T2 TRAINSPOTTING The Danny Boyle classic has spawned a sequel. Choose life. Choose a ﬁlm magazine. Choose the ‘Contents’ page. Choose so-called funny witticisms instead of useful information. Choose choosing. Choose... oh, forget it.
A MONSTER CALLS Liam Neeson voices a walking, talking tree. It’s the ﬁrst time that we’ve congratulated someone for their wooden acting.
ASSASSIN’S CREED Going by the game, an assassin’s creed centres on murder, strenuous exercise and the importance of layering with a really fetching hood. So, basically, death and fashion — like The Neon Demon later in this issue…
MICHAEL FASSBENDER County Kerry’s best export, apart from Kerrygold butter. Which, judging by these pictures, Fassbender has never eaten in his life.
THE ULTIMATE 2017 PREVIEW As if 2017 wasn’t already exciting enough with an orange-faced loon looking to upend civilisation as we know it, there’s also these excellent ﬁlms to look forward to — check out our sneak peek at the year’s greatest-to-come.
CASEY AFFLECK The younger Batﬂeck is very good in Manchester By The Sea, but imagine how good he could’ve been in Sheets By The Water or Tablecloths By The Stream.
28 MANCHESTER BY THE SEA ★★★★★
LOGAN He’s the best there is at what he does — and what he does is get super-old, grey and wrinkly.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Guess which one Emma Watson is.
30 COLLATERAL BEAUTY ★★★★★ MOONLIGHT ★★★★★ 31 LION ★★★★★ 32 ROGUE ONE ★★★★★
FENCES Denzel Washington already won an award for this back when it was a play. Can he win another now that it’s a movie?
34 A MONSTER CALLS ★★★★★
36 ASSASSIN’S CREED ★★★★★
GILLIAN ANDERSON How is it that Scully gets more wonderful with every passing year, while we fall to bits?
35 MONSTER TRUCKS ★★★★★ RULES DON’T APPLY ★★★★★ SPLIT ★★★★★
37 LIVE BY NIGHT ★★★★★ 38 JACKIE ★★★★★
GHOST IN THE SHELL That’s what happens when oysters die.
39 PASSENGERS ★★★★★
THE NEON DEMON The best bits of the cannibal models.
HOW TO MAKE A HORROR MOVIE The writer and director of Don’t Breathe, Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez, on how to create the perfect screamfest ﬂick.
THRILL OF THE CHASE Behind the making of William Friedkin’s classic car chase in To Live And Die In LA.
CLASSIC SCENE Peter Strickland gets depressive.
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(...and our most anticipated film of 2017)
EDITORIAL EDITOR TIM KEEN 02 8268 4621 Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 ART DIRECTOR BLAIR PAGAN T2 Trainspotting PHOTO EDITOR BONNIE-MAREE WEIGAND 02 9288 9662 War For The Planet Of The Apes
THIS MONTH AT EMPIRE
IT’S 2017. We made it. We’re in the future. And look around you! Everything is strange and unfamiliar! 2017 is the year The Running Man is set, so expect to see President Trump introduce an even more exciting form of reality TV than The Apprentice! (Not that that’s a high bar to clear.) 2017 is the year that, uh, Adam Sandler fast-forwards to in Click when he inds out that he got fat. And, um, it’s the year of the Second American Civil War in Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire. Well, maybe 2017 hasn’t been a watershed year in cinema history so far. Not much chance of Back To The Future-style viewing parties for those. But forget the past-present, and look to the near-future-present! 2017 promises to be an absolute humdinger of a year — a humdinger, I say — for new ilms. You’ll barely be able to drag yourself away from the multiplex, and for all the glorious Technicolor proof, head on over to page 64 for our splendiferous, fantacular 2017 Preview feature. Tremble before the might of Kong! Quiver before the thrill of Star Wars Episode VIII! Do a little involuntary scare-wee at It! Do all three at once and get put on medication! Speaking of going back to the future, that’s what director Danny Boyle and his original dream-team have done for our cover this month, T2 Trainspotting. (Somewhere James Cameron is gritting his teeth that he never trademarked that term.) The original Trainspotting was released the same year Google was founded; Facebook was still a decade away; The Ramones were still around and played their last show. That’s how much the world has changed since Trainspotting came out. And, just a little bit, Trainspotting helped change it. Trainspotting was not only the glorious pinnacle of British cool in the mid-’90s (along with Liam Gallagher’s monobrow) but you can see some of Danny Boyle’s ultra-cool visual DNA in a whole slew of ilms ever since. So for the team to attempt to re-catch lightning in a bottle is, if nothing else, brave. Check out page 40 for an inside look on how they’re going about it. T2 Tranispotting hits screens in Australia next month, so get excited. May every cinema you sit in be air-conditioned to summer-beating perfection,
Michael Adams, Liz Beardsworth, Elizabeth Best, Simon Braund, Jeremy Cassar, John Catania, Simon Crook, Nick De Semlyen, Phil De Semlyen, James Dyer, Danny Eccleston, Angie Errigo, Ian Freer, Ed Gibbs, Alex Godfrey, Luke Goodsell, Jethro Haynes, Chris Hewitt, David Hughes, Dan Jolin, Luke Lucas, Danny Mackenzie, Ben McEachen, Jim Mitchell, Justin Metz, Anthony Morris, Ian Nathan, Kim Newman, John Nugent, Helen O’Hara, David Parkinson, Patrick Peters, Nev Pierce, Jonathan Pile, Kate, Poole, Olly Richards, Anna Smith, Damon Wise
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Aaron Morton 02 9263 9744 Nabula El Mourid 08 8267 5032 Judy Taylor 07 3101 6636 Chris Eyres 08 6160 8964 Fiorella Di Santo Jo Clasby Jaclyn Clements
MARKETING AND CIRCULATION Brand Manager Georgia Mavrakakis 02 9288 9650 Subscriptions Marketing Coordinator Thea Mahony 02 9282 8583 Group Circulation Manager, Men’s & Specialist Paul Weaving Research Director Justin Stone 02 9282 8283
PRODUCTION Production Controller Ian Henn 02 9282 8333 Production Co-Ordinator Dominic Roy 02 9282 8691 General Manager Prepress James Hawkes
EMPIRE UK Editor-In-Chief Terri White Associate Editor Liz Beardsworth International Director Simon Greves
BAUER MEDIA Publisher Ewen Page Publisher Cornelia Schulze
TIM KEEN EDITOR
“I was like, ‘Nice to see you, I gotta go vomit’”
CLASSIC LINES OF THE MONTH
“Get the burliest men — no women! — trying to get them! Chaos!”
“I rarely make smart strategic career moves”
the complete sixth SEASON
- Targaryen Artwork & Bonus Disc edition
season 6 BRAND NEW on blu-ray ™& dvd
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A FAMILY TRADITION
LETTER OF THE MONTH INSPIRED BY YOUR for 2016, I’ve put together my own. Best movies of 2016 1. The Revenant 2. Deadpool. 3. Goosebumps 4. Captain America: Civil War 5. The Hateful Eight 6. The Legend of Tarzan 7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. 8. Batman ’66: Return of the Caped Crusaders 9. Sing Street 10. Dr Strange Joke of the Year: The “Elephant” Joke in Grimsby. Surprise of the Year: Goosebumps Gutting disappointment of the Year: Batman vs Superman Franchise Burnout of the Year: X-men: Apocalypse The ‘I thought you sucked, now I’m finding you semi–interesting’ Award: Shia Lebouf Out-of-form Award: Steven Spielberg and runner-up Robert Zemeckis. MITCHELL HALL, ASQUITH, NSW
Readers, take note: Mitchell actually had more awards than this, and a whole section for TV, but for the sake of brevity we edited it to this. Goosebumps was great, but number 3? Bold! PS Go see Hunt For The Wilderpeople and tell us if your top ten remains the same.
Letter Of The Month this month scores a special metallic gold copy of The Neon Demon, exclusively available through JB Hifi.
Just wanted to say, love your mag, you are my favourite mag of all. But I’m particularly loving all the Star Wars stuff, which I think you have topped with The Compendium Falcon — Star Wars: The Complete History Of The Saga In Under 12 Parsecs! My son was born just after the irst Star Wars: A New Hope was released. My friends and I rushed to see it on release, May 1977, then I bought the video (no DVDs in those days) as soon as it came out in early 1978 I think. I remember playing it over and over at home, with my baby boy propped up on the couch so he could watch it! He really seemed to enjoy it, but 38 years later when The Force Awakens was released, he asked me was I going to rush out and see it and I said on the day it’s released, I’ll be there. He said me too, and told me he remembered watching Star Wars as a baby! And he still loves it. I’ve yet to ind out if he is showing them to his one year old daughter! Of course I own the all the Star Wars and try and watch them all on a regular basis. So thank you George Lucas for bringing me and my family such joy over the last 39 years and thanks Empire for keeping it all alive bringing us all the inside stories, gross, trivia and a whole lot more! Love you guys! JUDEE O’LEARY, VIA EMAIL
We love you too, Judee. Truly, we love getting letters like this — it makes all the hours of watching movies in our underpants feel worthwhile.
ROACH ONE: AN EMPIRE STORY Whilst enjoying Empire’s thankfully vague coverage of Rogue One, the sound of tiny footsteps alerted me of the presence of an entirely different kind of “rogue one”. Yet although it is universally known that the characteristic varnish of magazine covers makes them ideal for cockroach extermination, this avid reader couldn’t so much as fold the mag in half. After hesitating, my eyes scanned the room for an effective substitute: a coaster, an empty can, some playing cards? Nothing. My moment of hesitation had bought the critter enough time to escape to only God knows where, only to reappear God knows when (shivers). Sufice it to say, however, that the correct course of action
I’VE BEEN SLEEPLESS FOR WEEKS WAITING FOR ROGUE ONE AND IT’S FINALLY HERE! NOW I CAN GO TO THE CINEMA AND GET SOME SLEEP. AFTERWARDS, I MEAN. @JJTRON2000
had been taken. It was here I discovered an irrefutable fact. Empire is too precious for the roach. DYLAN R, VIA EMAIL
We’re not sure “too precious for a cockroach” is a very high bar to clear, but we thank you anyway. But we hear that some readers actually love watching some movies — Superbad, Pineapple Express — with a roach.
FRANKLY A-KRALLED I was having a lot of fun with Issue #189, until I came to The Empire Viewing Guide review of Star Trek Beyond. And I was left literally gobsmacked. TWO STARS. Sure, Star Trek Beyond isn’t a perfect ilm and I agree that Krall could have made more sense, but only TWO STARS. That is criminal. Three stars would have been ine. Hell, I’d put four. But two is the kind of rating it for lazy kiddie blockbusters or middling dramas ilms no-one will remember come next year, not a great instalment of a wonderful franchise like Star Trek. I just don’t understand. CHRISTOPHER SPENCER, VIA EMAIL
It probably lost a star just for covering up Idris Elba’s handsome mug with all that latex. But maybe we were just having a bad day when we rewatched it. Have an extra star on us! ★
WE KNOW A HAWK FROM A HANDSAW Top marks for the December issue. I think you’re hitting the mark with the balance
LIKE PAUL FEIG’S GHOSTBUSTERS?
between the new releases and classic cinema. The article on Hitchcock’s greatest ilms was nicely done. I don’t envy the job of ranking the top ten. Most critics tend to place Vertigo in the top slot. Bravo for going your own way and giving it to North by Northwest.
In the photo of Adam West and Burt Ward on page 70 of issue 189, the Boy Wonder bears a striking resemblance to Dave Franco. Add Channing Tatum for Judd Apatow’s Batman in 2018. I’d watch that.
It’s been so long since I saw Donnie Darko that I was kind of amazed to see how young Jake Gyllenhaal was! Who could have guessed back then the amazing career that would follow.
JAIMIE KNOTT, VIA EMAIL
MIKE KING, VIA EMAIL
We just got through being told there should be no more remakes! Oh, we’re so confused.
Yes, who could have predicted it would lead to things like The Day After Tomorrow and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time?
Lifelong Hitchcock superfan and since-launch Empire stalwart Michael Adams rewatched every… single… ilm for that story. By the end, his MacGufin was sleep.
AERYN STILLS, VIA EMAIL
IN THE OFFICE THIS MONTH
SPINE QUOTE HONOUR ROLE
NO REMAKES, VOL. 1 I agree with James Jennings (Empire Nov issue) that some movies should be off limits for remakes. I do, however, disagree with him that the remakes he listed (The Thing, The Fly and Infernal Affairs) were better than the originals. In my opinion, all three remakes were hugely disappointing. The Fly (1958) was a big success and one of the best sci-fi films of the Fifties. I saw it many times where I worked and still regard it as a classic when seen today. It had an amazing story and the ending become a much discussed scene at the time. It was a pity that the film’s original trailer seems to have been lost. I never forgot seeing it as it was most unusual. The trailer seen on the Blu-Ray was not the original trailer as they stated on the disc. Casablanca was remade despite James saying that it would never be remade, as it was a classic. It was remade as a much-despised and short-lived TV series.
SPINE QUOTE #189 “Taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird.”
THE FILM Ghost Dog (1999)
THE CONNECTION Said by Forest Whitaker, who portrays Saw Gerrera in Rogue One.
PETER FRASER, ASHFIELD, NSW
“Hugely disappointing” seems like a tough label for Cronenberg’s Fly, Carpenter’s Thing or Scorcese’s The Departed. But then that’s kinda what we said about Star Trek Beyond and Christopher Spencer was gobsmacked by it.
THE WINNER Sam Johnstone THE REWARD An Empire cap for you! Send answers to empire@ media
NO REMAKES, VOL. 2 Sorry Tim Keen, but I have to agree with James Jennings regarding the movie remakes and sequels debate. The classics should be left alone. No one wants to see CGI Gremlins 3 but that’s what we’re going to get. You just know it’s going to be s**t , full of cameos and will end up getting two stars from Empire! HAMISH BARWICK, GISBORNE, NEW ZEALAND
Just hangin’ with the Death Troopers at the Rogue One pr all the Star Wars costumes on the fans really charged our if you know what we mean! (We mean our bear-repellant
PULSE-Q UICKENING MOVIE AND
FIRST LOOK LOGAN OUT 2 MARCH 2017
THROUGH THE FIRE He’s older and more battle-worn, but Wolverine’s final outing promises to be his best yet WORDS HELEN O’HARA
Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman on set, photographed by director James Mangold.
ONE GLANCE AT the greying beard or thick scars, and it’s clear director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman are attempting something very different with Logan. For Mangold’s second Wolverine ilm and Jackman’s inal performance as the character after nine ilms in 17 years, the pair focus on the fast-healing mutant’s vulnerable side. “The goal was to make something human,” says Mangold. “We made an effort to scale back on the gloss and greenscreen.” Jackman echoes this. “It’s essential you see this as the story of a man who is struggling with mortality and legacy, and whether the world has been better off with him or without him.” Logan has reason to fret. This story is set in a world where no new mutants have been born in over two decades, and he’s scraping a living as a limo driver while caring for a fading Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). But he inds himself charged with a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), whose abilities suggest a future for mutants, after all. “If anyone could steal a movie from Hugh Jackman, it would be Dafne,” says Stewart. “She carries, all the time, a slight strangeness.” Comic fans will know Laura is the name of Wolverine’s female clone X-23, and though Mangold won’t conirm it, the youngster obviously poses enough of a threat to warrant those cuffs she’s wearing. Mangold will tell us the ilm is about family. There’s a father/son bond now between Logan and Charles, and a father/daughter story between Logan and Laura. And that makes for a more intimate, more serious tone than we’ve maybe experienced in any big superhero movie yet. “I could never have gotten this done without Hugh,” says Mangold. “You’re going to see him doing some of the best work I’ve ever seen him do.” Wolverine was always the best there is at what he does. If all goes to plan, he’s going to get a solo ilm that relects that at last.
HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS Sherlock is back — but don’t expect merry times just because Moriarty is gone WORDS OLLY RICHARDS
SHERLOCK’S FOURTH SERIES starts with a great big hole in it. A Moriartyshaped one. Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) long-time nemesis has deinitely gone. “Moriarty is dead,” says series co-creator Steven Moffat. “Shot himself through the head. He is dead.” But that means Sherlock needs someone new to rattle the walls of his mind palace. On the set of Sherlock, on a dark and (artiicially) rainy night, that villain is nowhere in sight. But somewhere lurks Toby Jones’ Culverton Smith, who Moffat calls “the darkest villain we’ve ever written”. In print, Smith was a poisoner who killed his nephew and tried to bump off Holmes. In the TV series he’s a quiet character, at least on the surface. “He’s very unnerving,” says Moffat. “I hope Toby won’t mind me saying, but he’s a little man, yet he’s weirdly a physical threat. He exudes an enormous amount of menace.” His co-creator Mark Gatiss adds, “He’s also extremely funny. The switch between the two can be terrifying.” The latest three-episode series also introduces a new, very small, member of the cast: a baby for John (Martin Freeman) and Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington). “It inevitably changes the relationship between John and Sherlock,” says Freeman. “For John, as you’d imagine, there can be nobody more important than his wife and child.” Sherlock’s reaction to this new entrant is, says Cumberbatch, “mild indifference”. Though nobody expects this to be the last of Sherlock Holmes, this series will, Cumberbatch says, “deliver an enormous number of pay-offs”. And they won’t all be happy. Though the new baby brings joy, it won’t last. “This is about as tough a journey as John and Sherlock go on,” says Moffat. “We’re taking them to hell and back.” SHERLOCK IS EXCLUSIVELY ON STAN NOW.
Top: Could this canine be Toby the tracker dog from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign Of The Four? Middle left: Toby Jones as the malevolent Culverton Smith. Middle right: Amanda Abbington, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman with their pint-sized new co-star. Right: Mark Gatiss returns as Mycroft. Far right: Sherlock, as ever in pensive mood.
FIRST LOOK EXCLUSIVE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OUT 23 MARCH 2017
COURTING A CLASSIC Bouquets and Beauty and the Beast: can Disney update an Oscar-nominated masterpiece? WORDS IAN FREER
THE ORIGINAL ANIMATED Beauty And The Beast in 1991 was the irst cartoon ever Oscar-nominated as Best Picture, so the live-action remake from director Bill Condon comes with high expectations and high pressure. But the simple watchword for cast and crew has been to make the story feel relevant and real. “In animation you can get away with a lot you can’t get away with in live action,” says producer David Hoberman. “There were several story points we felt we had to deal with: who was Belle’s mom and what had happened to her? Who was the Beast and what was his backstory? It’s stuff not really discussed in the animated ilm.” “Belle was one of my idols growing up,” says leading lady Emma Watson. “I knew every word to the animation. I was born in Paris like Belle. We both love books, obviously. She is someone who doesn’t really feel like she its in, but she inds her place in the world and uses what makes her different. She was just inspiring to me.” So Watson was particularly determined to do Belle justice, even considering a non-musical Warner Bros. version before Disney’s all-singing, all-dancing project came up. She now leads one of the casts of 2017, featuring Dan Stevens (the Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), and Ewan McGregor (talking candelabra Lumière). And buffoonish villain Gaston, seen here with Belle in the town square of Villeneuve (named for the fairy tale’s original author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve), also has new tones. An ex-soldier living off past glories, he’s still comic relief. But Evans’ take has other shades, too. “He gets as dark as any Disney character could possibly get,” says Evans. “This is a man who, for the irst time in his life, hasn’t got what he wanted. He is out to show his anger and make the person responsible pay for it.” The tale as old as time, it seems, just got modernised.
Denzel Washington directs and stars as Troy Maxson; Viola Davis plays Troy’s wife Rose. They won Tony Awards for Best Actress and Actor in the stage play of Fences in 2010.
Denzel Washington won a Tony for Fences on Broadway. Is he about to add an Oscar to the tally? WORDS HELEN O’HARA
SIX YEARS AGO, Denzel Washington and his Fences co-star, Viola Davis, were basking in Broadway raves. “Lovers don’t have to be as young and star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet to generate shiver-making heat and pathos,” effused The New York Times. Fast forward to today, and Washington is hoping alchemy translates into an equally fêted big-screen version of August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play. So far, so good. Its irst LA screening, for awards voters, saw Washington’s ilm hailed as an Oscar contender. “I’d had to let it go the day before,” its director/star mock-laments to
Empire. “You’re never really inished.” In the ilm, he reprises his Broadway role as embittered baseball player-turned-garbage man Troy Maxson, with Davis as his long-suffering wife, Rose. It’s part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle (“One of the ive great American playwrights,” says Washington), ten plays on African-American working-class life. “I’ve played great parts, great men like Malcolm X or Steve Biko,” he enthuses, “but this is the best material I’ve ever worked on.” Washington saw Fences’ original production, with James Earl Jones in the lead, back in the 1980s. But it was 2009 before he read a full script, when producer Scott Rudin sent him Wilson’s screenplay version. “I had the idea I was too young. But it said, ‘Troy Maxson, age 53.’ I was 55 and I was like, ‘Hey, wait a minute.’” Instead of making the ilm he took the role back to Broadway, winning a Tony Award for Best Actor. “I was looking for somebody else to [direct the ilm], but I knew the material
so I had an idea. It took me, I guess, four years to get the guts.” Washington didn’t look hard for his cast either. “I went with the horses that got me there. Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby all did the 2010 version. We knew the rhythm and we all had great success, so why change it?” Wilson’s screenplay did need alteration — the playwright originally adapted it for Jones and Eddie Murphy — but Washington took material from the play to make his tweaks. “If there are 25,000 words in this, 24,900 are August Wilson’s.” For Washington, the source material is nothing less than a masterpiece. While he claims he isn’t out for personal glory (“I’m here to serve August Wilson, not to toot my own horn,” he stresses), he may just add some gold statuettes to its haul of awards in February. FENCES IS IN CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 9.
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Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is having a grey day.
GETTING BACK WITH THE EX The follow-up to Fifty Shades Of Grey adds an element of real danger to the Red Room antics WORDS HELEN O’HARA
ASIDE FROM THE risk of bruising or a groin strain, there was little peril in 2015’s Fifty Shades Of Grey. But its sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, raises the stakes. “The action of the movie opens up,” says director James Foley, taking over the reins from Sam Taylor-Johnson, who chose not to return. “It’s not a classic Fatal Attraction thriller, but it’s an interesting hybrid of the ups and downs of a relationship with these plot devices accentuating it.” The plot devices he mentions are “external forces” that threaten the renewed relationship between Jamie Dornan’s billionaire Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson’s recent graduate Anastasia Steele. “It’s the forces that impinge on all relationships and pressure them to fall apart; it’s just externalised more. Conlict drives drama, so it’s a more dramatic movie.” While the couple bond through bonking, those outsiders gather. Bella Heathcote’s Leila is a former submissive-turned-stalker, while Eric Johnson is Ana’s lecherous boss, Jack. Ana is also intimidated by Kim Basinger’s Elena, the woman who introduced Christian to the BDSM life (a sly twist on the actress’s 9½ Weeks history). “She has glamour that contrasts to Anastasia, so [Ana] could easily be smothered by Kim’s character but she kind of ights back,
and it’s part of her evolution to become more self-conident.” Meanwhile, Ana and Christian are working out the sexual differences that once drove them apart. “The idea is that there’s more of an equivalency between them,” says Foley. “She inds herself more adventurous and is actually the initiator of some of the scenes. But within the sex scenes there is someone being dominated and someone really enjoying that. I love that complexity of someone who may have a desire to be treated one way in life but when it’s bedroom play, then it’s fun and liberating to play different dynamics.” But Foley promises that he’s keeping the story focused on its heroine and her life. “I’m interested in psychological realism, and there aren’t many ilms that studios are making that are driven by psychological realism. So this was an opportunity to do drama, on a big scale, with a woman at the centre. It was more adventurous to me, and intriguing.” With third instalment Fifty Shades Freed already in the can, there’s room for things to get yet darker before these love birds ly off to spank happily ever after. FIFTY SHADES DARKER IS IN CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 9.
THE GRILL GILLIAN ANDERSON Turns out Scully loves calendars, but don’t ask her in public. WORDS JAMES DYER
Do you have a nickname? My family call me Gill. If anybody else called me Gill, I might slap them, because it’s a bit familiar. There’s one person in my life who calls me Gigi – that’s probably the only nickname I have. I had names at school that people would bully me with that I am not going to repeat. Although why the fuck not? So at one point I was… no, I’m not going to say that. Never mind. Let’s just stick with Gigi or it’ll all go wrong. Which movie have you seen the most? I think it’s between The Godfather and [The Godfather] Part II and The Deer Hunter. What is the one thing that really scares you? Public speaking. It really, really does. Even accepting awards or anything like that. The idea of a TED talk… just the thought of that is absolutely terrifying. When were you last nude outdoors? Actually I nude-sunbathed last year. It was on the edge of the ocean where there was absolutely nothing but water. At a 180-degree angle. No boats, no paparazzi, just the blue.
Do you have any scars? There’s one just below my right knee. I got that during the London run of A Streetcar Named Desire. I knelt on a shard of porcelain plate and it bled all down my leg and into my shoe. I knew that if I looked down I would pass out, so I didn’t look down. The show went on and after the fact, I was told I probably should have had stitches. There’s a scene where I’m tackled by a nurse, and I managed to re-land on the same knee with a shard still in it! That is a wellearned scar. What is the one thing you do better than anyone else you know? Schedule. I am the queen of the calendar. I can tell you what day of the week October 3 is. What day is it? It’s a Monday. You’ve played an FBI agent and a cop in The Fall — have you ever knowingly broken the law? Yes, and I was arrested. This was in high school, and it was for breaking and entering. So yes, I have broken the law and I’m sure more times than that.
Who is the most famous person on your phone whom you could text right now and they’d probably reply? After 50 Shades, probably Jamie Dornan, for crying out loud! Other than that, maybe Chris Martin. What is in your pocket right now? I’ve still got my pyjamas on. I don’t have any pockets. When were you most star-struck? I met Nelson Mendela at [anti-apartheid activist] Walter Sisulu’s 80th birthday party and immediately became a bumbling idiot. Do you have a signature dish? I hold regular games nights in London and I probably rotate the same four or ive dishes: coq au vin, beef bourguignon, ish fry, roasted chicken and chilli con carne. Do you have a favourite joke? I do. What did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt. THE FALL IS SHOWING ON BBC FIRST NOW.
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SHOCK ABSORBER Director Brian Fee explains why Cars 3 won’t be quite as harrowing as its trailer WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN
IT’S FAIR TO say, no-one saw the new Cars 3 trailer coming. Skipping comic beats entirely, it showed Pixar’s doughty red stock car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) spiralling through the air and being scattered across the track. It was dark. Very dark. And hugely popular. Within a week it racked up 40 million YouTube views, while the ilm’s Facebook page was abuzz with freaked-out fans. Parents were rushing to reassure their children that their hero wasn’t about to put the ‘rev’ into The Revenant. “The reaction I hear most is that this was not what people were expecting,” says director Brian Fee, with some understatement. “But I’ve not personally heard of any distraught children.” While the trailer’s vehicular carnage will appear in the movie, the former storyboard artist-turned-director is at pains to point out that “it’s not the bitter end” for McQueen. “He doesn’t die,” Fee stresses. “He’s at a place where he can’t do the things he used to do and he’s going to have to igure out, ‘How do I get back to where I was?’” Helping him on this comeback trail is a new, so-far uncast character called Cruz Ramirez. “She’s youthful, fun and extremely positive,” explains Fee, “sometimes to a point of making him feel even older. The last thing he wants is to be paired against a super-positive person who doesn’t understand what he’s going through.” Yes, Lightning McQueen is having a midlife crisis. The ilm’s tagline — “From this moment, everything will change” — hints at a change of course not just for its hero, but the franchise itself. Cars 2, a globe-trotting race movie-slash-spy caper, took $560 million at the box ofice despite mixed reviews. The third part, though, promises a return to the more emotional story beats of the irst movie. “When you watch Cars 1,” says Fee, “you feel like these are real people who have real problems. That’s certainly what we’re back to. It’s less cartoony. We want to put something out there that everyone can relate to on some level.” Of course, not everyone has drunk the Cars Kool-Aid, despite the grosses. Pixar, though, is promising something a little different this time for the yet-to-be-converted. Strap in, says Fee, it’ll be worth the ride. “I’m happy with the way the teaser turned out. It said: ‘There’s a Cars 3 coming and it’s probably not what you think it is.’” CARS 3 IS IN CINEMAS FROM 22 JUNE.
