IN CINEMAS &
THIS MONTH AT EMPIRE IF YOU’D ASKED me in 2008 — gun or palm-mounted laser to my head — I’d have conﬁdently announced that The Dark Knight was the ﬁlm about to change superhero ﬁlms forever (and that there’d never be a band greater than Oasis). With the best will in the world, I probably wouldn’t have gone for a ﬁlm featuring the star of Chaplin inside a tin can. A decade, 18 MCU movies, and billions at the box oice later, my prediction seems a touch misguided. Goddamn it! What Marvel Studios has achieved is completely unprecedented in cinema history. It’s a storytelling and ﬁlmmaking jjuggling act so ambitious that anyone else would be left with balls rolling beneath their feet. And now we reach the crowning moment of all that work, all those balls, with Avengers: Infinity War. We sent our very own Marvel hero, Chris Hewitt, around the world — to the United States and to Scotland — to visit the set and see how they were possibly going to pull of a ﬁlm with over 20 superheroes vying for screentime (and not, you know, make it nine hours long). His cover story is a thrilling tale of evil alien giants, inexplicably powerful glowing rocks and a determined, vvisionary group of ﬁlmmakers. Believe the hype, baby.
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TERRI WHITE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF @terri_white
This month’s subscriber cover‚ created exclusively for Empire by Mexifunk vector artist Orlando Arocena.
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Black Panther directo r Ryan Coogler with Chris Hewitt bef ore recording the spoiler special podcas t.
Illustration: David Mahoney
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR The inside story of Marvel Studios’ ultimate superhero team-up. They’re all here. Iron Man. Superman. Bananaman. Michael Mann.
INSIDE BLUMHOUSE Jason Blum makes great horror ﬁlms, including Get Out and Split, for low, low prices. We visit the man they call Discount Dracula.
ISLE OF DOGS The ﬁrst part of Wes Anderson’s trilogy of dog movies named after areas of London. We can’t wait to see his ‘Barking And Dagenham’.
THE EMPIRE INTERVIEW British TV and theatre legend Maxine Peake is ready to take movies by storm after years of Peake practice.
THE AVENGERS We revisit the terrible tale of a terrible tale: the notoriously awful The Avengers. Not that one, the other one. Steed and Peel. That one.
Clockwise from top: Avengers: Infinity War; Mission: Impossible — Fallout; Paddington
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT Tom Cruise is hanging of things again.
WESTWORLD: SEASON 2 Another hard-hitting look at the life of robot cowboy, Wes T. World.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP Because there weren’t already enough superheroes in this issue.
HOW MUCH IS A PINT OF MILK Daniel ‘Creme Bruhlee’ Bruhl.
A WRINKLE IN TIME Will it make us wrinkle our noses?
UNSANE Soderbergh’s new movie, shot on his phone. We can barely download Snake.
JESSICA JONES: SEASON 2 Because there still weren’t enough superheroes in this issue.
ANNIHILATION Netﬂix and thrill with Alex Garland’s mindbending sci-ﬁ.
THE EMPIRE VIEWING GUIDE “Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name,” we said. It got very confusing.
PADDINGTON 2 AKA The Staremaste
THE RANKING: DE PALMA Rating the ﬁlms of the man they call the Halfords Hitchcock. FRANK OZ The Muppet man looks back at a life ﬁlled with great material.
2; A Wrinkle In Time; A Quiet Place
“What if E.T. and Mr. T had a baby?” is from The Simpsons, Season 6 Episode 9, ‘Homer Badman’. Saving Private Ryan: “The boys are running around doing the irst 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan”
GHOST STORIES In which Tim from The Oice tries to make us jump. [glances quizzically at camera]
is from Finding Amanda. Ready Player One: “Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three” is from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Subs: “It means healing, Mr Spielberg” is from Paul
A QUIET PLACE In which Jim from The Oice tries to make us jump. [glances quizzically at camera].
Spine lines issue 347: Jaws: “He can fart the theme to Jaws. It’s $5” is from 9 1/2 Weeks. Raiders Of The Lost Ark: “Is that a cobra? Like in Indiana Jones?” is from Snakes On A Plane. E.T.:
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Editor-In-Chief Terri White
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CONTRIBUTORS Deputy Editor Jonathan Pile 020 3879 2247
HAN-DIWORK My son drew me a picture of the â€œLememinum Falconâ€? for me to put on my workstation. His nameâ€™s Leo Stark. Heâ€™s five years old and, like me, loves Star Wars. At home we play games, Star Wars being one of them. Iâ€™m Chewie and heâ€™s Han, and my wife Amy is Princess Leia. Iâ€™m a very proud dad!
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TALKING BULLOCKS I often contemplate that actorsâ€™ movies are one story. For example, letâ€™s take Sandra Bullock. After the trauma of a maniac planting a bomb on her bus (Speed) she finds herself once again drawn to public transport (While You Were Sleeping) and falls for a coma-induced commuter. After this, her fear of human contact leads her to live her life online (The Net) but alas she cannot resist meeting yet another guy who is bad for her. Time for a cruise... No, Sandra! (Speed 2: Cruise Control). A brief dabble in the dark arts (Practical Magic) and itâ€™s time for another fling (Forces Of Nature). Things hit rock bottom and she ends up in rehab (28 Days). Tired of planet Earth, she decides to take her chances in space (Gravity).
FROM WAKANDA WITH LOVE
BAZ BLACK, VIA EMAIL
In the Black Panther spoiler-special podcast, Chris Hewitt talks to Ryan Coogler about how the film shares aspects of a 007 adventure. Later he utters the words â€œLicence To Killmongerâ€? â€” was Chris trying to incite Coogler to make a mad Marvel/Eon mash-upâ€Ś? Maybe we could also expect the likes of: â€˜The Iron Man With The Golden Gunâ€™, â€˜For Your Hawkeyes Onlyâ€™ or â€˜Diamonds Are Thoreverâ€™?
It all makes sense. Hang on. Nope, All About Steve still doesnâ€™t make sense.
ANDY GOUT, VIA EMAIL
Weâ€™re totally on board for this, if only to watch Q and Shuri attempt to out-gadget each other.
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â€œCan you not be ecstatic on my back please?â€?
Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good crayon at your side, kid. Top work, Leo.
FIONA JANE HAMILTON
TIM STARK, OTTERY ST MARY
THE SAVING PRIVATE RYAN ARTICLE WAS GREAT. I WAS PREGNANT WHEN I SAW THIS WITH MY HUSBAND. THE NOISE OF THE OPENING SCENES CAUSED MY UNBORN SON TO START MOVING AROUND LIKE MAD. HE WAS DOING SOMERSAULTS EVERY TIME THE NOISE ESCALATED. SO, THAT IS MY OVERWHELMING MEMORY OF SEEING THIS FILM. (LOVED IT, OBVS.)
Words: 4JNPO$SPPL 'SFE%FMMBS "MFY(PEGSFZ 4BMJ)VHIFT "OESFX-PXSZ Olly Richards, Amon Warmann. Photography: Kareen Black, Sebastian Nevols. Illustrations: Orlando Arocena, Peter Crowther, Olly Gibbs, Matt Herring, Dave )PQLJOT +BDFZ %BWF.BIPOFZ 5IF3FE%SFTTSubbing: +FOOJGFS#SBEMZ -VDZ Williams. Picture assistance: Mandy Rowson.
To us, it’s the experiences we share that make you truly wealthy. Which is why we’ve spent over a hundred and twenty-ﬁve years travelling the globe, embracing different cultures and perfecting our recipe.
San Miguel Especial. As rich in experience as it is in ﬂavour.
A L L T H E E XC LUS I V E N E WS ON T H E F I L M S T H AT M AT T E R
The fall guy Six films in, Tom Cruise is still falling off things, onto things and into things in Mission: Impossible — Fallout
CHRISTOPHER McQUARRIE REMEMBERS the moment distinctly. Tom Cruise had just completed his ﬁnal pass on the big stunt that became the basis of Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (you know the one; bloke strapped to the side of a plane as it takes of ), and a relieved McQuarrie turned to his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, with a simple observation. “I said, ‘I feel sorry for the poor son of a bitch who directs Mission: Impossible 6,’” laughs McQuarrie, who shortly thereafter became his own punchline by agreeing to return for Mission: Impossible — Fallout. And the second he signed on the line that is dotted, thoughts turned to the spectacular as he and Cruise attempted to outdo themselves. “On this one, there was the constant search for The Stunt,” admits McQuarrie. “But once I’d let go of it as an obligation, and stopped obsessing about it, another one came. And another one. And another.” So strap yourself in as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt jumps of things (the Norwegian mountain plateau, Preikestolen),
smashes into things (the London oice building leap that famously broke Cruise’s ankle), and clings onto things (like this helicopter), all in service of a story that sees Hunt and his IMF team try to save the world from nuclear armageddon, whilst being saddled with a newcomer: Henry Cavill and his incredible moustache. “He is, without question, the single greatest antagonist to Ethan in the movie,” says McQuarrie of Cavill’s character, Walker, a CIA tough-nut seconded to the IMF to keep an eye on them. “For the ﬁrst time Ethan has a member of his team who doesn’t give a shit about the IMF or their way of doing things. It’s been great watching Henry take to the cold, calculating nature of a character who is trained to kill. And yet he does it in a way that is not, for lack of a better term, moustache-twirling.” Cruise v Cavill: Dawn Of Falling Of Stuf? We’re so there. CHRIS HEWITT MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT IS IN CINEMAS FROM 26 JULY
EDITED BY JOHN NUGENT
Christopher McQuarrie spoke to Empire in January 2018, during the second round of filming for Fallout.
Empire visited the California set of Westworld in December 2017.
Aworld gone mad Chaos reigns in the new season of Westworld. Will the robots inherit the earth?
“WHAT IF I told you that there aren’t any chance encounters?” Westworld’s pragmatic examiner Bernard (Jefrey Wright) asked cyborg heroine Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) in 2016’s Season 1 opener. “That you and everyone you know were built to gratify the desires of the people who pay to visit your world?” Westworld, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, has messed with our and its characters’ heads from the start. A mind-bending remake of the 1973 ﬁlm
about robots running amok in a Wild West theme park, it threw up existential questions while planting puzzles — and Season 2 may melt our brains for good. “There is a lot of mayhem,” says Joy, smirking, when Empire asks what’s in store. “And a lot of madness.” Flipping sympathies from the original, Westworld has us siding with the mechanical marvels, more human than the humans who abuse and mistreat them. As the season progressed, so did their AI; it culminated in a gloriously violent uprising, and Season 2 picks up from there. On location in the ﬁctional town of Sweetwater (in real-life, just outside of Santa Clarita, California), the desert sun was setting as Empire watched
Thandie Newton’s Maeve embrace Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector, blood-drenched from battle. “Violence sweeps through the land,” said Hector, chugging whiskey. “The dead have risen from their graves.” “Their worlds were so prescribed initially, and now they’re looking to bust out of their loops and the small conﬁnes of their lives,” says Joy of the robots’ new freedom. Nolan has said that each season will have more geographical scope (Joy is keeping mum about other parks we might see, though we have conﬁrmation that ‘Shogun World’ exists) but promises movement. “Our crew have created so many wonderful places to visit,” she says. “It’s like walking into a diferent fantasy every day I come to work.”
Freedom fighter: Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) is on the warpath.
A HOST OF THEORIES THE INTERNET’S BEST (AND WORST) WESTWORLD FAN THEORIES
THE NEW NARRATIVE IS FOR THE MAN IN BLACK Is Ford’s revolutionary “new narrative” already in motion? And is it all for lifetime visitors like the Man In Black?
Ryan Coogler with Chadwick Boseman. Below: Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa (Boseman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).
EVERYONE IS A HOST At least one human character has been revealed to be a robot. Could the entire park be the robo-equivalent of ‘it was all a dream’?
THE RETURN OFTHE KING Empire comics expert Amon Warmann predicts five plots for the likely Black Panther sequel
Nakia turns on t’Challa
IT’S THE APOCALYPSE
Ever notice that we never see the world outside Westworld? Could it be due to a nuclear winter? It would explain the park workers’ radiation suits.
Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) was ﬁrmly on Team T’Challa in Black Panther. But in the comics, she’s a frequent foe to the Wakandan King, as Malice. Could Nakia turn her back on her on-again-of-again love in the MCU? In the Christopher Priest run of comics, she teams up with M’Baku (played by Winston Duke in the ﬁlm) and vengefully assassinates prominent Wakandans.
wakanda descends into civil war Season 2 will also be timely, even outside of America’s recent political absurdities. “The show isn’t a reaction necessarily to who got elected or what’s happened,” says Joy. “When I was drawn to this subject matter, the idea of the story of these women in an artiﬁcial reality being subjugated and put through all these things — I didn’t need a harassment scandal to break out in Hollywood or misogynistic people in government. I didn’t need that to happen in the external world to know it existed. I had that thought before that, you know what I mean?” We do. Bring it on. ALEX GODFREY WESTWORLD SEASON 2 IS ON SKY ATLANTIC FROM APRIL 23
A soldier from Niganda (the ﬁctional African country bordering Wakanda), Zenzi has the power to bring anyone’s truly ugliest thoughts to the surface. She uses that ability to incite a rebellion against Black Panther. There are plenty of Wakandans with mixed feelings about their newly exposed position in the world — could Zenzi take advantage here? The fact that she only reveals genuine feelings in people could make for a complex battle.
black panther is hunted Kraven The Hunter — Russian immigrant and frequent foe of Spider-Man — very nearly popped up in the ﬁrst Black Panther outing. “I’ve always loved Kraven The Hunter in almost every iteration,”
director Ryan Coogler has said. With his enhanced senses and tracking abilities, Kraven would be evenly matched with T’Challa — could Wakanda’s newly exposed status draw the hunter to Africa?
atlantis invades wakanda In Marvel lore, Namor is the King Of Atlantis, a secretive, technologically advanced society much like Wakanda (with the key diference being that it is underwater). Namor and T’Challa aren’t exactly pally: despite their similarities, the two monarchs have frequently clashed in the comics. Namor went as far as invading Wakanda. A potential royal rumble is hard to resist.
t’challa marries Storm Black Panther featured plenty of powerful women. How about a powerful X-woman? In the comics, T’Challa famously married Ororo ‘Storm’ Munroe. With Disney’s pending acquisition of 20th Century Fox — and with it, the entire X-Men universe — could this be a superhero power couple to rival Steve and Peggy?
Peyton Reed spoke to Empire in December 2017, shortly after filming had wrapped.
You’ll believe a Wasp can fly How director Peyton Reed gave Evangeline Lilly wings in Ant-Man And The Wasp
AS THE TITLE may suggest, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang isn’t going to have it all his own way in Ant-Man And The Wasp. As the exclusive concept art above proves, Marvel’s miniature hero will have an equally pixel-sized partner this time around, in the diminutive shape of Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne, last seen at the very tail end of 2015’s Ant-Man getting her wings, courtesy of her inventor dad, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). And one thing’s for sure: The Wasp is not going to be anybody’s sidekick. “It was important to me, in this movie
called Ant-Man And The Wasp, that she’s not a supporting character,” director Peyton Reed tells Empire. “She’s a lead character. She’s become a fully-formed hero.” When Hope uttered the words, “About damn time” in that post-credit sting, it worked on several levels. It addressed her own personal situation, of course, and also was a pointed barb at the lack of female heroes in the MCU. But it also meant that The Wasp, one of Marvel’s oldest characters, was about to get her due. “She really was, along with Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, one of the ﬁrst female Marvel heroes,” says Reed. “I feel a certain responsibility with The Wasp.” To confuse matters, Michelle Pfeifer will also show up as Hope’s mother Janet, the original Wasp, meaning this movie
will have more Wasps than your average picnic. “This one explores the diferent generations of Ant-Man and Wasp,” adds Reed. “I thought that was an interesting thing we haven’t seen in a Marvel movie.” But the focus will be on Hope, whose relationship with Lang will take on an interesting twist. When last we saw them together, they were sharing a smooch. Since then, though, Ant-Man went rogue and got banged up in Captain America: Civil War, which could have consequences. “It’s not a romantic comedy,” cautions Reed. “The idea might enter Hope’s brain: does she need Scott Lang in her life?” When push comes to shove, this Wasp could pack a heck of a sting. CHRIS HEWITT ANT-MAN AND THE WASP IS IN CINEMAS FROM 3 AUGUST
Above: Concept art of The Wasp. Clearly didn’t get the yellow/ black thing memo. Right: Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, here in his supersized guise of Giant-Man.
READ THE SMALL PRINT THREE COMICS TO READ BEFORE ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
‘TALES TO ASTONISH’ #44 (1963)
The irst appearance of the Wasp, it sees Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne team up for the irst time to defeat the Creature from Kosmos, “an un-human thing from beyond space and time”.
© Marvel Studios 2018/Stephen Erik Schirle
Hope is introduced into the comics (as Hope Pym) in the alternate MC2 universe — but she’s markedly different from her MCU incarnation, ultimately becoming the vengeful anti-hero Red Queen.
‘ANT-MAN AND THE WASP’ #1 (2018)
As part of their ‘Fresh Start’ relaunch, Marvel have announced a new mini-series for the microscopic heroes from writer Mark Waid and artist Javier Garron, this time exploring the microverse.
Empire spoke to the director on 2 March, on the eve of the Oscars.
Outsider art How a fairy-tale Irish animation studio took on the Middle East — and then the world
“THERE WAS PLENTY of hesitation,” admits director Nora Twomey with a laugh, speaking about her Oscarnominated animation The Breadwinner, “but at a stage where we were too committed to turn around.” The story of a young girl in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan who must pretend to be a boy to save her family from starvation, it is perhaps an unlikely subject for feature animation. But while it took considerable intestinal fortitude to make, “the wonderful thing about animation is that it takes so long, you get opportunities to fix your mistakes.” The film is a new direction for Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny-based animation house behind acclaimed familyfriendly fables The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea. The Breadwinner, based on Deborah Ellis’ novel, is its first film set outside Ireland, and first non-mythological story. But Twomey read Ellis’ book in an evening and fell in love with its “compassionate, intelligent” writing and, above all, its heroine. So she and the studio took a risk and leapt in, grounding her work by interviewing Afghan people who lived under Taliban rule and outside advocates (including executive producer Angelina Jolie). “I was aware our audience could be emotionally traumatised,” Twomey admits. “Certainly they would have been if we’d tried this in live action. The frames were always beautiful, sometimes starkly so, so the screen was inviting. I really wanted to make sure Parvana’s face was always
central in how we read what is going on, and not put the art direction between that and the viewer.” The film ended up on the Oscar shortlist (a 100 per cent record for Cartoon Saloon’s features) alongside big US studios like Pixar and DreamWorks. “I love seeing the story of Parvana up there on the world stage,” smiles Twomey. But she swears there is no rivalry with the Americans. “The animation community is really small, and the studios have welcomed us in, all the way from The Secret Of Kells. Drawing is a method of communication, [and] it’s been lovely because we all speak the same language.” As expected, The Breadwinner lost to Pixar’s Coco at this year’s Oscars, but Cartoon Saloon is sure to be a regular presence in future Best Animated Film categories: Kells director Tomm Moore is working on Wolfwalkers, which Twomey describes as “kind of the third in the trilogy of mythology films”, and Twomey’s planning a more comic buddy
Top: Parvana (Saara Chaudry) with her father (Ali Badshah). Above: Parvana finds strength in storytelling. Right: In her guise as a boy — and the family breadwinner.
story, My Father’s Dragon. Making films first and hesitating later, it seems, is the secret to this Saloon’s success. HELEN O’HARA
THE BREADWINNER IS IN CINEMAS FROM 25 MAY
WAIT, WHAT HAPPENED? THE ONE THING WE CAN’T. STOP. TALKING. ABOUT
THE JET SKI PRIZE AT THE OSCARS
TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT... THE FAST AND FURIOUS SPIN-OFF Rev up your engines for The Rock and Th Stath’s new adve
In a bid to avoid rambling overlong speeches, this year’s Oscars host, Jimmy Kimmel, incentivised speedy delivery, 1970s gameshow-style: a free Jet Ski for the s st speech. He even recruited Helen Mi assistant.
__ Yes, Fast & Furious — the franchise of muscle cars, and muscled stars — is getting its ﬁrst spin-of, and it may have found a director. David Leitch, the stuntman-turned-ﬁlmmaker behind John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 is in early talks, according to Variety.
Several winners made reference to the Jet Ski in their acceptance speeches, including Jordan Peele and Sam Rockwell. Ultimately, Phantom Thread’s costume designer Mark Bridges won, speaking for just 36 seconds.
__ Having attempted to out-bald each other in three Fast & Furious ﬁlms, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Jason ‘The Stath’ Statham have both signed up to the new ﬁlm, reprising their roles as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, respectively.
__ The ﬁlm currently has a prime summer blockbuster release date: 26 July 2019.
__ After his unlikely transformation from cacklin’ baddie to grinnin’ goodie in Fast & Furious 8, Shaw is likely to be ﬁghting arm-in-glistening-arm with former sparring buddy Hobbs.
__ That release date has pushed Fast & Furious 9, the next regular entry in the franchise, back by a year to summer 2020.
__ That release date change, and the project in general, has mightily upset series regular Tyrese Gibson (who plays Roman Pearce). “If you move forward with that Hobbs movie,” Gibson wrote to Johnson in a now-deleted Instagram post, “you will have purposely ignored the heart to heart moment we had in my sprinter.” He later threatened to quit the series entirely.
__ The reason for their team-up? It’s
With the Kawasaki Ultra 310LX retailing at $18,000, it could be the most expensive gag ever made at the Oscars. Kimmel later revealed that a team of lawyers drew up terms and conditions, and were timing every speech with stopwatches.
__ A spin-of was ﬁrst mooted at during the eighth instalment, when test audiences reported positively to The Rock and The Stath’s crackling chemistry. Their chemistry was so strong, in fact, that reports emerged that Vin Diesel had killed a postcredits scene featuring the pair, according to The Wrap, supposedly out of jealousy. (Diesel’s reps have denied the story.)
probably Charlize Theron. At the end of the last Fast adventure, Theron’s tech-savvy baddie Cipher escaped with her life, ﬁnal whereabouts unknown. The Variety report suggests we may see Hobbs and Shaw join forces to track her down.
__ Chris Morgan, who has written the last six ﬁlms in the series, starting with The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, will again provide a screenplay here.
__ Despite the Furious family feud, ﬁlming on Hobbs And Shaw is due to commence later this year. Coronas all round! JOHN NUGENT
SOUNDING OFF ON THIS MONTH’S BIG NEWS
GENRE MOVIES SHUNNED AT THE OSCARS
This Oscar Best Picture will stand the test of time The Shape Of Water’s Oscar win was anything but the safe choice, argues Empire contributor Olly Richards
THERE IS A strange thing that happens during the Oscar race. As we become impassioned about our favourites, cheerleading them on in the race to Best Picture, we can become soured towards films that we thought were just fine, great even, before awards season started. Anything that’s not our number one becomes ‘undeserving’. So it is with The Shape Of Water, a highly unlikely Best Picture winner that has been branded a safe, even boring choice. However, in years to come, with the passage of both distance and time, I believe it will come to be judged on its own significant merits, not simply by the films it beat. Its major crime is, of course, that it’s not Get Out. A huge number of people — though not enough in the Academy — were rooting for Jordan Peele’s historic movie to pull an upset and snag Best Picture from Three Billboards. When the upset came, only with Guillermo del Toro’s film doing the snagging, the crowd turned. A very well-reviewed movie, from a beloved director with only one previous nomination, Shape was denounced as a sign that the Academy has taken a step back after showing more modern tastes
Top: Guillermo del Toro won two Oscars for The Shape Of Water Above: Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man friend (Doug Jones).
with last year’s Moonlight win. Can someone point to the evidence that The Shape Of Water is a ‘safe’ Oscar movie? Because I must be missing something. Where, in the history of cinema, are the other lauded films about a woman falling in love with an amphibious creature? How often, even, do fantasy or sci-fi movies win? The answer is once, ever, for The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King. In any other year, The Shape Of Water would be the plucky outsider. In many other years, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would be a plucky outsider, with something as
THE EXORCIST Wlliam Friedkin’s classic — the irst horror movie nominated for Best Picture — lost to The Sting.
E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL dreary and so-safe-it-may-as-well-havestabilisers as Darkest Hour the favourite. Beyond just genre, the themes of The Shape Of Water make it one of the more exciting Best Picture choices of recent years. This is a film about prejudice and acceptance and privilege and shitty self-serving governments and seeing others for who they are, not what they are. It could not be more forward-looking. It’s about gay people, people of colour, the disabled, immigrants, and, in the creature, any marginalised group for which you wish to consider him a metaphor. It is all-inclusive. It’s inviting everybody in for a big, wet hug. It’s highly political. It’s set in the 1960s but all its messages could be read as a giant, neon, stonkingly erect middle-finger to Trump, Brexit or any current political entity that tries to give the human race a ranking system. It might be dressed in sweet, fairy-tale clothing but it has a rebellious heart. Get Out would have been a powerful and deserving winner. History will remember it as 2017’s most important film, but its loss doesn’t make The Shape Of Water’s win unjust. The award success of both reveals an Academy that is increasingly embracing films about the world we live in, not dusty-eyed for the past and loopy for biopics. The Shape Of Water is the weirdest Best Picture winner ever. It’s not safe, it’s revolutionary. THE SHAPE OF WATER IS IN CINEMAS NOW
The Academy deemed Steven Spielberg’s big-hearted sci-i to be inferior to Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.
STAR WARS The irst and only Best Picture nomination for Star Wars came in 1978; it lost to Annie Hall.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Action-adventure movies rarely get a look-in. Raiders was beaten by Chariots Of Fire.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Astonishingly Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Oliver! took home the gong.
We spoke to Andrew Haigh on 26 February, shortly before he packed for a two-month trip around North America.
Ahorse and his boy Weekend director Andrew Haigh on his most ambitious film yet: racehorse drama Lean On Pete
FILMMAKER ANDREW HAIGH was never what you’d call a horsey person. Before making Lean On Pete, his intensely emotional coming-of-age story about a troubled 15-year-old Portland boy and a knackered racehorse, the Croydonraised writer-director hadn’t had any experience with the beasts. So he was understandably anxious about directing one — in a double act with a teenager
British relationship dramas Weekend and 45 Years, it’s tempting to see the Oregonrooted Lean On Pete (based on the 2010 novel by Willy Vlautin) as a concerted efort to ‘go Hollywood’ — especially as it attracted a quality supporting cast that includes Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny. But, says Haigh, it wasn’t the setting or the horse-racing elements that drove him to make it. “It was the central character of Charley, the diiculties he experiences, and the things he desperately needs in his life to even be able to move forward with it. It was the heartbreaking nature of that that made me want to tell it.” He couldn’t have hoped for a better actor to play the role. Plummer, best Haigh too. With a distinctly ood budget, he had one chance is big race sequence, for ’s not the easiest thing I’ve mits, “but I like all those allenges.” Besides, he had is side, keeping things serene. he’ll be at the premiere in Haigh laughs, “where he’ll be ng, er, whatever horses eat.” not a horsey person. DAN JOLIN E IS IN CINEMAS FROM 4 MAY
Clockwise from top: Charley (Charlie Plummer) with his best bud Lean On Pete (Starsky); Charley tends to his single-parent father Ray (Travis Fimmel); Horse trainer Del (Steve Buscemi).
You seem to keep y ludicrously busy. How do you relax? The main thing is to spend time with my family. Also, I like to go through different ﬁlm libraries and look at different kinds of movies and educate myself. When I’m on downtime I like to go through some of my favourite directors and explore world cinema. I’ll look at Japanese cinema, ﬁlm noir, or look at some classics that I grew up on, just to stay inspired, stay interested.
BATGIRL, INTERRUPTED With Joss Whedon exiting DC’s Batgirl movie, what’s next for Barbara Gordon?
heritage (and former karate world champion and stuntwoman). Her ﬁrst feature ﬁlm was 2005’s Green Street, with Elijah Wood. She then unjustly found herself in “movie jail” in 2008 following the perceived failure of her ultra-violent, blackly comedic Marvel actioner Punisher: War Zone.
What are her credentials?
Rex Features, Dan Mora/DC Comics
Are you working your way through a particular director at the moment? I’ve been enjoying looking at my uncle’s [Francis Ford Coppola] movies again. I hadn’t seen Apocalypse Now for a while and then I double-billed 1 and 2 of The Godfather. I’m trying to get a copy of The Conversation, but it’s proving difﬁcult. The Conversation is amazing. Oh my God, yeah. I haven’t seen it since I was like 14. I’ll also try to go through the Welles ﬁlmography. My dad took me to see Citizen Kane when I was nine. I saw it again just a couple of weeks ago and wow, did that inspire me. I still don’t think any movie’s come close to capturing the movement and the camerawork that are accomplished in that ﬁlm. I watched it on Thursday night and then watched it again on Friday morning.
What might a Batgirl movie look like? After working on it for over a year, Joss Whedon has quit Batgirl — the long-mooted DC movie focused on Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon who dons her own Batsuit — saying he “didn’t have a story”. But there are plenty to choose from, if the project continues. Gail Simone’s psychologically dark run of the comics saw a PTSD-sufering Batgirl recovering her mojo after being shot through the spine by the Joker (in Alan Moore’s infamous The Killing Joke). Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon’s Batgirl: Year One is a lighter afair and gives us a fresh origin story. And Hope Larson’s recent series in the DC Rebirth line presents a Batgirl still in college, should the DCEU be looking for some of that breezier Spider-Man: Homecoming vibe to counter Zack Snyder’s Gotham gloom.
MOM AND DAD IS IN CINEMAS NOW
Who could direct? Lexi Alexander. She’s a director of Palestinian-German-American
The aforementioned Punisher ﬁlm has long been defended by fans as an underrated cult semi-classic: its lack of success as much due to mishandling by the studio as to any ﬂaws in the movie. In the subsequent decade Alexander has made a gradual but strong comeback: particularly on television, where — signiﬁcantly — she’s directed wellreceived episodes of DC shows Arrow and Supergirl.
Why would she be perfect for the Batgirl job? She’s proven that she can handle gritty violence and gonzo action but also lighten up for wider-appeal PG-13 material (she even made a feel-good family movie, Lifted, in 2011). She has experience not just with comic-book properties but speciﬁcally with DC characters. And she’s been outspoken on Twitter and elsewhere about Hollywood sexism hindering the careers of female directors, not least her own. Giving her the opportunity to step up to the big leagues with Batgirl would be a vindication of everything she’s been ﬁghting for throughout her career. The time is right. OWEN WILLIAMS
Solo travellers How Solo is staying on track in the Star Wars universe
FORGET SNOWPIERCER. MEET the Conveyex, a rollercoaster- style train barrelling through a barren landscape in Solo: A Star Wars Story. And hanging on for dear life are young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and youngish Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) during a daring robbery. Co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and producer Kathleen Kennedy have long likened Ron Howard’s ﬁlm to a Western: replace the goggles with neckerchiefs and the Conveyex with a locomotive and this could be Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, albeit with more hair and less Burt Bacharach. As well as being a “heist” movie, we now know where Solo: A Star Wars Story sits in the series’ scheme of things. A recently released time-line puts the ﬁlm not only before Rogue One (obvs) but also before the Star Wars Rebels series. More speciﬁcally, it’s after the events of Tarkin, the novelised prequel concerning everyone’s favourite Grand Mof, but before 2014 novel A New Dawn. Given Tarkin is set 14 years before the battle of Yavin IV and New Dawn is 11 years before — that gives us a three-year window in which the events of Solo could unravel. What this means for the story is still open to speculation. Solo’s place on the timeline suggests the story won’t engage at all with notions of the Jedi and the Force. It also hints the Empire versus Rebellion shenanigans that are the province of the Saga stories and Rogue One will not be drawn upon. It seems that young Han will have to operate in a harsh, lawless unregulated frontier. And as the ultimate space cowboy, that’s probably just the way he likes it. IAN FREER SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY IS IN CINEMAS FROM 25 MAY
SHOWCASING TOMORROW’S STARS TODAY
OAKES FEGLEY What can you tell us about your character in Wonderstruck? My character is a boy named Ben who grows up in a small town in Minnesota. He’s not popular — he’s introverted. One day he gets struck by lightning, is left completely deaf, and heads to New York, trying to ﬁnd out who his father is. It’s a ﬁlm that makes you look back and go: “Wow!” I like it when a movie doesn’t end as you expected.
How was your first audition for Wonderstruck? It was fairly laid-back compared to some auditions I’ve done. That was where I met Todd [Haynes, director], and Jaden Michael — he plays a boy named Jamie, who becomes a good friend. I was reading the scene with Jaden and we were able to work of each other. That was really nice.
What’s been the maddest moment of your career?
Oakes Fegley, photographed
When I did Boardwalk Empire, that was W really one of the biggest moments for me. That was the ﬁrst time I saw a big set. I was about eight years old. It was incredible to get that in my blood. Ever since then, I have really loved what I do.
exclusively for Empire at Westsider Books, New York, on
Who is your favourite Chris: Pine, Evans, Hemsworth, or Pratt?
Do you have an acting idol? I recently worked with Robert De Niro on a movie called The War With Grandpa. He’s pretty much a legend, right? So it was really awesome to work with someone of that calibre. A lot of the people I’ve got to work with have had a huge impact on me, as an actor and as a person.
Do you have a dream director you’d love to work with? I’d love to work with Steven Spielberg. He’s done so many outstanding ﬁlms. Every director I’ve worked with has been completely diferent. The way they look through a lens and the way they work with people and adapt the actor to their vision — it’s really interesting to me.
I have to say Chris Pratt, don’t I? I love the way he can adapt himself from doing comedy like Parks And Recreation to being a badass action hero in Jurassic World. I’d love to work with him again.
2014 Young Elias Thompson in Boardwalk Empire
Who would win in a fight — a horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?
2016 Pete in Disney’s live-action remake Pete’s Dragon
Huh! I’m going to go with the 100 duck-sized horses. Many duck-sized horses, ﬂapping and quacking, would totally overwhelm the horsesized duck. That would be quite a sight. JOHN NUGENT
2018 Ben in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck 2019 Young Theo Decker in The Goldﬁnch
Pete’s Dragon WONDERSTRUCK IS IN CINEMAS FROM 6 APRIL
Photographer: Kareem Black. Grooming: Min Min Ma at Gloss & Dossier
4 February 2018.
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Logan: James Mangold on set with Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen.
And the winner is... The Rakuten TV Empire Awards finally happened. But who won big on the night?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson shares a laugh with John Boyega
THE RED CARPET has been rolled up; the drinks cleared away; and the hangovers nursed. By the time you read this, the Rakuten TV Empire Awards are all done and dusted, revealed in a glitzy ceremony at London’s iconic Roundhouse. But who took home the most gongs? At the time of going to press, the full list of winners remains a mystery. There’ll be a full celebration of the evening in the next issue — but to see the winners right now, head to Empire Online for full coverage, including the complete list of winners, as-it-happened live blog, and video interviews with the star-studded guests. With a galaxy-beating nine nominations, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the ﬁlm to beat, scooping up nods for Best Director for Rian Johnson and Best Actor for Mark Hamill, among others. Elsewhere, ﬁlms that the Oscars roundly snubbed — such as Wonder Woman, God’s Own Country and The Death Of Stalin — earned much-deserved recognition from the voting Empire readership. And we were pleased as punch to shine a spotlight on some rising young stars, from God’s Own Country’s Josh O’Connor and Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead to Logan’s Dafne Keen. Plus, with categories in horror, sci-ﬁ and comedy, it’s the only awards show to properly acknowledge genre movies for what they are. This was a shortlist where the likes of Girls Trip rubbed shoulders with Split; where Logan hobnobbed with Lady Macbeth; where Beauty And The Beast mingled with Baby Driver. Head online now to see who went home happy and who went home empty-handed — and be sure to pick up next month’s issue of Empire for the deﬁnitive coverage.
and Oscar Isaac.
Star Trek DIiscovery: Jonathan Frakes with Sonequa Martin-Green and Mary Wiseman.
The Death Of Stalin: Armando Iannucci chats to Paul Whitehouse, Andrea Riseborough and Paul Chahidi.
A second bite of the peach Call Me By Your Name is getting a follow-up. Here’s what you can expect from the sequel
The director is writing with the original book’s author André Aciman. In the novel — spoiler alert — a 40-page epilogue sees a grown-up Elio visit Oliver’s family, years after their ﬁrst meeting.
Above and middle: Getting to know you: Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) enjoy each
It won’t be in Italy It WILL SEE THE CAST RETURN The story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) is not yet over. Speaking to the Empire Podcast, Chalamet and Hammer conﬁrmed they would gladly return for any sequel. (Chalamet jokingly suggested it could be set “in space or underwater”, while Hammer pondered the terrifying prospect of the peach having a baby: “There are a bunch of half-human peaches running around. A bunch of pumans...”)
It Will be set years later On the Oscars red carpet, director Luca Guadagnino conﬁrmed that he’s working on a Call Me By Your Name sequel, set ﬁve or six years after the original ﬁlm.
Guadagnino has promised “a new movie, a diferent tone”, with the action transplanted from summery Italy to the east coast of America. “They’re gonna go around the world,” he promises, noting it will address the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Below: Oliver with Elio and his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar).
It could spark a franchise Like Richard Linklater with his Before series, we might revisit Elio and Oliver every few years. The ﬁrst ﬁlm, Guadagnino says, could be “the ﬁrst chapter of the chronicles of the life of these people”. Could we see old man Oliver dancing to Love My Way on a zimmer frame? JOHN NUGENT CALL ME BY YOUR NAME IS IN CINEMAS NOW
THE FILMS THAT INSPIRED SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY ACCORDING TO WRITERS JON AND LAWRENCE KASDAN
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)
Empire visited the set of Deep State in deepest Surrey in August 2017.
A whole new spy game New TV thriller Deep State offers murky espionage on an international scale
NOBODY TRUSTS ANYONE anymore. Corporations control the world, conﬂict is commerce, and shady cabals pull the strings from the shadows. Deep State, a new eight-part, continentstraddling action thriller, tackles this head on, sticking us slap in the middle of a covert intelligence war. “Politics and business have become interwoven, and to ﬁnd a script that deals with that was perfect,” says Mark Strong, who plays Max Easton, a British ex-spy thrown back into work. “It makes a diference if you can entertain people but at the same time get them asking themselves some diicult questions, because we’re living in strange times.” Last Summer, Empire braved the outskirts of Guildford, where a cabin in the woods was standing in for Virginia. A heavy siege was taking place. Inside, gearing up for a take, Joe Dempsie, playing Max’s son Harry, swung around heavy weaponry while Strong stalked about,
making machine-gun noises. Behind a monitor in the kitchen, Empire was given headphones and warned about immense volume. Then we were of, the gunﬁre indeed tinnitus-inducing as the windows got peppered by bullets, Strong and Dempsie ﬁring back. Strong bounded over, glee in his eyes. “That was good, wasn’t it!” he beamed to Empire. “I suspect this is why I wanted to be an actor.” Because beyond all the politics, Deep State also serves up explosive thrills and spills. “It’s nuts!” says Dempsie months later, post-wrap, before getting unexpectedly dark. “Years ago I was doing some military training for a movie and we got to shoot live rounds from an automatic riﬂe,” he says. “It was really unnerving. It’s a very morbid thought, although I defy anyone not to have it when a loaded gun is placed in their hand — just thinking, ‘There is nothing stopping me from turning around and shooting all of these people.’” Sheesh. Yes, Joe Dempsie, that is quite morbid. “It’s terrifying. I didn’t relish it in any way, shape or form.” With Deep State, there’s some thought behind the gunﬁre. ALEX GODFREY DEEP STATE IS ON FOX FROM 5 APRIL
Clockwise from above: British ex-spy Max Easton (Mark Strong); Strong on set in Morocco; Joe Dempsie, who plays Max’s son Harry Clarke, with director Robert Connolly.
Make contact with Amazon’s adaptation of Iain M Banks’ epic space o s Paul Schrader spoke to Empire while at the Dublin Film Festival on 23 February.
Above: Ethan Hawke as anti-hero Reverend Toller. Here: Toller watches over his flock. Below: Paul Schrader.
C Phlebas. From T.S. Eliot s The Waste Land, obviously. It’s the irst book, published in 1987, of sci-i author Banks’ nine-novel series about the interstellar human utopia known as The Culture.
A priest faces his dark night of the soul in First Reformed, the latest (and possibly last) ﬁlm from Paul Schrader
So basically another Star Trek, then. Nah. The Culture is super-advanced and progressive like The Federation, but it’s run by immensely clever and (mostly) benevolent AI spaceships which have names like Serious Callers Only and So Much For Subtlety. And it has its own sinister black-ops-style unit, called Special Circumstances.
