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Labor of love: Writer-director-star Alice Lowe on homicidal motherhood & the making of ‘Prevenge’
03.21.2017
10:45 am
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Alice Lowe’s horror black comedy Prevenge, as you may have gathered from my last post, is pretty likely to be my favorite film of the year (though there’s some fierce competition, for sure.) A hilariously bleak look at motherhood and murder, Prevenge is the story of mother-to-be Ruth who, after the tragic death of her unborn baby’s father, starts to hear the child’s voice. And it is telling her to kill.

The film is packed to bursting point with wicked laughs, stomach-turning violence and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, genuine pathos, the kind of work that gives you faith that independent cinema is still capable of turning out films that are both fresh and brilliant. Written, directed and starring Lowe herself in the lead role, Prevenge was made on a shoe-string budget over the course of three weeks, all while Lowe was heavily pregnant. While it might mark her first time behind the camera to helm a feature, as an actress and a writer Lowe is a seasoned pro, lending her formidable talents to work as diverse and quality as The Mighty Boosh, Sherlock, Snuff Box, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Sightseers.

We’re long time fans of Alice Lowe’s work here at Dangerous Minds, so it was a real treat to finally nab an exclusive interview with this dark comedy powerhouse. I caught up with her on International Women’s Day to talk about Prevenge, producing films, and the trials of juggling motherhood with an artistic career.

Dangerous Minds: Which one was harder? Making a film or giving birth?

Alice Lowe: Giving birth! If I had to compare the two, making a feature film is pretty easy. No, it’s still pretty nerve wracking! But that’s one of the things that made me do it because, compared to childbirth, I thought “oh it’s just a feature film, who cares?” If I hadn’t been pregnant I would have been like: “My precious first feature!” I maybe wouldn’t have made it because I was so scared of it not being perfect. As it was, I wasn’t that stressed to be honest, I was just enjoying it.

So far the critical reaction to Prevenge has been very positive. How have you found the reception to the film?

Alice Lowe: It’s amazing! I don’t think it’s gonna hit me until about a year’s time because I just haven’t stopped. Making the film, having a baby, editing the film with my baby, finishing the film in time for the Venice Film Festival, it’s all just been a whirlwind, really. I haven’t had a chance to stop and take stock. Because it was so low budget, we just didn’t have any expectations. I was thinking: “If I can make a film then that’s brilliant, it doesn’t really matter what it’s like.” Haha! Honestly, I was just glad to get a feature under my belt, because features notoriously don’t mix well with childcare. So I didn’t really have any expectations, but I certainly didn’t expect to still be promoting it now and people to still be talking about it!
 

As ‘Dr Liz Asher’ in ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’
 
Prevenge is your first feature film as director. Was there any particular template that you were working to as a first time director, either for a low-budget horror or just more generally?

Alice Lowe: Initially I did think it would be easier to do a revenge film because you have a narrative template. You don’t necessarily need to see the preamble, what has happened before, you can just take the audience on this journey of a revenge spree, and to a set timetable. So that’s quite useful. Taxi Driver was a big influence though, as I had often thought there was room for a female Taxi Driver-type film.

Yes, there’s definitely a kind of Travis Bickle-ish aspect to Prevenge‘s Ruth. As for the comedy side of this film, which is just as important as the horror, that’s a tricky balancing act but one you’ve pulled off brilliantly. Did you have any inspirations or templates when it came to this kind of fusion of horror and black comedy?

Alice Lowe:  Well, horror and humor has become quite a British thing, I think. I mean, going back to Ealing Studios there is horror mixed in with comedy there. But you know I also wanted to put drama in there as well, and pathos, and that to me is a bigger experiment in the film, as I didn’t know if anything else had done that successfully. And that’s about having the confidence to steer the audience into these different gears, essentially. That was a labor of love in the edit. Even though I wrote the script as a mixture of genres, I had an epiphany during the actual shooting when I realized that it didn’t have to be any one genre, we just tried to make it as good as possible. Same as with the music, really. While there are lots of influences, it has to be an idiosyncratic thing because it’s really this one person’s journey. So it’s allowed to feel quite new and strange as long as it is managed skilfully.
 

