“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)

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

 

 

 

 

“The tortoise was very responsive to strawberry juice.” John Carroll Lynch ‘Lucky’ Interview (THN)

Out today is Lucky, a very personal comedy-drama about a man at the end of his years coming to terms with life in a remote part of America. Playing the title character is the man who inspired it, the late great Harry Dean Stanton, in his final starring role.

Actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch was tasked with bringing Lucky’s story to the screen. Lynch is well known as Norm Gunderson from the Coen BrothersFargo, as well as Twisty the Clown in American Horror Story. He’s worked with the best in the industry for decades, from Michael Keaton (The Founder) to Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino). We sat down with John to talk about this ambitious directorial debut and what it was like working with Harry Dean, as well as supporting actor and namesake David Lynch

THN: What brought you to Lucky’s door?

John Carroll Lynch: My friend Drago (Sumonja) was one of the writers, I had known Logan (Sparks, co-writer) as well and the two of them approached me as an actor to play one of the roles in the film as they were trying to put it together. Then a couple of months later, because Drago knew I had wanted to direct for quite a while, they came back to me and asked if I would direct the film. I really loved the script, I thought it was really good and Harry was already attached to play Lucky, which is not surprising because they based it on him. It didn’t take me long to say yes.

You’ve worked with many great directors over the years. For your directorial debut, you had Harry Dean Stanton, who’s worked with everyone, and David Lynch on top of that… you must have been very confident or very nervous, or both! What was it like…?

The opportunity to work with great people has always been attractive to me, and it’s been true since I started out as an actor. Great people, being great at their jobs make you better, in terms of how they come to the set or the stage to work, but they also teach you about how you could do that too. All of that was attractive to me, not distracting.

The film was shot at a rapid pace of eighteen days. When you’re doing your directorial debut, try to find an actor as good as Harry Dean Stanton to play your lead… do that first! See if that doesn’t cover a lot of your problems. That being said, I knew I had a leg up, once the cast came together and once David said yes I turned to Ira Steven Behr one of the producers and said: “Now I’m the only person who can f*ck this up!”

Gratefully it came out the way it did and people have responded…so many people get an opportunity to do their first film and they’re very good but nobody sees them. And with this one, it’s played all over the world, particularly in Europe because of Harry and David’s fan association there. In terms of how the movie unfolds, it’s a very European film.

Let’s talk about David Lynch… he’s known as an actor but in his own projects. What was it like directing him outside of his own universe?

Well, he loved Harry, he was one of his best friends. They had met when Harry was doing a film… interestingly enough Terrence Malick was in the first class at the American Film Institute and David Lynch was in the second. Terrence Malick had gotten more notes than Harry Dean Stanton to do his student film, which is shocking, the idea of that makes me laugh. They met when David came to observe one of Terrence’s shooting days, so they’d known each other since 1970. He had been in, I think, seven of his projects, and that’s the reason he’s in the film. We had been looking for somebody to play Howard and it was Harry who suggested him.

When he came to the set we were barely able to get him for any amount of time. But he agreed to it, he came to the set and it was the first time I had spoken to him directly. He came so well prepared and so steeped in the material. He had done a bit of adjusting to make it easier for him to read and it was a beautiful adjustment he had made. I know I should have been more worried, more intimidated, but he made it easy not to be. And also because it was close to the end of the picture and my focus was on Harry he really made it so simple. He came, and he made a Howard who was so disarming and innocent, which I thought was surprising given the rest of his work! (Laughs)

In the opening shot, a tortoise has to crawl across the frame. I was thinking that must have been either quite easy or extremely difficult to shoot. What’s it like to direct a tortoise?

The tortoise was very responsive to strawberry juice. (Laughs) So we tried to bribe the tortoise by putting strawberry juice on various rocks that it would smell and move towards. It didn’t always do that, so we have a lot of extra material where we’re resetting the tortoise and resetting the tortoise and resetting the tortoise! That choice of shot is important because it teaches the audience how to watch the movie. Almost all first shots in movies teach you how to watch them, and that was no exception.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

‘King Cohen: The Wild World Of Filmmaker Larry Cohen’ Review (THN)

Think you know Larry Cohen? If you’re a movie buff you might recognize his name from cult classics like Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), The Stuff (1985) and notorious infant horror picture It’s Alive (1974).