PAUL SCHRADER MAY have just
Alamy, Rex Features
Why start with this novel? The later novels are more acclaimed, but Consider Phlebas is what Amazon describes as “a kinetic action-packed adventure on a huge canvas”. It’s set during a devastating conlict between The Culture and a religiousextremist alien empire. With its artiicial ring worlds, three-legged lizard monsters, city-sized spacecraft and breakneck chase sequences, it feels perfect for visual adaptation. Albeit hugely ambitious. Right. So who’s gonna turn this crazy space yarn into a TV reality, then? British writer Dennis Kelly, the man behind Channel 4’s Utopia. He says he loves Banks’ books for their “innate warmth, humour and humanism”. Also, presumably: their massive fuck-off spaceships. DAN JOLIN
made his ﬁnal ﬁlm. He hasn’t decided yet. “I’m close to writing something now,” the 71-year-old ﬁlmmaker says, “but I’m also of the mind that if this was my last ﬁlm, it would be a very good last ﬁlm.” If it is indeed a swansong, First Reformed seems appropriate. A brooding, philosophical drama about a rural church encountering radical environmental activism, it features at its centre a most Schraderian anti-hero: the softly-spoken Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke). Like Schrader’s most famous creation, Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, Toller is a decent man experiencing a moral crisis — and responding to society’s ills with extreme measures. “It brings together a lot of things that I’ve been attempting my whole life,” says Schrader, who has been “working towards” the script for nearly 50 years. With its quiet understated approach, there’s the clear inﬂuence of Schrader’s heroes, directors such as Robert Bresson and Yasujirō Ozu Later in the ﬁlm it also indulges th diversions of his brat’ breakthrou pessimism (“I ha view of the futur species”) and tac complicated rela with religion. It i
could say, like a Paul Schrader Greatest Hits album. One of Schrader’s favourite responses to the ﬁlm came from the evangelical periodical Christianity Today, a magazine his parents would buy regularly. “They gave it an extraordinarily favourable review,” he says. “That would have certainly made my father happy.” This is pretty signiﬁcant: Schrader grew up in a strict Calvinist household, and was banned from watching movies until he was 15. His parents never watched any of his ﬁlms. He’s not sure what they would have made of First Reformed, his ﬁrst proper examination of spirituality, but notes that after his father died, he found a complete collection of Schrader’s ﬁlms on VHS, wrapped in the original plastic. “As if to say, I’m proud my son made ﬁlms, but I want you to know I never saw one of them,” he explains. “Maybe they would have ended up watching this one?” As for what’s next, he seems philosophical “I’m getting close to ow. Let’s just .” Cinema’s t seems to to slow ENT ORMED IS IN AS FROM JUNE (TBC)
Do you have a signature dish? That would be something Spanish, because I’m half Spanish. I make a good tortilla de patatas, which is like a thicke omelette — it’s done with potatoes and onions. It’s not as easy as a simple egg omelette. You have to be careful when you turn the whole thing upside down. You have to be very quick. It’s not the most complicated dish in the world, but I’m very proud of it.
boy v mited in the back of the car. I was breath g it in, that acidic smell, for the whole j rney. Six long hours. People always s how wonderful babies smell, and they … but not in that case. Do you hav a nickname? For a long tim I was ‘Shit Fly’, because I was so nervy My mum actually called ‘Shi Fl ’ I d i i S i h!
What character were you in your first school play? I was a dwarf. A dwarf with a big nose. It was called Dwarf Nose. I think it was a German fairy tale.
put in your mouth? At the Berlin Film Festival, there’s always a huge party, and my friends always bring liquor. This year, my Mexican friends brought a wonderful mezcal. It didn’t actually taste too bad, but it was the wrong thing for that time… It was too late and I had to do interviews in the morning. In retrospect, it was not a good idea at all.
What is the worst smell in the world? Yesterday I was driving home from Stuttgart — we’re talking about a 600km drive, six hours or so — and my poor little
What is your favourite animal? I like squirrels. My wife calls me a ‘terror squirrel’, I guess because I’m hyperactive and nervous and I eat very fast. I’m always
COMING SOON THE ALIENIST (2018) Brühl plays a 19thcentury NYC psychologist in this lavish TV drama. 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE (2018) A film about the real events of the 1976 Entebbe hostage crisis. Brühl plays a German revolutionary. MY ZOE (2018) Brühl stars in this passion project from writer/ director/star Julie Delpy.
pacing around. It’s that combination of being a squirrel but also somehow terrorising? I was actually attacked by a squirrel once. I was in Canada and 20 of them attacked me. I still love them. Have you ever knowingly broken the law? I was the lousiest graiti artist in my hometown of Cologne. It felt incredibly cool to be one at the time. I left loads of art at abandoned train station, which was cool but also a bit ridiculous, because it was abandoned — nobody would see it. In fact, I went back to my hometown recently, and they’re still there! I really thought I could be a great graiti artist in my teens but I was probably the worst one. What is the best thing you’ve stolen from a hotel? Back when I was a dedicated smoker, I used to steal ashtrays from hotels, and was always very proud of them. I got some wonderful ones from Italy and Paris. Recently, it’s just been body wash and lotion. I can actually see some hotel shampoo in my apartment now. I always rather enjoy that little criminal act. What would you call your autobiography? ‘Shit, Is This It?’ JOHN NUGENT THE ALIENIST IS ON NETFLIX FROM 19 APRIL
Illustration: Matt Herring
When were you most starstruck? Oh, many times. The very last time I was really starstruck was at the SAG Awards when I ﬁnally shook hands with Robert De Niro. He was very friendly, and for a second I was thinking of giving him the avalanche of speeches that he’s heard his whole life — talking about how great Taxi Driver is etc — but I decided to give him a break and just shake his hand. I got a typical Robert De Niro nod in return. That made my day.
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PAGE 44 120 BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)
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Clockwise from above: You can never have too many best friends. The gang on the hunt for Spot; This is how you cure dog flu; Power to the stop-animation models!
ISLE OF DOGS ★★★★
OUT 30 MARCH CERT TBC / 101 MINS
Anderson Cranston, Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Koyu Rankin
PLOT Thanks to the cat-loving mayor of Megasaki City, the entire dog population of the Japanese metropolis has been transported to a grim island far from the coast. There, a band of scrappy creatures must embark on a mission to prevent further disaster.
WES ANDERSON HAS history with dogs. And it’s the kind of history that might have landed him on some kind of PETA watchlist. In Moonrise Kingdom, a fox terrier named Snoopy took a fatal arrow in the neck. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, a beagle called Spitz got knocked out via drugged blueberries. Another mutt is killed in The Royal Tenenbaums, while the one in The Life Aquatic escapes with only a newspaper whack from Bill Murray. Happily, though, Anderson has made up for all previous incidents of cinematic canicide with his latest, a joyous and visually splendid panegyric to man’s four-legged friend in which most (if not all) of the dogs survive unscathed. His second stop-motion animation after the aforementioned Fox, Isle Of Dogs is Anderson at his loosest and goosiest; you could say he’s been let of his leash. While it’s set in Japan and features sequences of such highly formalised traditions as sushi preparation, kabuki theatre and taiko drumming, the story itself has the giddy vibe of something that’s being made up as it goes along. There are sudden ﬂights backwards and forwards in time, fourth-wall-breaking, daft action licks (wasabi-guns FTW) and some narratively inessential detours, such as one in which a character pauses their quest to, for no apparent reason, have a go on a slide. At the same time, though, it is frequently heavy with pathos and sometimes even downright lugubrious. Bolt, this is not. Most of the action takes place on a remote “refu-centre” of the coast of Japan named Trash Island, where
750,000 pet dogs have been abandoned following an outbreak of ﬂu. It’s a horrendous place, a toxic wasteland that’s short on food and infested with rats. But Anderson and his animators ﬁnd beauty in this Mordor-like islet, unveiling one weirdly enchanting landscape after another, from an abandoned golf course to a shack constructed of brightly coloured sake bottles. The same is true of the poochtagonists, who at ﬁrst glance are parasite-ridden, diseased, savage beasts, but reveal hidden depths and quirks as the tale ticks on. The ﬁlm’s attention is mainly focused on Chief, a gruf, horribly scarred stray voiced by Bryan Cranston, but his companions get some memorable moments too: there’s a sleek mountain dog who loves gossip (Jef Goldblum), a neurotic hound who can’t pass up an opportunity to call a vote (Edward Norton), and a well-groomed, acrobatic lady-dog (Scarlett Johansson) who inspires the line, “All the ones I like, they’re never in heat.” The voice cast is, frankly, ridiculous, but not all of them make an impact: when Bill Murray gets lost in the mix, something has gone wrong somewhere. And visually, too, it becomes a bit of a blur of fur — new packs of animals are introduced late in the day, and the ﬁlm cuts with increasing freneticism between Trash Island and events back in the city of Megasaki, where a sinister conspiracy is unfurling. The charm falters slightly in the third act, as an American character leads the human resistance (while a Japanese one justs sits and weeps) and things are resolved with brawn rather than wit. But for the most part Isle Of Dogs is a peculiar and entrancing afair, treating the country in which it’s set with respect but also the kind of high-energy hyper-stylisation Tarantino brought to Kill Bill Vol. 1. It’s a movie that has robot battle-dogs, but also conversations about suicide. By far an odder proposition than Fantastic Mr. Fox, it’s not exactly for kids, not exactly for adults, but surely pretty much everyone will ﬁnd something to love. Unless you’re a cat — cats are going to hate it. NICK DE SEMLYEN If you’re playing Wes Anderson bingo, you can tick off ‘droll whimsy’, ‘visual pizzazz’ and ‘Bill Murray’. Yet, thanks to the Far East setting and a rollicking story, this is a fun and fresh-feeling experience.
PADDY CONSIDINE How the actor/writer/director prepared for the ﬁght of a boxer’s life
cinema 1 TRAINED AS A BOXER
OUT 30 MARCH CERT 15 / 92 MINS
Paddy Considine Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Anthony Welsh, Paul Popplewell DIRECTOR
World middleweight boxing champion Matty Burton (Considine) is defending his title against cocky, trash-talking challenger Andre ‘The Future’ Bryte (Welsh). But when Matty suffers a traumatic head injury, he has a new ight on his hands.
IN BOXING, A journeyman refers to a ﬁghter with moderate skill who doesn’t quite reach the level of a prize ﬁghter: a lost soul drifting from ﬁght to ﬁght. Matty Burton (Considine, who also writes and directs) is no journeyman in this sense: he’s a veteran of the sport, a middleweight boxing champion with a glittering career under his belt and retirement in his sights. The title of Considine’s second directorial efort, then, refers to a far more internal journey. This is not your average boxing movie — which, given we have seen your average boxing movie umpteen times before, is a relief. Considine is canny enough to realise that the boxing-as-redemption arc has been played out, and indeed, Matty needs no redemption: he’s a class act, a family man looking to cement his reputation by bowing out undefeated. During the press conference prior to what we assume will be his swansong ﬁght, he encounters the usual chest-thumping showdown from a cocky young pretender nicknamed ‘The Future’ (Anthony Welsh), who insists their title ﬁght is a “life changer”. He’s proven correct — though not in the way either of them might have expected.
It’s never stated what happens to Matty, but it’s clear he undergoes a lifechanging brain injury that fundamentally changes him as a person, morphing from a slick sports celebrity into a vulnerable and unpredictable trauma patient, unable to function without a carer. What follows is a gruelling journey of recovery, by no means unique to the sport of boxing, but certainly unique to boxing movies. Considine’s directing style has softened since the sharp, shocking debut of Tyrannosaur, which tackled a diferent type of trauma with a diferent approach. This is broader, and ultimately brighter — though it’s undeniably bleak, retaining Tyrannosaur’s social realism, particularly in the rehab scenes, which niftily subvert the training montage trope. It is arguably structured a little predictably, and is wrapped up too tidily after such a messy road. But where Journeyman sings is in its performances. Jodie Whittaker puts in a humane, well-rounded turn as Matty’s heartbroken wife; far from being a peripheral also-ran, she is aforded her own journey, a tribute to the strains of full-time caring. But it’s Considine’s showcase. He is astonishing as a broken man attempting to put himself back together, combining precise nuances and physical tics with a devastating well of complex, confused emotions. Having propped up an array of other people’s ﬁlms, this is perhaps his ﬁrst dramatic lead role since 2004’s Dead Man’s Shoes, and a salutary reminder that he is one of our ﬁnest, most versatile talents. Rumblings from his social media seemed to suggest that Considine was feeling the lure of a real-life retirement, but let’s hope they’re just rumblings — he surely has a few more bouts left in him. JOHN NUGENT VERDICT A boxing drama with a difference, Journeyman packs a powerful punch — and reminds us not to take Paddy Considine for granted.
2 SPOKE TO THE EXPERTS
__ “Paul Broks, an author who has written books about brain injuries, met with me a few times. I learned that each case is individual, so it gave me licence to explore Matty’s recovery and know I had some elasticity with what I could do with it. I went to Headway in Henley, and met people who had experienced brain injury. Those tragedies are out there and are not to be ignored.”
3 LISTENED TO MUSIC
__ “When I write a ilm, I have a playlist. They’re not always songs of my taste, but the lavour of them informs the writing. There’s a song by Enter Shikari called The Last Garrison that I’d play when I was training that put a lot of imagery in my head for the ight. Music is amazing for that. On a ilm, someone plays a song in the make-up truck and that becomes part of the experience.”
Illustration: Dave Hopkins
__ “I trained with Dominic Ingle, who trains Kell Brook and Billy Joe Saunders. I’d done a bit of it before. I’d never fought, but I’d hit the bags and could hold shape enough to play on in a ilm. The training was to make it down to middleweight because I was a light heavyweight when I walked in the gym after Christmas. I’d get up at 5am and I’d sometimes train on a black coffee.”
OUT 6 APRIL CERT PG / 116 MINS
Haynes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams
Two stories, 50 years apart: in 1977, orphaned Ben (Fegley) is struck by lightning and loses his hearing. Then he runs away to New York to investigate his mother’s past. In 1927, another deaf child, Rose (Simmonds), also slips away to the city that never sleeps in search of a silent-movie star.
THE LAST ADAPTATION of a Brian Selznick novel was Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, a love-letter to the silent-movie pioneers who invented an art form from paper, wood and silver nitrate. Selznick’s beautiful follow-up book, Wonderstruck, was another puzzle-box story set in the early 20th century. But the two intrepid children at the heart of its tale live parallel lives 50 years apart, making it an odder and less
elegantly cinematic beast — and Todd Haynes’ best efforts have not quite made its two halves sing together as they should. We start off with Ben (Pete’s Dragon’s Fegley), already reeling from his mother’s (Williams) death when he becomes the victim of a freak accident that robs him of his hearing. Neighbours take him in but, grief-stricken and isolated, he runs away to New York to investigate a note he found among his mother’s possessions. There he falls in with another boy, Jamie (Jaden Michael) who ﬁgures out at least part of the puzzle and tries to help the homeless Ben out. Crosscut is a parallel story of the Roaring Twenties, as Rose (Simmonds) sneaks out of her wealthy home and takes a ferry across to NYC in search of her favourite silent-movie actress, Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). When that meeting doesn’t go to plan, she heads for the city’s Natural History Museum — as does Ben for entirely different reasons — and the two children, half a century apart, fall in love with the exhibits and the magic of museums. The two time-periods are meticulously, gorgeously brought to life by Haynes and his Carol cinematographer Edward Lachman. 1927 is shot in soft
“According to Google Maps, we’re right by the river.”
black-and-whites that somehow feel remarkably warm, while 1977 has a gold and mustard glow that Gustav Klimt would envy. The texture of the soundtrack and all of the period detail is lush, but ultimately it doesn’t feel that there’s as much substance to the story as there is to the world. That’s no fault of the performers: Fegley is convincing as a young man who’s angry and confused by the upheavals of his life, but also brave and immensely likeable. And Simmonds, who is deaf, is extraordinarily expressive, drawing you in at once to her quest for a screen idol with barely more than a determined air and sheer charisma. There are neat little echoes of each adventure in the other, but the reasons for pairing these two tales takes an age to become apparent. The ﬁlm’s sheer good looks and talented cast will keep you going for a long while, but you’re more likely to be nodding off than wonderstruck by its plot. HELEN O’HARA VERDICT Haynes’ ﬁlm has lovely performances from both actors, and a keen sense of time and place help, but the story is a little too shaggy and unformed to entirely hold the attention.
CRAFTING THE PERFECT SEX SCENE 120 BPM director Robin Campillo tells us how
120 BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) ★★★★★
OUT 6 APRIL CERT 15 / 143 MINS
Campillo Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel, Antoine Reinartz
PLOT It’s the early ’90s, and AIDS is killing in droves. In Paris, activist group ACT UP take on the government and pharmaceutical business, conlicted on how to get results, but doing all they can to affect change.
IN 2000, DISCUSSING Boogie Nights, pornography and drama, Paul Thomas Anderson lamented the lack of proper, honest sex scenes in traditional narrative ﬁlm. “How does Forrest Gump have sex?” he asked, by way of example. “What could be more of a revelation about a character than watching them have sex? That says a lot about them, how they touch another person in bed.” 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) isn’t primarily about sex, nor is it by any means full of it — a couple of scenes maybe — but PTA would be thrilled by what’s there. The sex scenes don’t hold back, but really they’re about the emotional baggage and history that comes with giving yourself to somebody, how past experiences have formed us; they’re about what we need from each other, how fantastically vulnerable we can be. This is indicative of the ﬁlm as a whole: 120 BPM doesn’t ﬂinch for a frame. Set in the early 1990s, the ﬁlm concerns the Parisian branch of AIDS activist group ACT UP, who, when they’re not bringing their ﬁght to big pharma oices and the streets, slug
it out among themselves, heatedly debating what they need to do and how they need to do it. With seemingly no help on the horizon and no future for those afflicted, it was very much a matter of life and death, and tempers frayed accordingly. French-Moroccan director Robin Campillo and his co-writer Philippe Mangeot were both active members of ACT UP at the time, and their real recollections serve as ﬁerce inspiration for 120 BPM, which more than succeeds in its aim to show things as they were, an eclectic group fuelled by desperation for progress. Rarely does a ﬁlm ring as true as this, with unbelievably natural performances all round, but particularly by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as the ﬁrecracker Sean, a vicious human cocktail with a furious honesty. This realism seamlessly mixes with magic realism, and then outright surrealism — transcendent nightclub scenes, which intersperse the debating room and the protests, have Campillo ﬁlming the air particles as his heroes sway and sweat and snog, while elsewhere, sequences are reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s more far-out sequences in Trainspotting. All of life is here, the highs high, and the lows as low as it gets. After a while you forget you’re watching a ﬁlm at all, as you become fully immersed in these people’s lives. And that’s the point — 120 Beats Per Minute brims with life, a celebration of what it is to be alive, second by second — what it is to feel, ﬁght, to love, and to dance. It is a brazenly subjective piece of work, and all the better for it. Even if you didn’t know how personal it was, you would feel it. A mad, beautiful, brutal ﬁlm. ALEX GODFREY VERDICT Fly on the wall filmmaking at its best, this is pure cinema — an enthralling, enveloping experience that seizes you fully, effortlessly mixing politics, sex, life, death and art.
Body politic: Nathan (Arnaud Valois) gets active on the streets of Paris.
BE PERSONAL “I loved my boyfriend in the ’80s, and I was not with him at the moment he died. Of course I miss him because of all the things we did together, but I miss his body. I miss having sex with him. I wanted to show what that’s like.”
BE METAPHYSICAL “Being in bed with someone is not only about having sex with them. It’s a lot of things. It’s worlds, continents. And I wanted to show this in the ﬁlm, especially in the ﬁrst sex scene — that it’s as if people are in their own speciﬁc dimension.”
BE CLUMSY “I don’t like it in ﬁlms when sex scenes are like a performance. I like the sex to be a bit clumsy, because I’m not very imaginative in bed. And really that’s okay, I’m ﬁne with that.”
BE TRUE TO THE PAST “The characters are evoking people they had sex with before. It’s like they’re summoning spirits. I love the fact that the scene is like a séance, they’re asking the spirits to come back to this speciﬁc bed. AIDS is an STD, so all the people having sex together are connected.”
BE REAL “It doesn’t stop because people have an orgasm. There are these awkward moments between and after. You have to wipe up the sperm. It’s very human, to show these moments you’re going through when you are in love with someone and you have sex for the ﬁrst time with them — it’s like a new world.”
OUT 6 APRIL CERT 15 / 98 MINS
Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman Alex Lawther, Martin Freeman, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Jill Halfpenny DIRECTORS
Professor Philip Goodman (Nyman) investigates three unsolved cases of men falling victim to supernatural shenanigans. Dispatched around England, the pragmatic Goodman attempts to unravel their stories — but something scarier starts to take hold.
GHOST STORIES SETS out its stall early, and what a bizarre stall it is. At its start, a supposed psychic is on stage acting as a vessel for a dead, leukaemiastricken child to speak through him: “My blood hurts, Mummy,” the conman wails as the grieving mother breaks down. A couple of minutes later, a few decades earlier, a possessed old woman spits some bile. “She ﬁngered herself last night, thinking about John Travolta,” she says of her adult daughter, demonically.
“Daddy sees everything.” This all makes sense when you know who’s involved. Ghost Stories, adapted from their hit play, is an unholy mind meld of two 51-year-old Englishmen who met at 15 and immediately bonded over their shared love of horror ﬁlms: Hammer, The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, as well as scary shaggy dog tales on the BBC and ITV, and John Landis’ just released An American Werewolf In London. Jeremy Dyson went on to co-found and co-write The League Of Gentlemen, while Andy Nyman directed and co-wrote many of Derren Brown’s TV and stage shows. Ghost Stories is unashamedly in thrall to all of this, presenting an anthology about three mentally scarred men (Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman), tied together by Nyman’s Philip Goodman, a cynical non-believer who hosts the television programme ‘Psychic Cheats’. The play had audiences screaming and jumping, and the ﬁlm wants to do the same. It’s a diicult challenge, trying to repeat the effects of a living, breathing interactive experience in cinemas screening a locked product. Spooky and unsettling rather than outright scary, it’s still a funhouse of sorts, prodding nerves from the off with an unhealthy sound mix.
Where was the goddamn Uber?
There is some very creepy camerawork, and the whole thing feels removed from reality, off kilter and unhappy, ﬁlmed in an England with the life sucked out of it. There is a smallness to these yarns, and, as it is an anthology, it allows only so much emotional investment. You always know some awful thing’s about to strike. But that’s all part of the fun, as Ghost Stories indulges in tropes, plays with them, sometimes taking the piss out of them: “Fuck that!” yells one character as a beast seductively welcomes him. It’s at its most effective, though, when it plays it straight. Scares aside, Ghost Stories takes in religion, spirituality and psychological torment, sometimes sadistically. It would be surprising to hear that Nyman and Dyson believed in the supernatural themselves, but they certainly love the idea of it, and this ﬁlm is an ode to not only horror as a genre, but to real human horror, trauma, and the ruinous damage wreaked by us all. What we’re left with is sadness. ALEX GODFREY VERDICT Not quite a terrifying thrill-ride, Ghost Stories is a creepy, disturbing ghost train with a beefier backbone than its source material, trading on tropes but still making your skin itch.
A WRINKLE IN TIME ★★★
OUT 23 MARCH CERT PG / 109 MINS
Ava DuVernay Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine DIRECTOR CAST
PLOT Pre-teen Meg (Reid) never got over the disappearance of her scientist father (Pine) four years ago. But when she and her little brother (McCabe) meet the strange Mrs Whatsit (Witherspoon) they learn that he has travelled through space — and there may be a way to get him back.
MADELEINE L’ENGLE’S A
“And yet, you don’t have any wrinkles at all.”
Wrinkle In Time is a children’s classic, showered with awards on publication in 1962 and in print ever since. But with its spare prose and cosmos-spanning concepts, and in particular given its non-ending, the novel is a particularly tricky proposition for the screen. Director Ava DuVernay’s solution is to throw visual dazzle at the issues, but always returning, occasionally only just in time, to the emotions that made the book work. Our heroine is Meg (Reid), a 13-year-old who has gone from gifted student to isolated malcontent in the four years following the disappearance of her scientist father (Pine). Her precocious little brother Charles Wallace (McCabe) loyally defends her, as does her fascinated schoolmate Calvin (Miller, stuck with what would usually be the thin adoring-girlfriend role), but she pulls away even from them. That is, until the weird Mrs Whatsit (Witherspoon) turns up to tell them Meg’s father is alive and merely stranded across the universe. With her even more uncanny companions, Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey), the three kids set of to follow him, folding space in a process called “tessering” (from a four-dimensional tesseract, see?) to step across galaxies like they were paving stones. There is, of course, an enemy to stand against them. After a quick stop on the heavenly planet of Uriel they travel to Camazotz, a bizarrely uniform world under the control of an ultimate evil called It (It again, having a good year). There, Meg and Charles
Wallace are tested to the limit as they ﬁght for their father. Much of the ﬁlm is gloriously inventive, with some visionary touches: precariously balanced towers of amber, for example, or a deeply disturbing afternoon at the beach. The costumes and make-up of the three Mrses are to die for, from Oprah’s jewelled eyebrows to Kaling’s Hopi hair. And this is a ﬁlm that is inclusive in its DNA, from posters of Maya Angelou and James Baldwin in Meg’s school to Mrs Who’s quotation of OutKast, Shakespeare and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The racebending of Meg adds an extra dimension to her feelings of insecurity, as well as providing a rare balance to the endless fantasy ﬁlms about white people. Magic shouldn’t have a skin colour. That said, DuVernay and her screenwriters, Frozen’s Jennifer Lee and Bridge To Terabithia’s Jef Stockwell, made the probably wise decision to streamline the book’s wilder aspects too, namely Charles Wallace’s otherworldliness and Calvin’s strange mental powers. Sometimes, however, the ﬁlm seems to pause a little too long to admire its own cleverness, the camera lingering on a CGI-assisted landscape straight out of What Dreams May Come, with the colours turned up to 11 and the levels of reality hovering near zero. The tone pinballs about desperately in the ﬁlm’s ﬁrst half, with Witherspoon the only one acting like she’s in a kids’ ﬁlm (in fairness, she’s the one most closely working with the kids). It’s not until Oprah comes down to ground level that the tone begins to settle. Once it does, the ﬁlm ﬁnds its stride. It does so by focusing on Meg, and the deep cracks in her psyche left by her father’s apparent abandonment, in an extraordinarily good performance from Reid. Meg blames herself, wonders if she was somehow unworthy of love, and is basically riddled with self-doubt and fear. That terror is what she has to overcome, and Reid sells it ﬂawlessly. For all the stumbles along the way, the message the ﬁlm eventually delivers is an important one about embracing your faults and believing yourself worthy, and that makes up for a lot of overly baroque ﬂourishes. HELEN O’HARA VERDICT This spectacular adventure sometimes wanders across the borders of invention into artiﬁciality, but ﬁnds its feet when it focuses in on its characters and their relationships.
TOMB RAIDER ★★
OUT NOW CERT 12A / 118 MINS
Uthaug Vikander, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Walton Goggins
Lara Croft (Vikander) lives a quiet life as a bicycle courier in east London. But when she uncovers clues to her missing father’s (West) whereabouts, Croft embarks on her irst adventure to unlock the mysterious tomb of Himiko — the “mother of death”.
SINCE FIRST APPEARING as a jumble of jagged polygons in a 1996 PlayStation game, Lara Croft has embedded herself in the pop culture like an artifact in an ancient catacomb. The computer-generated archeologistturned-sex-symbol is laden with
superlatives: more magazine covers than any supermodel; more actors taking the role than Bond or Batman; and, with the two turn-of-the-century Angelina Jolie ﬁlms, more box-oice takings than any video-game adaptation in history. This reboot is itself based on a reboot: the 2013 video game of the same name, which did much of the groundwork in reestablishing Lara Croft from teenage fantasy to a believable grown-up adventure hero. Gone are the ludicrously disproportionate dimensions and skimpy outﬁts (no bikini Jet Ski ﬂips this time). In its place is a gritty Nolan-esque tone and a realistic take on the legend. At least, that seems to be the intention. But this isn’t exactly the Dark Knight of the franchise. “I’m not that kind of Croft,” insists Lara (Vikander) on more than one occasion, seemingly addressed directly at Angelina Jolie. The effort to wipe the slate clean, alas, proves a little misguided. This time around, Lara has abandoned her aristocratic homestead for the trendy streets of Shoreditch, in
an effort to make her cool and relevant. (Never mind that Shoreditch was actually cool about ten years ago.) Her Nathan Barley existence is interrupted only when her long-missing father comes back into the picture: before his apparent death, he was prescient enough to leave a series of elaborate clues for his resourceful daughter. And so begins a globe-trotting adventure. With Lara embarking on her father’s last crusade, uncovering a temple of doom, and raiding a lost ark, you’ll win no prizes for guessing which particular beloved franchise the ﬁlm most brazenly borrows from. (Be thankful there are no crystal skulls.) But while Tomb Raider indulges in the adventure genre’s most obvious tropes — the jet-setting internationalism, the swooping helicopter shots, the careless racial stereotypes — it struggles to offer the character development or narrative depth to match Dr Jones. Though not entirely humourless, the supernatural stuff — the “mother of death”, the “order of Trinity”, the “chasm
WALK LIKE A PANTHER ★★ OUT NOW / CERT 12A / 108 MINS
Dan Cadan Stephen Graham, Dave Johns, Jill Halfpenny DIRECTOR CAST
Clockwise from left: In this new lo-ﬁ Tomb Raider, it’s back to bows and arrows; Trendy Shoreditch gym alert!; Alicia Vikander’s Lara is on the hunt for more than broken Roman pots; Daniel Wu as Croft ally Lu Ren.
of souls” — is played so po-faced that it comes of as daft. And in its desperation to maintain a relentless pace, even mundane events such as a bicycle race are recalibrated into pulsating action sequences. It’s 90 per cent dramatic peril, and competently shot, but it leaves the dialogue scenes feeling suspiciously similar to video game cutscenes. In those rare moments of breath-catching, the cast are ﬁne. Vikander certainly ofers a diferent interpretation; Kristin Scott Thomas, as her legal guardian, does a great line in lip-pursing; Walton Goggins is left only to sweatily grimace as the ostensible baddie. But few actors could enliven dialogue this dreary. Come the familiar booby-trapped ﬁnal curtain, Lara inevitably saves the day and lifts the curse; the video-game-to-ﬁlm adaptation curse, meanwhile, remains to ﬁght another day. JOHN NUGENT VERDICT It’s a different kind of Tomb Raider, certainly. But for an adventure ﬁlm, it’s disconcertingly dull.
DON’T BE FOOLED by the title. Rather than a sequel to Black Panther, this cloth-eared comedy sees a group of ageing wrestlers come back together for one last shot at glory, all in the name of saving their local pub. Again invoking the MCU, this has more lead characters than Infinity War, but struggles to accommodate them all, leaving good actors like Stephen Graham and Dave Johns to lounder. Writer-director Cadan’s intentions, to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the days when wrestling (of the rubbish British variety) ruled the airwaves, come from a good place, but the execution is off, with obvious jokes and cartoonish characters. It wants to be ‘The Full Monty 2’, but you’ll want to tag out. CH
MY GOLDEN DAYS ★★★ OUT 16 MARCH / CERT 15 / 124 MINS
Arnaud Desplechin Quentin Dolmaire, Lou RoyLecollinet, Mathieu Amalric DIRECTOR CAST
TWO DECADES AFTER director Armand Desplechin and actor Matthieu Amalric introduced audiences to Paul Dédalus in Ma Vie Sexuelle, the pair reunite for a reunion-cum-prequel that relects on the quirky escapades of a misspent past. Amalric is a leeting presence, however, as a passport problem prompts him to revisit certain events that helped shape him. Quentin Dolmaire captures Paul’s protective vulnerability, but he is upstaged by Lou Roy-Lecollinet as the beguiling Esther, who breaks his heart. Events are as slickly inconsequential as the modish iris shots, split-screens and breaches of the fourth wall employed to convey the reckless intensity of youth. It’s like the Nouvelle Vague never ended. DP
WONDER WHEEL ★★★ OUT NOW / CERT 12A / 101 MINS
Woody Allen Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi DIRECTOR CAST
OUT NOW CERT 15 / 110 MINS
Edgerton Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried
PLOT On a work trip to Mexico with his bosses (Edgerton, Theron), put-upon, strait-laced businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo) makes a rash decision that triggers a series of unfortunate events.
BACK WHEN PULP Fiction ‘homages’ were all the rage, a young Charlize Theron made her mark as a fearsome, sexually aggressive schemer in 2 Days In The Valley, one of the very best of all the sub-Tarantino ﬂood of movies that thrust a group of seemingly unconnected characters into a circuitous crime plot. That ﬂood has since slowed to a trickle, but every now and then along comes a movie forged in QT’s image. Gringo is just such a ﬁlm, and wouldn’t you know, it features Charlize Theron as a fearsome, sexually aggressive schemer. The circle is complete. For his debut ﬁlm, after years of stunt work and second unit shenanigans, Nash Edgerton has assembled a ﬁne ensemble for his tale of criminal behaviour down Mexico way, including his brother Joel. But Theron is the stand-out, clearly relishing playing a rapacious, soulless sociopath who gets the majority of the ﬁlm’s best lines. Most of which are of the unrepeatable, can’tquite-believe-she-said-that variety. She’s very much a supporting character, though. Gringo difers from most Tarantino-esque ﬂicks in that it has a clear lead, in David Oyelowo’s hapless Harold Soyinka, a Nigerian immigrant and all-round nice guy who’s had it up to
here with his dead-end job and mounting debt, but just ﬁnds himself getting deeper with every terrible decision he makes. Oyelowo’s career has been admirable, but not exactly heavy on light relief. Here, he makes Harold into a sympathetic, rounded yet comedic ﬁgure, regularly unleashing a corker of a high-pitched, terriﬁed scream as he is regularly thrust into life-or-death situations. And when he’s teamed with a bearded and brash Copley, as a mercenary trying desperately to do the right thing, it leads to some of the ﬁlm’s funniest moments, as well as the odd unexpectedly profound exchange. Not everyone in the ensemble gets to shine. The ﬁlm does have an issue with some of its less important characters, struggling to incorporate the likes of Seyfried’s Sunny and Harry Treadaway’s Miles into the central plot, while Thandie Newton is utterly wasted in a thankless role as Harold’s duplicitous wife that ultimately ends up as nothing more than a cheap punchline. Plot-wise, some of the coincidences piled on by Edgerton and his writers, Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone, are hard to swallow, even for a ﬁlm of this nature. And while it was clearly shot, for the most part, on location in Mexico, it never quite gets that sense of sweaty impending doom captured so efortlessly in previous tales of Mexican-set mayhem, such as Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia or even the average cartel-led episode of Breaking Bad. But when the bullets and the pop culture-related banter are ﬂying (a drug dealer has an extended rif about which Beatles album is best; scandalously, he never once mentions Abbey Road), it’s a lot of fun. Particularly when Theron is on screen, pushing the politically incorrect envelope with barely contained glee. CHRIS HEWITT VERDICT A pitch-black, often very funny slice of pulp fiction with a number of stand-out performances, notably the ferocious Theron.
His Love Island experience was going from bad to worse.
IT’S HARD TO know if this colourful, stagy melodrama is meant as a tribute to or pastiche of Eugene O’Neill’s hard-scrabble plays. Perhaps it’s both. Timberlake’s callow Mickey, a parttime lifeguard and full time pseudointellectual, starts an affair with the unhappy Ginny (Winslet) — a former actress, married to alcoholic Humpty (Belushi) and adjusting badly to life as a waitress. But Mickey soon strays from Ginny to her step-daughter Carolina (Temple), with predictably messy results. Winslet is on extraordinary form as a woman who’s all too conscious the male attention she has always relied upon is disappearing, but she’s signiicantly more engaging and better than the ilm around her. HOH
CUSTODY ★★★★ OUT 13 APRIL / CERT TBC / 94 MINS
Xavier Legrand Denis Ménochet, Léa Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux DIRECTOR CAST
ACTOR XAVIER LEGRAND won the Best Director and First Film prizes at Venice for this tautly controlled continuation of his Oscar-nominated short, Just Before Losing Everything (2013). Combining stark realism with generic guile, he keeps the camera close to the characters, as the brooding Antoine (Ménochet) seeks to exploit weekend access to 11-year-old son Julien (Gioria) to maintain his grip on estranged wife Miriam (Drucker). Nixing a score and using ambient sound to ratchet up the tension, this is a masterclass in stylistic restraint that only misses its step during the still nerveshredding denouement. Ménochet and Drucker excel, but it’s newcomer Gioria who generates the unsettling terror. DP
OUT 23 MARCH CERT 15 / 98 MINS
Steven Soderbergh Claire Foy, Amy Irving, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple DIRECTOR
PLOT Despite moving away from home and rebooting her life, Sawyer Valentini (Foy) still suffers the trauma of being stalked by an obsessive man. Then, after a therapy session, she is involuntarily committed to a mental institution where her worst fears are realised and her grip on reality loosens.
FEATURING MEDICAL malpractice, reality-smudging prescription drugs and a female protagonist who may or may not be losing her sanity, Steven Soderbergh’s second post-‘retirement’ production lurks closest to his secondto-last pre-‘retirement’ movie, Side Effects. But where that was executed in the glossy style of a typical Hollywood thriller, Unsane is down, dirty, lo-ﬁ and — no doubt made for a nickel and a dime
— commercially uncompromised. Meaning that once Claire Foy’s apparently fragile Sawyer ﬁnds herself incarcerated in an unscrupulous psychiatric hospital then tormented by a demon from her past, we’re taken somewhere far more nightmarish and murkily disturbing than the director’s ever led us before. With the entire ﬁlm shot on iPhones, it would be all too easy to write it of as a ﬂagrant act of gimmickry on Soderbergh’s part. This is, after all, the ﬁlmmaker who once shot a movie (2006’s The Good German) in the style of Michael Curtiz — but with sex and swearing — and whose nuts-sounding HBO project Mosaic comes with a narrative-inﬂuencing app. But his creative decision for Unsane really nourishes the mood of nasty, queasy unease. The image quality is cold and grainy, feeling surreptitiously snatched rather than framed, and lending a sense of grubby voyeurism to the experience. Something that’s exacerbated by the low angles (one date scene is captured by a phone propped on a bar, making you feel like a little you’re watching while trying to crouch out of sight) and personal space-invading POV close-ups.
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a woman on the edge.
