Category Archives: Kitsch

Nazis from the dark side of the Moon and ultra film violence from Indonesia

Prince Charles Cinema: home of lateral thinking marketing

London would be a duller place if the Prince Charles Cinema did not exist.

A few weeks ago, the management were asking what their market position was. I said I thought the cinema filled a gap between the mainstream and art house cinemas. In among some cult commercial films, the Prince Charles screens movies the National Film Theatre seldom if ever shows.

The Prince Charles screens cult, schlock, under-the-radar and often extraordinarily quirky movies. Amid special events like Sing-a-long-a-Grease, the Bugsy Malone Sing-Along, Swear-Along-With-South-Park and a screening of ‘The Die Hard Trilogy’ (they are not including Die Hard 4.0 because they say it is not a ‘real’ Die Hard film…. they will soon be screening the little-heard-of Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie and God Bless America (with free hot dogs) as well as an all-night marathon of Friday the 13th Parts I-VIII.

They also yesterday screened two films extraordinary even by their standards – Iron Sky and The Raid both of which, I suspect, have been held back by titles less vivid than they should be. Iron Sky should, I think, really have been called Nazis From The Dark Side of The Moon… or Space Nazis… because the plot runs thus:

Iron Sky: Nazis are not a waste of space

In 1945, some Nazis escaped to the Moon, where they built a giant secret base in the shape of a swastika. Since then, they have been watching us and waiting for the right time to mount an invasion of Earth in their meteor-towing zeppelin-shaped spacecraft and take their revenge. The date is now 2018 and the time is right…

Admittedly I got in for free, but THAT is a movie I would pay good money to see and the strange thing about it is that the visuals and the special effects are excellent, as are the sound, the direction and the acting. And the acting is difficult to pull off, because all the lines are (quite rightly) delivered totally straight-faced, so the acting style has to be in that difficult region between realistic and slightly stylised cartoon – If you have a central Negro character whom the Nazis turn white and a sequence in which the vacuum of space pulls off a female Nazi’s clothes yet she is still somehow able to breathe, there is a credibility risk unless you have everything spot-on.

They get away with lines like (I paraphrase):

“I was black but now I’m white. I went to the dark side of the Moon but now I’m back. And the space Nazis are coming!”

(To a taxi driver) “Take us upState – We need to get back to the Moon”

and

“The Nazis are the only guys the US managed to beat in a fair fight”

Alright, the last line is not actually so odd; it is the truth (if you exclude the British in 1776).

Iron Sky has its faults – it would be a much better film with less ponderous, less Wagnerian music – oddly from Slovenian avant-garde group Laibach – but it is 93 minutes long and never less than interesting.

It is good clean Nazi fun and has a fair stab at satire with a cynical political PR lady who sees the benefits of having a Nazi invasion of Earth and a not-too-far-removed-from-reality Sarah Palin type female US President in 2018 who says: “All Presidents who start a war in their first term get re-elected”.

With an unsurprisingly complicated production history, it is basically a Finnish film with English and German dialogue (sub-titled) which was shot for an estimated 7.5 million Euros in Australia, Finland, Germany and New York and partly financed by ‘crowd funding’ from fan investors.

Iron Sky is well worth seeing on the big screen – something that is highly unlikely in the UK now, as distributors Revolver are putting it straight to DVD.

The Raid: wall-to-wall high-rise violence

The Raid is another film championed by the Prince Charles Cinema though, unlike Iron Sky, it did get a decent UK release.

It is a visceral, staggeringly-violent Indonesian action film directed by Welsh film-maker Gareth Evans (allegedly only 27-years-old) with jaw-dropping martial arts sequences.

I am no martial arts aficionado, but the action is amazing – it showcases the unknown-to-me Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat.

The movie won the Midnight Madness Award at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and that sounds a pretty well-titled award.

The plot is token – more a MacGuffin than a plot.

