Edinburgh International Film Festival – Tokyo Pop

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2023 – Tokyo Pop,
Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui,
Starring Carrie Hamilton, Diamond Yukai (aka Yutaka Tadokoro), Hiroshi Kobayashi, Hiroshi Sugita, Satoshi Kanai, Rome Kanda

The Edinburgh film fest usually includes some retrospectives of older films, as well as showcasing new work, and even with the very slimmed down festival we’re having this August (after us almost losing the festival last autumn, as we covered, I’m just grateful we have it at all, frankly) there was still room for some older gems, including this 1980s piece, which somehow I had never come across before.

Tokyo Pop, created in 1988, was the first directing gig for Fran Rubel Kuzui, who I am sure many of you will know for her association with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Fran was at the festival, talking with the audience after the screening, explaining at one point how damned hard it was for a woman to become a Hollywood director back in the 80s, even on a small budget, Indy film (the gender ratio is still bad today, but back then, even worse).

It’s a deceptively simple story – an American woman, Wendy Reed (the late Carrie Hamilton) is fed up with being relegated to backing singer duties by useless rock and roll boyfriends in 80s New York. When a postcard from Japan arrives from her friend who is staying there, saying “wish you were here”, and adding that the Japanese youth love American rock culture, she decides to take her friend at her word and go there, with no plan, no skill in Japanese, not even a map of Tokyo, just a vague plan of becoming a music star there.

The cultural fish out of water scenario is compounded when she arrives to find her friend has already moved on and is now in Bangkok, leaving her trying desperately to find somewhere to stay and to get a job so she can get some money. Her “exotic” gaijin (foreigner) looks help her get a job in a hostess bar – it helps pay the bills, but it’s not exactly the rock and roll fame she was seeking. Meanwhile Hiro (actor and rock star Diamond Yukai) and his band is struggling to get noticed by the local big producer or land paying gigs.

Their first encounter with Wendy goes badly when Hiro’s less than expert grasp at English leads him to misunderstand the situation when she tells him she needs a hotel for the night, and he thinks she means one of the city’s many “love hotels”. Such comic misunderstandings are part and parcel of this kind of tale, and we all know that sooner or later they are going to become close, and that she will be the thing that makes their band stand out, especially in an 80s Japan that was always hungry for new fads.

 

In some ways Tokyo Pop is of its time – this was the 1980s, and this would fit nicely into an evening of 80s viewing with some John Hughes flicks, and of course the styles and music mark the era. And yet at the same time it feels very fresh – it’s that cultural misunderstanding Schick which is still funny (and goes both way, not just her ignorance of Japan, but the Japanese characters attempting Western rock without really understanding it). It’s a bit drama, it’s a bit romantic-comedy, it’s a bit musical, but mostly it is just a charming delight of a film, the two main leads radiating that youthful, naïve confidence, lighting the screen up with huge smiles and a tremendous sense of fun and pure charm. A total delight, now restored into 4k.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Edinburgh International Film Festival - Fran Rubel Kuzui 03
(Co-writer and director Fran Rubel Kuzui talking to the Edinburgh film fest audience – pic from my Flickr)

Reviews: Camera Man – the remarkable Buster Keaton, celebrated

Camera Man, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century,
Dana Stevens,
Atria Books

I count the years of defeat and grief and disappointment, and their percentage is so minute that is continually surprises and delights me.”

I’ve adored Buster Keaton for as long as I can remember; when I was very young, the films of Buster, Harold Lloyd, Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy were a staple on television, often put on during the school holidays, and were the gateway into that long-ago era of early film for me (and for many others, I would think). I watched them with my dad (who would delight in telling me how he actually saw Laurel and Hardy when he was young, his father taking him to see them on their final UK tour – clearly love of this kind of humour runs in our family). Actually we still watch them together to this day, enjoying them as much, if not more, than we did when I was just a little boy. I imagine this is a scenario more than a few of you will recognise and likely share – not just watching these films and loving them, but sharing them with someone important to you (which always makes them better and even more special).