It’s all horribly appropriate for a narrative threaded around a woman whose life has been shattered by a stalker. And smartphones, of course, are the stalker’s best friend. As an anti-stalker advisor (played by Soder-friend and cameo-addict Matt Damon) tells Sawyer during a ﬂashback scene, “Think of your cellphone as your enemy.” In a sense, Unsane feels more closely related to Jordan Peele’s Get Out than any previous Soderbergh movie — Get Out being a ﬁlm Soderbergh has praised for dealing with social issues through genre cinema. Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s script doesn’t share Peele’s sense of humour — this is, without any doubt, grim viewing — but the Get Out creator’s deﬁnition of his ﬁlm as a “social thriller” (rather than ‘horror’) does ﬁt Unsane perfectly. However, the target here is not corrupt medical institutions. In fact, the idea that a hospital would repeatedly entrap unwilling patients in order to cash in on their health insurance pay-outs feels a little far-fetched. Thankfully, Sawyer’s institutional entrapment is a scene-setter rather than the main ❯ thrust of the plot, providing a grey-
walled cage from which she needs to escape and a set of damaged supporting characters for her to rail at and bounce of while the true threat gradually becomes clear. What the ﬁlm really takes aim at is sexual abuse, as it manifests across the spectrum. Before she’s committed, before things get extreme, Sawyer is leered at by men on the street and inappropriately propositioned by a creepy boss. Then, once the hospital’s trap is sprung, she is horriﬁcally gaslighted and more straightforwardly tortured by someone who, whether real or a drug-induced phantom, sees ‘love’ as a justiﬁable act of possession. It’s tricky, prickly territory, not least because the question mark the story dangles over Sawyer’s head requires us to wonder whether or not she’s sufering at the hands of a real man or her own psychosis. In other words: maybe she’s to blame, even if it is as a result of illness. But Bernstein and Greer’s script keeps its balance, while Soderbergh keeps things on the right side of exploitation, and none of his shocks come fringed with the kind of intended titillation you’d expect to ﬁnd in a conventional horror. To pull it all of, the director couldn’t have made a better choice for his lead actor than Foy. Having grown used to seeing her regally restrain her emotional responses in the likes of Wolf Hall and The Crown, we get to witness what she can do when she’s furiously unleashed. This is about as far from the stiﬂing, hi-def opulence of Buckingham Palace as it’s possible to imagine. It’s a blistering performance, one that was no doubt intensely uncomfortable for Foy, but one in which she ensures Sawyer is neither dismissible as ‘hysterical’ or ever reduced to a whimpering victim who only requires another man to rescue her. She is horribly wronged. She is bruised and battered, both emotionally and physically. But she is never completely broken. “There is no path to happiness from here,” Sawyer says at one point. But there might, whatever the cost, be a path to justice. DAN JOLIN VERDICT A raw, lean and abrasively effective thriller from Steven Soderbergh, which features Claire Foy as we’ve never seen her before.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
iPHONING IT IN Is the iPhone a legit means of moviemaking or a PR stunt, asks Empire contributing editor Ian Freer
IF YOU KNOW one thing about Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, it is that it was shot entirely on an iPhone. A bigname American auteur making a movie on a mobile could be conceived as little more than a publicity gimmick, a ruse to build noise around a ﬁlm where the biggest name is the Queen of Netﬂix and the subject matter is an uncommercial cocktail of mental health and paranoia. Yet the way Soderbergh has utilised his ‘cell’ is fascinating, potentially paving
a new way for ﬁlmmakers to work. If they remember to charge the damn thing. Of course, iPhone-shot cinema is nothing new. As far back as 2011, South Korean ﬁlmmaker Park Chan-wook made Paranmanjang, a 30-minute short about a ﬁsherman who ﬁnds a dead body in the water shot entirely on an iPhone 4. It landed director Park the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at Berlin and a hefty EE bill. But the camera-phone didn’t get
above-the-title billing until Sean Baker’s Sundance hit Tangerine. A riotous hymn to the vibrancy of LA street life, Baker reluctantly shot the ﬁlm on three iPhone 5s’s out of ﬁnancial necessity but found advantages to the shrunk-down tech: he was able to shoot on Santa Monica Boulevard incognito, move around quickly and cheaply, and didn’t intimidate his non-professional cast with huge cameras and crews. For all the cost-cutting rationale, it’s arguable the ﬁlm gains a lot of its ﬁzz and immediacy from being shot on a mobile. But this is where Unsane is a break from tradition. Baker was forced into shooting Tangerine on an iPhone due to brute economics — he literally couldn’t aford to do it any other way. Soderbergh had options. A pioneer in digital video going back to 2002’s Full Frontal, he could have stuck with the high-end RED cameras he has long championed.
Clockwise from above: Sean Baker breaks new ground with the iPhone-shot Tangerine in 2015; Steven Soderbergh shoots Claire Foy in Unsane; Blockbuster maestro Zack Snyder changes pace with last year’s iPhone 7-shot short Snow Steam Iron.
Yet his decision to shoot on an iPhone was purely down to aesthetics. “I’ve seen it 40 feet tall,” Soderbergh told US website Indiewire in Sundance. “It looks like velvet. This is a gamechanger to me.” It’s not just Unsane’s tech specs that are shifting the goal posts. It is boldly severing the form(at) away from the content. Whereas the iPhone is the perfect device to capture the raw lived-in-public lives of Tangerine, there is nothing inherent in the narrative of Unsane that dictates the approach. It’s not about teenagers who live their lives on phones or a monster ﬂick with found footage saved in the cloud. The iPhoneness of the story is not relevant here. It is just a tool. For Soderbergh, a potential obstacle to a broad adoption of the phone camera is a “philosophical” one: some will ﬁnd it hard to get beyond the small size of the
capture device. Will every director switch across? Probably not. It’s hard to imagine Christopher Nolan changing up for ‘Dunkirk II: Life’s A Beach And Then You Die’. But others are dipping their toes in the water. Last year Michel Gondry made a typically surreal family road trip movie Detour on an iPhone 7. Using the same phone model, Zack Snyder shot a microbudget, four-minute short Snow Steam Iron, perhaps a necessary restorative project after the excesses of the DCEU. It’s easy to see how the iPhone as movie camera will democratise moviemaking, ensuring cinematic storytelling is for everyone. Yet, that it is resonating with the top of the Hollywood tree is telling too. Perhaps, by doing away with the need for huge crews, heavy equipment and conventional cinematic grammar with no loss in image quality, it represents freedom.
WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST ★★ OUT 23 MARCH / CERT 15 / 83 MINS DIRECTOR Lorna
Tucker Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler, Ben Westwood
MARY MAGDALENE ★★★
OUT NOW CERT 12A / 120 MINS
Garth Davis Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim DIRECTOR
After a miracle-performing Rabbi named Jesus (Phoenix) visits her village on the coast of Galilee, Mary of Magdala (Mara) leaves her home and family to join him as his newest disciple, and witnesses the key events during the inal months of his life.
MARY MAGDALENE HAS always been a vague, mutable ﬁgure in Christian teaching who tends to tell us more about the prejudices of the time than who she really was. Sadly, it’s Pope Gregory I’s take on her which has dominated most of history. In the late sixth century, the patriarchal git recast her as “the sinful woman” — a whore who Christ oh so mercifully redeemed. Never mind that she’s directly named more than any other apostle in the four Gospels. Or that she was the ﬁrst person the resurrected Jesus ﬁrst appeared to. Or that there’s no evidence she was ever a prostitute. In Gregory’s eyes, she needed to be put in her place. And it’s a place which cinema’s been all too happy to keep her. After all, it makes for a better (arguably sexier) story, right through to Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ and Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, which both conﬂate her with the supposed adulterer Jesus saves from stoning. With Mary Magdalene, however, Australian director Garth Davis (Lion) aims to set the record straight and return her to her rightful place as the 13th disciple who became even closer to the Messiah than his “rock”, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
It’s a worthy and welcome move, one which makes the ﬁlm’s earliest scenes its most interesting. We get to see how Mary might really have lived, hauling ﬁsh nets with her sisters on the shore of Galilee, and resisting her father and brother’s attempts to marry her of with such nonconformist vehemence they assume demons have infested her soul. Portrayed with poise and resilience by Rooney Mara, she’s an initially compelling ﬁgure who appears in virtually every scene, whether enraptured by the sermons of Jesus (Phoenix), tending to the starving victims of Roman oppression, or deﬁantly tackling the jealousy of the other disciples, primarily the put-out Peter. But as the story rolls on through Passover, it becomes more repetitive and familiar, briskly skipping through the big, climactic events in Jerusalem leading up to, and after, the cruciﬁxion. The perspective may be fresh and the style impressively historical rather than mythical (an opening title notably says we’re in 33 CE rather than AD), but the events obviously remain the same, with the narrative inevitably becoming more dependent on Jesus himself. And Phoenix, sadly, does not a convincing Christ make. As the only actor here with an American accent, he feels less like a divinely empowered ﬁrst-century religious activist than an acid-tweaked Summer-Of-Lover who’s rocked up in the wrong New Testament-based show. Davis’ ﬁlm may be timely and appropriate in the way it liberates the cinematic Magdalene from ‘fallen woman’ cliché, but for all its good intentions — and a strong turn from Mara — it loses focus during the crucial ﬁnal act, denying the disciple the great story she deserves. DAN JOLIN VERDICT An
interesting new take on a very well-known tale and a praiseworthy act of revisionism, but one which doesn’t ultimately deliver on its early promise.
Special relationship: Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Mary (Rooney Mara).
BORED OF BEING a punk and dismissive of her iconic status, 76-year-old Vivienne Westwood has reinvented herself as an environmental activist. Consequently, she’s disowned ex-model Lorna Tucker’s documentary debut for neglecting her eco advocacy. She should be more frustrated by the rehash of stock footage and tired anecdotes that make up this trendily non-linear chronicle of a remarkable career. With sons, acolytes and curators queuing up to lionise and/or downplay the signiicance of key collaborator Malcolm McLaren, this comes close to being a corporate promo, as Tucker avoids any critique of Westwood’s aesthetic or philosophy. Disappointingly unrevealing. DP
ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX, FASHION & DISCO ★★★ OUT 6 APRIL / CERT TBC / 95 MINS DIRECTOR James
Crump Cunningham, Jessica Lange, Pat Cleveland, Patti D’Arbanville
WHAT’S APPARENT FROM this brisk memoir of revered fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez is that he had charisma to match his talent; just about everyone interviewed had a crush on him. Yet, while Crump makes innovative use of Lopez’s sensually luid drawings, he omits to place them in an historical context. Consequently, it’s not until Lopez and art director/erstwhile lover Juan Ramos escape Manhattan and team with Karl Lagerfeld in Paris that his achievement as a pioneer of racial and gender neutrality comes into focus. Crump exploits the rich photo archive, but the lack of movie footage leaves this feeling like a son et lumière show, albeit a dynamic one. DP
MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHTDOWN THE WHITE HOUSE ★★
OUT 23 MARCH CERT 12A / 102 MINS
Peter Landesman Liam Neeson, Marton Csokas
Following the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Associate Director Mark Felt (Neeson) is beaten to the post by Patrick Gray (Csokas), an outsider in Nixon’s pocket. As Watergate unfolds, Felt leaks information to the press, earning himself the nickname Deep Throat.
SOME 32 YEARS after its release, Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men suddenly feels like a touchstone for 2018’s cinematic releases. Firstly, Steven Spielberg’s The Post acted as a quasiprequel outlining an investigation at
The Washington Post pre-Watergate. Now Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (a title longer than the ﬁlm will run in cinemas) does a deeper dive into Deep Throat, revealed to be Felt in 2005 by Vanity Fair, the whistleblower’s whistleblower who kept journalist Bob Woodward on the right track to topple Nixon’s government. Yet where Pakula’s ﬁlm is pacy, vital and engrossing, writerdirector Peter Landesman’s (Parkland, Concussion) is a slow, inert, ﬁtfully engaging portrait of an uninteresting man who did an important thing. The story starts with the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in May 1972. Felt (Neeson), a loyal Hoover foot soldier, seems to be his obvious successor. Yet he is passed over by Nixon in favour of ex-Navy oicer L. Patrick Gray (Csokas), a strong ally of the President, kick-starting some not-particularly-riveting machinations between colourless FBI types (played by the likes of Josh Lucas, Tony Goldwyn and Tom Sizemore) hampered by ham-ﬁsted exposition and a lack of narrative urgency. The gloomy blue lighting scheme is designed to add mystery; instead it gives the proceedings an airless quality. When the Watergate scandal emerges, Landesman argues that Felt
It was a tie so voluminous it came with its own user manual.
is driven less by exposing corruption and more by a desire to protect the Bureau’s independence from an outsider. He sidelines Felt’s underground car-park dealings with Bob Woodward (a boyish Julian Morris) in favour of TIME magazine’s Sandy Smith, played by Bruce Greenwood. These scenes, in a run-down diner, crackle and give you a sense of the kind of ﬁlm Mark Felt might have been. Neeson cuts an imposing ﬁgure, but not even he can translate Felt’s innate sense of decency into something compelling. Landesman tries to round Felt out with glimpses into his family life — his depressed wife (Diane Lane) and runaway daughter (Maika Monroe) — but it feels like an addendum. It’s a ﬁlm that should hum with contemporary relevance — Felt’s snitching is a forerunner of James Comey’s memo leaking — but it doesn’t make the sparks ﬂy. This is partly due to Landesman’s storytelling and partly to Felt himself. Some men are meant to remain in the shadows. IAN FREER VERDICT Mark Felt is a lacklustre staging of a fascinating episode in recent US history. Despite Neeson’s strong presence, this is a deep throat that never ﬁnds its voice.
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OUT 6 APRIL CERT 15 / 93 MINS
Finley Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift
Upper-crust schoolgirl Lily (TaylorJoy) is hired to tutor her friend Amanda (Cooke) some years after a traumatic event. As their bond grows and anger deepens, they enlist a small-time drug dealer (Yelchin) to take care of a family problem.
CONTROL IS EVERYTHING in this debut feature from playwright Cory Finley. From the precise editing to the nota-word-out-of-place dialogue, or from the intricately tailored costumes to the alternately clattering and eerie score, this is one of the most carefully marshalled ﬁrst ﬁlms in donkey’s years. Control’s also everything for the characters, be it restraining your emotions, pretending to be a normal human being existing in the world, or — yes — getting
someone to murder for you. Coming on like Harold Pinter remaking Heavenly Creatures after mainlining Les Diaboliques, but with a devilish delight in the perverse that’s all its own, Thoroughbreds is destined to be a word-of-mouth hit among teenage audiences: “You know — the one about the fucked-up girls.” Ah, and what fucked-up girls. Cooke and Taylor-Joy are perfect casting, their parallel careers real-life’s healthier correlative to their queasy chemistry on screen. They’re both rising stars prominent in two huge upcoming ﬁlms (Ready Player One and The New Mutants respectively), they both ﬁrst made their mark carrying horror indies (Ouija, The Witch), and they’re unusually self-possessed for actors born after Jurassic Park came out. Director Finley must be thanking his lucky stars they are, as his dialogue, both riddled with things unsaid and spat with venomous frankness, is batted between Cooke and Taylor-Joy with relish as they vie for who can manifest the darkest psychology. One is a psychopath who’s disarmingly frank about her condition, the other the ne plus ultra of overachievers obsessed with — that word again — control. Poor Anton Yelchin, here giving
She didn’t think much of the outdoor IKEA showroom.
his ﬁnal performance, would evince sympathetic feelings here even if he were still with us. Schwarzenegger himself would struggle if caught between the main twosome, so Yelchin’s hapless loser, Tim, who the pair set about manipulating, hasn’t got a chance. He’s devoid of hope and smart enough to know it’s his own fault — although he’s not quite the helpless patsy the girls have him down for. This may sound like the set-up for a twisty thriller, and this is where Finley’s theatre roots either boost him or let him down, depending on your taste. Tension and twists aren’t really the point: the girls using language to eke the darkness out of one another is, which leads to a closing movement that, in its theatricality (exit stage left, muffled sound efect, enter stage right), may feel anticlimactic to some. Or, in its assured control over the audience, you may ﬁnd it of a macabre piece with what’s come before. ANDREW LOWRY VERDICT Dark fun, with performances to savour and a set of references too seldom made in today’s pictures, this is a treat. It may peter out at the end, but what a calling card for Cory Finley, and this could be the last outing for its leads before superstardom beckons.
RED SPARROW ★★★
OUT NOW CERT 15 / 140 MINS
Lawrence Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Matthias Schoenaerts
When Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) has her promising ballet career cut short, she’s blackmailed by her uncle into becoming a sexually manipulative ‘Sparrow’ for Russia’s intelligence agency.
A RUSSIAN SECRET agent. A dehumanising training regime. A background in ballet. It’s no wonder that when Red Sparrow was announced, Marvel fans thought they were getting their much-wished-for Black Widow movie in everything but name. But Francis Lawrence’s steely thriller, based
on the first of Jason Matthews’ trilogy of novels, shares more DNA with John le Carré’s densely plotted espionage page-turners than the MCU. For his first film since directing the final three Hunger Games instalments, Lawrence has once again recruited Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) to play a young woman forced into a life of violence. This time she’s Dominika, a fast-rising ballerina whose career is cut brutally short in a beautifully shot opening sequence that juxtaposes her final stage performance with the careful dance between CIA Agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and his secret informant. It’s a confident opener, deftly setting up both strands of the dual narrative before they inevitably become tangled. Faced with few options to keep a roof over her mother’s head, Dominika is pushed by her domineering uncle Ivan (Schoenaerts in decidedly Putin-esque prosthetics) into becoming an operative for the Russian government. She’s dispatched to Sparrow School to join an elite group of agents taught to use their
LOVE, SIMON ★★★★ OUT 6 APRIL / CERT 12A / 110 MINS
Greg Berlanti Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner DIRECTOR
Clockwise from left:
From Russia with lust — former Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a secret agent with a seductive agenda; Egorova with her domineering Uncle
SIMON SPIER (ROBINSON) is a white, middle-class teenage boy from an achingly liberal family, who has pretty much the perfect life: apart from he’s hiding a secret. He’s gay. And the only person he can speak to — anonymously — is the only person who knows: the faceless boy he meets online who also isn’t out. On the surface, it’s an unrealistic conceit, even potentially insensitive territory with many LGBTQ kids struggling with the intersection of their sexuality with race, class or gender identity. But once you get your ingers inside the ilm, it’s a smart, self-aware, funny-as-hell exploration of privilege, while ultimately acknowledging that as a teen, whoever you are, love is hell. John Hughes would be proud. TW
Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts); Egorova’s target CIA Agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton); The ‘sparrow’ makes her entrance.
sexuality to lure in unsuspecting targets, before receiving her first mission: uncover Nash’s mole. Viewers expecting a playful and action-packed thriller, be warned: Red Sparrow is surprisingly hard-edged, with uncompromising and unflinching depictions of torture and sexual violence. Its sexual politics are complex and knotty, with several scenes destined to cause controversy. Dominika’s body is commoditised by the state and she’s expected to surrender and weaponise it for the cause, leading to some moments of shockingly stark nudity and brutality. The film constantly teases Dominika’s shifting loyalties: has her training destroyed her free will and sexual agency, or given her the tools to remain in control of her actions and her body in a vicious patriarchal world? Some will be satisfied by the conclusion to Red Sparrow’s challenging subject matter, but those tired of rape and torture tropes may not be willing to stick around for it. Along the way, Red Sparrow packs in a tightly woven plot as Dominika makes
careful contact with CIA agent Nate Nash (Edgerton) as she tries to root out his mole. Lawrence, the director, conjures compelling evidence for Dominika’s dual allegiances, while Lawrence, the actor, is fierce and committed in the lead role. And the dependably excellent Edgerton just about elevates the vanilla role of Nash into something more intriguing. In a Hollywood landscape where glossy, mature thrillers are an increasing rarity, Red Sparrow doesn’t condescend, to the point that it becomes easier to enjoy the less you try to untangle its more disturbing plot points. On this evidence the Lawrences remain a strong pairing away from the YA genre — but let’s hope they don’t split the final novel if they adapt the rest of Matthews’ trilogy. BEN TRAVIS VERDICT With
an uncompromising attitude to complex plotting and graphic content, Red Sparrow is a promising beginning to a potential new spy franchise. Just be aware of its unexpectedly barbed edges.
THE BACHELORS ★★★ OUT 30 MARCH / CERT 15 / 97 MINS
Kurt Voelker J.K. Simmons, Josh Wiggins, Julie Delpy, Odeya Rush DIRECTOR
THERE’S MORE THAN a touch of the teleplays about Kurt Voelker’s study of bereavement. But, while the script trades in platitudes and clichés and the visuals lack personality, there’s something reassuring about teacher Bill’s (Simmons) bid to come to terms with losing his wife of 33 years. His grief is shared by teenage son Wes (Wiggins), but he has a distraction in self-harming classmate Lacy (Rush) that enables him to haul Bill back from the brink of despair. Everything is signposted and a number of incidents ring hollow, notably Bill sleeping with compassionate colleague Carine (Delpy). Yet, for all its laws, this unquestionably has its heart in the right place. DP
tv & streaming
JESSICAJONES: SEASON 2 NETFLIX
OUT 8 MARCH EPISODES VIEWED 1-5
Melissa Rosenberg Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, Janet McTeer CREATOR
Even though she’s seen off mindscrewer Kilgrave, surly, hard-drinking PI Jessica Jones (Ritter) hasn’t achieved closure, so she sets out to crack the case of her own mysterious and tragic origin.
“WITH GREAT POWER comes great mental illness,” says a short-lived character at the beginning of the second season of Jessica Jones, which sets its stall out early, and ﬁrmly. That not-toosubtle rif on Spider-Man’s catchphrase is a hardly necessary reminder the Marvel Universe’s Netﬂix-tethered heroes are, typically, hardly ecstatic
recipients of their super-abilities. So where the ﬁrst 13 episodes of the show boldly focused on Jessica’s struggle to vanquish a nemesis who was basically an ampliﬁed abusive boyfriend, we now ﬁnd her thrashing about in more familiarly angsty waters. Hence all the ﬂashbacks to childhood medical experiment traumas, and Jessica’s determination to snif out the shady science-types who fucked her up in the ﬁrst place. Dramatically speaking, it’s a tad disappointing. What made the ﬁrst season the strongest and smartest of the Marvel/ Netﬂix set was the way it presented itself as less a superhero story with a feminist twist than a smart feminist noir-thriller with a superhero twist. Now, aside from some post-Weinstein-relevant drama with a sleazy ﬁlmmaker from Trish’s (Taylor) child-actor days, the show focuses more on the prejudice Jessica faces as an outed “super”. Which brings to mind the “mutie”hatred of the X-Men ﬁlms: Jessica’s new building manager (J.R. Ramirez) who initially orders her to stay away from his kid, for example, or the cop who sneeringly says “you people” during an interrogation. It’s not a huge problem, but is certainly less compelling than the previous
season’s ultra-dark psyche-out, which was driven with malevolent glee by David Tennant’s Kilgrave. This is only underlined by the arrival of a new foe who, in these ﬁrst ﬁve episodes at least, appears to be little more than a stronger, badder and freakier version of Jessica herself. Thankfully, Krysten Ritter’s still on top acerbic, deadpan form, and the (mostly female) writers’ room is generous and proﬁcient with its one-liners. When a cocksure alpha bro-dude struts into Jessica’s oice, announces he’s another private eye who wants to buy her out and says he doesn’t take no for an answer, Jessica retorts, “How rapey of you.” So while the plotting feels like it’s backstepped towards the super-vigilante conventional, she at least remains the most textured and spikily interesting of the Defenders — one whose guilt, selfloathing and rage at least come served with a potent dose of wit. DAN JOLIN VERDICT Jessica vs Kilgrave was a tough act to follow. It’s good to have her back in all her trash-talking glory, but it’s in need of a plot that would take the character somewhere more interesting.
After 27 minutes of being on hold, Waterloo was beginning to grate.
THE JONES GANG Catching up with the supporting cast
Jessica’s best friend and adoptive sister has tired of doing ﬂuff pieces on her radio talk show, and wants to tackle more hard-hitting subject matter.
Once the junkie next door, Malcolm is now all cleaned up and working as Jessica’s assistant. Although she does ﬁre him about twice a day.
Three times they’d used the bathroom and not tipped him.
OUT NOW CERT 15 / 126 MINS
Duncan Jones Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, Noel Clarke, Robert Sheehan DIRECTOR CAST
Berlin, 2052. A mute Amish barman (Skarsgård) is searching for his missing girlfriend (Saleh). Meanwhile, an AWOL US military medic (Rudd) tries to secure fake IDs so he can go home with his daughter.
Hogarth is keen to bring Jessica “back into the fold”, but after an appointment with her doctor becomes distracted by some extremely distressing news.
Last seen being taken off out-cold by the dodgy Dr Kozlov (Thomas Kopache), power-pill-popping Will hasn’t left Trish and Jessica’s life for good, it seems…
Rebecca De Mornay
He’s deﬁnitely dead. That said, David Tennant has returned to shoot scenes for this season. Flashback cameo, we’re guessing.
Trish’s mother remains as amorally reprehensible as ever, but provides a great target for the surly PI’s most poisonous barbs.
IT’S FAIR TO say Duncan Jones’ Mute arrives on Netﬂix burdened by a considerable weight of expectation. It’s a ﬁlm he’s been nurturing for over a decade-and-a-half. One which should prove that Warcraft was a studio-overcoddled glitch and which, encouragingly, is the narrative successor to his fantastic 2009 debut Moon; not a sequel so much as fresh story in the same universe. In the latter sense, at least, it delivers enthusiastically, via Sam Rockwellpacked TV news stories following the Moon epilogue hearings and posters calling to “Free The 156” (ie the number of Sam Bell clones). However, these Easter eggs turn out to be better than the story which barely hides them. Spread thin over two-and-a-bit hours, the central mystery preoccupying silent protagonist Leo (Skarsgård) fails to stimulate beyond a scattering of smart little touches. It’s interesting, for example, that Leo’s missing girlfriend-hunting line of enquiry has its questions better answered by privacy-destroying tech (such as a smart fridge) than by human beings; though still a challenge for someone raised as Amish and who obviously can’t use
voice-activated gadgets. But Leo himself is a bland blank who swings childishly between anguish and anger, and his investigation is weirdly side-lined, then outright gazumped, by a tonally tin-eared B plot featuring Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux as sleazy underworld surgeons. Rudd’s Cactus is an unlikeable, obnoxious bully who uses his protectiveness over his daughter to justify atrocity. It’s a refreshing change of direction for the usually afable Rudd, but the novelty of seeing him in bad-guy mode soon wears of. Mainly thanks to his partner-in-grime Theroux, as a character who’d be superﬂuous if he hadn’t been given a clunky reason to help join the plot’s dots, and whose presence is rendered downright ofensive thanks to a queasy revelation about his sexual predilections. It’s a mystifying, unnecessary development that dumps the entire ﬁlm in exactly the wrong kind of discomfort zone. There is some relief in the darkfuture-conjuring visuals, although, with a mid-budget, augmented Euro-metropolis look and all those cyberpunked Renault Twizys zipping around the streets, they place Jones’ 2052 Berlin closer to The Zero Theorem than Blade Runner or Ghost In The Shell. Jones’ composer of choice, Clint Mansell, helps, with a warm, electro-washed score that owes much (unsurprisingly) to Vangelis. But these elements are more about the reassurance of the familiar than breaking new ground, and unfortunately aren’t enough to rescue the ﬁlm from its own story. Perhaps we did expect too much of Mute given its lengthy pre-history. Perhaps we hoped for more than we should have given Jones’ personal investment in ﬁnally realising it. But there’s no escaping the fact that, however you look at it, the result is a crushing disappointment. DAN JOLIN VERDICT Fans
of Moon and Source Code be warned: Mute is sadly, almost tragically, not worth the wait.
MEET OUR CRITICS
JAMES DYER @jamescdyer Evangelical about Aliens and Nuns On The Run. Once had a wee next to Ice Cube.
IAN FREER @mrianfreer Loves Jaws and The 400 Blows and Apocalypse Now. Yet to see The Big Lebowski.
TERRI WHITE @terri_white Is disappointed in any ﬁlm that isn’t unrelentingly grim. Apart from La La Land.
NICK DE SEMLYEN @nickdesemlyen Loves ﬁlm noir and Peter Jackson ﬁlms. Can recite the lyrics to Magic Dance from Labyrinth.
JONATHAN PILE @jonnypile Flirts with highbrow ﬁlms, but is happiest in front of a decent thriller.
CHRIS HEWITT @chrishewitt Loves horror and Marvel ﬂicks. Freddy vs Tony would be his best movie ever.
HELEN O’HARA @helenlohara Likes superheroes. And ﬁlms about smart people arguing, ideally while falling in love.
JOHN NUGENT @mr_nugent Big fan of Powell, Pressburger, Pixar and Predator. And other ﬁlms that do not start with ‘P’.
DAN JOLIN @danjolin Favourite ﬁlm is Brazil, director is Nolan, franchise is Planet Of The Apes (the good ones).
OLLY RICHARDS @olly_richards Insists Batman Returns is the best Batman ﬁlm and will (weakly) ﬁght you over it.
Alex Garland Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac
Cellular biology professor Lena (Portman) joins an expedition into an area of Florida swampland that was hit by a meteor and is now surrounded by a mysterious shimmer that blocks all contact with the outside world.
ANNIHILATION IS A women-ona-mission ﬁlm — a ﬁve-strong team, each member with a diferent skill set (a biologist, a physicist, a geologist, a paramedic and a psychologist), are sent to investigate a meteor that’s causing a strange phenomenon in an area of Florida. But that’s far from all it is. Taking that throwaway premise, writer and director Alex Garland (loosely adapting a novel by Jef VanderMeer) has crafted a ﬁlm that tackles such weighty and sensitive issues as depression, grief and the human propensity for self-destruction. Natalie Portman is Lena — a college biology professor mourning her husband Kane (Isaacs), a soldier who’s missingpresumed-KIA. Then, nearly a year after he disappeared, he suddenly returns but with no memory of what happened to him and his health rapidly deteriorating. Kane slips into a coma and the pair are taken to a military compound in Florida where Lena discovers he was part of a team sent to investigate “Area X” — an expanding region of swampland surrounded by visible “shimmer”. Of the multiple squads sent in, Kane is the only person to ever return. Wanting to better
understand what happened to him, Lena volunteers for the next mission. What’s immediately notable about Annihilation is the make-up of the squad — it’s all female. The ﬁlm doesn’t make an issue of gender beyond the odd line of dialogue (referencing the multiple all-male squads that failed), but given the prevailing mood in Hollywood, its timing is impeccable. And none of the ﬁve are short-changed — no-one gets lost in the group, and each one gets a backstory that goes some way to explaining why they’d sign up for what’s likely to be a suicide mission. Tessa Thompson especially, as self-harming physicist Josie, gives a nuanced, quietly heartbreaking performance that’s a world away from the badass warrior of Thor: Ragnarok. If the early moments of the ﬁlm evoke memories of similarly cerebral sci-ﬁ Arrival, as soon as they’re inside Area X, Garland starts to bring in other genres and inﬂuences — mutated beasts roam the swamps, twisted human remains hide in the shadows and the squad members’ trust for each other is stretched to its limits. It’s not a horror movie, as such, but Garland cranks up the terror and tension as the group ventures closer to its goal — a meteor impact crater at a lighthouse that’s the central point of all the weirdness. Garland took his time becoming a director. His career path has taken him from novelist (The Beach) to screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine) before he ﬁnally took the plunge with the exceptional Ex Machina. Whatever made him bide his time, it’s worked. Annihilation is a worthy follow-up, proving his debut was no happy accident. It’s one hell of a one-two punch, and conﬁrms him as one of the most accomplished and interesting directors working today. JONATHAN PILE VERDICT Drawing on mythology and body horror, Annihilation is an intelligent ﬁlm that asks big questions and refuses to provide easy answers. Sci-ﬁ at its best.
Paintball was a very serious business.
Illustrations: David Mahoney
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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR IS THE ULTIMATE EVENT MOVIE AND THE MOST AMBITIOUS BLOCKBUSTER
EVER MADE. BUT HAS MARVEL BITTEN OFF MORE THAN IT CAN CHEW?
WORDS CHRIS HEWITT
IT’S THE TRUCKS THEY SPOT FIRST. THEN THE SECURITY BARRIERS. THEN THE SECURITY GUARDS. THEN THE CAMERAS. That’s when people realise a big movie has come to town. And that’s when the crowd starts to form on this boiling hot June day, trying to catch a glimpse of the Atlanta street that has been transformed, for the time being, into a little slice of New York City. More accurately, into MacDougal Street, complete with meticulously recreated frontage of the famous Minetta Tavern. And, even more accurately, into a MacDougal Street that has seen better days. Cars, including those famous yellow cabs, are strewn everywhere. Some are on ﬁre. Some are upside down. Rubble litters the streets. Shopfronts are cracked. Windows are broken. Clearly, something bad has happened here. Then, the crowd glimpses four ﬁgures walking among the throng of the ﬁlm crew. One is wearing a long red cape. Another is dressed in a purple-and-red tunic. One is casually dressed. Jacket. Black trousers. T-shirt. The last ﬁgure sports a short haircut. Goatee beard. Slick shades. Brightly coloured dots studded down his trouser legs and arms. And a shiny symbol in the middle of his chest. Even from a distance, near the barriers, the ﬁgure is unmistakeable: this is one of the most famous men in the world. Unmistakeable to all save one lady, who leans forward, squints at Robert Downey Jr, Mark Rufalo and Benedicts Cumberbatch and Wong as they make preparations for ﬁlming, and asks: “What are they ﬁlming?” Well, ma’am, they’re ﬁlming Avengers: Infinity War. Otherwise known as the biggest damn ﬁlm of all time.
“OKAY, TINY DUDE IS BIG NOW. HE’S BIG NOW!” RHODEY, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
SIZE IS RELATIVE, of course. So don’t just take our word for it when it comes to Avengers: Infinity War. “This is the biggest ﬁlm,” says Benedict Cumberbatch. And you can trust him. He’s a doctor. “You put these people together, it’s probably the biggest ﬁlm of all time.” Then along comes a Spider-Man. “It’s impossible to know the scale of it,” says Tom Holland. “I don’t know how big this ﬁlm is. I only know it’s probably going to be the biggest ﬁlm of all time.” Only Downey Jr, the great old stager who started all this back in 2008, tries to play it down. “I take everything for granted,” he says, sitting back between takes. “To me, it will never get more ambitious than getting out of a cave with Jon Favreau.”
Then he leans forward and whispers, conspiratorially. “But this is huge, isn’t it? It is huge.” There have been epics of epic epicness, with sprawling casts of A-listers, from The Towering Inferno to The Poseidon Adventure. There have been superhero team-ups, including the two previous Avengers ﬁlms. And there have been giant back-to-back undertakings, from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy to what James Cameron is doing right now with approximately 21 Avatar sequels. But there has never been anything in a single movie of the ambition, scale, and holy-shitMildred like Avengers: Infinity War. There has been nothing like a ﬁlm
that is the culmination of something truly unprecedented in cinema: the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which introduced serialised storytelling into big-budget cinema on a scale never before seen with 2008’s Iron Man, and hasn’t let up since. And certainly there’s been nothing like a ﬁlm that brings pretty much every major character from the ten years and 18 ﬁlms of the MCU, throws them into a blender, and presses the button marked ‘THANOS’. “This is a movie made up of people who are the number-one stars in their own movies,” says co-writer Christopher Markus. The gang’s all here, from every past, present and
Top left: Purple planet-ravager Thanos (Josh Brolin). Above: Not a new boy band but Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Wong (Benedict Wong) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Bottom left: The Guardians Of The Galaxy plus Thor, having a lie down.
future Avenger to the Guardians Of The Galaxy and more, all battling Josh Brolin’s Thanos with nothing less than the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance. Judging a movie purely by the money it makes is gross, but there’s no doubt that Infinity War will do a mischief at the box oice. It’s one of the surer things in life, along with Mo Salah scoring and death and taxes being mentioned in a list of the surer things in life. The real arbiter of Infinity War’s success will be how the movie itself works. With something like this, there are perils and pitfalls galore, just waiting to ensnare over-conﬁdent or ❯ slapdash ﬁlmmakers. Take a look at the
Above: Guns show: Thanos (Brolin) shows off his muscle power. Left: Captain America/ Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has been through the wars. Right: The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) flies over a Wakandan battlefield.
insipid, uninspired Justice League, which has the same basic structure as Infinity War (giant CG alien comes to Earth looking for all-powerful artefacts; superteam comes together to stop him) yet left most unimpressed. And that only had six main characters, plus one pesky moustache, to deal with. Infinity War has around four times that number. At least. So it’s reasonable to ask if a movie can sustain that many characters and still function and ﬂow as a narrative, without simply being a massively over-long series of vignettes in which superheroes do something cool before passing the baton onto the next. Working on this scale, anything can go wrong. Yet there’s a sense of conﬁdence about this ﬁlm. “Everything Marvel does now seems like the surest of sure things,” says Chris Evans, returning as Captain America. “There seems to be nothing they can’t do.” Evans’ assurance stems largely from the presence of the ﬁlm’s directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. They got the gig, taking over from Joss Whedon when he exited left pursued by Ultron, after impressing with their handling of ensemble casts and ability to marry outlandish comic-book capers with grounded thrills as demonstrated in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. Infinity War is even bigger than those ﬁlms. But the Russos already seem to have nailed the horrible spectre of length. It seemed inevitable that it would clock in at over three hours, but the brothers have excellent news for arses everywhere. “I think you’re looking at, ballpark, twoand-a-half hours,” says Joe, hopping onto the phone with Empire in February, just a couple of weeks away from picture lock. “Somewhere in there. We’re very happy with where we’re at.” So, how did they achieve this? Turns out they had a plan, which always helps.
“ CONFLICT BREEDS CATASTROPHE” VISION, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
IT WASN’T A plan they arrived at right away. “We probably spent ﬁve or six months exploring diferent narrative structures with this ﬁlm,” reveals Joe Russo. “We sat there very early on going, ‘How the fuck do we tell the story of six MacGuins?’” They found the answer in the most surprising of sources. You might expect a movie with “war” in the title, and a cast this vast, to draw on the likes of The
Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far for inspiration. But you would be wrong. “There aren’t a lot of templates for a movie like this,” admits Joe Russo, “but we looked to some ’90s crime ﬁlms as inspiration, like Out Of Sight and 2 Days In The Valley.” His brother Anthony smiles. “This is more like a heist ﬁlm, really. Thanos makes a very strong, fast, aggressive move for the Stones in this movie.” In essence, Avengers: Infinity War won’t die wondering. Empire visits the set of Infinity War twice during the course of its mammoth nine-month shoot. And, as serendipity and the gods of scheduling would have it, both are companion sequences that illustrate just how the movie is hitting the ground running. First, it’s of to Edinburgh on a bitterly cold night last April, where the Russos — who spent time in the city as youths, and who nonetheless disarmingly pronounce it “Edinboro” — have commandeered Waverley station to stage a scene where the shit is hitting the fan, and fast. Long story short: Thanos wants the Inﬁnity Stones, six multi-coloured cosmic gems that, when united, will allow their bearer to wield inﬂuence over time and space itself (and get 50 per cent of at selected restaurants). But with his attention engaged elsewhere right at the start of the ﬁlm, he has sent four alien arseholes known as the Black Order to retrieve the stones that are on Earth. One of which just happens to be welded into the head of Paul Bettany’s android, Vision. And so we watch as two of those aliens, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive (played by actors in mo-cap suits, with CGI drizzled over them later), beat the shit out of Vision and his girlfriend, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), only for the heroes to be rescued by a last-minute intervention from some old friends. Namely, a bearded Steve Rogers, sporting a blacked-out Captain America outﬁt; a bottle-blonde Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and The Falcon (Anthony Mackie). It’s a brutal ﬁght scene, not particularly heavy on dialogue. “We structured that scene more like a horror ﬁlm,” says Anthony Russo. “We try to give each sequence in the ﬁlm a slightly diferent tone and concept, based on the characters driving that sequence.” And then we hotfoot it, just a couple of months later, to Atlanta, where an entirely new set of characters drive the mirror scene. This one sees Tony Stark, Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch), his colleague Wong (Wong), and Bruce Banner (Rufalo), who has returned to Earth with a dire warning about impending doom. Too. Late. Because two more of the Black Order, Cull Obsidian and Ebony Maw, have parked a giant ship over New York, causing the devastation and destruction seen on MacDougal Street. “As usual, we’re just tearing up asphalt as need be,” laughs Downey Jr. And so it’s up to this ramshackle team to stop them. Or, at the very least, ask nicely. “You can’t park here, buddy. Earth is closed today,” says Stark in one take (this being Robert Downey Jr, the lines are ﬂuid). “Take your tractor beam and skedaddle.” But Cull (played by famed mo-cap actor Terry Notary) is not in a skedaddling mood, precipitating a breakneck sequence in which Stark tries desperately to get Banner, who’s sufering from performance anxiety, to transform into the Hulk (“Don’t embarrass me in front of the wizard”). While it soon becomes clear that the wizard is the very speciﬁc target of the alien attack. “They want me, and speciﬁcally what I’ve got hanging around my neck,” says Cumberbatch, pointing to the Eye Of Agamotto (or Time Stone) dangling down his chest. “So a ﬁght ensues, and it gets really fun and really silly very quickly. The scale blows from real-world jeopardy into reality jeopardy, and then unreality jeopardy. It’s very exciting.” Two scenes, two cities, two countries. And if we’re ❯ continuing the count, nine Avengers, four aliens. Already
Star-Lord/Peter Quill, Mantis and — yas! — Groot (Vin Diesel) get on board. Middle: Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Below: Cap seems to have a mild beef with Bruce Banner.
