Talking Movies

May 2, 2018

IFI Stories

Reading through Talking Movies’ back catalogue after 10 years (sic), and archiving the lost reviews that came before, has set me thinking about memorable cinema trips of the past. So here are two great memories of unexpected audience interventions in screen 2 of the IFI.


In late 2004 I went along with three friends to see Bubba Ho-Tep. Let’s call one of these friends Friedrich Bagel, because that’s who it was. Herr Bagel was, at best, a Bruce Campbell agnostic, and two of us laid on the Bruce hero worship perhaps a bit too thick just before we all walked into the cinema. This led to some unfortunate timing of snippy remarks on the part of Bagel the Bruce agnostic, because as we took our seats he exploded at us, “Just who is this Bruce Campbell character anyway? And how many fans does he have? Just you two?” As we touched down on our seats 4 guys in the row in front of us rocketed up out of their seats. They turned to face us, all wearing Evil Dead t-shirts. Ah… The tallest, looming over the Bruce-baiting Bagel, waved his arms around while booming – “How dare you sir! This is the Church of Bruce! You shall not blaspheme in the Church of Bruce!” Luckily the other guilty party in boosting Bruce beyond Bagel’s breaking point was just as tall and far bigger in build. He stood up and assured the Pastor of the Church of Bruce that our Bruce agnostic did not need to be killed for heresy, but was a potential convert, and needed only this film to push him into Bruce’s arms. Calm returned to the cinema, even if it was a slightly cowed calm on the part of Bagel who now realised Bruce Campbell did indeed have more than just two fans.

2011 found me at one of the last screenings of The Tree of Life in the IFI, in the afternoon with an audience of Malick devotees. Well, maybe they weren’t true devotees. Maybe like me they just really liked Badlands. I’d been trying to concentrate on just luxuriating in the visuals of the creation of the universe montage, rather than thinking too critically about it. The choral soundtrack got louder and louder, and I was thinking about how on earth Terrence Malick was achieving this (was he adding in extra singers for each verse?), when an exasperated older man a few seats down from me suddenly turned to say to his female companion – “Oh, this is just pretentious f****** nonsense! It really is…” Unfortunately life imitates art far more often than art imitates life, and, in a hilarious occurrence straight out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, at that precise and most wonderful moment the soundtrack abruptly went mute. His bellowed whisper bounded around the entire cinema and was heard by everyone. You could feel the audience stiffen in their seats like an electric current had been passed thru all the rows. Some were offended by this philistinism, but many more I think were suddenly roused, out of somnolent acceptance of Malick’s montage as being High Art, back into consciousness and began a critical evaluation of what the man had just said. And do you know what, I swear that I felt most of the audience suddenly silently agree and think, “It is pretentious f****** nonsense, isn’t it?!”

I can’t think of Bubba Ho-Tep or The Tree of Life to this day without remembering the odd way I saw them in the IFI.

May 11, 2016

Green Room

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier follows up the succes d’estime of his second feature, 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin, with an equally visceral assault on mainstream horror.

green-room-is-a-must-watch-brutally-insane-movie-sundance-review

The Ain’t Rights wake up in their tour van to find they’re out of gas and off the road. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) cycle to a parking lot to siphon gas. Rescuing the stranded Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) they head to a disastrous afternoon gig after which apologetic DJ Tad (David W Thompson) sets them up with a backwoods gig for gas money. They are troubled to find a certain neo-Nazi vibe there, and so naturally lead off with a provocative Dead Kennedys number. But when they walk offstage to find Amber (Imogen Poots) and Werm (Brent Werzner) standing over the dead body of Emily (Taylor Tunes) in the green room, provoking neo-Nazis goes from a risky proposition to a lethal one as Gabe (Macon Blair) imprisons them, waiting for supremo Darcy (Patrick Stewart)…

Green Room recalls 2008’s Eden Lake. Saulnier’s writing and directing are spare and taut and the shlock horror practical FX are exemplary. Eden Lake was an equally superb technical achievement that belied its small budget and announced James Watkins as a notable talent. Reviewing Eden Lake, however, I couldn’t think of a single reason to recommend watching it. It was horror without humour, without the supernatural, without hope or relief; horror that could actually happen, and to you. Green Room is an equally plausible nightmare. You are stapled to your chair by dread and tension, even though there is humour in Macon’s nice guy thug, and the band’s agonising over their Desert Island Discs picks. Stewart is a gruff presence but Poots steals the film with the best lines (“Madonna. … And Slayer”) and a casual facility with extreme violence.

Green Room is not an easy watch. Once Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) is insinuated into the green room to guard the band the clever edits, memorable imagery, and character moments of touring musicians become a distant memory. Dogs rip out throats, box-cutters slice open stomachs, heads explode with shotgun blasts, arms are broken asunder, and a Gotham-aping mutilation occurs. This is where the lack of supernatural or glee becomes a problem. The Kingslayer losing his sword-hand for acting morally in Games of Thrones horrifies in a way that Ash losing his hand in Evil Dead 2 does not, not only because of differences in overall tone but also because it’s his self-definition. Saulnier goes grand guignol gross-out on the mutilation, then backpedals on its life-altering horror by visually covering it up, as if belatedly concerned it’s excessive enough to distract.

Green Room is undeniably an indelible cinematic experience, but not one that will leave fond memories. We await Saulnier’s impending MR James adaptation Red Rune with an awed anticipation.