As Ruth in ‘Prevenge’
 

You not only wrote and directed this film, which is an achievement in itself - while being heavily pregnant, let’s not forget - but you also starred in it too. I found your performance really powerful, giving murderous mum-to-be Ruth a gravitas and an empathy that strangely complimented the fear and the belly laughs. It’s quite a feat. So can you tell me how you approached Prevenge as an acting gig?

Alice Lowe: I knew I wouldn’t have any time to get into character. There just wasn’t enough time! I had to channel what I was feeling, the intensity of being pregnant, through the performance. But I’ve done a lot of low budget films, not directing necessarily but writing them, and I always know what I am doing with my character and sometimes what I fear, as a director, is that I can’t convey to an actor what I want them to do. Especially when it’s a complex character that is pushing and pulling the audience’s sympathies in different directions. You have to give something for the crew to latch on to. If the central performance is wobbly, the whole thing could become wobbly! So I had to carry the whole thing through and I couldn’t have any vanity about the performance at all. We needed ten seconds of me by the window, we got it, we moved on, there was no other take, no sense of me doing it for four hours. But in a way I was confident to do that because I knew the character inside out. I had written her. I knew what I was doing. And I don’t like to watch playback because I don’t like to be too self-conscious. I had to be in the zone. and when you have a small budget and a small crew, it enables you to do good performances anyway because there was very little set-up, re-setting, lighting and all that. There was very little down time, so you’re just acting the whole time, 24/7. We were just immersed in it, the same as when we shot Sightseers. Which is quite good because you forget you’re acting. You’re just being it. That has a very favorable impact on the performance.

And I presume you were given carte blanche by the producers to do whatever you wanted?

Alice Lowe: Yeah pretty much, I mean they would look over stuff and give me help or feedback if I wanted it but really they just let me get on with it. It was me and the editor, really, pushing through with this experience of the edit. in terms of the script, we didn’t have time for re-writes or anything like that. I basically wrote the script in about a week, having thought about it and written a pitch document before that. I mean, we had to change things as we went along, like when we couldn’t get a particular location and things like that, but in effect it was a first draft.
 

As David Bowie on ‘Snuff Box’
 
Wow! That is impressive. So do you think you were liberated artistically by these low-budget/indie constraints?

Alice Lowe: Yes I do actually. I think it gave me faith in the simplicity of a narrative that people will accept. I knew that to be able to film it in such a short time it would have to be long scenes. I knew I was writing it as a series of two-handers, each scene was one other actor, one location and one long scene. It’s like little bits of theater really, and it’s funny because people don’t really comment on that. I thought we would get a lot more criticism because it is such a simple narrative. I mean we did get some criticism, but not as much as I thought we would.

For me the challenge was to write characters that felt modern and recognizable, but they’re not operating to a conventional script. I wanted the audience to feel that this was really happening. You know, how life is unexpected, people don’t do what you think they’ll do. Bringing stuff to life so there’s a vibrancy of performance. And again, that’s something that comes from the low-budget set-up, because everyone knows we may only get one take at this and it’s quite exciting. I just know the film wouldn’t have got made through a conventional development system. People would have said: “You can’t have a scene this long”, “There’s too much dialogue”, “What’s this bit about?”, “This joke doesn’t work.” There would have been so much of that. It drives me insane! Those kinds of people. You just think “Have you ever directed a film? Or written anything? Have you ever made people laugh? Ever in your life?” The kind of people you have to accept feedback from don’t know how to make a film! 

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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03.21.2017
10:45 am
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Discussion
‘Show Me Your Soul’: Amazing ‘Soul Train’ documentary from French television
03.21.2017
09:24 am
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Show Me Your Soul: The Soul Train Years is a 2013 documentary produced for French television by filmmaker Pascal Forneri (who also directed the critically-acclaimed 2010 documentary Gainsbourg & his Girls). It uses wonderful rare footage, archival photographs, and brand new interviews to take the very first in-depth look at the history of Soul Train. Forneri not only highlights the amazing soul and R&B artists who performed on the program over its 35 year, 1,100 episode run, but also the real stars of the show: the in-studio dancers who would set the standard for future generations of contemporary urban dance.
 

