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Álex de la Iglesia Puzzles Over “The Oxford Murders”

Álex de la Iglesia Puzzles Over “The Oxford Murders” (photo)

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Álex de la Iglesia always has to be the odd man out. At the American Cinematheque’s Recent Spanish Cinema series the other week, de la Iglesia’s thriller “The Oxford Murders” was the lone English-language film shown, serving as a linguistic break from Goya winners like Jose Luis Cuerda’s “The Blind Sunflowers” and Agustín Díaz Yanes’ “Just Walking.” The film’s also a departure from the wild comedies de la Iglesia has become known for, like the cutthroat salesman competition comedy “El Crimen Ferpecto” and the theme park-set spaghetti western “800 Bullets.” (If you haven’t seen either, we won’t be offended if you run out to rent them now.)

Thanks to the questionable state of “Oxford”‘s one-time American distributor ThinkFilm, the screening was one of few opportunities to see the Elijah Wood-John Hurt thriller on a U.S. big screen — according to de la Iglesia, the film will be going direct to DVD. And while reaction from parts of the world where the film did get a theatrical release was mixed, “The Oxford Murders” is an undeniable reaffirmation of de la Iglesia’s status as one of the world’s most inventive filmmakers, both visually (exemplified by a particularly breathtaking tracking shot of the streets of London) and as a storyteller (demonstrated by his application of philosophy to Guillermo Martínez’s literally by-the-numbers tale of a professor and a student who go after a serial killer guided by mathematics).

During his excursion in Los Angeles, I sat down with de la Iglesia to talk about this film and his next (“The Yellow M”), philosophy and dismembering fellow director Alex Cox.

How did you become interested in adapting Guillermo Martínez’s book for the screen?

It’s strange because at the beginning, I read a bad review in a Spanish newspaper, so I remembered thinking, “Maybe it’s a good novel.” [laughs] And I read it and my first idea was it’s impossible to make a movie with this novel because it’s only mental, there’s no action. Everything happens in the brain. Maybe one year later, Gerardo [Herrero], my producer, called me and told me, “I read the novel, I loved the novel, I bought the novel. It’s the Guillermo Martinez novel. What do you think?” And suddenly I felt that this was a challenge for me. How can I tell the story visually? It was a real exciting exercise for me and an English movie with English actors — it was like an exam. [laughs] Can I do it in a real way? Can I make a British movie? I enjoyed doing it and I think the results are really positive.

This film is also a departure from the dark comedies you’ve made with a far more serious tone and a darker color palate. Did that make it more challenging?

06162009_oxfordmurder9.jpgThat was my idea, to make something different. I don’t like the filmmakers who become [set in their ways]. I really wanted to do something different, but when you see the movie, suddenly you feel that it’s not so different than the other ones. The plot [of “The Oxford Murders”] is very similar to “800 Bullets.” You have a child that suddenly goes to a strange place, trying to find his father, and his grandfather helps him, trying to find his own past. In “The Oxford Murders,” it’s the same thing: a young guy goes to London, a strange place like [the theme park] in “800 Bullets,” and in this place finds some kind of master, some kind of Gandalf, who helps him and trains him to know something about life. It’s really similar.

Since “The Oxford Murders” takes place on a college campus, it seems like you were finally able to make use of your degree in philosophy, which is particularly evident in the opening scene where Elijah Wood’s character Martin confronts John Hurt’s professor Arthur Seldom over Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics and language. Was that also part of the film’s appeal?

Well, in the script, we changed mathematics for philosophy, so [the characters] are talking about philosophers. In the novel, Guillermo talks about Wittgenstein, but we wanted to make the part bigger because for me, he’s the great thinker. I remember studying philosophy and not understanding anything about [Wittgenstein’s sole book] “Tractatus.” I read it when I was 18 years old. And Wittgenstein worked on “Tractatus” when he was in the first World War, not in the middle of battle, but in the trenches. So Wittgenstein is perfect to understand the plot in the story [about the imprecision of applying logic to reality], as is [German theoretical physicist Werner] Heisenberg. Heisenberg says that it’s impossible to understand a phenomenon because when you study the phenomenon, you change the object, the position, the way the electrons work. So it’s like Elijah’s character. [SPOILER AHEAD!] [By his mere presence,] Elijah changed the phenomenon, changed the murders. Not only changed, but provokes the murders, so he’s a killer because he’s trying to study, trying to know what happened in this house with his grandmother and his sister. It’s so beautiful.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.