Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Retro review: Keep It Up, Jack (aka Auntie 1975) British sex comedy

auntie keep it up jack
This is one of the more obscure of the British 70s sex comedies, with no re-issue and only dodgy copies from old VHS tapes doing the rounds.
Jack James (Mark Jones) is a music hall impressionist whose act is going down as well as a turd in a swimming pool. A call from a London solicitor (Frank Thornton) telling him to come to London for a meeting comes at the right time, as he's just been sacked. Assuming it's for a job he heads for the city, and after having a bit of knees up with the cleaning lady (Queenie Watts) he is told that an elderly Aunt has died and left him her large estate. Things are not what they seem though and it turns out old Auntie home was actually a brothel.
queenie watts sex comedyfrank thornton sex comedy
When Jack arrives at the mansion he finds Virginia (the lovely and reliable Sue Longhurst) pleasuring herself on the bed. Well, we can only assume she is hyper sensitive in the crotch area as she just has it there to cover her lady bits while she writhes around. It turns out she is unaware of Auntie's demise, and assumes it's business as usual at the house of ill repute. Jack comes up with a bizarre plan to impersonate his Aunt to keep the running of the house going. When more girls arrive, and start demanding some clients, Jack runs himself ragged 'being' the different people before he hands over the running of the business to Virginia.
When he sees the immoral activities in reality, he objects and it gets worse when a naive young girl looking to make money turns up. He falls for Fleur (Maggi Burton) and does his best to make sure she is unsullied.
With the constant changing into different characters, the film has a feel of a typical Brian Rix type slamming door comedy, but sadly this has none of the laughs that those situations usually allow for.

Director/writer Derek Ford (A Promise of Bed, Groupie Girl, etc..) holds it together in this kind of re-working of Charley's Aunt, - but it is the flesh on display that keeps your interest rather than humour or even sex. Ford was infamous for adding hardcore scenes in for foreign markets, and this was no exception, apparently they even asked Sue Longhurst to get in on the act, but quite wisely she declined. Apart from the aforementioned appearances by some great 70s faces (Thornton and Queenie only appear for a few minutes sadly), there are not many familiar faces, and these types of films generally hold up better when you have more famous faces - even if it's only to see how low their career went! Sue Longhurst is the real star here, but it's worth watching out for Linda Regan - later a TV regular, and a yellow coat in Hi-de-Hi - as the annoying voiced Gloria (who wants to "get pennies"). It is, however, a film she does not list on her filmography on her official site, maybe due to the nudity? At the end of the day though, Mark Jones is no Robin Askwith, he's not even a Christopher Neil!
I could have done without the annoying "Keep it up, Jack" refrain that rings out almost every time Jack changes costume. Yes, sorry sex lovers, keep it up does not refer to keeping THAT up.
A rare relic, but just don't expect anyone to put the effort into unearthing it for a re-release for a long while.
3 out of 10.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Woman In Black (2012) Q & A with director, James Watkins

The Woman In Black opened in UK cinemas on February 10th (a week earlier in the US) and the week before previews have been touring the country, accompanied by the director, James Watkins. I sat in on the question and answer session that took place in Manchester to find out more.