A less-than-elite SWAT team mount an attack on the strangely run-down Jakarta tower block base of a crime lord who has rented rooms in the block out to the city’s most dangerous murderers, killers and gangsters… and, inexplicably, to one ordinary good guy and his pregnant wife.

Running 101 minutes, it could usefully have about 10 minutes trimmed off it, but it is astonishingly gripping throughout, especially given that it is simply wall-to-wall violence. Very well edited and with vivid Dolby Stereo, it is like being in a firefight. You have no idea what is going to happen next.

And the violence is relentless.

There are a couple of half-hearted attempts to give the movie depth and a late attempt to create personal sympathy with one of the characters, but this is pointless.

Watching it reminded me of the original reviews of Reservoir Dogs, which said that film was mindlessly violent, staggeringly bloody and was simply violence for the sake of violence.

Reservoir Dogs was not.

The Raid is.

And I loved it.

Director Gareth Evans could be the new Quentin Tarantino.

Uniquely different. That is what you get at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Nazis from the Dark Side of the Moon for 93 minutes and mindless martial art violence from Indonesia for 101 minutes.

Now that is what I call entertainment.

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“Most people in the mainstream film industry are the scum of the earth”

Lloyd Kaufman last night at his movie premiere

I attended a movie premiere in Leicester Square last night. Well, OK, it was just off Leicester Square. But it was still the British premiere – or it might have been the European premiere – of an American movie.

Well, OK, the premiere was of a movie by Troma Entertainment, purveyors of fine B-movie features such as The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die and Tromeo and Juliet. It was at the wonderfully-cultish Prince Charles Cinema.

Last night’s premiere was of Father’s Day (impressively produced, given it cost $10,000 to make), directed by five Canadians calling themselves Astron-6.

The last movie Troma released was Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead in 2006.

Introducing the new Father’s Day film was Troma’s capo di tutti capi Lloyd Kaufman. There was a queue literally round the block to see him. It is rare to see a Troma movie on the big screen in the UK and pretty-much unique to see Kaufman and his lovely wife of 40 years Patricia Swinney Kaufman, currently New York Film Commissioner. They had an announcement:

“We noticed,” said Lloyd Kaufman, “that there are currently a number of £100 million re-makes of movies that originally cost nothing. Well, Troma is going to do a re-make of a movie that cost nothing and we’re going to do the re-make for less than nothing. We’re gonna re-make Class of Nuke ‘Em High this summer and I will have the privilege of directing it. It will be a bit different. In the re-make, the young teenage couple will be a young teenage lesbian couple.”

This announcement by the neatly-suited man and his immaculately-dressed wife was greeted with whoops and cheers by the full-house audience which was dressed as if for a heavy metal rock show.

“Thankyou for supporting independent cinema and art!” Lloyd Kaufman shouted, when the whoops of joy had subsided.

Off-stage (I saw them before the screening), Lloyd Kaufman and his wife appear to be quiet, rather unassuming American tourists of a certain age. They had just flown in from Paris.

On-stage, Lloyd Kaufman turns into Mel Brooks. A loud, very funny New York Jewish salesman.

“I met Astron 6, who made Father’s Day,” he explained, “because they showed some short films at the TromaDance Film Festival. Then I met one of the Astron 6 people on the set of the re-make of Mother’s Day(The original 1980 version was directed by Lloyd Kaufman’s brother Charles)

“I thought it would be amusing if people would think Father’s Day was going to be a cynical attempt to ride the coat-tails of Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day which was being re-made as a big-budget movie. But Father’s Day has absolutely nothing to do with Mother’s Day, which I think is hilarious.

“I do believe,” he said, “that Astron-6 are continuing the Troma tradition of making films that come from the heart and are honest expressions of their soul without any thought to commercial success. Father’s Day is another movie that contributes to Troma’s 40 years of failed film-making.”

In fact, Father’s Day won several awards at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, including Best Film, Best Trailer and Best Poster.