JOHN POLSON’S FAVE TROPFEST FILMS EVER The Tropfest founder on some of his favourite flicks from the comp’s 25-year history Art Ache, 1993: “The winning ilm of the very irst Tropfest was called Art Ache, about this very well-known artist around the Tropicana Café where it all started, called Michael Saker who was a real character. He used to hang out at the Tropicana café all day and talk to everybody. So there was this documentary made by a guy called Stephen Fenley who’s a journalist. So a documentary won the very irst Tropfest and it was just brought the house down, it really captured his spirit.” The Lighter, 2001: “There was a ilm by a guy called Patrick Hughes, called The Lighter, which is pretty brilliant. It was from when the Olympics were on, and if I remember rightly, a guy is driving along in his car in Sydney, and he’s got a cigarette and his lighter’s not working. He searches the car, the dash lighter’s not working, there’s an old lighter that’s out of gas in the glovebox, and as he’s driving and not focussing on where he’s going, he runs into somebody. He pulls over and it’s the torch relay person for the Olympics, and the Olympic torch has lown up in the air, and he grabs it and lights his cigarette, and that’s the end. It’s quite brilliant and Patrick Hughes has gone on to pretty amazing things. He’s over here in America making feature ilms [The Expendables 3] and he came from Tropfest.” Road Rage, 2007: “One of my favourites of all time was a ilm called Road Rage, which is brilliant. It’s about this guy in his car, he gets cut off, he spills his coffee and he’s really upset. He starts chasing this guy, and inally they get off on a side street and they have to stop, there’s a garbage truck or something. And the guy runs around and grabs the door open, really to beat him, and as he opens the door the other guy is crying. And he’s like, “What are you crying about?” and they guy says “My wife left me, took the kids.” So it becomes this movie that you think is going to be this huge brawl and he ends up saying “Ah mate you’ll be okay” and they have a man-hug. Then another car pulls up and that driver is saying “Whaddya doing, you can’t stop in the road” and the irst guy says, “Can’t you see this guy’s upset” so that guy ends up having a hug, it ends up with eight or ten guys.” TROPFEST SCREENS ON SATURDAY FEBRUARY 11. SEE WWW.TROPFEST.ORG.AU FOR MORE DETAILS.
FIRST LOOK EXCLUSIVE GHOST IN THE SHELL OUT 30 MARCH
MANGA MANAGEMENT How anime classic Ghost In The Shell got an A-list reboot WORDS OWEN WILLIAMS
NO STRANGER TO post-human concepts, Scarlett Johansson has previously played a super-evolved consciousness (Lucy) and an ultra-advanced AI (Her). In director Rupert Sanders’ Ghost In The Shell — a live-action take on the seminal cyberpunk anime — she’s tethered to physical form, but her body and brain are 100 per cent cyborg; only her soul (or “ghost”) remains human. “I’ve been a person without a body, now I’m a mind in a synthetic body. Eventually I’ll go back to playing a body and brain together,” she laughs. Johansson’s attributes in this case belong to The Major: head of Hong Kong’s multi-ethnic cyber-terrorism countermeasures unit Section 9, which also employs Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano. The plot remains largely under wraps, but draws on material from across the franchise (Masamune Shirow’s original manga; Mamoru Oshii’s classic ilm and its follow-ups). Sanders is remixing as well as remaking, but promises “this isn’t the shit Hollywood version”. “This is a ride that’s not just explosive and exciting, but also curious and relective,” Johansson believes. Top of the agenda for the remake? Preserving the franchise USP of sci-i musings on humanity’s relationship with technology — only now with Johansson kicking serious ass.
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THE EMPIRE GUIDE TO EVERYTH IN G IN CIN EMAS TH IS M ONT H
★★★★★ EXCELLENT 28
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA ★★★★★
OUT 2 FEBRUARY RATED TBC / 137 MINS
Lonergan Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams CAST Casey
PLOT Scratching out a living as a handyman in Boston, Lee Chandler (Affleck) is suddenly called back to his home town on the Massachusetts coast by the death of his brother (Chandler). This loss returns him to the scene of an even greater grief, threatening to tip him over the edge for good.
“SOME FILMS YOU watch,” hailed Ordinary People’s poster back in 1980, “others you feel.” By that same tagline logic, Manchester By The Sea, another story of grief and loss, is a ilm you get socked hard in the chops by. It’s an emotional tour de force by a ilmmaker and writer, Kenneth Lonergan, who draws a career-best performance from Casey Afleck and lays to rest the frustrations and false starts of his last ilm, litigation-mired drama Margaret. Somehow, you emerge enriched, if a little bruised, by the experience. Like Ordinary People, Robert Redford’s Best Picture winner, Lonergan’s ilm tackles the heaviest of themes, unbearable personal tragedy and guilt, although with a notably lighter touch. For every moment of heartbreak, every quiet gesture of unspeakable sorrow, there’s a sharply judged laugh or killer put-down. It’s gritty and often devastating, sure, but soulful and surprisingly funny with it. It might just be bound for Oscars, too. We meet its central igure, Afleck’s hunched, doleful divorcee Lee Chandler, shovelling snow, clearing drains and dealing with the tetchy, demanding residents of a Boston tenement. He lives in a box room and picks drunken ights in nondescript bars. He’s a man doing penance in a purgatory of blocked loos and black eyes. News of his older brother’s death, however, soon sends him back to Manchester, a seaside town an hour up the coast and the site of a loss so profound and inexpressible, no-one even mentions it. Only the sideways glances and whispered asides of locals hint at the magnitude of what passed. He’s no longer Lee Chandler here; he’s the Lee Chandler. Using lashbacks that bring warmer shades to the leeched-out, wintry frames, Lonergan introduces the past players in Lee’s drama. His wife, Michelle Williams’ smart, sparky Randi,
completes a domestic idyll of playful roughhousing and happy kids. His older sibling Joe, played with gruff warmth by Kyle Chandler, is diagnosed with a terminal heart condition in a hilariously dysfunctional family gathering at his hospital bedside. The two brothers continue to take to New England waters on Joe’s boat, taking turns to spook Joe’s young son Patrick (in lashback played by Ben O’Brien) with unconvincing tales of schools of killer sharks beneath. What none of them know is that, in everyday life, there are even greater perils lurking just under the surface. The exact scale and circumstance of Lee’s tragedy is inally laid bare in a truly harrowing scene. It’s a typically understated sequence — this is not a ilm that milks its twists for dramatic impact — and all the more devastating for it, with Lonergan’s camera focusing on the faces of bystanders. It’s a smart narrative device, too. For the viewer, inally dealt into this hitherto unspoken catastrophe, there’s newfound understanding of Lee; a surge of insight into his state of mind. Uplift comes in the shape of an odd-couple relationship with his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), now 19 years old and, thanks to a shock clause in Joe’s will, his ward. Newcomer Hedges is terriic, a funny and warm foil for a man who’s lost his ability to relate. He shoots the shit with his friends about Star Trek, plays in a punk band, and awkwardly asks Lee if his girlfriend can stay over. “Am I supposed to tell you to use a condom?” comes the puzzled response. Patrick masks his own grief much better than his uncle, until it inally pours out when a freezer spillage sparks a panic attack. Typically, Lee misinterprets it. “If you’re going to freak out every time you see a frozen chicken,” he offers, “I think we should go to hospital.” Emotionally tone deaf as they are, it’s in these tiny moments that you can feel Lee’s sense of self inching back. Afleck is revelatory in a role once earmarked for Matt Damon (who, with John Krasinski, originated the project). In one unforgettable, searing scene, already one of 2017’s best, he and the terriic Williams try to bridge the ocean that’s opened between them, only to ind the distance too great. In a career full of stalwart work, Manchester By The Sea is the perfect showcase for his full range. From playful and boisterous to husked by sorrow, he lickers from boyish to broken as the timeline shifts. A mix of sadness, self-loathing and dormant charm, there’s even something in it that recalls Brando in On The Waterfront — and there’s not much higher praise than that. PHIL DE SEMLYEN Masterfully told and beautifully acted, Manchester By The Sea is a shattering yet graceful elegy of loss and grief.
“I swear I am not Brad Pitt when I’m asleep.”
COLLATERAL BEAUTY ★★★★★
OUT 12 JANUARY RATED M / 97 MINS
David Frankel Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore DIRECTOR CAST
Still mourning his daughter three years after her death, ad exec Howard (Smith) pens letters to Love, Death and Time. Intercepting the mail, his colleagues (Norton, Winslet, Peña) hire actors to embody the three abstracts to shake their boss from his stupor. PLOT
IF YOU SUBTRACTED the A-list stars (say, swap Will Smith for Steve Guttenberg) and big-budget studio sheen, Collateral Beauty might feel at home on the old Hallmark Channel. Played out in a twinkly New York, its high-concept idea — a grieving man is taught life lessons by
MOONLIGHT ★★★★★ OUT JANUARY 26 / RATED TBC / 111 MINS
Barry Jenkins Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders DIRECTOR CAST
THE MOMENT WRITER-DIRECTOR Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In
incarnations of Death, Time and Love — and penchant for greeting-card sentiments suggests a tale of schmaltz that would play perfectly in that line-up. Yet David Frankel’s ilm never really hits the broad emotional spots (let alone the nuanced ones), partly because it trades on a glossy sense of the solemn and partly because it never creates a story world that uniies its mixture of Dickensian fantasy, bereavement drama, soap opera and New York life. It’s slick, with a smattering of decent performances, but ultimately undone by sledgehammer levels of subtlety. The movie is at its most engaging in its opening stretch, when playing out its scam of three actors embodying notions of Love (Knightley), Time (Latimore) and Death (Mirren) to force grieving ad exec Howard Inlet (Smith) into feeling something. This is intercut with Howard’s stuttering attempts to join a bereavement group, led by Madeleine (a warm, appealing Harris). As Howard’s story moves on, Allan Loeb’s screenplay mechanically uses the Madeleine storyline as a yardstick to measure how the three abstracts are bringing him back to life. How these two storylines ultimately coalesce is both the ilm’s biggest reveal and dampest squib.
Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue fades in on Mahershala Ali, rolling up in a pimped out Caddy, sporting a do-rag and tooth grill, it seems we’re on familiar ground — different boys in a different hood, another Hollywoodised trawl through another gangsters’ paradise. That it’s Boris Gardner’s soulful 1973 ode to empowerment Every Nigger Is A Star gracing the soundtrack, rather than the pulverizing rap groove we’ve come to expect, suggests that things are not what they seem. Jenkins’ fervent coming-of-age drama may well have a familiar backdrop — the scourge of poverty and crack cocaine, fractured communities and broken families — but from the opening credits on, it makes a virtue of confounding expectations at almost every turn. Tackling the heavyweight themes of black masculinity, sexuality and personal identity, the three-chapter narrative traces the life of a young boy named Chinon from sensitive eight-year-old, to tormented teen, to emotionally remote adult,
If it is not enough that the three muses attempt to ‘cure’ Howard, they are also working to rejuvenate the lives of their paymasters. Norton’s Whit is struggling to connect with his daughter (like all modern NY dads, he offers to buy her tickets to Hamilton) after an extramarital affair — so he gets to spend time with Love; Peña’s Simon is dying of a terminal disease he won’t divulge to his family — so he is forced to confront Death; Winslet’s Claire has given up a chance at children and family life in favour of work (we only know this because she endlessly looks at adoption websites) — so she hangs out with Time. It’s programmatic and heavy-handed stuff, enlivened by the likes of Norton (who shares good chemistry with Knightley), Winslet and Peña. Frankel, capable of the sublime (The Devil Wears Prada), the cutesie (Marley & Me) and the forgettable (The Big Year), offers touches of conident craft (each of the abstracts emerges out of beautiful soft focus) amid Domino-Toppling Symbolism. The quality supporting cast add colours to thin characters and cod philosophy (“Time is a stubborn illusion”): best in show is Mirren who, especially early on, has fun as a true thesp, citing acting guru Stella Adler and worrying about her reviews from Howard. If the opening scene of Howard rallying his troops is pure Hitch, the rest of the movie is Smith in Seven Pounds miserablist mode. He is somnolent through the entire movie, never really suggesting Howard’s inner life or anguish. Taken alongside A New York’s Winter’s Tale, Smith clearly has a jones to make a heartwarming NYC tale. On this evidence, it’s a shame he has little idea how to deliver it. IAN FREER VERDICT In
a month of A Monster Calls and Manchester By The Sea, Collateral Beauty serves up a hollow portrait of grief. Despite its quality cast and slick visuals, the result is sombre and saccharine rather than uplifting.
a stone cold crack dealer who hides his true nature behind the menacing trappings of his trade. Again, if that sounds less than groundbreaking on paper the power — and the poetry — of Moonlight lies in its refusal to dwell on the well-thumbed story of a ghetto kid’s descent into crime, but instead on his painful, poignant voyage of self-discovery. In doing so, it takes a beautifully crafted, razorblade to the aggressively hetero, super-macho standards of masculinity that are an obstinate facet of hip-hop culture and to which boys and young men like Chinon are either expected to conform, or are forced to adopt for their own protection. It’s not a perfect picture: a few lingering, dialogue-heavy scenes make for slow going at times. But it’s distinguished by an outstanding ensemble cast and, for all its readiness to tackle the big issues, what resonates most forcefully is the intimate, heartrendingly tender character study at its core. SIMOND BRAUND
“Fade in… uh… time for a beer.”
OUT 19 JANUARY RATED PG / 118 MINS
Garth Davis Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham DIRECTOR CAST
The true story of Saroo Brierley (Pawar), who was separated from his family as a child and adopted by a Tasmanian couple (Kidman, Wenham). As an adult, Saroo (Patel) uses Google Earth to locate his home. PLOT
IT’S AN ALMOST universal childhood memory: you go out with a parent, perhaps to a supermarket or sports event. Then you suddenly realise you’ve mislaid them. They were there a few moments ago, their hand wrapped around yours, but something caught your eye and now you look up and ind yourself in a forest of unknown adults, and you’ve never felt more lost. For his feature debut, Australian director Garth Davis (Top Of The Lake) has adapted a real-life story which takes that feeling and intensiies it a thousandfold.
Even if you haven’t read Saroo Brierley’s autobiography A Long Way Home, it doesn’t hurt to know how the story ends or the details of his life. Lion is more of an emotional odyssey than a plot-driven ilm, and Davis (working with Luke Davies’ script) unfussily halves the running time between child and adult Saroo. Thankfully lacking a spoon-feeding voice-over or lazy framing device, his tale is allowed to unfurl naturally and gradually, experience by experience, so you feel each moment as directly and keenly as possible. Which isn’t to say Lion is a dificult watch. Far from it. Davis and cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher) somehow imbue Saroo’s world — even the slums of Calcutta — with a delicate, magical quality that in no way sterilises the reality of the drama. And, portrayed in infancy by astonishing discovery Sunny Pawar, the young Saroo beams with a strength and determination that makes you marvel at his resourcefulness as much as you fear for his well-being. Though his accidental train journey takes him to a strange land 1,600km away from home, where the Hindi-speaking boy doesn’t even understand the language (Bengali), he is quick to adapt and driven by a deep-rooted conidence that someday, somehow, he will ind a way back to his mum. This isn’t some jaunty kids’ adventure, but neither is it a gruelling ordeal.
Lion’s impact does soften during its second half, just as its pace slackens. As you’d expect, watching an adult Australian Saroo (Patel) obsessively scan Google Earth for his Indian birth home is inherently less gripping than the street-based trials of his ive-year-old incarnation. But the story also shifts down a gear to become a domestic drama about adoption and identity. While it’s ably handled, it rests in this mode for a little too long, holding us back from a circle-completing resolution that, when it inally arrives, feels a little too brisk. That said, Patel turns in a career-best performance which inally delivers on his early Slumdog Millionaire promise, while Kidman is the most impressive she’s been in years in the relatively minor role of Saroo’s Australian mother, Sue. Her performance during one short but excruciating dinner-table scene is a mini acting masterclass. So, despite its latter-half sag, Lion is a triumphant debut for Davis. In one sense it’s epic, capturing an amazing life divided between two very different worlds; but it maintains an intimacy with Saroo that is so engaging, you can’t help but feel lost with him — and also profoundly glad to have found him. DAN JOLIN VERDICT An
astonishing true story that’s treated with an admirably light and artistic touch. Despite a weaker second half, it is deeply moving.
ROGUE ONE ★★★★★
OUT NOW RATED M / 134 MINS
Gareth Edwards Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker DIRECTOR CAST
Rumours abound of a new Imperial superweapon, powerful enough to crush the Rebellion. Will a ramshackle platoon led by ex-con Jyn Erso (Jones), the daughter of the device’s creator, be able to find its schematics and save countless lives? PLOT
IT TAKES A pair of Death Star-sized balls to release a Star Wars prequel at this point. As George Lucas learned back in 1999, hitting fans’ nostalgia circuits will only get you so far: you also have to deliver an experience that feels fresh. (The absence of Gungans helps too. ) Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One walks this tightrope with very little wobbling. There are plenty of series callbacks to please devotees, but also a slew of offbeat new characters, irst-rate visuals and a truly ballsy third act. The pitch, courtesy of VFX legend John Knoll, ILM’s very own Obi-Wan, is beautifully simple: a World War II men-on-a-mission movie, rejiggered for the Star Wars universe. Instead of the guns of Navarone or V-1 rockets, the target is that mother of all giant orbicular irearms, the Death Star. And instead of a pack of army grunts, the heroes that comprise this scraggly suicide squad are a bunch of assorted underdogs from throughout the galaxy. Future Star Wars ‘stories’, such as the forthcoming Han Solo spin-off, will doubtless be lighter than the main Episodes, but director Gareth Edwards here ramps up the stress-levels. Gone are the series’ trademark wipes and other retro editing tricks. There is a comedy robot, lumbering tinhead K-2S0 (Tudyk), but his wisecracks are subdued, fuelled by cynical sarcasm, rather than slapstick. Rogue One is dark and earnest: for the irst time in the franchise, it feels like anyone, and anydroid, is expendable. At points the gloom threatens to eclipse the fun. Like Luke Skywalker and Rey, heroine Jyn Erso (Jones) has a tragic backstory, meaning she’s had to grow up alone. But unlike them she’s a fairly dour screen presence, already battlehardened when we meet her. Jones brings impressive intensity, as does Luna as a Rebel intelligence oficer with a secret mission, but it’s hard not to pine for the presence of a Solo, or even a Dameron. In this critical phase of the conlict, quips are in as short supply as kyber crystals. On the plus side, for the irst time in Star Wars history an instalment ampliies its Eastern roots. The original was inluenced by Kurosawa classic The Hidden Fortress, and here Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen play riffs on the same Fortress
characters that inspired R2-D2 and C-3PO in the ’70s. Yen in particular is riproaringly badass as the blind Chirrut Îmwe, a kind of space-Zatoichi who employs what can only be described as ‘Force-fu’. It’s a new direction for the saga; it’ll be interesting to see if it’s one that gets expanded upon. The most crowdpleasing stuff, however, comes courtesy of the villains. Mendelsohn is gloriously hissable as white-caped, permanently furious Imperial slimeball Director Orson Krennic: when someone pleads with him, “You’re confusing peace with terror,” he sneers back, “Well, you have to start somewhere.” But post-viewing chatter will be all about the return of two characters: Darth Vader (who gets to inger-point and Force-choke his way through several scenes) and another iconic original-trilogy baddie, resurrected via CGI. The latter is very close to escaping the Uncanny Valley and shows just how far digital artistry has come in the past decade. The Dark Lord of the Sith’s appearance is the more impactful, though, undoubtedly contributing a couple of entries to future Best Vader Moments lists, and inally answering the question, “Who would choose to live in a fortress with a lava waterfall?” At points Rogue One does resemble Star Wars bingo: here’s a glass of blue milk, there’s a mouse-robot sound effect, there’s that character you like doing that line he’s famous for. Some of it’s clumsy, some of it’s great (watch out for some ingeniously repurposed archive footage from A New Hope). But like The Force Awakens before it, the movie gets better the more it deviates from past triumphs. Unlike Awakens, which slid into Star Wars cliché as it went, this standalone story struggles through a slightly uneven middle section but ends on a high, with a triumphant third act set on the tropical planet of Scarif. Taking its cue from Churchill — “We shall ight them on the beaches” — it’s part heist, part battle, a thundering action spectacle with AT-ATs stomping down palm trees, death troopers splashing in azure waters and some truly surprising twists. It’s here, when Rogue One shakes off formula and goes rogue itself, that it inally fulills its promise. JAMES DYER VERDICT The
ultimate Star Wars fan film, it’s short on whimsy but when it gets going there’s enough risk-taking and spectacle to bode well for future standalones.
Perr-paah… perr-paah… It’s the return of Vader.
If you give an Imperial soldier a scope, can he finally hit someone?
X-Wings? No, theyâ€™re still wings.
Felicity Jones and Diego Luna bring an impressive intensity.
Liam Neeson desperately needed moisturiser.
AMONSTER CALLS ★★★★★
OUT 26 JANUARY RATED TBC / 108 MINS
Bayona Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson CAST
Twelve-year-old English boy Conor O’Malley (MacDougall) gets bullied at school. His father (Kebbell) lives in California and his mother (Jones) is terminally ill. But he finds a sort of companionship with a gigantic, storytelling tree-creature (voiced by Neeson) who seemingly holds the secret to saving his mum. PLOT
IT’S DIFFICULT TO think of a ilm more brazen than A Monster Calls. With its regular transitions from gloomy real-world drama to earthy fairy tale and its narrative focus on a troubled child, it can’t help but be compared with 2006’s elegant dark-fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. And that’s a high comparison. That Barcelonaborn director J.A. Bayona and Pan’s man Guillermo del Toro have been friends
since the early ’90s (del Toro executive produced Bayona’s debut feature The Orphanage) only further pushes the comparison. But while its central creature may be larger and far more destructive than the freakish iends of del Toro’s Labyrinth, A Monster Calls is actually a much gentler ilm — less thriller and more weepie. Creatively it bears none of del Toro’s ingerprints, based instead on a novel by American young-adult writer Patrick Ness — who also wrote the script — which itself was conceived by author Siobhan Dowd shortly before she died. So there is an acutely poignant, intensely personal core to the ilm, which Bayona handles sensitively; for as well as being a heart-squeezing portrayal of a iercely imaginative boy dealing with his young mother’s mortality, it also explores the power of storytelling. Much of this is done by the Liam Neesonvoiced Monster of the title (having the one-time Aslan and Zeus give vocal life to a millennia-old nature god is about as nailed-on as casting gets). After irritably removing his churchyard yew-tree disguise and loping stroppily over to Conor’s bedroom window, this towering über-Groot promises to tell the kid three revelatory stories in exchange for one from him, in which Conor will have to tell “the truth”. The Monster’s stories introduce a third layer of narrative, where the
action shifts to animation, rendered in a unique, visually appealing style that somehow feels like watercolours done as stop motion, featuring Princess Bride-style interjections from Conor, irked by the way the tales defy comfortably cut-and-dried interpretation. Whether A Monster Calls should be considered a children’s ilm or adults’ ilm about childhood is uncertain. There’s a good chance it’ll play too young for many grown-ups, while it may prove too emotionally raw for younger viewers, especially during its inal scenes. It would be a shame if it fell between these two posts, because Bayona’s artistry is as impressive as his and Ness’ clear refusal to soften on any harsher plot points. Bayona reveals Lewis MacDougall as a talent to be reckoned with, whether we’re watching the wan tyke square up against his formidable grandmother (Weaver) or, indeed, that giant tree-man. Not that the Neeson-voiced creature is truly the monster of the title. That would be grief itself. Which is why, if you let the ilm in, it’s unlikely to let you leave the cinema with dry eyes. DAN JOLIN VERDICT Part
fairy tale/creature feature/ domestic melodrama, this adds up to far more than a ‘one boy and his monster’ story — and is a tougher emotional journey as a result.
MONSTER TRUCKS ★★★★★ OUT JANUARY 12 / RATED PG / 105 MINS
Chris Wedge Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Rob Lowe DIRECTOR CAST
A THROWBACK TO the 1980s family creature features, this achieves *batteries not included levels of charm, though it never approaches the heights of E.T. Till stars as Tripp, a put-upon teen who’s building his own truck when he encounters an intelligent squid-like creature. It’s up to Tripp and bright chemistry student Meredith (Levy) to protect his new friend from an oil company by, er, hiding him in the truck. The monster is sweetly puppy-ish and well-realised, but Tripp himself veers from childish silliness to action hero machismo too often to convince. Only Levy and Lennon’s squirrelly scientist inject the necessary humour to keep us going until an entertaining action finale. HOH
RULES DON’T APPLY ★★★★★ OUT JANUARY 26 / RATED TBC / 127 MINS DIRECTOR Warren
Beatty Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick CAST Alden
WARREN BEATTY has been trying to make a Howard Hughes movie for decades, but it wasn’t really worth the effort. The movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be: for the first forty minutes it’s a “forbidden love” story between Ehrenreich’s studio driver and Lily Collins’ actress — it’s all longing gazes and no real heat, but it’s fine in a vintage sort of way. Then it pivots to become about the decline of Howard Hughes (played by Beatty), and the two plotlines just get further and further apart. The editing is so abrupt and choppy you can’t help but think this must have been a six-hour epic that made more sense, that has been truncated to a messy two hours. Some funny moments and interesting use of archival footage, but mostly just disappointing. TK
James McAvoy is Kevin (amongst others) in Split.
OUT JANUARY 26 RATED M / 117 MINS
M. Night Shyamalan James McAvoy, Haley Lu Richardson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula DIRECTOR CAST
Teenagers Casey (Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Sula) and Claire (Richardson) are abducted by multiplesplit-personality Kevin Crumb (McAvoy). Casey plays Kevin’s alter egos off each other, and learns they’re expecting the arrival of a malign new personality. PLOT
AROUND THE TURN of the century, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan essentially created his own genre with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs: suspenseful character studies with a paranormal vibe, a reverse spoof approach whereby subjects (ghosts, superheroes, alien invaders) usually played tongue-in-cheek are presented in high seriousness, through intense, anguished central performances from established male movie stars, and the sort of last-reel twists associated with The Twilight Zone (all Shyamalan’s other traits can be found in Rod Serling, as it happens). One sign of Shyamalan’s success is that other people started making M. Night Shyamalan-type movies: Joel Schumacher with The Number 23, Alex Proyas with Knowing. Perhaps as a response to becoming an imitable brand and perhaps down to the muted (and sometimes peculiarly hostile) response to The Village, Lady In The Water and The Happening (all interesting ilms), Shyamalan moved away from his personal cinema to take shots at fantasy (The Last Airbender), sci-i (After Earth) and found-footage shocker (The Visit). With Split, he returns to ‘Night Classic’ mode. We’re back in sombre Philadelphia where soft-spoken, well-heeled folks go quietly mad and a psycho thriller plot evolves into something weirder on the boiling-a-frog principle of slowly adding bizarre, freakish elements to an extreme case study. This time, perhaps frustrated by the
attention paid to his most easily parodied habit, Shyamalan holds off on a twist in favour of a measured development of a far-out premise, though an intensely fansatisfying development pops up near the end. All actors want to play Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and McAvoy seizes with obvious relish on the role of one man with 23 personalities due to be usurped by a 24th who is more animal than man. Head inely stubbled as his Professor X cut grows out, he uses a few props (glasses, a woolly hat) but mostly conveys Kevin’s alters — who range from a gay fashion designer through an OCD caretaker and a sinister British matriarch to a tittering child — with changes of expression and voice. It’s a show-off tour de force, and McAvoy is dazzling throughout — funny, creepy, threatening, pathetic and monstrous by turns. Note especially set-pieces like his perfectly uncoordinated demonstration of what a nine-year-old might think are radical dance moves, and the unsettling moments where one of Kevin’s more controlled, sinister personalities impersonates a more open, appealing one to reassure his analyst (Betty Buckley) that things aren’t going south in his skull. As often with Shyamalan, the actual plot is less important than the character business. Even Kevin loses interest in two of his young captives, who get shoved into storerooms as misit Casey (Taylor-Joy) emerges as the heroine, realising she’s most likely to survive by engaging with her captor than by crawling through ventilation ducts or relying on teen-princess karate lessons. That Casey’s life experience has prepared her for the ordeal is established in tactful, unsettling micro-lashbacks which feature standout work from Izzie Coffey, whose wide eyes perfectly match Taylor-Joy’s. After The Witch and Morgan, Taylor-Joy is shaping up as the weird chick of her generation — but she has to work as hard as her character to ind her screen-space here when her co-star is busily upstaging himself, let alone her. KIM NEWMAN VERDICT This
psycho-thriller showcases an awards-worthy performance from James McAvoy. Shyamalan papers over plot-holes with dry black humour and well-judged suspense, and — as always — holds back some surprises.
