EIFF 2019 – The Dead Don’t Die

The Dead Don’t Die,
Directed by Jim Jarmusch,
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, Carol Kane, Rosie Perez, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Danny Glover

Welcome to Centreville, “A Real Nice Place!” After his vampiric outing with Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch turns his distinctive style on the all-prevalent zombie genre, with this very enjoyable and self-referential movie. Jarmusch takes many of the great horror tropes – the small, quiet town where nothing ever happen, the local sheriff used to dealing with complaints of farmers having chickens stolen rather than homicides (let alone undead homicides) – and a gleeful barrel full of references to other horror films, his own film works and an increasing amount of fourth wall breaking as it becomes clear that the characters are aware that they are, in fact, in a Jim Jarmusch movie (leading to a brilliantly deadpan dialogue duet between Driver and Murray).

The world has been titled off its axis by “polar fracking”, which naturally energy corporations and the US government insist are entirely safe and create cheap energy and jobs. The first signs of anything wrong in this sleepy little rural town are small-scale – animals start to go missing, both household pets and farm animals. Not stolen, actually disappearing, even the cows flee their usual fields to take cover in the dark forest. And then there’s the little matter of it still being light when it should be evening, or dark when it should be morning, and watches and phones not working properly. “This isn’t going to end well,” opines Adam Driver’s deputy, a statement he returns to several times as events go from curious to threatening to full-on zombie apocalypse, and the various characters we’re introduced to in the first half fight – with varying degrees of success – to survive in the second half.

However to explain the basic plot here is, to be honest, a trifle redundant. And I don’t mean that in the bad way – this is a Jim Jarmusch film, and a synopsis of the main plot really doesn’t give you much of an idea of the film with Jim’s works, his films are experiences of style and attitude, a mixture of the unusual and the mundane, the suddenly gritty and nasty with the whimsically fantastical and humorous and elements of almost dream-like sensations in places. Those of you who, like me, are long confirmed Jarmusch fans, will understand what I mean when I say I can try to describe some of the film, but really, like any Jarmusch movie, it simply has to be experienced to really get it.

The Dead Don’t Die brings together a bunch of Jarmusch’s regular collaborators, and let’s be honest, most of us welcome these actors in anything we watch – Billy Murray (with his remarkable hang-dog expressions and uncanny, almost Gene Wilder-like ability for timing and pauses), Tilda Swinton, one of the great Queens of the World in my book, here clearly having fun with her bizarre, katana-wielding funeral home director, recently arrived in this small community (when pointed out she’s rather peculiar one character simply notes “she’s Scottish”, which got a good laugh from the Edinburgh festival crowd, and no offence taken as Tilda has lived here quite a lot, so we count her as one of us and therefore fine to lampoon us).

Adam Driver’s deputy worked brilliantly alongside Bill Murray’s sheriff – with a quiet character like Murray’s Cliff the temptation could have been to have the opposite for his deputy, someone loud, or panicky. Instead Driver essays a calm, almost laid-back approach to the building horror, much like Murray’s older character, and this worked nicely in my opinion. Tom Waits prowls the woods around the town as Hermit Bob, spotting the early signs (birds migrate early to flee, ant colonies go mad, cows run to hide in the woods, then bigger clues like dead bodies erupting from graves), and providing the occasional bit of narration to the events, all delivered in that gravelly, unmistakable Tom Waits voice. Others like Chloë Sevigny, Selena Gomez and Danny Glover all get some nice character moments too, it’s a well-played ensemble piece.

The references to other films, both in the horror genre and in Jarmusch’s own body of work, are littered throughout the film and prove to be highly enjoyable little gems for fans, the natural world going crazily out of tilt mirrors a couple of scenes from Only Lover, for example, or Adam Driver’s character having a Star Destroyer key-chain in a hint to his Star Wars role. The increasing conceit of the characters starting to talk about being in a Jarmusch film is played well for comic effect as the film builds towards its climax, and the film isn’t shy of giving even more famous names a grisly demise (in fact it seems to relish doing so rather gleefully, and I suspect the actors enjoyed it).

