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Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright’s All-Out “Attack” on SXSW

Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright’s All-Out “Attack” on SXSW (photo)

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The only invasion more impressive than the wildebeest-like aliens that descend on a South London street corner to terrorize its denizens in Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block” is the way in which the film itself came in and conquered SXSW. Deep in the heart of geek culture…err, Texas, the debut appeared to be one of the surest bets of the festival, given the involvement of executive producer Edgar Wright and that Cornish’s arrival in the States comes after years of being a favorite in his native England as a radio host on the sketch comedy program “The Adam and Joe Show” and his work on two scripts with Wright for two of the more anticipated films around, Wright’s “Ant-Man” and Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn.”

It’s probably no coincidence then that Cornish just made a film that thrives on the wit and joy that permeates Wright’s work, hearkens back to the heyday of when Spielberg was producing seamless blends of science fiction, adventure and fantasy during the early ’80s, and yet is something entirely unique unto itself as it takes a group of untested group of young actors who seem more likely to be cast in the next Ken Loach film and turns them into a group of teen ruffians who must protect their apartment building, armed with little more than bats and fireworks, from aliens with glowing green teeth. It’s rare when a movie can have it both ways, but “Attack the Block” manages to be realistically gritty while simultaneously indulging in all the reasons we escape to the movies, pumped up with a simply awesome soundtrack by the Basement Jaxx, fearsome creatures, and as one character says in the film, “Too much madness to explain in one text.” So in addition to Matt Singer’s recent chat with Cornish and co-star Nick Frost, who appears in the film as a pot dealer under siege, in the IFC Crossroads House, I sat down with Cornish and Wright to discuss the origins of the film and their friendship, as well as Cornish’s rare ability to treat teens with a proper amount of gravitas, the dearth of genre film in the UK and the anxiety of his SXSW premiere.

How did this become the film you wanted to make as your debut?

Joe Cornish: Well, I’ve always wanted to make a film. I went to film school after I left school in Britain, the same place Edgar went to actually in a seaside town called Bournemouth in the south of England and then my career path was weird really. I worked as a production assistant on feature films in London and then I got a break to do a TV show called “The Adam and Joe Show” in the UK and I developed stuff for years and this was just the one that kind of came to fruition. I pitched a whole lot of ideas and this was the one that everybody leapt on.

You mentioned the other night how it was a bunch of first-timers working together – the cinematographer Thomas Townend, Basement Jaxx, many of the young actors in the street gang are all doing their first films — how did that manifest itself into the type of atmosphere you had on the film?

I’m sure Edgar will agree on your first film, it is difficult because everyone around you has more experience. The lighting guys will have done five films a year and you’re the guy who’s in charge but yet you’re the guy with the least experience. Plus, I think actors who will agree to do a first film usually are probably a particular type of actor, do you think? A little bit generous, prepared to take a risk, prepared to put their reputation on the line. I think it’s a particularly good type of actor who will take a risk on someone like me or maybe -[pointing to Edgar] you’d done “Spaced,” so you had more authority maybe, but I certainly felt that.

Edgar Wright: We both have come from a TV background before our films and sometimes in lots of different ways, you’re made to feel like you’re not worthy of doing a film.

JC: Yeah.

EW: [laughs] It still feels like a big leap, doesn’t it?

JC: Very much so, between TV and film, absolutely. But the nice thing about those kids were they were as inexperienced as I was and it was like we were all going on an adventure together and they were so enthusiastic. They were just so excited about being in a film about fighting aliens. They couldn’t believe it. I think they expected to be, if they got their break, their break to be some gritty, depressing crime drama and to be asked to be in a film with chases, aliens, explosions, motorbike stunts and effects, CGI? That was exciting as well because these kids are the target audience, so to know that they’re just excited by the premise before you’ve even started shooting was really cool.

I have to imagine that you had to be excited by those things as well as film geeks – what’s it like when you get to create your own monster or do the makeup tests for the first time?

JC: It was exciting. It was super exciting to get Terry Notary, who was our creature performer, he was in on the ground floor and he worked with Spectral Motion based on my design and yeah, the whole thing’s amazing, man. To have an idea, to have someone have the confidence to give you the money and particularly as a first-timer with something this ambitious, I still don’t quite believe that they had confidence in me, especially in Britain because we don’t make films like this very often. So hats off to Film Four, to Optimum and big hats off to Edgar, really, because if Edgar hadn’t made “Shaun of the Dead,” and that hadn’t been successful, I don’t think I would’ve been able to make this film. He opened those doors that I, with a bit of luck, have gone through.

Edgar did forge something quite unique with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” in particular where the genre was obviously where the ideas sprung from, but he’s created a genre of his own where it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s not parody, but at the same time it’s very funny. Did you feel you had those type of expectations on this film, given he was an executive producer?

JC: Well, I made a very silly TV show, with a lot of stupid sketches and animation and yeah, I was concerned that people would expect me to do a kind of…I flatter myself by saying a “Team America”-type thing because that’s a fantastic film. But I think people maybe thought I would do something sillier, but for me, my favorite comedy films aren’t out and out comedy. They’re something else plus comedy. And comedy’s the bonus. For me, comedy works best when it’s a drama with laughs, a thriller with laughs, a horror film with laughs. And for me, the key is to be dramatic or scary and then the laughs come from that.

EW: I think we both came from a TV comedy background. I don’t think people necessarily thought my first film was going to have a horror element. I think probably me and Joe were, when we were doing TV, frustrated genre directors. [laughs] So I think our start in comedy comes through in Joe’s film and my first film. But I think both of us are at a similar age where we grew up in a period in the UK where there’s quite a dearth of genre films and all of the ones that we would be watching that were on general release were all American, occasionally some international ones, but not usually at the cinema. [Looking at Joe] Would you agree those were the films growing up that both of us as we had come to get our first opportunity to make one of the films we wanted to make whilst we were growing up?

JC: Definitely. Yeah, I think our generation, we had Spielberg and Lucas making the best kids’ adventure cinema there’s ever been. In England, there was a particularly amazing period when home video first started when we were children where there was no certification. So you could go to the cinema and watch these incredible, historically good kids’ films and you could go to a video store and we could watch “Zombie Flesh Eaters,” “The Exorcist,” and “The Exterminator” and then be completely traumatized by that stuff. So we grew up in a cool time in pop culture when none of it was really being reflected in our home culture. There’s a lot of good genre stuff on TV in the UK, but for some reason in the ’80s and ’90s, it seemed to be abandoned. There’s loads of good shit in the ’60s and ’70s in the UK, but for some reason, the ’80s and ’90s is a bit of a dead zone. [looks over to Edgar] Is that too much of a generalization?

EW: No, I think that’s fair and one of the things I think is a lot of genre films in the UK were lauded in retrospect. I don’t think many people were proclaiming the original “Wicker Man” as a classic when it first came out or even the Hammer Films. I think they’re looked back at fondly rather than necessarily being [having] any kind of real critical support at the time. And then what happens in the ’80s and ’90s, the British genre film had gone completely.

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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.

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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.