ASSASSIN’S CREED ★★★★★
OUT NOW RATED M / 115 MINS
Justin Kurzel Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams DIRECTOR CAST
Death row prisoner Callum Lynch (Fassbender) is taken to a secret facility after his ‘execution’. There, he’s introduced to a secret society who want to import him into the memories of a 15th-century ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, so they can track an important artefact... PLOT
WHEN IT COMES to video game adaptations, cinema has notoriously been an elephant’s graveyard. After Warcraft became the most recent title to stagger in and immediately keel over, all eyes now turn to Assassin’s Creed…
The ilm’s pedigree is impeccable, having been made by the trio that drove last year’s Macbeth to notable heights: director Justin Kurzel and the starring duo of Marion Cotillard and, of course, star/producer Michael Fassbender. After successfully tackling Shakespeare, a Ubisoft game must have seemed like literal child’s play, but while the result is often spectacular, the story is not. It is, as the Bard once phrased it, “a tale… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The problem from the off, as Kurzel whips us through multiple time periods and introduces his main characters, is that it’s all taken far too seriously. Assassin’s Creed is a game that, for all its grim and gritty trappings, revolves around a plot device — porting into the memories of an ancestor via a machine called the Animus — that is stupendously daft. And Assassin’s Creed is a movie that revolves around a MacGufin called the Apple Of Eden. That kind of material demands a lightness of touch. Instead, the whole endeavour is heavy-handed and po-faced, cloaked in murky browns and cold cobalt. The only time Fassbender lashes his megawatt grin, it’s in a moment inlected with
ironic bitterness. In addition, all of the past-set sequences are subtitled. While we applaud the nod to authenticity, it exacerbates the situation: not only are they being far too earnest, they’re doing it in Italian to boot! The assassins are deadly with a fork from 300 paces, but you suspect the thing that would really kill them is if someone asked them to crack a joke. The story is a tapestry of old-world mysticism and sci-i tech that hangs together but also proves hard to follow if you haven’t played Ubisoft’s games. Meanwhile, the characters, while appealing in their own right, would have beneited from proper deinition: the most we learn about Fassbender’s Callum Lynch is that he killed a pimp, and he’s angry at his dad. Meanwhile, Cotillard’s Sophia, who runs the futuristic clinic where Fassbender keeps being sent back into his forebear Aguilar’s body, has similar father issues with Jeremy Irons, and forges a tenuous bond with Lynch. However, there’s little depth here, and the interesting threads that are developed aren’t wrapped up in one go; instead, fate is tempted with an ending that leaves things wide open for a sequel. Always a risky game to play.
“We get it, you vape.”
LIVE BY NIGHT ★★★★★
OUT 26 JANUARY RATED MA15+ / 129 MINS
Ben Affleck Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Robert Glenister DIRECTOR
PLOT Disillusioned by his experience fighting in World War I, cop’s son Joe Coughlin (Affleck) becomes a small-time hood operating in Boston. But after falling foul of Irish gangster Albert White (Glenister), he winds up working for the Mafia in Tampa, Florida, fuelled by vengeance and ambition.
Michael Fassbender’s smile not included.
All of that said, the frenetic action is Assassin’s Creed’s saving grace. Inventively choreographed and beautifully executed, its game-inspired brand of wushu-meets-parkour delivers some genuinely awe-inducing feats. A mid-carriage-chase wall-lip and a dead-eye ricochet shot steal the breath and are delivered with a dizzying, kinetic energy that helps compensate for the dramatic lulls. Meanwhile, the Maltese locations provide an impressive stand-in for 15th-century Constantinople, lending the past sequences an aging grandeur that proves an effective counter to the cold steel and stark halogens of the Animus segments. Neither a direct hit, nor another body for the pile, Assassin’s Creed is one of the better pixel ports. The action delivers in spades, but as Lynch runs around ancient buildings trying to decipher clues, it’s hard not to see this as a Dan Brown novel with added gymnastics. JAMES DYER VERDICT Often
confusing and far too po-faced, Kurzel’s stabby period piece is redeemed by its sumptuous vistas and top-notch fight work.
BEN AFFLECK’S FOURTH ilm as director is also his second to adapt Bostonnoir master Dennis Lehane. In 2007, he ably demonstrated his behind-the-camera nous with taut, focused crime mystery Gone Baby Gone, which proved a sign of such great things to come that it wasn’t long before people were giving him the ultimate actor-turned-director accolade by calling him “the new Clint Eastwood”. With Live By Night, Afleck further pushes the Eastwood comparison in the role of soldier-turned-outlaw-turnedmobster Joe Coughlin, delivering every line in a raspy, Clint-esque half-whisper and opening his eyes barely wider than a squint. But, despite mining the same novelist’s work, the ilm itself is not nearly as taut, focused or gripping as Afleck’s impressive debut. Live By Night opens unsurely and doesn’t quite know when to end, making it — like Afleck himself, now perma-beefed to Batman proportions — a whole lotta middle. Over-dependent on a tell-rather-than-show voiceover, it attempts a sickbed-relection starting point, then lashes back to a Miller’s Crossing-style tale of love triangles and double crosses. Then it returns to that starting point
and dumps what you’d expect to be two main characters, before jumping forward a few years and deciding it’s now a revenge movie, completely shifting location from an autumnal Boston to the salsa-soundtracked streets of Ybor, Tampa, in Florida. Except… it forgets it’s a revenge movie and settles into the familiar rhythm of a gangster rise-to-power narrative — with added lavour from the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fanatics. Such loose structuring can be ine in novel form, but Afleck has somehow turned Lehane’s book into a two-hour movie that feels three hours long. Which is a shame, as it’s by no means lacking in memorable moments. Every frame brims with visual quality, thanks to Robert Richardson’s ever-steady eye; the DP captures the sharp, expressionist contrasts of classic ilm noir in vibrant colour. Early on, Afleck pulls off a bravura heist-getaway chase scene, which feels like The Bourne Supremacy in Model T Fords; he gleefully smashes them together, sends them tumbling along orange-leafed forest roads, sets them alight and artfully dunks one in a lake. And later on, he treats us to an almighty shootout in an ornate Florida hotel, taking as much from the Coen brothers’ ‘Danny Boy’ scene in Miller’s Crossing as he does from Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Sadly, though, the rest consists of narration which goes over things the audience already knows (or can igure out for themselves), while the ‘good man in a bad world’ theme doesn’t quite wash. If a thirst for revenge drove this former small-time crook to join up with the violent mobsters he once derided, then Afleck’s script never quite makes sense of Joe’s decision to stick with this life once his retributive passion has apparently subsided. Which sadly makes this a thoroughly disappointing follow-up to the crackingly scripted Oscar high of Argo. DAN JOLIN VERDICT A
handsome period drama with the occasional impressive flourish, but despite its rich subject matter, it’s Affleck’s weakest film yet as a director.
Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. Not pictured: JFK’s brain matter.
OUT 12 JANUARY RATED TBC / 100 MINS
Pablo Larraín Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, John Hurt DIRECTOR CAST
In the days following the assassination of JFK, his wife Jackie (Portman) battles with her private grief and her determination to make sure that her husband’s life is remembered as it should be — and she’s remembered along with him. PLOT
WHY DO WE remember Jackie Kennedy? The mention of her name still evokes images of the perfect First Lady, ever camera-ready, a fashion plate, cool and poised by the President’s side. Or the darker vision of a grainy shock of incongruous pink crawling across the back of a limousine as her husband lay dying on the back seat, his skull shot open by Lee Harvey Oswald. We remember her visually, yet what did she do? Pablo Larraín’s insightful biopic draws her as a woman whose purpose was to frame history. Not to create it in any political sense, but to package it for the people, to make it memorable. Jackie’s timeline cuts across just a small
number of days. It begins a few weeks after JFK’s assassination, with Jackie (Portman) inviting a reporter (Crudup) to her home to interview her. She’ll only allow him to print quotes she approves, insisting after a sobbing account of watching her husband die, “I hope you don’t for one second think I’ll allow you to publish that.” Then we cut back and forth across the days just before her husband’s murder to his grand spectacle of a funeral. It’s only a brief part of Kennedy’s life but it’s enough to show a complex person. It depicts a woman who is performing at almost all times. She knows what the public wants from her — something like American royalty when her husband is alive; a symbol of the nation’s grief after his death — and she means to give it. She’s not embarrassed by her belief in the importance of image. Jackie’s pet project of restoring the White House interiors is laughed at, but she believes the President’s home should live up to the public’s impression of it. She is ridiculed for making her husband’s funeral as huge a spectacle as Lincoln’s, despite the difference in the two Presidents’ achievements, but she believes the American people deserve to have their grief writ large. As Noah Oppenheim’s perceptive screenplay says, Jackie came to fame in a time when television made modern history a visual record, not a written one, and she knew how to present that. It’s not suggested Jackie’s motivations are entirely for the country. Not
a bit. There’s a selishness to her desire not to have her moment fade to an historical footnote, to have her husband be a Lincoln, not a James Garield, but it’s a human selishness. It makes Jackie a person, not an icon. This complicated characterisation asks for a complicated performance and Natalie Portman gives the best of her career. She has Jackie’s precise vowels and stiff, Stepford walk, but this isn’t imitation. She shows the steel and fragility under the surface of a woman who can stand up to the government to demand the funeral she wants, but also stagger around the White House drunkenly trying on all her old gowns in an effort to control things in the only way she knows how, by deciding how they will look. Shot in almost constant close-up, perhaps to convey just how closely Jackie was watched, Larraín doesn’t give Portman a second to relax. You couldn’t avert your eyes if you wanted to. There’s a moment when Jackie says, “The people on the pages of history books become more real to us than those who stood beside us.” Film does much the same. Whether this is an accurate portrait of the woman or not, Jackie brings its subject to vivid life. You will remember her. OLLY RICHARDS Jackie does what the very best biopics should: it makes you view someone you’ve seen countless times as if you were seeing them anew.
WHY HIM? ★★★★★ OUT NOW / RATED TBC / 111 MINS
John Hamburg Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally DIRECTOR CAST
THERE’S A SOLID premise to this holiday comedy, with an eccentric tech millionaire (Franco) going to extreme lengths to impress his girlfriend Stephanie’s (Deutch) family, often with disastrous results. Surprisingly, Franco is the standout as an amiably chaotic guru with a ludicrous lifestyle, a bit of a shock to the system of Stephanie’s conservative, financially struggling dad Ned (Cranston). But no two characters seem to be in the same film, and the overall tone veers from holiday heartwarmer to raunchy rom-com to indie-tinged family dramedy with no concern for consistency at all. It has some laughs, but it feels like there’s probably a better film left somewhere in the edit room. HELEN O’HARA
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are the Kate and Leo for a new generation.
OUT NOW RATED M / 116 MINS
Morten Tyldum Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Three decades into a 120-year trip to colonise a new world, two of the starship Avalon’s passengers emerge from cryosleep prematurely. With nearly a century to go and no way back, Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) are, for all intents and purposes, the last two people alive. PLOT
GOLD ★★★★★ OUT FEBRUARY 2 / RATED TBC / 121 MINS DIRECTOR Stephen
Gaghan McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard CAST Matthew
A 1980s CAPER movie, with shades of American Hustle, about eccentric gold prospector Kenny Wells and a massive gold strike in Indonesia that turned the world on its head… several times over. McConaughey is having a ball as Wells: he physically transformed for the role (pot belly, balding hairline) but he also reaches Nic Cage-like levels of physical acting (and not in a bad way). It’s a wildly entertaining performance and brings the reckless “bet everything” ethos of Wells to life. It also overshadows everyone else — Edgar Ramírez is solid as Wells’ geologist but McConaughey just devours every scene he’s in, while Bryce Dallas Howard is underused as Wells’ long-suffering wife. TK
IF YOUR MONEY was on Bridget Jones’s Baby or Allied for the most heart-luttering romance of the past 12 months, The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum just cost you some cash. Neither the stammering charms of Mark Darcy nor Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt’s torrid World War II affair manage the emotional tug of this unlikely three-hander about a pair of space travellers and a robot bartender. New lovers act like they’re the only ones in the world, but Passengers’ dreamy-eyed duo become precisely that after an interstellar commute is disrupted by asteroids on the line. A cascade of system failures leads to a hibernation malfunction and, while their 5,000 neighbours sleep, Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) wander the ship alone. Unorthodox the setting might be, but the blossoming romance is entirely familiar — from bantering over lunch to sharing a box of popcorn at the cinema. It just happens to play out within the glossy white halls of a starship resembling an Apple-sponsored shopping mall. Pratt and Lawrence are magnetic as the literal star-crossed lovers, convincingly seduced by each other over the passage of time; an awkward, space-suit-
bumping kiss giving way to a passionate, Cheerios-all-over-the-loor breakfast shag. Aside from an obtuse computer (voiced by London Underground’s Emma ‘Mind The Gap’ Clarke) and a clutch of skittering Roombas, their only company is Michael Sheen’s sagacious android barman. Arthur is the couple’s only sounding board — part relationship counsellor, part conscience and occasionally a necessary plot device. Sheen injects a welcome third perspective, breaking into the lovers’ solipsism and laying bare their laws — which are more than just passing. Jim and Aurora’s relationship is built on a lie, one that covers obsession, self-interest and crushing guilt. The love story, far from saccharine, unfolds to provide the darker aspects of need and greed ample room to fester. The couple’s divergent backgrounds make for early comedic fodder (her ‘Gold Class’ breakfast leaves him staring mournfully at a bowl of cosmic Weetbix), while Aurora’s introduction to the ship’s leisure facilities conjures images of Jack and Rose dancing in steerage. The Titanic parallels are felt throughout, sometimes in explicit nods (a giddy space walk stands in for ‘lying’ on the prow) and elsewhere in the ilms’ broader structure. Much like Cameron’s nautical yarn, Passengers’ early love story gives way to a latter disaster lick: metaphorically as the couple’s relationship is riven by betrayal, then literally as the malfunctioning Avalon begins a spiral towards destruction. Having survived a trip almost as drawn-out and uncertain as the Avalon’s (Jon Spaihts’ screenplay appeared on The Black List back in 2007), Passengers is as surprisingly traditional as it is undeniably effective. A timeless romance wedded to a space-age survival thriller, it may be a curious coupling but Tyldum’s Turing follow-up is a journey well worth taking. JAMES DYER VERDICT Titanic
amongst the stars — this is a touching, heartfelt tale of loss and love for the Gravity generation.
s drifted r e y a l p he ed by. T Renton, t f , i s r d d d s o r the y The yea pite all s e re finall d a t u e i B b . g t e r B apa Boy and ing, and itâ€™s an d k c i S , tt ve Spud Trainspo everyone invol 2 T n i r back union fo e r l a n o i emot DFREY
Old habits die hard for Jonny Lee Miller’s Sick Boy and Ewan McGregor’s Renton.
JONNY LEE MILLER WAS BRICKING IT. It had been ten years since he’d seen Robert Carlyle, longer since he’d crossed paths with Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner, and two decades since the Trainspotting comrades had all been in a room together, at the ilm’s wrap party. So when, a week before shooting began on the long-awaited sequel last May, Danny Boyle asked the cast to get together to rehearse some scenes, it was a big deal. Miller was already anxious about making a ilm that could potentially tarnish the legacy of Trainspotting, of disappointing an entire generation. And, to add to his already fragile condition as he travelled to the set for the irst time in Bathgate (midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow), he contracted food poisoning from the breakfast he’d picked up en route. By the time he got there, he was done for. “I was so nervously excited,” he remembers, “and I ended up throwing up in the bathroom. It was like, ‘Nice to see you, I gotta go vomit.’ And it just felt weirdly, awfully appropriate for Trainspotting, throwing up in a bathroom, having not seen these guys for years, hoping that they didn’t think I’d developed some awful drug habit.” Miller wasn’t the only one with jitters, and with good reason. Danny Boyle’s 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel — not, ultimately, a ilm about heroin but about a gang of friends testing, goading, ighting and escaping each other — made icons of its characters, and stars of its director and cast. The cinematic epicentre of Cool Britannia, Trainspotting seemed to deine a generation: student bedrooms worldwide were adorned with the orange-and-monochrome poster, on which Begbie (Carlyle), Diane (Kelly Macdonald), Sick Boy (Miller), Spud (Bremner) and Renton (McGregor) grinned and growled, indelibly ingrained in pop culture. “People want to see them again,” producer Andrew Macdonald tells Empire. “They know their names. It’s the only ilm I’ve been involved in where that’s been the case. You hardly remember who the guys in Shallow Grave were,” he says of the same team’s previous ilm. “And then we made a ilm straight after Trainspotting,
Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh chat to Robert Carlyle (Begbie) on set. Below: Welsh — the man with the golden pen.
A Life Less Ordinary, nobody remembers that. Nobody’s wanted to see whatever the fuck they’re called, Celine and Robert, you know… Nobody’s wanting to see that again, are they?” We wouldn’t like to say. “Exactly!”
It’s June 2016
and Empire is hanging around a toilet on the set of T2. Not, alas, the one Jonny Lee Miller threw up in a few weeks earlier, but a row of toilets constructed for a scene in an Edinburgh nightclub. It’s dark, it’s dank, and it’s riddled with grafiti. “Mike you fanny” is one such scrawl. “Saggy titties” another. Empire’s favourite is daubed above a toilet, simply reading “Narnia”. Business as usual, then. “I, more than anyone, had lirted with the idea for a sequel the longest,” says an enthusiastic Boyle when we meet him later. “Because I’d answered so many questions in interviews asking if there was gonna be one.” 2002 saw the publication of Welsh’s sequel Porno, which,
Renton and Sick Boy rediscover their lust for life.
against a backdrop of the gonzo porn industry, focused on Sick Boy and Begbie’s attempts to take revenge on Renton, who made off with their swag at the end of the original story. Boyle and Macdonald commissioned John Hodge to write a draft closely following Welsh’s book, but no-one was overjoyed with the result. His heart wasn’t in it, says Hodge, and Boyle, similarly unenthused, didn’t send it to any of the cast. For a few years, they just let it go, despite the constant questions. “I was asked about it all the time,” says McGregor, “and I always said I would never do anything to damage the reputation of the ilm we made and that everybody loves. Trainspotting means everything to me. It’s a really amazing ilm and I just thought it was a bad idea to do a sequel ten years after. But mainly I just didn’t feel the same connection to Porno that I had done to the novel of Trainspotting, which really moved me. Also Danny and I went through years of not working together, and so there was all that going on as well.”
Ah, yes. After A Life Less Ordinary, McGregor was set to star in The Beach, which would be his fourth ilm with Boyle, but the director cast Leonardo DiCaprio instead, enabling him to raise more investment funds for the budget. More than losing that particular role, McGregor felt hurt by losing his place in the team: they were, he had thought, in this together. The wound was deep, and for years they had no contact. But time is a healer, and in 2009 McGregor saw Boyle in a restaurant and felt only affection. “I went over and we chatted for a little while and it was so nice to see him after all that time,” says McGregor, who later that year, at the 2009 BAFTA LA’s Britannia Awards, introduced Boyle to the crowd before the director came up to the stage to receive the John Schlesinger Award for Artistic Excellence In Directing. It was a touching speech in which McGregor paid tribute to Boyle, closing with, “I love you and miss you.” “He was really sweet,” says Boyle, who
regrets the way he handled The Beach’s casting switch. “We weren’t particularly respectful towards him, way back in the day. But he’s always been very, very generous. So we met and talked and I said how sorry I was, the way we had treated him. And it rebuilt from there.”
In early 2014,
Boyle decided it was time to revive sequel talks. 2016 would mark the original’s 20th anniversary, so plans to see if they could produce a worthy successor for around that time got underway. Boyle organised a trip to Edinburgh for himself, Hodge, Welsh, and producers Christian Colson and Andrew Macdonald to kick around ideas, and the day before Boyle was set to travel up from London, he bumped into McGregor. “It was odd, and fateful, I suppose,” says McGregor. “By that time I was up for doing a sequel, and I told him I was looking forward to reading a script.” In Edinburgh, the team pored through ❯ Porno, read Hodge’s old drafts, and started again.
“The idea was to light a ire under John,” says Welsh. It worked. “Something happened to him,” says Boyle. “Those sessions unlocked something in John that he was able to write about. It was like the irst one: as soon as you started to read it you just knew, ‘This is gonna work.’ It’s him unleashed, really.” What John Hodge wrote was a story that not only revisits Trainspotting’s various reprobates 20 years on, but explores that very passing of time — how it changes us or, in some cases, does not. How we relect on our past and live with it, and whether or not we truly evolve. The ilm retains some of Porno’s key narrative strands, particularly Sick Boy and Begbie’s vengeful retribution, but is generally new material. It also draws heavily on the irst ilm itself. “Some bits are from Trainspotting, in the same way that one’s present life also includes elements of the past,” says Hodge. “We all live with our past all the time, and these characters are the same. It’s not Ocean’s Thirteen, which really has got nothing to do with Ocean’s Twelve or Eleven. In real life we carry around a lot of emotional baggage, even if we don’t think we do. So if you’re seeing it visually, that’s because it’s there, in their heads.” The script was sent to the actors, and slayed them. “I was crying,” says Robert Carlyle of irst reading it. “I thought, ‘Why the fuck am I crying at this?’” He’s still emotional now, as he was throughout the production. Everybody was, he says. “Danny felt it, Ewan and Ewen felt it, Jonny, we all felt this real emotional connection to these characters and to this world. But that irst read — I was speaking to Ewan McGregor, saying, ‘I cannae believe I’m feeling like this.’ I’ve never cried when I’ve read a screenplay before. Ever.” In summer 2015, the key cast and crew (other than Miller, who was shooting Sherlock Holmes show Elementary in New York) met in a members’ club in Soho for a read-through. Although some of them had crossed paths or worked together over the years, this was the irst proper reunion since 1996. “To hear their voices reading new material in that Spud voice, in that Begbie voice, in that Renton voice, was like, ‘Oh my God,’” says Boyle. “That felt really good. I remember thinking, ‘Let’s make sure there aren’t any hiccups now. Let’s make sure we do this.’”
There are lots
of DVDs in Sick Boy’s lat. There are lots of lots of things in Sick Boy’s lat, a swanky, brash and cluttered pad. Empire has been given free rein of the sets, so we’re being nosey. What’s here? A foosball table. A synth. Stacks of car mags, crates full of empty cans of lager and cider, a stupendous amount of dirty washing-up, and yes, mountains of DVDs, including, naturally, lots of Bond ilms — Sick Boy/Simon is, lest we forget, a 007 aicionado. We then venture into his pub, the Port Sunshine, a dilapidated drinking hole which will play host to some key encounters. Including Renton’s irst meet-up in two decades with Sick Boy, who, it turns out, has aged surprisingly well. ❯ “I wanted to go all out,” bemoans Miller.
Renton and Spud (Ewen Bremner) take stock of their lives as they look out over the city.
Trainspotter’s Timetable OVER THE YEARS, THE ANTIHEROES OF TRAINSPOTTING HAVE POPPED UP IN ALL MANNER OF PLACES…
1993 _ Trainspotting
Welsh’s groundbreaking novel began an odyssey that’s showing no signs of slowing.
1994 _ Trainspotting (PLAY) The play, in which Ewen Bremner played Renton, was adapted by Harry Gibson not long after the book had been published, and did well in Edinburgh before storming the London stage.
1996 _ Trainspotting
Boyle’s film adaptation startled the film industry. “Hollywood come in,” wrote Empire, in a quote used on the film’s official poster, “your time is up.”
Sick Boy, Renton and Nikki (Anjela Nedyalkova) toast the gang’s eagerly awaited return.
2001 _ Glue (BOOK) Welsh’s novel had structural similarities to Trainspotting, and featured cameos from Begbie, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy.
2002 _ Porno (BOOK) Welsh’s sequel catches up with the boys a decade after the original story. Sick Boy dreams of directing porn, and teams up with Renton to make it happen.
2012 _ Skagboys (BOOK) Welsh then wrote a prequel, introducing a younger version of the group in early ’80s Leith, exploring how they get into heroin.
2012 _ Trainspotting
This Chicago stage production transported the action to Kansas, and featured additional material by Welsh.
2015 _ He
It’s less fists out and more feet up for Begbie.
A little Christmas tale written by Welsh for The Big Issue, catching up with — and thoroughly subverting — a happy, settled Begbie.
2015 _ A
Decent Ride (BOOK)
Welsh’s novel about Glue and Porno’s taxi driver ‘Juice’ Terry Lawson features a brief cameo from Sick Boy, now running a website called X-tra Perversevere.
2016 _ The
Blade Artist (BOOK)
Welsh’s latest novel has a starring role for Begbie, now calling himself Jim Francis and living with his wife in California. Soon, though, things turn sour.
2016 _ Trainspotting
An update of the original play, Trainspotting Live was performed in London last year.
“Like, ‘Why don’t I shave my head and show up bald?’ My hair’s getting pretty thin anyway, so I thought I could look completely different, but Danny said the blond hair was such a huge part of the irst movie and it had to be there. So we ended up doing it but with the roots coming through, and you can really see hair loss.” Boyle had said in the past he didn’t want to make a sequel until the actors looked physically older. “Anybody other than Danny might have rushed the ilm, done it ten years ago,” says Carlyle. “They might have put the grey through the hair and the lines on the face. But the grey is already on the hair now, and the lines are on the face. You can’t get any better than that.” Carlyle arrived on set with long locks and a full beard, leaving options open. As T2 begins, Begbie is in prison, and Carlyle, after looking at reference photos of prisoners, decided the hair had to go — but the moustache would stay. “That’s his signature, right there,” he laughs. “One of the inspirations behind doing the
ilm was The Likely Lads,” says Boyle, referring to the 1960s British sitcom — a surprising inluence on T2. “Because then they came back with Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, seven years after, but it felt longer. And it had that great song: ‘What happened to you, whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be?’” Boyle takes a deep, emotional breath. “Fuckin’ hell. Because ilm and television freezes people in time, so seeing them unfrozen and presented to you, cheek to cheek, it’s like, there you go, your heroes. It’s like music — you don’t wanna see them when they’re past it. It’s brutal.” The cast arrived in its and starts, thanks to busy, globetrotting schedules. Bremner was irst, then Carlyle, who was overcome with emotion when they were then joined by Miller after he’d inished ilming Elementary. “Out of everyone, Jonny and I were probably the closest,” says Carlyle. “Jesus Christ. Big, big, big hugs. Just holding onto each other, actually.” Immediately after the hugging, Miller ran to that toilet to
Spud brings the bouquet. But who are the flowers for?
throw up. And a week later, when he had inished work on his directorial debut, American Pastoral, McGregor arrived, just as worried, concerned he might not be able to “ind” Renton again. On the irst day, in the lunch queue, he met Bremner. “I said, ‘I’m really fuckin’ nervous, Ewen. I’m scared about it,’” admits McGregor. “And he said, ‘Don’t worry, as soon as you get in there you’ll be ine.’ And he was right. As soon as I got the Adidas on and got on set I was alright. Because I’m Renton, and Renton’s me. There was nothing to ind — he was already there.” In what sense are they interchangeable? “There’s something about his story and my story,” he continues, then pauses, collecting his thoughts. “I hadn’t seen Danny for all those years, and Renton hasn’t seen his mates for all those years. He fucked off, and I fucked off. I haven’t lived in Scotland since I was 17. He’s coming back, I was coming back. There were an awful lot of parallels, you might say.” On set, Empire watches as Boyle directs McGregor, who’s found himself in a tense
altercation with another character. Renton’s teeming with adrenaline, and McGregor’s wide-eyed, lapping up instructions from Boyle, asking how he wants him to play it. It’s a simple scene, but it’s swirling with electricity. When Boyle calls cut, the crew cheers. “Well done, gentlemen,” says Boyle, practically bouncing. McGregor’s beaming. The likely lads are back.
