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Nacho Vigalondo on “Extraterrestrial” and personal philosophies of filmmaking and karaoke

Nacho Vigalondo on “Extraterrestrial” and personal philosophies of filmmaking and karaoke (photo)

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Of course I interviewed director Nacho Vigalondo in a karaoke room. If you want to find Vigalondo at Fantastic Fest, a karaoke room at The Highball (a.k.a. the Alamo Drafthouse’s bar-slash-bowling-alley-slash-karaoke-palace) is always the best place to look. The man takes karaoke seriously, as evidenced by this photo he posted on Twitter just last night. During our interview about his new movie “Extraterrestrial,” Vigalondo repeatedly picked up and flipped through one of the Highball’s binders of karaoke songs, like a junkie absent-mindedly fiddling with a needle while waiting for his dealer to bring his next fix.

As a bit of a karaoke nut myself, I had to start our conversation there. And, as it turned out, Vigalondo’s personal philosophy about karaoke informs his personal philosophy about filmmaking which, in turn, guided the making of “Extraterrestrial.” Vigalondo likes to perform songs he’s never tried before; in turn, his new film is a major departure from the intricate cinematic gamesmanship of his last project, the cult sci-fi hit “Timecrimes.” The science-fiction in “Extraterrestrial” is really just the large-scale background for a small-scale character study about two people, Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner), who awaken in an apartment together after a night of drunken carousing neither can remember and find the city around them abandoned while flying saucers hover in the sky. As the mysteries grow so does the sexual tension, as Julia’s neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces) and her boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas) both arrive and complicate the survivors’ living arrangements and mutual attraction.

After the karaoke questions were out of the way, and with star Villagrán looking on, I asked Vigalondo why he wanted to follow the popular “Timecrimes” with such a different kind of sci-fi movie, where his love of UFOs comes from, and whether his very unusual alien invasion movie — in which the invasion happens entirely off-screen — was made in reaction to the way Hollywood usually treats these stories (i.e. with a lot of money and little character). And when the interview was over, the director grabbed the remote that powered the room’s karaoke machine and fired it up.

You’re looking at the Highball karaoke list, so let’s begin there. What’s the best karaoke song ever?

It might be “Sweet Child of Mine” because it’s long and epic and catchy. If you’re drunk, it’s a lot of fun to sing.

What does it take to be a karaoke expert?

It’s not about being an expert. I love karaoke because it’s one of the few activities in which failure is more important than winning.

That’s true. A spectacular karaoke failure is arguably more fun to watch than a really good rendition of something.

Yeah, I don’t like when people pick songs they know how to sing. For example, yesterday I was singing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and the reason I picked it is because I never sang that before. I don’t want things to work well at karaoke. When you go to karaoke and you see a girl who sings in an awesome way, it doesn’t make sense. You have to fail.

How does this theory of karaoke apply to filmmaking? Do you have to be willing to fail spectacularly there as well?

[laughs] Okay, yeah.

You have to be willing to try something you haven’t tried before.


Totally. And you have to be wild somehow. You have to irrational at times, and you have to have fun. Some directors hate shooting; I love to shoot. Shooting for me is not the dark part of the contract. I really love shooting because shooting is one of the few occasions you have in life to have a real adventure. We don’t go to the jungle anymore, because the jungle is already explored. We don’t go to the North Pole, we’re not going to solve a mystery, but when you’re shooting, taking a bunch of adults into a strange place and ordering them to make ridiculous things that don’t make sense until the very end when you watch it all edited together, it’s an awesome thing. Anything can happen when you’re shooting.


For example, one of the most complicated days in the shoot was when we were shooting the fight sequence [between Julio, Angel, and Carlos] because that was the very last day we had in that flat. That was the very end of the day and we were exhausted and we didn’t have any kind of special safety equipment. If a shot didn’t work, we didn’t have time to reset it and because we had to leave in an hour. It was like a climax in a film, like at the end of “Back to the Future” when they only have one chance to catch the lightning bolt with the wire. That happens all the time when you make a film. You have just one chance to make things good. I love that.

Was the movie inspired in some way by watching other alien movies and feeling like your own reaction to that kind of event wasn’t represented?

No, I didn’t want “Extraterrestrial” to go against any other movie; I just wanted to make this one. I’m not against movies like “District 9” or “Battle: Los Angeles” and I didn’t want to make a movie that’s against those kind of movies. In fact, I love alien invasion films. I’m not guided by hate of those other films. I just loved this idea about this guy who wanted to be close to this girl. I loved this story.

How much of the movie was driven by desire to make something different than “Timecrimes?”

That’s a deliberate thing. You know what happened with M. Night Shyamalan? He made three films with a similar structure, and then everyone began expecting the same thing from him again and again. Once he made “Lady in the Water” — which I don’t think is as bad as people say — people reacted negatively because they were expecting a big twist at the end. I prefer to be free; I don’t want to be a victim of my own success in that way. So, yeah, I have ideas for other mystery films with big twists. But when I laid out all my ideas on the table, I picked “Extraterrestrial” because it was the total opposite of “Timecrimes.” I don’t want to follow a path.

It’s not what people expect from me, and I know that some people are going to be disappointed with it for that reason; I read some reviews that were disappointed that it’s not “Timecrimes.” I’ll accept disappointing people that way if we can surprise other people in a good way. In other words, I prefer to play with expectations instead of satisfying expectations.

I love the way the film opens almost like an old “Twilight Zone” episode with all this ambiguity. The characters don’t quite know where they are or what’s happened, and to the audience, anything feels possible. How do you direct the actors to create that sense of ambiguity? You have to be very cagey with what you reveal or don’t reveal.

What I told [lead actor] Julián [Villagrán] was, “Have you ever had a massive hangover?” That’s it. When a movie’s ambiguous, it’s the movie itself that’s ambiguous, not the elements inside it. I can’t tell the actor to play ambiguous. That’s not fair. He’s just a guy who wakes up in the morning with a hangover.

I had written a sequence in which we see the characters meet the previous night. It was such a funny sequence; one of my favorite scenes in the script. But I found that the movie played better without it.

A few years before “Extraterrestrial” you made a similarly themed

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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