It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s horror, it’s fantasy, it’s comedy. If you aren’t a Jarmusch fan then I doubt this will convert you, but for those of us who look forward to any new work from Jarmusch, this has all the Jim ingredients we love, mixed and baked nicely, while the ensemble cast are obviously enjoying playing together in a Jarmusch film. I left the cinema with a huge smile on my face, among a very busy and very happy-looking film festival audience.

Stan and Ollie

Stan and Ollie,
Directed by Jon S Baird,
Starring John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Steve Coogan, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston

This is one of 2019’s films which I have been eagerly awaiting. I should explain that my father ensured as a youngster that I was brought up in The Faith: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Tom’n’Jerry and of course, Laurel and Hardy. We still watch their films together today. So you will understand that while in some ways I may be predisposed towards a film about one of the greatest filmic double acts of all time, my lifelong love of Stan and Ollie also means I could be more critical of how anyone portrays them. I imagine that for many of us that will be the case, L&H have engendered life-long love in us, it’s not easy to see someone else portray them. Well, friends and Sons of the Desert, you can breathe easy, for Coogan and Reilly are clearly like us, in love with Stan and Ollie, and it is obvious this is a great labour of love for both of those actors, determined to do justice to their cinematic heroes.

While the film mostly circles around the events during Stan and Ollie’s final tour, through post-war Britain (their final performances together), it opens in 1937 in the legendary Hal Roach Studios, with the pair getting ready to film the dance scene from the brilliant Way Out West, while arguing with Roach (the always excellent Huston) about money and control of their films, hinting at the break which will come soon when Stan, his contract finishing before Ollie’s, tries to break out and set up in control of their own films, but Babe doesn’t follow for various reasons, causing a personal as well as professional rift just as the pair are at the peak of their global stardom.

Moving forward to the post-war era we find the pair being dropped off at their hotel in Newcastle for the start of their UK and Irish tour (the one which would finally prove to be their last). It is clear from the start that their star has fallen – the hotel is just a general inn, not one of the fancier, big hotels you’d expect Hollywood royalty to be staying in, and then they find that the smooth stage impressario arranging their UK tour has them booked to play small venues, not the big theatres. And even those smaller venues are not exactly packed. While they are still a beloved act, it has been many years since they performed in a film together, and it seems the fickle public demand and attention has slipped away from the duo. Fortunately some PR stunts (you can see many of those in newsreel footage on YouTube) helps to whip up interest and leads to a boom in ticket sales.

The film, however, isn’t really about a pair of stars trying to continue years after their heyday, however, that is just the backdrop; the real story here is about friendship and love, the stresses and strains of a long relationship. We all know from our own personal experiences that even our oldest friends can sometimes drive us crazy or upset us (and we them), and how much harder are those strains when you add global fame to the mix? There are sparks of the old magic, laughter mixed with a tinge of melancholy, moments of bitter recrimination and regrets voiced to hurt, but most of all there’s a feeling of two men who for all of that remain closer than close, their personal timing (that hallmark of all great comedians) so beautifully attuned to one another’s rhythms. “I love him,” Stan tells his wife, simply. In another scene after Ollie falls ill Stan lies down next to him in the bed, like one of the film scenes, comforting his old pal, his other half, arguments forgotten.

Coogan and Reilly’s performances are simply outstanding. It isn’t just that they re-create the look and mannerisms (even the expressions) of Stan and Ollie, it’s deeper than that. This was a partnership that flourishes for years, the two perfectly attuned to each other’s beats, the sort of partnership that comes out of years of being together, and somehow Reilly and Coogan summon up that feeling here, they really come across as if they are a couple of pals who have known each other for decades, their timing and interaction is that convincing. The film itself made me both cry and laugh, it is touching, in places reflective, but it also celebrates one of the great filmic partnerships, it celebrates their work, work which has lasted it through the test of time, it celebrates the pure joy that Laurel and Hardy brought to millions.