Empire meets Boyle in his Soho production ofices, where he and editor Jon Harris are inishing the ilm, the walls plastered with sequenced screenshots. In October, they watched a rough cut back-toback with the original ilm, to contrast and compare — if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know there are overt nods to Trainspotting in T2, from frantic street chases to Renton’s adventures with car bonnets. “Because it lives in the shadow of the irst one,” explains Boyle. “And how much you step out of that shadow, or stay in it, deines it. You’re not just making it in a vacuum. And
also we just wanted to make sure we hadn’t made some howling fuckin’ cock-up. ‘He’s circumcised in that ilm, and now he isn’t!’” Only here, in post-production, says Boyle, is he truly discovering what the ilm’s about. “You know Richard Linklater’s Boyhood? Well, this is ‘Manhood’,” he says. “For all those years I kept jokingly making the excuse that the actors weren’t ready to make the ilm yet because they didn’t look old enough, because they were in spas every weekend pampering themselves, blah blah blah. But actually, when I look at what we’ve done... I think I wasn’t ready to do it. Because of my own age. You’ve got to have a personal reason to make a ilm. And I think I was waiting.” On the phone, Empire speaks to Bremner, who says he’s been profoundly touched by the entire experience. “The characters in the original ilm, they’re so virile,” he says. “Their spirit is very strong. But growing up, and we’re still all growing up, that can pass. You don’t grow up without losing things that are dear to you, and having your identity challenged and being rocked by events that are out of or in your control. I think the ilm perfectly captures the cruelty of ageing. It’s a really powerful ilm, I think.” “Trying not to face up to decline is a part of life,” adds Hodge. “When you get to 50 you suddenly realise all the big events coming your way are not good ones. Being young can be hard, you can feel insecure, and might be economically disadvantaged or whatever, and you can get to a certain age and look at the achievements in your life, but really the great time is when you’re young. All the rest is a waste of time.” Does he really think that? “Yeah! After you’ve been 15, 20, 25, there’s never anything like that again. At 45, whatever, you’re struggling to keep hold of a strand of that, and that’s part of the theme of the ilm. I don’t mean to sound unnecessarily dismissive of existence after the age of 25, but if you think back and then look forward, there’s no contest! All these people who say, ‘Life begins at 60, look at me, I’m playing golf every day,’ I mean, so fucking what?” But for all the talk of midlife crises, T2 promises at least as much energy as the irst ilm, with at least as much attitude. The mere title is a clue — a boisterous two ingers up. James Cameron’s Terminator sequel is commonly known by the same name, but was never oficially called that, so Boyle nicked it. “We called it that because that’s what the characters would call it,” he says. “They wouldn’t show any respect for it.” Everyone is buoyed by the rough cut, though there is still, of course, trepidation. “We want the ilm to satisfy everybody,” says Bremner. “We have to live with the consequences of it, on a daily basis. I have to walk down the street with people maybe saying, ‘Hey, Spud! You shouldna made the second one, should ya? Was a bit crap!’ We’re all up for it. We gave it our best shot.” In a sea of sequels, it’s heartening to have one made for all the right reasons. Certainly, nobody can accuse them of rushing it. T2 TRAINSPOTTING IS IN CINEMAS FEBRUARY 23.
HOW J.A. BAYONA, LIAM NEESON AND SOME “COMPUTER NERDS” BROUGHT A BARKMONSTER TO THE SCREEN WORDS CHRIS HEWITT
TYPE SI SCOTT
g recent times: a 40-foot-tall talking tree that bludgeons its way into the world of a 12-year-old boy (Lewis MacDougall) at the most fragile moment of his young life. But Bayona didn’t pull it off alone. Here, he and his key collaborators, including a rather tall Northern Irish actor, tell us how they forged it from the roots up.
CREATING THE MONSTER The monster was always going to be a yew tree. That’s one thing novelist Patrick Ness knew when he started to write A Monster Calls in unusual and tragic circumstances. Siobhan Dowd, who had come up with the concept and sketched out the opening chapter, died from cancer on 21 August 2007, aged 47. Asked by Walker Press to take on the project, Ness had liberty to create his own story (in which young lad Conor struggles to cope as his mother battles cancer), but kept Dowd’s original idea for the monster. “All the things about the yew tree in the ilm are true,” says Ness, who also wrote the screenplay for the ilm adaptation. “It is used to ind cancer drugs, they do live for a thousand years, they do plant them in cemeteries. It has this whole history that’s extraordinary.” Ness took pains to avoid describing the monster in any great detail in the book. “I was always very interested in keeping the monster ambiguous,” he explains. “I knew it would be illustrated, and I’m more of a words guy.” The decision to illustrate the book had been made by the time Ness came on board. The job went to Jim Kay, whose startling, jagged, often black-and-white designs complement Ness’
words by never fully showing the creature. Many of them show a huge, raw, elemental igure, clearly not to be triled with, but he shied away from illing in the blanks. “The beast is far more frightening when you don’t see it,” he says. Kay was a struggling artist at the time: with no major achievements under his belt, he was suffering a crisis of conidence, not to mention a lack of funds that forced him to work in his freezing Edinburgh lat, wrapped in an electric blanket. He thinks both factors fed into the look of the monster. “I had no conidence in drawing it at all,” he explains. “So I didn’t draw it. It was done using ink that was blown, or anything that made a mark or a splatter. And I couldn’t draw detail — my hands were too cold!”
Here and right: Illustrations by Jim Kay for Patrick Ness’ novel A Monster Calls. Far right and below: Concept art created for the film by DDT SFX designer Daniel Carrasco. Bottom left and previous page: Further concept art by Headless.
DESIGNING THE MONSTER The script for A Monster Calls, which Ness wrote on spec, bounced around Hollywood for a while. But its unusual combination of fantasy, harsh reality and an unlinching attitude towards death and grief found no takers. Then along came Bayona, who had already tackled those subjects to various degrees in his previous two ilms, The Orphanage and The Impossible. When the director came on board, he knew he had a big challenge: to come up with a talking tree that felt fresh and real in a post-Treebeard, post-Groot world. “In the beginning, we did 200 drawings of different kinds of monsters,” he recalls. “And there was a moment when we realised everything had been done. So I went back to Jim Kay’s illustrations and realised it was not about originality; it was about how powerful that image of this igure was. The tree is the shape of a man. Somehow there was some poetry that was missing when we were trying to make the monster very spectacular.” Bayona worked with a group of concept artists to ind the right look for the movie monster. Kay was one of them, brought back in to revisit and augment his creation. “I always had an idea of what his physical body looked like,” he explains. “You have an armature of branches, overlaid with moss and leaves. But some of the other concept art was way better than my stuff.” A lot came from Bayona himself. The son of a painter (“He was the one who taught me to draw”), Bayona is no slouch with a pencil. “I did a lot of sketches,” he admits. “For me, storyboarding is a way of rewriting the ilm. You’re starting to see the movie come alive.” Bayona drew upon a number of inluences for the monster, including Goya painting The Colossus and the English legend of the Green Man (also an inspiration for Ness), but kept coming back to Kay’s elemental mess of twigs and branches. “It’s about simplicity. When you make it simple, then you’re not spoiling the imagination of the audience.” With the monster designed to his liking, now Bayona just had to ind an actor capable ❯ of illing some very big shoes...
J.A. Bayona consults Liam Neeson as the pair work on a scene at Audiomotion Studios in Wheatley, Oxfordshire, in September 2014.
BECOMING THE MONSTER “Liam Neeson is associated with the idea of wisdom,” laughs Bayona. “He is a Jedi.” When Bayona cast the star as the monster, he always intended it to be more than just a simple voiceover gig. Instead, he wanted Neeson to be the tree, and so the irst two weeks of shooting on A Monster Calls took place on a mo-cap stage, with just two actors: Neeson and MacDougall. And only one of them was, in the words of Neeson, wearing a “skintight suit with little ping-pong balls stuck to various points on your body”. Bayona and Neeson admit to teething troubles during the process as they, mo-cap virgins both, eased their way into the process. The scene shot on the irst day, for instance, was reshot on the last. Without physical sets, virtual models would be overlaid over the footage shot, and Neeson would sometimes ind himself standing on things he shouldn’t have
been standing on. “For an actor, you can feel the freedom,” says Bayona. “But it was a 40-foot character, so we had to be careful. Every time you moved your hand you could destroy the set.” Once he got over the self-consciousness that even someone who’s been in Krull can feel wearing a mo-cap suit, Neeson became excited by the possiblities. “It was an ongoing process,” he says. “I trusted that I would be enough for this, and that the computer nerds would give me the digital make-up that was needed.” While mo-cap was completely new to him, he hadn’t pretended to be a tree for decades, not since drama school at least. “I had no real set idea other than my imagination,” he says. “They showed me a model of what they thought this monster, this yew tree, would look like, and that was a big help. It gave me an idea of how this force might walk and talk.”
ASSEMBLING THE MONSTER In the inished ilm, the monster is a CG creation. It had to be, otherwise Neeson would have spent two weeks in a leotard for nothing. But for Bayona, bringing the monster to life wasn’t just a case of enlisting those “computer nerds” and sitting back. An old-school director with a yen for practical effects, he had various elements of the monster built and present on set: a giant foot here, a humongous hand there, a massive wooden head. “I love the idea of handmade things,” explains the director. “When you see the hand grabbing Conor you can tell it’s a fake hand, but when it’s fake it feels more alive. It feels like it has soul. Sometimes CGI gets cold.” Félix Bergés, a long-time Bayona collaborator and the ilm’s visual effects supervisor, had the task of ensuring the CGI wasn’t too hot, nor too cold, but safely in the Goldilocks zone. “One of the things that is dificult is that the monster speaks a lot,” Bergés explains. “You need a lot of expression and you have to be very restrained. This is a very intimate movie.” The decision to shoot the mo-cap scenes at the beginning wasn’t just to beneit Neeson’s schedule. It helped Bergés and his team get to work on the CGI (as with all of Bayona’s movies to date, a lot of time was allowed for postproduction; a luxury he ma
Rough animations and speakers on set helped Lewis MacDougall to react.
on his next one, blockbuster sequel Jurassic World 2). And it allowed them to put together rudimentary animations of the monster, which Bayona could overlay on his images live on set to capture the sense of scale. This, along with Neeson’s voice, which would routinely boom out of loudspeakers, gave MacDougall something to react to. “It’s important,” says Bergés. “It’s possible to use greenscreen and a stick with a light, but
UN S NG THE MONSTER
The evolution of a shot. Storyboard sketch by Ian McCaffrey.
A Monster Calls is not a happy-clappy kids’ tale, one of those movies where the magic was inside you all along. The monster relects that: it is gruff, hectoring, and sometimes downright terrifying. “It should be quite threatening,” says Neeson. “Very elemental and ancient and wise. And angry.” The inished creation contains elements of Jim Kay’s original sketches, unmistakable touches of Neeson in the creature’s mannerisms, and plenty that is pure Bayona, including the red veins that course through it. Visually impressive and rich in symbolism — “It represents the man Conor is becoming,” says Bayona — it’s a hugely impressive achievement, even more so for having multiple creators. “On the book I took the idea from another author and ended up doing it with an illustrator,” relects Ness. “Novels are not usually collaborative, but it was seeing that someone else could bring something amazing, and the book could end up being more than any of us individually. That’s the movie a hundred times over.” A MONSTER CALLS IS IN CINEMAS FROM JANUARY 26.
ADAPT OR DIE MICH AEL FAS S BEN D ER A ND J U S TIN K U R ZEL, TH E D U O B E HI ND AS S AS S IN ’S CR EED, TH IN K T HE Y ’V E FINALLY FO U N D TH E S EC RE T TO A G R EAT VID EO -G AME ADAP TAT ION: TR EAT IT LIK E S H AK ES P E A RE WORDS NEV PIERCE
JUSTIN KURZEL HAS DONE HIS BACK IN. Damaged a disc. It’s October 2016, and the 42year-old Australian behind 2015’s acclaimed take on Macbeth is deep into post-production on his follow-up, a project so intense it has led to him popping painkillers. The ilm that is demanding such fearsome dedication? Well, it’s not a fresh spin on The Tempest. Instead, it’s an adaptation of a video-game franchise about a parkouring hitman: Assassin’s Creed. The Ubisoft series has sold 93 million copies and counting. It blends science-iction with historical fact, enguling you in a worldwide conspiracy while allowing you to jump off tall buildings and skewer enemies with wrist-mounted blades. And this big-screen version has a lot riding on it. Not only do all involved hope it will be a franchise-launcher; if it works it’ll also be the irst video game ilm to, well, not suck. “You want to have the DNA of the game experience,” says the quietly spoken, thoughtful Kurzel of his new ilm, as he sips a Coke in the air-conditioned environs of a London hotel. “But you want it to feel like a piece of cinema. You want to feel, ‘This is real. This existed.’” Which is all very admirable, but this still isn’t really what you’d expect from a director steeped in Shakespeare, or from someone who made his big-screen debut with intensely disturbing Australian serial-killer true story Snowtown. Except, well… while you can be sure Assassin’s Creed will be a good deal more fun, it too deals in intriguing ideas of destiny, character and the history of violence. It’s all in the blood.
“THIS IS TAME
as fuck!” Kurzel steps out from behind the monitor, towards the camera crew. It’s September 2015 and we’re in Valletta, the capital of Malta. He doesn’t actually sound cross, but his point is plain: he wants the angry mob crowding in on our heroes to be more, well, fucking angry. “Get the burliest men — no women — trying to get them,” he instructs the assistant director. “Chaos!” Like its source, Assassin’s Creed starts in the present before jumping back into the past, and a major chunk of the shoot has taken place in sleek, ultra-modern laboratories. Today, however, is dedicated to one of the “regressions” that main character Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) makes, as he’s thrown back via genetic-memory technology (not a real thing)
into the body of his 15th-century ancestor, Aguilar — a member of the titular organisation battling to preserve humanity’s free will. Right now he and fellow ighter Maria (Ariane Labed) are about to be burnt at the stake, with peasants in thrall to religious fundamentalism crowding in, delirious at their demise. Crosses are brandished and grotesque masks worn, like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon has had to provide for 900 people today — rather than relying on CG crowd-replication, the turmoil is being mounted full-scale. “We looked at crowds in riots and times of war,” she says. “The way they paint themselves. The tribal nature of human beings.” The ilm may be a sci-i fantasy, but if its head is in the clouds, its feet are on the ground: the spectacle looks grubby, painful, authentic. Fassbender — face tattooed as Aguilar, his lean frame turned sinewy by training — seems tired. A little loose skin laps from a cut on his hand. He says Kurzel and director of photography Adam Arkapaw are a “formidable force”, working fast, dedicated to doing as much of the action on set as possible. The director, between takes, shows Empire a rough cut of a chase sequence they shot earlier this week. “You’ve got knives, swords, an arrow off the wall,” he points out, as we watch Fassbender and Labed move at a frenetic pace, dodging assailants and weapons. “It takes so long to do all this stuff in real locations with real action.” Kurzel has been studying the action sequences of David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia, inspired by their authenticity. “That kind of in-camera stunt work is just extraordinary. Hopefully that’s something that comes through in the ilm — that it feels old-school and you can feel we’ve gone out there and given a fuck.” Fassbender agrees, even if his body sometimes
Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), aka Assassin Aguilar, is out for blood. Below: Director Justin Kurzel shows Fassbender his best moves. Bottom: Abstergo Industries’ Dr Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). Bottom left: Fassbender reaches new heights.
regrets the dedication. “We’ve got the Leap Of Faith happening at 125 feet, without any wires,” he says, referring to the game’s trademark plunge, which sees the protagonist high-dive from vertiginous peaks. While his stunt double, Damien Walters, performed the main-event jump, Fassbender himself has done plenty of 20-foot plummets. “We want to stay away from CGI as much as possible. That’s important to us.”
THE FILM’S SHAPE
and form is largely due to Fassbender. “It’s very much Michael’s ilm,” states Michael Lesslie, the irst writer to come on board. “He knows what he wants and that’s invaluable on something of this scale.” When game-maker Ubisoft approached the star in 2011, he came on not only as assassin but producer, nurturing the project for ive years. While Kurzel and Fassbender worked together on Macbeth, the director “kept hearing bits
and pieces of this crazy script Mike was working on”. It wasn’t until Fassbender extended a formal invitation that Kurzel sat down to read the full thing. “It had a story and concept and ideas that felt extremely sophisticated to me,” he remembers. “I was deeply surprised that I could connect to a game called Assassin’s Creed.” Lesslie describes the Fassbender and Kurzel collaboration as like “two big dogs going at it” — interrogating the story and the material, iguring out the best iteration. “Basically I just annoy Justin more!” laughs Fassbender of the way the process has changed, now he’s a force behind the camera as well as in front of it. “It’s just a different beast, you know? We worked on the script together and now, in post, it’s a longer journey. But the language remains the same, in terms of how he speaks to me.” Marion Cotillard, yet another player from Macbeth cast in Assassin’s Creed as the mysterious Dr Sophia Rikkin, says ❯ she could feel Fassbender had a different level
of involvement. “It was really impressive to see him in that different context. Michael was full of ideas and creating things with Justin on set.” Video-game adaptations are notoriously dificult to pull off: most have loundered both at the box-ofice and on RottenTomatoes.com. Lesslie reckons the problem is usually misplaced loyalty. “Sometimes adaptations have been too loyal to the mechanism at the heart of video games, where the protagonist has to be a cipher for the player.” Here, the decision was taken to create a new character for the ilm — operating within the universe of the games, but not beholden to established canon. Callum Lynch is a ne’er-do-well adrift after a traumatic childhood, scheduled to be executed, who inds himself imprisoned by mysterious corporation Abstergo. He is then sent back in time, via a machine called the Animus, to relive the memories of his ancestor. “The idea was that Aguilar is somebody who is part of a family, a creed,” says Fassbender. “He’s a warrior when we meet him and willing to sacriice himself for something greater than him. Whereas Cal is a lone wolf. He’s cynical. And he’s sceptical. And so it’s his journey to become something beyond himself where he can feel like he belongs.” With Cal an anti-hero of sorts, the entire movie is coloured with at least 50 shades of grey. “It’s not like Star Wars, where you’ve got the light and the dark side,” says Fassbender. “This is very ambiguous morally. Both of these parties — the Templars and the Assassins — are hypocritical at certain points. There are not clear-cut good and bad characters. I think it’s a little more provocative for an audience to see that. You know, ‘Should I be feeling that? Should I be backing this character?’ That’s always fun.” The Assassins are ighting for freedom. The Templars are trying to control us. It’s a theme the ilm’s makers see as extremely pertinent to today’s world. As a shadowy igure played by Charlotte Rampling says at one point, “People no longer care about their civil liberties — they care about their standard of life.” Fassbender can see that point of view. “Look at the world! People will put up with a lot if they have their television. They will turn a blind eye to a lot. That’s deinitely what she’s saying in that speech. It’s like, ‘It’s all ine: people are dumbed down and numb, just the way we want them.’” But that wasn’t the theme that originally drew the X-Men star in. What hooked him was the notion of DNA memory, that our blood can bring with it experiences from our family past. “I wasn’t aware of that until I met the guys from Ubisoft,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, scientiically that makes a lot of sense.’ Justin says it’s a ilm about belonging — roots and ancestry. It’s about what you leave behind for the next generation.”
FASSBENDER, RAISED IN
Ireland but half-German by blood, has his own interesting ancestor: Irish revolutionary and politician Michael Collins. “Well, that’s what
“Make some noise, Cleveland!” Below right: Highly skilled assassin and partner to Aguilar Maria (Ariane Labed). Middle: Lynch experiences a glitch. Bottom: CEO of Abstergo Industries and member of the Templar Order Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons).
my grandfather maintained. My mother says, ‘You have to stop telling people!’ because I don’t think there’s actually any proof…” Kurzel, meanwhile, is most fascinated by his own father: a Pole forced into a World War II labour camp at the age of six. “The family had to go from camp to camp, ostracised from their own country. They had to make their way from Poland into Germany and eventually, I think, came to Italy. Whole families were split up. Some went to America. Some went to London. My side went to Australia.” Given this, it starts to make sense why Kurzel has made Assassin’s Creed. Family has been much on his mind. His dad died six years ago — the irst time he’d experienced such a close loss. “All you have is the memory of them. Then I had daughters and could see my father in them. I was trying to igure out, ‘How is this all threaded?’ At the end of the day, it’s blood. It’s a very powerful thing.”
The past visiting you in the present — being a presence in your everyday — is very much a literal element within Assassin’s Creed. In the Animus, we see the ancient action as Lynch’s present self interacts with it. It’s called the bleeding effect. “Images from your past and your ancestors are having a dialogue with you and interacting with you,” says Kurzel, before relating it in a surprising way to his previous production. “When I started reading about that, the bleeding effect, it just felt completely like post-traumatic stress. Some of the soldiers I interviewed for Macbeth were dealing with similar things, trying to ind peace with these voices. [Also] some of the soldiers who had just come back from Afghanistan or Iraq, suffering from PTSD, had come from a line of soldiers in the family that had experienced Vietnam, that had experienced World War II. Is the experience of that passed on? Might it be passed on within your blood?”
HIGH TIMES HOW ASSASSIN’S CREED’S ‘LEAP OF FAITH’ COMPARES TO OTHER MOVIE PLUNGES
GOLDENEYE — (1995)
Height: 720 feet Object jumped from: Contra Dam Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut featured this epic drop, performed by Wayne Michaels. Tourists braver than us can replicate his daring, as the Swiss site has been leased to a bungee-jumping business.
HOOPER — (1978)
Height: 230 feet Object jumped from: helicopter The great A.J. Bakunas set a world record falling from a chopper for this stuntthemed comedy. He died on another jump just months later, making this stunt his legacy.
ASSASSIN’S CREED — (2016)
Height: 125 feet Object jumped from: Seville Cathedral The video-game series’ signature action beat was replicated for real by stunt double Damien Walters, although his jump was from a platform, not a bona fida holy building.
It’s an idea that powers the central character in Assassin’s Creed, who doesn’t understand how his life has become so bloody. “What makes him have the impulse to be violent?” Kurzel says. “Well, if you come from a line of assassins who have been in wars through hundreds of years, and he doesn’t know about it, that creates a really complicated character! When I irst understood that about Assassin’s Creed, I found it a really heady and interesting concept.” He stands, stretching his damaged back, readying to head back to inish the movie’s audio mix and VFX. To paraphrase Macbeth, this tale will be full of sound and fury, but it will signify something. “There are really interesting ideas in this ilm,” Kurzel concludes, “that speak to what it is to be a human being.” All that, and you get Michael Fassbender stabbing people.
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING — (1975)
Height: 100 feet Object jumped from: rope bridge Stuntman Joe Powell plummeted down a ravine for the climax of John Huston’s drama. Huston proclaimed it “the darnedest thing I ever saw”.
PROJECT A — (1983)
Height: 60 feet Object jumped from: Kowloon Clock Tower Jackie Chan kept delaying the execution of this Harold Lloyd-riffing stunt, but finally plucked up the courage to do it three times. The result: a badly injured spine.
ASSASSIN’S CREED IS IN CINEMAS NOW.
Michael Fassbender, photographed exclusively for Empire at Claridge’s, London, on 13 October 2016.
WORDS NEV PIERCE
PORTRAITS JOHN RUSSO
FROM PLAYING MR PINK IN A SCHOOL PLAY TO WIELDING BLADES AS THE ULTIMATE ASSASSIN, MICHAEL FASSBENDER REFLECTS ON A CAREER THATâ€™S NEVER LOST ITS EDGE
As well as starring in Assassin’s Creed, you’re producing it. Is that a different kind of satisfaction? I’ll tell you at Christmas! I mean, I enjoy it. It’s something that has always interested me, from the beginning when I stumbled upon acting through [theatre guru] Donie Courtney. He was a pupil at my school who went off and studied at the Gaiety School Of Acting. We had no drama class, so it never occurred to me that was an avenue I could go down until he came back [to teach] classes. I joined a company he set up and then six months after set up my own production company, Peanut Productions. We did a play of Reservoir Dogs which I directed, produced and acted in. So from the beginning I’ve always been interested in it. Some actors, when they break through, sit back a little, but you really went with the momentum. Was that a conscious choice? I suppose it’s just because I was sitting around waiting to do it through most of my twenties. Now I have an appetite. I have gone at it pretty ferociously over the last eight years. Maybe there’s a part of me that believes there’s a time where you’re at your best, and I wanna produce as much as I can when I’m at my best. Maybe I’m afraid I’m gonna die. When Steven Soderbergh made Erin Brockovich, Trafic and Ocean’s Eleven really close together he said it just felt like he was “seeing the ball really well” — just go, go, go… Yeah, that’s right. I read an interview with Noel Gallagher, who said there was a period of time where he couldn’t write a song wrong. And then he said there was another period where he couldn’t get it right. I did plan to take breaks and then certain things came my way, like Steve Jobs. That was an intense year, from Slow West straight into Macbeth and then Trespass Against Us and then The Light Between Oceans. They all came back to back. I was like, “Okay, you better just take some time — and go see a shrink!” But then Steve Jobs came along and I thought, “Shit, this is such an unusual piece.” And Danny [Boyle] and I had wanted to work together before. I just thought, “I gotta do it.” After shooting Band Of Brothers, in 2001, you had a period where things weren’t going brilliantly… To say it politely. What did success look like for you then? Did you have people you wanted to emulate? When I was about 17 I was looking at De Niro, Pacino, Gene Hackman, Brando. I wanted to reach that level of quality. But after Band Of Brothers, in my mid-twenties, when I left drama school and was working at a bar, I just wanted to work. Realism kicked in. My mantra became: “Be good enough to make a living out of it.” That was the goal. Then I got lucky.
Clockwise from top left: Band Of Brothers; The Light Between Oceans; Macbeth; Steve Jobs.
“I WANT TO PRODUCE AS MUCH AS I CAN WHEN I’M AT MY BEST. MAYBE I’M AFRAID I’M GONNA DIE.” How do you think the success of the last decade has changed you? I guess I’ve become more content. To be wanting to be doing something you love and to be doing it are worlds apart. You just feel very blessed. Perhaps one of the most surprising things about you is that you used to be an altar boy… [Laughs] Why is that a surprise to you? It does prompt the question: do you believe in God? Or, like in Assassin’s Creed, the guiding hand of fate? Yeah, I do believe in fate, to be honest with you. Though if I really believed in it I guess I’d be like, “Well, it’s all taken care of. Don’t bother worrying.” What I got from being an altar boy was a sense of theatre. I remember — without being blasphemous — being bored in Mass, sitting there as a member of the congregation. But when I was around the altar and assisting the priest, bringing up the wine and the water and so forth, that felt pretty cool. You’ve worked with Terrence Malick, Steve McQueen, Ridley Scott, all these terriic directors. Do they share certain qualities? Passion. And bravery. To get to a certain level of truth, falling lat on your face in front of a group of people kind of goes with the territory. But also a sort of relentlessness. ’Cause all those guys — and [put] Andrea Arnold in the mix; what a fantastic ilmmaker she is — are always searching, every day, you know? Knowing that when a scene’s done
you’re not going to get another chance at doing it. Some directors use storyboards. But it’s the lines in-between those pictures where the unpredictable stuff, the life, is. That’s the gold. When they talk about magic in ilms, it’s those bits that aren’t scripted or storyboarded, that you really have to dig out. “What was that that happened over there? Let’s ilm that!” You have to be able to throw a plan out of the window. Were there any moments doing stuntwork on Assassin’s Creed where you were like, “What am I doing here?” You know, it’s funny — going up on the roofs in Malta, the real buildings, never scared me. But when I stood on this scaffolding structure, indoors in the studio, I felt really nervous. I’m on wires, but the irst jump towards the ground is always a little bit of a sphincter moment. You just have to go, “God, just trust in it!” As I get older I get a little less brave at these things. And are there times when you feel wracked with fear, even when a stunt’s not involved? Oh yeah. I remember when I was doing Steve Jobs, I thought, “God, I’m drowning. How do I get out of this? Somebody break my arm!” I actually said to my driver, “Brian, I’ll stick my arm in the door and you just slam it shut!” But you just go back to the process. Go upstairs, continue working, do what you know to do. I suppose there are beneits to the fear. It keeps you from taking things for granted. ASSASSIN’S CREED IS IN CINEMAS NOW.