 
Several recurring Soul Train dancers are spotlighted in this documentary who provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the show came together. Most of the dancers were not professionally trained, they would spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to fly themselves out to Hollywood from cities all over the U.S. to be on the show. Those determined few who didn’t make the cut at the audition would sneak themselves onto the studio lot by any means necessary: including one dancer who got onto the set by hiding himself in the trunk of a car. As the show’s popularity in American households increased, so did the dancer’s popularity: week after week they’d try to outdo one another. First by their dance moves which became more and more wild, then by their fashion choices. Some dancers were so eager to get in front of the camera that they started bringing in props (a man known as “Mr. X” became famous for his dance routine that included a large, oversized toothbrush). Dancers began getting recognized on the streets of their home cities as if they were veritable celebrities.
 

 
Visionary host Don Cornelius always stated that Soul Train was a home for soul artists regardless of their race, and featured a long list of white artists who appealed to black audiences: Gino Vannelli, David Bowie, Beastie Boys, Elton John, Teena Marie, Hall & Oates, Pet Shop Boys, and Spandau Ballet were amongst the many white artists who appeared on the program over the years. As music trends slowly began to change, Don Cornelius struggled to keep Soul Train true to his original vision. When disco went mainstream, Cornelius made sure the show focused on only the most soulful disco artists that were being played on the radio. When rap music went commercial, however, Cornelius could not hide his contempt for the genre and made it very clear from the beginning that he wouldn’t get behind hip hop. Forneri documents this well, showing footage of Cornelius hanging his head in disgust following a performance by Public Enemy. As he slowly approaches Chuck D. and Flavor Fav for an interview he begins with a very long pause, and then exclaims, “That was frightening.” In the middle of a Kurtis Blow interview, Cornelius awkwardly admits on television “It’s so much fun, I mean, it doesn’t make sense to old guys like me. I don’t understand why they love it so much but that ain’t my job is it? My job is to deal with it and we’re dealing with it,” which was followed by uncomfortable laughter from the studio audience.
 
Watch ‘Show Me Your Soul: The Soul Train Years’ after the jump…

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Posted by Doug Jones
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03.21.2017
09:24 am
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Discussion
‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’: Nipple guns, four tons of blood and a shitload of gore and mayhem
03.14.2017
01:11 pm
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Yoshihiro Nishimura’s over-the-top, body-horror, sci-fi/fantasy Kodoku Meatball Machine had its world premiere at SXSW this past week and it more than lived up to its hype for being a splatter epic. In a video introduction to the film, director Nishimura claimed he used over four tons of fake blood in the movie. That might be a bit of hyperbole but Kodoku Meatball Machine has more arterial spray than the Bellagio Hotel has dancing waters. It’s a hilarious gorefest that combines sublime silliness with some cutting social satire. Plot? We don’t need no stinking plot! This film is a frenetic mash-up (literally) of everything we love about Japanese science fiction and horror. Shit happens. And keeps happening. Things fall out of the sky, humans mutate, chicks blow people away with nipple guns and limbs are severed with the maniacal zeal of a meth-crazed chef at Benihana.

Nishimura, who directed the insane Tokyo Gore Police and the 2007 short film Meatball Machine: Reject of Death, is justly renown for his superb special effects creations and wild makeup. He’s worked on dozens of Japanese horror films, creating brilliantly inventive costumes, prosthetics, masks and jaw-dropping visual mayhem featuring heavy metal samurais, wildly choreographedswordplay, kung foolery and flesh-fused weaponry from the planet Id. The cartoonish excess of his creations keeps them from being truly horrifying. There’s too much wit and absurdity in what’s on the screen to be truly upsetting. Laughter displaces screams in Nishimura’s bloody phantasmagorias. His atom-age nightmares are surrealist twists on Shaw Brother Toho flicks of the 1960s and 70s…with loads of viscera and severed limbs. A chase scene involving a topless woman astride a mutant who is half-man and half-motorcycle is like something from a demented western. Yee haw! 
 

 
Cinematographer Keizo Suzuki has given Kodoku Meatball Machine a neon sheen that recalls some of Nicolas Refn’s recent work and there’s an eerie nightclub scene that evokes the palette and vibe of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Some groovy stop-motion animation comes on like Ray Harryhausen on DMT and a load of intentionally cheesy special effects give the movie a deranged hallucinatory brilliance. The second half of the film is a relentless mindfuck.