The recreations of some of their classic scenes in the film still reduced the audience I was with to gales of laughter, they still worked, they still made the audience roar. There are so many hard trials in life, but there are also those moments of delight and joy, and for many of us Laurel and Hardy were there to be one of those sources of joy the world needs. They still are, and this film celebrates that legacy.

Smile-inducing Brit horror-comedy with The Snarling

The Snarling,
Directed by Pablo Raybould,
Starring Julia Deakin, Joel Beckett, Chris Simmons), Laurence Saunders, Ste Johnson, Albert Moses

Ferocious killings and stroppy actors, who knows which is worse?!? A small village is hosting a movie crew, currently shooting a zombie film, with the star, Greg Lupeen (Laurence Sanders) driving the director and producer mad as they strive to remain calm with a forced “okay, luv at each of his self-obsessed, self-important “I’m the star rants and screaming bouts. Meanwhile in the local pub Mike (Chris Simmons), Bob (Ben Manning) and village idiot Les (Sanders pulling double duty) are discussing the film shoot in their not exactly busy boozer (which is also being used as one of the movie’s locations), and are excited at the thought of playing extras in the film, a wee bit of unusual fun in their quiet small town. And they’re all amused to find that Les looks remarkably like the movie’s star, Greg.

But there’s more going on than the excitement of a movie shoot in a wee village – there’s the little matter of the grisly murders. In fact they don’t look so much like murders as wild animal attacks, the victims ripped apart. Except this is Britain and there aren’t exactly a lot of wolves or bears running around to cause that kind of death, so it must be a murderer, right? And the fact they happened during the full moon and seems similar to other incidents which happened in Wales when the same film crew was working there, that’s just coincidence too, isn’t it?? And the fact the leading man was bitten by a wild animal while filming a scene in a zoo in Wales, and now sufferers strange headaches and more mood swings than usual?

This is an absolute hoot of a Brit comedy-horror, and it clearly knows its audience and plays to it. The puns and jokes are mostly the so-bad-they-are-good variety (deliberately), and like a Carry On movie you can pretty much see the punchline coming, and it doesn’t matter a jot, because you want that punchline, heck you’re probably joining in with it and then laughing happily anyway. The Snarling mines a treasure trove of puns and clichés, such as the hapless, always stuffing his face detective (played by director Raybould) or the lead actor’s name Lupeen (sounding like “lupine”, leading Les to conclude he must be the werewolf, only for his pal to remark yeah, but my dad’s called Leonard, change a letter in his name does that make his a leopard?). This would make a grand night’s fun entertainment as a double bill with Carry On Screaming or Shaun of the Dead.

It’s low-budget and clearly they can’t afford top of the line CG effects for a werewolf, or a Rick Baker practical effects lycanthrope, but they get around, using what they do have, humour, clever editing and cross-cutting, and the dark (one scene involving cyclists being attacked is lit by their bike’s strobing light, which was a clever way to give only glimpses of the monster and also give us another bit of humour at the same time). There’s some really nice attention to detail too, always a good sign of a film crew really trying to go that extra mile – for example, after one of the elderly pub regulars is attacked by the mystery beast you can see a collection tin for him on the bar, and for all the glorying in obvious puns (which I have to say I loved, I mean they had me at that punning title, to be honest) this is also a clever tale, wonderfully threaded with good-natured humour throughout and paying homage to the greats (including American Werewolf) but with its own irreverent yet loving approach. A perfect Saturday night slice of horror-comedy to watch with a bunch of friends.

The Snarling is available on DVD and Digital from November 5th from Left Films

Eddie – the Sleepwalking Cannibal

Edinburgh Film Fest: Eddie – the Sleepwalking Cannibal

Dir: Boris Rodriguez

 

Another late night horror gem unearthed during my week at one of the world’s oldest movie fests, the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Right now I will raise my hand and happily admit that I circled this film in the programme as one I wanted to see the instant I saw the title; seriously, folks, how could I pass by a film with a title like that? It called to the horror and humour geek parts of my cine-soul and, as I was to find out, my instinct to jump straight into booking that film was a good call.

Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal (not to be confused with Eddie the Sleepwalking Campbell, comics peeps) is a Danish-Canadian co-production (now there’s something you don’t often say in a film review). Lars Olafssen (Thure Lindhart) is a Danish artist who achieved some level of celebrity in the arts world a few years before, but now seems to be a bit burnt out, unable to inspire himself to paint anything new in years, with his agent having arranged a change of scene for him, teaching in a remote, rural art school at Koda Lake in wintry Canada. The move doesn’t start well for Lars when, too busy checking his map while driving, he hits a deer on a country road. Worse the creature isn’t dead but is dying in agony; he hesitates for a moment then realises he has to put it out of its misery. He’s repeatedly striking the unfortunate animal on the head with a rock when a police cruiser pulls up behind him…

Not his best introduction to his new community, and at the art school he quickly gets the impression that some want him there thinking he will produce new work and so put their art school on the map while others are simply jealous that he has had success as an artist while they never have (including his colleague and neighbour, a philandering artist with a constantly barking dog he leaves out all night keeping Lars awake). In his class we meet Eddie (Dylan Smith), a largely mute, developmentally challenged man. His elderly relative has looked after him since his parents were killed in nasty circumstances in front of him as a child, something he has never recovered from. The same old lady generously endows the school so as a thank you they let Eddie paint away in the back of the classes, producing work like a small child, but happy. When his relative dies Lars is persuaded to look after Eddie – if he goes to a care home the school loses the endowment and no-one else seems to want him. But on the first night with his silent man-child charge Lars is rather startled to find Eddie has left the house in the middle of the night. He’s even more alarmed when following him reveals a recently killed and partly devoured animals in the woods nearby and Eddie, almost naked, blood caked around his mouth, and quite asleep…

And so begins a series of blackly comical horror scenes. He finds out that Eddie has done this sort of thing before, but as a child years ago after the death of his parents – perhaps he is just emotionally upset again and it has come back, he will settle down soon once he feels secure with Lars. Deciding on preventative medicine Lars is going to nail Eddie’s bedroom window closed so he can’t open it in his sleep and go outside. Until the constantly barking dog of his unfriendly neighbour catches his attention and slowly Lars puts down the nails. I wish I could get some sleep, if only we could do something about that dog, he remarks, seemingly casually, before wishing Eddie goodnight. And a little while later, just as he hoped, sleepwalking Eddie drifts out into the night and the dog barks no more. But when he follows to make sure Eddie is okay he finds out somnambulistic Eddie has sunk his fangs and terrifying physical strength into more than the dog…

Lars is horrified but at the same time exhilarated – returning to his studio with images of blood and dismemberment flashing in his brain he stares at that damned blank canvas on his easel that has been teasing him with it’s untouched whiteness. And suddenly he is painting, with manic energy, creating his best work in years. When his agent comments that his last big creative burst came after he was in a bad accident, perhaps he needs pain and blood and suffering to gain inspiration, Lars laughs at him, but we can see his discomfort. Perhaps his agent is correct – is the violence stimulating his desire to create art? And if so dare he indulge in more?

Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal at the Edinburgh Film Festival 03
(director Boris Rodriguez (on right) in a Q&A after the Edinburgh Film Festival screening of Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal, pic from my Flickr, click for larger image)

