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Toronto 2010: Rowan Joffe Amps Up “Brighton Rock”

Toronto 2010: Rowan Joffe Amps Up “Brighton Rock” (photo)

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It’s easier to think of “Brighton Rock” as a remix rather than a remake of the 1947 thriller that starred Richard Attenborough as an amoral gangster who must romance a witness to a murder he committed in order to keep her quiet. Based on the Graham Greene novel, it was ripe for the treatment since, in spite of a restoration that caught some headwind in recent years, “Brighton Rock” remained a crafty little noir that went criminally underseen outside of England where it is beloved, especially since it contains one of the most clever endings perhaps ever devised.

That the ending takes on a more somber tone in Rowan Joffe’s version is significant since “Brighton Rock” can no longer be as black and white as it once was, in a literal and figurative sense. Splashed with ruby reds and navy blues, the film has the vibrancy of the late ’50s England as well as nods to its repression, with the lush cinematography of John Mathieson crisply evoking the contrast. But the additional hues aren’t restricted to what the actors are wearing, but what they’re feeling as well. “Control” star Sam Riley’s ruthless thug has the baby face of his predecessor Attenborough and equally deviant, but benefits from a more thoroughly explored relationship with Rose (Andrea Riseborough), the witness who was once portrayed as angelic and uncomplicated in the original and appears here as naïve and hopelessly devoted.

Surrounding his young stars Riley and Riseborough with the veteran presence of Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis, Joffe’s debut is as accomplished as they come, reinventing Greene’s investigation of love and violence in a town known for their dynamite (hence the title). Following the film’s premiere in Toronto, Joffe sat down to discuss why he tackled a British classic for his first directorial outing, strengthening the film’s female lead and why he hopes his version of “Brighton Rock” isn’t the last.

Without spoiling it, the original film has such a wonderful ending and you were able to bring a more somber tone to that and to the film as a whole. Was that integral in updating the story for modern audiences?

Oh yes, well, I think it is going back to the source in one very specific way, which is that in the end of the book, Greene alludes to the sainthood of Rose. In other words, you have a Catholic writer who I interpret is alluding to ability to suffer or even die, or even suffer eternal damnation if you believe in that, for something she believes in, and the thing that she believes in is Pinkie’s love for her. Now, you have to take a view as an audience about whether or not that is a total delusion or whether or not there was at least a spark, the possibility of love in Pinkie and I happen to believe the latter. Partly because we know that Greene himself quoted the [Vivien Dayrell-] Browning poem as the perfect epitaph for his whole oeuvre and that poem contains a line referring to the tenderhearted murderer.

09162010_BrightonRock2.jpgI’m not saying I portrayed Pinkie as a tenderhearted murderer because he is a ruthless psychopath, but I am saying that the way we invested in Rose from the screenplay on was informed by the grandeur that that character has at the end of the book. And that is not a grandeur that was pursued by the filmmakers of the original Boulting Brothers’ movie, simply because if they evidently weren’t interested in pursuing that line. We are. We have and Andrea Riseborough has delivered a character of tragic stature and I think that’s probably what you’re getting from feeling like the movie might be perhaps more emotionally complex or richer than you were anticipating. Although some critics have said my movie is not as subtle as the original or not as subtle as the source material, which is fine because the movie is incredible and the book is also incredible, so if I’ve fallen short, there we are.

The screenplays that you’ve written so far are known for their subtlety and when you know you’re going to direct a film, does that change what you do as a screenwriter?

By trying not to let that influence the screenplay because I think a screenplay needs to stand absolutely and entirely on narrative merits and if you’re going to start putting stuff into the script that are really directorial decisions, that’s fine, but what you’re going to do is muddy the waters a little bit and you’re no longer going to be able to judge whether what you have is purely in terms of cinema narrative a successful entity, so I try and keep those separate.

The way they play into each other is in the reverse of what you’re suggesting, which is directing something you’ve written is very different from directing something you haven’t, simply because you know those characters and that world more intimately than anyone else on the set. Now, a director who hasn’t written his own script, if he’s a good director, would also know the world and the characters more intimately than anyone on the set. The way that it helped me specifically was as a first-time director knowing the characters and the script to the extent I did gave me confidence and also I think probably gave very experienced actors like Helen Mirren and John Hurt confidence because it meant they weren’t just entrusting themselves to a guy who may or may not be a good director. They were entrusting themselves to a guy who may or may not be a good director, but at least had written a good script.

It may be random, but why did you want to pursue “Brighton Rock” for your directorial debut?

Well, you’re right, to a certain extent, these things happen in an evolutionary way. Some things survive, some things don’t and it’s not necessarily part of an overarching strategy. But in this case, what happened was I was offered a chance by Studio Canal, who owned the property of “Brighton Rock,” to do a remake and I said I didn’t want to do a remake because A, I didn’t like remakes and B, I don’t want to commit dramatic suicide by trying to remake what many people believe is one of the best British movies ever made.

But I did pick a copy of the book “Brighton Rock” off the shelf and blew the dust off and started to read it and I fell in love. And when you fall in love with something or someone, you start to act irrationally and I ended up pursuing the insane course, but the passionate course of saying well, why don’t we adapt the book?

My justification was the book is a great work of literature, so like a Shakespeare play, it can sustain more than one adaptation. When you go and see one director’s version of an Arthur Miller play, you don’t call it a remake of the other director’s version. And I believe Greene’s book is so rich, so iconic, so complex that it could probably sustain another “Brighton Rock.” I’d love to have seen a Terrence Malick “Brighton Rock” or a Martin Scorsese “Brighton Rock” and I have no doubt they would’ve been better than mine.

But I suppose I was young enough and had very little to lose and was maybe stupid enough to tread on hallowed ground that those extraordinary directors have revered too much to tread on. Whether or not I get away with it, I don’t know. It may be the last feature I ever make. [laughs] But it’s certainly one I’ve loved making and I’m crazy about the story and if I hadn’t been able to make it, I would’ve had to have curled up and die. And that’s what gets you through two years of moviemaking.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.