PREVIOUSLY, ON THE MCU... HAVEN’T SEEN ANY MARVEL MOVIES? WE’VE GOT YOUR BACK
SO THERE’S THIS billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, Tony, and he builds a metal suit to keep himself alive and he likes wearing it so ﬁghts crime and becomes a MAN OF IRON. Meanwhile, this bloke Nick notices that superheroes are popping up all over the place — a HUNK WITH A HAMMER, a GREEN DUDE with anger issues, and a super-soldier who’s the best example of humanity and so, naturally, is called STEVE — and decides to bring them all together into a supergroup called the Avengers. Like THE TRAVELLING WILBURYS, but with better hair. So then they get attacked by aliens from outer space, but they prevail just in the nick of time. Then, a couple of years later, they get attacked by a BAD ROBOT that wants to drop a giant rock on the Earth because he can’t use the internet properly, but again they prevail just in the nick of time. The hunk with the hammer and the green giant ﬂy off into space, separately, so they’re not around when the government says to the Avengers, “You need to stop killing people.” Steve doesn’t like this, perhaps because he’s a SECRET PSYCHO, and so goes rogue, forcing Tony, who’s his best friend, to stop him. They have a BIG FIGHT AT AN AIRPORT, and a SPIDER-BOY shows up because Marvel just got the rights, and a little fella becomes a BIGGER FELLA. Oh, and in the battle, Tony’s real best friend gets crippled. Tony’s bummed about that, but it’s all looking good for him and Steve, only for Tony to ﬂip out when he ﬁnds out that Steve’s real best friend, an AMNESIAC ASSASSIN with a metal arm, killed his parents. So they have a big ﬁght, and end up going their separate ways, meaning the Avengers aren’t really a thing anymore. Luckily, there are reinforcements on the way, including a STRANGE DOCTOR who can make pretty much anything disappear, and an AFRICAN KING who may be smarter and richer than even Tony. Meanwhile, the green giant and the hammer hunk reunite in space and are heading to Earth when a GIANT PURPLE BLOKE turns up, jonesing for jewellery. It will not end well.
trending on Twitter? Well, the brothers aren’t saying, but there is a way. “You have to ﬁnd vulnerabilities for characters of that level of strength,” adds Anthony Russo. “Look for their emotional and physical life — that’s where we ﬁgure out how we make those characters crack.” Perhaps he’s sensitive about what Cumberbatch calls the “big old butt cleavage running from his bottom lip to his pointy chin”. After all, not even the self-styled ruler of the universe likes having a bum where their face should be. Brolin, a man who has a face where his face should be, isn’t on set for either of Empire’s days, but it’s clear he’s made a big impression with his castmates. “Josh is terrifying,” says Tom Holland. “He has to wear this stupid mo-cap costume with big, rolling polystyrene shoulders and a tennis ball two feet above his head. He looks ridiculous, but as soon as the cameras roll he becomes this nine-foot-tall, terrifying alien.” Downey Jr — a man who’s used to driving Marvel ﬁlms — is sanguine about Thanos’ screentime. He’s mainly just pleased for a guy he’s known for almost 30 years. “I love him,” he says. “Brolin doesn’t take himself seriously, but there’s a lot of weight in how he’s portraying this guy. We literally are all a little bit scared when he’s done cracking wise and steps into it. Get ready, brother. The Brolin Efect is coming.”
“ THE BILL COMES DUE.” MORDO, DOCTOR STRANGE
we’ve seen enough characters to last most movies a lifetime. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. And there’s one character, in particular, missing from the equation. One character who could hold the key to everything. The Mad Titan. The Inﬁnity Stoner himself. Thanos.
“ ABOUT DAMN TIME...” HOPE VAN DYNE, ANT-MAN
MARVEL HAS A Thanos problem. Namely, their chief villain hasn’t done much in the way of actual villainy. Ever since he showed up in the post-credits sting of Avengers Assemble back in 2012, he’s been positioned as the MCU’s Big Bad, while in reality he’s barely appeared and has been about as scary as a Stan Lee cameo. However, the Russos are aware that it’s time for Thanos to shit or get of the space toilet. “People aren’t going to have a problem with Thanos anymore,” says Anthony Russo. Their solution: to build Infinity War around Thanos. “With a ﬁlm this big, you have to tie it to a point of view,” adds Joe Russo. “The point of view in this movie is Thanos, which makes this
a really unique ﬁlm. We want people to walk out of the theatre going, ‘That is a bad man.’” Essentially, the brothers and their writers, Markus and McFeely, are positioning Thanos as the engine that drives the plot, with his search for the Stones allowing him to interact with virtually every major character. “You could call this movie Avengers: Thanos if you wanted to,” says Stephen McFeely. “He is the main character.” Thanos is by far the most powerful character the Avengers have faced. He starts of pretty much invincible and then, as he accrues the Stones one at a time, builds from there. Comic-Con footage screened last year shows Thanos appearing to pull down a small moon from the sky and hurl it at his aggressors. He’s the John Lewis of the MCU: never knowingly undersold. “He’s an exceedingly diicult character to beat,” says Joe Russo. “He’s stronger than the Hulk. He’s more like Genghis Khan. He’s a force of nature. He has a spiritual wisdom well beyond all the other characters. He is a conqueror of worlds. He doesn’t have a weakness, and that’s what makes him so threatening.” How can the Avengers possibly hope to prevail, shy of really getting #SAYNOTOTHANOS
SOLVING THE THANOS problem may also directly solve another. Because to challenge him is to court death. And when it comes to death, the MCU has had issues. Yes, villains have come and gone, and the odd supporting character has fallen by the wayside, but the core group of heroes has remained intact. It’s been ten years of close shaves and narrow squeaks and laughing in the face of death. No more. Infinity War is a much more serious movie than the chucklefests of Thor: Ragnarok or Spider-Man: Homecoming. “The one thing that character deaths do is remind you that the world has stakes,” says Anthony Russo. “Death is a real possibility in the storytelling.” So, are characters going to start carking it? “Without question,” says Joe Russo. “Let’s frame it this way — if the last ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a book, these would be the ﬁnal chapters.” It would be remiss of us to speculate wildly about the identity of any characters caught in the crossﬁre, but if we were Loki we wouldn’t wait until the last minute to ﬁll out those organ-donor cards. And if he does fall, he won’t be the last to run the Gauntlet. “It’s called Infinity War,” adds Joe Russo, “and audiences should be prepared for a war.” If it hadn’t already been used on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre back in 1974, perhaps this would be the perfect movie for the tagline: “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” Whether or not those deaths stick, though, is another discussion entirely. For this isn’t the last Avengers movie. Not by a long chalk. “This is just chapter one,” laughs Chris Evans. “Just wait until chapter two…” When Infinity War was ﬁrst announced, the intention was that it would be a two-parter, with both ﬁlms shot back-to-back, and that it would signal the last contractual hurrah for a number of key MCU cast members, including Downey Jr, Evans and Hemsworth. But plans changed along the way. Avengers 4, which will be out next year, wasn’t quite shot back-to-back with Infinity War, with a small hiatus built in to allow the Russos, Markus and ❯ McFeely to craft a very diferent experience. “We very explicitly
Vision (Paul Bettany) feeling a bit red-faced.
did not want to do one big movie chopped in half,” says Markus. “It’s not part one and part two, because that implies that we split something down the middle. We don’t want anyone to think that’s what happens.” That ﬁlm is still shrouded in mystery. The Russos won’t reveal the title yet, citing it as a spoiler (our money is on ‘Avengers: Glueing Tony Stark’s Head Back On’). “It’s the Question Mark ﬁlm,” says Anthony Russo. “It’s more of an epic adventure in the classic sense, with huge emotional stakes.” Recent set images, in which older characters interact with newbies in very familiar settings, have led to speculation that time travel may be involved, which could be one way of ensuring that characters who die in Infinity War get to return, but the Russos won’t be drawn on that. “You should go back and look at clues in Civil War to what’s in that movie,” hints Joe Russo. What it does represent is a clear ending point, not just of the studio’s Phase Three, but of the arcs of many of the keystones of the MCU. There’s a chance Stark, Thor, Banner, Rogers and Natasha Romanof may hang around, but now the actors’ contracts are up it seems unlikely. Which is why Marvel has been carefully developing its new pillars: the Guardians Of The Galaxy, who will next be seen in 2020; Doctor Strange, whose next standalone ﬁlm should also drop around then; Ant-Man; Spider-Man, now back in the fold… And then there’s T’Challa. The Black Panther. His ﬁlm’s incredible success (by the time you read this, it should have become the ﬁrst non-Stark MCU ﬁlm to pass a billion dollars worldwide), and the sense of cultural revolution surrounding it, has given the MCU fresh impetus. “We’re ecstatic about its success,” says Joe Russo, cooing like a proud parent (he and Anthony introduced the character to the MCU in Civil War). “Ryan Coogler made an incredible ﬁlm that is industry-changing.” There has even been speculation Black Panther will actually outrun the mothership, and make more money than Infinity War. But it’s more likely that it creates a Black Panther bump, energising excitement among Black Panther fans who will ﬂock to Infinity War to see their hero (Wakanda plays a major role in proceedings). Not that the Russos, at this late stage, are rushing to re-shoot and turn the ﬁlm into ‘Avengers: T’Challa (And Some Other Dudes Too)’. “It doesn’t change the agenda,” laughs Joe Russo. Perhaps not, but the MCU is changing. Suddenly a universe dominated by Tony Stark (who anchors ﬁve of the studio’s six highest-grossing ﬁlms) has a new ﬁgurehead, and a new sense of purpose. And with the Disney/Fox takeover potentially opening the door for the arrival of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four into this world, one thing seems certain: the biggest, most ambitious ﬁlm of all time will one day seem like My Dinner With Andre. To inﬁnity and beyond.
THE FIRST AVENGER MCU launcher Robert Downey Jr discusses the Stark realities of being Iron Man
YOU ALL KNOW
how he earns a living. A decade ago, Robert Downey Jr launched the MCU as Tony Stark in Iron Man, and has since then become the lynchpin of the franchise, with major appearances in seven of the 18 ﬁlms. Now in his early ﬁfties, and with his contract coming to an end with Avengers 4, it may soon be time for Downey Jr to explore life outside the steel suit. We caught up with him in-between takes on the Infinity War set.
Iron Man does the heavy lifting.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR IS IN CINEMAS FROM 26 APRIL
What can you tell us that’s not a spoiler? We can just sit in silence. Ruminating. How does this feel? Like the beginning of the end in a way? It doesn’t. It feels like a decade of signs and wonders. The future should be uncertain for anybody in this whole cinematic universe. Let’s talk about Tony. Where is he when we pick him up? To me the big question is could he ever in clear conscience pick up that flip phone Cap sent him at the end of Civil War. That is really it. For me I think back to Obadiah and that deception, and it’s one of those things. It’s why Steve Perry never went back to Journey.
“I could get into the black dog. Whatever you want. Or I could stay, spiking it in the end zone until I have to be carried off.”
Smallz & Raskind/Contour By Getty Images
That’s the analogy I was thinking of. Tony’s been worried about the end of the world for a while now. Where is he now in terms of that? He doesn’t like space. Tony no longer likes space or time or dimensions. The character has changed over the years. The Tony of Civil War is not the Tony we meet in Iron Man. That’s right. Strangely he does come round to his mildly conservative, jingo roots, siding up with Ross [in Civil War]. To me, he’s less conflicted than he was before, but as a function of age. By the way, I say, “What is Tony going through? Well, what am I going through?” It’ll make it easier to play if I’m also going through it. It’s all that middle-aged existentialism which to me is by far the sweetest, most subtle crisis I have ever encountered. “Why am I here? What legacy am I going to leave?” Yeah, but even more than that, “What am I tripping about? If I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then, how fun would now be?” I’m not a particularly wise guy, it’s literally a function of age. You start going, “I want to make sure that I have ❯ a smile on my face if this shit goes
down.” I don’t want to be caught in an act of unnecessary cowardice. You have been directed now by six different directors as Tony Stark. Who knows Tony best? Feige. He’s probably the one who has seen him the most. Then again, he’s like the Octomom now. [Writers] Markus and McFeely have been about the best in a lot of ways, in getting not just the quirky, humorous side of him. Starting in Civil War, they added that real arc. Do you sit down with them to shape that arc? No. I gave them a little more guf on Civil War. But they require very little adjustment. Anybody who can survive getting to the point where you have what is called a shooting draft of an Avengers movie is a genius. They’re Bear Grylls. They’re survivalists. It used to be, no matter how evolved anything was, I needed to see it on a graph. This goes back to my Chaplin days, when I literally had 1889 to 1977, when he died, on this wall. The most important thing to me is that I am visibly still enjoying and appreciating this process. It’s going to be over like that. After the events of Civil War, do Tony and Steve spend most of the movie apart? I don’t know. I feel like my instinct would be to bust his jaw. All I know is that there’s something about being on camera with Evans. I hate to say it, but I don’t know what I’m gonna do when he’s not Cap anymore. I look at him and think this is the truest, most down moral psychology I’ve ever seen, and then they go, “Cut!” and Chris is like, “Hey buddy, I gotta get out of here.” I’m like, “You wanna go to dinner?” “Nope.” “Okay! Love you! Love you, Cap! I mean, Chris!” You’ve got just about a year left. Evans told me he didn’t know what he was going to do when it was all done. What might you do? You know what, I’ve learned a lot from the missus [Susan Downey]. You don’t know what or how you’re gonna end until it is. That takes a lot of the edge of. She’s learned how to be like, “You won’t know until you’re there so you’re wasting time on that equation. That’s not on the test.” That’s far in the future. I could project all kinds of stuf. I could get into the black dog. Whatever you want. Or I could stay, spiking it in the end zone until I have to be carried of. I’m looking forward to whatever resolution is in the cards.
THE NEW AVENGER Chris Pratt on making the transition from galaxyguarding to joining Earth’s mightiest heroes
Pratt’s entertainment: as Star-Lord/ Peter Quill.
“The ﬁrst frame of seeing the Guardians, people will be on their feet. The way it’s executed really works.”
AS PETER QUILL,
Matthias Clamer/Contour By Getty images
aka Star-Lord, in the Guardians Of The Galaxy ﬁlms, Chris Pratt has been expertly sketching one of the MCU’s most lovable rogues since 2014. But Infinity War sees Quill and his bunch of A-holes leave their corner of space behind to hook up with various members of the Avengers (including a discombobulated Thor) in the ﬁght against Thanos. So, is Pratt oicially an Avenger now? We caught up with him on the phone to ﬁnd out.
What was your first experience on set like? It’s hard to put into words. It’s an unprecedented cinematic event. I’m a fan of these Marvel movies. Before I was in them, I was an audience member. I was honoured, but I also felt as though I’d won a radio contest or something. It was amazing on so many levels, just having the inside scoop on how this stuf is going to go down. Was it daunting at all? You’ve done two Guardians movies, but here there are about 45 main characters. No. Not to me. A few years ago it was deﬁnitely daunting doing the ﬁrst Guardians Of The Galaxy, but the second one felt really natural. We knew what we were doing. Of the Avengers cast, I feel as though I was one of the veterans. I’m realising now I was more experienced than a lot of the people we were on set with. That changed, because I started way at the bottom. I was the guy with the least amount of experience on Guardians. You step into those leadership roles, looking at bright young stars like Tom Holland and Chadwick
Boseman and Letitia [Wright] and Danai [Gurira]. It reminded me of being in sport, when I wasn’t a freshman anymore. It should have felt daunting, but that’s maybe one of the reasons we’re the right people for the job. We can get in there, do the business, and not be thrown of our game. Do you consider yourself an Avenger? Peter’s always going to be a Guardian. I’ll let the fans decide that. I’m not sure what the right answer to that is, in case I give away too much. But it was important to us, going into this, that the Guardians have a diferent style. Avengers has its own tone but in a way that allows the Guardians to remain the Guardians, in terms of what they bring and what people will expect to see from them. Where do we find the Guardians when we meet them in Infinity War? I won’t say where we are, but the ﬁrst frame of seeing us, people will be on their feet. I’m not just saying that because of how great we are, although we are great, and I guess I am pretty cocky, but the way it’s executed really works.
Your first day was with Robert Downey Jr. What was it like working with the man who began this all? Man, he set a really amazing tone. He’s a bit like Tony Stark himself. I think a lot of what makes Tony Stark are the same qualities that make Downey great. I think Downey is about as rich as Tony Stark now. [Laughs] He really takes care of the actors around him in a way I’ve never seen before. I was a little under the weather and pushing really hard on the days I was working. He came up to me and said, “You doing alright?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got a little sore throat.” Within ten minutes there was a person there giving me all these herbs and taking care of me. He ofered me the use of his trailer where I could sit down and use some of his hi-tech healing gadgets. It was amazing. I’m living my best life. Had you met him before? When I ﬁrst arrived in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Downey was the ﬁrst to call and tell me, “Hey man, welcome. If there’s anything you need, I will help. There are so few people on the planet who are going through what you’re going through right now. I have, so I’m here. I’ll always answer the phone.” I feel completely empowered to pay it forward with Tom or Chadwick. I’m not saying that I’m senior to them, other than I got that experience of opening a movie with Marvel and being along for the ride. Now I just really feel compelled to ofer them, even if it’s a fraction of what Downey was able to ofer me, and just say, “Anything you need, you let me know.” Black Panther has broken records recently. What’s your take on that? I’ve seen it twice. I loved it. I thought it was so good and so inventive. Chadwick is amazing. He’s really regal and powerful. I’m so thrilled to see the sequel. I wanna buy my tickets now.
ONCE JIM IN THE OFFICE. NOW DIR ECTOR OF THIS Y EA R’S MOST HIGH-CONCEPT CHILLER. JOHN K R ASINSKI W R ITES EXCLUSIV ELY FOR EMPIRE A BOUT HIS JOU R NEY TO A QUIET PLACE, A ND HOW THE NEA R-NOISELESS FILM BECA ME A FA MILY A FFAIR
eople ask me if I always to be a director. And the truth is, no. When I ﬁrst started out, I felt so lucky to be able to make a living as an actor it didn’t even cross my mind... and I didn’t want to jinx it. I was never one of those actors that said, “Well, when this acting thing is over… I’ll just direct.” I had way too much respect for the directors I had worked with to view the transition as some kind of foregone conclusion. My ﬁrst directing gig actually came about by total happenstance. Before I got The Office I had adapted this book by
David Foster Wallace that had meant a great deal to me called Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. I remember The Office had just come on the air and I was having lunch with Rainn Wilson [who plays Dwight Schrute]. At the time I was looking for a director and so I asked his opinion. His response? “Why don’t you just direct it yourself?” My mouth opened, but no response came. Then he said, “Listen, you now know this material better and care about it more than anyone. So just direct it.” Not only did that line inspire me to take on my ﬁrst movie as a director, but
those words have become the exact criteria for what it is I choose to direct. I am well aware of the large and vast pool of extremely talented directors out there. And the truth is, most scripts I read, I’d love to see directed by one of those names. In order for me to choose to direct something, I have to feel that I am the best person for the job, that I have a unique connection to a piece of material, and can see it more clearly than I think anyone else could. That’s certainly what happened on A Quiet Place… Though, yet again, ❯ it wasn’t initially my idea.
Director/writer John Krasinski stars as a father under threat, here with his on-screen son, played by Noah Jupe.
uiet Place ﬁrst came to me as spec script that the producers rew Form and Brad Fuller ad with Paramount. We were repping for the TV series Jack yan and Drew said to me, “Hey, quick question. Would you ever do a genre movie?” “You mean like a horror movie?” I asked. “I can’t watch horror movies, I’m way too scared. But yeah, maybe I could act in one if it was a cool idea.” So then he pitched me the one-liner — a family who can’t make a sound… or terrible things happen. I was immediately hooked. At the time, we had just had our second daughter, Violet. So Emily [Blunt] and I were actually living through the terrifying ﬁrst days of new parenthood. I was already an open nerve of emotions and fears — so as I read through the spec script I couldn’t help but obsess over the idea that this story could be so much more than just a scary movie. It could actually be one of the best metaphors for parenthood ever: “What would you really do for your kids?” I immediately started writing down pages and pages of ideas. Those ideas quickly turned into scenes and I suddenly found myself rushing down the stairs to enlist my secret weapon: my wife. I’ll never forget Emily sitting on the couch, watching me bounce all over the living room as I pitched her one new scene after the next. I may or may not have been out of breath as I ﬁnally ﬁnished (deﬁnitely out of breath) and looked up to her. And then? Silence. I remember Emily just looking back at me with the most curious look on her face. (“Oh God, she hated it.”) Then suddenly — after a brilliantly delivered stage pause, btw — she ﬁnally said, “You need to direct this.” By the time I called the producers back only 48 hours later, I was indeed agreeing to be in the movie… if they would let me rewrite it… and direct. After that phone call, we were of to the races. I ﬁnished the script in three months just before Christmas and by mid-January I was in idyllic upstate New York, scouting for the perfect location. And boy, did we ﬁnd it in this beautiful 19th-century farm in the town of Pawling, NY. It was almost weird how perfect this place was. I remember crew members literally not believing me when I told them I hadn’t been there before I wrote the script. There was a beautiful farmhouse that faced a large weatherworn barn about 50 or 60 yards away, exactly as I’d written it. Those buildings were surrounded by hundreds of acres of crop ﬁelds, exactly as I’d written it. There was even a waterfall right nearby exactly as I’d... you get the point! It was
magic. And the coolest part was, not only was the location perfect, but there was a horse-riding school nearby that wasn’t currently in use, that we got to use as our soundstages. So for 90 per cent of the shoot, every member of the cast and crew got to call that magical farm home. It wasn’t the convenience that made it all so special: it was the vibe. Everybody came on set and the ﬁrst thing they saw was the farm and the last thing they saw was the farm. The dust in the air was from real corn; we got to shoot scenes with real sunrises and real sunsets. Some days it didn’t even feel like we were making a movie. It just felt like we were all at summer camp.
en it came to casting the ovie, one of the most portant things to me was at we were able to cast deaf actress in the role of my daughter. I wanted to have someone who could not only understand the world of this character, but also help me to understand. Someone I could learn from. Well, it just so happens that one of the best actors I can now say I have had the pleasure of working with is deaf. Her name is Millicent Simmonds and she is phenomenal in every way. I was ﬁrst introduced to Millie’s work by the tremendous casting director Laura Rosenthal, who had just cast Todd Haynes’ movie Wonderstruck. When I called Laura and pitched her the part she actually said the words, “There’s only one girl for this.” When I reached out to Todd directly his response was, “Millie is not only a fantastic actress… but one of the more special human beings you’ll ever meet.” Boy, was he right. My fortune continued in my quest to cast the part of my son. As luck would have it, the exact week I started casting happened to be the week of the SAG Awards. Emily had been nominated for her part in The Girl On The Train, so we were there. After the ceremony, Emily and I were walking into the after-party when one of my agent’s old assistants came running up to me. “Hey man, I’m an agent now and there’s this kid, Noah [Jupe], I represent. I haven’t read your script but you gotta put him in your movie!” I don’t think he even knew what age the kid was supposed to be, but he told me Noah was in The Night Manager, and that he’d just ﬁnished shooting Suburbicon. So I wrote to George Clooney to ask about him. His email back was almost exactly what Todd had said about Millie: “Not only is Noah one of the greatest child actors I’ve ever worked with (and I worked with them all
on E.R.), but he’s one of the best actors I’ve worked with, period. Not to mention, he’s just the greatest kid.” Well, I can attest he was exactly right. Noah is amazing. When it came to casting the part of my wife, Emily had actually recommended several diferent actresses based on my pitch of some of the scenes. Her being in the movie, we really hadn’t even considered. We had certainly talked about working together one day, but we never wanted the story of our being married to supersede the story of the movie we chose to do. So up until this point we just had never found the right script. Then one day Emily and I were on ❯ a ﬂight to LA together, when she asked
Clockwise from far left: Krasinski gives a thumbs-up to the camera crew; Krasinskiâ€™s wife Emily Blunt plays his on-screen wife, here with her son and deaf daughter, played by Millicent Simmonds; Blunt and Krasinski in horror action mode.
Clockwise from left: Krasinski gives direction to Blunt; Siblings Jupe and Simmonds on the lookout for mysterious monsters; Survivalist father Krasinski is fearful for the lives of his family.
“HAVING THIS WOMAN THAT I ADMIRE AND RESPECT AGREE TO DO THIS MOVIE WITH ME WAS THE BEST COMPLIMENT OF MY CAREER.” if I felt far enough along with the script for her to read it. I was. But to be honest, holding her opinion higher than anyone’s, I have to admit I was the most nervous to have her read it. The ﬂight continued and I was deeply engrossed in some huge action movie, when a shadow appeared next to me. I looked up to see Emily standing there. Her face looked diferent. At ﬁrst, I thought she was feeling sick. Just before I was able to reach for a barf bag Emily simply said, “I have to play this part.” I was so stunned I asked her, “What?” She replied, “You can’t let anyone else play this part. I have to do it.” I have to be completely honest when I tell you that that exact moment — having this woman that I admire and respect agree to do this movie with me — was the best compliment of my career.
he other question I get about directing is what is it like to direct myself. Well, for starters, it’s tough to deal with such a diva. But once we realise we’re both just here to make the best movie, things go ﬁne. In all seriousness, I have actually found there are great advantages to being an actor in the movies I direct. One of the biggest is being able to stay in the scene with my actors. Sometimes, having a director behind the monitors calling cut after every take can ruin a ﬂow or a groove that the actors are getting into. Especially in a movie like this, where there are so many intense scenes and emotional scenes, it helped a whole lot to keep the scene going, giving small notes right then and there in the moment. It almost felt at times like we were doing a play. The other major advantage is that on many occasions it just saves a ton of time. Having one of your lead actors on set every minute that you are… is great! Writing this down sounds like some riddle delivered by Yoda, but it’s true. If I think of a last-minute shot I need to add me into — bam, there I am! If I need to make sure I don’t take too long in hair and make-up — bam, I pull myself out of hair and make-up. And if I’m shooting on the top of a silo with only ten minutes of perfect light, I don’t have to worry about me suddenly turning and asking, “What’s my motivation?” I’d already talked to myself about that the week before.
Our DP was Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who shot The Girl On The Train, and Emily had such a great experience with her that she was at the top of my list. I was extremely impressed by her work not only in that movie, but all her other movies as well. For our ﬁlm, I was especially taken by all the movies she had done with Thomas Vinterberg. Charlotte has this unique perspective, and I thought she would be perfect to bring an intangible magic to the ﬁlm. She’s a monster talent. We shot on ﬁlm, which was an easy decision and a hard ﬁght. There are all sorts of reasons and beneﬁts for shooting on digital; I shot my last movie on digital and loved it. But there was something about this movie that I wanted to harken back to a more classic look, a feeling of nostalgia one could immediately connect to. We both decided the only way to capture that was to shoot on ﬁlm. I had a lot of fun coming up with all these diferent visuals to explain that this family cannot make any noise, not ever. That’s why there’s paint on the ﬂoor of the house, showing where to put your feet to avoid creaking boards, and paths made of sand around the farm. It was also fun to play with perspective. The idea that you can hear a footstep on a close-up lens, but when you jump to medium you can’t. Things like that deliver information and the rules of the ﬁlm to the audience subconsciously. Making a mostly silent movie was thrilling… and terrifying. But there were upsides. I remember one day we were shooting by this beautiful river. Aaaaand that just happened to be the day that two guys decided to race their ATVs in the woods right behind us. We had crew members running through the woods trying to ﬁnd them to tell them to stop, but could never get to them. Normally you lose a whole day of shooting if that happens. The dialogue would be unusable. But in our scene? There was no dialogue. It didn’t matter. Honestly, one of the most amazing aspects of this process has been working with our incredible sound team. This ﬁlm is a sound department’s dream, because the tiniest sound matters. Usually you might just put one big atmos microphone up to record ambient sound. Here, the sound guys came for a full weekend to capture diferent wind directions, and recorded at multiple times of day to catch all the
local insects. They even put lapel mics on individual corn stalks to get all these layers of sound. Marco Beltrami, who’s incredible, is writing the score, and the ﬁrst thing he did was call them and say, “You gotta give me all of that because I can compose with it!” Marco said it was only the second time in his career he’d been able to visit a set; he was so excited after coming to visit that at the end he just turned to us and said, “Man, I gotta get home and start writing.” And then there’s the creature. Oh man, I can’t even describe how I feel about the fact that ILM is working on my movie. We have Scott Farrar supervising our VFX, one of the original ILM guys. In-between takes I would sit totally engrossed as he casually told us how they shot the Imperial Star Destroyer in Star Wars, or how they shot the Raptor kitchen scene in Jurassic Park. I remember someone telling me that one of the strongest things someone can do is say, “I don’t know.” So the ﬁrst thing I told Scott was, “Look, I’ve never done this before, so I’m going to tell you my ideas and you tell me how I can make them all better.” We spent the whole day talking about shots, and he gave me incredible tips like making sure to move the camera a little on the creature shots. They learned on Transformers that a static shot, no matter what you do with it, is just not that scary — but if the camera moves and the creature’s head goes out of frame for a moment, it seems more real. One cool thing about working with VFX is that you learn fast; you have to!
s I’m sure is evident from my ramblings, the experience of this movie was incredible. I remember the last night we shot, one guy in the crew came up to say goodbye and as he turned to leave, actually laughed and said, “There’s something about this one. I don’t know. It feels special.” And he’s right. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit and gratitude to Paramount. It’s not every day that a major studio allows you to go of and shoot a mostly silent movie. But, from the moment I pitched them what I hoped this movie could be, they saw it. It’s special because it was treated as special, by every single person that came on board. This is one of those rare experiences where it all came together in the right way. I know you don’t get many experiences like that. And, hey, if I never have another one as good as this, that’d be okay. I just feel lucky as hell to have been able to have one that I care this much about. A QUIET PLACE IS IN CINEMAS FROM 6 APRIL
Martin Freeman is standing stock still in an empty nursery being steadily unnerved by a series of unexplainable occurrences. Strange things are happening with the nappies; the Sudocrem is misbehaving. Of to one side, at a monitor, Ghost Stories co-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson are stiﬂing giggles. They are joy incarnate. The clapper board has Pac-Man ghosts drawn on it. It’s November 2016 and Empire is inside a vast luxury house half an hour outside of Leeds, two-and-a-half weeks into the ﬁve-week shoot for a horror movie that’s unashamedly, gloriously retro. Outside snow is coating the countryside, but inside the building there is under-ﬂoor heating and everyone is quietly padding around in socks of various embarrassing designs to protect the plush carpet. That sense of cosiness extends to the ﬁlm itself. As a smash theatre production, Ghost Stories (which premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2010 before transferring to the West End) was an oldschool blast, riing on classic horror anthologies of the 1970s as well as the likes of Charles Dickens short story The Signal-Man. As a movie, it’s even more explicitly a throwback: the portmanteau structure, which tells three spooky tales, with a wraparound story following paranormal debunker Professor Goodman (Nyman himself ), brings to mind creaky old Amicus productions such as Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and The Vault Of Horror (1973). The efects, meanwhile, are done for real, much like they were on stage, achieved with such everyday objects as bits of ﬁshing line, sand and women’s tights. “We both love the marriage of ﬁlm and magic,” says Nyman, practically spooning Dyson on a white leather sofa during a break on set. “CGI can be very creative and very complex but stops live creativity. We love the idea of solving these things in a very old-fashioned, simple way. It’s so much better when it’s alive.” The pair have known each other since they were 15, a friendship built on Friday-night BBC horror double bills, ﬁlms like The Wicker Man, Blood On Satan’s Claw, bonding over the dawn of VHS and a shared love of magic. In this age of digital monsters and found-footage gimmicks, they’ve resolved to create something that makes people feel like they did back then. Ghost Stories is comfort horror, if you will. Hence the doing-it-for-real ethos, or “Buster Keaton ﬁlmmaking”, as Nyman calls it. “It feels ﬁtting to the story and to the world we’re wanting to create: very British, drawing on all the things we loved when we ﬁrst met each other,” says Dyson. “Our brilliant efects guy, Ian Rowley, is nearly 70 years old and has been in the business since the 1950s. There’s literally nothing he hasn’t done.” And hence the old-fashioned blanket of secrecy that shrouds the production. There are twists and turns in Ghost Stories that even fans of the play won’t see coming, and as Empire talks to the three stars of the three tales, we respect Nyman and Dyson’s request not to probe too deeply. After all, we don’t want to be menaced late one night by a pair of women’s tights.
The NIGHT WATCHMAN
Middle left: Jeremy Dyson gets behind the camera,
Paul Whitehouse plays a security guard in an ex-mental asylum (actually an unconverted mill in Saltaire, near Bradford) who starts to see things in the dark.
along with co-director and lead Andy Nyman, who plays sceptic Professor Goodman.
While Ghost Stories has hundreds of ﬁlms built into its DNA and burned into the subconscious of its directors, Nyman and Dyson wanted each of the parts to have a diferent, speciﬁc feel to it. For ‘The Night Watchman’ they have aimed to evoke a traditional haunted-house atmosphere, something close to The Haunting or The Uninvited. “This was deﬁnitely going back to the 1940s Val Lewton horror ﬁlms where it’s all about shadow and suggestion, and the slow building of tension,” says Dyson, who has been obsessed with Lewton for decades. “There’s a romance to the way those ﬁlms got made: they were conceived as cheap B pictures to make a quick buck, and Lewton was this cultured man who slightly resented being given cheap dross to make. So he thought, ‘Well, how much content can I smuggle in there?’ That’s the thing I love about genre movies: the best of them are the meeting of high art and low art.” They saw just one actor as the perfect ﬁt for the role of the guilt-ridden night watchman, and that was Whitehouse. “There’s such empathy there with him, and he’s so funny but so true and so poignant,” says Nyman. “In that scene where it’s me
Above: Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) is on a nightshift to remember as a security guard in an old mental asylum.
and him talking for about six minutes, you can hear a pin drop when you see it with an audience. It’s a testament to how brilliant his performance is.” When ﬁrst approached, though, Whitehouse didn’t believe them. “I thought Ray Winstone had turned it down! But Raymondo wouldn’t have been scared, would he?” he laughs, before suddenly transforming into Winstone. “‘Fuckin’ leave it out — I’ll lock you out, you cunt! Fucking scared of a fucking little ghost?’ Maybe they needed someone with a more vulnerability.” Performing largely solo in his scenes, he did after a while become comfortable in his “grim subterranean world”, but the mood of the dark, old mill clung to him once he wrapped. “I’ve got more real things to worry about in the night than ghosts, but it did stay with me a little bit,” he admits. “When I’m walking down the long corridor and some of the lights go and then I think I see things. Those efects were all in real time and it was great fun, but it was disturbing.” Whitehouse kept saying to Nyman and Dyson that in reality he wouldn’t actually go down a pitch-black corridor — he would run in the opposite direction of a dark staircase. “I’d have been long gone! I’d have been on my mobile phone and out that bloody building!” But they’d just point out that his character would, so back down the corridor he’d go. “Oh yes, I forgot, I’m an actor.” The big moment in this part of Ghost Stories involves nothing more spectacular than a cup. “There’s nothing frightening about a cup,” says Whitehouse, “but in that scene all ❯ the certainty of life has gone, all the laws of physics have gone
out the window and it opens the door to a very, very potentially scary world that we can’t comprehend, where reason, logic and physical properties are not correct or as we believe them to be.” In other words, prepare to fear the contents of your dishwasher.
Top left and right: Student Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) gets the fright of his life when his car breaks down on
The STUDENT Alex Lawther (who played young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) plays a student whose car breaks down on a dark country road in the middle of the night. “The template for this story was The Evil Dead and the ‘Nightmare At 20,000 Feet’ segment from The Twilight Zone movie — a brilliant George Miller one with John Lithgow on the aeroplane,” says Nyman, talking about the 1983 remake of the classic William Shatner episode where he sees a monster on the wing. “It was remarkable.” Dyson adds Drag Me To Hell to the list of inﬂuences and says that as well as wanting more of a high-energy feel to this story, they were aiming to capture a nightmare-ish quality. “The sort of thing you might see in a dream, or even as a kind of romanticised version of a dream.” Like Whitehouse, Nyman says that Lawther was their ﬁrst pick — “The moment Alex auditioned we just knew, ‘Oh my God, this kid is unbelievably brilliant. He’s so vulnerable and all of that vulnerability mixed with conﬁdence as well” — but whether
a lonely country road.
his intense performance is down to his excellent acting abilities really depends on who you ask. “I was just scared!” says Lawther, laughing. “Genuinely scared. They were using real actors and real costumes and real efects, and if it’s scary it’s because it was genuinely scary. But the joy of Andy and Jeremy is they have no interest in torturing performances out of people. In-between takes they were joking around, even though it was the middle of the night on an old country road.” Lawther reckons the blend of chuckles and chills that Nyman and Dyson loved so much in John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London has been captured in Ghost Stories. “They really trust in that well-worn tradition of uncomfortable comedy-horror, that ﬁne line between wanting to laugh and wanting to scream,” says the actor. “They know all about tension and release, and that’s what fear and laughter is. That’s why it works.” He pauses. “Also, they just scare their actors shitless.”
The BUSINESSMAN Martin Freeman plays a businessman waiting in his vast empty home for news from the hospital about his heavily pregnant wife. “In the third story we were looking at something more stately, like a David Fincher feel,” says Dyson. “We were thinking of that lovely mismatch you often get in a David Fincher
ﬁlm between something very designed but also very cold and sterile.” As well as being Fincher-slick, it harks back to Whistle And I’ll Come To You, the 1968 BBC adaptation of the MR James ghost story Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad, about an academic exploring a Knights Templar graveyard on the East Anglian coast. “There’s this one bit in Whistle And I’ll Come To You which has really foxed us,” admits Nyman. “One of the dream bits where there’s a sort of sheet following him on the beach — and we can’t for the life of us work out what they’ve done there.” “We tried to get in touch with the director Jonathan Miller to ﬁnd out what they did,” says Dyson. “Couldn’t.” “We got no answer.” They shrug in unison. Nobody knows. “But,” says Nyman, “we showed it to Ian Rowley, our efects guy, and said, ‘This is one of our great reference points in our friendship and in our growing-up inﬂuences.’ And he’s just run with it.” Freeman, still thawing out in his warm trailer days after being out on the Yorkshire moors (“70
Above and top right: Businessman Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) thinks that he’s alone in his vast, empty house, but is he? Above right: Professor Goodman looks out to sea.
in Ghost Stories any diferently. “It just has the added thing of thinking, ‘Okay, I don’t know how they’re going to do that and I can’t wait to see it.’ Illusory stuf is absolutely meat and drink to Andy and Jeremy. It’s not to me, because I’m not a brilliant magician.” Freeman performed in the stage production of The Woman In Black back in 1998 (in Scarborough) and concurs that it’s the simplest scares that work the best.“That rocking chair every night would freak people out,” he remembers. “Walking along stage with a candle that suddenly goes out — that always got a big scream. These things that tap into our psyche, our inner child. You don’t need a lot.” Much like his castmates, he’s come away from his Ghost Stories experience slightly shaken, reﬂecting on the existence of otherworldly forces and the fact that it’s real-life weirdness, the mundane going wrong, that really gets under your skin. “Everyone’s probably had an experience that you could only describe at the time as weird or, if you really pushed it, supernatural. It’s happened to people I know who are absolutely sane not spooky people, not drama queens — but have just and Z happened to me and I know it happened.’ gs have happened to me where I thought maybe ning it, but actually, I don’t think I am. Your mind astic tricks. But also, maybe, there are ghosts.” how else would you explain it? RIES IS IN CINEMAS FROM 6 APRIL
_there is a severed leg sticking out of a mound of chopped-up logs in Jason Blum’s oice. Sat at the other end of the room, on a sofa facing Empire, Blum slowly stirs some tea. In the wake of Catherine Keener’s hypnosis tactics in Get Out, it’s a little ominous. “Oh, I know,” he grins. “Be careful, buddy. I might be getting you ready for the Coagula.” The Coagula, Get Out’s procedure in which black people are body-snatched, becoming involuntary hosts for the minds of physically ailing white people, is — when you read it like that — not traditional awards-season material. But Blumhouse has been upending expectations and subverting norms from the start, and the last year has been a banner one for the company. Its two biggest successes yet have forged new genre ground, defying traditional categorisation while setting the box oice on ﬁre, with Jordan Peele’s Get Out taking in $255 million worldwide from a $4.5 million budget (while scoring a Best Picture Oscar nomination and winning Best Original Screenplay), and M. Night Shyamalan’s multiplepersonalities thrill-ride Split, made for $9 million, taking $278 million. In the decade since Blumhouse began in earnest, Blum has surprised and shaken up the industry, churning out astonishingly proﬁtable hits. The total budget for all six Paranormal Activity ﬁlms, which pushed found footage to
its limits while making audiences shiver and scream, was just $28 million; the series has raked in almost $900 million. The four Insidious ﬁlms, bringing surreal demonic possession to multiplexes, were glossier, but still made with a combined cost of around $26 million, bringing home $536 million. This is not even to mention the success of some Sinisters, a couple of Ouijas, and four Purges. Last year’s riotous Happy Death Day did gangbusters, while April’s Truth Or Dare, about teenagers being supernaturally forced to take the game to violent extremes, looks freakishly frightening. From the outside, Blumhouse doesn’t look like a horror factory. In an unassuming, nondescript area of Downtown Los Angeles, miles from the Hollywood heartland, Blumhouse’s main nerve centre is a deathly dark brown, brutal cube of a building, betraying nothing. Inside, things are clearer. On a cofee table, heavy-duty horror books sit among the trade magazines, the walls are decked with framed photos of Blumhouse’s directors at work, and the main feature is a spin on 1960s pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s work (Blum’s father, an art dealer, represented him) — a painting of a distressed blonde woman crying whilst bemoaning, “I just saw a Blumhouse ﬁlm… now I won’t sleep for weeks!” Blum himself emanates mischief, bouncing about in casual threads as he
gives Empire a tour of the company’s two buildings, swinging open doors on meetings, cackling as rooms full of people look up at him, nonplussed. “One of the reasons I like living Downtown is because there are very few people in entertainment here,” the 49-year-old says as we walk. “Our whole model is based on working for nothing upfront. If the movies work, everyone gets paid, and if they don’t, no-one loses too much money. It’s hard to have that model and spend seven gazillion dollars on your Beverly Hills oice.” After taking in the screening room, which often screens movies loudly
Alamy, Allstar, Contour By Getty Images
enough to get the walls shaking, we head up to the roof, decked out with couches, drenched in sunshine, overlooking the hills. “One thing I love about this, you can see the Hollywood sign there, but it’s very far away.” He laughs loudly. “It’s how I like it.”