3/5

October 26, 2011

Top 10 Scary Movies

Hallowe’en is almost upon us! This weekend Contagion, Demons Never Die, Paranormal Activity 3, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and others will all contend for the horror audience at the multiplexes, while the Screen’s Monster Mash and especially the IFI’s Horrorthon with special guest (and cult hero) Michael Biehn (Aliens, Planet Terror) will cater for the hardcore ghouls. But if you’re staying in for TV or DVD scares instead here’re quality shockers to get you thru the horrid holiday.

(10) Psycho
Hitchcock’s 1960 low budget classic influenced all the other films on this list as it dealt a tremendous hammer blow to restrictions on cinematic violence. Hitchcock’s direction is almost parodically showy as the first act of the film is essentially an enormous shaggy-dog story, setting up a number of prolonged blackly comic sequences. Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates is a terrific resonant villain, especially in the chilling final scene scored by Bernard Hermann with full-on Schoenbergian atonal serialism, while the shower scene with Janet Leigh being slashed to Hermann’s bravura stabbing violins orchestration remains an iconic ‘pure cinema’ scare.

(9) The Host
You may not have heard of this one before but this recent Korean effort is already well on its way to classic status. A hilariously dysfunctional Korean family try to save their abducted youngest member from a mutated monster created by American polluters. Brilliant special effects create scares aplenty while the script is both scathing of American power politics and sublimely absurdist. This pre-dates Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in collecting misfit characters with useless skills, like a hesitant Olympic archer and a Molotov cocktail flinging former student radical, and paying off those set-ups in hilarious and unexpected ways.

(8) Halloween
John Carpenter was probably gazumped by Black Christmas to creating the slasher flick but he certainly codified the conventions of the genre with this 1978 movie. I’ve long thought Carpenter a deeply over-rated director but this film, powered by his deceptively simple yet still creepy music, features numerous sequences of nerve-rending suspense as Jamie Lee Curtis’s baby-sitter is stalked by the homicidal madman Mike Myers in his William Shatner mask. Treasure Donald Pleasance as the psychiatrist Loomis as he dead pans his reply to Curtis’ question “Was that the boogieman?” – “Yes, as a matter of fact it was”.

(7) Night of the Living Dead
George Romero usually gets far too much credit for what is tangential social satire in his Dead films, but there’s no doubt that he invented the modern zombie genre with this piece. By not cutting away when the undead started munching human flesh, and concentrating the action in a claustrophobic setting where the mismatched survivors turn on each other under the constant strain of both repelling the zombies and dealing with the ticking time-bomb of their infected, he gave us the still resonant archetypal zombie set-up. The ending is as chilling as in 1968.

(6) The Exorcist
This 1973 shocker, scored by Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and directed by William Friedkin at the short-lived height of his powers, remains one of the highest grossing movies ever made. Stephen King thought its secret was that it struck a nerve with parents concerned that they had somehow lost their children to the dark side of the 1960s, while simultaneously attracting those self-same kids eager for transgressive thrills. It’s equally likely that such frighteningly realised demonic possession just freaks people out, especially when Max Von Sydow’s stalwart priest realises he’s once again facing the originating villain, Lucifer.

(5) The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead is not a comedy-horror classic like its acclaimed sequel Evil Dead 2, but an extremely gruelling gore-fest that bookends the extreme horror tendencies of the 1970s. Director Sam Raimi made his name directing his school friend and subsequent cult legend Bruce Campbell as plucky college student Ash, fighting off evil spirits inadvertently summoned by his friends by reading an arcane tome at a remote cabin in a forest where even the trees turn out to be evil, damn evil, and prone to doing things that are still controversial. Prepare to lose your lunch.

(4) 28 Days Later
Alex Garland’s first original screenplay was blatantly a zombie reworking of The Day of the Triffids, but there are worse templates than John Wyndham’s particular variety of realistic sci-fi. The post-apocalyptic concerns of that classic became horror gold through Danny Boyle’s customarily frenetic direction of the terrifyingly energetic Infected pursuing Cillian Murphy thru an eerily deserted London. The obligatory survivors turning on each other motif is enlivened by the quality of rhetoric given to Christopher Eccleston’s barking mad soldier, while the climactic eye gouging is perhaps the most horrific act ever committed by any screen hero.

(3) Don’t Look Now
1973 classic Don’t Look Now is on the surface an art-house study, rendered in editor turned director Nicolas Roeg’s typically disjunctive style, of a couple consumed with grief over the death of their daughter trying to forget their loss and begin again by travelling to Venice. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland though begin seeing a red coated little girl tailing them at a distance thru the streets, and become convinced that it may be their dead daughter, leading to an ending so genuinely nightmarish that it will freak you out even if you’ve seen it before.

(2) Alien
Alien is a great horror film which skilfully masquerades as sci-fi, including the score from Jerry Goldsmith at his most dissonant. Ridley Scott firmly establishes the characters before bumping them off in his Gothic space-ship full of dark shadows and dripping roofs. Stephen King has noted that the absence of almost any action for the first hour leaves the audience extremely nervy for when events finally occur. The alien attacks are superbly orchestrated and you’d need nerves of steel not to do a sitting high jump at least twice in the final 20 minutes. Don’t watch while eating…

(1) Scream
Neve Campbell confidently carries this 1996 classic directed by rejuvenated horror maestro Wes Craven from Kevin Williamson’s razor sharp script. Scream is a blackly hilarious self-aware dissection of the clichés of slasher movies which is also simultaneously a genuinely brilliant slasher flick filled with gory attacks and jump out of your seat moments. Williamson’s delicious dialogue is brought to memorable life by an ensemble cast on truly top form, including star-making turns from Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette, Rose McGowan and Skeet Ulrich. Enjoy, oh, and please do remember, “Movies don’t create psychos, they just make psychos more creative…”

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