Boris Rodriguez delivers a pretty much pitch-perfect dark comedy-horror – yes, the humour is as dark as tar in a barrel, but it’s the sort of bloody (literally sometimes) humour many horror fans will love, and the relationship between Lars and Eddie is well handled. Dylan Smith is a stand-out as the simple, backwards innocent (except in his sleepwalking excursions) Eddie, a really superb piece of acting, and the dynamic between the lead pair is rewarding: yes, it seems like Lars may manipulate and use poor Eddie for his own ends, but at the same time he clearly comes to care for the big lug and looks after him. There are evil acts of violence on here, slowly escalating, but there is no true villain, just a simple man-child who really doesn’t know what he’s been doing and an artist who is increasingly prepared to take suffering for artistic creation to an entirely new level… It’s funny, bloody and frequently touching, the scenes between Lars and Eddie giving it a nice emotional context that keeps it from becoming a slice of mere exploitation movie, the bitching and jealousy between the artistic community is amusing and the entire film has something of the Coen Brothers to it (which is a huge compliment, Ethan and Joel are cinematic gods as far as I am concerned) with a mixture of comedy, horror, drama and absurd farce. It’s still on the festival circuit and I don’t know when it will get a UK general release, but trust me, this is one to keep an eye out for, it is destined to become a cult classic.

This was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog

Palin crank call

With only days to go Sarah ‘pitbull with lipstick (very expensive lipstick) Palin has been fooled by Canadian comedian Marc Antoine Audette into thinking she was on a phone call with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, which went out on a Montreal radio station. The whole Palin thing – utter lack of a grasp of geopolitics, foreign relations, her dubious record (the library interference when she was a humble mayor, possible misuse of family connections in jobs, trying to avoid freedom of information requests on her work by using personal email accounts rather than official government ones), her hideously intolerant right wing stance, her love of shooting animals for leisure, the pretence at being an ordinary working mom while spending more on clothes and hairstyling than many families bring home in a year, her apparent lack of knowledge of what the duties of the VP actually are – would be funny, except even after all this there are still a lot of Americans who not only would vote for her, they are talking about how she should run for president in 4 or 8 years…

was declaring to the reporter he wouldn’t vote for Obama not on political grounds but because ‘he was a Muslim’.I can’t help but wonder at the sheer stupidity of some people, but then again a lot of those numpties are the ones who voted for a retarded chimp to let in Dubyah (well, second time, first time his brother and dad’s friends in the Supreme Court handed the election to him) and before that voted a dreadful B movie elderly actor who delighted on ratting out his fellows during the McCarthy era into the top job. Watching one news programme some ignorant redneck woman When the reporter pointed out he had been a regular church-goer for many years she said that didn’t count. No, she wasn’t a bigoted, racist cow at all… Although being someone who dislikes organised religions of all types I always find it quite disturbing how much relgion plays into American politics to begin with anyway, especially in a country which likes to boast how state and church are seperated by the Constitution.

Thankfully, despite idiots like Cardinal Winning constantly sticking his oar into Scottish politics (you have your own opinion, but stop trying to tell groups how they should be thinking and voting) its not the same here; in fact when Tony Blair started talking about his mate God we all got rather uncomfortable because its a private matter. And because we think a politician is meant to be answerable to the citizen, not some mythic deity.

Canadian comics banned in middle of Fringe performance

The Evening News tells of The Underground Comedy Invasion, comics from Canada, who have been performing at the Three Tuns pub, who were stopped in the middle of a show by a senior member of staff and ejected, their Fringe run there canceled. Apparently they had told jokes about child abuse, which is certainly in bad taste, but part of humour, especially underground humour, is to broach subjects which we might often find uncomfortable and distasteful – one of my comedy heroes, the great George Carlin has always stood up for that principle, where he says bollocks to anyone telling him there is any subject he can’t make jokes about because the jokes are a way of talking about something, they don’t imply support for something or condoning it – in other words a joke about something doesn’t mean you are saying yeah, let’s do it for real, nor should a joke be confused with reality since telling a joke is not the same thing as doing something. And really, you agreed to host some underground comics for the Fringe then you act outraged when they tell jokes you don’t approve of??? Er, what a shock, distasteful humour in a Fringe stand-up show… Besides which, the altercation – seen on the video below – seems to have come about not when the comedians repeated the joke but when they tried to talk about how the management had told them not to repeat the joke – so telling the joke is a no-no and telling the audience that you aren’t allowed to tell a particular joke is also apparently a no-no, which regardless of the content of the original joke seems a bit damned stupid to me.