Fans of Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, and Shin’ya Tsukamoto will find Kodoku Meatball Machine an irresistible hoot and folks who’ve never experienced extreme Japanese cinema will be introduced to a unique viewing experience that really has no western equivalent in the world of film.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’ after the jump…

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Posted by Marc Campbell
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03.14.2017
01:11 pm
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Discussion
Meet the dude who perfectly recreated an ‘80s ‘ShowBiz Pizza’ in rural Mississippi
03.08.2017
10:03 am
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The Rock-afire Explosion are considered the greatest animatronic rock band of all time. They were the subject of the wonderful 2008 documentary by Houston filmmaker Brett Whitcomb. They performed thousands of shows at restaurant chain ShowBiz Pizza from 1980 until 1992, when all ShowBiz locations were eventually rebranded as Chuck E. Cheese. I grew up in Los Angeles with only Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre featuring Munch’s Make-Believe Band, which most Rock-afire fans consider a “bastardized” version of the original show, created by retrofitting and reprogramming the old characters into new ones. Dook LaRue became Pasqually The Chef, Beach Bear became Jasper T. Jowls, Fatz Geromimo became Mr. Munch, Mitzi Mozzarella became Helen Henny, and Rolfe Dewolfe became Chuck E. Cheese. Had my entire childhood been shortchanged by never experiencing the legendary Rock-afire Explosion? To find out for myself I had to see the show in person, but as of 2017 only three fully operating shows still exist in the United States.

One of them is housed at Creative Engineering in Orlando, FL, the original factory where the show was created and manufactured. In the early ‘80s, Creative Engineering, a 20 million dollar per-year business was home to 300 employees. Today, it is home to just one employee: owner and operator Aaron Fechter. The second two fully operating Rock-afire shows are owned by fans who purchased them directly from Fechter: Phenix City, Alabama car salesman and rollerskating rink deejay Chris Thrash (famous for his YouTube videos of the Rockafire programmed to sing current Top 40 jams), and Sandy Hook, Mississippi computer scientist and single dad Damon Breland. While vacationing in New Orleans, I e-mailed Breland and asked if it would be possible to come watch a show. He agreed to make my dream come true, and all he asked for in return was for me to bring him a large cheese pizza.

I went to meet Breland on a Saturday at noon but not everything went according to plan. After experiencing my first hailstorm the night before I pulled off the side of the road in my rent-a-car and stayed at the shadiest roach-infested $30-a-night (cash only) motel with no running water that only paper money can buy. I woke up early the next morning to find myself in an incredibly rural part of Mississippi with a dilemma on my hands: the closest Dominos or Pizza Hut was almost two hours away. I arrived late but with the box of cold pizza in hand as my price of admission. 38-year-old Damon Breland was an extremely tall, fun character and was excited to host someone who had travelled so far to visit what he calls Smitty’s Super Service Station, a wooden panel building that looks like an abandoned gas station from the outside and rests just off the highway in Swampland, USA. The only sign of life within 20 miles was the Marion Walthall Correctional Facility, which explained Damon’s warning via e-mail that said: “Make sure you don’t pick up hitchhikers in the area under any circumstances.” (Damon later revealed that he is in fact employed at the prison as a network computer IT guy).

While Smitty’s Super Service was very unassuming from the outside, I was amazed at what I saw before me as I walked in: a perfect recreation of ShowBiz Pizza Place, complete with original ShowBiz tables, framed posters, souvenir mugs, kiddie rides, and most importantly, The Rock-afire Explosion spread across three full stages. Smitty’s is Damon’s weekly escape from reality (and mine for the next three hours). He spent four long years building it, learning how to run it, and acquiring a digital show library (which runs on a Windows 95 PC in the back room).
 

 
The first “showtape” Damon queued up for us to watch was one that many Rock-afire fans consider the very best, a Magnum opus if you will. The showtape, titled “Magic Night” was programmed in February of 1984, and features the Rock-afire Explosion performing a medley of covers, all of which contain the word “magic” in the title. After some intro banter between the characters, the band launched into their setlist which included “Magical Mystery Tour” by the Beatles, “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf, “Magic” from the movie Xanadu, “You Can Do Magic” by America, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. The songs were glorious, as was the playful dialogue between the band (recorded by Aaron Fechter and various members of Creative Engineering’s family supplying not just the character voices but the musical instrumentation as well).

