Aeëtes​. He even used the teeth of the fearsome Hydra as seeds from which to grow the menace. This sequence is so perfectly executed, blending actors and effects, that it still looks as impressive now as it did back in 1963.

10 Film Sequels That Went In Wildly Different Directions (WhatCulture)

PS ICThe psychology behind a sequel is simple: more of the same, and usually bigger. After all, since the first film was a great success, why change a winning formula? While it’s generally accepted that a follow up won’t match the original, producers can always rely on dollar signs as a motivating force.

Over the years, scores of audience members have sat in the cinema only to emerge two hours later wondering why they bothered. The bloated spectacles of Speed 2, Bad Boys II and Escape From LA are testament to that.  However every so often that rule is broken, and a director will try something different with a new instalment. From a shift in tone to a complete change in storyline, there are sequels out there that mean more than an increase in budget and a digit jammed onto the end of the title. Here we take a look at ten of the best/worst examples…  Read more.

“I dream in Technicolor…” Tyler Shields Interview For ‘Final Girl’ (The Hollywood News)

TSNotorious snapper Tyler Shields has made his directorial debut with horror film Final Girl. It’s safe to say when Shields puts his name to something it isn’t going to be run of the mill, and that’s certainly the case here.

A tense, atmospheric and above all strange tale of revenge, it stars Abigail Breslin as a young assassin charged with wiping out a group of teen psychopaths and Wes Bentley as her grizzled mentor. I got on the Fifties-style phone for a look past the movie’s Americana exterior and into the bloody, beating heart beneath…

The film is arguably quite unusual. What drew you to this story?

Oh Steve, I wouldn’t say it’s arguably unusual, I’d say it’s very unusual! (Laughs) I don’t think anything necessarily drew me to the story. I came up with this world, and the movie came to be very different. Part of my idea is I don’t want to make the same old movie that we’ve seen a bunch of times, nobody wants to do that, nobody wants to be in it. Let me make something unique, let me make something people will say is unusual, and let me do it with no CGI. Let me have this whole world, and create something different and they said ‘Okay’!

FG AB WBThe central relationship is between Abigail Breslin and Wes Bentley. How did you end up casting them and what work did you do together on their characters? They’re supposed to have a twelve year association…

Abigail was the first choice for the movie and once she signed on her and I had a conversation about it, and we both had Wes Bentley as our idea. She was a big fan of his and he’s someone who I wanted to work with, and so we reached out to Wes and he said ‘I’d love to do it. I love the idea, love doing something different…’ So he signed on. He was doing another movie at the time… I want to say he was coming from that Terrence Malick movie, the name escapes me (Knight Of Cups)… he finished that movie two or three days before, then came straight to this, so we had to get them together quickly. The first thing we shot with them was her shaving his head… in real life. So that was their first bonding experience!

What led to you taking the very stylized, almost theatrical approach to the material? I’m thinking particularly in terms of the lighting…

The lighting is something that is translated from my photography, and the idea with that was I wanted to use it as almost a character. The lighting creates this tone for you, so a certain character is onscreen, they’re lit a certain way, and it gives you a certain feeling and I wanted to try to carry that for the whole film.

FGAnd what was your thinking behind the more distinctive imagery? The powder scene for example (Breslin’s character dreams that she and Bentley are hit with a red dust)…

These are all… a lot of this movie is about how your mind works. What you’re afraid of, what you might dream, what might happen if you’re tapped into your deep subconscious. That to me is an interesting dream, a lot of people dream in only black and white but I dream in Technicolor. So I would have these vivid dreams where there would be these colour explosions, and that’s part of your mind opening in a different way. I wanted to include that in the film, so when she’s having this really intense moment within her own mind, this explosion hits. That’s why we put that in there.

You mentioned Wes Bentley’s head actually being shaved, which was quite spontaneous I imagine! Did much improvisation happen during the shoot?

Oh yes! Every day we did at least one hour of improv’ing. I would encourage the boys and Wes and Abigail to create little things here and there for their characters. We would just add things as we went, and that was part of the fun.

How did you assemble that cast of young men? Did you audition them together, was it a gradual process, or…?

Logan Huffman I had worked with a bunch. Alexander Ludwig I had shot when he was sixteen, so I knew I wanted those two. Then I had two of my other friends who were supposed to do the movie, but they were both on TV shows and the shows wouldn’t let them out. So we had to recast their parts a week before shooting.

You wouldn’t know it was a last minute thing, as they all complement each other quite well…

Yeah, and one of the things is, as soon as we cast Cameron Bright and Reece Thompson, and we got all the boys together, they took their wardrobe – they stole their wardrobe! – from set and started going out in character, in costume on the streets of Vancouver. What was really great was that by the time we were done shooting the movie, if somebody was done shooting and it was their day off they would still come to set. Logan had wrapped but everyone just loved having him on set, so he kept coming. And then the same thing with Reese and the same thing with Cameron. Everyone wanted to be there, it was this great environment.

LH FGDid any other movies inspire you when you were putting the project together?

You know, there isn’t a movie where I was like ‘Let’s make it look like this movie’, but there’s certain movies throughout history where you look at them and they have such a distinct visual style. Tony Scott… you can watch a Tony Scott movie and you think ‘Oh this is Tony Scott!’ That was kind of the idea for this. Not to copy these things, but to basically make a colour version of a Thirties or Forties noir movie.

It’s your first film. What would you say you learned from the experience?

Obviously you learn a lot. You learn when you do anything. I think one of the things for me was the improv stuff that we did worked really well. I would continue that, because we used a lot of it in the movie. One of the most important things is creating that environment on set, because people were really happy and really comfortable, and they all wanted to be there. If we didn’t do that I think it would have been a big failure.

This interview appeared on The Hollywood News. Final Girl is out now on DVD.