Clockwise from top left: Betty Gabriel as Georgina in Get Out (2017); Paranomal Activity (2007); Masked intruders from The Purge (2013);
_three formative experiences in Jason Blum’s life contributed to the birth of Blumhouse. When he was 11 years old, visiting his aunt and uncle, he saw Friday The 13th. He can’t remember how he got hold of it, but he hadn’t seen a horror ﬁlm before,
Insidious fiends (2010); A carvedup arm and Olivia (Lucy Hale) from Truth Or Dare (2018).
was home alone late at night, and shudders at the memory. “It terrified me,” he says. “It damaged me. It was not good. Afterwards, I was frightened of being alone. I was frightened of going to bed by myself. I was frightened of being alone in the dark for years after.” He was not a horror fan as a young man; is this why? “Absolutely. One hundred per cent. I don’t think I saw a horror movie after that for a long time. A long time.” A couple of years later, at 13, his psyche was damaged further, as he endured an awful year of bullying. Even the losers wouldn’t have him. He was on his own. It would, though, be the making of him, eventually giving him a tenacious drive. “It made me a ﬁghter. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, or myself again. It wasn’t worth it! It deﬁnitely toughened me up, but I don’t look back at the experience and am thankful that I had it.” It’s hard not to think of Joel Edgerton’s The Gift, a Blumhouse ﬁlm in which a man horrendously bullied at school later exacts a gruesome revenge. Edgerton’s script resonated deeply for Blum: “It exactly ﬁt in with my high-school
experience,” he says. In January 1999, with Blum now working in acquisitions for the Weinsteins at Miramax and ready to watch horror ﬁlms again, he saw the then unreleased The Blair Witch Project. With buzz growing, it was about to be screened at Sundance for potential buyers, but he managed to get hold of a video. “I watched it on a VHS and I was like, ‘What’s the big deal with this movie?’” It did nothing for him. “I totally regret not going for it. My job was to pick movies that would blow up, and I missed the boat! So I blew it in every way. I fucked up, I made a mistake in my job on Blair Witch, clearly.” These events were the making of Blum. He quit Miramax in 2000, wanting to be his own boss. He produced a few tiny ﬁlms then, with a production deal at Paramount, made Tooth Fairy, a rote but sizeable kids’ comedy starring Dwayne Johnson. Blum hated the behind-thescenes politics, the number of voices in the mix. Meanwhile, Paranormal Activity had landed on his desk. Already in the can, it had cost director Oren Peli only $15,000 to make it, had already been sold, for just $150,000, and was due to go straight to video, dismissed by the studios. Blum, though, still smarting from his Blair Witch experience, saw its scare potential. He fought for it and, learning from his Blair Witch VHS blunder, persuaded Paramount execs to watch it at a test screening. That worked: audience members were visibly petriﬁed, and a conﬁdent Paramount opened it wide. It hit immediately. “I was waterskiing in Florida when I got the grosses from the ﬁrst weekend, on my Blackberry,” Blum remembers. “I thought, ‘This is gonna be a life-changing moment.’” But many wanted to take credit for the success of the ﬁlm, an intimate exercise in sheer terror. As a result, says Blum, he didn’t immediately get the recognition and career boost he expected. Then, though, he was ofered a deal by Charles Layton, president of Alliance Films, to make ﬁve ﬁlms for $1 million each, encouraging Blum to build on Paranormal’s model, making low-budget, independent scary ﬁlms, then getting them, if they turned out well, distributed by the studios. Soon after, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who had directed and written the Saw ﬁlms, came to Blum and pitched Insidious, a sort of new-generation Poltergeist. “This sounds awesome,” Blum told them. “Can you make it for a million dollars?” They did, and the ﬁlm — again, terrifying — made $97 million. ❯ Then came ghoulfest Sinister; then
came The Purge, a taut, grisly thriller about an annual night in America where crime is, well decriminalised. Both were big; Blumhouse was go. All this from someone who had, thanks to his Friday The 13th trauma, been no fan of horror. Is brand Blumhouse, then, just a matter of circumstance? “You would be half right,” he says. “But the other half is that there is a ton about horror and genre that suits me personally. I’m a weirdo, I’m an outsider, I love looking at myself as a scrapper, I love where our oices are. I love Hallowe’en, I love gross stuf. All of those aspects of my personality never married my work before I did Paranormal Activity. What happened with Paranormal Activity built the business model, but also I suddenly felt comfortable in my own skin.”
Clockwise from top left: Casey Cooke
_b lumh house isn’t sn’t _blumhouse con ﬁn d byy the he tr of conﬁne t a what constitutes a horror ﬁlm. Things can be scary on many levels — viscerally, socially, politically — it’s all there for him to tap into, says Blum, which explains outliers like Whiplash (J.K. Simmons’ drum teacher is scary, he says… we’ll let him have that, but Jem And The Holograms less so). Since its release over a year ago, Get Out has stirred up a substantial public conversation about race, while James DeMonaco’s Purge ﬁlms, taking their cues from gun control, class and race, are becoming increasingly political (in France, the franchise is called American Nightmare). The Purge: Election Year’s protagonist, Senator Roan, who opposes the violent free-forall, was inspired by Hillary Clinton, while the poster for forthcoming prequel The
First F rst Purge P rge fe feaatur ures the title on a red b all a l cap c p in th he style of President Trump’s MAGA headwear. DeMonaco has said that this fourth ﬁlm is directly inﬂuenced by what’s happening in American politics, and indeed, Trump’s suggestion after February’s Florida school shooting that teachers could maybe be armed with guns is not un-Purge like. Meanwhile, take a ﬂeeting glance at Blum’s Twitter feed, and you’ll see an endless attack on the Presidency. Trump seems to be Blum’s very own nemesis. Or antagonist, maybe. “He is my nemesis,” he says, gravely. “He is my antagonist. He’s both.” Get Out, an even keener comment on American malaise, was a success on so many levels, and something that Blum is most proud of is that the ﬁlm is
busting barriers, changing the way some feel about horror. “100 per cent,” he says, “based on the meetings and phone calls I get from directors — you’d be shocked — saying, ‘I wanna do a scary movie.’ I almost worry it’s getting too sexy now. Because, yeah, one of the fun things about doing horror is that the industry has always kind of snubbed its nose at it, and that’s deﬁnitely not happening nearly as much as it used to.” But it’s Get Out’s themes that make it so scary, he emphasises. “The huge jump-scare is a deer hitting a window. Do you know how many times that’s been done in a movie? About nine million times.” He’s getting louder. “It’s scary in Get Out because it’s fuckin’ Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya and they’re talking about this super-charged thing, and you don’t know what the fuck is
makes a run for it in Split (2016); It’s behind you: Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) in Happy Death Day (2017); The Purge: Election Year (2016); Split’s James McAvoy has a personality crisis.
UPGRADE Leigh Whannell, writer of Saw, director of Insidious: Chapter 3 and star, as Specs, of all the Insidious films, directs this ﬁlm about a technophobe under siege from a computer chip he has implanted to cure his paralysis.
MA Tate Taylor, director of The Help and The Girl On The Train, reteams with The Help’s Octavia Spencer for this psychological horror shooting in Mississippi and also starring Juliette Lewis. Taylor says it will make us think while we shriek.
SPAWN With 1997’s well-intentioned but unsuccessful Spawn ﬁlm a distant memory, Blum has enlisted the demonic black superhero’s creator, Todd McFarlane, to write and direct a new outing. Tonally it will be very different from traditional superhero fare, says Blum.
FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S Based on the 2014 video game about a security guard ﬁghting robots in a restaurant. Chris Columbus (Home Alone/Harry Potter) writes and directs. With Blum producing with no idea what to expect.
K KLANSMAN Spike Lee and produced ele (left), this true-crime enzel’s son, John David as Ron Stallworth, an erican cop who, in 1978, ehow went undercover h the Ku Klux Klan and botaged their activities.
gonna happen, and he’s black and she’s white and there’s a cop... and then the deer whacks the window and you jump. But what’s important and intriguing to me is the conversation on the way up to the deer, not the deer.” Blum’s philosophies and business model have taken Blumhousee far, a and he’s now reaping rewards thatt have have hi him m grinning like a kid. He actively sought ught out M. Night Shyamalan, having been an enormous fan of his early ﬁlms, and brought him back to basics with, ﬁrst, The Visit, about a pair of seriously disturbed grandparents, and then Split, which, in its ﬁnal moments, revealed a connection to Shyamalan’s 2000 broody superhero thriller Unbreakable. The sequel to both of them, Glass, out next January, will see Split’s James McAvoy sharing the screen with Unbreakable’s Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, and has fans of both ﬁlms in a frenzy. “If I say anything about the movie, Night will cut my legs of,” Blum laughs. “But I will say, the piece Night has already cut together has out-delivered on anything I ever expected.” Before that, and equally thrilling, is Blum’s take on John Carpenter’s Halloween. After initial talks with rightsholders Miramax, Blum said he would only make the ﬁlm if he could get Carpenter himself on board. That had already been attempted, he was told; it didn’t work. So Blum got himself a meeting with a growly Carpenter, and after Blum’s enthusiastic pitch, Carpenter signed up as executive producer. Blum then took a left turn, hiring David Gordon Green to direct, and Green’s longtime collaborator Danny
McBride to co-write. Neither are known for horror; McBride especially is known for comedy. But Blum loved them both. “Most people would have hired directors for Halloween that have done ﬁve great horror movies,” he says. “But I believe that what comes before the scare is more important than the scare. I emailed David Gordon Green one word: ‘Halloween?’ He said, ‘Let’s talk.’ And we met two days later. And they both love horror.” Carpenter gave them his blessing and is fully on board: he was instrumental in getting original actress Jamie Lee Curtis back, has provided notes on every script draft, has been on set, and, excitingly, is composing a new score. Blum is beside himself.
_“come “co ome for or a rride e in the van,” says Blum. He’s of to a lunch with the chairman of Universal, and wants to talk more beforehand. The van in question is a 2016 Ford Transit, which Blum has turned into a mobile oice to maintain his productivity while being driven to and from meetings in Los Angeles’ hellish traic. The interiors are plush, with power blinds (“I don’t like looking at LA, so I close them”), Apple TV hooked up to a huge screen, and a wireless keyboard. It looks like Air Force One. Blum may not write and direct his ﬁlms, but he is in everything he does, he says. “Every movie or TV show we do ﬁts into pieces of my DNA. As long as I’m running the company, there’s going to be pieces of my past there. One of my favourite things about my job is that I reﬂect on why I choose certain things over other things, and it helps me sort through my own issues. I love storytelling so much; it’s so important. I think it’s cathartic for society, and it’s very cathartic for me.” We pull up at Universal, and he grins, then jumps out for his lunch meeting. To set in motion some plan to scare the crap out of us, no doubt. TRUTH OR DARE IS IN CINEMAS FROM 13 APRIL
Stop-motion adventure Isle Of Dogs is a furry feast about mutts in peril. Director Wes Anderson and his two co-writers reveal the secrets of their flea-ridden heroes
WORDS JOHN NUGENT
Wes Anderson This being Wes Anderson, of course, it’s actually a pile of neatly stacked, meticulously crafted, perfectly symmetrical rubbish. Welcome to Trash Island. Population: dogs. Having dipped into shark-infested waters (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou), Indian long-distance trains (The Darjeeling Limited) and the post-War European service industry (The Grand Budapest Hotel), near-future Japan provides the latest quasi-fantasy setting for Isle Of Dogs, the ninth ﬁlm from the Texan ﬁlmmaker. In the ﬁctional city of Megasaki, 20 years from now, dogs have become effectively outlawed, reduced to second-class pet-izens by a fearsome, cat-loving mayor and his cackling cronies. In the midst of anti-dog hysteria, all canines are ejected from the mainland, and forced to live on Trash Island, a miserable “junktopia” where once proud domesticated alpha-pups live a feral life. Deploying the same gorgeous, labour-intensive stop-motion animation techniques he used for Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson narrows his focus to ﬁve formerly proud alpha dogs, desperate to return to a form of civility, who come to the aid of a small boy searching for his long-lost guard dog. In their quest for freedom, they meet a cavalcade of canine companions, where some very Andersonian order can be found among the chaos. The day after the ﬁlm’s rapturous premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, Empire met Anderson in a Rome hotel, ﬂanked by friends, collaborators and Isle Of Dogs cowriters Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman. Here, they talk to Empire through their ensemble of puppet pooches.
Breed: ‘Short-Haired Oceanic
Breed: ‘Short-Haired Oceanic Speckle-Eared Sport Hound’ Temperament: Loyal Likes: Military service Voiced by: Liev Schreiber
Speckle-Eared Sport Hound’ Temperament: Independent Likes: Biting Voiced by: Bryan Cranston Wes Anderson, director/co-writer: We had an idea that there was one dog that was a stray. A nondomesticated animal. We knew from the beginning that we wanted a pack of dogs called Chief, Rex, King, Duke, and Boss, who were all the alphas. Jason Schwartzman, co-writer: That’s just in that particular group. Each of those guys were the alphas, before [the dog exile to Trash Island]. Anderson: In the end, however, Chief and Rex end up being kind of co-leaders. Roman Coppola, co-writer: Initially we started with these ﬁve alpha dogs, and through the process of doing it, you start to come to realise their diferent roles. There was never a scheme. I think Chief was always clearly our main protagonist because he had a diferent attitude. Anderson: That was always his identity. It really came from the fact that he thinks that’s the only way to be — dogs shouldn’t be domesticated. I did actually have a real dog named Chief! He was a stray that we adopted. A black Labrador.
Anderson: He’s a bodyguard. He has a concept of service. He’s been trained in a really serious way to do this job. Also, he’s very sincere about it. His personality is probably more important than even his training. Schwartzman: You see that in an early scene in the hospital. He and [the main human character] Atari have a bond beyond all else. He would be that eicient and by-the-book with anyone he was assigned to, but with Atari, there’s a special moment. Coppola: When I was little, I had a dog named Yojimbo, a bit like Spots. He was super-loyal. He would follow you around, do everything for you, that sort of thing. Of course, Yojimbo was the name of the bodyguard in the Akira Kurosawa movie of the same name that we love. Anderson: You had a dog named Yojimbo? How did I not know that?! That should be what we say when people ask us where we got the idea for Spots! [To Empire] Spots was based on Yojimbo, Roman’s dog when he was a boy. Coppola: Start the whole interview over.
Above: It’s a dog’s life: Chief (Bryan Cranston), King (Bob Babalan),
Schwartzman: It’s funny: I knew Yojimbo, the dog, but being younger than Roman, I didn’t know Kurosawa. So when I was growing up I thought it was like, “Yo! Jimbo!” I was very little.
Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton) and Atari (Koyu Rankin) are on the hunt. Left: The pro-dog action group in
REX Breed: Mutt Temperament: Plucky Likes: Voting Voiced by: Edward Norton
Anderson: Rex, I guess, we always thought of as the conscience of the group. Schwartzman: What I love about the dogs is that you know they’re tough — even the ones who don’t seem super-alpha — because we see them fight. And when you see them fight, you see chaos, and characters who are not afraid. You see nature. They seem tough to me. Anderson: I don’t think we wrote any of the dogs for any given actor. We had one point where we had a list of who ought to play the dogs. The list was like: Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Sylvester Stallone. The most alpha-type men. I will say, the real identity of these characters came with the performances. The actors contribute quite a lot to ❯ these characters.
DUKE Breed: ‘Bohemian Mountain Dog’ Temperament: Gossipy Likes: Regular grooming Voiced by: Jeff Goldblum Coppola: Jef Goldblum was such a good one for that. Anderson: Duke is pretty straightforward. He loves gossip. That’s basically what most of the character is. They don’t have that much dialogue, those background dogs, but once the actors gave those performances, they gave them so much more identity. The puppet mixed with the voice is a real being. Schwartzman: Wes was saying that some of the animators are better with certain characters. That’s what I love about it, too. It’s a really crazy collaboration. The voice, Wes directing the recording session, the animator, the design of the puppets themselves. It’s a real collaboration. Coppola: What impressed me is that the puppets have diferent scales, but the face is not that tall. Some of the expressions in the eyes are remarkable, the control they have over such a small space. Anderson: Not many people can do it anymore. Or ever could, probably. They have all kinds of little tools. Some animators use them more than others. To move the eyes, you can stick a little pin in a hole in the eyeball. But then for some puppets, they use this tiny soft tool they just hold against they eye, using only the slightest bit of pressure. They all have their own methods.
KING Breed: Mutt Temperament: Reﬁned Likes: Snacks Voiced by: Bob Balaban Anderson: He’s an actor. We thought it’d be good to have a performer. I think we expected him to be more vain. He didn’t really come out that way. He’s related to this food that we see throughout the movie — Doggy Chops. The puppet has this amazing handlebar moustache. A very long snout. Schwartzman: He’s my favourite puppet. Coppola: The moustache came from the script. I remember there was some description that wasn’t literal — just to make the script interesting. It was fun to see that literalised. Schwartzman: He seems cool because he does these Doggy Chop commercials, but he probably learned how to ﬁght from the stunt coordinator on some of those commercials. He’s not afraid to use that.
Above: Four of the Trash Island doggy gang
a mascot who lost his superpower, in a way. He’s not ra-ra. Anderson: No, he’s not ra-ra at all. Trash island will do that to you. It gets you down.
watch over Atari’s crashed plane. Above right: Best buds Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton).
JUPITER Breed: St Bernard Temperament: Wise Likes: Brandy Voiced by: F. Murray Abraham
Middle left: Duke (Jeff Goldblum),
BOSS Breed: Mutt Temperament: Morose Likes: Baseball Voiced by: Bill Murray Anderson: He’s a mascot. Bill [Murray] had a good description of a mascot: a mascot is somebody who, when things go badly, they’re there to cheer you up. But when things go well, you really want them around, to celebrate with you. They’re not just to cheer you up when things are bad. They’re best of all when it’s good. Maybe that’s what that character is: he’s a mascot who’s there to cheer everyone up. [Pause] I don’t know. Does he do that? [Laughs] Schwartzman: He’s there, because he’s depressing. He’s
Rex, Boss and King have their eye on you.
Anderson: We thought of him like a Roman senator. An ancient type. There was one face we referred to for him — who was it, Charles Laughton? Coppola: He has a bit of a Robert Shaw quality to him. Anderson: We did use photographs of humans as a guide for some of the dog designs. With Jupiter, F. Murray Abraham gave him a lot of gravity, obviously.
ORACLE Breed: Pug Temperament: Mysterious Likes: Television Voiced by: Tilda Swinton Anderson: Oracle was great. That’s a very, very small puppet. With Jupiter, it was
Have Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) and assistant found a doggy cure to help the poorly pooches?
really the biggest puppet and the littlest puppet, as a pair. Tilda did a great voice for it. She appears in that ﬁrst scene but you don’t hear anything from her. Schwartzman: You see her for so long before she makes any noise. Anderson: She speaks human, or at least certainly is able to interpret — even if she doesn’t fully understand all the words. She’s deﬁnitely able to process information seen on television.
NUTMEG Breed: Collie Temperament: Haunted Likes: Tricks Voiced by: Scarlett Johansson Anderson: She’s a show dog. We made some special costumes. Scarlett Johansson has a great voice, as we know — she did the thing for Spike Jonze [Her]. Coppola: Nutmeg is hardened. Any time spent on Trash Island tends to weigh on you. Anderson: Yeah — and maybe you gotta be kind of tough to be a show dog. You gotta have the discipline and the training. Schwartzman: You get rejected a lot. Anderson: You have to be thick-skinned. You gotta be ready to take the falls.
GONDO Breed: Mutt Temperament: Troubled Likes: Community Voiced by: Harvey Kietel Coppola: So much of it came from Harvey’s voice. Anderson: Harvey was howling at one point. Coppola: We kind of stayed away from too much literal dog sounds. There weren’t many “rufs”! Anderson: He’s a dog that’s been so badly mistreated. He’s probably the toughest dog in the whole thing. But when Harvey did the part, he had his own thing. When he was doing the scene, it was very interesting because he was taking his time in certain places and internalising stuf, kind of talking to himself. There was one scene where he was talking about his experience of cannibalism. His line was, “We ﬁnally consumed him.” When we reached that point, Harvey suddenly said to himself [whispering], “Yes. Yes. You did do it. You consumed him.” I edited out that bit, but I thought he was talking about something else. Like he was saying to himself, “What’s the worst thing you ever did? What did you do?” He might have been using a sense memory technique, a Stella Adler thing. In the moment, being there, was really a powerful thing to see. As crazy as it sounds given the context of a cannibal dog puppet, it was very moving. ISLE OF DOGS IS IN CINEMAS FROM 30 MARCH
Maxine Peake, photographed exclusively for Empire at Spring Studios, London, on 15 February 2018.
From Dinnerladies to Black Mirror, Maxine Peake continues to rack up surprising credit after surprising credit. But as Empire columnist Sali Hughes discovers, she remains the same unshakeable Northern female force PORTRAITS SEBASTIAN NEVOLS
I ARRIVE TO MEET MAXINE PEAKE IN A BIT OF A STATE. Me, not her — she’s the model of calm. The actor is cheerfully cooperating with the photographer and his crew, changing patiently into new outﬁts, asking for a lipstick retouch because she’s just given her nose “a right big blow”. I, meanwhile, have just seen Peake’s new ﬁlm, Funny Cow, and feel like I’ve received a hammer blow to the solar plexus. Written by Peaky Blinders actor Tony Pitts, Funny Cow is the story of a physically abused child, then wife, whose sense of humour is not only her coping mechanism, but her vocation — one she pursues in the merciless working men’s clubs of 1970s Sheield. Peake (who displays a remarkable ﬂair for stand-up comedy) plays the title role, supported by what she calls “a dream cast of friends” — Pitts, Paddy Considine, Stephen Graham, Lindsey Coulson, Alun Armstrong, best mate Diane Morgan — all wanting to support a quality British indie and, in no small way, her. They’re not alone in loving Maxine Peake. In 20 years of interviewing, I’ve rarely known those around me show such unanimous enthusiasm for my subject. The British public’s deep afection for the working-class, Bolton-raised actress began before she was even famous. Shortly before she received the Patricia Rothermere scholarship (given to an especially promising student to receive acting training they wouldn’t otherwise be able to aford), she was made the subject of a 1996 documentary. Victoria Wood saw it, and one national treasure birthed another as she ofered 23-yearold new RADA graduate Peake the part of Twinkle in Dinnerladies. Peake went on to Shameless, See No Evil, Silks, Criminal Justice, Three Girls and Black Mirror; and ﬁlms such as The Theory Of Everything. No British actress, except perhaps Sarah Lancashire, is held in such consistently high esteem by both audience and colleagues. As extraordinarily talented as Peake is, we somehow feel she’s one of us, someone we’d be best friends or sisters with, who wouldn’t at all mind if their interviewer turned up with
mascara tears down her soggy cheeks, who’d be thoughtful, real and funny. No pressure, then. Funny Cow, among other things, is about the working-class north. You’ve suggested you don’t want to be a professional working-class northerner, but do you feel some responsibility to tell those stories and to give that region a voice? Yeah, I do, but Tony [Pitts] and myself sometimes get frustrated with dramas because it is all ‘noble working class’ and it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it gets over-sentimentalised, and I think, “Come on, really.” We sort of perpetuate that. Funny Cow maybe feeds into people’s idea of the north and what those clubs are like, but that really has come from Tony’s experience. Northern voices didn’t come much more authentic than Victoria Wood. Dinnerladies was quite the ﬁrst gig, wasn’t it? Victoria Wood was the reason I was doing what I was doing. When they rang and said, “You have an audition,” I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to meet Victoria Wood!” I didn’t even think about getting the job. I remember getting the script and thinking, “I’ll never get it but I’ll get to see her, this is amazing.” Maybe it’s a class thing or just a Peake thing that I was never particularly instilled with lots of conﬁdence or self-belief. It was always, “Don’t get above your station.” So I went for the initial audition and sat in the room, absolutely awestruck. She was fastidious about Dinnerladies, about getting it absolutely right, tweaking it and redoing things, wasn’t she? Yeah, she was a perfectionist and rightly so because her writing is like music. If you say the wrong word it’s like a bum note: it sings out. That was a real lesson. It was also a lesson to see somebody who’d done it of her own back. Doors weren’t always open to her but she really grafted. That was a big inspiration — you have to graft. Even if you’re as talented as Victoria Wood, it’s not always easy. You always made quite bold choices with roles — Myra Hindley in See No Evil and projects like Three Girls, the story of the Rochdale grooming scandal, for instance. Choices that are going to piss some people off or make them feel uncomfortable. Are you able to zone out any potential controversy? ❯ Naivety goes a long way, in my case.
When I played Hindley I never thought I’d get negative attention because of it, and I didn’t actually. I’ve got a great faith in the British public that if a story is well told and it’s done delicately and truthfully then they’ll be on side. Three Girls was the best response I’ve had to any drama I’ve done. It wasn’t about my performance. It reeducated people to the horrific nature of a case that they hadn’t understood. They were heartbroken and guilty that these girls were ignored and why were they ignored. So are your choices often driven by ﬁnding a story that, politically or socially, needs telling? A lot of the time it will be about the story and again, when I read Three Girls, my ego went, “Oh, it’s not a huge part,
it’s really about the three girls”, but it’s not about that because the story is bigger than any of it. What’s the difference in experience between doing something major like The Theory Of Everything and an indie like Funny Cow? You know what, The Theory Of Everything didn’t feel like I was doing some big movie. Eddie and Felicity were absolutely lovely and really welcoming. I remember worrying that Eddie would be ‘in character’ because usually when I work with actors like that I try to avoid them. I can’t cope. It’s not my way, I find it quite tiring. Have you seen Jim & Andy? [The controversial documentary about Jim Carrey’s immersive role as Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon.] Oh God, I couldn’t finish it. It was the most self-indulgent… I find that very disrespectful to those fantastic actors. Somebody decides that their process is much more important than anyone else’s. Fine, go and do it, but don’t inflict it on everybody else. But Eddie Redmayne didn’t? So I arrived on set and I saw Eddie in the wheelchair and I thought, “Oh, here we go,” but as soon as I approached him he shouted, “Hi, how are you? Welcome aboard!” It felt very collaborative. Obviously there were big set-pieces and hundreds of extras, but I think because it was a British film it still felt very grounded and down to earth. It wasn’t about egos. Funny Cow tackles 1970s Britain, when the perceived value of women in society was very different. You see sexist old TV interviews go viral and you can’t believe they were normal, but then in other ways do you think it has changed at all? Have we really come on leaps and bounds? Maybe leaps — I’m not sure about bounds! We’ve gained some ground. But is it just that people have got better at censoring themselves? Just because it isn’t said openly anymore doesn’t mean
it’s not still being felt or thought. Obviously what’s been happening recently is shocking and maybe I’m being slightly cynical but is this going to be the huge sea change, or will we slip back? We have a habit of getting empowered by it, but it’s about keeping a hold of that. Does the Me Too/Time’s Up movement require a total re-evaluation of the business? Yeah, I think it does, and it’s interesting, isn’t it, because, yes, it’s about women saying, “No, that’s not right” — but why should we be in that situation where we have to? I was always the one saying you need to stand up for yourself, we need to be strong, we need to be vocal but it’s about not being in that situation in the first place. Yes, there’s the idea that to be strong and a bit ﬁery is your responsibility as a woman, that you have to have that personality. But loads of women aren’t like that and they shouldn’t have to be. Exactly. People see women with a opinion and say, “She’s a bit feisty.” I was watching something the other day — a woman was describing another woman and said, “Ooh, she was a force of nature.” I thought, “You wouldn’t say that about a man.” Why is she a force of nature? Because she’s got an opinion she’s not frightened to air? The wording has got to change. Can you talk a little bit about how Funny Cow came about? I met Tony on the set of Red Riding about nine years ago. The producer had asked him to write something for me and he came up to me and said, “What do you want me to write?” I said I’d always been obsessed with women in the ’70s in working-men’s clubs. I always had a bit of an obsession with Marti Caine when I was younger. There was something about that beautiful, glamorous woman who could take the mickey and she’d sit on a stool and it’d collapse. He literally came back in two weeks, rang me up and said, “Come up to Hebden Bridge, I’ve written a script.” I drove to see him and we went walking the dogs and he made me sit in his car while I read it and he sat by the side of me, which was a bit weird. I started to cry. I said to Tony, “This is one of the most beautiful scripts ever written.” He’d put everything into it that I wanted it to be and more. All the performances in Funny Cow are wonderful, but as Funny Calf [the childhood incarnation of
First page: Black silk button-through shirt: Equipment. Black tailored trouser: Stella McCartney. Previous and next page: Silk mix military blouse: Joseph. Silk mix trousers: Bella Freud. Leather brogues: G.H. Bass and Co. Here: Linen shirt: Frame Denim. Belted chinos: Joseph. Styling: Lorna McGee. Make-up: Justine Jenkins using Hourglass Cosmetics. Hair: Louis Byrne @ The London Style Agency. Additional imagery: BBC
“Doors weren’t always open to Victoria Wood but she really grafted. That was a big inspiration: you have to graft.”
Below left: Maxine Peake as Twinkle with the rest of the Dinnerladies cast. Bottom left: Playing a mother in turmoil as Juliet Miller in BBC series Criminal Justice.
Peake’s role], Macy Shackleton is quite something… She is just the most extraordinary young woman you’ve ever met. She’s got such charisma — she’s six or seven and a lot of youngsters would be nervous about staring a stranger in the eye, but she’d ﬁx a gaze and she used to break my heart.
From top to bottom: Playing the role of Martha Costello QC in Silk; As Elaine Mason, nurse to Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything; Bella is on the run from
I haven’t seen a kid act like that in a really long time. I was rehearsing and she came in for the audition. I came downstairs where she was sat and said “Hi, I’m Maxine and I’m playing Funny Cow. Who are you?” And
she said “I’m Macy. I’m playing Funny Cow.” And the director said, “I’ve not given you the part yet,” and she said, “Yeah, but you will do.” And we just thought, “That’s her,” and she just laughed. Then she asked if I’d sign her script.
deadly technology in Black Mirror episode ‘Metalhead’; Appearing alongside Paddy Considine in latest ﬁlm Funny Cow.
There’s a bit of a theme in the film where Funny Cow doesn’t fit in, not at school, not when she’s a wife, or in cultured society. Do you feel that’s been an echo of your own career, where you’re kind of stuck between worlds? Deﬁnitely. Tony and I have talked about us feeling like outsiders wherever we are;
we always felt on the outskirts a bit, not quite ﬁtting in, but I think the terrible thing is that we probably had this desperation to ﬁt in. You can try too hard then it’s easier to go, “Oh, it didn’t work out because they don’t like me.” I’ve always had a bit of that. I was the substitute friend in school, because there were two best friends and I was always the one that if one was ill I’d get subbed in to be understudy. And then going to RADA I remember one of my teachers saying, “You’ll ﬁnd it very diicult when you go back home after your ﬁrst couple of terms, because you’ll feel you’ve grown and your friends at home
Funny Cow uses comedy to try to fit in. It’s interesting that you didn’t modify or modernise the 1970s jokes — she’s casually racist and homophobic in her routine; she plays them for laughs. Obviously it’s historically accurate, but I thought it was particularly poignant because all she’s ever known is people punching down, usually onto her. Yeah, it’s that thing — she was attacked, she attacks. Quite a few people said, “We really like the script but you’ve got to take those jokes out.” But we said, “You just can’t re-write history.” We do that sometimes and whitewash, don’t we? I think we’ve got to be reminded of that [racism and homophobia] because we’ll never learn if we don’t learn from our past. Can you tell me about Peterloo? I think it’s out in autumn this year. It was a great project to work on. I wrote to Mike Leigh and asked if I could be in it. Was there a lot of improvisation? Yeah, but I think because it was such a huge cast and huge undertaking — it’s his biggest-budget ﬁlm to date — his genius is that you feel you’re improvising but he’s got it mapped. You know, at the end of the day I spent my summer hanging out with Mike Leigh, which was just a joy. I got to the point where I thought I really need to feel like I’m coming away and I’ve learned something new, not doing old tricks. Funny Cow was like that, that was a stretch. Was it hard not to play her as victim? She is beaten her whole life. Not for one second is Funny Cow a victim, and I thought it was really important to show women who go through this process in these abusive relationships. They are always portrayed as weak and she wasn’t.
“It’s good to play female characters that say, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ It’s all about that peace with yourself.”
haven’t.” But I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to get home to get back to my friends. I always thought, “Is that a failure in me because I don’t feel grown, better or diferent?” Do you still feel that? I love what I do but I still feel I’m the person I am. Sometimes people won’t allow me to be that. They think you must be a multi-millionaire. I can’t have a political voice because I’m absolutely loaded, so how dare I? And people don’t know your life, they don’t really know you. But it’s ﬁne, I’ve criticised people I didn’t know. But yeah, I don’t quite know where I ﬁt in.
You can’t wrap people up in a bow anyway. They’re neither solely victim nor oppressor. We’re all victims of victims, aren’t we? And some people unfortunately express it and continue the cycle. Funny Cow opens up when [lover] Angus talks about having children and she won’t because ‘monkey see, monkey do’. She understands herself and has that self-knowledge. She knows that’s not a good thing for her. That’s alright and it’s good to play female characters that say, “I’m not going to do that.” In another lifetime she might’ve done but again it’s all about that peace with yourself as a person. Not just as a woman but as a human. FUNNY COW IS IN CINEMAS FROM 20 APRIL
AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED BEFORE SUPERGROUP THE AVENGERS, THERE WAS S UP E R- F L O P THE AVENGERS , A SUM M ER MOVIE THAT ALMOST DESTROYED ITS DIRECTOR WORDS DAN JOLIN
ILLUSTRATION PETER CROWTHER
AFTER THE AVENGERS
failed in 1998, Jeremiah S. Chechik ﬂed Hollywood. Not to a beachside retreat to drown his sorrows in margaritas and escape the deafening silence of box-oice tills. Not even back across the border to his hometown of Montreal. The director, deemed responsible for a hot mess that scraped in only $48 million against a $60 million budget, felt so profoundly battered by the experience he disappeared into the literal wilderness. “I went across the Gobi desert to the edge of Western China,” he tells Empire. “I travelled through West Africa, through all these war-torn areas. The most dangerous places.” Now 62 years old, Chechik is reluctant to share details of his self-imposed exile, saying only that he had “plenty of dangerous experiences”. Though none so harrowing as his Avengers trauma. “I was so damaged. I felt I couldn’t direct anymore. So I went walkabout for several years: just endless roaming ❯ through the world. To get in touch with what’s real again.”
IT’S HARD TO
ﬁnd something more out of touch with what’s real than the 1998 Avengers. Based on a beloved espionage series broadcast on ITV from 1961 to 1969, it is an action-adventure comedy set in an eerily unpopulated England where the ’60s never ended. An England where a weather-controlling villain played by Sean Connery machinates from the fuzzy depths of a teddy-bear costume. Where Uma Thurman uncomfortably struts in kinky boots opposite a killer-brollywielding Ralph Fiennes, and has ﬁght scenes against herself as an unexplained clone. Where giant robot bees attack. And where virtually every third scene involves the drinking of tea. After its 14 August release, San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Mick LaSalle described it as “a bad and weird and strangely of picture”. He, like most critics, winced at the awkward, stif-rather-thansteamy banter between Fiennes’ dapper secret agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee in the original) and Thurman’s Emma Peel (previously rendered so iconic by Diana Rigg). There were no preview screenings, so the lack of faith its studio Warner Bros. had in it was palpable. Warner even refused to put on a premiere — unheard of for a big summer movie. It was such a calamity, few could fathom the decision to make it in the ﬁrst place. But, as Fiennes pointed out to The Guardian 13 years later, “You don’t go to work thinking you’re making a bad ﬁlm. I went to work thinking, ‘Great, let’s reinvent The Avengers,’ which I loved as a kid. It’s only now, because of the way it was received, that we look back and groan.” The blame was laid most heavily at Chechik’s door, but the project pre-dates him by several years. Music tour managerturned-Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, the cigar-puing raconteur behind Nashville and The Karate Kid, had secured the remake rights and was keen to pull a viable movie script together. He, like Warner Bros. co-CEOs Bob Daly and Terry Semel, reasoned that if kooky ’60s TV show Batman could be turned into a cool modern blockbuster, then wasn’t The Avengers similarly ripe material? The movie ﬁrst properly took shape in late 1993, when British screenwriter Don Macpherson was brought on board. The former Time Out ﬁlm critic had impressed Warner Bros. with his work on projects as diverse as A.S. Byatt adaptation Possession, a never-made Tim Burton take on Frankenstein and Terry Gilliam’s stalled attempt to do Dickens with A Tale Of Two Cities. He was surprised they’d come to him, but had loved the show as a kid and still appreciated, as he now puts it, its “mix of pop art, low budgets, Alice In
Above: Uma Thurman as the rebooted Emma
Wonderland and Hammer horror.” So in 1994 he delivered a script which focused squarely on the character of Peel. It was a “dark thriller” in which, unhinged by grief, she sets out to avenge the mysterious murder of her scientist husband, accompanied by secret agent Steed, who has secret orders to kill her if needs be. It had the teddy bears, the Peel clone and weather-controlling tech, but Macpherson’s logic was that ‘Avengersland’ is a reality essentially viewed through Peel’s trauma — “a twisted, broken mirror of a place”. Weintraub seemed to dig the result and began meeting with directors whose dark-tinged sensibilities might match the material well. “The ﬁrst they got
a Michelob beer commercial as one of the best things he’d recently seen. The ad’s director was revealed as one-time Italian Vogue photographer Jeremiah S. Chechik. Spielberg and Kennedy sought him out and, says Chechik, “invited me into the realm of Hollywood” where he was given an oice at their production company, Amblin, and started developing a ﬁlm for Warner Bros.. That project never came to be, but the studio did ofer him silly seasonal comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which after its release in 1989 became the Vacation series’ most successful entry. Over the next eight years, Chechik’s output included the quirkily charming Jonny Depp romance
interested was Jean-Jacques Beineix, who made Betty Blue,” Macpherson recalls. “That seemed really smart. But he pulled out before visiting LA.” David Fincher was next on the list, which excited Macpherson as he’d worked with him on his agonising debut, Alien 3. But the studio baulked when Fincher announced he wanted to shoot The Avengers in black and white. Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, came close, but then, two years after Macpherson delivered his screenplay, Nicholas Meyer, of Star Treks II and VI, signed on. Or so the writer thought. “A few months later, I got a call from Jerry Weintraub,” Macpherson recalls. “He said he had a surprise for me. Indeed, it was. It turned out a new director, Jeremiah Chechik, was attached… Et voilà!”