Steve Mitchell’s wild yet warm-hearted documentary is here to tell you one thing… you don’t. Cohen is a major player in American independent film but has managed to hide in plain sight for decades. He employed the services of great Hollywood veterans such as star Bette Davis and composer Bernard Herrmann. At the same time he stunned the cinematic community with his guerrilla filmmaking approach.

This contradiction between loved figure and health and safety nightmare is at the heart of the film, and it works beautifully. It’s a treat for anyone interested in seat-of-the-pants movie production, containing stories that will shock and amuse in equal measure. For example, there was the time he caused a panic in New York by staging a pitch battle on the exterior of the Chrysler Building for Q.

As remarked by the doc’s numerous contributors (among them Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante) Cohen is a one of a kind, who existed in a pre-911 climate. A time when a crew could rock up at an airport and stage an impromptu brawl on the baggage carousel without causing an international incident. For Cohen, if such a thing occurred, he’d have his camera out ready to include it in the picture.

The man himself is wonderful company, a frustrated stand up comedian walking the line between swagger and sensitivity. Cohen has been in the business since he was a teenager and there are some big surprises here. I had no idea he created The Invaders (1967-68), and if you don’t know what that is maybe you’ve heard of blaxploitation? Cohen was right there at the start of it!

King Cohen is affectionate but anarchic, showcasing a great director and most impressively of all a prolific writer. Even today, Cohen is producing pages of material that both inspire and infuriate his peers.

Mitchell’s portrait will hopefully bring Cohen the acclaim he deserves. He’s had it from fans and fellow filmmakers in spades. Now it’s time for the world to know who Larry Cohen truly is.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

“None of us knew quite how crazy the tides were.” Simon Rumley Interview, ‘Crowhurst’ (THN)

Out to own on DVD/Blu-ray is Crowhurst, the true life story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. His decision to take part in a round-the-world yacht race in 1968 had catastrophic consequences, as Donald found himself quite literally out of his depth. His boat was found but its occupant was never seen again.

Justin Salinger plays the title role in this unusual and powerful drama, which found itself competing against another Crowhurst picture, The Mercy with Colin Firth.

Simon Rumley is the acclaimed and innovative director who battled strong currents to tell Crowhurst’s tale in his own unique way. Producing the film was Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look NowPerformance), a trailblazer in his own right who had attempted his own version years before.

We caught up with Simon to talk about depicting this sea-bound mystery…

THN: What brought you to the project?

Simon Rumley: I was offered the project. At that point, I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst, but I did some research and read the script and it was one of those things where you think “Is this really true?” It really was one of those stranger than fiction moments. And the story I felt had a lot of themes I’d dealt with in the past.

As much as anything I liked the idea of the guy being British and having what I suppose you would call arrogance in one respect and confidence in another. I thought there was a way of investigating national characteristics and our national traits.

And also the subject of isolation and loneliness. He was essentially a good guy but he makes all these terrible mistakes which have an impact on him and his family. I thought it would make a fascinating film investigating someone’s psyche.

Water is famously difficult to shoot on. How did you find working with it?

Yeah! Pretty much what everyone said it was going to be, to be honest. Initially, we were going to do 2 days at sea, and I said: “Look we should at least try 3.” Then that somehow went up to 4. We shot for 4 days and at the end, we didn’t have an opening scene or a closing scene. So we had to do 2 more days and then the motorboat we had to have for insurance purposes broke down on the final day.

We were also shooting in the Bristol Channel… none of us knew quite how crazy the tides were. It turned out it has the second strongest tides of anywhere in the world. We could only sail at certain times or we’d be f***ed. We would set up a shot, get ready to shoot it and then the captain would be like “We’ve got to turn around or we’ll crash!” And we’d just spent the last half hour setting everything up.