So, as you may guess, I was more than delighted to be sent a copy of Camera Man by Dana Stevens, film critic at Slate and also a lifelong admirer of Keaton’s work. I was even more delighted to find this is far more than a biography; yes, it does, as you would expect, contain a lot of biographic information, from Buster’s early days as a child star on the vaudeville stages with his family, performing unbelievable – not to mention dangerous – acts and stunts (that would stand him in such good stead when he moved to film), through early exposure to film work, finding his feet in the new medium, the changes as the years pass, the downs as well as the ups, his later life.

Yes, that’s all here, and it is fascinating. However, Stevens also does something far more interesting – she discusses what is going on around Buster as his life and career unfolds across the decades, in popular culture, society and in technology. This means not only taking in aspects of Buster’s world you might expect, such as how the new-fangled moving image (born in the same year as our man, 1895) would start to encroach on the older forms of popular entertainment, such as the vaudeville circuit Buster’s family operated on, or how the introduction of sound, or the emergence of the large studio systems, replacing the many small, independent, seat of the pants production companies, and how this affected Buster, determined his choices and options.

(Above: very early Keaton, from around 1917, working with Roscoe Arbuckle. Below: from both their late career stage – Keaton and Chaplin in Limelight, from 1952)

But it also takes in the wider world around him – we see an early American movie industry where many women held senior positions such as producers and directors, as well as being on-screen talent (sadly something that changed to the still too familiar patriarchal system with the coming of the big studios), we see early experiments in a totally new medium, artists figuring out what they can do with this flickering image, pushing what can be done on film. We also see the wider world around it – the “new woman” of the 1910s and 20s, the multiple connections across all levels of society (one early film critic, a great supporter of Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton’s art, would also become a speech writer for Franklin D Roosevelt), we see the emergence of that gloriously hedonistic 1920s Hollywood (so recently celebrated in the film Babylon), where a newly flush Buster buys a big home, with near neighbours like Valentino, and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (whose Hollywood mansion boasted a lawn so big the Goodyear Blimp could land on it!). Changes in gender relations, race relations and more as society alters and changes, it’s all in here.

It all serves very effectively not only to give an overview of Buster’s life, his craft and his body of work, it gives it all so much more context, placing it in the world he was in at each moment of that remarkable life, which is vitally important, because it’s all connected, it influences everything. Stevens doesn’t shy away from discussing aspects such as race – a common “minstrel” trope of the period, involving black face and a parody of an African American that is very hard for a modern viewer to watch is discussed, for instance, while she also notes the shoddy treatment Mabel Normand, one of the biggest women in film of her time (and so sadly often overlooked today) received (Keaton’s contemporary, Chaplin, was especially singled out for his chauvinistic stance to taking orders from a women director, despite her having far more experience than he has, just starting out in film). And, of course, it explores the darker moments – the marriage failures, the terrible time lost to alcohol abuse.

However, the main focus here is clearly in celebrating one of the most remarkable figures of early cinema, and rightly justifying why he is important, not just specifically in the history of comedy, but also in film history in general, for his innovations and techniques, his eagerness to embrace new technologies and see what he could do with them, and, most importantly, how he could use them to create a good gag and make people laugh. And there is a lot of laughter to be had here, rather fittingly – it’s hard to read some descriptions of moments from making those films and not to start giggling away with laughter. Frankly, I sat there with a big smile on my face for a lot of this book, pausing now and then to put the book down and then go and watch some of those films (fortunately so many available online now). In fact I think this is a book that encourages you to stop reading periodically and go and watch some of the films it is discussing.

Kudos also to Stevens for using the latter segments of the book to bust (bad pun intended, sorry) some of the myths about Buster’s later life – many still think he made just a handful of films after sound came in, then spent the rest of his life in the shadows of his former reputation, drinking away. And while he did go through some very rough times and a long, dark night of the soul, that’s far from the full truth. Stevens takes us through the 1940s, 50s and 60s; we see Buster still writing, still performing, on stage (at a sadly now gone famous Parisian circus post-war, where he was rightly acclaimed as a great artist) and then getting himself involved in another emerging new medium – television.