In its heyday, Troma was always known for its posters. They used to think of a title, then design a poster, then sell it to distributors and, only after that, try to think what the script might be.

“I think,” he said, “that you will see a lot more from these Astron-6 guys in the same way as Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of animated TV series South Park, who, like many, had an early involvement with Troma)

Former Troma guy James Gunn, who wrote and directed their Tromeo and Juliet in 1996, went on to direct the more mainstream science fiction horror comedy Slither in 2006. He was said, at one time, to have written a sadly-unproduced Troma movie Schlock & Schlockability: The Revenge of Jane Austen.

“But James Gunn didn’t write that,” Lloyd Kaufman revealed last night. “Another guy did – he was a postman – I can’t remember his name. We never got anywhere with it. We were hoping to get a British partner but, thusfar, we have not been able to get anybody.”

There have also been stories that Troma are to make Toxic Avenger 5: Toxic Twins.

“We have not yet been able to do that yet,” he explained philosophically. “Since nobody goes to our movies, we have no distribution anywhere and we don’t make any money… Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, my best movie, will never break even. We were plucked on that film. So there’s no purpose in making a movie unless we really, really love it.

Father’s Day we really loved, the Astron-6 guys were ready-to-go, so we did it. But, with Toxis Avenger 5, I have not gotten to where I really believe in it. Something I can get behind or, at least, get into my behind, is the Class of Nuke ‘Em High Redux. I think that’s something I can really believe in.

“The re-make of Class of Nuke ‘Em High will be shot on video because, finally, the quality of the digital format exceeds 35mm film. But we were always way ahead of the game, because we knew how to make 35mm look like shitty, unfocused, scratched VHS tape 40 years ago. So we’re just going back to our roots.”

Troma movies influenced directors like Quentin Tarantino and gave early work to people like actor Samuel L.Jackson and director Oliver Stone (as an actor).

“I think,” said Lloyd Kaufman, “that the Atron-6 guys will be accepted in the mainstream in the same way that James Gunn and Tarantino and Eli Roth have been. They were all fans of Troma or worked for Troma and want to make money.

“I don’t want to live in a refrigerated carton and be putting my shit in a paper bag, but I’m not able to make it in the mainstream. James Gunn and Trey Parker and Matt Stone and those guys are great people. Most people in the film industry who are in the mainstream are worse than wankers; they’re scum of the earth. But there are a small number who are sensational. And I’m sure that Astron-6 will be able to go mainstream and stay true to their souls and be honest, good, serious artists.

“I guess my message is just do what you believe in. Don’t listen to people. If idiots like me can survive for 40 years making films with hideously-deformed creatures of super-human size and father’s getting boffed up the behind and hard-bodied lesbians and all that sort of stuff, then anybody can do it. To thine own self be true. That is a phrase coined by one William Shakespeare who wrote the best-selling book 101 Money-Making Screenplay Ideas otherwise known as Hamlet

“Do what you believe in.”

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“The Room” – The best bad movie?… And how to heckle cult movies properly.

Tommy Wiseau at the Prince Charles Cinema last night

There are a lot of films labelled “the best worst movie ever made” – for example, Killer Bitch – and where better is there to screen those movies than at the admirable Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square in London?

This cinema does not just organise sing-alonga Sound of Music and swear-alonga Team America screenings. Oh no.

Upcoming treats include The Charlies – their alternative Academy Awards held on Oscar night – plus a Friday The 13th all-night marathon screening of Parts I-VIII and a Troma Films triple bill of The Toxic AvengerClass of Nuke ‘Em High and their new film Father’s Day – introduced by Troma boss Lloyd Kaufman.

It has taken me some time to catch up with The Room – not a Troma film but an independent movie made in 2003.