The other thing with the Bristol Channel is there’s land on either side, so the first morning was pretty much useless. We tried to film it so there was no land in the background but 99% of the time there was land. It proved quite challenging! While it’s not true to say the script went out the window, we tried to get as much of it as we could, but some scenes were lost.

Interestingly that gave the film an intensity because we had lots of cutaways and mini-sequences of Donald looking into the distance. We shot as much footage as we could, so even if we didn’t have the script we had enough to replace what we missed with something else. It was an enjoyable experience oddly. As a director, it was the time I had to think most on my feet really.

Nicolas Roeg is the executive producer, and he wanted to film the story himself years ago. How much of a creative influence did he have, or did he let you go your own way with it?

Mike (Michael Riley, producer) already knew him. He’s one of my favourite directors, if not my favourite, and we thought he should come aboard. We went out to a pub a couple of times, he read the script. We had some fairly lengthy discussions, which would kind of go in and out of the script and sometimes he would bring up one of his own films.

Having him certainly changed the film to a degree, because the film was written linearly, and the combination of having him on board and what I was talking about before, shooting more than what we had in the script… when we were in the edit Mike said “I want to make this as Roegian as possible. Try and do what Nic would do.” Certainly having someone encouraging me to go in non-linear fashion, to go a bit crazy and all that stuff, definitely shaped the film and obviously having Nic in the background was the main reason behind that. All of that encouraged me in the edit.

I hadn’t seen any of his films for a while and was thinking “What if he asks me about them?”. Before we met I watched some of his films and then the one he did mention was one I hadn’t rewatched, Castaway (1986). As he pointed out, it’s different of course, but had the same theme of self-imposed exile and was about a man losing his marbles.

There’s an unexpected amount of singing in the film! Where did that come from?

I’m a big music fan, films aside, and I suppose going back to what I was saying about it being a film with a quintessentially British character to it… I wanted to have a shorthand about a sense of British pride and duty. For Queen and Country. I thought it was a way of getting that emotion across.

We knew that The Mercy was in production at the same time. There was no way we were going to match the glossiness of their film, so we went the opposite way. I thought it would give it a unique character and make it different.

There was also something in Magnolia, where three-quarters of the way through all the characters sing. I guess that’s something that stayed with me. The songs are a manifestation of Donald’s isolation and loneliness.

This interview 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.

Logan: Comic Books Characters Transformed By The Movies (BRWC)

Those anticipating Hugh Jackman’s last roll of the dice as Wolverine will have noticed something different about the clawed crusader. Publicity for the film depicts Logan as he’s never been seen on the big screen before. With this fresh visual take on an MCU stalwart about to slash its way into cinemas, now is a good time to look back at other classic comic book characters who got a major makeover, courtesy of those handed the keys to their respective franchises.

Sometimes a visionary director will dictate a new style. Sometimes a new element will be brought in from the printed page, as yet unknown to a casual audience. And every so often sheer lunacy rules the day! Either way, the business of bringing these illustrated icons to life in a movie is one fraught with peril, as the beady eyes of comic book fans prepare to deliver their all-important verdict. Who got it right and who burned in the fires of online forum hell forever…?

Read on…

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

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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

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​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

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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

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​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

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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

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​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

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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

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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.

Trash Blu-Ray Review (The Hollywood News)

Political corruption and intrigue form the backdrop to Trash, an involving action thriller set apart by two things. First, the unusual location – the slums of Rio De Janeiro, dominated by their mountains of litter. Second, the perspective – it’s seen mainly through the eyes of three kids who stumble upon a hotbed of deception that changes their lives forever.

Raphael (Rickson Teves), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and the delightfully-named Rat (Gabriel Weinstein) earn their meagre living sifting through what society dumps quite literally on their doorstep. But when Raphael discovers an abandoned wallet pitched into a passing garbage truck by man-on-the-run José Angelo, he finds it contains a strange document. Unbeknownst to the boy, Angelo has been apprehended and murdered by the police at the behest of a prominent politician, and with no information extracted the authorities begin combing the trash heaps to recover whatever it is that holds their future in the balance.