The YouTube videos I had watched of the Rock-afire at home did not do them any justice, seeing the show before my very eyes was glorious experience that is difficult to describe, all the while the loud chattering and clicking of the mechanics and compressed air working in the background rendered me slightly disturbed as I realized that I was in a room in the absolute middle of nowhere, alone with a large man that I had just met and a dozen artificial singing animals (It’s no wonder The Rock-afire Explosion inspired the popular horror video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s.
 
Much, much more after the jump…

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Posted by Doug Jones
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03.08.2017
10:03 am
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Discussion
Baby knows best: ‘Prevenge’ is (already) easily the best horror-comedy film of the year
02.27.2017
10:29 am
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Writing about movies for Dangerous Minds is not all bad you know. Sure, I can get critical about the films I don’t like, but I also get to wax lyrical about the ones that I love. Those films that make my skin tingle and send shivers up my spine. The films that send me out of the cinema with a stupid smile plastered all over my face and a burning desire to tell everyone I know to go and see them, like right now! Being able to turn people on to high-quality movies they may not have known about—and to bring a bit of much-needed attention to those small wonders that all too often slip through the net—now that is rewarding. So, before I get saddled down with being “That Unpopular Opinions” guy, I want to tell everyone reading Dangerous Minds to go and see Alice Lowe’s remarkable pregnancy-slasher horror comedy Prevenge. Like RIGHT NOW!!

Prevenge is the brutally hilarious story of the heavily pregnant Ruth who, spurred on by the threatening, sweary voice of her unborn child, embarks on a ruthless killing spree. If that short description doesn’t make you at least curious to see this film, then fair enough, it’s probably not for you. But if you are a fan of both low-budget horror (physical/psychological) and pitch-black British humor, then you really are in for a treat with this one. American audiences are probably most familiar with writer/director/star Alice Lowe as one-half of the murderous duo from Ben Wheatley’s similarly pitch-black Sightseers (which she co-wrote) but it’s worth mentioning that Lowe also played Dr. Liz Asher in the cult 80s horror parody Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. So, as you can see, both her comedy and horror credentials are sound indeed.

Check out the trailer:
 

 
With Prevenge, her first film as director, Alice Lowe has crafted something quite unique and tremendous. As I have already mentioned, it is both truly brutal AND hilarious. For a film that is so deeply rooted in the improvised comedy method of writing, there is—ironically, for a story about pregnancy—precious little fat or navel gazing here. Those kinds of indulgences that are often to be found in first time and/or low budget film-making, but which usually only serve to make a film feel meandering and unfocused, are gloriously absent. Prevenge cuts straight to the kill with a skill and confidence and the belies Lowe’s first-time-director status. And that’s not even taking into account the circumstances of the production: Prevenge was filmed over the course of just eleven days, all while Lowe (the director, writer AND star, remember) was seven months pregnant. I mean, if that doesn’t impress you, nothing will!


 
I have seen Prevenge twice now (it’s one of those films I just had to see again despite its agonisingly limited run) and what appears on a surface level to be a playfully nasty romp, on second viewing reveals itself to be quite a layered, complex character study on a par with Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer or Maniac (though not quite as gory as either). Prevenge is really the story of one of life’s born losers—sad-sack Ruth, a natural loner even when with child—who finally discovers that she IS good at something in her life. Unfortunately, that thing is not motherhood, it’s murder. And as with all the greats, it is the genuinely unsettling ambiance that Prevenge creates that leaves the most lasting impression on the viewer (well, that and some of the belly laughs.) While numerous throats are slit and testicles lopped off, one of the most horrific images in the film comes from the voice on a pregnancy meditation CD that asks Ruth to picture everyone she has ever known in the entire world gathered round her in a circle and placing all their many hands on her baby bump. Understandably, Ruth stops that meditation CD by violently smashing the stereo into the ground. While it may be a bit rough around the edges and wear its budgetary limitations on its sleeve, Prevenge is shot in a claustrophobic style that perfectly fits the intense isolation at its core, and manages to change gears and tone more than once without losing any of its momentum. Oh, and did I mention that it’s fucking hilarious?

Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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02.27.2017
10:29 am
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Discussion
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