Yes, Buster had his own show for a little while in the early days of TV broadcasting in the US, and he found a new outlet for new gags and pranks to delight a new audience. This new medium – whose emergence so frightened Hollywood at the time – would also be a major part of the reason his and other performers from that era had their reputation and place in film history cemented, because some of those old films were unearthed and shown on the new “boob tube”. In much the way it did with Universal’s famous monster movies of the 30s, so long out of fashion, the TV screenings made them new to a different audience – performers like Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, Lugosi, Karloff, they all had a renaissance in popular culture this way, and that’s never truly gone away. The book also touches on the first stirrings, decades on from the Silent Film era, to find and preserve that rapidly disintegrating treasure trove before more of it was lost for all time (for which I imagine many of us are profoundly grateful), along with a cultural reevaluation of the importance of those works. He was still working away on new ideas and projects pretty much until the end.

A few years ago I went to a Keaton screening at my beloved Filmhouse in Edinburgh (home to the Edinburgh International Film Festival – sadly closed suddenly last autumn, you can read my report on that sad news elsewhere on LFF). It was a weekend matinee, the cinema actively encouraged family groups with children (with very low ticket prices too). The screening was a bunch of Keaton shorts, then an interval, and the second half was the feature, Steamboat Bill Jr- yes, the one with the front of the house falling on Buster, who emerges unscathed through the window frame (this was all shot for real!). That was also his last independent feature; after this he was folded into the new studio system, working for MGM, who removed his artistic freedom and ruined what could have been good films (sadly a tale many artists in many a medium are too familiar with to the present day, the Suits telling the Talent what works).

A couple of rows in front of me was a man with his two wee boys, maybe around six and seven years of age. They laughed with their dad all through the endless gags of the short films. I found myself wondering how they would react to a feature length silent in the second half; I needn’t have worried, the little boys sat spellbound at Buster’s athletic stunts and laughed and laughed. I include this little personal moment here because it illustrates something Stevens does so well with this book – Buster is as wonderful and funny to new audiences as he was in his 1920s silent-era heyday, and he’s always being discovered by someone for the first time, just as I first found them when I was a kid, watching with my dad, and here I saw that process taking place again. More importantly I got to sit in a cinema, watching a man long dead, restored to life by a magical, flickering beam of light, and that man made people smile and laugh. What a wonderful gift and legacy, one rightly celebrated in this book.

Camera Man is published by Atria Books, out now in hardback, with the paperback release this April.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Reviews : comedy horror fun with Final Cut

Final Cut (Coupez!),
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius,
Starring Romain Duris, Bérénice Bejo,Grégory Gadebois, Finnegan Oldfield, Matilda Lutz, Sébastien Chassagne

I’m not normally a big fan of remaking an existing film in another language, but this French take on the cult hit, low-budget Japanese flick One Cut of the Dead intrigued me, not least because it was being helmed by Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of The Artist, and starred some well-known French talent on-screen, including Bérénice Bejo (who he worked with in The Artist), and Romain Duris, so I agreed to have a look. I’m glad I did – I remember thinking the original was a good bit of fun, and also liked it because it was more than it first appeared, and that’s the case with the Francophone version too. It’s as much comedy as it is horror, and it’s also something of a loving homage to those who have toiled through trying to make a B movie on a tiny budget, with few resources.

We’re dropped into the middle of the film shoot at the start, which deliberately confuses the viewer somewhat as to what is real and what is part of the film the crew are shooting. We see the actors preparing for their scene, one in zombie make-up, we see the scene of the attack, then the director, Remi (Romain Duris), screaming at the actors (even slapping one) for ruining his film. As they take a break after this, the make-up artist, Nadia (Bérénice Bejo), tells the actors that the deserted building they are using as a location has an evil history, having been used by a secret branch of the Japanese military during World War Two for human experimentation. This seems odd in a French-language film, as does the fact the cast and crew all have Japanese names, but this starts to become clearer in the next segment of the film.

The ill-tempered director we had seen shouting the actors reveals he knew of this history, and has used the “blood star” ritual to activate the evil still within this site, bringing forth real zombies, which he demands the cast and crew act around to improve the film. As we’re wondering what’s going on – are there real zombies intruding into a B movie zombie film shoot? – the second section of the film takes us back a few months, to Remi being offered the chance to direct the film by a Japanese lady, but part of the deal is it must use the same plot, no deviations from the original language version, and that includes the names (hence whey French actors all have Japanese names in the film shoot). And it must be shot in one, continual take. Not easy, but Remi, who mostly makes small productions for TV and music and corporate videos can’t turn down the chance of a feature film, even a B movie one, and agrees.