What was it about the original story that got you into the project?
It was really Jane Goldman's screenplay that I read, I thought it was a very good screenplay, I thought it would be a very scary film, but also it had something about it, it had some heart. It was about loss, about this character's journey. Also I thought it was interesting to try and make this film that could really scare people but didn't have any gore or violence – not that I have a problem with any of that – but there's a lot of horror films now that purport to be scary but are actually just nasty. Again, I don't mind nasty but it's not necessarily scary. I thought maybe we could make a film here that was actually scary by sort of playing on the imagination more, going into a sort of old school way. It's a ghost story; it's what you can't see, it's what's in the shadows and what's in the edges of the frame. What's in your imagination. I thought that was an interesting challenge I suppose.
This idea of less is more, and of what you don't see is more frightening, when you're making the film, is that difficult to know if it's working?
Yeah, it's really difficult to know. You have to put it in front of an audience again and again and again, and that's not a nice thing to do when you're in the process of making a film. It's a sort of necessary pain in the process of editing, you're showing the film before it's finished. You can take a few hits in doing that and sometimes you've got to do it on the quiet because you don't want all the producers and all the money guys hearing all the bad things that people have to say. So, you're just working it through. The film was actually interesting because however less is more we thought it should be, the film was always saying to us “just take it back a bit more”. Lower the music, make it more in the sound design, in his breathing, in his footsteps. Be with him. It's quite held back in terms of sound, if you went from this film to say, Transformers it would blow your head off in terms of the sound design. It's quite stripped back and spare.
You say that, but you don't deny the audience some good old jumps.
Well, you've bought a ticket for a scary film, you want to have some jumps, right? So hopefully there's a few of those that blow you back in your seat a little bit.
What was your relationship with Jane Goldman, she's a big genre fan, she's really into horror so was it important to be working with someone who really understands where you're coming from?
Yeah, Jane's very smart and we had a really good collaboration and it was great to have someone that had the same reference movies, and we love the genre. So it was good, it was a real exploration, together. It was great, I had Jane in the edit, she watched the film so many times. Constantly having someone so smart, who you can say “What do you think of this? What do you think of that?” It's a great sounding board, a real pleasure.
It's impossible not to talk about the film and mention Daniel Radcliffe, he gives a really impressive performance, how did he come on board and what was it like working with him?
He read the script and liked it, then we met and he saw the film the same way as I saw the film, we quite bonded, because around that time I met Dan, there was all these kind of people saying we should make it in 3D. I was like, “Look, you can make it in 3D, but you won't be making it with me”. Dan was pretty much of the same mind. I'm not a big fan of 3D and I don't think it's appropriate for a film like this. He understood what I was trying to achieve and he was very smart and talked about the character in very smart ways. Dan in person is not at all what you imagine. He's not Harry Potter, either! He's a very considered guy and very committed and wanted to challenge himself and wanted to try new things, and I said “Great – I'm going to challenge you” and he was up for that and he embraces that. He went and met with grief counsellors and read lots of books on grief and really threw himself into his prep and research for the role and I think he really carries the movie.
How did you approach the source after it had been a successful play and TV drama?
I think Jane wanted to give Arthur a real kind of journey as a character and that sense of loss. The sense that he's searching for something. He's really not functioning properly, he's not really there for his son. He's just drown in grief and he's kind of chasing shadows. We didn't pursue any of it in the context of this is like the play, or whatever. We went back to the source book and sort of wanted to do it in the spirit of the book and do justice to it, but make it film shaped. I think the most gratifying thing for Jane and I was the fact that Susan Hill saw the film and really gave us a good thumbs up. So that was a big moment of relief for us.
When you say you wanted to make the story 'film shaped', do you mean giving people what they expect from a horror film with respect of the creepy kids, and hostile villagers, etc..
Not really. I think film shaped means that the character has to have a particular journey, and you have to go in a particular direction. It's very interesting when people talk about what you expect from a particular horror film or talk about tropes or anything; when you try and name a British haunted house film, when was the last one made? Before The Awakening, made at about the same time as this film, you've got to go back to The Innocents and films like that. It hasn't been done in this country. The Spanish have done it, but we haven't really made those sorts of films in this country for a long time and I don't see why we shouldn't. There's a certain grammar within a horror film, I suppose in terms of how you create effects, and there's room for originality in that certainly.
Where was the film shot?
It was all over really, we shot the main set inside the house was in Pinewood Studios. Then the village was up in Yorkshire at Halton Gill. The causeway was in Essex, the house was in Peterborough, another house was in Cambridgeshire. The railway was in Sussex, so we travelled all around.
How did you feel about coming under the iconic brand of Hammer Films?
It's a funny thing with Hammer, because they've got some great films from the 50s and 60s, and they made some pretty crappy films in the 70s. So you want to try and aspire to the good ones and not be one of the bad ones I suppose. I didn't really worry about it too much, I was just trying to tell the story in its own way.
Do you believe in the paranormal or spirits?
(laughs) No, nor does Jane!
What have you planned next?
The truth is I don't really know. I've got about three or four potential projects that might happen but there's never any guarantees because you've got to persuade someone to give you a lot of money to make the film and they don't do that very easily. Hopefully I'll get another film under way towards the end of this year, but I can't guarantee anything really.
Thank you very much James Watkins.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Woman In Black (2012)

So one of the most eagerly awaited horror films of the year is upon us. The Woman In Black, Hammer Film's version of the Susan Hill novel (also a very successful and superb stage play and infamous TV adaptation). Directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake) from a Jane (Kick Ass) Goldman screenplay. I have posted before about my concerns as to what changes will be made with the story, and after thinking about it, a straight filmed version of the book or play would have probably left audiences very cold. As it is, the embellishments Goldman has made to the story are mostly for the better. Considering this version has the backing of Hill (after she apparently hated the Nigel Kneale scripted TV version for changing little things like the dog's sex and the main characters name from Kipps to Kidd) either shows her marketing savvy or she has mellowed a great deal since 1989).
The big stumbling block for many will be the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as the main role or Arthur Kipps, a widower with a small child. I have to admit it is a little stretch to accept this. He still looks very young himself, and although I've never really been a Harry Potter fan, it is how we all see him. (I do regret not going to see him in Equus as I love that play - and the film - and would have been interesting to see him try to tackle something so challenging). I will concede that he won me over. There wasn't really any point during the film where he "pulled me out of the action" as it were. In fact, there is a whole stretch in the house where there is no dialogue, and only Radcliffe. Fair play to him, the boy did good.
The predicted "jumps" and spooky bits plastered all over the trailers still work in the context of the film, and some actually better. Trailer spoilers are a big bug bear for me with films like this, as these moments work not because they are just sudden noises (the good old "Lewton bus") but because they are built up to, you know they are coming, and it's the tension of waiting for them that makes them all the more enjoyable. Surely I'm not the only one who sits there thinking "make sure you don't jump" because I don't want the stranger next to me to think I'm soft! This film delivers these jumps successfully on more then one occasion. So, bravo to all involved.
The set design and locations are superb. It was wonderful to see versions of the famous "Angel of Sorrow" angels at either side of  the mausoleum of Samuel Daily's young son. (My cemetery geek-ness never takes time off). Sound design is spot on, nothing too showy and brash, and the visual effects are not over the top either. A good old fashioned ghost story. It should carry a warning for those who have Victorian doll phobias though!
an example of the "Angel of Sorrow" so you know what to look out for!
I won't go on anymore, as I'm planning on including some thoughts into my March piece for Starburst Magazine (which, by the way will be back in the shops while stocks last - subscribe to guarantee you don't miss an issue) and don't want to include spoilers or anything here.
Final thoughts - this could have been a disaster, and I'm sure there are many who hoped it would be, but it is actually a well made, genuinely scary film. I wasn't over keen on the end, but anyone who knows the material will know that that will always be a contentious issue. At least it didn't go for a Hollywood "everything is right with the world" spin..  Make sure you catch it if you get the chance... 8 out of 10.