Stephen Daldry is the director, which surprises as you don’t normally associate him with this type of movie. Even more eyebrow-raising is Richard Curtis‘s involvement, adapting Andy Mulligan‘s novel. Curtis has a well-developed social conscience but Trash is strong meat for the writer of Love Actually. The viewer needn’t worry as both men do a decent job – they’ve crafted a proper thrill ride, featuring some great chase sequences and moments of pulse-pounding suspense.

They opt to show the children commenting on the majority of the action via a video confessional made later in the movie, hence reassuring us of their safety throughout. This is just as well, as the film doesn’t do things by halves. Like with Slumdog Millionnaire the villains don’t go easy on the protagonists because they’re kids – one sequence in particular where Raphael is tortured by warped cop Gonz (Selton Mello) is very difficult to watch. Overall however the tone is well-judged, balancing pathos with a light touch (these are wayward boys after all), in numerous scenes which leap off the screen.

This is intended to be an entertainment first and foremost, so inevitably the social context fades into the background. For preference I would have liked more detail about the country and indeed the lads themselves as characters. To the filmmakers’ credit it should be noted they hammer home some stark truths in the closing minutes. Some extras about Rio’s upheavals would have been beneficial, but unfortunately the release carries just the film, which is a major missed opportunity. Another minor criticism is you don’t get a thorough understanding of what Angelo was opposing in the first place, beyond a general idea. But there’s certainly enough to go on and the piece has a strong ending, with a showdown in a cemetery as satisfying as anything from a Jason Bourne chapter.

Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara are good as a priest and a nun working in the slums, but really they’re providing support for Daldry’s trio of young actors, who are a triumph and the movie’s main selling point. By parachuting in two American faces the director has managed to realize what is essentially a foreign language film on the scale of a Hollywood outing. He could so easily have had everyone speaking English, but resisted the temptation to his credit.

Whether Trash will live on as a statement about the desperate situation in a little-seen part of the world, or if it’ll wind up as just another title on the DVD shelves remains to be seen. As an involving two hours it succeeds in spades. Its legacy on the other hand has yet to be judged.
This review appeared on The Hollywood News.

All Wool Be Revealed! Interview With ‘Shaun The Sheep Movie’ Directors (The Hollywood News)

Richard-Starzak-Mark-Burton-Shaun-The-Sheep-MovieShaun The Sheep Movie is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray after a baa-rilliant reception on the big screen. In many ways the original farm heroes saga, its story follows Shaun and the gang as they head into the big city to rescue their gibberish-speaking custodian, the Farmer.

The film was praised for its echoing of old school slapstick comedy and hopes are high for a follow up. So while the gears of the studios whirr in contemplation over that, we sat down with writer/directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton for a good old bleat…

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-2Shaun The Sheep on TV is only a few minutes long. How did you go about expanding the concept to feature length?

Richard: That was the big challenge. That’s why I think me and Mark work as well together. Mark’s had much experience of writing feature scripts and we had to find a story that could sustain that long. We had to dig deeper into the characters, a lot deeper than we do in the series. The series could be quite surface, you know, one of the episodes could be just the characters getting stuck together with a tube of glue. We had to think of a bigger story for this…

You needed a bigger tube of glue almost.

Mark: Massive tube of glue!

Richard: A tube of emotional glue…

Mark: The other thing was taking characters out of their comfort zone, take them into a few worlds, so we took them into the big city.

I use this word in inverted commas, but what was an “average” day like on the set?

Richard: Me and Mark got together at 8 in the morning, and we’d go through all the shots we’d be shooting that day with our production team. Make sure everyone knows what’s happening… and then we’d go onto the studio floor, see the progress of the shots. We treat the animators like actors, so we brief them on the set, tell them what we want. We want to know what the character’s thinking. We go through all the detail when everything’s set up and lit, like a live action shoot. But at the same time we’re also having to deal with music, with editing, any other story issues that come up… the day lasts from 8 till 8 at night.

Mark: And weekends as well.

Richard: And a few weekends. So it’s a very intense time really.

Mark: It’s not really a 9 – 5 job. You’re very involved and engaged in everything. Like all directors we’ll say we’re power mad and trying to keep an eye on all aspects of the film, right up to the marketing really.