We see the preparation over the weeks preceding the scenes in the opening third of the movie, as the cast meet, and they plot out their lines, work out how they can create everything so it can be filmed in a single, unbroken take – effectively having to do everything “live”. And it is quite clear from the outset that this is not the most well-oiled production machine that will be required to pull off such a demanding technical feat as a single-take film. The main camera operator has a dodgy back, his assistant is keen to help but has a totally different idea of how she wants to film everything, the actors are bickering with one another, one of them turns out to be an alcoholic, and the man doing the music and sound effects (also to be done live during the continual shoot) has trouble communicating with Remi.

All in all, it’s not painting a hopeful picture for the actual film shoot, and as we catch up in the chronology, we see again some of the scenes being filmed that we saw in the opening section, except now from different angles, and with much more context, and this time we follow through right to the end as body parts and undead start to mount up. How much is real, how much is invention for the film they are meant to be making, has the demented director really invoked a slumbering evil just so he can make a low-budget horror film more effectively?

This was an enormous amount of fun, especially the second and third reels, where we see the build up to the film-shoot we see at the start, and then what happens during and after it from different perspectives. We have the horror elements, but we also have the manic chaos of this tiny, underfunded crew attempting to pull off a technically challenging, single-take film shoot that they really are not up to, and the continual problems that surface, from drunken cast members to sudden illness, actors who didn’t show up, necessitating Remi, the director, to step in and also play the role of the director in the film, and his wife Nadia to play a role – she at least, is an experienced actor, but one who had to stop because she took her roles so seriously she started to believe in her characters, leading to disaster, but there’s nobody else who knows the lines, so…

This frantic dealing with endless problems – poor Remi is constantly running around their location trying to put out the forest fires while screaming into his radio to the producer’s booth not to cut, to keep going – lends a frenzied energy to proceedings and fuels so much of the humour, as they lurch from one disaster to the next. Then there is the question of those real zombies on the location set… It’s a loving homage to those who somehow manage to make many of the micro-budget horror flicks that so many of us love, to the constant trying to outpace gathering problems that bedevil any film shoot, and it feels as if they had fun making it. Originally titled Z in France, it was changed to Coupez because of the Russian forces using the Z symbol for their illegal invasion of Ukraine, while the international title is Final Cut.

A perfect Friday night, get some pizza and beer in, horror-comedy viewing that left me delighted and smiling.

Final Cut is available from Signature Entertainment, via online platforms from November 7th 2022

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Reviews: new Brit horror-comedy in Double Date

Double Date,
Directed by Benjamin Barfoot,
Starring Danny Morgan, Georgia Groome, Michael Socha, Kelly Wenham

Fresh from a good reception at FrightFest (always a good sign), this new horror-comedy with a strong gender element, Double Date arrives on home screens this month. Jim (Danny Morgan) is quiet, awkward socially, especially with women, and facing his imminent 30th birthday as a virgin. His best mate, Alex (This is England’s Michael Socha) is the polar opposite, cocksure, always on the pull, a jack-the lad and boy around town. For all his teasing of Jim, though, it’s also clear that under the cocky, laddish banter he actually cares about his friend, and in the tradition of many a movie, he’s determined he’s going to get his friend laid before his birthday.

Meanwhile we’ve already had a glimpse of sisters Kitty (Kelly Wenham) and Lulu (Georgina Groome), going home with a pair of men from a nightclub to a huge country home, the men delighted, thinking their luck is in, as they split up, one going with each sister, Kitty taking her partner upstairs. There’s music and a lot of body on body action, but not quite the sort of penetration the young man was hoping for as Kitty goes to work on him with a knife and a mad stabbing frenzy.

The next evening they are back out on the prowl at the nightclub, the same club where Jim and Alex are cruising (well, Alex is cruising, Jim is just ambling along). And they notice Jim, much to his surprise, in fact they seem to be inviting his attentions, more interested in him than self-proclaimed stud Alex. But Alex pitches in gamely, trying to advise Jim on the “perfect” pick up line and techniques (their regular barmaid tries to dissuade him from this awful, corny approach), even going so far as feeding Jim text messages as he talks to the girls, trying to give him prompts, which of course Jim makes a mess of. And yet, somehow the girls are still interested and agree to meet both men again the next evening for a date.