A PE S , A L I E N S , G UNS L I N G E R S A N D A VERY C RE E PY C LOW N : T H IS Y E A Râ€™ S M U ST- S E E MOV I E S A N D TV
OUT 9 MAR
THE RULES OF engagement are clear: fight fur with fire. Adventure epic Kong: Skull Island will see everybody’s favourite big-screen (and just plain big) ape pitted against modern combat technology. Well, not quite modern. Rather than yanking the traditionally old-school tale into the present day, the blockbuster reboot is set in the early ’70s, at the tail end of the Vietnam war. “The script I first read took place in 1917,” says director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. “But when I started talking to the Legendary [Entertainment] guys, I was thinking, ‘What weird King Kong movie would I want to see?’ sSo I pitched them the Vietnam War connection. Literally thinking they were gonna laugh me out of the room. And to Legendary’s credit, they said, ‘Cool. Let’s figure it out.’ The aesthetics of that time mixed with King Kong makes for an incredible genre mash-up.” The beleagured band of visitors to Skull Island include pro tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photographer Weaver (Brie Larson) and Randa (John Goodman), a bureaucrat working for Monarch, the shadowy organisation introduced in Legendary’s Godzilla. And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard, jungle-hardened and trigger-happy. “He becomes hell-bent on killing Kong, because Kong kills some of his men, and he didn’t lose any men during the war,” explains producer Alex Garcia. “He’s like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick — he’s obsessed with bringing down this creature.” Determined to return to America with some kind of victory, Packard and his ’Namveteran loyalists have a state-of-the-art arsenal with which to topple Kong. (“Guns, grenadelaunchers, formidable weaponry,” promises Garcia.) On the other hand, never discount the devastating potential of a well-placed banana skin. NICK DE SEMLYEN
OUT 18 APR
Vin Diesel returns as premier petrolhead Dom Toretto. Below: Team Fast & Furious hit Cuba.
THROUGH THE STREETS of Tokyo? Check. Off a bridge in Brazil? Check. From the top of one Dubai skyscraper to the top of another? Doublecheck. Could it be that after seven nitro-blasted movies, the Fast & Furious franchise is running out of places at which to throw fast cars? Hell no, says the director of the new one. “Our goal at the outset was to figure out, ‘How do we top 7?’” says F. Gary Gray. “The last Fast was amazing, in terms of the stunts, the action and the set-pieces. But we have a few surprises, you know. Cuba is one of them.” The start of Fast & Furious 8 sees Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) finally enjoying their long-delayed honeymoon. Having picked Havana, they are, of course, living their romantic break a quartermile at a time. “We open with a street race,” reveals Gray. “It’s all about going back to the basics, and where better to do it than in a place with hardcore American muscle cars from 60 years ago? Very quickly Dom is involved in an amazing chase through the city and off the beach and down the Malecón. We’ve made history there by bringing the first helicopter into
Havana. The locals crowded around the monitors to see their city from the air for the first time.” After celebrating with Cuban cigars (“Don’t tell my doctor, but I smoked one every day,” laughs Gray), Team Fast headed to their other locations, which include Iceland and, intriguingly, the not-famous-for-its-speedy-traffic New York. Is it safe to assume that Dom, the gang and their new nemesis, hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), won’t be stopping at red lights? “Yeah, we didn’t
want the Lord Of The Rings version, with them going 35 miles an hour,” says the director. “Pulling off high-speed chases in the city of Manhattan — that’s a feat in itself. It’s pretty insane what we’ve been able to do. To shoot action in places like Times Square has always been somewhat impossible… but we’ve made it possible.” The City That Never Sleeps is about to become The City That Never Brakes. NICK DE SEMLYEN
OUT 25 APR
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2
TWIN PEAKS We scour co-creator Mark Frost’s new book, The Secret History Of Twin Peaks, for clues of what to expect in the revival ILLUSTRATION JACEY
VOL. 1 WAS Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble to date, zipping into space to hang with a gang of little-known characters. And, boy, was it a hit. Vol. 2 has all that success to trade on. And writer-director James Gunn feels confident. “I don’t wake up at three in the morning wondering if I’m making Pluto Nash 2 anymore,” he laughs. “Now we have characters that a lot of the world loves, there’s a certain amount of anxiety I don’t have this time around.” Gunn is reluctant to share specific plot details for his space-caper sequel, but does confirm that the relationship between Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his long-lost father (Kurt Russell) is central, while much of the movie’s conflict and comedy comes from exploring how this group of rejects learn to cohere as a unit. “They’re outsiders within a family,” Gunn says. A family, that is, with a baby Groot. Forget science-fiction. This is domestic drama with a difference… DAN JOLIN
Major Garland Briggs __ The Secret History is a dossier of clippings collected by ‘The Archivist’, ultimately revealed as Major Briggs (Bobby Briggs’ father). Briggs Sr was played by Don Davis, whose passing in 2008 means he won’t be returning to the show — unless he’s recast, which seems unlikely, if not out of the question. FBI Special Agent Tamara Preston __ The archives have notes by ‘TP’ — FBI agent Tamara Preston. Asked about the possibility of her making an appearance, Frost has said only, “You’ll find out.” Agent Cooper __ When we last left Agent Cooper, he had survived an encounter with a snarling Bob and his own double — leaving Coop smashing his head into a bathroom mirror and maniacally repeating “How’s Annie?” Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is back, but will he also be playing his doppelgänger? A phrase in The Secret History — “fear the double” — hints he might.
Harry S. Truman __ Michael Ontkean isn’t returning, and now we know why: his character, Sheriff Harry S. Truman, was killed two years after the events of the original series. Instead, actor Robert Forster — who was originally offered the role of Twin Peaks’ Sheriff, but was unable to accept due to a prior commitment — will appear as a character named Frank Truman, possibly Harry’s brother. Ufos __ Judging by the number of The Secret History’s pages devoted to UFOs, we may learn more about a woodland spaceship encounter by Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton) and budding Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) when they were little. How this connects to the Black Lodge, the Red Room, Bob or owls has yet to be explained. DAVID HUGHES
RAW IT’S THE ARTHOUSE, not Hollywood, that’s pushing the boundaries of horror. Centred on a vegan veterinary student who turns cannibal after a hazing ritual, French indie Raw has huge crossover potential. Unlikely as it sounds, it’s this year’s The Witch. “It’s weird, but the films have a lot in common,” says debut director Julia Ducournau. “They’re both about a girl struggling with sexual awakening while trying to escape her family.” Powered by a breakout turn from teenager Garance Marillier, Raw’s realistic, chewy effects have caused walk-outs and faintings on the festival circuit, but don’t believe the hard-gore hype: chances are you’ll be too taken by the characters to think about puking. “It’s a risky movie to digest because it doesn’t present a taboo like a circus freak,” adds Ducournau. “I just wanted people to love a cannibal.” With body-horror and metamorphosis as its core themes, it’s a unique, Cronenbergian experience. Be afraid. Be excited. But maybe skip the hotdogs. SIMON CROOK
OUT 14 DEC
AS ROGUE ONE rolls out across the world, we are less than a year away from the next saga instalment, for the moment known only as Episode VIII. After filming in Skellig Michael (the island at the end of The Force Awakens), Pinewood, Dubrovnik, Croatia and County Cork, principal photography wrapped on 22 July 2016. Although deep in post-production — John Williams has already started recording the score — writer/director Rian Johnson took the time to answer Empire’s burning questions about the current state of play, the film’s influences and his cameo in Rogue One — did you spot him? How are things going on Episode VIII? Great! We’re in the thick of editing, really digging into it. It’s taking shape and I’m very excited. Name three non-Star Wars films you watched in preparation. Twelve O’Clock High was a big touchstone, for the feel and look of the aerial combat as well as the dynamic between the pilots. Three Outlaw Samurai for the feel of the sword-fighting, and the general sense of pulpy fun. And To Catch A Thief was a great film to rewatch, for the romantic scale and grandeur. What are your memories of the first day of shooting? Our first day of shooting was actually several months before principal photography began: we had three days on Skellig Michael island. So not only was it day one of Star Wars on this incredible natural location, but because the island was so inaccessible it was a very stripped-down, run-and-gun crew. Pretty much the perfect start to the whole adventure. What is the hardest thing about writing Star Wars dialogue? I found myself constantly wanting to push modern idioms into the dialogue, and sometimes that can work, but you have to be very careful. If
you go too far you can break that Star Wars spell. The other challenge is the tech talk, which has to be simultaneously complex enough to sound real and conceptually simple enough to follow. The original films were brilliant at that. You played Imperial Officer In Firing Chamber in Rogue One. What was that experience like? It was so much fun. I was jealous of my producer Ram [Bergman] — he got to wear the full Daft Punk helmet. Also it was great because we knew we couldn’t get cut out of the movie! The ONE THING they absolutely have to do is fire the Death Star! What surprised you most about directing a Star Wars film? I guess the biggest surprise was the intimacy of the process. It’s huge, sure, and it’s filled with pressures great and small. But at the end of the day, it boils down to the same things as the smaller films we’ve made: telling a story we care about with a camera and some actors. And a Wookiee. IAN FREER
OUT 18 MAY
THE MOST COMMON criticism of Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus was that it wasn’t terrifying enough. Hardened fans expected more creeping dread with their space exploration and less philosophy. After all, while other directors had added action beats or conspiracy theories to the series, Scott’s original was a straight-up horror, a haunted house in space that chilled generations. The good news is that his Prometheus follow-up, Alien: Covenant, should keep everyone happy. “It’s going to be really scary, this film,” says Michael Fassbender, the only returning cast member. “It’s going to be scarier than Prometheus, definitely. More along that line of Alien.” The tonal blend of Scott’s two previous instalments reflects the film’s timeline, since this is both sequel to Prometheus and prequel to Alien.
Fassbender returns as android David, restored to function (no longer a severed head) and escaped from the Engineers’ planet with Elizabeth Shaw. David is now marooned on a new world, alone. A colony ship called Covenant hears the distress call and comes to investigate — bringing aboard David’s doppelgänger Walter (Fassbender again), a more advanced but less emotional synthetic lifeform. The two have very different views on life and humanity, setting up fresh Prometheus-style musings. “After Prometheus a lot of people said, ‘Well there’s a lot of philosophising,’” acknowledges Fassbender. “But Ridley has merged those questions and the thriller element together here really, really well.” The course shift causes Covenant’s crew to awaken early from hyper-sleep — among them
OUT 26 OCT
THOR: RAGNAROK WHERE THE FIRST two Thor movies pingponged the thunder-wrangler between Earth and Asgard, the latest one goes full cosmic. In the words of producer Brad Winderbaum, it’s an “intergalactic adventure” which has allowed Marvel “to try something new and send him off into space in a very linear plot”. Up until now, space has been the territory of the Guardians Of The Galaxy on screen, but in the Thor comics the hero often headed off to the stars. “And that’s where a lot of fun, trippy stuff that we’re bringing to the screen has come from,” says Winderbaum. For director Taika Waititi, recruited fresh from 2016 fave Hunt For The Wilderpeople, that
meant going “over the top — but not in a negative way”. So not only is Thor reunited with his Asgard-destabilising brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), but he also winds up on a wormholeridden trash-planet run by a combat-arenaowning Jeff Goldblum (as the Grandmaster), where he discovers the star gladiator is an old, green and very angry frenemy. Meanwhile, his latest nemesis is none other than Hela, queen of the underworld (above), played by Cate Blanchett, with huge, elaborate CG-antlers of darkness. All of that sounds like a lot to get to grips with. Will it be too much weirdness to handle? “It’s what it needs to be,” insists Waititi. “Especially to live up to a name like Ragnarok, you know? If we’re gonna do Ragnarok, we gotta do it properly. We just gotta throw it all in there.” DAN JOLIN
OUT 8 JUNE
Katherine Waterston’s Daniels, set to be the Ripley figure. Waterston, however, tries to ignore that legacy. “These are the things you actively don’t think about until you get interviewed to remind you that you should be pissing yourself,” she laughs. At least she can channel that terror. “Unlike Sigourney in Alien, [Daniels] is in a survival mode of sorts from the beginning. She’s not the captain, but she’s a natural leader so in times of crisis she falls into that position quite easily.” And times of crisis will find Daniels, as the paradise the crew discovers has a sting in the tail and acid in the blood. “It’s cool to weave in some of the elements from the original Alien and have those beats in there,” says Fassbender. If all goes to plan, Scott’s new Alien movie could match its ancestor for chills as well as smarts. HELEN O’HARA
THE MUMMY IF ALEX KURTZMAN, director of The Mummy, is feeling the pressure of kickstarting a cinematic universe populated by Universal’s classic monsters, he is wearing it very lightly, like an unravelling bandage. “It’s so much fun to be able to make a real monster movie at this level,” he says. “Let’s travel all around the world, film in the most exotic locations and do crazy things like literally shoot a sequence in zero gravity. How can you have more fun than that?” The plot follows traditional Mummy lines, as Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton unearths — and unleashes — a long-buried malevolent force. Yet
there are tweaks to keep things fresh. As opposed to the ’20s-set Brendan Fraser romps, this Mummy is rooted in the here and now. “All of our modern technology is useless against ancient evil,” Kurtzman says. “To me, the beauty is this collision between magic and science.” But perhaps the biggest shake-up is the decision to make the Mummy female — Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella. “Turning the character into a woman, this whole world of story possibilities opened up. It felt like a reason to make the movie.” Also along for the ride is Russell Crowe as Dr Henry Jekyll, who may provide clues as to where this series is going. For now, though, the focus is on the present. “You have to make great individual films,” says Kurtzman, “and the rest will follow.” One shuffling monster at a time. IAN FREER
OUT 22 JUNE
“IT’S GOT ROBOT dementia,” says Michael Bay. That’s his medical diagnosis of a shapeshifting World War I tank we’ll see in Transformers: The Last Knight, the franchise’s latest and, says Bay, biggest outing yet. The director has lots to say about upgrades, revamps and new characters, as The Last Knight sets the stage for the expanded mythology we’re going to get from here on (the next two films are already outlined). “This movie is much more of an adventure than the others,” he explains. “There’s a ton of legend stuff.” He likes legend stuff. Age Of Extinction had terraforming alien ‘Seeds’ destroying the dinosaurs, and this one will feature Arthurian
knights and, for good measure, Hitler. Bay, then, is fiddling with history again? “Absolutely,” he grins. “That’s the fun of it, right?” If this is Bay’s final stint at the Transformers helm, he’s going out with the mother of all bangs. “Listen, we’re literally the only movie in the world shooting in IMAX 3D,” he says when we ask about scope. “We’re shooting a lot of IMAX 3D. To do that is very expensive. It’s hard, it’s the first time an IMAX 265 camera’s ever been in 3D. But that’s what it takes to get great 3D. All the other 3D’s bullshit. It is, it’s just bullshit. I really want people to see this in 3D, especially in IMAX!” In conclusion: this is going to be big. ALEX GODFREY
GAME OF THRONES As the fantasy show heads into its final chapter — the two-part Season 7 — three Hollywood stars tell us how they’re feeling
OUT 7 SEPT
SAMUEL L. JACKSON _ “I don’t have any real predictions — I like to be surprised. I read all the books and I’m still kinda pissed that homeboy hasn’t written the last two. I actually only started to read them because I wanted to see Joffrey dead so bad — I had to know that motherfucker died. And then I just kept on reading. I just want the show to be as exciting and intriguing as it always has been. But I do think it would be too easy for it to end up being Jon Snow or Daenerys on the throne. It’s going to be more interesting than that.” OCTAVIA SPENCER _ “Game Of Thrones is my decompressing time. I want to be alone and I don’t want any noise. If there’s any yelling and screaming at the TV, it’s me: “OH MY GOD! WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?!” I’m totally that person. I think Daenerys and Jon are going to turn out to be sister and brother. And I think they’re going to team up to defeat Cersai and take the Iron Throne. They couldn’t do it without Tyrion — he’s the strategy dude. And the dragons are a key element. They’re going to help defeat the armies.”
DAISY RIDLEY _ “My opinion on the next season? There will be sex and killing and many breasts. I’m friends with Gwen [Christie] and I text her all the time. She’s probably like, ‘Oh my God, can she stop texting me?’ Here’s what I think will happen. The one-eyed raven or the three-eyed raven, he will be around. Khaleesi will have some dragons. And Gwen will kill some people.” NICK DE SEMLYEN
IT HOW DO YOU go about reinventing one of the most iconic screen monsters of all time? Well, if you’re Andrés Muschietti — the Argentine director of 2013’s breakout hit Mama and the man charged with rebooting Stephen King’s It — you start by admitting said monster never really freaked you out in the first place. “I understand Tim Curry’s Pennywise is a cult horror moment,” says Muschietti, “but I was never scared by him. I think he’s great — he scared the shit out of a generation — but I was older when I saw the  TV series. For me, to make something scary you have to look inside yourself. I wanted Pennywise to be child-like. For me, this is a monster created by the imagination of children. That’s why it must keep killing; it will cease to exist if children stop believing in it.” The tale of an inter-dimensional evil with a penchant for fright wigs, It has been split into two movies, the first of which will concentrate on the group of kids who uncover the sinister presence of the monster (Bill Skarsgård) lurking in their town. Muschietti’s end-game is simple: to traumatise a whole new generation. And his methods couldn’t be more timely, thanks to the bizarre recent spate of creepy-clown sightings across the globe. “After all the monster-clown iterations through the years, you’d imagine people would be fed up with them,” the director grins. “But they’re still really frightened. Honestly, there were people on my crew who regretted taking the job…” TOM ELLEN
SO YOU’RE MAKING the sixth Spider-Man movie in 14 years. Not only that, you’re restarting with the third actor to slip their limber limbs into the red-and-blue skintights. How do you freshen up the most cinematically familiar Marvel character and serve the audience something new? The answer, it seems, is to do a Rodney Dangerfield and… go back to school! Though our hero again faces a scientifically enhanced threat, in the form of Michael Keaton’s winged menace The Vulture, Homecoming is as much high-school movie as superhero adventure, harking back to the earliest Spider-Man comics in which Peter Parker’s school life was central to storylines with a distinct teen-soap flavour.
OUT 6 JULY
It’s a point of difference emphasised by the fact Spider-Man is now, finally, sharing a universe with other Marvel heroes. “All the other [Spider-Man] movies existed with him in this superhero vacuum,” says director Jon Watts. “So it opens up a completely new world of possibilities when you place him in a world where the Avengers exist, and where you’re able to have him be what he was originally in the comics — the kid.” That is certainly what appealed to 20-yearold Tom Holland, the youngest actor to take on the role. “This movie is like every kid’s dream,” he beams. “To see a kid do what you would do if you were given these crazy powers...” DAN JOLIN
OUT 27 JULY
THE DARK TOWER FOR YEARS, STEPHEN King hasn’t been able to write a grocery list without Hollywood snaffling it up and turning it into a film. Yet The Dark Tower, an eight-volume epic that spans the author’s career, remained stubbornly out of reach, thought too intricate, too ambitious to adapt. Until, as they say, now. For here comes The Dark Tower, with Danish director Nikolaj Arcel at the helm. Inspired by, but not slavish to, the first instalment of the series, The Gunslinger, it follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a New York teen drawn into Mid-World, a dark version of our Earth. Once there, Jake finds himself amid a conflict between gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba)
and Matthew McConaughey’s Man In Black. The driving force behind their enmity: the eponymous edifice that sits at the heart of all existence. The Dark Tower promises to be many things — fantasy, Western, horror — but Elba has a comparison that, these days in particular, is specifically commercial. “For me, he’s a superhero,” he says of Roland. “Superheroes need to have character. That was really important to me in Roland. He’s a man of few words and few emotions.” There’s no doubt Roland has superheroic qualities (he never misses with his sandalwood six shooters, and looks awesome in a long cloak). And if the film connects, and leads to sequels and mooted interstitial TV series, Roland could soon be giving Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne et al a run for their money. CHRIS HEWITT
OUT DECEMBER 26
COCO “I WAS WITH my family at the Mexican Pavilion at Disney World promoting Toy Story 3,” remembers director Lee Unkrich, “and it reminded me I’ve had this long-standing interest in Día De los Muertos. I pitched an idea to John Lasseter and within weeks I was on a plane down to Mexico on a research trip.” Yes, Coco sees Pixar tackle the most famous Mexican holiday: the Day Of The Dead. “It’s colourful and celebratory,” Unkrich says of the film. “It’s a very music-filled movie, although not a break-out-into-song Disney-style musical.” The story sees 12-year-old Mexican villager
Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) stumbling into the Land Of The Dead. Miguel comes from a family that has banned music for generations because a long-lost ancestor abandoned his family to chase his musical dreams. But Miguel’s own musical ambitions lead him to the Land Of The Dead, where he tries to track down his idol, a long-dead singer called Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt)… and some of his own forebears. But while death is a key theme, Unkrich promises hearts broken by the death of Ellie in Up or Bing Bong’s demise in Inside Out won’t be traumatised afresh. “The film is not about death,” he says. “It’s about family, and how those who came before us shaped who we are.” Genealogy, the Pixar way. PHIL DE SEMLYEN
OUT 13 JULY
IN THE 1970s, the Planet Of The Apes films got smaller and smaller, attempts to maximise profits leading to diminishing creative returns. Four decades on, the opposite is true for the revived franchise, where the key word might be “escalation”. Origin story Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was almost a domestic story, leading to intellectually awakened apes assaulting the Golden Gate Bridge. Sequel Dawn upped the action and had its share of big battles. But writer/director Matt Reeves’ latest instalment in the adventures of chief chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) is an all-out War For The Planet Of The Apes. “We looked at the original movie, of course,” says Reeves, “but this time we also took inspiration from films like Paths Of Glory and The Bridge On The River Kwai.”
The movie picks up two years on from Dawn, with apes and humans still at loggerheads. Following the destruction of their habitat at the end of the previous film, Caesar has led his tribe back into the woods, and become an almost mythical figure to the human military forces on his trail, led by Woody Harrelson’s Colonel (see right) and his elite unit, the Alpha-Omega (a nod to the bomb cult from 1970’s Beneath The Planet Of The Apes). Saddled with a war he didn’t want thanks to the actions of Koba, Caesar is in an anguished state, the peace he desires seemingly unattainable. “He’s at rock bottom,” says Serkis, “and it’s been interesting playing a side of him that’s full of rage, but buttoned-down because he’s on a mission. He’s usually a peace-broker who considers everything
carefully, but this time something tips him over the edge. There’s an event early on that sends him off on a revenge journey.” Hellbent on completing his quest, he only grudgingly allows Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) to accompany him. After two largely static films, the series’ scope is set to become broader, the apes’ journey taking in lush forests, beaches, abandoned hotels, military compounds, caves and ultimately a mountain range — where Serkis says the technology is “snow-cap” as opposed to mo-cap. Between Rise and Dawn there were considerable developments in motion-capture technology, resulting in much excitement about wet fur. This time the leap has been more incremental, but there
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY KILL Meet the Colonel, every simian’s worst nightmare
Relations between humans and apes are showing no signs of getting any easier. Well, it’s not called ‘Polite Wager For The Planet Of The Apes’.
will be frosty pelts, not to mention many complex environments for the VFX techicians to negotiate. As Caesar and his cohorts trek on, there’s a mystery to be solved involving the Colonel’s enigmatic background, and the impromptu adoption of an orphaned human child (Amiah Miller). Then there’s the revelation that ape intelligence has spread beyond Caesar’s immediate community: Caesar encounters a new ape (Steve Zahn), who escaped from a circus years back and has been evolving alone. “A French journalist asked me a couple of years ago if French apes are smart too,” smiles producer Dylan Clark. “I thought that was a great question, and here we get the answer: there are definitely other smart apes out there.” As well as boasting spectacular set-pieces, this
promises to be the most emotional instalment yet. Serkis enthuses about Caesar’s “really rich arc” in the film, as he comes to realise the futility of the path he’s taken. Reeves says there are also Western elements, particularly evoking Clint Eastwood’s gritty ’70s classic The Outlaw Josey Wales. “You’re getting all these incredible actors to play these apes and relating to them as real characters,” the director enthuses. “We never lose sight of what’s going on at an intimate level.” As is traditional for the Apes series since its beginnings in Pierre Boulle’s novel, War For The Planet Of The Apes provides ample opportunity for metaphors relating to our own world. The spectacle continues to serve the central gloomy question: why can’t we all just get along? OWEN WILLIAMS
THE GREATEST THREAT to Caesar and his troops in War For The Planet Of The Apes is the apparently unnamed Colonel, as played by Woody Harrelson. Writer/director Matt Reeves says “villain” is a misnomer, but we’re definitely allowed to call him the film’s antagonist. “He’s driven by extreme circumstances. That’s why he’s extreme. There’s no way the humans will survive if they don’t win — as we know from the ’68 film. His arguments for doing what he’s doing have tremendous weight.” Already a fan of the series, Harrelson was, says Reeves, intensely invested in the character and eager to face off against Andy Serkis’ fiercely driven Caesar. “The way he and Caesar kind of orbit each other is extraordinary,” Serkis tells Empire. “And the way the scenes evolve and the way they perceive each other and reflect each other is fascinating. I’ve got a couple of fantastic scenes with Woody: quite centrepiece scenes; amazing scenes for him.” The Colonel has a dark and enigmatic backstory, one that isn’t yet being revealed. What we do know is he’s a Special Forces commando, and the leader of an elite military splinter unit called the Alpha-Omega, dedicated to wiping out the ape threat and taking back the planet for humanity. Reeves reveals that the Colonel is almost a legendary figure among his own men: “More than human, somehow; almost god-like to them.” In other words, Colonel Kurtz if he really hated chimps. OWEN WILLIAMS
OUT 1 JUNE
THE MUDDY BATTLEFIELDS of World War I are no place for a superhero. They offer no hissably evil Nazis to stand against, no truth and justice to defend: just a relentless, morally murky struggle for survival. Yet those khaki plains are the setting for the first solo outing of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, as director Patty Jenkins takes the iconic heroine from the sheltered, all-female island of Themyscira into the mud and blood of Flanders. “My approach was to focus on telling the story of mechanised war and how that would look to a god visiting our world for the first time,” explains Jenkins, “[I wanted the audience] to understand the horrors that a war of this scale makes possible, and how shocking that would be to someone who comes with a strong sense
of honour and justice. She doesn’t realise yet just how senselessly dark the world can be.” If you’re going to give a reality check to a young woman who has spent her life dreaming of becoming a warrior, they don’t come much more thorough than the War To End All Wars. After her fully formed appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, in which she briefly joined forces with Bruce Wayne and Kal-El, this is very much a Wonder Woman origin story. It will give Gadot a chance to demonstrate why she’s the perfect person to play a Prince among men. “She is everything Diana is,” enthuses Jenkins. “Good, kind, strong, admirable, funny, fun, beautiful and innocent, yet wise. She emanates the message of this movie because it comes so naturally to her.”