Benny & Joon and Sharon Stone thriller Diabolique. It was hardly like he was a crazy choice for The Avengers. The director admits being initially wary, though. “My reticence about making the movie at that moment was doing what I would consider a very expensive art ﬁlm for a studio,” he says. “But as someone who grew up in Canada, part of the colonies, I grew up with The Avengers and loved them. And I couldn’t very well turn it down, just because the visual opportunities were great. As soon as I read the teddybear scene I was like, ‘I’m doing this.’” But not before making it a condition that Macpherson rework his script. The teddy bears stayed, but Peel’s rampage of revenge had to go, requiring the removal of her husband from the story, a change in villain (from her face-changing brotherin-law Valentine Peel to the broader, more Bond-villain-esque Sir August De Wynter), and an overall lightening of the tone. Macpherson considered quitting, but Weintraub — who passed away in 2015 — talked him into seeing it through. While he ❯ might have disagreed with Chechik, the
Peel. She may well want to phone a friend. Right: Ill-fated A-listers Ralph Fiennes, Thurman and Sean Connery.
career of the man who made The Avengers began with a phone call from Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. In June 1987, the pair read a New York Times interview with Stanley Kubrick in which he praised
writer remains reluctant to criticise him. “I don’t want to dump on Jeremiah,” he says. “He’s had way enough of that. He’s a very sweet, talented guy.” Chechik had no reason to think the rewrite was a mistake. He’d sent the script to original Avengers Rigg and Macnee (who’d cameo in the ﬁlm as an invisible archivist), as well as the show’s top writer, Brian Clemens, and received their blessings. The actors he was keen to cast loved it too: Ralph Fiennes, who he’d known since trying to do a “dark medieval project” with the Oscar-winning star called The Monk; Nicole Kidman, up for playing Peel; and Sean Connery, who he’d sent the script despite Semel warning, “We’ll never make a deal with him.” Undeterred, Chechik ﬂew to Malaga in Spain, and met with Connery at his home. The former Bond wasn’t put of by the idea of wearing a teddy-bear costume (“Oh fuck, he loved it!” roars Chechik). But as Connery walked the director out, he still hadn’t committed. So Chechik turned to him and said, “I would really like to know now, because on Monday I’d like to send the script to Michael Caine.” Connery looked him in the eye and said, “I’m in.” Kidman was a diferent story, unable to extricate herself from the over-running shoot for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. “I was happy to push the movie [back],” sighs Chechik, “but Warner Bros. wanted Uma Thurman. I had loved Uma’s work, so I met with her, we got on, and she committed.” The remaining roles attracted some prime British talent: Jim Broadbent as wheelchair-bound boss-man Mother and Fiona Shaw as his blind right-hand-woman Father. Stand-up star Eddie Izzard signed on to play laconic thug Bailey after Chechik spotted him on TV, and drug-frazzled Happy Mondays front-man Shaun Ryder was, perhaps riskily, cast as De Wynter goon Donovan (“It was kind of a nuts choice,” laughs Chechik, “but we never had any problems with Shaun. Of course, he had three minders and two drivers…”) Chechik’s crew was also impressive, including production designer Stuart Craig (who’d design all the Harry Potter movies), cinematographer Roger Pratt (who’d worked with Terry Gilliam and Kenneth Branagh) and editor Mick Audsley (The Grifters, Twelve Monkeys). With his A-team assembled, The Avengers ﬁnally rolled at Pinewood Studios on 12 September 1997.
THE SHOOT, AS
Chechik remembers it, was mostly joyous and hitch-free: working with “an amazing team and one of the great producers”, playing with big set-pieces, having a laugh with Connery — who one day even ﬁlmed
a birthday greeting for Fiennes in character as 007 (“So I got to direct him as James Bond!”). Chechik does confess he realised the chemistry between Fiennes and Thurman was just “not happening”, but thought he could muscle it through. “I was wrong. I blame myself. I thought the movie was bigger, at least in terms of its visual entertainment, than that chemistry.” Not big enough for Warner Bros., it turned out. Summer ’98 presented a nightmare for a studio that had already sufered a risible previous year with ﬂops like Batman & Robin and Kevin Costner’s The Postman, while Tim Burton’s mooted Superman Lives and the Schwarzeneggerstarring I Am Legend both collapsed before cameras rolled. Aside from the fourth Lethal Weapon, Chechik’s “very expensive art movie” was now its biggest summer hope. He was told to dial up the action, and grudgingly added in the robotbee sequence. Then, in April 1998, his biggest supporter at the studio, production executive Billy Gerber, was ﬁred, leaving The Avengers in the hands of people who, according to Chechik, “never wanted to make it, didn’t get it, hated it”. When Chechik delivered his director’s cut, it did not go down well. The studio promptly arranged a test screening, in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I was there,” says editor Mick Audsley. “I shall never forget it.” At the end, the audience, who Chechik feels were chosen to have minimal cultural connection with the source material, just
Clockwise from top: After a dismal test screening, Warner Bros. upped the action ante; Eccentricities abound in what was meant to be a summer tentpole; Sadly, Fiennes’ Steed and Thurman’s Peel lacked ﬁzz; Connery as the dastardly Sir August de Wynter.
silently shuled out. Curious to know what they thought, Audsley headed into the gents and eavesdropped on the punters as they emptied their bladders. “Well, that was terrible,” someone muttered. It was, the studio would later tell him, one of their worst-ever preview screenings. The next morning, Weintraub and Chechik were summoned to Semel’s oice in Burbank, California. They were ordered to re-cut the ﬁlm to emphasise the action and make it shorter — ultimately by around 20 minutes. The greatest casualty was the entire opening scene, which introduced Peel ahead of Steed, arriving at an airﬁeld where she gains access to a secret lab and proceeds to blow it up. The teddybear scenes were pared back. But, worst of all, the ﬁlm lost what Chechik calls “the connective tissue”, leaving it feeling overly brisk, confusing and lacking
M A D D E ST L A I D P L A N S IN THE AVENGERS, SEAN CONNERY UTILISES A GADGET THAT WEAPONISES THE WEATHER. BUT EVEN THAT’S NOT THE CRAZIEST VILLAIN PLOT OUT THERE…
fundamental context. “I only saw the end product once,” says Macpherson. “And I was just in shock. It was like watching a kind of MTV version of it. It made little sense to me.” As the one wielding the scissors, even under duress, Audsley felt awful. “In reducing the ﬁlm and trying to bodge it into something it wasn’t, it went of the rails,” he says. “By cutting it, we made it worse. And I take responsibility for being a part of that. With the experience I have now, 20 years on down the road, I would have said, ‘We need to preserve what this ﬁlm is.’ But back then I didn’t know how to position myself to say that.” Chechik remains deeply frustrated. “I’d never had any interference in anything I did before. My movies, whether you liked them or not, were mine. But when you know you’re gonna take the heat for something you know is gonna fail, you can’t own it. I can’t say, ‘Hey! I know you didn’t like it, I know nobody liked it, but fuck you! It’s my movie!’ I literally cannot watch The Avengers. It just breaks my heart.”
Alamy, Allstar, Landmark
AFTER HIS YEARS
travelling war zones, ﬁnding inspiration in places as far from the Dream Factory as imaginable, Chechik returned to directing in 2004. “I got to make a movie for FX, which was one of my best creative experiences,” he says. “Super-gritty, shot in 21 days. It was called Meltdown. It was about nuclear
terror. One of the darkest things you’ve seen. But it brought me back as a director.” Since then, he’s found his creative home in TV, working on the likes of Gossip Girl, Chuck and, most recently, X-universe spin-of The Gifted. He’s also written a feature he may make this year: “A throwback to ’70s ﬁlmmaking like Bullitt and French Connection. Pure cinema!” But The Avengers has never entirely gone away. “I continue to get mail, asking, ‘Is there any way to get your cut out?’ And I keep saying, ‘I don’t own this movie. There’s no way for me to put it back together.’ But I would do it, and I’d do it for free.” In December 2015, website Nerfed Llamas wrote an open letter to Warner Bros. beseeching it to release Chechik’s cut. The studio responded only to state, with polite ﬁnality, “There are no current plans to revisit this property.” Of course, “never say never” remains one of Hollywood’s most overused phrases. This January, Shane Black revealed he was working on a fresh (kinky) reboot for Warner Bros. television. What advice, we wonder, does Chechik have for him? “Have ﬁnal cut, because it is a singular vision, not a collective vision,” he reﬂects. “And make it for as little money as you can: the equivalent of what they spent on the TV show. The creative risks must be bigger than the ﬁnancial risks. Otherwise this is what happens. You have a failure.” The kind that Chechik, quite clearly, wouldn’t wish on anyone else.
Bond-villain Auric Goldinger (Gert Fröbe) thinks that irradiating the US gold reserve at Fort Knox will make him (being a Smaug-like gold-hoarder) all rich and powerful. Silly Auric. Didn’t he know the days of the gold standard were ending? Should have done it with oil.
BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966) The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) join forces to kidnap the UN Security Council. Simple, right? Too simple. First they need to kidnap the inventor of a dehydration device that they can then use to turn the Security Council to dust. And then kidnap the dust.
SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993) Koopa (Dennis Hopper) is the dictator of a parallel dimension where the dinosaurs didn’t die out. But he also wants to rule over our dimension. To do that, he needs a bit of the meteorite which made the dinos extinct and to use it to meld the two dimensions together. Must’ve taken a brain the size of a brontosaurus’ to think that one up.
OLDBOY (2003) Someone driven your sister (with whom you had an incestuous relationship) to suicide? Here’s how to get revenge: 1) Kidnap them. 2) Pay to keep them in solitary coninement for 15 years. 3) Let them out and inform them if they igure out who you are, you’ll kill yourself. 4) Use hypnosis to make them fall in love with their now-grown-up daughter. 5) Kill yourself. Um.
ANGELS & DEMONS (2009) In order to become Pope, Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) murders the previous Pope and, framing shadowy cabal the Illuminati, threatens to use a vial of antimatter particles to destroy the Vatican at midnight — as well as hourly killing four kidnapped papal candidates from 8pm. Then he saves the day. But gets found out. Dan Brown got paid to write that.
CINEMA IN YOUR HOME Your April viewing sorted thanks to Rakuten TV WE’VE ALL BEEN there — you’ve got a group of friends round, the popcorn’s hot out of the microwave, you’re all settled down in front of the television for an evening’s entertainment and… you can’t find a single thing you all want to watch. Well, we have the ideal solution to your unsatisfactory movie night woes. Allow us, if you’re not already familiar, to introduce you to Rakuten TV. Rakuten TV is a VOD streaming service that’s dedicated to providing its customers with the very best films and TV series, with the highest quality sound and picture. Yes, that means (whenever possible) you can watch the year’s biggest
blockbusters in glorious 4K from the comfort of your couch, often just months after they were in cinemas. We’re also very pleased to have Rakuten TV as our headline partner for this year’s Empire Awards. And as part of that sponsorship, both the Best Actor and Best Actress trophies will be presented in association with the brand. It’s just another way Rakuten TV is dedicated to celebrating the best in cinema. But don’t just take our word for it — enjoy your favourite heroes and the best thrillers direct from Hollywood to your smart TV. Here are six of the best titles available on the service this April.
BLADE RUNNER 2049
OUT 10 APRIL
OUT NOW (AVAILABLE IN 4K)
OUT 23 APRIL
Carlos Saldanha CAST John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Gina Rodriguez, David Tennant
Denis Villeneuve CAST Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright
Coming 35 years after the original, Blade Runner 2049 was a sequel barely anyone thought would actually being any good. But, and we’re not too proud to admit it, we were very wrong. Ryan Gosling’s K is a replicant employed by the LAPD to ‘retire’ others of his kind who makes a startling discovery — a replicant has reproduced, something previously thought impossible. Fearful that this information could start an uprising, he’s sent to ind the child — and conceal the truth. WHAT EMPIRE SAID: As bold as the original Blade Runner and even more beautiful. Visually immaculate, swirling with themes as heartrending as they are mind-twisting, 2049 is, without doubt, a good year. And one of 2017’s best.
Suburbicon was supposed to be a Coen brothers ilm (they wrote the script in 1986) — but in 2005 it was announced George Clooney would direct and star. The ilm we inally saw has Clooney retaining the director’s chair but Matt Damon taking his place in the lead role. An amalgamation of two scripts — one the Coens’ original 1950s suburbia-set crime story, the other a real-life tale of the only black family in an all-white town — it’s a satirical blend of race issues and a murder mystery. Which certainly isn’t something you see every day. WHAT EMPIRE SAID: A weird patchwork of different tones and moods, from low comedy to powerful social drama via S&M. But the ilmmaking, from Robert Elswit’s lush visuals to Alexandre Desplat’s insistent Herrmann-esque score, is polished.
Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Feature (it lost to Coco) and based on the classic children’s story by Munro Leaf (a fact we’ve told you mostly because we enjoy the author’s name), Ferdinand is a comedy-drama about a paciist bull (John Cena) who refuses to take part in bullighting, but is forced to enter the bullring when he’s chosen by El Primero (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), the world’s greatest bullighter. WHAT EMPIRE SAID: It’s a charming enough story and the book’s moral centre — that it’s okay to be who you are, not what people want you to be — survives intact. Likewise, Cena does an able job of making the humongous heffer a likeable hero to root for.
SUBURBICON George Clooney Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI OUT 9 APRIL (AVAILABLE IN 4K)
Rian Johnson Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega
The eighth episode in the Star Wars saga thrillingly played on our expectations, giving us a Luke Skywalker not ready to play the returning hero— as the inale of The Force Awakens had led us to believe — but one who was racked with guilt and self-doubt, and was resolute on keeping his distance from the new civil war enguling the galaxy. But that wasn’t the only surprise writer/director Rian Johnson cooked up for a ilm that wasn’t content to rely on nostalgia, but pushed the saga into exciting new places and had us clamouring for Episode IX. WHAT EMPIRE SAID: If The Force Awakens raised a lot of questions, this tackles them head-on. Fun, funny but with emotional heft, this is a mouth-watering set-up for Episode IX and a itting tribute to Carrie Fisher.
Make Rakuten TV your VOD choice JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
OUT 16 APRIL (AVAILABLE IN 4K)
Jake Kasdan Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan
Jon Watts (AVAILABLE IN 4K) Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Robert Downey Jr
A sequel to 1995’s Robin Williams versus animals-on-the-rampage adventure, with the original’s magical board game updated (yes, by magic) to a video game. Four high-school students are transported to the jungle, taking on the appearance of the avatars they’ve chosen — a nerdy gamer becomes Dwayne Johnson, a self-obsessed girl becomes Jack Black — then have to escape, battling various vicious creatures and a nefarious big-game hunter along the way. WHAT EMPIRE SAID: A consistently inventive and chucklesome reinvention of the Jumanji concept. Okay, so it coasts on the charm of its lead quartet, but when there’s this much charm, that’s no bad thing.
After over a decade of disappointing Spider-Man ilms, the character’s irst MCU movie (after his guest role in Captain America: Civil War) was a triumph — managing to nail the scenes of both Peter Parker’s teenage experiences and his time in the suit. Tom Holland’s Spidey is very much a hero at the beginning of his career — tackling petty crime, hoping for a call from Tony Stark that grants him a promotion to the major-league status of the Avengers. And it’s that take on the character that makes the ilm so endearing — and as he’s not a god or a billionaire, his victory is far from certain. WHAT EMPIRE SAID: The characters and scenarios are familiar, but this is a loose, cool, funny remix that makes them feel fresh again. Plus, it’s mercifully short on life lessons from Aunt May.
With over ive million users in Europe, Rakuten TV is one of the top video-on-demand platforms. The service is dedicated to providing you with the best home-cinema experience — it has the latest ilms and TV series, and always with the best video and sound quality possible. No other platform has as many 4K ilms available to stream. And what’s more, it is dedicated to striking the best deals with studios, meaning you’ll be able to watch those ilms at home on Rakuten TV within three to four months. Sign up now to see the full catalogue at uk.rakuten.tv.
THE INDISPENSABLE GUIDE TO HOME ENTERTAINMENT
EDITED BY CHRIS HEWITT
THE EMPIRE VIEWING GUIDE
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME Director Luca Guadagnino sheds light on his peach of a movie
00:03:11 ELIO ELIO, WHO’S THIS? Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeous, affecting love story starts very simply, with Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spying on Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) arrival from his bedroom. “Sometimes you see ilms in which the point of view is not rigorous,” says Guadagnino. “But we are seeing the arrival of this usurper, as Elio calls him, from the perspective of Oliver. It’s ❯ a relection on the dynamic of the scene.”
HE’LL BE BACH
THE LOVERS’ DANCE
At irst, Elio and Oliver seem to dislike each other. However, early on, Oliver touches Elio, leetingly, on his bare shoulder. “You don’t want to overplay your hand,” says Guadagnino. “That scene’s a testament to the greatness of Armie Hammer as a performer, and his casualness in doing something that is a trespass, but in a way that doesn’t seem intrusive and actually seems like a way of becoming friends.”
In one take, Elio lirts outrageously with Oliver by playing Bach’s Postillion Aria in the style of several other composers. And yes, that is Chalamet playing. “It was important you could see Timothée was really playing the piano,” says Guadagnino, whose friend and neighbour, Roberto Solci, helped the actor with the ingering. “I never, for one second, thought, ‘Now we do a close-up on the hands.’”
Elio tells Oliver that he likes him in a single-take saunter that Guadagnino stages almost as a dance. “Every time Elio was alone in the frame, Ravel was coming off the soundtrack as if that was his feeling in that moment,” he says. “When Oliver comes back in the frame with him, the music goes away. And when they go into the countryside together, inally the music wraps them together.”
KISS ME SLOW
LIKE A VIRGIN
NO SEX, PLEASE, WE’RE AMERICAN
After over an hour of coy courting, Oliver and Elio inally kiss while lying languidly in a ield. For Guadagnino, a fast pace was not his ulterior motive. “I wanted the audience to be immersed,” he explains. “I thought of Constable paintings when I was looking at the countryside there. And that sounds so pompous, but yes, I did have that in my mind. They’re lost in their thoughts.”
Talking to Guadagnino is like a masterclass in moviemaking. But there was one reference Empire was not expecting. “Elio is like John Carpenter’s The Thing,” he laughs. “He is all the forms, but benign. He is a benign Thing.” He’s referring to the scene where Elio loses his virginity to his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), on the same night he sleeps with Oliver. “It’s messy, like life,” he adds.
When Elio and Oliver inally make love, Guadagnino moves his camera away, which has drawn lak. “It is a sort of prudish, bigot, dumb assertion, the one in which a story of homoerotic love has to be gaining the stamp of respectability by being edgy in its depiction of the sex,” he says. “I am ready to have a cinephile ist ight with any other cinephile who wants to challenge me on that. I will win.”
A JUICY BITE
THE STUHLBARG MONOLOGUE
TEARS BY THE FIRE
The ilm’s most infamous moment comes when Oliver starts to eat a peach that the, frankly, horny Elio has just ejaculated into. “I felt we skipped the ridiculousness of it,” admits Guadagnino. “It plays well because it is committed to Elio.” In André Aciman’s book, Oliver eats the peach; not here, but they shot a take where he does. “The outcome was less strong than the outcome of the take we kept.”
With Elio distraught after Oliver leaves, his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) sits him down for a chat illed with understanding. “We lifted the dialogue from [André] Aciman’s book,” says Guadagnino, who attributes the glum mood to his decision to shoot the ilm “95 per cent” chronologically. “Those two magniicent actors were probably melancholic because the movie was ending. I left them to it.”
“I added that at the last minute. I wrote, ‘Elio stares at the ire, thinking of his life,’” says Guadagnino of the ilm’s iconic last shot of Elio in tears, a tribute to similar scenes in Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Paul Schrader’s Light Sleeper. CHRIS HEWITT
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
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THE HAIR Like most everything else with Poirot, the hairstyle is controlled to within an inch of itself. “His delight in precision makes him breathe easier,” explains Branagh. But, as the murder mystery unfolds and Poirot gets deeper into the murky happenings aboard the famous train, the hair gets a little mussed up. “We did want to unravel him a bit, take him out of his comfort zone.” When lives are on the line, there’s no time for pomade.
THE heart Branagh’s Poirot is a little feistier and more physical than previous incarnations. “He talks about the little grey cells, but we also talked about the little red cells in his heart,” says Branagh. “We wanted some sense of a man who is capable of physical and moral courage. That allowed us, in Murder and maybe in future stories, the chance to get him a little more involved in the world of ﬁsticufs.”
THE voice “The real fear was that it would get into Clouseau territory,” laughs Branagh of Poirot’s Belgian accent. He worked with a dialect coach for months, but also wound up taking matters into his own hands. “I was learning French every day on a language learning system. Not very well, but when I was on the train or walking the dog I’d be trying to get my ears and tongue around the language.”
THE CLOTHES He’s a dapper man, is Hercule. “All the suits were handmade,” says Branagh, who worked with costume designer Alexandra Byrne to get Poirot’s look just so. “The whole process of ﬁtting the suits and the handmade shoes and the ties took months. To get the knot of the tie sitting perfectly each time, we had to work out how to do that. Poirot wouldn’t allow variation to occur.”
PREPPING POIROT Kenneth Branagh on how he brought the Belgian detective to life
WHEN KENNETH BRANAGH signed on to direct a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, he had already found his ideal Hercule Poirot: Kenneth Branagh. But how to put his own stamp on a character already played so memorably by the likes of Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and John Suchet’s brother, David? We spoke to Branagh about how he pulled of playing “a human being and not merely a supercilious collection of quirks and eccentricities”. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
THE CANE Again, Branagh was quite pernickety about Poirot’s cane, which he uses early on to stop a thief making his getaway. “It had to be very practical,” he says. “Although elegant and expertly and speciﬁcally chosen for the colour and the grain of the wood, it’s not too ornate, not too fussy. Still elegant and functional.” And makes for an excellent criminal hitting stick.
THE ’TACHE Ah, the moustache. The ﬁnest and largest conglomeration of facial hairs on the big screen in ages, Branagh admits he was “surprised” by the hullabaloo caused by the face fuzz. But only mildly so; after all, Poirot cultivates it to garner a reaction. “I used to think of it like the front of a Rolls-Royce or a train itself,” he laughs. “It had a luxuriant quality, it felt warm, and you knew a lot of care and concern had gone into it. I loved the way those two handlebar curls at the side evoked the question mark itself.” And here’s a question: was that ’tache all Sir Ken? “If it was all me,” he sighs, “we’d still be waiting for us to shoot!”
JULIA ROBERTS One writer. Six films. In a row. Pray for them
I MISS JULIA Roberts. Obviously, she still acts, but I feel like she used to be in movies constantly and now she only crops up once every couple of years, in smallish roles. I get that she wants to have her own life and do other things, but I think it’s selﬁsh. I am going to watch her biggest hits while feeling moderately resentful. Rocking a smart,
12 noon ––Pretty Woman
It’s Sunday, the day of sloth. I order enough pizza to feed three people (so much that when the delivery man arrives I have to shout, “Food’s here!” to nobody inside so he won’t know I’m a disgusting monster who’ll eat it all alone while crying) and fuse myself with the sofa. I know I’m starting well because I’ve seen Pretty Woman several times. Roberts is the perfect movie star in it. Like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, she isn’t remotely convincing as a hooker, and makes it look like an amazing career choice, but who cares? Her charisma is of the scale. Three times I rewind the bit where she laughs at the necklace, because it’s the most Julia Roberts moment that’s ever happened.
Below: With Daisy Ridley’s equally chic Mary Debenham.
people. I get a bit distracted Googling to see what happened to James Dreyfus (Google’s unsure), and for some reason I now have the sentence, “Taking tea with Tim McInnerny,” going round my head and I don’t know why.
6.30pm ––Erin Brockovich
Roberts’ move from romcoms to serious, and eventually, Oscar-winning actress is next. And she clearly knows she’s killing it. Every boardroom scene is amazing and she is A+ at being mean to people. Also, best walk in movies. I am opening wine now because it’s dark and I know the next one is bad.
8.40pm ––Ocean’s twelve
I’m furious that my editor insisted I watch this rather than Ocean’s Eleven, which is inﬁnitely better. This one is too smug and its ‘Doesn’t Tess Ocean look like Julia Roberts?’ bit is so awful I want to kill myself, but I can’t because the dog has fallen asleep on me. My PS4 crashes three times while watching this, and I think it was right to do so.
Illustration: Want Some Studio
2.15pm ––My Best Friend’s Wedding
A huge test of that famous Roberts charisma. I hate Julianne Potter with my whole life. She’s had ample opportunity to tell her best friend she loves him but waits until he’s getting married and makes a psychotic plan to stop the wedding. It’s also kind of gross that the best friend, Dermot Mulroney, who is supposed to be 28 (okay, sure), is marrying a 20-year-old. She’s a child! All these people should be alone. Like me. I want wine, but I can’t yet because of society.
There’s a gap of almost ten years between Ocean’s Twelve and last year’s surprise success, Wonder, which perhaps says a lot about how Roberts has chosen to step away from movie stardom. I didn’t think I’d like this, but it’s actually pretty good. Jacob Tremblay is excellent as a boy with a facial deformity who just wants to ﬁt in. Roberts doesn’t get a whole lot to do as his mum, but she’s peerless at doing a ‘trying not to cry’ face. The end is pure cheese but I still cried when she did. I think it’s partly because I ate all the pizza. OLLY RICHARDS
4.15pm ––Notting Hill
This is still so charming. I like how Roberts looks vaguely baled by all the posh British
WONDER IS OUT ON 26 MARCH ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
How to make children cry *
By the monsters behind Paddington 2
just Aunt Lucy turning up at the door, but the result of a community coming together.
STRIVE FOR MEANING
demeanours of Paul King and Simon Farnaby. Because as the architects [King co-wrote and directed; Farnaby co-wrote] of Paddington 2’s incredibly emotional ending, in which Paddington is reunited with his Aunt Lucy, they are responsible for, at a rough estimate, 75 per cent of the tears shed in Britain over the past four months. We caught up with these cold, calculating colluders and asked them for their tips.
Farnaby: Michael Arndt, the screenwriter, has this theory about things coming together at the end of a film to make something emotional. It has to mean something. King: We should charge thousands for this. “Hey guys, you might want to make your film mean something, and not be a piece of shit.”. Farnaby: Well, I remember watching Bambi, and the mum died. Does that mean something? Well, it means you don’t want your mum to die.
START WITH THE END
PLANT THE SEEDS
King: We knew we wanted to end with Aunt Lucy coming back very early on. What’s emotional about the ending is that Paddington discovers that his good deeds meant something to all his neighbours, and the world can be a good place. Farnaby: What makes people cry isn’t
Farnaby: Those moments that will amount to something are meticulously teased throughout the movie. King: We studded mentions of Aunt Lucy throughout to keep her alive in Paddington’s mind, and we wanted a sense of her being alive.
DON’T BE FOOLED by the cheerful
LOOK TO THE PAST
Clockwise from left:
King: We studied other films to see how they worked. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington was the huge one for me. Farnaby: And the It’s A Wonderful Life community spirit. King: There are bits of emotion that work brilliantly and you learn from them while trying to work it ou Farnaby: We talked about The Lebowski as a launchpad. The D “I just wanted to get my rug ba Paddington goes, “I just wante Aunt Lucy a birthday present.”
Paddington: He’ll bring
GO WITH THE FLOW King: The end was hard to get right. We started filming and gav up halfway. Farnaby: I remember turning to experience the glory of Aunt Lucy’s return and Paul was on th floor going, “It’s not working.” King: I wanted to stop because it was rubbish. Farnaby: Paul wanted a long
tears to your eyes; The neighbours show their support; Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) at your (food) service; Simon Farnaby and Paul King
Sali Hughes on the films that shaped her life
THE FILM THAT IS BEST SEEN ALONE: SCENT OF A WOMAN
gap before coming back to ﬁlm it. King: About four or ﬁve months. And we took out a lot. Knuckles [Brendan Gleeson] was originally in the scene, but it felt like we needed to follow Paddington. We’d really lost sight of, “I’m just a little bear, I don’t make a diference.” It was dead inside.
GET THE CAST RIGHT King: If you want to make people cry, get Sally Hawkins talking to a bear.
NAIL THE LAST LINE Farnaby: We wrestled with what Paddington said. “I love you, Aunt Lucy”? King: Aunt Lucy saying, “Paddington, I’m awfully proud of you”? Which sounds awful. We settled on, “Happy birthday, Aunt Lucy.” Farnaby: And we said, what if he gives her a hug? King: I never wanted a hug. I thought it was a bit schmaltzy. Then David [Heyman, producer] said, “Why aren’t they hugging?” in that way he asks questions that make you go, “I’m an idiot, and you’re a billionaire.”
* And adults
Farnaby: We had a screening where two girls of about 13 burst out crying. Me and Paul turned and high-ﬁved each other. Is that wrong? King: It felt very wrong. Farnaby: But then we collected the tears. King: And sold them to Disney. CHRIS HEWITT PADDINGTON 2 IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
Illustration: David Mahoney. Alamy, Getty
REAP THE TEARS
IN 1992, NO-ONE I knew wanted to see Scent Of A Woman. Many of my fellow Pacino enthusiasts saw it as their hero climbing down into the realm of bland, sentimental popcorn movies. Friends who loved bland, sentimental popcorn movies suspected they’d be bored, that this would have pretensions above its pay grade. I straddled both camps, and I’ll be eternally grateful for my lack of discernment, because Scent Of A Woman sent me of to the cinema with only myself for company, and sparked an enduring love of solo ﬁlm-watching. I’m rarely happier than when out on a playdate with myself, never happier than when it’s spent at the cinema. I wasted years negotiating with others on what to see and when, compromising on peculiar seating preferences (you people who like sitting in the back of an auditorium — what the hell is wrong with you?). I unwittingly denied myself the sheer, spontaneous ecstasy of realising, with two hours to kill, that something on which you’re prepared to take a punt is just starting at a theatre around the corner. Until my solo matinée of Scent Of A Woman, contraband M&S sandwich and Haribo in my bag, I’d only known the thrill of playing hooky from school when actually playing hooky from school, and now I wasn’t even going to get punished. Twenty-six years later, around a third of my movie-going experiences are solitary, and they are frequently the most enjoyable. Visiting the cinema toute seule provides some respite from constant daily interaction. You can settle into a Herzog documentary with intentions no more noble than an uninterrupted nap. You don’t have to justify to anyone that you want to see
Daddy’s Home 2 because today just feels like a John Lithgow kinda Tuesday. There’s no-one to constantly lean past to nick the layer of sweet popcorn, or talk, cough, snif, seek plot clariﬁcation or do anything else that makes you wish them dead. There’s no hanging around outside the gents, waiting for your companion, no searching for someone in the dark, or frantically waving your phone torch as ﬂare signal. There’s no need to debrief or argue afterwards, as I once did with a date foolish enough to hate on Woody Allen musical Everyone Says I Love You for being “unrealistic”. And if the ﬁlm is irrefutably bad, you’ve wasted no-one’s time but your own. Scent Of A Woman is not a waste of time. It’s a sweet, occasionally moving coming-of-age drama about honour, loyalty, class and the corruptive power of cash. At the end of term, Charlie, played by Chris O’Donnell (who sadly appears to have all but given up on movies), witnesses an illegal prank at the exclusive private school where he studies on full scholarship. While his friends spend their Thanksgiving asking Daddy to buy them out of trouble, skint Charlie cares for a blind ex-colonel, Frank Slade, in the hope of raising enough cash for a Christmas ﬂight home to Oregon. Pacino’s performance as Slade — gruf, rude, dutiful, honourable — won Pacino the Oscar he should have got for The Godfather or Dog Day Afternoon and while not his greatest, it kept me very happily in my seat for two-and-a-half hours. That’s all you need. A couple of hours of with the only person you know you’ll spend the rest of your life with, enjoying the one thing that never fails to feel magic.
THE CULT MOVIEDUNGEON Kim selects four of the latest DTV must-sees
Author and critic Kim Newman explores the dark corners of cinema
__ Kevin Phillips’ 1990s-set Super Dark Times is a teen relationships movie with an understated streak of sociopathy. Believable pals Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are drawn to odd Alison (Elizabeth Cappuccino), who is disturbed by and fascinated with a shocking, un-Christmassy incident involving a deer crashing through a school window. The trio experiment with violence — which gets serious when someone brings a samurai sword to a muck-about in the woods. It’s among the least nostalgic coming-ofage movies ever made, but is quietly persuasive and unsettling.
potential cult movies to sneak under the radar — Girl Asleep (2015), an Australian ﬁlm directed by Rosemary Myers and written by Matthew Whittet (based on his own play), got great reviews at international festivals and is available on all the usual home-video platforms, but didn’t land a UK theatrical release, so has to fend for itself in the marketplace without endorsements from the likes of us (until now), or indeed any publicity push at all. Its only hope is that audiences will somehow stumble across it, be surprised and enchanted, and spread the word. This is how cult movies used to spring up, though the system was tarnished when the concept of cult became a marketing tool. Myers and Whittet, who are exciting talents, would have an easier time getting follow-up projects made if Girl Asleep beneﬁted from the sort of high-proﬁle niche release accorded to, say, A Ghost Story or Lady Bird, but there’s a lot to be said for leaving gems around to be discovered. So, track down this fresh, funny, sinister, unique coming-of-age movie, and be seduced into multiple viewings by the sheer amount of imaginative details and deadpan edge-of-the-frame jokes Myers gets into a tight, not-amoment-wasted 77 minutes. Framed squarely in Academy ratio, and set in a vividly imagined 1970s, the
ﬁlm opens with 14-going-on-15-year-old Greta (Bethany Whitmore), the new girl in school, sitting glumly alone on a bench as an enormous amount of activity takes place in the depths of the image. She’s soon approached by motormouth Elliott (Harrison Feldman), eager for a new best (perhaps only) friend, then by a funn scary trio of mean-girl siblings (Maia Stewardson and ﬂanking twins Fiona Grace Dawson) who threateningly of her a place in the school pecking orde A crisis comes when Greta’s embarrassing parents (Whittet and Amber McMahon) inﬂict a rite-of-pa birthday party on her, prompting fan disco numbers (yes, this is also a mu and an epic Bedroom Sulk that temp Greta into a literalised forest of drea adolescence inhabited by wolves, a Finnish warrior woman, creepy pup fairy-tale incarnations of her parent and a too-sensual French crooner. It throws together The Company Of W Napoleon Dynamite, Heathers and W The Wild Things Are (and evokes the enclosed worlds of Wes Anderson), b Girl Asleep also ofers its own distinc take on the ‘diicult years’, and its d yet garish visual and verbal wit keep the surprises coming all the way through the end credits. GIRL ASLEEP IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-R AND DOWNLOAD
Above: Harrison Feldman’s Elliott and Bethany Whitmore’s Greta wrestle with growing pains. Below: Mean girl Jade (Maiah Stewardson).
__ Jakob M. Erwa’s German movie Homesick has highly strung cellist Jessica (Esther Pietsch) convinced her upstairs neighbours are persecuting her. An essay in apartment-living unease, it effectively sounds familiar chords.
__ The same goes for Brian Barnes’ low-budget British The Redeeming, in which apparent strangers are cooped up for a night in an isolated cottage and roleplay their way to a psychological crisis. Alamy
IT’S STILL POSSIBLE for new
__ Blumhouse has scored critical kudos with Get Out and solid hits in the Purge series, but its unheralded, straight-to-Netlix Creep — directed by and starring Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass — is just as strong. If you missed it, catch up before settling down to Creep 2. This brings on new videographer Sara (Desiree Akhavan) to spend a day with Duplass’ mercurial motormouth, who might technically be a serial killer but is even more appalling for other personality traits. It’s a virtual two-character show, funny, scary and sad, and the perfect horror ranchise for the culture of YouTubestar nonentities and death by social media unfriending.
SPIRITED AWAY Studio Ghibli’s ﬁnest hour
HAYAO MIYAZAKI, THE animation genius behind some of Studio Ghibli’s greatest hits, doesn’t write scripts. By his own account he starts production before he’s even ﬁnished storyboarding, with the plot unfolding as he gets his animators rolling, which somewhat explains the dream logic that informs Spirited Away. Of course our hero’s parents would be turned into pigs; of course she would share a lift with a giant radish spirit; of course a boy would also be a dragon who is in fact a river. The whole magical adventure is conducted with such a sure hand, and such a detailed sense of place and character, that you never question its weirder aspects. And the story turns weird, and wyrd, fast, and only gets more bizarre until about a minute before the end.
The plot centres on Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi in the original Japanese/Daveigh Chase in the dubbed version), a ten-yearold girl who is reluctantly moving to a new town with her parents. When her father takes a wrong turn and the family go exploring, her parents are transformed into pigs and Chihiro herself must take a job at a bath-house for spirits in order to survive and save them. She manages to muddle through, and slowly ﬁnd her feet among creatures of myth and magic, with the help of a mysterious young man called Haku and a spider-man (not to be confused with Peter Parker) who works in the boiler room. The imagination on display is dizzying, as you’d expect of this director, drawing from Japanese myth and Western art and Miyazaki’s favourite themes: ﬂying constructs, big-headed old ladies and tiny scuttling things. But it’s the grace notes that linger, like the train ride across a ﬂooded plain or a character having
a desperately needed bath. When little-girl-lost Chihiro ﬁrst arrives in the bathhouse’s boiler room, she helps a soot spirit lift a heavy piece of coal into a furnace, whereupon the whole chattering lot drop their burdens at her feet and beseech the same help. There are steady touches of humour like that, from an oicious frog door-keeper to bathhouse mistress Yubaba’s skull phone, with its chattering teeth. In the ﬁlm’s last act, Yubaba’s gigantic baby Boh has been transformed into a mouse, and if you focus entirely on him, the ﬁlm is a dry little comedy. And at the centre is the gloriously realistic character of Chihiro, a tenyear-old thrust into this world. We meet her, bored and grumpy and resentful that she must leave her old home, but she rises to the occasion when she’s forced to save her parents and herself from a terrifying supernatural threat. Miyazaki started with the aim of making a ﬁlm that allowed young
Ten-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi/Daveigh Chase) takes on a complicated world, full of peril.
Allstar, Capital Pictures, Ronald Grant Archive
girls to see themselves as the hero; not just a princess looking for a boyfriend or a victim to be saved. So Chihiro is resourceful, and braver than she suspects, and able to put aside revulsion or terror when she must. There is a grand tradition in children’s myth and literature of kids being taken away to other worlds, from European legends of changelings via Alice In Wonderland and the Narnia books. This one is perhaps closest to Frank L. Baum’s Oz stories, given the dangers that Chihiro must face and the tangled loyalties and curses she must unravel. And Miyazaki, who’s not just culturally literate but multiculturally so, reﬂects all of these but builds something unique. The transformation of Chihiro’s parents reﬂects Odysseus’ sailors and the donkey-boys of Pinocchio, while the power of names in the story echo A Wizard Of Earthsea or Rumpelstiltskin. It’s an amalgam of the lot: Chihiro must save not only herself but her parents, and along the way heal the sick and repair broken families. What’s remarkable about this as a children’s ﬁlm, and something that comes straight from Japanese mythology, is the fact there are no straightforward good or bad guys here. A witch capable of exploitation and cruelty can also be a loving mother; a monster can turn into an ally after a single moment of kindness. Only concepts emerge in a uniformly bad light: greed leads to disaster, selﬁshness to misery and consumerism to the ruin of the natural world. The characters who try to exploit enigmatic spirit No-Face for gold are eaten up by him, but he too has been corrupted by exposure to the bathhouse and its venal staf and customers. Love, friendship and hard work are the paths to freedom and happiness in this world, a moral core that keeps the characters right when they ﬁnally realise it. Saying that Spirited Away, which was a huge box-oice success in Japan, and an award-winner around the world, is Miyazaki’s greatest achievement is a huge call. Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro could both challenge for the title (though John Lasseter’s support for the ﬁlm probably swings it). But in its combination of mythology, and visual ﬂourish, and heart, it is extraordinary by the standards of any other ﬁlmmaker, and great even by those of its creator. HELEN O’HARA
AUBREY P From Ingrid Goes W Aubrey Knows Bes
When your character ﬁrst appears in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World she’s given an on-screen summary. It says, “Julie Powers”, “22 years old” and what else? Oh my God. Was it… “barista at Second Cup”? Do I get points for remembering she worked at Second Cup? That’s knowledge. Fuck. I don’t get you. Help me out. That was, like, 40 years ago. The correct answer is, “Has issues”.
In Ingrid Goes West, what is Ingrid’s Instagram handle before she changes it to @ingridgoeswest? Oh, wow. I hate you. Is it just @ingridthorburn? No? Is it @ingrid_thorburn? [On hearing answer] You should let me have that. That was really close. Why are you being like this? Come on, man. The correct answer is @ingrid.thorburn.
In Monsters University, how many eyes did your
char Clai Thre I got beco nigh a ho as y This Corr
spo the ﬁ of Parks And Recreation Oooooffff. I have no idea. I didn’t even see it. Is it, “Fuck you, Jerry”? [On hearing answer] Ew? Well that’s barely a word. I question your question. The correct answer is, “Ew.” In Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, on which TV show does Tatiana see Mike and Dave for the ﬁrst time? Oh! Yes! It’s The Wendy Williams Show! COME ON! Do you have a live audience there with you? I heard something. It’s your dog? I have one of those here too. I’ll allow it. Correct.