Obviously this short clip is taken out of context, but the staff member comes across rather badly in it, just steaming in to shut the comic up as he tries to explain he can’t tell a joke because he’s been ordered not to, while the staff member also seems to confuse the joke with reality, shouting at audience members (his customers!) do you want your kids fingered??? Er, no-one is doing anything to kids there, man, you were talking about a fucking joke – this is like the cobblers in the media when Chris Morris did his Brass Eye special on child abuse, where he was showing how attitudes in the public and media go crazy over anything to do with it, precluding discussion in favour of extreme reaction. I doubt any of the comics are really trying to promote child abuse, this is a comedy act using bad taste and uncomfortable subject matter, but then so do a lot of comics, its a legitimate area for comics to explore. And asking them not to cover a subject in your venue is the right of the manager, of course, but then trying to shut them up when they tell folk about being gagged is just being OTT. Jeez, if we banned every comedian who told a joke that might be offensive to someone we’d never tell a bloody joke again anywhere (another point Carlin makes well). You know, instead of being grossly offended, if I find a comic’s material to be offensive and/or unfunny I don’t demand their head, I just don’t laugh – let them stand there in silence on stage. Not gag them. Then tell them not to mention the gag and equate that with actual abuse.

Al for office!


Al Franken has confirmed that he will run for office as a senator of Minnesota in the next elections. Al probably isn’t as well known in the UK as, say, Michael Moore, but I’ve been a big fan of his for years. Al wrote the brilliantly satirical take on the rabid right wing media in the US (you know, those racist, sexist numpties who flat out fib on air) with Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (highly recommended; the audio book version, read by Al, is even funnier). Even if you haven’t read this you may have heard of it because the subtitle was “a fair and balanced look” which pissed off Murdoch’s Fox empire (and we know how hard that is because they are such a warm, cuddly and inclusive organisation). Why? Well apart from the fact that some of the more high profile media targets he went after were broadcast by Fox in the US (they have been told off by media monitors here since they started re-broadcasting them to the UK for the biased opinions and lack of facts) and also because the ultra-right wing Fox News has the slogan ‘fair and balanced’ in it.

So their Monty Burns’ type gaggle of evil lawyers swooped and tried to get the book banned before publication in the US a few years back, which shows how much they believe in freedom of expression and debate in a democratic society. The judge laughed them out of court saying that this was pretty much the definition of ‘fair use’ for satire and there was no case; in the meantime the media coverage of this fiasco pushed the book to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list in the US before it even came out. As own goals go it was up there with the time some of Fox’s lawyers wanted to go after those left-wing pinkoes who write the Simpsons for always portraying Fox as a channel of right-wing news and mediocre, low-brow programming. Until someone pointed out to said lawyers that the Simpsons was actually a Fox show… And of course, years before this, back in the late 90s during the old dial-up internet days those same lawyers went after fans who ran sites celebrating the only two Fox shows anyone had heard of, the Simpsons and the X-Files and told them all to shut up shop, how dare they use pictures etc of Fox properties. So, yes, they were so stupid they attacked fans who were promoting their products free for them; today a PR person would be your best friend for running such a site.

I wonder how Al Franken will do with his campaign; I’d like to see him get into office – he certainly can’t do a worse job than the other numpties who routinely end up in office in most countries. The subject was raised in the recent documentary And God Spoke where a team followed Al around and the subject of possibly running for office one day came up a couple of times (I caught it at the Edinburgh Film Festival last summer). I wonder if we can get Mark Thomas to be an MP here in Blighty?

Simpsons 300

Amidst all that is going on in the world one small but important moment passed on Sunday in the cultural life of our little planet. The 300th episode of the Simpsons. Futurama may have ceased to be (although it had a good run) but the Simpsons is still running and it just seems to keep getting better. Perhaps one day if the quality goes down it will be time to finish it up, but from some of the recent episodes that day will hopefully be a long way away (the Michael Jackson baby-dangling pastiche was priceless). Bless the Simpsons and a happy Easter to everyone.