Wonder Woman will be aided by Chris Pine’s Allied soldier Steve Trevor, whose plane crashes in Themyscira as he tries to deliver vital information to Allied command. Their mission: to save lives and stop a madman intent on magnifying the slaughter. It’s not — like it might be for Captain America or even Superman — about defeating the Central Powers, but about protecting as many lives as possible. Still, the scale of the carnage comes as a blow to the idealistic newcomer. “She’s vulnerable because of how deeply she cares,” says Jenkins. “What motivates her is philosophical. She isn’t just taking out bad guys or fighting crime. She believes in goodness and love. [She] is fierce and willing to fight, but only to protect a better vision for mankind. Hers is really a coming-of-age
OUT 25 MAY
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES WHILE THERE’S NO questioning the continued popularity of the Pirates franchise it’s not been the same since the early, funny one. Good news! Jerry Bruckheimer says Dead Men Tell No Tales (also possibly to be called Salazar’s Revenge) recaptures the spirit of Curse Of The Black Pearl. “We previewed the picture recently,” says the producer. “A lot of the audience says it harkens back to the first.” And that’s not purely down to tone. This is a reunion. As well as Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, who
have appeared in every movie, Pirates 5 will bring back Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, last seen doomed to a life as captain of the cursed ship the Flying Dutchman. “Will’s son [Brenton Thwaites] has been hunting for him for years,” says Bruckheimer. “That’s the backbone of the story, the search for his father.” Getting in the way of that quest will be Javier Bardem’s villain, Captain Salazar, who has some murky history with Jack. “You’re not quite sure if he’s dead or not,” laughs Bruckheimer. “He’s a little supernatural. He’s on a real mission of vengeance for something Jack did to him when he was 18. He’s a pretty nasty character.” With an Oscar-winning villain and the biggest battles yet (Bruckheimer promises 13 ships facing off), this could be the Pirates to sail the franchise back onto the fun course it set 14 years ago. OLLY RICHARDS
2017’s other movie and TV big-hitters
The wondrous Gal Gadot takes Diana Prince on a solo spin.
story.” Even as she learns about humanity’s capacity for evil, it’s a fair bet that her presence on the battlefield — all red and gold and ferocious — will inspire the better angels of our natures. Luckily, her powers give her the ability to survive the ordeal and make a difference even in this morass. “She is incredibly strong, fast and one of the best trained and skilled fighters in the superhero universe,” Jenkins posits. “She also has some classic tools at her command, which we finally get to experience in their full and modern glory. Turns out a lasso is a lot more fearsome than one might have imagined.” In this clash between a woman with a bit of rope and entire armies equipped with mortars and mustard gas, our money’s on the one with the tiara. HELEN O’HARA
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (28 SEP) will see the sharp-suited secret agents battling Julianne Moore’s American not-so-sweetheart... David Ayer’s BRIGHT (TBC) pairs Will Smith’s human cop with Joel Edgerton’s orc cop for a fantasy-tinged crime case… Netflix will boldly go where no streaming service has gone before, with new series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (TBC)… Dan Stevens goes furry for Disney’s lavish live-action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (23 MAR)... And then goes mutant for X-Men TV spin-off LEGION (9 FEB), as Professor X’s son… JUSTICE LEAGUE (16 NOV) teams all the major DC heroes, plus Cyborg… PADDINGTON 2 (26 DEC) pits the marmalade-mainlining bear
against a dapper thief, played by Hugh Grant… STRANGER THINGS (TBC) is about to become Strangerer Things, as the small-screen smash adds Sean Astin and Paul Reiser… THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (30 MAR) reassembles Will Arnett’s Caped Crusader for a solo adventure... After five years, Lena Dunham’s GIRLS (TBC) is wrapping up. But will its characters finally grow up?... Guns, guns, guns — expect tanned biceps (and other body parts) galore in BAYWATCH (11 MAY)… More guns, of the pointy-shooty type, in Ben Wheatley’s FREE FIRE (27 APR)… Doug Liman’s AMERICAN MADE (21 SEP) will see Tom Cruise go rogue for his nation, as a CIA-backed drug smuggler.
Would it be fair to say you really like acting, but not so much the idea of being a star? That’s not an aspect that appeals to me. It makes me uncomfortable. I really don’t like all of the publicity and attention that is necessary sometimes, but that’s the price you pay. So far I have the best possible career that I ever could have hoped for. I get to work with people I love and look up to. And, by and large, no-one gives a shit about me when I walk down the street. Very, very rarely do people say something, and if they do, they go, “Oh man, you’re that guy in that movie, right?” And then they’re gone. That’s perfect. There have been times where there’s been a little too much invasion of my personal life. But I only really care if it affects people around me. Sometimes if it invades my kids’ life I think, “Fuck it, I’m gonna quit.”
Here you are complaining.” Casey Afleck grins as he bounces around a hotel room, comparing sleep-deprivation stories with Empire. He wins, having turned in at 2am after lying in from Los Angeles for the BFI London Film Festival screening of Manchester By The Sea, written and directed by You Can Count On Me’s Kenneth Lonergan. A gripping study of grief, it stars Afleck as a man who returns home after the death of his brother — and reluctantly takes on the role of caring for his teenage nephew, even as he wrestles with his own deep-seated sorrows. Hotly tipped for Oscars glory, it’s piercing, thoughtful, very serious and yet surprisingly funny... all of which function as descriptions of the actor himself. Afleck has been acting forever. First just as a child in the background, when his mum — a teacher — would take him along to productions shooting in his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts (about 50km away from his latest ilm’s titular town). “We would go in, sit around craft service, eat doughnuts, get 25 bucks at the end of the day — it was a great treat for a kid.” Gradually it became more serious, although there’s always been a push-me-pull-you element to his career. For every breakthrough role — To Die For, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Gone Baby Gone — there’s been a step back, a retreat from the movie-star success he’s seen older brother Ben (and childhood friend Matt Damon) enjoy and endure. This is not to mention the pictures where he appeared to be actively trying to repel an audience’s affection, such as his brilliant but brutal turn as sociopathic Texas lawman Lou Ford in Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me. Now, perhaps, he’s becoming more comfortable with the idea of success. As he settles down to chat, less intense and more forthright than expected, the 41-year-old looks out of the window at a leafy Westminster park, smiles again and observes, “This is a lovely view…”
You irst worked with Kenneth Lonergan in the London production of This Is Our Youth in 2002. Was that the beginning of your friendship? I knew him already because I had auditioned for his play Lobby Hero. Which I really wanted to do. And I would have been really good in! I went to see the very irst show of it in previews, when every play is a mess, so I would feel okay about not having got the part. I was like, “Yeah, that sucks! Look at it. Horrible. Thank God they didn’t cast me!” Of course it got much better. That was the irst time I met him. Then I was living in Paris and they said, “They’re doing This Is Our Youth in London.” I thought, “The motherfucker’s not gonna cast me — he doesn’t like what I do with his writing.” But it was just a train ride away, so I came over and we met. And then I got it. I spent four months with him, which was amazing. This sounds like false lattery, but the only thing better than working with his writing is hanging out with him and talking about his writing. He really understands the characters. He has an answer for why he wrote even the smallest, most insigniicant line. So the process is as rewarding as the result? Some people are brilliant, but everyone around them are their puppets. Whereas he is a brilliant collaborator. He’s open to having long conversations about how to play scenes. He doesn’t mind that you argue with him. And in that way the process becomes something everyone gets something out of. I really mean it when I say that if all of the footage of this movie were erased, I would still be very, very happy that I did it. You must have had to think a lot about family and grief as preparation — did that give you pause? About doing the part? No. I knew I wanted to do it. I read the script and thought, “This is a really complicated character. It requires a lot of two really hard things: being very emotional and then being very restrained.” It’s like he’s squeezing his ists the whole movie.
Ever seriously thought about jacking it in? Mmm-mmm. My career has been like waiting to do something you love. And then either it comes along or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you take a job for money and it sucks and you think, “I don’t like this career.” Then it’s over and along comes something like Manchester. There have been four or ive movies in my life that I’ve really loved and have inspired me and kept me doing it. Which are? To Die For, Assassination Of Jesse James, Manchester, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints… Adam Wingard, the director of The Guest and Blair Witch, told us Gerry is his go-to inspirational ilm. He takes it everywhere. Oh, that’s weird! It’s basically you and Matt Damon, both playing a character named Gerry, wandering around a desert. What’s your memory of making it? That was one of those experiences, like the last movie I did with David Lowery [Ain’t Them Bodies Saints], that is really liberating and a great reminder of what it’s supposed to feel like to make a movie — where you’re able to make creative decisions as they occur to you. It sounds sort of obvious, but it’s so rare in movies because they’re such a gigantic beast of a thing. Don Cheadle says it’s like trying to stop a dinosaur. You know, when you’re on set and you go, “Oh, wait a minute, this scene shouldn’t be in the bathtub — we should be ighting in front of the building.” And people look at you like you’re crazy. You have to move all the equipment. It’ll take ive hours to get that set up outside, you know? On Gerry, there was no dinosaur. [Cinematographer] Harris Savides was shooting it. We found this old Argentinean guy and his three sons and that was our crew. We were off on our own, no-one was paying attention to us. And although we did have a script, at one point we said, “Okay, fuck the script. We’re not following anything.” For better or for worse. I don’t know, some people watch that movie and think it’s just a giant waste of celluloid!
The last time you had reviews as positive as you’ve had for your new ilm was for Jesse James and Gone Baby Gone in 2007. But instead of milking it, you devoted two years to directing I’m Still Here. How do you feel about that choice now? I haven’t seen it in a long time. The last time I watched it I thought, “There’s a million things to change.” A good way to make something you’re not happy with is never show it to anyone until you release it! Because you learn a lot from showing it to an audience. But I didn’t do that. I showed it once to some friends, then suddenly I was sitting in the Venice Film Festival showing it to a thousand Italians who had no idea what was going on. I thought it was a broad comedy. And no-one laughed. And I still think it was a comedy. I mean, Joaquin [Phoenix, who played a version of himself, having a nervous breakdown] and I have a pretty similar sense of humour. We thought we were making something in the vein of ¡Three Amigos! or The Big Lebowski. That movie’s only success may be that it felt very real. A couple of weeks ago someone I met said, “Dude, I saw that documentary. What happened to that guy?” I didn’t even know where to begin to explain! But I take it as a compliment, because it achieved a certain level of authenticity. I have two regrets about it, though. First, that it took so much time, because I was starting to feel strong as an actor. I got kind of rusty and cold, and I spent all my money making that movie, so then I was broke and had to go back and do a whole bunch of movies I didn’t like, just to earn a living. So it wasn’t a smart, strategic career move. But I very rarely made smart, strategic career moves. I make decisions out of passion. What’s your other regret? That people were sort of just pissed off by it. It never feels good to have people be mad at you. I’m very self-conscious about that. And people really had a bad reaction to the movie, especially the media, because they thought we were trying to be clever — in a kind of, “We’re smarter than you, we’re gonna trick you,” Ali G kind of a way. And that wasn’t the intention at all. I never thought anyone would actually take it seriously. It’s interesting that bothers you, because — and this isn’t meant as an insult to either of you — the big difference between you and your brother Ben on screen is that he seems to be someone who likes to be liked, while that doesn’t appear to concern you. Is that true? Oh yeah, that’s fair. At least about me. I can’t speak for him and his inner drive. But I don’t make choices as an actor out of a need to be liked. I know actors talk about parts like, “Is this character likeable?” I don’t ind that that interesting. But as a person, and I guess this is thanks to my mom, I have a pretty thick skin.
People say bad shit about me — “He’s a terrible actor”, “He’s an asshole” — and I can kind of brush it off. I know who I am. I’m trying to be a good person and do my best and that’s all there is to it. But what I don’t want is to make people angry. That doesn’t feel good. Kenneth Lonergan has observed that, “Casey makes you do hundreds of takes because he won’t stop until you tell him to go home.” Why do you want to do things again and again and again? I just think there are so many different ways to do it! Especially when you’re working with good material, it feels like you could endlessly do it in the same way that they endlessly do Hamlet. You know, “This is a very rich, complicated text. So let’s try it this way with that colour and this colour.” You can just keep combining colours and it gives you a different version. Also, I guess I keep doing it because it’s fun. There’s too little time spent on most movies actually doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing. There’s a lot of time setting it up, sitting around, planning it. I feel like, boy, once they actually get the camera there and they dress the set and light it and everyone’s quiet, the sound is rolling, I wanna just keep doing it until someone makes me go home. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA IS IN CINEMAS NOW.
Top: Affleck with Michelle Williams, as his estranged wife, in Manchester By The Sea. Middle: The titular faintheart in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Bottom: Alongside Rooney Mara in Ain’t Them
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THE EMPIRE VIEWING GUIDE THE NEON DEMON Nicolas Winding Refn takes us on a tour of his dark fashion fantasy WORDS DAMON WISE
00:03:01 JESSE’S ‘DEAD’ __ When we first meet her, aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) is lying on a chaise longue covered in blood, posing for a morbid shoot by amateur photographer Dean (Karl Glusman), soon to be her boyfriend. “That was the idea that started the whole journey,” says Nicolas Winding Refn, the film’s co-writer and director. “Before I even had a story, I came up with this idea: death and beauty in one shot.”
THE SCOUT __ Jesse visits a modelling scout
__ “This was one of those lucky opportunities,” says Refn of casting Keanu Reeves as Hank, the shifty desk guy at Jesse’s motel. “I reached out to Keanu, asking if he would be interested in coming down to the world of sitting on a plastic chair and drinking bad coffee — in other words, making a low-budget movie in LA. In this scene, Keanu is like the wolf in the forest.”
KEANU THE LANDLORD
__ Jesse comes back from a date with Dean to find a mountain lion tearing up her room. “I loved the idea of introducing an animal of beauty, trapped in a motel room,” says Refn. “But it was also a way of introducing an animal into the world of the occult. What Jesse is seeing, in a way, is an omen of her own demise, because what does a mountain lion do? It feeds.”
(Christina Hendricks), who immediately sees her potential. “This scene sets up Jesse wanting to be a model,” says Refn. “It was important to make a point of that, because Christina’s character sees so many girls, but Jesse has ‘the thing’. She’s ‘the one’. So again it plays on ideas of the occult — she’s chosen without even knowing it.” Hendricks was the first actor hired for the film.
THE TRIANGLE __ Having been chosen
BLOODSUCKER __ After Jesse aces a job
by a famous designer (Alessandro Nivola) to close his catwalk show, Jesse becomes fascinated by a neon triangle. “I wanted The Neon Demon to have a symbol,” says Refn, “and the triangle is a classic occult symbol. Each point is one of the three women — Sarah, Gigi [Bella Heathcote] and Ruby [Jena Malone] — and each of them desires what Jesse has.”
interview she finds Sarah (Abbey Lee) in the bathroom, having smashed the mirror, complaining that no-one “sees” her. Jesse cuts her hand on the shards — and Sarah sucks at the wound. “Having lost a job opportunity to the new girl, she desires what she has — and one of the key elements of witchcraft is, of course, blood. And, like the mountain lion, it adds to the theme of feeding.”
THE NEON DEMON ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 18 / RATED R18+ / DIRECTOR
Nicolas Winding Refn / CAST Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee
RUBY KISSES THE CORPSE __ In perhaps JESSE’S REALLY DEAD __ “The neon the film’s most infamous scene, Ruby is rebuffed by Jesse and has sex with a corpse. “Jesse has become the antagonist, because she is revealing herself as the neon demon,” says Refn. “The protagonist is Ruby, because she’s the victim. All she wanted was Jesse’s beauty, but she’s denied and feels pain. This is reminiscent of the opening scene: death and beauty are combined again.”
demon is that force of nature, of unadulterated narcissism,” says Refn. “That complete self-love makes her almost supernatural.” That’s illustrated in the shocking finale, where Jesse is pursued, killed and eaten by Sarah, Gigi and Ruby. “As for the idea of Jesse being pushed into the swimming pool, that’s a symbol of Hollywood. It’s the Hollywood dream — and it’s empty.”
THE EYEBALL __ After Jesse’s death, Gigi
__ “I liked the idea of the desert being bare,” says Refn. “It’s the first time you see nature, but nature as death, with a woman walking. She’s the demon that appears when everyone needs to feed on their own desires.”
and Sarah are doing a shoot when Gigi starts to regurgitate body parts. “All three women eat Jesse, and each has a different reaction,” says Refn. “Ruby has a ceremonial rebirth, where she menstruates and holy blood flows out of her. Sarah is seen again. The one who is destroyed is Gigi. She’s trying to create artificial beauty, by changing her looks. Her body rejects Jesse.”
THE FINAL WALK
THE NEON DEMON IS OUT ON JANUARY 18 ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD. A METALLIC GOLD COVER IS AVAILABLE EXCLUSIVELY IN JB HIFI.
IT BARELY SEEMED possible, but Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is an even more extreme exercise in high style, ponderous pacing and stomachchurning grue than Only God Forgives. It became the most divisive ilm of Cannes 2016, prompting boos/walk-outs and standing ovations in roughly equal measures. Imagine America’s Next Top Model written by Soia Coppola and directed by Dario Argento — it’s cool, bafling, darkly funny, super-slow, vapid, stunning to look at, at times tedious and in its last third utterly bat-shit crazy. A cult-y Showgirls afterlife beckons. The story is a simple and familiar tale — an ingenue comes to town, rufles feathers and incites payback — but Refn turns it into a patience-tester. As Jesse becomes fêted in the fashion world, the irst hour is glacial in pace and tone, an endless round of bizarre photo shoots (at various points, Elle Fanning is covered in blood, then burnished in gold paint), nightclub posing and beautiful women being bitchy to each other. If all this sounds like an attack on a culture that is obsessed with the way things look, it isn’t. Refn isn’t attempting to satirise the modelling world so much as presenting a disigured view of it. The performances are mannered, the dialogue is pause-illed and deliberate, and there isn’t an ounce of interest in either conventional narrative or character development. What Refn is concerned with is image. The ilmmaking on display is stunning, displaying a formal control that makes David Fincher look slap-dash. For all The Neon Demon challenges, frustrates and drags, it lodges in the memory longer than many so-called ‘better’ ilms. It’s just a shame its brilliance struts down such a narrow catwalk. The Neon Demon pulls off the unique feat of being both boring and bravura. Like the world it depicts, it’s a feast for the eyes but little else. IAN FREER
SULLY ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED M
WHEN HIS PLANE suffers catastrophic damage over New York, Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) has to make a split-second choice about how to safely bring his craft down. His choice saves everyone on board, but his superiors question whether it was the right one. Give this role to an actor without Hanks’ great reserves of charisma and you’ve got a pedestrian true-life procedural drama. Add Hanks and you’ve got an extra layer of human frailty, a flash of steel, and a touch of Mr Smith Goes To Washington-esque facing down the establishment. The sequences of what actually happened on the plane — especially in the cockpit — are white-knuckle tense, but rather than keeping his powder dry for the big finale, Clint Eastwood shows you most of his cards early on (there’s a mixed metaphor for you) so that the ending is slightly anti-climactic.
EXTRAS Twenty-minute featurette on the real Sully Sullenberger. OLLY RICHARDS
GIRL ON A TRAIN ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED M
AN INTERESTING CONCEPT for a suburban thriller that by all accounts hews closely to the book (other than transposing the action from London to New York; we confess to not having read it) in that the unreliable narrator (Emily Blunt, subtle and wonderful in many scenes but often doing a better impersonation of a meth addict than a drunk) suffers from alcoholic blackouts. But it’s fairly grim going, the story wandering from the merely tawdry to the crushingly depressing with no lightness in sight. And it’s not easy to care enough to stay such an unpleasant course, when every single character (with the exception of the always wonderful Allison Janney) is about as likeable as nailbed fungus. EXTRAS None. TIM KEEN
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK ★★★★★ FROM FEBRUARY 23 / RATED M / DIRECTOR Edward Zwick / CAST Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger
THIS SECOND OUTING for Tom Cruise’s Reacher is noticeably different to the irst Reacher movie, and not generally for the better. If the ending of the irst Reacher movie was the least satisfying part of it — in that it felt the most like a generic action movie with no unique connection to the character — most of this
movie feels the same way. For all the fan complaints about Cruise being cast as a 6’5” man-mountain, he’s generally pretty convincing as an ex-military bad ass, both in the irst movie and here; but it just feels a waste taking the Reacher character (and, frankly, paying the millions of bucks it must have cost to option the mega-successful novels) and then making the sort of by-the-numbers thriller that could be about any old character. It’s not bad, but other than the military police connection, there’s not a lot to distinguish this from any innocent-man-on-the-run movie. The central plot — a cache of stolen weapons from Afghanistan and some associated hijinks — is only there to provide an excuse for some bad guys to chase the good guys, and what anonymous bad guys they are: the baddest baddie (played by Patrick Heusinger) literally has no name — his character is credited simply as The Hunter — while the biggest baddie (Robert Knepper, aka T-Bag from Prison Break) gets any hardly screen time at all. It’s hard to root against
SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU ★★★★★ Richard Tanne Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Jerod Haynes, Tom McElroy FROM NOW / RATED M / DIRECTOR / CAST
Barack to the future
Reacher (Tom Cruise), Espin (Aldis Hodge) and Morgan (Holt McCallany) have a three-way staring contest.
people you barely know or barely see. The real story is Reacher learning that he might have fathered a kid, now a teen; he, the kid (Danika Yarosh) and an Army major (Cobie Smulders) who has been framed for treason form a dysfunctional family unit and (of course) learn some important lessons about learning to trust and be vulnerable, while (of course) evading those nameless villains. Smulders (Agent Hill from the Marvel movies) is solid as Major Turner, Reacher’s replacement in the army and in theory his equal as an investigator, even if she’s often relegated to being just pretty good, to show that Reacher is excellent. Yarosh as Reacher’s is-she-isn’t-she daughter is mostly condemned to being irritating, because of course instant parenthood has to be a trial, otherwise what’s the point; either way, we spent a lot of her screentime trying to igure out if she’d been cloned from Anna Paquin. But even though the stakes are higher than the irst movie, the plot is far more convoluted and lacks the clarity of the irst
Reacher movie. It’s hard to even remember exactly why anyone’s chasing the girl in the irst place. And that’s the problem with the movie overall. There’s nothing wrong with an action movie being all sound and fury signifying nothing, but Never Go Back isn’t even that furious: the action is not that exciting, the biff is not very crunching, and the inal showdown is not especially tense or satisfying. The ight scenes in Christopher McQuarrie’s 2012 ilm were worthy of the brawler from the books; here, the best ight is one you don’t even see, as the ilm opens with a parking lot littered with groaning victims of Reacher’s ists. The few scenes of Reacher’s toughness (the plane scene especially) are undercooked. Cruise is doing his best but the material just isn’t working as hard as he is most of the time. It’s not boring, it’s just generic and a bit unfocussed and confusing. EXTRAS None. RICH YEAGER
IMAGINE BEFORE SUNRISE when you knew that the couple would end up in the White House. This Barack Obama movie — see our review of Barry on page 108 for the other one — is in fact more a Michelle Obama movie (played by Tika Sumpter, with a pair of eyebrows that could cut paper, who also produces). The movie starts and ends with Michelle, and it’s more illuminating of her character, which is no bad thing: there’s endless coverage of President Obama, but less about his brilliant and intriguing wife. And Sumpter’s Michelle is no sidekick to show off Parker Sawyer’s Barack: when the cocky future president tries to show off how his smarts, deconstructing her career while cruising his rusted shitty Datsun Sentra, Michelle takes him down hard. And when we see lashes of Future Barack — when the young law student Obama gives a speech to a community group — even then, the emotional core is driven by his conversations with Michelle (“You sounded a little professorial, but you deinitely have a knack for making speeches,” she tells him afterwards.) Those lashes of Future Barack and Future Michelle are how you keep attention when we already know the outcome: like in The People vs OJ Simpson, there’s sweetness and irony to be mined in moments where we know the outcome but the characters don’t. Like Michelle Obama’s insistence — irst to her parents and then to Barack Obama himself — that she would never date him: it’s a treat to see her making some very good points (and some very pointed observations about life as a black woman working for a conservative law irm) knowing that she’s eventually going to be as wowed by this man as the rest of America would be. EXTRAS None. TIM KEEN
MY MOVIE MASTERMIND DANIEL RADCLIFFE He’s a wizard at sandwich-making, dog-walking and cigarette-smoking WORDS CHRIS HEWITT
What is The Woman In Black’s real name?
Jennet Humfrye. I remember that quite well. And it’s spelled in a weird way. I’ve got a fairly good memory.
What is the name of the fake film-within-a-film in Trainwreck?
The Dogwalker. I’m doing well so far! Correct.
What is the first thing you say as Harry Potter, in The Philosopher’s Stone?
Dudley rushes down the stairs… It’s either, “Yes, Uncle Vernon,” or, “Yes, Aunt Petunia,” because I’m making breakfast. I’ll go for, “Yes, Aunt Petunia.” I actually saw that scene not very long ago. I was someplace that only had one English channel on TV and that was the ilm that was on, so I watched it for a bit and then switched over. Correct.
ALLSTAR, CAPITAL PICTURES, SCOPE FEATURES
What is the last thing you say as Harry Potter?
In the last ilm? “It’s not been boring, has it?” [Hears the answer] Oh, because I’m Old Harry! Trick! Tricky! The correct answer is, “Ready?” In your episode of Extras, you take a packet of cigarettes from your pocket. What brand are they?
I’m pretty sure they were Marlboro Lights. I probably really wanted to smoke them at the time, but I couldn’t because I was with my parents and I was just ixating on them. They were very much given to me by the prop department. They weren’t mine. Correct.
Daniel Ratink. They always do weird credits on Hallowe’en episodes and I think they ran it by me. Radcliffe’s a hard name to do a spooky pun of. I don’t know… Madcliffe, maybe? Correct.
In Horns, your character Ig goes into a bar looking for information. What is the name of that bar?
Ooh. I think you might have got me there. I should remember that, but I was too busy looking at myself in the coolest shot of my career, which is the shot of me walking out of that bar with it all smoking and burning behind me.
What does Geoffrey Rush make you for breakfast at the end of The Tailor Of Panama?
Am I not just having cereal? “Bacon and eggs, Dad! Go on, Geoffrey!” I have not seen that ilm. I’ve never seen it. I was not allowed to read the script because it had naughty bits in it. The correct answer is pancakes.
The correct answer is Chieftain Pub.
In What If, Wallace emails Chantry a recipe for Fool’s Gold sandwiches. What is that recipe?
“Take a loaf of Italian white bread, hollow out the inside. Fill it with an entire jar of peanut butter, an entire jar of jam, stuff it with crispy bacon, then coat the outside of the loaf of bread with butter and then stick it in the oven.” You would think that would be really hard to remember, but the amount of times I had to trot that recipe out on that press tour is why I remember it so well. I really knew that. It serves eight to ten people, or the line in the ilm is “or one Elvis”. Correct.
You provided a voice for The Simpsons’ Treehouse Of Horror in 2010. What were you credited as?
Complete your contribution to The Third Man on Irish songsters Duckworth Lewis Method’s Sticky Wickets: “In the shadow of a doorway she is standing like a lost child. An old woman is screaming, the crowd’s becoming hostile…”
Nope. Absolutely not. Not a chance. Dammit. Is this post-2012? Nothing after that is in there. The correct answer is, “My thoughts have been diluted like a 2/6 novella. Am I in a field in England or in the dark streets of Vienna?”
DANIELRADCLIFFESCORES6 “I’ll take that. It’s not the nine or ten I was aiming for, but those were genuinely dificult questions that I didn’t count on. Well done.” IMPERIUM IS OUT NOW ON DOWNLOAD, DVD AND BLU-RAY.
THE HOLLOW POINT ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 11 / RATED MA15+
“IT TAKES A WILLING hand to punish evil men.” That’s the motto of this gritty modern western. Nobody said that hand belonged to the good. When a Mexican arms deal goes tits up in an Arizonan border town, a cartel hatchet man (Leguizamo) comes to collect many pounds of flesh. New sheriff with a questionable past Wallace (Wilson) is on the case, as is his culpable predecessor Leland (McShane) in an attempt to protect the town. What could have been a ho-hum scenario isn’t because of a perfectly pitched cast. Wilson seethes retribution, Leguizamo makes a chilling bad guy, and Belushi has a ball as a shady car salesman. McShane is a craggy highlight, an onesie-wearing, slightly more congenial Al Swearingen, in a brutal outing that would do the saloon boss proud.
d Jaeden ctise g.