Omid-DjaliliMoving onto the cast, you’ve got a lot of comedians in the film, notably Omid Djalili. What dynamic did they bring?

Richard: Omid was great because he’s a comedy star, he’s been in some Hollywood movies… and we wanted him to grunt and make some noises!

Mark: He rose to the challenge because he got the point, which was that it’s not really about the dialogue in that sense, it’s about non-verbal communication. So he brought a lot to the character of the baddie, Trumper. He was totally up for it, and not just in terms of being funny. He’d have that range where he’d go from these very small little verbal things we could use, right up to big, Omid-type screaming. But he could bring a level of subtlety to it.

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-Trumper-Omid-DjaliliThat’s what he brought, and I think John Sparkes (Absolutely) – who obviously works on the series – and Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumble)… they kind of rose to the challenge. Like a big Hollywood movie we were were going to take these characters’ emotions very seriously, so the comedy worked and the emotion worked… we stretched them out. It was a slightly bizarre process sometimes as you can imagine, but ultimately it was quite a rewarding and illuminating one.

Talking of dramatic intrigue, how did Nick Park’s cameo appearance come about?

Richard: The joke came about first I think. We had the idea of the bird spotter, the twitcher, getting revealed and attacked by the birds he’s spying on. He’s a bit of a voyeur. Then we remembered that Nick Park’s a very keen bird spotter.

Mark: He had a great sense of humour about it.

Nick-ParkAnimation gives you more free rein than in reality, but was there anything you wanted to do that you couldn’t achieve?

Richard: The story went through lots of iterations, but it was quite meticulously-planned so we knew what we’d be doing…

Mark: There’s a little bit of begging and bartering that goes on. Obviously we’ve got a production crew working to tight deadlines. So sometimes when we’d want to do a shot at the end, maybe we weren’t quite happy with it, or if we wanted to see more characters… to be fair, what’s great about the Aardman team is that they’ve done it for so long they can accommodate that. It was very rare you’d get told “no”! A bit of chin stroking sometimes, a bit of “hmm”. But they always try to facilitate the directors.

Richard: What was interesting with the city was that the size of the sets, and the size of the shots, were kind of prescribed by the physical size of the space. We were in this crazy warehouse down on the outskirts of Bristol, where the production is done. And sometimes the camera would hit the ceiling! That’s as far as it goes. It’s like, you want to get a nice, big, swooping top shot and we literally hit the sky, so that’s it. But that’s okay, you kind of work into that…

Why do you prefer working with stop motion animation? I like it, but it seems quite laborious compared to CGI…

Richard: I don’t know whether it is any more laborious. I think you have to go through all the same processes as other forms of animation. I just love the way it feels, the way you engage with it. It’s visceral, you go down on the sets, you’ve got real sets, real props, real lighting cameramen up ladders… it’s great, like doing live action very slowly. I think the audience likes to know that the things are real. The exhibitions are very popular as well, we’ve got one in France at the moment and it’s very successful. People love to see that stuff.

Mark: I think the audience gets more out of that. I mean, we love CGI, don’t get us wrong, you can press a button and have huge crowds and great big swooping shots of giant cities and everything, and you can’t do that in stop-motion, you’ve got to think about it another way. But that can also be quite empowering!

What are the pair of you working on next? Shaun The Sheep was a spin off from Wallace & Gromit – are there any characters in the movie you think could have their own spin off…?

Richard: Slip the dog has proved to be very popular…

Mark: It would be nice to do some more Shaun The Sheeps, if possible.

Richard: There could well be a sequel. We’re planning for it just in case! The signs are good, I’m currently working on a Shaun The Sheep half hour, called The Farmer’s Llamas, which I’m overseeing. That’s going to be out at Christmas and will be fairly global…

Mark: You may know Nick Park’s working on a new movie. I think he’s unveiling it at Cannes.

This turned out to be Early Man, a prehistoric tale and another collaboration with StudioCanal. Here’s the teaser poster…

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This interview appeared on The Hollywood News.