British writer and social commentator Charlie Brooker said after its London premiere (at the Prince Charles) in 2009: “I don’t think there is a word that can describe that experience… Possibly the most unique movie-going experience of my life”

Other cinema-goers that night called it “Like a tumour” and “Absolutely blissfully indulgent in the most peculiar and perverted way”.

The Room’s writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau’s message to the audience at that London premiere was: “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourselves but please don’t hurt each other.”

Last night, I went to the Prince Charles’ first midnight screening of The Room introduced by Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero.

You know you may be in for a treat when there is a stall in the foyer selling T-shirts, £10 posters, DVDs and other knick-knacks and people are having their photo taken with the director…. It is also unusual, in my fairly extensive experience, to find your feet crunching on dozens of plastic spoons as you walk into your row of seats – spoons provided by the cinema. It has become a tradition to throw plastic spoons at the screen… A reference to an unexplained shot of a spoon in the movie – in a framed photograph standing on a table.

Basically, The Room is a seriously-intended soft-hearted movie about relationships which almost unbelievably cost $6 million to make. In Los Angeles, it was promoted using a single expensive billboard in Hollywood showing an extreme close-up of Wiseau’s face, with one of his eyelids in mid-blink. The ad ran on this expensive billboard for over four years.

Wiseau also reportedly paid for a small TV and print campaign saying The Room was “a film with the passion of Tennessee Williams”.

Where the alleged $6 million budget for the movie or the money for the billboard came from are just two of many apparently inexplicable mysteries surrounding the film.

In truth, last night’s screening of The Room disappointed me, because the constant heckling by the audience has not yet settled down into ritual.

I once attended a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the World Science Fiction Convention which was almost a brand new work of art in itself. Not only were audience members dressed-up as characters, but the heckling involved shouted responses and set-ups to what was being said on screen, to create whole new surreal conversations.

Last night’s screening of The Room – inevitably billed as The Best Worst Film Ever Made – was simply a licence to be rowdy, with people laughing (in often random places) for the sake of laughing, random heckling, random throwing of plastic spoons and wannabe hecklers yelling out mostly failed attempts at post-modernist humour. The heckling was mostly over the on-screen dialogue. To work effectively, movie heckling has to be in-between the dialogue.

The film, though, has a lot of potential for would-be creative hecklers.

There is much to be developed from an early heckle of “What does it mean?” and a later one of “This is a pointless scene!”

I loved and laughed heartily at an utterly irrelevant shot of an ugly dog in a flower shop (you had to be there) and almost laughed as much at the completely pointless picking-up by the central character of a newspaper lying on the sidewalk.

The pointlessness of certain specifics is what, it could be argued, makes The Room one of the truly great bad movies.

I thought it admirably odd that the male characters are often tossing a baseball between each other – in one noted scene in an alleyway, four of them wear unexplained tuxedos while throwing the ball and talking… until one of them trips over in carefully-framed giant close-up for no plot or artistic reason at all.

It is also rare for one of the female central characters in a film to say she has breast cancer and is going to die… and to be greeted with loud laughter and enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The cancer is never referred to again in the movie and, every time the woman touched her daughter’s face (which she does a lot), the audience shouted out “Cancer!”

The audience and the screening was at its best with recurring heckles. Throughout the film, there were justified yells of “Shut the door!” and, during repeated and unnecessary lengthy pans along the width of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the audience would chant: “Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go!” until the pan finished.

Quite what it must be like for Tommy Wiseau to know his seriously-intended film about relationships is being laughed-at and abused I can barely imagine. But he seems happy to take the money. He did, after all, make the film as a serious drama but now markets it as a ‘dark’ comedy.

I particularly recommend that irrelevant shot of the ugly dog in a flower shop. I would seriously consider seeing the film again simply just for that one shot.

But – and this is important – one piece of advice to you if you do see it.

See it in the cinema.

And do not sit in the second row.

Dozens of thrown plastic spoons fall short and it is like being in the French army during the English archers’ onslaught of arrows at Agincourt.

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