EXTRAS None. JIM MITCHELL
THE CONFIRMATION ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 11 / RATED PG / DIRECTOR BOB NELSON / CAST CLIVE OWEN, JAEDEN LIEBERHER, MARIA BELLO, PATTON OSWALT, MATTHEW MODINE
Bless him, Father, he has sinned
WHEN UNDEREMPLOYED carpenter Walt (Clive Owen) tells his son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) that God is in the details, you sense he could be talking about Bob Nelson’s whole approach to ilmmaking. Writer-director Nelson wrote Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and just as in that movie, this is a small story – small in a good way, small in that it exists in the details and nuances of the characters and the tiny orbits of their lives; but also small geographically: you could make a drinking game from how many times you see the same storefronts sliding past the windows of Walt’s truck. The plot is so triling as to be almost irrelevant – the search for some stolen tools – and the real action is internal: Walt hanging on to his dignity with his ingernails, and Anthony trying to prop up his ailing father without tipping him off his paternal pedestal. Lieberher is terriic – he
glows with goodness like a votive candle, even while breaking every commandment. Even though the story is framed amongst the wreckage of the American Rust Belt, where the economic machine has ground to a halt, there’s a pervasive optimism: everyone may be broke, but not broken. Even the villains of the piece – thieves, fences, tweakers, gun-nuts – have redeeming moments, and there’s real affection in the portrayal of blue-collar Americana (or Canadiana, since it was actually ilmed in Vancouver) – the bars, parking lots, pawn shops, shotgun houses with hardscrabble backyards, all iltered through a ine patina of rain; but always presented with quiet dignity, never as a blunt metaphor for loss or failure. Patton Oswalt zings as the meth-enhanced drywaller-slash-detective Drake; Maria Bello is reliably wonderful as Anthony’s mother and Walt’s ex-wife Bonnie. And Clive Owen is great as the haggard Walt, battling DTs and his own bruised pride to try to be the father his son deserves. Where most ilm visions of struggling alcoholics are oversize, lurching like Frankenstein’s monster across the screen, Owen and Nelson present a more human-scaled illness: these are small failures, just the size of a young boy’s heart. Clive Owen’s hand-wringing “I didn’t hurt you, did I?” is as real as it gets, not played for maximum pathos but just the prayer of a man trying his best and aware it’s not quite good enough. EXTRAS None. TIM KEEN
GOOD NEIGHBOUR ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED M
A PAIR OF douchebag teens attempt to trick their elderly neighbour (James Caan) into believing his house is haunted, but the experiment gets out of hand. This not-sothrilling thriller is a clever concept, and not entirely without chills and charms while watching it, but ultimately it’s just not taut enough — it keeps cutting away from the action, takes way too long to come to its final resolution after the action peaks, and expends too much energy on pushing morals when it should just focus on being thrilling. Cutaways to the future trial of some of the participants constantly deflate the tension of the moment, while the ending itself is just too preachy and overlong. James Caan is pretty good, rocking a menacing scowl and some terrific serial killer spectacles, but he can’t save it. EXTRAS None. TIM KEEN
HOW TO MAKE A HORROR MOVIE DON’T BREATHE Director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues discuss how they created 2016’s best horror film.
MAKE IT PRIMAL Fede: “When you’re going to create a new horror movie, you should try to ind what is the primal fear you’re going to be exploring. If you ind the right one, if the themes you’re exploring are scary by themselves, then every minute of the movie will be scary. And the primal fear here — we’ve seen home invasion movies, but something that is sometimes even scarier then being invaded, is when you are invading someone else. When you see the protagonist that you love walking into someone else’s domain, it’s so terrifying because we know he’s on his own and society won’t help him. That’s a very terrifying feeling. You know they shouldn’t be there so it empowers the owner of the house, it empowers the antagonist. That’s really the idea that we started talking about, where the protagonists are the ones who are invading someone. Because we knew we needed to create something unique, we decided that the antagonist would be blind. We realised the potential that would have on the screen.” Rodo: “It’s a natural progression once you have this root idea, which in this case is breaking into someone else’s house. Then it’s just a matter of answering the questions that pop out of that. Like, who are the guys who are going to be breaking in? Robbers. Who is the owner of the house? This bad-ass character. And it just comes from that naturally.”
BUILD SYMPATHY FOR YOUR CHARACTERS Fede: “As writers I think you develop techniques for empathy. That’s what we always pay attention
to when we’re watching TV or ilms — what is that thing that makes the audience like people or empathise with them? There’s many ways to do that — one is to victimise them. I can introduce you to the worst person in the world, but if I have ive guys beating the shit out of him, your humanity is going to kick in and you say hey, give that guy a break! And that’s what happens here. At irst you don’t like these people, but then you understand what’s going on in the house and how in danger they are. They are the lesser evil and you start connecting with them.” Rodo: “One of the greatest ilms ever, The Godfather, the protagonist is this bad guy, he does really really bad things but you can still root for him. It comes from putting him against people who are even worse.”
... AND BUILD SYMPATHY FOR YOUR VILLAINS Fede: “[When you’re casting] you want people who look the part, but I have discovered something equally important is that they sympathise with their own character. They understand why their character is doing the things they’re doing. With Stephen Lang it was
very important to ind someone who was crazy enough on some level to understand the blind man, and see him as basically the hero of the story. You never hear Stephen Lang saying something negative about the blind man. He will always say, ‘I get it, I would do the same thing.’ That’s what you want, you want someone who won’t judge the character negatively. Doesn’t matter how great an actor someone is, if they believe the character is partly evil, they will never be able to play that correctly, they will play it evil. The blind man has a moral compass that might be out of tune, but he does have one, he’s not an anarchist. He has some rules that he follows and in his mind, he has many reasons to do what he does.”
LEARN FROM THE BEST Rodo: “Horror ilms from the ’70s, like The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, they were horror ilms that were made by real directors, and they were taking it really seriously, they were making hard drama that had a horror aspect, and there were some great cinematic techniques. Those sort of movies really inluenced us.”
KIDS WATCH CLASSICS Big films tackled by little people
ELLA BERRY — 10 IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE What did you think of the film? It touches your heart, and makes people think if you put other people before you that’s good, and if you think everything you do doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. Was that the first black-and-white movie you’ve seen? Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to like it. I thought it would be people rolling off cliffs and tied to train tracks but then it turned out to be really good.
Stephen Lang as the Blind Man and Daniel Zovatto as Money in Don’t Breathe.
CREATE THE PERFECT ARENA
SET THE MOOD
Fede: “Once we went into pre-production, we basically saw the movie as a chess game. So we designed the whole [house] to be this perfect machine for this story, that was going to give us something that you couldn’t question the logic behind it, that it all makes sense, as crazy as it is, every step of the way you’re going to go, ‘Well, you were aware of that.’ That’s why at the beginning we have that very long shot through the house, it really introduces you to all the elements that are going to play in the movie. Most of them at least. So when you’re watching the movie, you believe you know the place, you’re familiar with the space, it makes you part of the movie and not just trying to catch up.” Rodo: “The trickiest part was getting them into the basement. How do we get them into the basement and not make it look like a stupid decision?” Fede: “Once we got them in there, the rest took care of itself. That’s what we wanted, we wanted the audience to scream to the characters, ‘Don’t go there, go in that direction’, and the actors do what you ask them to do and then get in worse trouble, so then the audience shuts up. They go, ‘Okay I better not give these people advice.’”
Fede: “We knew from the script there is not a lot of dialogue. And when the actors aren’t talking, the director should be doing the talking. You bring all the tools of ilmmaking to tell the story and entertain the audience. We knew we had to come up with something that would feel fresh and different, and more important to me is that it felt organic, the sound felt that it was part of the house. We knew we didn’t want to do just a standard musical score and Roque [Banos, the composer] had this idea, what if we made music with elements you’d ind inside the house instead of instruments? We found this guy in Tucson, Arizona, who had this orchestra of instruments built out of junk, so everything you hear in the movie is done with pipes and wood and pieces of metal. Even for me, when I watch the ilm, it’s very hard to know what is music and what is sound design. That’s why it gives such an intense experience, it doesn’t feel like there’s music coming through the windows, it really feels like it’s coming from within the house.”
What was your favourite bit? I liked the bit at the beginning when the stars were talking to each other and the bit when the dance floor opened and there was a swimming pool underneath. I wish we had that at our school. How did you feel about the choices George Bailey made? I loved him. Ever since he was a little boy he’s put people first. I liked all the choices he made apart from the bits when he thought it would be better without him or he decided to kill himself. Who was your favourite character? I loved Clarence — he would be such a good guardian angel to have. What did you think of Mr Potter? He was really mean. It’s weird because I never thought someone called Potter would be bad because of Harry Potter. How did you feel when George saw what life would be like without him? I hated it. There were people being drunk, fighting, loads of bad stuff. Did you feel emotional at the end? I cried. They all gave him money and he realised how much he meant to everyone. And what rating would you give it? Four stars. If it was in colour, five.
DON’T BREATHE IS AVAILABLE ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND STREAMING NOW.
STORY OFTHE SHOT LA DOLCE VITA
WORDS IAN FREER
AT ONE POINT in Federico Fellini’s 1987 curio, Intervista, the great Italian director and his muse, Marcello Mastroianni, visit Anita Ekberg’s villa and project a very signiicant scene on her living room wall. It is, of course, the moment from La Dolce Vita — ‘The Sweet Life’ — where Ekberg’s alluring starlet Sylvia climbs into Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain, the climax of a night spent leading Mastroianni’s journo Marcello Rubini through the streets of nighttime Rome, and possibly astray. Watching the scene, almost 30 years after she shot it, Ekberg’s eyes well up with tears. A bittersweet reaction to a bittersweet, beautiful scene. It was shot over nine dawns in the winter of 1959 — Ekberg remembered January, Fellini cited March. Arriving at the location, Fellini discovered the water was ilthy, to his distress. Bizarrely, the answer came from an employee of Swedish airline SAS, who just happened to be on set and suggested using his sea-green dye marker (used to help attract attention in case of an emergency at sea) to colour the water. Dubbed a “lioness” by Fellini, Ekberg willingly went into the icy water. “I was freezing,’’ she once said. “They had to lift me out of the water because I couldn’t feel my legs anymore.” Mastroianni proved more dificult. “He had to get undressed, put on a frogman’s suit and get dressed again to combat the cold,” remembered Fellini. “He polished off a bottle of vodka, and when he shot the scene he was completely pissed.” For his part, Mastroianni was intimidated by Ekberg. He described her skin as “so white that when I touched her cheek, my nicotine-stained ingers looked so dark they had to put make-up on them. Fellini looked at my brown ingers and told me I should learn the right way to wipe my behind.” Owners of the houses around the fountain rented out their balconies and windows to curious onlookers who clapped and cheered after every take, a Fellini-esque show within a show. “Every time I look at a picture of Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain, I have the sensation of living those magic moments, those sleepless nights surrounded by the miaowing of the cats and the crowd gathered from every corner of the city,” Fellini said later. La Dolce Vita inspired more than just names for Italian restaurants and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, and the ilm has further enhanced the status of the already legendary Trevi (also the inspiration for Three Coins In The Fountain). You can’t, of course, just wade into the Trevi — it’s off-limits, but that hasn’t stopped many from trying. Most recently, on 19 July 2016, author and former model Delilah Jay waded into it in evening dress and fur, twirling and blowing kisses to the gathering tourists. She was later ined 450 euros. The sweet life, indeed. LA DOLCE VITA IS OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY.
BINGEWATCH Each month, our marathon man straps on to a sofa for a no-holds-barred binge
ICE AGE WORDS SIMON CROOK ILLUSTRATION PETER STRAIN
FIVE FILMS. THREE billion dollars. The Ice Age movies have made more money than the Superman franchise, The Hunger Games, and even the entire Star Trek series. Somehow, I’ve had my head in the permafrost for 15 years: I’ve never seen one. Guzzling all ive in one enormobinge is like being hit in the brain by an asteroidsized Skittle. After a fun start, the animation gets so manic my eyes start clacking like Newton balls. Back we go, then, to a snowballed Earth in the Paleolithic era and Chris Wedge’s 2002 original. Critter movies usually deliver a corny, kid-empowering be-yourself message. Not Ice Age. It’s more a CG revival of vintage Looney Tunes. In fact, series mascot Scrat is basically Wile E. Coyote redrawn as a sabre-tooth squirrel with Road Runner as an acorn. The brutal, elastic slapstick of Scrat’s Sisyphean nut-chasing is undoubtedly Ice Age’s ace (hence the excellent spin-off shorts), but he rarely interacts with the series’ core trio: John Leguizamo’s Sid, a sloth with a slurpy shpleech impediment; Manny, a mammoth mumbled by Ray Romano; and Denis Leary’s snide smilodon, Diego. Outsiders forced into a dysfunctional herd, their irst mission sees them deliver a cave-baby back to its parents. The laughs are knockabout and the energy cranky but there’s heart, too: mid-way, the abandoned Manny’s backstory is told via an animated
cave-painting: a touching moment that’s subtle, understated and bruisingly bittersweet. The irst movie’s bleak landscapes and angular, cubist characters make it visually unique, but all that changes in Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006). Any edge has been smoothed out with plushy-doll CG fur and an Kleenexsoft script. As global warming liqueies their home, the trio head for colder climes, joined by Queen Latifah’s ‘mummoth’, Ellie, and Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), possums with all the charm of two gurning YouTube pranksters. A few dark laughs cut through the candy (Sid nearly being sacriiced by Sid-devoted mini-Sids; a lock of vultures singing Food Glorious Food) but the smile is slowly melting off my face. By Dawn Of The Dinosaurs (2009) it’s clear Ice Age is trapped in a formula: there’s an incredible journey, a geological event, and mild-peril set-pieces involving helter-skelter slopes and gulping sinkholes. Does that matter? Not really. These ilms are forever aimed at the next generation of ive-year-olds. Rescuing Sid from a lost world of dinosaurs adds T-Rexes, Avatar-clone pterosaur action and Simon Pegg as a mockney weasel. Still, it’s so generic the credits serve up a Queen Latifah cover of Walk The Dinosaur. Plus dire dancing animals. Help.
Four movies in, and 2012’s Continental Drift proves surprisingly memorable, thanks to its villain: a Gigantopithecus buccaneer vividly voiced by Peter Dinklage. The threat here is a continental split, and the script is one part pirate swashbuckler (fun), one part family sitcom (Manny and Ellie now have a tween mammoth — not remotely fun). Running out of things to do with Sid, Manny and Diego, the gap’s illed with a new zoo of characters: Nick Frost’s elephant seal, J-Lo’s sabre-tooth tiger, Rebel Wilson’s kangaroo, pigs, badgers, whales, oh my… and more dancing animals. This year’s Collision Course disappointed at the box ofice and is, sadly, logging a dead Scrat. Somehow, Manny and co divert a speciesobliterating asteroid, but the story’s just a white noise of sketches scrapping for attention. On the plus side, Pegg’s weasel returns. Then Jessie J rocks up as a sexy sloth, and we all know what that means: dancing animals, pixel-twerking on my shrieking soul. How do you save a franchise heading for extinction? I see two options. 1) Wedge returning for a back-to-its-Looney-roots reboot or 2) Ice Rage: Dawn Of Rabies. I know which I’d prefer… ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DIGITAL SERVICES.
BLOOD FATHER ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 11 / RATED MA15+ / DIRECTOR
Jean-François Richet / CAST Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, William H Macy, Michael Parks, Miguel Sandoval, Richard Cabral
Gibson’s missing Link
MEL GIBSON IS on ine form (it’s not like he’s overtaxed his acting muscles recently) as John “Link” Lincoln, a washed-up ex-con looking for his hard-living, and currently missing, daughter (Erin Moriarty). She’s gotten mixed up with some violent crooks, and… well, you can pretty much imagine the rest here. It’s Taken meets Lethal Weapon meets Sons Of Anarchy with plenty of cartel bad guys, Nazi bikers, shootouts, car chases and a straight-up Hispanic Terminator. And at the centre of it all is Mel, with a voice like a boots on gravel and a face like a sweaty Sorting Hat, but still buff enough that you believe it when he goes bad-ass on the guys after his little girl (Erin Moriarty.) And though it is strictly genre stuff, and reinvents a total of zero wheels, it’s a real blast – director Jean-François Richet knows just when to slow down and let his cast breathe (Mel and William H Macy as his trailer-park buddy and AA sponsor have real chemistry), and when to plant his foot and take it into overdrive. Gibson is well balanced by
“I need your clothes, your boots, and a piece of cardboard to sleep on under a bridge.”
Moriarty’s occasionally sulky, but usually spirited Lydia, who is looking for her own measure of redemption even as she’s not quite sure how to achieve it. Besides the endlessly watchable Macy, Richet has stacked the cast with reliable performers, including Miguel Sandoval as unforgiving crime boss Arturo, and Tarantino regular Michael Parks as Link’s old biker leader, Preacher, a man
with a hoard of weapons you just know will come in handy. Still, it’s Gibson’s ilm through and through, and if you miss what he used to be, you’ll ind an acceptable, if slightly careworn version here: Link is what Martin Riggs might have become in an alternate universe. This is Mel Gibson back to doing what he once did best, just older and grumpier. EXTRAS None. RICH YEAGER
along from one fanciful notion to the next, it’s a Woody Allen wish fulilment exercise: in the Golden Age of jazz and Hollywood (whence Woody clearly wishes he hailed), a young nebbish from New York (Jesse Eisenberg, stepping up his vintage nervous schtick as a young Woody stand-in) travels to LA where he meets rich and successful people, and has love affairs and becomes famous and admired and successful in unexpected ways. It’s an enjoyable trile. But if it wasn’t apparent enough that Woody is getting old — his narration here is as creaky as the door of a haunted house — he’s also taken to writing lines straight from your grandmother’s playbook (“They visited all the great movie palaces of Hollywood, which were grand and beautiful and not very expensive”). It’s almost like two different movies pushed together: the irst half is a love triangle in Hollywood, which seems to be building towards something interesting… but then zags abruptly to Manhattan, where the ilm ambles along with nothing in particular to say or do. Ultimately it’s like one of the old-fashioned champagne glasses from the New Years scene: broad but not deep, pleasant enough but quickly forgotten. EXTRAS None. TIM KEEN
★★★★★ Woody Allen Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Anna Camp FROM JANUARY 18 / RATED M / DIRECTOR
A nostalgic trifle
WOODY ALLEN JUST keeps dropping a movie a year like a cinematic metronome, but perhaps some of his projects would beneit from a longer gestation period. Cafe Society is a so-so story that only holds your attention because it looks so stunning. Like Allen’s 2015 offering Irrational Man, it features a young woman falling for an older man – a topic close to Woody Allen’s heart – but where Irrational Man was meandering and dark, Café Society is meandering and so light it’s barely there. A sort of “wouldn’t it be nice” daydream that bumbles
PANKOW’S PANIC During the chase, Vukovich — a helpless onlooker in the back of the car — panics and has visions of himself falling off a building to his death. Although the chase was safer than that of The French Connection, Friedkin says Pankow’s panic was real. “He was genuinely terrified!” laughs Friedkin. “He didn’t know what the hell was going to happen. All he knew is that I had filmed The French Connection and that put people’s lives in danger…”
AQUEDUCT On the dried-out bed of the Los Angeles River, under the Sixth Street Bridge, Chance and Vukovich have to weave through a number of assailants. “There has not been water in the river since I’ve been in Los Angeles, in 1965,” says Friedkin. “It’s a wonderful setting for something like this. It’s almost like having miles of freeway to yourself.”
THRILLOF THE CHASE William Friedkin on the other great car chase of his career, in To Live And Die In LA WORDS CHRIS HEWITT
ILLUSTRATION ANDREW ARCHER
MOST FILM DIRECTORS never manage one great car chase, let alone two. Most ilm directors aren’t William Friedkin. The 81-year-old was responsible for the famous dash through New York in 1971’s The French Connection, and 14 years later was at it again with To Live And Die In LA, a gonzo thriller with an astonishing eight-minute pursuit at its centre. “I rate it as a much better chase, visually and emotionally, than the French Connection chase,” says Friedkin. High praise. Even if he does say so himself. TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA IS OUT NOW ON DVD.
START YOUR ENGINES The chase begins in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. In order to fuel their pursuit of counterfeiter Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), Secret Service agents Richard Chance (William Petersen) and John Vukovich (John Pankow) have cornered a guy they think is carrying drug money. Suddenly, the mark is shot by a sniper, and the duo pile into their car and leg it from unidentified pursuers. “The chase is a metaphor for obsession,” says Friedkin. “And I added a dose of paranoia. Sometimes in freeway traffic, you think you’re in a kind of a death trap. That’s what I was trying to capture, that feeling that you could be slammed out of anywhere.”
FREE LOVE FREEWAY “I didn’t know what I was going to do precisely at the time that I wrote the script,” says Friedkin of the chase’s freeway climax. “On impulse it occurred to me that the only thing I could do that was left was to send them the wrong way on the freeway.” And so he did, obtaining permission from the city to shoot on the Long Beach freeway over the course of four weekends.
THE WRONG WAY
As Chance weaves his way through the oncoming traffic to freedom, look carefully. The vehicles on the right-hand side are coming towards him, a reverse of the norm. “That was a purposeful, disorienting procedure,” explains Friedkin. “I wanted the audience to be disrupted.” And look at certain shots of Chance driving for extra oddness. “For a lot of it you saw Billy Petersen driving past cars that were just parked on the freeway,” reveals Friedkin. “But you can’t tell. Our car was moving at top speed and blowing by the camera on a slightly longer lens. They had to act the danger, but it wasn’t there.”
Speaking of which, a shot in which Chance plays chicken with an oncoming train on the Santa Fe railroad was about as dangerous as they come. “People at the Santa Fe railroad didn’t want to do it, but I found a guy who was the motorman and he said, ‘Okay, it’s your life, guys,” laughs Friedkin. “‘If I hit you, see you later!’ That was totally life-threatening.”
WAREHOUSE DISTRICT The chase continues through Downtown LA, through a series of tight turns. “It starts on the east side of Los Angeles,” explains Friedkin. “There’s a lot of freight cars and bridges.” The director wanted the chase to be as geographically accurate as possible. “I didn’t do it step by step, block by block. But the chase is totally accurate to that stretch of freeway. I jumped several blocks, of course!”
THE FIRST TAKE CLUB THIS MONTH:
IAIN MORRIS WATCHES:
WHEN WE LAUNCHED The First-Take Club, which asks people to choose a ilm they haven’t seen from our 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time list (published in 2013), watch it, then write about it, we expected to uncover gaping holes in cinematic CVs. But we didn’t expect to ind someone who hadn’t seen the second-biggest ilm of all time. A ilm that remains one of only three to have crossed the $2 billion barrier, made James Cameron king of the world, and won 11 Oscars. It is, of course, Titanic. And the person who somehow hasn’t seen it? That would be Iain Morris, the co-creator and co-writer (along with Damon Beesley) of The Inbetweeners. So, Iain, how on earth did this hugely successful ilm manage to pass you by? I never really felt the need to see Titanic. It’s a ilm about a boat, and everyone knows how it ends. Also, despite that haul of Oscars, it doesn’t seem especially well thought of all these years
later. Nobody has ever told me I absolutely must watch it, in the way they do when they hear I haven’t seen Die Hard or Lord Of The Rings. One thing I didn’t know when I agreed to write this was that Titanic’s well over three hours long. That’s incredible. I’m not opposed to long ilms — I love Lawrence Of Arabia and The Godfather Part II — but those were designed with an interval. You’re not meant to watch them without stretching your legs. The other thing that, frankly, makes the ilm drag a bit and the iceberg arrive like a redeeming angel, is that James Cameron’s script isn’t great. It doesn’t really deal in subtlety or subtext. At all. The characters declaim what they are thinking about each other and events at all times. And in case that’s too nuanced for you, the 101-year-old Rose narrates. Even when lines aren’t about what has happened or is about to happen, the script can be clunky. For example, when showing Rose his ‘work’, Jack says of one
ANGELBY ★★★★★ FROM FEBRUARY 1 / RATED M / SHOWRUNNERS
Johan Kindblom, Tomas Tivemark / CAST Mia Skäringer, Göran Ragnerstam, Joel Spira, Amanda Ooms
Weirdness in the forest
TITANIC IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND
VERA FORS (Mia Skäringer) is having a disastrous year: she’s lost her husband, her job and she’s about to lose her house; she’s teetering on the edge of despair when she abruptly applies for a job in the small town of Angelby in rural Sweden and moves there with her two young children. But driving through the forest outside Angelby, she has a shocking incident in her car, which seemingly kickstarts a rolling cascade of weirdness and suspicion throughout the town and its motley collection of locals. Is it all supernatural? Or is it just that Swedes are crazy? What’s with the giant triangle rock? Who’s that mysterious kid? Who told Torsten that haircut suited him? Angelby throws up a lot of questions and answers come slowly over the course of 12 episodes, but the slow burn is never too frustrating and the seemingly disparate threads do cross and illuminate each other with patience. There are shades of other recent Swedish TV dramas (the quirky oddball female cop has more than just hints of Saga from The Bridge; there are some astonishing Christmas jumpers on display that would make even Sarah Lund from The Killing turn pale) but Angelby is more spooky than procedural — for a cross-Europe analogy, it’s more like 2012 French drama Les Revenants (which had nothing to do with Leo being eaten by a bear.) EXTRAS None.
Usae quia nis ipsande ssimosa ntinctiosape quos ne perovit officatur, qui officias est utem
of the models — not as a joke — “She was a one-legged prostitute. She had a good sense of humour, though.” Presumably unlike all the dour unipedal hookers he’s met? Rose’s dialogue isn’t much better, and includes the breathtakingly tasteless line that the Titanic was “a slave ship taking me back in chains”. Now, I’ve only read the one book on the transatlantic slave trade — Hugh Thomas’ excellent The Slave Trade: The Story Of The Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 — but I’m pretty sure the slave ships didn’t have ballrooms or white tie dinners. Two things about Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack: one — he’s entitled. The few times I’ve lown business class I get annoyed if someone comes through the closed curtain to use the toilet. Jack, a third-class passenger who didn’t even buy his ticket, swans about the upper decks like he owns the place. Two — and this is crucial — he’s not an ‘artist’. His sketch of Rose, so central to the plot, looks like it was done by the bloke who drew
[raunchy comic] George & Lynne in The Sun. To be fair, I didn’t watch this ilm as James Cameron clearly intended it to be seen — on a big screen. Even on the small screen it is technically a marvel though. The sweeping wide shots of the crew walking on deck may look a little Grand Theft Auto IV these days, but you deinitely get a sense you are on a big boat on the sea, I’ll say that for it. Over the ilm’s 40-hour running time no cliché is left unturned until inally we arrive at the now famous ending where Rose is clinging to a door and Jack slips away, sacriicing himself to save her. Was there enough room for both of them on that door? Answer — yes, obviously, but I get the impression Rose was sick of Jack and his ‘say what you see’ attitude to life by then. Just like me.
UNDERGROUND ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 24 / RATED TBC / SHOWRUNNERS MISHA GREEN, JOE POKASKI / CAST ALDIS HODGE, JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL, ALANO MILLER, CHRISTOPHER MELONI, JESSICA DE GOUW, ADINA PORTER, MYKELTI WILLIAMSON, MARC BLUKAS
SET ON A plantation in Georgia just a few years before the US Civil War, this 10-part irst season follows a group of slaves as they plan their escape from their brutal and dehumanising existence in the South and try to make the dangerous light to freedom. The title obviously refers to the Underground Railroad, the secret network of safe houses that escaping slaves and abolitionists used to smuggle people to freedom in the north. Underground doesn’t shy away from depicting the awful reality of the South’s antebellum slave system but it isn’t as grimly painful to watch as, say, 12 Years A Slave, because it is, at heart, a heist story — and what they are stealing is themselves. While it doesn’t gloss over the tragic reality of its setting, Underground does not primarily exist to preach – it’s a thriller, and moves at a brisk adrenalised clip rather than hammering home its morals. Noah (Aldis Hodge, who was MC Ren in Straight Outta Compton) is the iery mastermind assembling a team of fellow slaves, each of whom brings a particular skill to the group. Picture Prison Break with fewer tattoos and more stomach-churning racial degradation; or Ocean’s Eleven with much higher stakes. This is no stuffy historical recreation, which is clear from the opening sequence of a leeing slave set to a sample from Kanye West’s Black Skinhead (it surely helps that John Legend is one of the executive producers.) There’s a mix of modern and traditional music through the series, which is occasionally jarring but mostly works. Engrossing, a little bit enlightening and occasionally disturbing, it’s worth making the journey. RICH YEAGER
J ANUARY 2017 2017
RAYDONOVAN ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 18 / RATED MA15+ / SHOWRUNNER
Ann Biderman / CAST Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Paula Malcomson, Ismael Cruz Cordova
RAY DONOVAN wrapped season three with tough guy ixer Ray (Schreiber) passing out in a church after a shootout. For a show so invested in violence, personal weakness and the ties that bind, it doesn’t get more symbolic than that. Unfortunately, it also didn’t leave the show much of anywhere to go, and while this season
thankfully gets around to exploring its female characters a bit more, otherwise – a few strong episodes early on aside – it largely spins its wheels. No sooner has Ray recovered from the shootout than the work starts looding in: irst big-time boxer Hector (Cordova) needs Ray’s skills, then a Russian art dealer wants his help to bring some paintings into the country. Hector he helps (after all, Hector got him into rehab after the shootout), the Russian he doesn’t, and both decisions will have ramiications throughout the season. Meanwhile, Ray’s family continue to screw things up, especially his no-hoper conman dad (Voight); when Ray’s wife is diagnosed with breast cancer it’s just the icing on a very downbeat cake. The pacing is sloppy and the inal few episodes run out of steam, but strong performances throughout mean that even the most predictable instalments still have moments that shine. EXTRAS None. ANTHONY MORRIS
PLEASE LIKE ME ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED MA15+
Will Josh ever get lucky in love? That depends: from one angle, the aimless twenty-something has been pretty lucky to score a relationship with the very hot Arnold (Joyce), so when he’s physically pushed out of a threesome with Arnold and a cute stranger in the opening episode it’s something we all — even Josh — saw coming. Not so much a sitcom (it’s often not even trying to be funny) as a dark-tinged relationship hangout show, Please Like Me captures the aimless, chat-heavy lives of a group of drifting, insecure friends. While it’s been praised for its depiction of the mentally ill (especially Debra Lawrence as Josh’s mum), and there’s real warmth underlying the often awkward relationships, the show’s strength is Josh. Consistently unpleasant, constantly needy, spraying venom at his friends every time his smug bubble is threatened, he’s one of TV’s great subtle monsters.