What is the name of your baby in
Dirty Grandpa? My. Baby’s. Name. Was it… The Godfather? I honestly have no idea. I don’t even know if it’s a girl or a boy. Isn’t that awful? What a horrible person. I know I had the baby with Robert De Niro. WAIT. I know it. It’s Dick Kelly Jr. Half a point. The correct answer is Richard Kelly II. At which magazine does Darius intern in Safety Not Guaranteed? Is it The Seattle… Journal? I think it’s The Seattle something. The Seattle Times? You’re going to let me have half a point? Really? You’re softening. I’m wearing you
down. I’m losing respect for you. But thank you. Half a point. It was Seattle Magazine. In The To Do List, what song does Brandy sing to her best friends to get them to forgive her after a ﬁght? Wind Beneath My Wings. I know that one because I sing that song every day. I didn’t suggest it for the ilm. That was just a weird coincidence. But I am truly obsessed with that movie [Beaches]. Bette Midler is one of my all-time favourites. I would watch the VHS of that movie over and over and over. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s hundreds. Correct.
In Damsels In Distress, what sort of dance is used as therapy for depressed people like Debbie? Jaaazz? Modern… dance? I seriously forgot I was in that movie. I’ve seen it, but I forgot I was in it. The correct answer is tap.
What’s the name of the psychiatric hospital in Legion? Clockworks. Ending on an easy one. Kind of disappointing, really. Correct.
SPIRITED AWAY IS OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
INGRID GOES WEST IS OUT ON 26 MARCH ON DVD AND DOWNLOAD
M AY 2018
CHRIS HEWITT Loves De Palma, but admits he’s made some bad ﬁlms. The worst one? Well, that would be [REDACTED].
JONATHAN PILE Empire’s Deputy Editor. Has a curiously soft spot for Mission To Mars.
IAN FREER Empire Contributing Editor. Such a De Palma fan that he even loves the Springsteen Dancing In The Dark video.
NICK DE SEMLYEN Once watched Body Double while sitting next to an old lady on the Tube. She wasn’t impressed.
BRIAN DE PALMAFILMS Four Empire writers put the great director’s movies in order
Chris: When did you ﬁrst get turned onto De Palma? Ian: I read a book called the The Movie Brats, which is the book that coined that phrase, about Spielberg, Lucas, John Milius, Francis Coppola, Scorsese and Brian De Palma. So I got to know him via that book and the ﬁrst one I saw was Carrie. And it’s amazing. It’s so ’70s but it hasn’t dated. Then I watched everything. Chris: Jonny? Jonathan: Mission: Impossible, which Nick says is not a true De Palma ﬁlm. And he’s probably right. Before then, the Brian De Palma I knew most of all was the guy who hated Star Wars on the ﬁrst screening. Nick: The crawl was his idea, wasn’t it? Thank you, Brian De Palma. Ian: He famously took the mickey out of the Force. Thought the Force was ridiculous. Nick: From the man who made The Fury, that’s rich. He’s not in a strong position to tell anyone what’s ridiculous or ludicrous. Some of the stuf in his ﬁlms is bare bonkers. Chris: Nick, your ﬁrst experience? Nick: I remember seeing Scarface when I was pretty young at school. I was impressed. I know it’s not generally beloved by people, but it made a very strong impression on me. Chris: For me, there’s something bravura about a lot of the set-pieces he attempts, whether it’s the soundless heist in Mission: Impossible, or the amazing shoot-out in The Untouchables, or Blow Out. Ian: Even the rubbish ﬁlms. Bonfire Of The Vanities opens with an amazing ﬁve-minute tracking shot. Jonathan: Snake Eyes!
Ian: How amazing is the opening shot of Snake Eyes? The rest of it is rubbish. I think De Palma should direct a Marvel movie. He should do one of those set-pieces and make sense of it. Nick: Hawkeye in a dress. I’d watch it. Chris: Let’s focus on why people still talk about him. He’s a stylist and can pull of these incredible tracking shots. He uses splitscreen, he uses… Nick: Split diopter. I love saying that. It’s essentially keeping two things in focus at the same time, something far away and something close. You get two bits of information. Ian: My favourite split diopter is in Untouchables, where the opera singer is singing in the foreground and Capone is in the background. Nick: There’s an amazing one in Blow Out with an owl. You see Travolta recording and the owl is right near the camera. The owl swivels its head and looks right at the camera. Chris: The owl breaks the fourth wall. Nick: Nobody uses the camera like De Palma. There’s another bit in Blow Out where the camera is revolving slowly around the room as Travolta works on his tapes, which is amazing. Chris: Is he more in love with technique than soul? Ian: Yeah. It’s a very cold day today and he’s colder than today. He’s a very cold ﬁlmmaker. He doesn’t have a warm bone in his body. Nick: I wonder if Carlito’s Way is maybe his warmest ﬁlm. It’s quite soulful. You really like that character. It’s quite rare. You watch Body Double, you don’t warm to that guy at all. But Carlito’s Way has a real humanity to it. Ian: There’s also humanity in the late ’60s ﬁlms. Greetings and Hi, Mom. You get a sense that there are human beings here. Chris: I agree with Nick on Carlito’s Way. The love story between Pacino and Penelope Ann Miller really gives it something. I don’t think at the end of Scarface you’re rooting for Tony
T HE TO P T E N
To listen to the full De Palma debate as a podcast, go to www.empireonline.com/ podcast
Montana to survive because he’s such a monster. But this is a warmer, wiser version of Scarface. It’s probably my favourite De Palma ﬁlm. Nick: Carlito is an absolute idiot, though. He makes a terrible decision and he kinda has it coming to him. Jonathan: He has death coming to him? Nick: He kinda does. Choose between your girlfriend or Sean Penn Coke Monster. Chris: De Palma is very much a student of Hitchcock. How important is the Hitchcock inﬂuence on De Palma? Ian: It’s really important. But it’s not a slavish reinterpretation of Hitchcock. He’s much more bravura than Hitchcock, I think. Nick: There was a famous quote from Hitchcock when he was asked about Obsession. He was told it’s a homage. He went, “More like fromage.” I don’t know how impressed the master of suspense was about the other master of suspense. Chris: But when you go back to pure, undistilled De Palma, which for me is Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Body Double, Obsession and The Fury, those movies are the ones where you really get the exploration of some of his themes. Voyeurism is one of those themes. And we also have to say that, looking back, perhaps his treatment of women on screen is not great. Ian: I remember the scene from Carrie where apart from the shower scene at the beginning, they’re doing exercises on the playing ﬁeld, and the camera tracks along them and it might as well be wearing a dirty mac. It ogles them in ways that is very uncomfortable. Nick: I don’t think any director has had so many shower scenes. Ian: Some critics might argue he’s looking at the mechanics of voyeurism, and he’s deconstructing it while he’s doing it, but it’s hard to separate those two things. Jonathan: Exactly. How many times do you have to do it? Chris: Looking back, Carrie revolves around female protagonists. Sisters as well. But otherwise I’m struggling to think of strong female characters. It struck me watching Blow Out, how much of a damsel in distress Nancy Allen is in that movie. She exists solely to die at the end, and that’s not what you want. That’s not really acceptable. The treatment of Angie Dickinson in Dressed To Kill as well. Nick: That was a Psycho rif. Ian: But does that get you of the hook? Chris: Enough squabbling, let’s vote!
THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)
Chris: “Featuring some of his greatest set-pieces (the Odessa Steps sequence), and most beloved performances (Connery), this also riffs on one of De Palma’s obsessions: obsession itself. A worthy winner.”
BLOW OUT (1981)
Ian: “For me this is his best ﬁlm. It’s his most grown-up. It’s got sincerity, it’s about ﬁlmmaking, it’s got great tracking shots.”
Nick: “An excellent ﬁlm. It’s all about the bucket of blood, the Donaggio score and the greatest ending in horror movie history.”
Chris: “A rare Pacino mid-’90s performance that isn’t SHOUTY, and one of the few times the substance matches the style.”
Jonathan: “Complex plotting with a look and feel that belies its summer blockbuster status. It’s a hell of a ﬁlm.”
Nick: “I think it’s his most iconic ﬁlm. It’s the most quotable, and there are so many great images. It’s big, brash and memorable.”
Ian: “This might be the most De Palma-ry of the ﬁlms on the list. Voyeurism, murder, obsession, Michael Caine in a dress...”
Nick: “Far more than just a riff on Vertigo, this is a sly and elegant suspense machine, with perhaps De Palma’s best twist.”
Chris: “A glorious exercise in style that De Palma excels at. The last shot is one of my favourites. I’m laughing thinking about it.”
CARLITO’S WAY (1993)
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996)
DRESSEDTO KILL (1980)
RAISING CAIN (1992)
CASUALTIES OFWAR (1989)
Jonathan: “An underrated Vietnam ﬁlm, possibly because it came after Platoon. It deserved better. Good to see it re-evaluated.”
AGREE? DISAGREE? WRITE IN AND TELL US AT: LETTERS@EMPIREMAGAZINE.COM / @EMPIREMAGAZINE
CARRIE IS OUT ON 16 APRIL ON BLU-RAY
Oz, the great and powerful Director and puppeteer Frank Oz on life as a Muppet man
FRANK OZ HAD no intention of playing with puppets for a living. In fact, though his parents performed shows as a hobby and he picked up the skills, he was determined to become a serious journalist. Fortunately, for him and the world at large, destiny had other ideas. When he was 19, Jim Henson called and Oz arrived in New York, for the beginning of what would be the wildest of rides. The Age Of The Muppets had dawned. Over the following decades, Oz found himself in all manner of non-serious-journalist-like situations. He pogo-sticked around New York in a gorilla costume for Henson’s Time Piece shots. He was stufed into a claustrophobia-inducing elevator, along with several other Muppeteers, for an ingenious drainpipe-climb sequence in The Great Muppet Caper. And he created iconic characters like Cookie Monster creates crumbs: Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, Bert, Grover and Cookie himself were all voiced and operated by Oz. And in the case of Yoda, who made a surprise cameo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, continue to be. New documentary Muppet Guys Talking re-unites Oz with four fellow felt-wizards (Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta and Jerry Nelson) to share warm and fuzzy memories of their time making entertainment history. We rang him up, to probe him further about the ins and outs of Muppetry, and his second career as a director of classic comedies.
You and Jim Henson had an incredibly successful partnership. What’s your memory of first meeting him? It was at a puppet festival in Asilomar, California, about an hour’s drive from my home. I was 17 and had made a little bit of money on my own doing birthday-party shows and such, and there was a contest for anybody who could do a show on the theme of the three wishes. So I did a show. The ﬁrst time I saw Jim, he was walking with [wife] Jane, pushing a baby buggy with [daughter] Lisa inside. He had no beard at that point. In any case, I did the show and won the prize. That’s when Jim saw me for the ﬁrst time and talked to me. Two years later, you ended up working with him in New York. Were you excited? Oh, it was so exciting. I had been all over Western Europe with my backpack, a year before, so it wasn’t the travelling. It was more seeing the kind of New York
Frank Oz, surrounded by a bunch of Muppets.
that people talk about, at night when it’s all lit up. It was really raining that night and I still remember seeing the reﬂections of lights in the puddles. Muppet HQ was on 53rd Street. What was it like there? Tiny. It was above a restaurant bar called Chuck’s Composite. We were one ﬂight up and basically had two rooms and a patio for the four of us. But we didn’t get on each other’s nerves. That’s the thing about Jim — he somehow picked people that really got along. Right from the beginning, we were always trying to crack each other up while we were performing. I tended to be the one to start it all. I was deeply involved in that part of it. When it came to creating characters, is it fair to say there’s a bit of your own personality in every one? Yeah, I was fortunate to be able to let diferent sides of myself out that I wouldn’t allow out normally in my social life. If you started acting like Animal at work, you’d be ﬁred. But me, I get paid for it. Which part of you inspired Cookie Monster? Oh, I love cookies. [Laughs] He’s totally obsessive and we all have some obsession sometimes. He was actually just a regular monster in the ﬁrst year, until we did a quiz show on Sesame Street with Guy Smiley. Cookie Monster was a contestant and he won, so he had a choice between a new car, a Hawaiian vacation and $10,000 in cash, or a cookie. And he chose the cookie. From that moment, he was the Cookie Monster. He’s wonderful to do. Tough on the voice, though, surely? He was the hardest one. He requires a tremendous amount of energy. As a matter of fact, I hurt my throat once and went to see a specialist in Boston. I told him what I did and he said, “Well, don’t do that.” [Laughs] I said, “I have to!” I learned eventually how to get the same explosive energy without hurting myself. Were there characters you got sick of? There were some Muppets that just didn’t work. We called them dead Muppets. I have a couple. [Practical joker] Harvey Kneeslapper was a Muppet that was a lousy idea — my idea. He was not worthy of being on air. Miss Piggy was one that did work. What do you like most about her? Her courage. Because she knows she’s a bit overweight. She knows she can’t sing. She knows she can’t tell jokes. She’s ❯ aware of all this. But she’s going to do
top. He assured me it wouldn’t be. Then he came in and essentially was over-the-top. I said, “I just can’t do this.” I may have been a bit too strong, but I had to be, because I didn’t want that to hijack my ﬁlm. From then on, he hated me. He hated my guts, you know? Do you feel he didn’t take you seriously because of the Muppets? It’s been reported that he called you ‘Miss Piggy’ in front of the crew… No, that was bullshit. Just like the whole story about him not wearing his pants on set. All crap. He did come in with his pants of, and rightfully so: it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Montreal, he was playing the piano and had the wardrobe next to him, so when it was time to shoot he put the pants on. And you wonder why Brando didn’t like the press. Actually he was quite enthralled with the Muppets. I sent him some Bert and Ernie tapes because he really wanted to see them. He was just very much against authority. It wasn’t personal.
Sesame Street and The Muppet Show became huge hits. Less successful was your stint on Saturday Night Live — John Belushi told a reporter he wanted to shoot the Muppets with a gun… Their humour was diferent to our humour. Muppets is very high-energy and SNL is more laidback. We were taking time away from the cast members. And [the SNL writers] had to write the sketches for some reason, which made everyone frustrated. As time wore on, it became clear we shouldn’t have been on there. But John and I, Danny [Aykroyd] and everybody, we all got along great.
Your cameo in The Blues Brothers seems to prove there was no bad blood. That’s my claim to fame, yeah, the soiled prophylactic. John Landis was in Germany about a year ago and sent me a postcard: the front was me as the cop holding up a condom, with the words, “One soiled.” [Laughs] It was bizarre.
Clockwise from top: Daniel Seagren and Jim Henson work Ernie while Oz works Bert for an episode of Sesame Street; Audrey II from Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) directed by Oz; 1980’s The Empire
You segued from your Muppet years into directing ﬁlms such as Little Shop Of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bowfinger. You also worked with Marlon Brando on The Score, which was apparently a nightmare. That was complicated. Marlon, I thought he was sweet and a humanist. I went to his house at the beginning and had a twohour meeting with him. He was a little devil — he would test you all the time. But he agreed to a particular way to do the character — he wanted to make him homosexual. I said, “Okay, that’s ﬁne.” But I had just done a ﬁlm called In And Out about homosexuality and wanted to make sure I was respectful and not over-the
Strikes Back with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Yoda (voiced by Oz).
Have you kept a lot of stuff from your Muppet days? I have about six huge boxes of them. We have something called Show And Tell on the Muppet Guys Talking website, where the four of us [Jerry Nelson passed away in 2012] bring out something from 30 years ago and talk about it. We don’t even know what the other person has, so it’s really fun. Have you come across Harvey Kneeslapper in one of those boxes? If I did, I would burn him. NICK DE SEMLYEN MUPPET GUYS TALKING IS AVAILABLE TO DOWNLOAD FROM MUPPETGUYSTALKING.COM
whatever’s necessary to try to be the very best and be loved, even through the pain. I remember Gilda [Radner] was a guest star on The Muppet Show and she said to me, “I wish I was more like Miss Piggy.” Piggy came out during women’s lib and those moments where she loses patience and karate-chops somebody, I think that part of it made women go, “Oh boy, I wish I could do that.”
Talking of cinematic icons, it was a joy to see Yoda back in puppet form in The Last Jedi. How did that come about? Well, several years ago I was in Toronto. And Rian [Johnson], who I didn’t know at that time, came to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing Yoda again. I said, “Sure.” Because I thought he meant just the voice, which is very easy for me. We had a good talk and I really liked him. Then about a week later I understood that they expected the puppet. I said to Kathy [Kennedy], “Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself involved in?” But it was just wonderful. I got to work with all these craftsmen I’d worked with, in some cases, 30 years ago on Little Shop Of Horrors. When it’s CG, I don’t have a relationship with anybody. I’m alone. But with the puppet I have a relationship with all these people and they feed me. And it was magical to be back with Mark [Hamill] again. He is a huge part of why Yoda works.
Stay Puft Marshmallow Company T-shirt inspired by Ghostbusters. Model: George Frederick Chowdhury.
THE STORY OF THE SHOT
INCEPTION IT ALL BEGAN with a falling scalpel. As a kid, Christopher Nolan had watched and loved the 1966 sci-ﬁ adventure Fantastic Voyage, in which a crew of experts and their hi-tech submarine are shrunk to the size of a microbe and enter the body of a dying scientist. While they travel along his ear canal, a normal-sized surgeon in the operating room drops his knife, its clatter having catastrophic consequences for the teensy crew within. “That is a great moment,” Nolan says. “I always loved the idea of something in a larger-scaled world having a cataclysmic efect on this smaller world beneath.” Which is why, in the summer of 2009, Joseph Gordon-Levitt spent the best part of a week in a near-derelict former airship hangar in Bedfordshire performing a frantic, gravity-defying ﬁstﬁght on the walls and ceiling of a spinning corridor. This is what happens when his character Arthur dreams up a hotel in a subconscious reality which is encased within another dream, where his sleeping dream-self is tossed about in a rolling van. This is what happens when Christopher Nolan makes an action movie. It wasn’t easy for Gordon-Levitt, who at the time told Empire, “I’ve never done any job that even comes close to the physical challenge of this one.” After all, as Inception stunt coordinator Tom Struthers conﬁrms, Gordon-Levitt “did every single shot bar one in that rotating corridor”. Nor was it easy for special-efects supervisor Chris Corbould, who’d never constructed a rotating rig so big (110 feet long), or which could spin so fast (up to eight rpm, though it wasn’t safe to go beyond four for It was nearly James Franco rolling around Gordon-Levitt’s stunt work). One which, furthermore, in that corridor: required the incorporation of a system which, he was originally Corbould explains, allowed the camera to “whizz cast as Arthur, but backwards and forwards along the corridor in such dropped out due to a way that you couldn’t see the tracks on the ﬂoor.” scheduling conlicts. It was very easy for visual efects supervisor Paul Franklin though. “That scene was entirely physical,” he conﬁrms. “That’s all for real, in camera.” Franklin lauds both Corbould and Struthers for their ingenuity, The production but reserves his highest praise for Gordon-Levitt. “Joe of Inception was scheduled so that if trained very hard to make this all work. It would have Gordon-Levitt had been easy for him to fall into one of those open doorways injured himself during and break an ankle.” Not that Gordon-Levitt seemed to the rotating corridor mind. For all the bumps, tumbling around in that rig was scene, it wouldn’t have his favourite part of the shoot: “It was the coolest scene caused a shut-down. to do. It just feels like, ‘Wow, gravity is going haywire!’” It’s a scene that has lost none of its novelty, even eight years (and one Doctor Strange) later. Nolan’s goal with Inception was to ﬁnd “a fresh way to present There are only familiar action tropes, to give the audience a diferent around 500 visual way of looking at them so they become re-energised.” effects shots in Inception — about And it’s hard to think of any moment from Nolan’s own 150 fewer than there fantastic voyage — through a man’s sleeping mind were in Nolan’s rather than his physical body — that better captures previous movie, that remarkable energy. DAN JOLIN
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THE FIRST-TAKE CLUB
NETWORK Greg Jenner, historian, Horrible Histories contributor, and author of A Million Years In A Day, on Sidney Lumet’s prescient media study
AS A STUDENT, I spent two years working at Blockbuster. The money was crap, but I got ten free rentals per week. Sod your Bitcoin nonsense, this was the sexiest currency imaginable. It means I’ve seen 296 of Empire’s 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time (as seen in issue, well, 301, July 2014), plus thousands more. Yet Network had somehow escaped. Well, no longer. My eyes have devoured it, my brain has digested it, and my fingers are now frantically trying not to type: “HOLY SHIT, THIS 1976 FILM PREDICTED TRUMP!??!” I’m an historian, so I’m meant to be more sophisticated than that, but it’s grim how President Trump’s post-truth reign of media-baiting (t)error is the logical endpoint of this dazzling work of satirical prophecy. But, anyway. Network deservedly won four Oscars, and the performances are enthralling, but I adored the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, who detonates more lyrical dynamite in two hours than most screenwriters cram into a career. There is so much oratorical richness, I wouldn’t be surprised if Aaron Sorkin grew up worshipping this film. Also, it’s not smash-you-in-theface satire. Network’s early scenes are light on their feet, and Sidney Lumet’s
elegant direction is so deceptively reassuring, that — like the proverbial frog in the boiling pan — we only notice the danger when it’s too late. In retrospect, however, the darkness was lurking in plain sight. A respected news anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), threatens to shoot himself on air, after being fired for a ratings slump. The public gawps with voyeuristic fascination, and suddenly the failing TV network has its goldmine. Chayefsky’s script expands into the boardroom, where the moneymen seize the opportunity to reverse the company’s losses. Despite my moral reservations, I was powerless against Faye Dunaway’s ambitious, amoral programming editor, Diana, as she helps the network suits wrestle control of the newsroom away from Max Schumacher (William Holden), the craggy news editor, and launch a proto-Fox News. Diana is steely-eyed from the outset: “The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them… I want angry shows.” Already we’ve had jokes about “Terrorist Of The Week” and “The Death Hour”, but suddenly no-one’s laughing. Diana cuts a deal with a violent communist
group, allowing them to self-produce their own provocative content, while Howard — whose breakdown leads to frenzied spiritual enlightenment — is relaunched as the mad TV prophet. At one point, he screams, “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”, over and over, until we see his viewers repeating it out of their windows to the streets below. Angry catchphrases are so very #Trump2016. It’s all so brilliantly executed, I found myself intermittently grinning and grimacing at this transformation. Diana doesn’t just seduce the viewer; the grizzled Max leaves his wife for this charming, monomaniacal murderer with great cheekbones. He soon regrets it. To say she lives for her job is an understatement; Diana literally orgasms in three seconds by listing overnight ratings and FCC regulations. SEXY! It’s a funny, weird scene; Dunaway is so charismatic, she makes this complex workaholic almost likeable. But, as with the story of Frankenstein, it’s the creator, not the creature, who is the real monster. When Howard becomes an unruly problem, Diana and the execs calmly hire terrorists to assassinate their errant golden goose, live on air. It’s an incredibly shocking
scene; no-one screams; no-one moves. Silently, the camera rolls over to peer down at the gushing bullet holes in Howard’s body. The film ends. Blimey! Network is a beautifully constructed, prescient scare-story which promptly came true, meaning it both succeeded and failed as satire. It accurately predicts the rise of Fox News, conspiracy prophets such as Alex Jones, reality TV, selfie culture, media-savvy terrorists, collapsing public trust in democracy, rolling news, and globalised corporate oligarchies. Indeed, few speeches in film history can match the media tycoon, Arthur Jensen, booming: “There are no nations… There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars... There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon.” Undoubtedly, Network is a masterpiece. But, viewed now, it’s chilling to realise this lurid worst-case scenario now feels closer to documentary. NETWORK IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
HeyMiike,you’resofine The prolific Japanese director on his greatest hits
MOST DIRECTORS, working at a fair old lick, w to make 20 ﬁlms in a caree three decades. Takashi Mii the Japanese master of ma has just polished of his 100th with the excellent Blade Of The Immortal, and he’s still in the mood for more. We asked him to select milestones from a career that has taken in everything from yakuza movies to musicals.
Rainy Dog (1997) Movie #25. An ex-yakuza stranded in Taipei is working for a local crime boss when an old flame appears, bringing with her his mute son. made in Taiwan. All h. It was just me nt of to Taiwan to knew that there making ﬁlms. But ey and going to bably the ﬁrst time om the rules of ng away from the le something extra.” )
shy widower holds ditions in order to
date women and find a new wife — but his favourite has terrifying plans for him. “I actually sat down to make a ﬁlm that was boring. I think about 50 minutes is possibly the maximum before people start to get bored. And that’s the point at which I wanted to take them in a completely diferent direction. Grab their attention so they just can’t leave. I wanted to create something that was very mundane, and then, suddenly, you can’t escape.”
Visitor Q (2001) Movie #47. A random stranger intrudes on the lives of an ordinary Japanese family, inciting incest, necrophilia, drug use and domestic violence. “[This was] a super, super, super low-budget ﬁlm — ¥8 million [roughly
KIDS WATCH CLASSICS Big films tackled by little people
The Happiness Of The Katakuris (2001) Movie #50. The owners of a family-run guest house run into trouble when their customers start dying in this partclaymation horror musical. “I felt like making something that was sort of a ﬂop musical. Japanese people doing music, in the style of a Western musical? There’s something really strange about that. There’s an idea that musicals can only be done by people that have trained well, that can sing and dance well, and I really wanted to move away from that. I’m still amazed the producer let me make that ﬁlm.”
LOUIS JOLIN — 11 BUGSY MALONE What is Bugsy Malone about? It’s about a world of children who are actually adults. Which is confusing. What’s confusing about it? I don’t know why it’s only children on Earth, because they’re all, like, 40. Everyone’s tiny, except they say, “When I was a kid I wanted to be this.”
Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)
£54,000]. I used my usual, ﬁrst-class cameraman, but this time we just went to a normal electrical shop in Japan and bought a video camera. We shot it in a normal, ‘anybody can shoot a home video’ style. It has encouraged me to do many different things since.”
Movie #78. A feudal riff on Sergio Corbucci’s famous 1966 spaghetti Western Django, this ﬁnds a nameless warrior entering a town ruled by two rival gangs. “As a sort of joke, I said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have Quentin Tarantino in it?” and everybody said, “No, of course not. He won’t come.” So I approached him. I actually went directly to him: “Would you please be in my ﬁlm? I’ll give you a ﬁrst-class ﬂight, although the hotel might not be very good!” He said yes! When I go off the normal rules, nice things happen.”
How would you sum up the story? There are two rival gangs, Fat Sam’s and Dandy Dan’s. Dandy Dan has a new splurge gun, which shoots killer cream pies — I don’t know how they kill people — and they kill Fat Sam’s gang. Then Fat Sam calls in Bugsy Malone, and asks for more splurge guns.
(2001); His curious
Blade Of The Immortal (2017)
Movie #100. A samurai warrior, cursed with immortal life, tracks down and kills the evil swordsmen who orphaned a young girl. “The label of being a violent director — it’s not me. It’s the ﬁlm that’s violent, not me. And there’s a part of me that wants to rebel against that. While I was making Blade Of The Immortal, I was also making a TV programme for three- to six-year-old girls, with exactly the same crew. Its message is, ‘You should never use violence. You have to be nice, be kind to each other,’ and it’s a very, very different thing. There’s a part of me that really wants to go against any expectation, to betray anything that’s expected of me.” DAMON WISE
What did you make of the ending? It was stupid. There was a war in Fat Sam’s base; everyone was shooting each other. And then someone started playing the piano and singing and everyone said they were good guys now, while singing and dancing.
Clockwise from left: The new Blade Of The Immortal is Miike’s 100th ﬁlm; The ultra-violent Ichi The Killer
musical The Happiness
Illustration: Olly Gibbs. Alamy
Did you like Bugsy? He was rude a lot. He was technically cheating on someone. If he was a ilm, I’d give him two-and-a-half stars.
Ichi The Killer (2001)
Of The Katakuris
Movie #48. When a rival gangster goes missing with his money, a yakuza boss employs the services of the underworld’s most vicious assassin. “It’s great fun making gangster ﬁlms, especially the violent ones. So many villains, but they’re very human. I feel very much for them because they are so bad. I had lots of sleepless nights making this ﬁlm, and it was hard work, but it was great fun to do. I discovered things that are so much better than sleeping — it was worth giving up sleep! I think I made it in about three weeks. I’m not sure I could the same again now.”
(2001); Japanese Western Sukiyaki Western Django; Takashi Miike himself.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL IS OUT ON 2 APRIL ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
Why is that stupid? Well, the pies are supposed to be killer, which means they should be dead! Maybe that’s when everyone remembers they’re really a child... No. They’re not children! Maybe the whole ﬁlm is a big game. Like when you play imaginary games with your friends. [Long pause] That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard. But it’s got some logic to it.
PICK OF THE MONTH THREADS
You might best know Mick Jackson’s made-forTV tale of nuclear warfare breaking out in 1980s Britain for the astonishing credit given to one unfortunate extra (Anne Sellors will never be able to escape the shadow of Woman Who Urinates On Herself). But there’s so much more to unpack here. An unremittingly bleak, sobering look at what would happen when the bombs drop (in this
case, over Shefield), there are no heroes or villains here; just a group of bedraggled, bewildered survivors trying to eke out an existence in the middle of a nuclear winter. Made at the height of the 1980s obsession with nuclear armageddon, I irst saw it a decade or so ago, when its images and preoccupations had seemed to stop being a potential reality, and was chilled to the bone. Now, with the thread of the big red button looming large in our lives again, this is an essential, but horrifying watch. CHRIS HEWITT
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
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You might say it’s Spitire battles on IMAX cameras or liver-eating verisimilitude on the austere frontier, but I’d argue the most dificult thing to deliver in cinema is joy. Any cineaste’s shelf will be heaving with miserable movies, but something to stick on that will give you a reason to grin — and get up again, those times when life’s disappointments down you — is a rare beast indeed. It is, in fact, a Peruvian bear. The only people to have made sequels as good as director Paul King has here are Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron. And you can’t watch the movies they made with your kids. But, really — with wit and warmth and visual invention that so rewards repeating viewing, Paddington 2 is more than just for nippers, offering multiple delights for grownups, too. This is something we rarely see, as parents or not: a true family ilm. And: a delight. NEV PIERCE
Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s sort-of sequel to Rocky Horror snuck out in 1981, was completely unloved, and promptly disappeared again. It wasn’t until actual reality television showed up two decades later that we started to realise it might have been onto something after all. It’s true that it struggles with low-budget shackles (if made now, you’d imagine it could go full Truman Show on its town-within-a-studio) and occasional plot incoherence; but Rocky Horror had those too, without sharing this ilm’s satirical irreverence. Jessica Harper is — yes, I’m saying it — a better Janet than Susan Sarandon, and Cliff DeYoung is outstanding in the dual role of Brad and evil twin Farley. O’Brien’s songs are just as good as before, and while there’s no Meat Loaf, it does have a baby-faced Rik Mayall. These days, Rocky Horror is too iconic to be given the ‘cult’ label — Shock Treatment wears it better. SEB PATRICK
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As a fan of both Emma Stone and Steve Carell, who shared a winning chemistry as family members in Crazy Stupid Love, I was interested to see them play off each other again, this time as real-life rivals Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, in a tale of tennis and the pursuit of equality. I wasn’t disappointed: though the roles are very different from those they had in the earlier ilm, they’re both as effortlessly charming as ever. Stone has perhaps the heavier weight to carry, with King’s blossoming attraction to another woman and her ight for respect, but Carell balances charisma and challenges of his own as Bobby masks his crumbling marriage and waning fame with vivid showmanship. Writer Simon Beaufoy and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) keep things bouncing along, but never forget the important undertones. Love? All. JAMES WHITE
Alamy, Rex Features
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
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Remakes generally get a bad rap, but if I hadn’t gone to see Robin Williams/Gene Hackman comedy The Birdcage while on a family holiday in the summer of 1996 (in spite of Empire’s middling, three-star review), what are the chances I would have sought out the original? I’ll wager slim to none. Mike Nichols’ update expanded my knowledge of foreign cinema (and made me and my dad laugh — it’s a very funny ilm). Ultimately, though, the original is better. Based on a stage play, La Cage Aux Folles revolves around a gay couple trying to hide their sexuality from their son’s ultra-conservative future in-laws. And as the farce escalates (via suggestively decorated crockery and incoming paparazzi), so does the hilarity. But Édouard Molinaro’s ilm isn’t simply in it for the laughs — there’s a real warmth to it, and its themes of acceptance and the importance of family are just as relevant four decades on. JONATHAN PILE
Instagram can be so punchable. We live in a world where social media inluencers are actual things, with powerful currency, where vanity knows no bounds, where beautiful people enthuse about beautiful products before you ind, nestled among the hashtags, the all-important #ad. It’s a bloody horror show and no mistake. In this audacious irst feature from Matt Spicer, Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid, a delightfully demented victim of such self-inlicted peer pressure, who stalks and ensnares Elizabeth Olsen’s unbearable Taylor Sloane, all overworked selies and avocado on toast. But while Ingrid Goes West is an absolute indictment on absurd and artiicial idealism, ultimately it’s more interested in the character study: Ingrid is an American psycho for a new generation, her void, loneliness and desperation ringing all too true. There is so much to enjoy hating in this ilm, which follows through right to the end. ALEX GODFREY
I didn’t expect much of Wonder; it looked like barely plotted family luff. But in fact, it’s a highly emotional call for empathy and kindness — which is admittedly the same thing but with better actors. The Room’s Jacob Tremblay is Auggie, a boy born with Treacher Collins syndrome, which has made him facially different. After years of reconstructive surgeries and home tutoring he ventures to school for the irst time, and we follow the reactions of Auggie, his family (including parents Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) and friends as he adjusts to this new life. It all feels to me like a throwback to the live-action family movies of the ’80s that they don’t make anymore, but its compassion is overwhelming and Tremblay’s Auggie is a funny, engaging hero. And through a few fantastical moments, it also gives Chewbacca his best character work of the year, which is only a bonus. HELEN O’HARA
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL
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Usually, as in Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil, show-off long takes involving complicated camera movements come at the beginning of the ilm. In 1975, Michelangelo Antonioni — my nomination in the category of slightly out-offashion genius whose inluence is so far-ranging his actual ilms are in danger of being eclipsed — was so conident in his mastery that he saved his breathtaking, technically innovative, seemingly impossible in-and-out-of-a-hotel shot for the last, resolving (albeit ambiguously) the plot while the viewer is mesmerised by the artistry. The secret is walls on hinges, apparently. At the top of his auteur game, Antonioni could land Jack Nicholson (in subdued, intense mode) and thenwhite-hot Maria Schneider (post Last Tango In Paris). Like Welles, he takes a hoary thriller premise (loser switches identities with dead man, only to ind himself hunted by an international conspiracy) and mines a seam of profundity. KIM NEWMAN
The real hero of Blade Of The Immortal, Takashi Miike’s brash, hyper-violent and slyly funny 100th ilm, is sound editor Masatoshi Katsumata — just when you think you’ve heard every possible variation on a blood-gurgling moan, or a gore-soaked samurai sword slash, or a crushing, squelching axe blow, he keeps delivering yet more repulsively visceral noises that can’t be unheard. With extended entrailscattering martial arts brawls that eclipse even Kill Bill’s Crazy 88 massacre, Immortal’s tale of death-proof warrior Manji and Rin, the young girl he pledges allegiance to, stuffs its epic runtime with meticulously crafted showdowns, eccentric plot points (bloodworms, ancient shamans), and a genuinely emotional story. Come for the near-constant limb-lopping sword ights, stay for the surprisingly complex meditations on the shifting perspectives of vengeance. BEN TRAVIS
I irst experienced Ernest Borgnine as a gap-toothed, boggle-eyed force of nature in macho men-on-a-mission movies The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch. So Marty was a pleasant surprise: in it, Borgnine plays a lonely, difident Bronx butcher who’s torn between the girl he loves and his overbearing mother and friends. It’s a long way from Nazi-murder and squib-mayhem, a quietly powerful character study of a sweet lug learning to listen to his heart. For such a gentle ilm about such an unremarkable man, it made a lot of noise at the Oscars in 1956, winning Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director (Delbert Mann) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky), and it still holds up six decades on. For best results, watch it in a double bill with equally gooey John Candy vehicle Only The Lonely, a loose remake. NICK DE SEMLYEN
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A49” SMART TV, BLU-RAY PLAYER AND ACTS OF VIOLENCE
7 Musical whose title song was performed by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra (6) 8 It was the third in Barry Levinson’s Baltimore quartet (6) 9 Tom Hiddleston in super-villain mode (4) 10 She was the silent screen’s legendary It girl (5,3) 11/22 Down But Gary Oldman shone in this (7,4) 13 Elizabeth, award-winning star of Martha Marcy May Marlene (5) 15 — A Fire (Tim Robbins starrer) (5) 17 Redgrave, Kirby or Paradis maybe? (7) 20 He’s The Social Network’s Sy (4,4) 21 Don, producer of Beauty And The Beast, The Lion King etc (4) 23 Acclaimed French actress Isabelle (6) 24 Otto Preminger’s ilm about founding the state of Israel (6)
1 Paul lost in a Bogdanovich production (4) 2 Badlands and Days Of Heaven director Terrence (6) 3 Burt Lancaster had the sweet smell of it (7) 4 Could be Attraction, Instinct or Beauty (5) 5 Lauren, once Mrs Humphrey Bogart (6) 6 They were linked with Kind Hearts for an Ealing Comedy classic (8) 12 Jennifer Lopez’s insatiable snake (8) 14 Awards that are basically the opposite of the Oscars (7) 16 Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine’s Parisian knees-up (3-3) 18 Romantic-comedy ilmmaker Nora (6) 19 He’s Woody Allen’s human chameleon (5) 22 See 11 Across
STARRING BRUCE WILLIS, Mike Epps and Sophia Bush, thriller Acts Of Violence sees Willis play Detective James Avery, a specialist in human trafﬁcking on the trail of the kidnapped Mia (Melissa Bolona). Aided by Mia’s ﬁancé Roman (Ashton Holmes) and his ex-military brothers, Avery et al also ﬁnd themselves up against a corrupted bureaucracy which, far from helping in the hunt, has darker intentions. Acts Of Violence is out on 2 April, and to mark its release we have a 49” smart TV, a Blu-ray player and a copy of the ﬁlm to give away. If you want to be in with a chance of winning, solve the crossword, crack the anagram and text your answer to the number below. Good luck! ACTS OF VIOLENCE IS OUT ON 30 MARCH ON DOWNLOAD AND ON 2 APRIL ON DVD
llections of vinyl wing ALL quality co vie in ed st re te in e We ar e UK and Ireland. HERE throughout th YW AN s CD d an s rd reco Weâ€™ll travel to you. like to talk with chine if you would Ma d un So e Th t ac Cont wing appointment. s or to arrange a vie ist ial ec sp r ou of one
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THE SHINING CHOSEN BY LEE UNKRICH
LEE UNKRICH: “Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that I love The Shining. It’s my favourite movie. The scene where Jack Nicholson is slowly backing Shelley Duvall through the big Colorado lounge and she’s just swinging her bat at him is just a great example of a slow-burn. You don’t know where that scene is going, but you feel such immense dread the whole time.”
INT. OVERLOOK HOTEL LOBBY — DAY Corrupted by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains, novelist-turnedcaretaker Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has gone dangerously insane, and is now stalking his terriﬁed wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) through the hotel’s lobby. Holding him at bay with a baseball bat, she begins to back up the grand staircase…
Jack, snarling, reaches out as if to grab her.
JACK: Give me the bat.
WENDY: [swinging the bat] Please! Don’t hurt me.
WENDY: Stop it!
JACK: I’m not going to hurt you.
JACK: Give me the bat.
WENDY: Stay away from me! Stay away!
WENDY: Jack! Stay away from me!
JACK: Wendy? Darling? Light of my life? I’m not gonna hurt you. You didn’t let me inish my sentence. I said I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m just gonna bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash them right the fuck in. [He giggles, maniacally]
JACK: Stop swinging the bat.
WENDY: Stay away from me. Don’t hurt me!
JACK: Give me the bat, Wendy.
JACK: I’m not gonna hurt ya...
WENDY: Stay away!
WENDY: Stay away from me! Stay away! Please!
JACK: Wendy… Give me the bat. Give me the bat.
Now she’s almost reached the top of the stairs.
JACK: [matter-of-factly] Stop swinging the bat. WENDY: Stay away from me!
WENDY: I’m very confused. I just need a chance to think things over.
WENDY: Please stop!
He reaches out for her. She swings and hits him on the right hand. He grabs it in pain and shock.
JACK: Put the bat down, Wendy. JACK: Ow! Goddamn—
JACK: You’ve had your whole fucking life to think things over. What good’s a few minutes more going to do you now?
WENDY: Stop it!
WENDY: Stay away from me!
WENDY: Please! Stay away!
JACK: Wendy. Give me the bat.
Wendy swings again and this time clocks Jack on the top of the head. He falls back down the stairs and lands in a crumpled heap. Wendy shrieks in relief and terror.
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S E E H O W T H E M O T H E R H A L F L I V E S.