Are they serial killers who get their thrills seducing hapless, hopeless young men like Jim and then leading them to the slaughter? There are signs that there is more than just thrill-killing going on here, there are elements of ritual – however bizarre and deranged – that hint there is a deeper and darker purpose to the murderous crime spree the girls are indulging in., possibly something supernatural…

This is a very enjoyable Brit comedy-horror, right from the start it is clear both director and cast are having some fun with this movie. Sure, the sisters are lethal, seductive killers, but there’s a lot of humour here, much of it as the expense of poor Jim, and there is good use of the difference between both pairs, between Kitty (seen training for the violence to come, seeming to embrace and even enjoy it) and Lulu (who appears more to be going along with her sister’s plans but isn’t really happy with them), and Jim, hopeless yet nice, constantly putting his foot in it, and Alex, the cocky lad who under it all really actually has feelings and cares about his buddy.

It’s a nice combination of elements, creating a fun ride, a nice mixture of horror, some gender-inversions, humour and even some delightfully inept but well-meant romantic moments. A good Friday night slice of viewing.

Double Date will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital platforms by Sparky Pictures from September 9th

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

Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out

Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out,
Directed by Bert Scholiers,
Starring Evelien Bosmans, Daphne Wellens, , Frances Lefebure, Patrick Vervueren

I don’t know Bert Scholiers or the stars of his Belgian film, but sometimes I just get a vibe from a film or book and know I am likely to enjoy it even before I start. Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out was another of those that I just had that feeling about as soon as I spotted it going through the Edinburgh International Film Festival programme. I am happy to say that gut instinct was on target, and that this was a film which had me smiling throughout.

Shot mostly in black and white (save for a short segment in strong, almost lurid colours), the basic premise – two girls, best friends, Hannah (Daphne Wellens) and Charlie (Evelien Bosmans) head out on the town for a night out with friends – doesn’t really do this justice. What starts as a pair of slightly kooky but charming young women, joking and laughing as they try to have a nice night out while figuring out their place in the world, and why they are as they are (jobs, boyfriends, work, life, the same things we all think about), soon starts to bend off into a more unusual track, starting with some fourth wall breaking as they occasionally talk to the audience, then slowly starts to feed some fantastical elements in (after the pair have swallowed some magic candies which, they explain with a smile are certainly not drugs, they’re “homeopathic”).

Starting small – at a small party with friends Hannah’s breasts start talking (strangely in male voices for some reason), offering advice, bickering with her and each other (one breast complains that it has to get up early tomorrow to work on an opera libretto). Charlie goes out into the garden for a smoke, hears what sounds like someone having some sexual fun in the bushes and yes, indeed there is, it’s Catherine the Great (a horse can be glimpsed in the background, playing on the old myth) and naturally she bums a smoke from Charlie before offering some advice on not sleeping with some famous Russian historical figures. Soon, however, it goes off onto an increasingly surreal bent.

The pair talk about testing their friend Fons (Patrick Vervueren), making him perform odd tasks such as finding a “mummy in denial” (the bandage-wrapped Egyptian style mummy, not the maternal type), their friends produce a picture book of Hannah’s life to explain things, then flip to later pages to show what’s just about to happen next. As the evening wears on with the inevitable “I should go home” moments from the various friends, Charlie and Hannah go off on their own routes, each with a different man, but their evenings still revolve around each other as even apart they talk to their male friends about one another (the men are, well, not exactly superfluous, they have a role, indeed there are many men in this, but this is very much a film about the two women).

The evening – or now early hours of the morning – become increasingly fantastical, travelling to strange places, transformations, a magical mystery tour that takes in talking buildings and haunted houses and bordellos staffed by famous literary characters (fancy a Jane Austen foursome?). Imagine mid to late 70s era Woody Allen, if the films were more female-oriented, mixed with a dash of a more light-hearted Francis Ha, and fantastical flights of early Jean-Pierre Jeunet (and a friend suggested to me perhaps a touch of Mighty Boosh). Fun, funny, silly, sweet, touching, surreal and totally charming and smile-inducing. Loved it.

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.