EXTRAS None. ANTHONY MORRIS
Newly single Liev let himself go.
PREACHER ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED TBC
ADAPTED FROM THE 1990s cult comic series, this is a mixture of supernatural hijinks, dark comedy, weird theological philosophy and Tarantino-esque violence. Preacher follows a West Texas preacher named Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), who is merged with a mysterious entity that causes him to develop supernatural powers. Jesse, his badass ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and Irish vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) are thrust into an unpredictable world populated by outcasts from Heaven and Hell. It’s rare for a TV show to be even more opaque and coy than its source material, but Preacher is just that: you’ll have to stick with it for half a dozen episodes before some complexities reveal themselves; but it’s never boring. TIM KEEN
Q&A DEVON TERRELL The Australian president WORDS TIM KEEN
How did an Australian from Perth end up playing an American president? I came off another project and my agent called me and said “There’s this story called Barry.” I was like “… Barry?” and he said, “It’s Barack Obama.” I had a moment going “Oh my god.” What kind of research did you do for the role? I watched as much as I possibly could on him, and I started really drilling down to his younger days and that awkward conidence that he had — he wasn’t so sure of himself as he is now, and when he walked into a room he was still a bit shy, but could turn it on when he needed to. I read everything I could, so Dreams From My Father I’ve read three times, and Audacity Of Hope, and the Vanity Fair interviews, the girlfriends’ opinions of him, the essays he’s written… it became this immersive process. I was fascinated by it. A lot of the movie concerns race and identity – did you experience that yourself in the US? I never thought about it. In Australia I’ve never thought of myself as another colour, never been confronted with it, but even in America it never came to my mind. But in the ilm, it’s kinda… the issues of then are still the issues of today, we just call it different things. I love the scene when [Barry talks] about slavery, and the guy says “It’s 1981, get over it.” And for me, that line sums up the world — just because time goes past doesn’t mean we’ve dealt with things. Now that you’ve played Obama, did it feel different watching the presidential election – Everyone thinks I’m a political expert now. I have no idea. I’ve sort of separated [Obama] the politician from the person, I felt like in the movie I played the person. Were you a smoker before shooting this? Because you get through a lot of cigarettes… No, I thought it would be two or three scenes but it ended up being every scene, ha ha. There was a lot of smoking but it ended up being a part of the character, they would ask me “do you want a light or not” and I feel he’s a chainsmoker for a reason, because he’s constantly thinking and that’s his thinking zone.
Did you have any trouble quitting at the other end? It was herbals, thank god, ha ha. But the smokers on set were saying herbals are worse than the actual cigarettes because they taste disgusting. How do you portray someone who’s so well known without it turning into impersonation? I started with the emotional life, then it became about watching little mannerisms of touching his face or the way his afro had to be perfect all the time. I said I’m going to give the audience the little [drops into a lawless Obama impression] ‘Ah, how ya doin’?” so you can hear, ‘Oh, it’s Barack, but it’s not…” I can do the impersonation, but if you do, it gives you a reason to step out of it, and that’s what we didn’t want. How did you get that voice so perfect! Charlotte Fleck helped me, she’s a brilliant vocal coach. We kept going through the Chicago sounds, because his accent’s not normal. He actually has a higher voice than people expect. I think NIDA gave me great insight into voices and how to work it, and the director Vikram [Gandhi] was always on me, ‘A little less Barack today.’ We actually went less Barack than people would think, we wanted it to be Barry’s story. You got to play alongside Eazy-E… Yeah, Jason Mitchell. Phew, he’s so talented. He has that air of both threat and charm. You completely believe he’s from both worlds. His talent is remarkable. Do you know if Barack Obama has seen it? I don’t know — I’m sure he has Netlix, so hopefully he’ll see it pretty soon, but no I haven’t heard. I’m sure he’s pretty busy right now. So what’s next? What has this led to? There’s a few things in the pipeline I would love to share but unfortunately I can’t. But it’s very exciting. I’m very… well, I’m not picky, but I want to be a certain kind of actor. Heath Ledger and Michael Fassbender are my idols, so I want to emulate their careers. Well, not Heath’s exactly. Ha ha, well not exactly, but the level he took his work to, I want to be challenged. You play Barack Obama and you’re like, “Okay. What’s next?” Playing Joe Biden, ha ha.
Barack Obama (Devon Terrell) and his mother Ann (Ashley Judd) in Barry.
★★★★★ Vikram Gandhi / CAST Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Mitchell, Avi Nash, Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman
FROM NOW / DIRECTOR
Yes we can… eventually
IT’S EASY TO call this a Barack Obama movie, which of course it literally is, but you don’t have to care about the president or US politics in general to enjoy it. In fact, for most of the movie, director Vikram Gandhi deliberately obscures the fact that this is a young Barack; he’s called Barry by almost everyone, and while there’s glimpses of the man he will eventually become, this is really the story of a young man, barely out of his teens, trying to igure out where he belongs in the world, and who he belongs with. Devon Terrell’s Barry is smart, handsome and charismatic, but there’s uncertainty and doubt mixed with the swagger. Barry has only recently arrived in New York City — this is the Big Apple of 1980, grimy and run-down and dangerous; not for nothing did John Carpenter suggest walling off Manhattan and turning it into a prison — and starting out at Columbia university. A classmate suggests that since he’s half white, half black, Barry its in everywhere; in fact he inds that he doesn’t it in anywhere, not at the white frat parties, not at the black house parties. And he’s haunted by his relationship (or lack thereof) with his father. These are more than idle speculations — much of the material here is mined from Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father — and it’s fascinating and even inspiring to see that even the most ambitious and successful people have to overcome obstacles and self-doubt along the way. Gandhi cannily reveals that identity is much more than just skin colour, but avoids excessive preachiness in favour of a steady stream of moments that build towards Barry being able to say — perhaps for the irst time ever — “I’m from here now.” TIM KEEN
THE BEST BITS OF THE LATE SHOW ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED M
CONSIDERING IT ONLY ran for two seasons almost a quarter century ago, The Late Show is still legendary. A real case of catching lightning in a bottle, The Late Show had Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Judith Lucy; this three-disc set (actually the Champagne Edition) is fattened like a Christmas goose with bits like Bargearse, The Olden Days, Shitscared, Understanding Wogs, Shirty the Slightly Aggressive Bear, Santo the Magnificent, Graham and the Colonel, Pissweak World, and the legendary musical finales (Pete Smith singing Dude Looks Like A Lady, Mike Whitney singing I Will Always Love You.) EXTRAS Commentary tracks with most of the team discussing the show along with Bud Tingwell, Joan “I Love Rock’N’Roll” Kirner and Pete Smith, stills gallery. RICH YEAGER
Only Tiriel Mora is unimpressed by you. Rob and Jane think you’re great.
FRONTLINE ★★★★★ FROM NOW / RATED M / DIRECTORS Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch / CAST Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tiriel Mora, Alison Whyte, Santo Cilauro, Bruno Lawrence, Steve Bisley
More current than ever
PICKET FENCES ★★★★★ FROM JANUARY 11 / RATED M
SOMEWHAT depressingly, it’s LIKE A COP-CENTRIC version of Northern Exposure, Picket Fences is set in a quirky small town (here it’s Rome, Wisconsin) with a heavy dose of magic realism: UFOs, circus dwarfs, spontaneous combustion, religious miracles and an aborted X-Files crossover episode. But it’s not as sweet as Northern Exposure, and is far more in love with its own cleverness. This complete set includes all four seasons — that’s 88 episodes — so you can really soak your brain in the weirdness from the mind of creator David E Kelley (yes, the guy behind Ally McBeal) and try to recapture the mania of the early 1990s that saw Aussie actor Costas Mandylor named as one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful. Ah, the ’90s, you were so crazy. EXTRAS TBC. RY
been 23 years since Frontline irst aired. In that time, the pace and tenor of the 24-hour news cycle, and what counts as current affairs, has mutated so rapidly that Frontline’s sharp satire no longer seems suficiently cynical: one almost longs for the good old days when producers at least pretended to care about facts. Over the span of 39 episodes (three seasons of 13 episodes each, dating from 1994, 1995 and 1997), the team and the ictional show itself evolved, but always anchored (as it were) by Rob Sitch’s Mike Moore and his towering mane of perfect hair. Mike Moore is one of TV’s great comic creations, carefully calibrated to be ridiculous but never revolting, a vacillating and vacuous balancing act of insecurity and egotism who sums up in one fabulously coiffed package everything that’s
wrong with current affairs TV: that it presents itself as hard-hitting journalism when in fact it’s nothing but hot air and hairspray; and that the ruthless pursuit of ratings carries much greater weight than the search for truth. As Frontline’s original executive producer Brian (the irreplaceable Bruno Lawrence, who tragically died after the irst season) says right in the irst episode: “For god’s sake, man, everyone in current affairs television is a lightweight.” The genius of the team behind Frontline (the real show, not the show-within-a-show) is that they not only lampooned real-world current affairs cock-ups with laser-guided precision (Today Tonight’s faked “Skase chase” footage, Mike Willesee’s live hostage interview), but that they convinced real people to appear on the show (including politicians like Pauline Hanson and former Liberal Party leader John Hewson) which only heightens the “this could all be true” feel. But beyond the satire, there’s a still brilliantly funny sitcom, often excruciating and occasionally heart-bruising, that is worth rewatching even if you’ve never tuned into Media Watch in your life. (Speaking of which, there’s also appearances from Media Watch’s original host, Stuart Littlemore, who aims his famously sharp oratorical epee at the ictional Frontline’s throat.) One of the greatest TV shows ever produced in Australia — or anywhere, for that matter. EXTRAS Sadly none, which seems like a missed opportunity. TIM KEEN
DEAD RISING 4 ★★★★ OUT NOW / PC, XB1 DIRECTOR Joe
Nickolls Victor Nosslo, Karen David, Stjepan Back CAST
THE LASTGUARDIAN ★★★★★
OUT NOW FORMAT PS4
Ueda Tatsuki Ishikawa, Hiroshi Shirokuma, Masaki Aikawa CAST
A young boy (Ishikawa) awakens in a cave next to Trico, a chained and wounded beast. Together the pair must escape, their progress narrated by the boy, now an old man (Shirokuma).
NINE YEARS AND one change of console platform into its lingering development, the release of The Last Guardian has been burdened with seemingly unmanageable expectations. The third title from the creator of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus had become almost mythical, a game players feared they might never see at all. You play as a sandal-wearing boy (Ishikawa) who awakens covered in tribal tattoos in an underground dungeon next to a hulking creature — seemingly once a protector of this place — chained and bleeding, on the cobblestones beside him. Together, the pair must bond and collaborate to escape the overgrown city in which they ind themselves, with its ghoulish patrolling knights, and towering masonry. To proceed you must lure and coax Trico, as the composite animal is called, using waves of the hand and treats, in this way convincing the AI to batter down gates, leap tall buildings while you cling to his feathers, or provide an impromptu platform to a narrow ledge. It’s this aspect of the development that must have provided the headaches and delays. Companion AI has been the scourge of many a blockbuster. And yet, in the inal reckoning, Trico’s behaviour is nothing short of a revelation. Wonder is found irst in Trico’s animation. While he is a ictional beast — part bird, cat, dog and rat — he moves with the elegance and character of a beloved pet (the way he rolls in
puddles then shakes the rain drops from his back; the waggle of the ears; the sniffs of the wind; the pained yelp and cringe whenever a foe’s spear inds its way into his lesh). The natural, well-observed animation is not mere dressing: it helps create a close bond between player and animal. While, in the substantial game’s opening minutes there is distrust, fear and even some antagonism, in time the boy and his beast come to rely upon each other not only to progress but also to survive. The irst time you make an impossible leap into the air in the hope that Trico will snatch you from certain death is set to become one of modern gaming’s deining moments. Ueda has a talent, not only for cinematic pacing and drama (aided here by Takeshi Furukawa’s tasteful orchestral soundtrack), but also for wonderfully organic puzzle design. There is little of the typical video-game designer’s contrivance here. Rather, Ueda uses the environment to give cues for puzzles and solutions. You might need to lure Trico into a body of water, in order to raise its level and enable the boy to reach a ladder. Or, at times you will ind yourself staring at the architecture, trying to igure out a possible way to climb, Lara Croft-like, to the next place, only for Trico to leap over the entire structure in one bound. The animal’s power to upset the usual rhythms and expectations of video games cannot be understated. He is a revolutionary force let loose in Ueda’s playpen. An affecting one, too. Through co-operation a deep and caring bond develops between Trico, you and your avatar. The animal, so clearly abused and neglected, must be regularly fed in order to keep his energy levels up, and when startled, he must be calmed with back rubs and cooing words. By the game’s conclusion, the bond is unbreakable. You are his guardian, as much as he is yours. And in that connection, an unforgettable game is made. SIMON PARKIN The Last Guardian’s interminable delays have ultimately proven to be time well spent; this really is astonishing, groundbreaking game-making.
CAPCOM’S FOURTH ENTRY in the Dead Rising series is quite the celebration. It’s not only set at Christmas, it also adds some much-needed sparkle to the familiar gameplay. Taking you through events occurring some 16 years after the original game, zombie apocalypse 2.0 brings you the walking dead in their thousands. The storyline is solidly entertaining throughout, but it’s the chaotic playground of zombie slaying that will keep a grin plastered to your face. Weapon crafting is cranked up a notch to maximum bonkers, with some welcome festive fun incorporated, too. Plus the variety of different zombies keeps things feeling fresh. Hilarious, creative and satisfyingly bloody. SL
FINAL FANTASY XV ★★★★ OUT NOW / PS4, XB1 DIRECTOR Hajime
Tabata Ray Chase, Amy Shiels, Adam Croasdell, Chris Parson, Robbie Daymond CAST
AFTER A DECADE in development, Final Fantasy XV surprises simply by being good. Its story — exiled prince Noctis and buddies Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto go roadtripping to reclaim his lost kingdom — won’t win awards, but its slick real-time combat and vast, visually striking open world might. It’s a stark departure from previous instalments though, with stats and character management buried in submenus. Having four heroes initially feels redundant, too, as only Noctis is active, but their combo skills in battles prove a delight. The changes are ultimately positive, successfully breaking the game out of its genre ghetto. This is a Final Fantasy for the modern audience, and all the better for it. MK
THE EMPIRE MASTERPIECE BAMBI Disney’s greatest work of fawn fiction 1942 / RATED G / DIRECTOR DAVID HAND / CAST HARDIE ALBRIGHT, DONNIE DUNAGAN, JOHN SUTHERLAND WORDS IAN NATHAN
LET’S GET SOMETHING straight. Bambi remains the most primal piece of cinema there has ever been, the key work in Walt Disney’s rapturous early phase, proof that the animated greats were not gentle, folksy lullabies but a test of our psychic mettle. It was at Uncle Walt’s knee — speciically this tale of a whitetail fawn’s growing pains — that children irst comprehended their parents could die. And QED: so could they. No other ilm gets close to the existential vertigo of Bambi. Walt had considered adapting Austrian Felix Salten’s novel Bambi, A Life In The Woods as his second animated feature, buying the rights from MGM who had been unable to fathom what to do with this grim (but not Grimm) Germanic tale of a deer’s wake-up call. Disney found the story too sombre, though, and seeking a lifelike carriage in his animals had been unimpressed by early animation tests. With three more animated classics under his belt by 1942 — most signiicantly Dumbo, daring to conine the lying elephant’s mother to the pachyderm asylum — he had developed his storytelling skills suficiently to thread a way through the woods. Following Fantasia, Bambi continued Disney’s drift into abstraction, relying heavily on composers Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb’s shoplifting of Vivaldi. The purity of purpose is what is so effective. Bambi may be a prince, but this is no family saga, no homily to being true to oneself, and despite the presence
of BFF Thumper and his jackhammer of a back paw, not a buddy movie. The storyline could be scribbled on the back of a rabbit’s foot. It’s the circle of life: a journey told season to season, from birth to parenthood. Bambi is a fantasy — the animals speak sparingly in irritating bubblegum voices — but one true to the spirit of nature. There had been a discussion about talking leaves and comedy ant farms, but it was Walt, a stickler for sense, who decreed such triles implausible. The painterly backdrops, based upon the woodlands of Vermont and Maine, verge on illustrations. The look is a symphony of pastels, nothing too heavy, with smoky blue distances and enchanted foregrounds. But it’s an edgy enchantment. The singsong rainstorm with gilded droplets bouncing off leaves cracks into a thunderstorm. The ice proves slippery. The game is subtle but cruel: allowing us to feel continual threat then reassure us that mother is there to protect us. For now…
LIKE ALL THE great horror movies, we are forewarned of the shock to come. “Man was in the forest,” cautions Bambi’s fretful mother. How well the ilm captures the neurotic biology of being perpetual prey. It’s like awaiting the chestburster in Alien. Winter has fallen upon the forest, a blizzard gathers pace and, well, you know the rest. That timorous call: “Mother? Mother?” The uncaring snow thickening as Bambi trails on, inally to be greeted by a father not about to soften the blow: “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” A thousand voices cried out from the stalls and refused to be silenced. Where has his mummy gone? Lives transformed forever. Bambi is veiled in vulnerability and a poetic strangeness, and Walt may have shied away from the scene as planned, where the animators would actually show the mother die. But Disney built an empire on the corpses of dead parents. Of course, fairy tales from time immemorial
have happily sacriiced Ma or Pa in the name of narrative punch. Reams of psychological research have speculated on culture’s role in confronting death. “In shorthand, it’s much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents,” said Don Hahn, producer of The Lion King, which of course essentially rebooted Bambi with lashings of Hamlet and comedy warthogs. In the late ’30s Walt had moved his parents into a Hollywood
show home kitted out with all the mod cons, but a tragic carbon monoxide leak led to his mother’s death, and he never stopped blaming himself. Bambi was attempted exorcism. If a hunter’s bullet didn’t strike the ledgling audience to their marrow, Walt then tells them about sex. He’s a tad circumspect, christening the effect as being “twitterpated”, but there is something fruity in the spring air. His voice broken, our hero emerges from
another winter a handsome devil. He’s traded in his cute spots for a pair of antlers, and for a brief, magical interlude the ilm becomes zany as Bambi lits on igurative clouds with shapely Faline. But the respite is brief. Conlict returns in a formidable, noir-tinged shadow dance where Bambi ruts with a rival. And just as he’s entered a stable relationship, the whole forest goes up in lames. Swirls of hand-drawn ire, like Van Gogh’s ireworks, ills the screen,
and the ilm is riven by panic and aglow with red death. So don’t buy that happy ending for a second. Bambi’s twin offspring face their own grapple with survival. Winter is coming. Existence is struggle, happiness leeting, trauma inevitable, the future uncertain. You know, for kids. BAMBI IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD.
WIN! MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
TIM BURTON’S latest adventure into weirdness and whimsy features Eva Green as a supernatural headmistress and a selection of freaky and, yes, well, peculiar children — think of the X-Men as envisioned by the mind behind Edward Scissorhands. “Dark, twisted and funny, Ransom Riggs’ Peregrine books are right up Burton’s Beetlejuicy boulevard,” cackled Empire reviewer Chris Hewitt. We have 10 copies to give away on either DVD or Blu-Ray — you choose because hey, we’re flexible like that.
TO ENTER, TELL US WHAT
PECULIAR POWER YOU WISH YOU HAD, AND WHY.
WIN! IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE 20
Title character portrayed by both Sue Lyon (1962) and Dominique Swain (1997) (6) 8 Low-budget filmmaker once depicted by Johnny Depp (2,4) 9 Richard found among the endangered (4) 10 Roman, Best Director Oscar-winner for The Pianist (8) 11/13 Animated release that provided Seth Rogen with a meaty role (7,5) 15 Mia Wasikowska took her through the looking glass (5) 17 Benicio who was Franky Four Fingers in Snatch (3,4) 20 There were 12 in this Sidney Lumet courtroom classic (5,3) 21 A fish found amid the sea anemones (4) 23 French movie, directed by Jules Dassin, that sparked the heist genre (6) 24 Louise’s co-driver in that ’66 Thunderbird (6)
3 4 5 6
12 14 16 18 19 22
Could be Source, could be Da Vinci (4) Sounds dotty, a film involving Adam Sandler and arcade games (6) Pam Gear falls about to supply a massmurder movie (7) This period drama provided Gugu MbathaRaw with numerous awards (5) Hotel managed by Don Cheadle in 2004 (6) “The story of a wanna be who got to be” ran one tagline for this Mark Wahlberg-Jennifer Aniston get-together (4,4) Louis Malle’s Ocean-side city (8) Branagh or maybe More (7) Sissy Spacek’s bucket of blood ordeal (6) Mercies required for a Robert Duvall starrer (6) Celia who twice resided at that Exotic Marigold Hotel (5) Keep mum regardin this supernatural horror release starring
DECEMBER ANSWERS ACROSS: 1 Sleuth, 4 Grease, 9 Mandela, 10 Crash, 11 Naomi, 12 Okoned Gemma Bovary, 18 Lucy Liu, 20 Limbo, 22 Robin, 23 Niagara, 24 Stree Strike. DOWN: 1 Simone, 2 Ennio, 3 The Firm, 5 Rocco, 6 Amateur, 7 Ep Jason Bourne, 14 Escobar, 15 Valiant, 16 Clerks, 17 Mojave, 19 Lange, 21 ANAGRAM HERMIONE GRANGER
22 LIKE A sort of Wild West John Wick, Ethan Hawke plays a drifter out for revenge when some nogoodniks mess with him and his dog. John Travolta is the Marshal, which is probably the first time in a decade someone didn’t cast Kurt Russell as the elder statesman in a neo Western, although Travolta has borrowed Russell’s facial hair. With lashings of dark humour to accompany the violence, this is one of the best Westerns of the year. We’ve got 10 copies to give away on either DVD or Blu-Ray — your choice. TO ENTER, TELL US WHICH CINEMATIC MOMENT OF VENGEANCE IS YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE, AND WHY.
WIN! CAFE SOCIETY WOODY ALLEN goes nostalgic for 1930s Hollywood in this whimsical tale of love triangles, family feuds and jazz. Since even Woody now believes he’s too old to be anyone’s love interest, Jesse Eisenberg ramps up his nervous stutter to play the New York nebbish newly arrived in Los An eles; Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively play his s. Poor Jesse, d life. Woody’s movie shot l, it looks us in every ot. , TELL US WHAT OURITE EVER LLEN LOVE AND WHY. DAUGHTER.)
caption comp WIN! AUSTRALIAN CREATURE FEATURE, RED BILLABONG THE AUSTRALIAN film industry tends to lean more towards quirky comedies or serious dramas than monster horror scream-fests — that balance gets redressed a little with the release of Red Billabong. Two brothers inherit an outback property from their grandfather, but a warning about a mysterious danger goes unheeded. And then, of course, the brothers throw a party and, of course, people start going missing. Is it a hoax or is there something really taking people? (The cover art sort of gives that away a little bit.) If nothing else, it’s a welcome change of pace. TO ENTER, TELL US WHAT AUSTRALIAN BEAST YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN A MOVIE, AND WHY.
WIN! THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN WITH HER surname, Emily Blunt might have preferred to make a movie about a woman who smokes too much pot, but this time around the ultra-talented Sicario and Edge Of Tomorrow star plays an alcoholic who can’t let go of her old life or her ex-husband… or his new wife. Cue an unreliable narrator as an alcoholic blackout obscures a key moment in a police investigation. Fans of the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins will be pleased to know that the film stays true to the book, despite moving the setting from London to New York. And fans of heavy drama will be pleased to know that Emily Blunt gives an ego-free performance as the messed-up Rachel.
Write a brilliantly witty caption to the image above from Gore Verbinski’s trippy freak-out film A Cure For Wellness, starring Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs, and triumph could be yours! To enter, email email@example.com A CURE FOR WELLNESS WILL BE CREEPING OUT AUSSIE CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 16.
ONE LUCKY WINNER WILL WIN A BLOCK-MOUNTED POSTER SIGNED BY MEL GIBSON HIMSELF, A BLOOD FATHER T-SHIRT AND A COPY OF THE FILM ON DVD.
TO ENTER, TELL US WHO YOUR FAVOURITE CINEMATIC BOOZEHOUND IS, AND WHY.
COMPETITION ENDS FEBRUARY 10
FOR A CHANCE to win these prizes, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, write the prize in the subject line, your preferred format if there are both DVD or Blu-ray options and complete the answer in 25 words or less, not forgetting to include your contact details. All competitions are open to both Australian and New Zealander Empire readers. For conditions of entry visit www. bauer-media.com.au/terms/competition-terms
november winner Interviewer: “So did either of you vote for Trump?”
Luke Bozzetto! You have won the script for War On Everything signed by the director and cast!
THE WHITE RIBBON CHOSEN BY PETER STRICKLAND
“I’m surprised this scene hasn’t been picked before,” says director Peter Strickland. “It encapsulates Michael Haneke’s worldview in which the realities of mortality are devoid of any semblance of reassurance. It remains one of his most restrained, assured and brutal moments.”
ANNA: When one is very old, or very ill.
RUDOLF: Everyone, really?
RUDOLF: And the woman?
ANNA: Yes, everyone has to die.
ANNA: She had an accident.
RUDOLF: But not you, Anni?
RUDOLF: An “accident”?
ANNA: Me too. Everyone.
ANNA: Yes. It’s when you’re badly hurt.
RUDOLF: But not Dad?
RUDOLF: Like Dad?
ANNA: Dad too.
ANNA: Yes, but much worse than that. So bad, your body can’t take it anymore.
RUDOLF: Me too?
INT. HOUSE — DAY Rudolf (Miljan Châtelain) and his sister Anna (Roxane Duran) are eating soup in silence. Earlier that day, Rudolf saw a dead woman for the first time. RUDOLF: The woman today, what was wrong with her?
RUDOLF: And then you’re dead?
ANNA: You too. But not for a very long time. All of us, only in a very long time.
ANNA: Which woman? I see. She was dead.
ANNA: Yes. But most people don’t have an accident.
RUDOLF: What’s that?
RUDOLF: So they’re not dead.
ANNA: No, they die much later.
RUDOLF: And Mom? She didn’t go on a trip? Is she dead too?
Anna considers the question.
ANNA: What’s “dead”? Quite a question! It’s when one doesn’t live anymore. When one has stopped living.
ANNA: Well… later, when they’re really old.
ANNA: Yes. She’s dead too. But that was a long time ago.
RUDOLF: When does one stop living?
RUDOLF: One can’t fight it? It has to happen? ANNA: Yes, but not for a long time.
RUDOLF: Does everyone die? Rudolf considers this for a moment. Then, in anger, he sweeps the bowl off the table.
“Monumental. Garfield and Driver couldn’t be better.”
“Scorsese has hit a career high.” TIME OUT
THE TELEGR APH
IN CINEMAS FEBRUARY 16