F R O M T HE P E OP L E WHO BROUGHT YOU J U N O A N D Y O U N G A DU L T
IN CINEMAS APRIL 20
MOST AUDACIOUS THE
CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IN
INSIDE THIS SPECIAL ISSUE 04 IRON MAN On the eve of its release, Empire spoke with the makers of a little ilm called Iron Man. Would it be a success?
10 SCENE STEALERS The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most notable bit-part players.
12 AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Empire’s on-set feature from 2012, when we couldn’t quite believe there were so many MCU ilms. Six!
20 THE CAMEO KING Celebrating the MCU ever-present — the cameos of a certain Stan Lee.
22 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY In 2014 Marvel took a huge risk with this niche group of characters. Empire was there to ind out what was going on.
28 THE 50 GREATEST MCU MOMENTS As bickered over at length in the Empire ofice. We’re still not all happy.
44 THE MCU MISCELLANY Facts, stats, asides, trivia — wow your friends with ultimately pointless MCU knowledge.
46 MARVEL’S PLOT HOLES Well, there were bound to be some. But we’ve solved them! Sort of.
Top: Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. Above: Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Right: Captain America: Civil War’s Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Below: Black
Editor-In-Chief Terri White Deputy Editor Jonathan Pile Creative Director Chris Lupton Deputy Art Director James Ramsay Photography Director Joanna Moran Associate Editor (Production) Liz Beardsworth Sub-editor Lucy Williams Contributors Nick de Semlyen, Dan Jolin, Chris Hewitt, John Nugent, Helen O’Hara, Ben Travis Illustrations Neil Edwards Additional imagery Alamy, Allstar, Marvel, Rex Features This is a one-off publication by Bauer Consumer Media Ltd of Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough Business Park, Peterborough PE2 6EA. Registered no. 01176085. Copyright in all material published belongs to Bauer Consumer Media Ltd or its licensors and copying/reproduction, in any form, whether in whole or in part, is prohibited without our prior permission. We take care to ensure our published material is accurate but we are not responsible for any errors or omissions found in this magazine, nor are we liable for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any information contained in this publication or from its use. Bauer Consumer Media Ltd is a member of the IPSO (ipso.co.uk). Our Editorial Complaints Policy is at: bauermediacomplaints.co.uk and our email address for editorial complaints is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Wakanda Forever.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
Panther: T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
EMPIRE’S ASSOCIATE EDITOR (AND BIGGEST MARVEL FAN) CHRIS HEWITT THINKS BACK TO LIFE BEFORE THE MCU.
YOU KNOW THAT old saying, something about acorns and mighty oaks? If you don’t, you can Google it. But when it comes to Marvel Studios, it’s apposite and then some. Back in the mid-2000s, Marvel’s ﬁlm arm had their HQ in a small, rundown oice near Santa Monica. You would have been forgiven for assuming it was a law ﬁrm. This was the acorn phase. It was there that I was attacked by bees one time, when a hive full of them fell onto the roof of the cab I had just climbed out of. That was a fun afternoon. It was also here that I was chatting once with former Marvel head honcho Avi Arad, when he was told his next appointment had arrived. “It’s the guy who’s going to direct Iron Man,” he told me. “Jon Favreau.” I exited stage left, Favs entered stage right, and things began to move. Not just for Marvel, which upgraded to a swankier oice in Beverly Hills (above a car dealership), but for the movies in general. These days, Marvel has its own building on the Disney lot. And what’s more — it has a place in Hollywood legend. This
is the studio that rolled the dice, and changed the game. Before 2008, Marvel had slowly but surely been increasing its presence on the big screen, with modest hits such as 1998’s Blade and 2000’s X-Men paving the way for mega-hits such as Spider-Man in 2002. But these, thanks to piecemeal deal-making during Marvel Comics’ golden era, all belonged to other studios. The spread of rights at diferent studios meant that quality control was hard to regulate; and Marvel didn’t see the biggest slice of the pie. Marvel, and particularly Kevin Feige, who replaced Arad as president of production for Marvel Studios in 2007, had a vision: they would create a cinematic universe that would unite the key characters to which they owned the rights. And it would culminate in a crossover movie bringing together Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America and a couple of others as The Avengers. And after that, who knows…? Nothing like it had ever been attempted before. Not even Kevin Smith’s Askewniverse, with its multiple Ben Alecks, could match the ambition of what rapidly became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it could have been a disaster. That they pulled it of, when we’ve seen so many copycats crash and burn in their wake, is astounding. That they did it without Spider-Man (initially), without the X-Men, without the Fantastic Four, and with a bunch of heroes who were B-list at best is even more so. The secret, as far as I can tell, was to entrust their crown jewels to solid ﬁlmmakers of taste and sensitivity. Favreau. Ken Branagh. Joe Johnston. Joss Whedon. Build slowly. Use advances in CG to deliver spectacle, but emphasise character ﬁrst. Walk, don’t run, and certainly don’t ﬂy. Establish an appetite for this stuf. Whet that appetite. And then go for it. Experiment. Cut loose. Hire more exciting ﬁlmmakers — the likes of Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler. Not all of the gambles will work out, but now a Marvel Studios ﬁlm is as sure a guarantee of a quality time at the movies as the Amblin or Pixar logos used to be. And now it’s the biggest show in town. This is the studio that gave Robert Downey Jr a second (third? Fourth?) chance that he took with both hands, that turned Chris Evans into a real Captain America and, just recently, inspired an entire generation of people who had never felt fully represented on the big screen with Black Panther. And over these 48 pages we’ll be looking back at how they did it, the greatest moments of the MCU, and much, much more. The acorn has fully bloomed. Is that the old saying? To be honest, I didn’t Google it.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED EMPIRE ISSUE 226, APRIL 2008
THE FILM THAT KICKED OFF THE MCU WAS FAR FROM A SURE THING. AND ITS CREATORS KNEW IT, AS EMPIRE DISCOVERED JUST PRIOR TO ITS RELEASE
WORDS CHRIS HEWITT
e’ve got a question for you, and we want an honest answer. Who’s the last movie star you’d expect to see on the cover of Empire headlining a major summer blockbuster tentpole event movie. It’s got to be Robert Downey Jr, right? Not because of a lack of talent, of course. Downey Jr is a wonderful, electric, natural talent, with an Oscar nomination to his name, and has been for many years. No, it’s because of the drugs. And the drink. And the rehab. And the arrests. And the prison time. He’s been ploughing the comeback trail for a while now, and is making great progress. But when it comes to toplining an event movie, nobody would go near him with the proverbial tentpole. And yet there he is, on our cover, sporting a ﬁne goatee as billionaire playboy and genius weapons designer Tony Stark, the alter-ego of the invincible Iron Man, the latest Marvel superhero to make a splash on
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
the big screen. If you were honest enough to s to our question, don’t be ashamed. Jr himself is still mildly surprised t that he bagged this particular gig. “I’d never had an opportunity something like this, that I thought so good and could be with the right he says, taking “$1,170 of ADR time his post-production schedule to ta Empire. “And I felt like I might not a shot at doing it because of the wr of my past, even though it had been enough, in my eyes.” But it’s good to see things have to his head. “I’m used to being in co now I’m Tony Stark,” he laughs. “Y ﬁred. No — I’ll put out a hit on you “There are so many superhero now, how do you diferentiate your asks director Jon Favreau, sporting Iron Man T-shirt with glow-in-the logo and a semi-shaved head for hi as a cage ﬁghter in the new Vince V
Suited and booted: Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man.
comedy, Four Christmases. “What makes you a unique property that has something to say?” And if we can continue the honesty theme, admit it: you’re thinking the same thing yourself. After all, this summer alone sees Hellboy, The Incredible Hulk and Batman return for second (well, in Batman’s case, sixth) silver-screen helpings, while Will Smith’s Hancock (not based on a comic, incidentally) and our boy in the shiny suit are the nervous debutantes. That’s a lot of ker-pow for your buck, and it could be all too easy to get lost in the rush. Iron Man has a clear advantage — it’s ﬁrst out of the traps. But as Jimmy Cricket was fond of saying, “C’mere, there’s more.” Looking around Favreau’s oice, you instantly see that Iron Man’s appearance sets him apart from Batman’s gloom. A shelf heaving with Iron Man toys and memorabilia stands near the door, including a sign with Favreau’s
YEARS OF THE MCU
watchword for the movie: “Plausibility.” On a cabinet behind his desk sits a Sideshow Collectibles statuette of the iconic Iron Man pose by superstar Adi Granov, which formed the template for the ILM cover on our September ’07 issue, while the cofee table is currently playing host to a number of framed sketches by Granov, specially drawn for his new chum, Favreau. Into the next room and we enter concept art heaven. This includes several striking shots of Stark testing various versions of the Iron Man armour, which he’s forced to build after being taken hostage in Afghanistan while on a promotional recce. Being a genius, though, Stark turns the tables on his captors and constructs a bulky metal suit complete with an array of weapons, as well as a chestplate that keeps him alive by preventing a piece of shrapnel that’s buried in his chest from piercing his heart. Using the suit to bust out, he returns to America, reﬁnes it and becomes Iron Man, champion of truth, justice… all that stuf. The concept art takes us through early versions of the Mk I armour (bigger, uglier, held together by sticky-back plastic) through to what Favreau calls the “Howard Hughes prototype” Mk II, and ﬁnally the beautiful, sleek, gold-and-red Mk III, with its repulsor beams, supersonic ﬂight and extraordinary strength. It’s the Mk III which features in several mouth-watering sketches showing Ol’ Shellhead facing of against the movie’s main villain, Jef Bridges’ Iron Monger, a bigger, stronger and more advanced version of Stark’s armour. “One of the big things that I really had a vision for from the beginning,” says Favreau, noting Empire’s admiring glance, “was that you needed to have some sort of confrontation between Tony and someone in another overwhelming armoured suit. He has to face the next gen, in a RoboCop kind of way, of his suit.” All well and good, but to stand out from the crowd, you have to have something a little extra on your side.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
here’s a political aspect to Iron Man, but ultimately it’s the tone, it’s the humour, it’s the storytelling,” explains Favreau. Really, though, it’s about Downey Jr, whose very presence convinced Gwyneth Paltrow to sign on as Pepper Potts, Stark’s secretary-cum-love interest, and whose offbeat, charming presence indicates that Iron Man isn’t just your average comicbook ﬂick. “When we ﬁrst started talking about the movie, here was a hero with demons,” says Favreau. “He’s struggling, and there’s a seriousness to him and a heaviness. Now it’s Robert’s movie — it’s more fun and exciting than it is heavy. Ours has turned into the kinder, gentler superhero movie compared to what else is out there. We just wanted to give it a sense of fun — of rock ’n’ roll. It’s gotta have a lot of attitude, because that’s what Stark has.” Judging from the footage we’ve seen at Comic-Con, online and in the editing suite, Downey Jr’s portrayal of Stark could be the kind of leftﬁeld turn that marked out Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow as one for the ages (and look what that did for his career). This Tony Stark is a volatile, swaggering, arrogant, conﬂicted, wisecracking, tortured, ﬂippant brainiac who’s been to the dark side and has come back out, blinking, into the light. Not entirely unlike the guy playing him. “I could relate to it,” says 42-year-old Downey Jr. “And, yeah, at a certain point, we were sitting in the Stark private plane set and someone was like, ‘What’s it like playing Tony Stark?’ And I looked at them for a second and thought: ‘What are they talking about? I am Tony Stark!’ But, God, what a great character — one who’s kind of a smart-ass and really not even all that nice a guy for the most part. Then he has this very humanising experience. I guess he’s more likeable after his awakening and this ordeal he goes through. But it’s not like all of a sudden he’s like, ‘Gotta rescue that cat! I’m trippin’ on that rescue-cat!’” It could all have been so diferent, of course. Back when the property was being developed at New Line, with David Hayter and then Nick Cassavetes on board as director, Tom Cruise was attached to the role. But nothing coalesced and the rights reverted back to Marvel, which chose Iron Man as its ﬁrst fully self-funded movie. And suddenly the pressure to ﬁll Stark’s shell-suit with a big name diminished. “Iron Man is the $20 million star of the movie,” admits Favreau. “He’s the guy that’s going to sell the tickets and put asses on the seats.” So a list of possibilities was drawn up.
Tony Stark has a Neo moment. Below: Iron Man, in need of some WD-40.
Downey Jr’s name kept arising as a dark-horse candidate, and a curious Favreau set up a meeting, despite knowing that casting the actor would pretty much be nigh-on impossible. “He didn’t fulﬁl any of the criteria that I was presented, but I’ve always loved his work,” explains Favreau. “When I met with him, it was just me and him. And Robert was adamant: “This is the part I was meant to play. I am the guy for this role.’ And I came back and said: ‘This guy looks fantastic, he’s enthusiastic and I really think he could be the guy.’” But there was a lot of tossing and turning before Favreau ﬁnally got the Stark of his dreams. For a while, it wasn’t just ‘touch and go’; it was ‘no’. “When it wasn’t going to work out, I literally could not sleep at night,” laughs Favreau. “And Robert said, ‘With your permission, and I understand what you’re saying, I’d like to hold out hope here.’ He was relentless and patient and did everything he could, and won the race. And now I look like a genius!” Downey Jr, for his own part, can’t really explain why he hung in there. “I just kept going,” he says. “I’m not one to make great calls before the game starts, but I was pretty certain. It was in the air…”
hen Kevin Feige succeeded Avi Arad as Big Cheese Numero Uno at Marvel Studios (his real job title is President Of Productions) in 2006, the company had secured a deal that allowed it, for the ﬁrst time, to produce its own ﬁlms with its own money and without another studio as senior partner — as was the case with Sony’s Spider-Man movies, Fox’s X-Men series, and every other Marvel movie to date. Iron Man had been earmarked as the ﬁrst Marvel solo project, and now Feige — an afable geek made good — found himself with one heck of a ﬁrst decision to make: Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark — yes or no? “There’s a reason why we’re doing
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
these ﬁlms ourselves,” says Feige. “Yes, to have a bigger stake in them ﬁnancially, but also to do this in a diferent way — one where we can stay more true to the comics. When we looked at our biggest decision on our ﬁrst ﬁlm, I didn’t want to make a decision that could have been made at another studio. Jon had been losing sleep. I was never losing sleep because I said, ‘Okay, I’m in charge now. I have the reins. Let’s see if that is the case. If it is, we’ll get Robert.’ It started out as a potentially risky decision, but now Jon and I were certain that the only risky decision would have been not to hire him.” Risky decisions are what Marvel’s all about at the moment. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk are the ﬁrst two movies to be produced independently by the studio and, if they’re not successful, could well be the only two. Yet that’s not stopping Feige and co being hugely ambitious, with plans for movies stretching to 2012 and beyond. And it doesn’t stop there. Downey Jr has signed on to play Tony Stark in three Iron Man movies. But if the rumours are to be believed, he’ll show up on our screens as Stark long before Iron Man 2’s OS boots up. In June, to be exact, when he will appear brieﬂy in The Incredible Hulk, in the ﬁrst proper example of a big-screen superhero crossover. This kind of thing happens all the time in comic books. There you’ll be, reading the latest issue of X-Men, and suddenly Spider-Man will show up, have a bit of banter or a spot of ﬁsticufs, and then bugger of again. But it hasn’t happened yet on the big screen, despite the fact that Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four all live in New York City (Iron Man is an LA resident, by the way). As far as the movies are concerned, they might as well live on diferent planets. This, obviously, has a lot to do with the rights belonging to diferent studios, but Feige is keen to make this a thing of the past. “I’ve never been shy about acknowledging that, yes, one of the advantages of having these characters under one roof is that we can potentially cross-pollinate,” says Feige, whose ultimate ambition is an Avengers movie, combining Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and, erm, Ant-Man. “We now are in a position where perhaps we can begin to suggest that our heroes, as they do in the comics, inhabit the same world, whether
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane with his Iron Monger suit. Right: Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Potts.
that means crossing paths with them, or hearing things. It’s a delicate topic and an ongoing creative brainstorm.” So, how does that brainstorm lead to Stark showing up in The Incredible Hulk, as conﬁrmed recently by Hulk co-star William Hurt? Feige laughs, and pauses. “I like rumours very much,” he says. “Sometimes they’re quite accurate. Sometimes they’re of the mark. And I would like them all to remain in that speculative realm for the time being.” Frustrated, we turn our attention to Favreau, in the hope of cracking another rumour — that Samuel L. Jackson shows up in Iron Man as Nick Fury, Agent of S. H. I. E. L. D., the Marvel military bureau. But he’s equally obdurate. “You keep reaching for that one,” he laughs, after a ﬂurry of sneaky questions featuring the words ‘Nick’ and ‘Fury’. “It’s a little bit of smoke and mirrors until the movie comes out. We don’t want people to know every little thing about the movie so by the time it comes out, they feel they’re over it.” At this, Feige walks into the room with a quizzical expression on his face. “I already told him that Thor shows up in Hulk,” says Favreau, with mock embarrassment. “Thanks a lot!” deadpans the producer. “They ﬁght at the end,” adds Favreau. Feige grimaces. “Now you’ve spoiled it.”
hile Feige and Favreau may be keeping their cards close to their chests on the spin-of/crossover front, they’re more open when it comes to enfranchisement. In other words, they’re not in this to make one Iron Man ﬁlm. They’re in this to make two, or three, or four. You could call this crass commercialisation; but it’s simple supply-and-demand economics of which Adam Smith (the father of modern economics, not our senior features writer) would no doubt approve. And, as with pretty much all comic-book movies, there is a sense that — no matter how fun and rock ’n’ roll Iron Man may be — it’s doing the heavy lifting for the next episode, in which he will really prove his metal mettle. “The ﬁrst movie’s always hard, because you have to tell the origin story, and it’s so much screentime. But it’s also the learning curve of the hero,” says Favreau. “He doesn’t just climb into the suit — he has to invent each part of it and ﬁgure it out. So you really get the sense that by the time he is Iron Man, he has now earned it. Now you’ve paid those bills and you’ve paid them well, and everybody’s with you and now you can explore what happens with Iron Man from this point on.”
And there’s a lot that can happen. It’s unlikely that Bridges’ Stane/Iron Monger will be back for a second helping, but Iron Man foes waiting in the wings include Russian bad guy Crimson Dynamo (considered for this movie until relatively late in prep), Titanium Man, the hardcore techno-shock of the Extremis virus which reboots the human body to its maximum potential, and Iron Man’s Big Bad, Chinese megalomaniac The Mandarin, whose function in the ﬁrst movie is to act as a shadowy Emperor to Stane’s Darth Vader. “We needed the ﬁrst movie to be able to understand what our tone was, and so the Mandarin looms in the background,” explains Favreau. And then there are the other classic story arcs from Iron Man history — the Demon In A Bottle storyline, where Stark is crippled by raging alcoholism, and the War Machine saga, where Stark’s best friend, Jim Rhodes (played by Terrence Howard), dons the Iron Man armour after Stark quits, and eventually ends up going toe-to-toe with his old pal in a souped-up version of the suit. “What are the challenges of being Iron Man?” muses Favreau. “What happens with Rhodey, what happens with War Machine, all that stuf? And then of course the pantheon of villains and the larger Mandarin story. And so my mind is starting to go there now — now that I understand what this movie is.”
nd if Favreau sounds like he’s raring to go, Downey Jr is positively chomping at the bit to don Stark’s brassy britches again. “You damn betcha! I want to do 16 of ’em!” he laughs. “But it’s a strange thing. Even though we’re on other stuf now, when the Iron Man Pavlov’s bell rings I’ll often ﬁnd myself getting out of the shower, starting the day, and I’ll start mulling over which of the 811 plot lines and foes and entries there are, and where do you want to start this thing, and what’s diferent in the world.” He pauses, and grins. “It’s quite a psychic fetish for me.” So, next time you see Robert Downey Jr on the cover of Empire — it’ll be, oh, around 2010, maybe 2011 — don’t be so surprised. He belongs there now. And that’s our honest answer.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
1 WOMANONPLATFORM THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Annabel Norbury is the commuter who gives Thor incorrect directions on the Tube in Thor: The Dark World. She makes a big impression — funny and real. How did it come about? We sent my details to the casting agent, I got selected to meet them and put it on tape. It happened rather quickly. But I was very excited when I got it, because it was with Thor himself. Was there quite a bit of improv? There was always that line about him asking me how to get to Greenwich, but it developed on the day with me bumping into him. It looks like I was quite enjoying it!
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
EVERY MCU FILM HAS ONE. IN THE MIDST OF ALL THE COSTUMED CHAOS, IN WANDERS A BIT-PART PLAYER WHO STEALS THE SCENE. WE SPOKE TO FOUR OF THE BEST…
How was working with Chris Hemsworth? It was quite daunting, but he was incredibly lovely and made me feel very at ease immediately. But there’s no rehearsal. You have to come in and have a bit of a play. Who is Woman On Platform? Did she have a name? No, but let’s call her Janet. She’s in work attire, so she works in an ofice. She’s coming home from work, so it’s not crazy busy. There’s a bit of room for Thor to squeeze in, thank God. You give Thor the worst directions. I know. But I had to let artistic licence take over.
2 GERMAN OLD MAN AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Kenneth Tigar has popped up in the likes of Phantasm II and Lethal Weapon 2, but his big MCU moment came when he stands up to Loki in Avengers Assemble. “There are always men like you...” How did you get the role? They were looking for someone luent in German for an opera scene where there’s an announcer. I did that and got a callback saying they wanted to see me for this other role instead. You shot alongside Tom Hiddleston and Chris Evans on set in Cleveland. How was that? I was in rehearsal for a play in Rochester, New York. The theatre people gave me some free time, so I drove to Cleveland, spent a couple of days there. We inished shooting in the middle of the night and I drove back to Rochester, arrived at dawn and was in rehearsals that morning. He’s credited as German Old Man. Did you give him a name? Not a name. But I spent a year in Berlin before the Wall went up, as an exchange student. You can’t help but think of something like that when you’re preparing for a role like this. Is that where the accent came from? The accent is mine. One of the reasons my German is so good is the host I had when I was there refused to let us speak English. What did the movie do for you? Every once in a while people turn to me and say, “You...” But more often they say, “Did you used to teach grade school?”
3 STREET VENDOR SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Zach Cherry is an improv comedian whose brief appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming, exhorting Spidey to “Do a ﬂip!”, wound up bagging him an
appearance on a comedy skit on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. How did this come your way? Via a semi-secretive audition. I knew it was for a Marvel project, but it had a different codename. It was pretty much the same scene without the word “Spider-Man” in it. Where did “Do a ﬂip!” come from? That was in there from the beginning. It does feel like how I would react if I saw Spider-Man for real. I’d yell, “Do that thing I know you can do!” in that moment. Did you meet Tom Holland? Yeah, they had him and a stunt guy up on the roof. For the most part he was across the street and two storeys up, but I did briely exchange hellos. How did the Colbert appearance come about? Randomly. I perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in New York, and the Colbert team were looking for someone to go to Comic-Con and pitch a spin-off idea. They came and asked if anyone had a small part in a superhero movie. I said, “I have!” We went from there. Do people yell, “Do a ﬂip!” at you in the street? I have avoided people screaming at me. But my friends do it all the time.
4 AUTOGRAPH SEEKER CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Laura Haddock plays Star-Lord’s mum, Meredith Quill, but before that she was in The First Avenger, batting her eyelids at Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. You’re one of the few people to play two roles in the MCU. Wow. Have I broken the law? I hope that doesn’t mean I can’t ever come back again. Captain America was your ﬁrst role on the big screen. And it’s teeny-tiny. There were a lot of parts that were cut down. Blink and you’ll miss me. At least I was credited! It’s a small role. Did it take a day to shoot? I did a few days on it, if you can believe that. It was nice to go in and play such a small part. It was very early on in my career, so you can sit back and watch how it’s all done. What research did you do? There wasn’t much to go on. I went in and chatted to the costume and make-up people. For Guardians, I did a lot more research. When you were cast in Guardians, did anyone say, “Hang on, we’ve used her before!”? No! Maybe we’re all Easter eggs and it leads to some big story in the end. There’s a theory that Autograph Seeker is related to Meredith Quill somehow. Wouldn’t that be brilliant?
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llywood? has to stop Tom Cruise very opportunity, nor the to keep a well-known s of Diet Coke, no matter ughest job in Hollywood l Studios, he may, at ﬁrst for him — the geek who nging the comic giant’s he big screen. But therein e’s day job as producer of ant he had to cram all those America, Thor and more —
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED EMPIRE ISSUE 273, MARCH 2012
engers. Which meant e packed itineraries of muel L. Jackson, Chris nsson to Mark Rufalo, That Bloke From The New l From How I Met Your day-by-day for a superhero ous movies ever made. Iron ng Captain America in for the sniles? Today’s a Hulk is tough,” laughs Feige. ing with people like this, or Anthony Hopkins work a lot. They have g...” Avengers Assemble, for ing act has yielded just ifted supersoldier Captain nstead represented by ervices, sans shield. of sights on which to feast dle of Cleveland’s famous t least — has been sprinkled ow and transformed into . Its centre is dominated by of extras will soon silently
Hulk! Smash! A CG-ed Mark Ruffalo as the all-new green machine.
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pretend to get absolutely trollied, while the façade of the Renaissance Hotel, which faces onto the square, has been transformed into an opera house, hosting a performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. “It’s a little Easter egg, a nod to the Norse mythology of Thor and Loki,” says Feige, hanging around the video village with co-producer Jeremy Latcham. It’s just one clue that the scope of Avengers Assemble is far beyond anything Marvel — operating as a self-funded studio for over ﬁve years now — has done previously; that the movie will span the globe like a Bond adventure. Behind us, the undressed front of the Renaissance fairly teems with gawking geeks and rubberneckers, leaning out of windows and doors, cameraphones at the ready. They, like Empire, don’t have to wait long, for here comes the villain of the piece: Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Thor’s adoptive brother, sporting longer hair than last we saw him and wielding an impressive staf. It is this Loki who poses a threat to mankind so great that The Avengers must come together to stop him. It is this Loki whose regal, sinister majesty threatens to enslave humanity. It is this Loki who is… playing air guitar on his staf. Clearly, The Avengers are going to have their work cut out.
t’s apposite that The Avengers should take on Loki in the team’s movie debut. After all, back in 1963, the year Stan Lee and Jack Kirby concocted a new monthly comic that would see Earth’s Mightiest Heroes face threats they couldn’t overcome individually, the supergroup’s ﬁrst battle was with Loki, his Machiavellian manipulations coercing the brutish Hulk into having a pop at his team-mates. (Talk about starting as you mean to go on.) Since then, almost 50 years and several iterations of the comic have come and gone, with spin-ofs (from West Coast Avengers to, we shit you not, Great Lakes Avengers; West Croydon Avengers is apparently in the works), reboots, reinventions, and an ever-changing team roster that has seen, at some point, pretty much every spandex-wearing do-gooder in the Marvel Universe join the cause. The Avengers has never really sold in X-Men or Spider-Man numbers, but as a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, its inﬂuence and standing is undeniable. Naturally, a movie version always seemed impossible; prohibitively expensive for one thing, too many characters owned by disparate studios for another. But when Marvel Studios launched, Feige immediately had his eye on The
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Above: Tom Hiddleston reprises the role of Loki. Left: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) does his Iron Man thing.
Avengers as a viable entity. After all, Marvel now owned the rights to most of its own characters (Spider-Man and Ghost Rider remain with Sony; Daredevil, Fantastic Four and the X-Men are at Fox), and so began the long road to Avengers Assemble, a road that began in earnest at the end of 2008’s Iron Man, when Samuel L. Jackson’s eyepatch-wearing gruf military type Nick Fury showed up and started hinting at a “larger universe” and the “Avenger Initiative”. Those unfamiliar with the connective tissue of the Marvel Universe might have wondered what the hell Jackson was banging on about, but fanboys who’d sat through seven minutes of credits and interestingly named crew members (hello, plaster gang boss Chuck M. Beaver!) squealed in delight. They knew what was coming. Yet Marvel played it by ear. Jackson, whose role is considerably expanded in Avengers Assemble from his usual one-scene cameo to major player status, says that Marvel told him “nothing” about the Avengers movie initially. “Kevin just said, ‘Come on board,’” he laughs. “Nobody ever told me what the movies were, or what was going to happen, or which ones I was going to be in or not in.” But Marvel was careful to take only baby steps. As Warner Bros. learned to its cost when it tried to fast-track a rival project, DC’s Justice League, with George Miller commanding a cast featuring Batman, Superman and Green Lantern, you have to learn to walk before you can run, ﬂy or smash. The seeds for Avengers Assemble were further sown in The Incredible Hulk, via a Downey Jr cameo, and then continued in Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America — the last two representing genuine dice rolls for the company. If either had failed, it’s likely Avengers Assemble would have been in serious trouble. But they didn’t, and even if neither came close to the massive worldwide success of Iron Man, Feige’s calculated gamble — Avengers Assemble was already ﬁlming when Captain America came out — had paid of. “We ordered the release of the ﬁlms, purposefully, because we knew we wanted audiences to be familiar with the heroes ﬁrst,” says Feige. “I was hoping that, by the end of the summer, people would be
debating which one is their favourite. And that’s happening. And I hope there’s a debate after this movie. I think Jeremy Renner (who plays S.H.I.E.L.D. operative and ace archer Hawkeye) could steal the movie from everybody. Or it could be the Hulk (Mark Rufalo, replacing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner).” The point is clear: nothing like this has ever been done before, certainly not on this scale. Avengers Assemble, for all its big summer glossiness, is a groundbreaker. “The ﬁrst time I came on set and saw other people in costume, it was a night-time scene in the woods and it involved myself, Chris Hemsworth and Downey Jr,” recalls Chris Evans. “I had just seen Thor maybe two nights before, so I got on set and I saw Hemsworth in the cape and immediately thought, ‘God, there’s Thor, I’m looking at Thor,’ and then I saw Downey Jr in the suit. It’s amazing. The kid in me would say, ‘I didn’t get to act with Robert Downey Jr, I got to act with Iron Man.’ I’d never had that before, where I had seen actors in a ﬁlm that I was not a part of and then come to work and help them to extend that character’s life. It’s like being a little kid.” This, of course, is Avengers Assemble’ USP, thrusting these combustible characters into the same room, and waiting for them to kick of and settle a million playground arguments about who’s stronger/faster/smarter. “It’s not an easy mix,” admits Chris Hemsworth. “They all have some friction, absolutely.”
he man tasked with making that friction spark was Joss Whedon, the movie’s writer-director. He also had the challenge of crafting a plot that had to simultaneously pay lip service to the characters’ existing storylines and play into their next solo adventures (for example, Evans’ Steve Rogers will glean information about Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, the love interest he lost at the downbeat ending of Captain America, but there won’t necessarily be any resolution). “It was an up-all-month job,” Whedon tells Empire. “Finding the characters’ voices was not only easy, but glorious fun — it doesn’t suck to write Tony Stark — yet ﬁnding the structure was just brutal. I haven’t had that much trouble making a screenplay work since Serenity (his feature debut, the cinematic sequel to his cult sci-ﬁ series
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Firefly), and embarrassingly for the exact same reason: there’s just too many characters.” Given that Iron Man was ﬁrst out of the gate, made so much money and turned Downey Jr into a megastar, the obvious solution was to simply turn Avengers Assemble into ‘Tony Stark Presents IRON MAN & The Avengers Featuring Iron Man With Thor, Captain America, Hulk And Some Other People Who Aren’t That Important’. But, despite Downey Jr’s brilliant and public vow to “dominate like an 800lb gorilla”, it never really happened. “It’s a full ensemble,” promises Whedon. “Some people may feel they’re a little more marginal, but nobody was counting the lines, or going, ‘How come he’s got and I don’t got?’ At the end of the day, they knew they were going to get their moment and I was going to give them something glorious.” Whedon also had a potential nightmare on his hands, ﬁnding himself something of a real-life Nick Fury having to handle a roomful of clashing egos and personalities. He may have been unable to sleep for visions of Avengers refusing to come out of their trailers because the other fella got one more close-up. The reality was much, much worse. “When I had everybody on screen, you really saw an uglier side of all of these guys, because they would not stop chatting,” deadpans Whedon. “Giggle giggle giggle, chat chat chat. Literally the only time I raised my voice when we were ﬁlming was because these guys would not shut up and we had to roll. Don’t get me
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wrong — you would see them standing next to each other going, ‘Is his costume cooler? Are his muscles bigger?’ But every single one of them was rooting for the other.” Talk to the Avengers themselves and it’s the same story every time. “I wish there were a few dummy spits and chairs being thrown,” laughs Hemsworth. “It adds to the entertainment. Although Mark actually turned into the Hulk at one point...”
ack on set, and Hiddleston is being a right old diva. Thankfully, though, it’s in character, for a scene where Loki, having emerged from the opera house in rather ostentatious, cop-car-ﬂipping manner, is performing in front of a startled captive audience. He delivers a long speech in which he declares his wish to subjugate humanity (the line in the trailer, “You were made to be ruled,” is delivered here), and does it several more times, each slightly diferent from the last. The speech ﬁnishes with Loki commanding his newfound slaves
Left: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Cap (Chris Evans) spring into action. Below: Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.
to kneel. All very General Zod, but undeniably impressive. When it’s over, the assembled extras break into a round of applause, and Hiddleston, spotting Empire, bounds over with a grin and a handshake. “Welcome to Cleveland,” he says. “You know, you should kneel before me.” Empire demurs, and we settle instead for a quick chat on one of the long tables adorning the square, while Hiddleston grapples, literally, with a large jar of peanut M&Ms and, ﬁguratively, with Marvel’s watertight non-disclosure agreements. “I’m under oath,” he laughs, but he conﬁrms that Loki has been to interesting places in the year or so that’s elapsed between the end of Thor and the beginning of Avengers Assemble. “He knows who he is now, and what his powers are. There’s a self-possession to his menace which is very compelling. In order for the Avengers to come together, Loki has to be more menacing, and all of his malevolence is founded in a completely delusional dream. Like all the 20th century fascists and autocrats, the Saddams and Hitlers and bin Ladens of this world, Loki’s big plan, to rule the Earth as its king, comes from an extraordinary belief that he is doing something great.” The Hitler reference is no accident. Nor, as it turns out, is the staging of this scene in surrogate Stuttgart. When ﬁlming resumes, Loki’s command to kneel is met with deﬁance, in the shape of one old German man, who tells Loki he’ll never bow to anyone again. Loki, naturally, decides to reduce the old man to his component parts with his staf (here, blue lights ﬂash, to be replaced with CG energy bolts later, while Hiddleston mimes commendably; you can almost see him struggling not to yell, ‘PCHOW!’). However, instead of the OAP equivalent of a Mr. Creosote, Loki’s energy bolt will hit a shield and rebound back at him. Not just any shield, mind — if you’ve been following events up to now, you’ll know it’s a StarSpangled shield. Enter Evans as Captain America, who delivers a pithy speech to Loki including the zinger, “Men who want to rule the Earth end up getting just six feet of it.” Loki snarls back, and the stage is set for an epic battle royale which will see Captain America get his ass kicked but hold of the menace long enough for Iron Man (again, to be added in post) to show up, and take the tricksy god into custody on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ﬂying HQ, the Helicarrier... which might just be exactly what Loki wants. But before they can go helmet-to-helmet, the rain intervenes. Hiddleston and Evans huddle around monitors with Empire, Feige and Latcham, waiting for it to abate (it doesn’t, which means the ﬁght and the intervention of Imaginary Iron Man must wait until tomorrow). Talk turns to the recent Avengers footage that was premiered at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, to great acclaim. Hiddleston and Feige are still giddy about it — “Wanna see it?” asks Feige. Empire nods, while Evans also concurs. “I haven’t seen it yet,” he says eagerly, so we all pile into an SUV and head over to the editing truck back at base camp. There, Empire has the slightly surreal experience of trying to concentrate on the footage unfolding on screen while sitting behind Captain America and beside Loki. It’s compelling stuf, largely showcasing dialogue as Loki, imprisoned on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, taunts Fury about his inability to control the Hulk in particular, and his super-team in general. Quick cuts of action follow,
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introducing the individual Avengers while one shot, tantalisingly, shows Captain America square of against an enraged Thor. It ends with a neat verbal conﬂict as Loki tells Tony Stark, “I have an army,” only for Stark to reply, “We have a Hulk.” Cut to an impressive shot of the new RufaloHulk roaring in anger, and the lights come up. Hiddleston reaches forward and squeezes Evans on the shoulder. They like what they see. “I saw that line everywhere on the internet afterwards,” says Feige of, “We have a Hulk.” “I told Joss, ‘It’s in the zeitgeist.’ They just pour out of him. We have more great lines that fell out of the draft than most movies have in their draft. Captain America may even order Hulk to smash at one point, which may be the greatest line ever put on ﬁlm...”
his is nothing new for those who have been following Whedon’s career. The creator of Buffy, Angel, Serenity and Fireﬂy, he’s long exhibited a knack for a droll one-liner or ten, something that’s in evidence when Empire catches up with him on the phone a few months after our set visit (during which Whedon was zipping around the set, understandably too busy to chat). When we ask him about his mental state in the middle of post-production, he says, “It’s like a sea. I can’t see either shore. I’m pretty sure I will drown. Don’t even call me Ishmael.” When we quiz him about the decision to convert the movie to 3D in post, he refers to a test he shot with Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård and Jackson, for Thor’s post-credits sting: “It was like directing Soviet television in the ’50s. I went in saying, ‘I will shoot everything 3D, I will not do conversions,’ and I came out going, ‘So, tell me again about this conversion!’” When we wonder if, working on a movie where the major characters were untouchable, his penchant for leftﬁeld plot-turns and character deaths has been stymied, his reply comes laced with sarcasm: “It was hard killing Captain
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America. But you’re going to ﬁnd it hilarious when it happens.” You wonder how comfortable a creative powerhouse like Whedon felt working within the Marvel machine. Surely he wouldn’t be happy being treated as another safe pair of hands who can make sure it all looks and sounds good while the top techies handle all the running/jumping/exploding? You could say that, like the Bond ﬁlms, the overarching vision for Marvel’s movies comes from the studio, not from the guy barking orders through a megaphone. “We are incredibly hands-on in a way that a lot of ﬁlmmakers have no interest in dealing with,” admits Feige. But that was something Whedon was ﬁne with. “You know, they have their parameters, but what’s wonderful is, they don’t change. They don’t panic and go, ‘Maybe it’s a romantic comedy!’ They’re the least intrusive and most collaborative studio I’ve ever worked at.” Feige, and former Marvel boss Avi Arad, had tried to get Whedon to direct Iron Man, while there was talk of X-Men 3 at one point, and when Feige kept running into Whedon at various food haunts around West LA, he asked him to come in and take a look at the Avengers script they were developing, written by Zak Penn. “You make it sound like I was stalking Kevin,” says Whedon. Perhaps he was stalking you? “I like that version better.” Whedon wasn’t a fan of Penn’s version of the Avengers, and in the course of giving Marvel notes, the studio asked him to come on as writer and start from scratch. Soon he was on board as director, too, for the ﬁrst time since 2005’s Serenity. (Incidentally, Marvel’s choice of director for Iron Man 3 is another genius wordsmith who hasn’t directed since 2005: Shane Black.) It’s a ﬁlm larger than anything Whedon has ever done before (and larger than most, full stop), but — apart from the odd feeling of drowning and possible insanity — he’s handling it well. “The experience doesn’t feel any diferent from when I was running three TV shows and my son was born. Really the same. Not so huge.” And what about the pressure of handling this $300-million behemoth, this once-in-a-generation blockbuster, about meeting fanboy and stockholders’ expectations, about delivering a comicbook movie that can go toe-to-toe with The Dark Knight Rises? Does it ever get to Whedon? “Well, as far as the pressure goes, they don’t put it on me,” reﬂects Whedon. He pauses. “And I don’t feel it. It ain’t my money. I don’t care!”
Right: Extra-terrestrial shapeshifters the Chitauri. Below: New Avengers Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and (bottom) Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), with Hulk.
OL’ SHELLHEAD’S NICKNAMES A FULL RUNDOWN OF TONY STARK’S AFFECTIONATE MONIKERS FOR HIS FRIENDS AND FOES
‘Sir Lawrence Oblivier’
‘Reindeer Games’ ‘Rock Of Ages’
‘Honey bear’ ‘Platypus’ ‘Sourpatch’
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
EMPIRE’S EDITOR-AT-LARGE HELEN O’HARA DELVES INTO THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE MCU’S GREAT CONSTANT: THE STAN LEE CAMEO
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ans of the MCU often bale their uninitiated audience companions by cheering the momentary appearance of some old geezer. The true believers soon explain that that wrinkled face belongs to Stan Lee, long-time editor-inchief of Marvel Comics and co-creator of most of its star characters. His MCU cameos have become a fond tradition and, generally, a good laugh. But are they more than that? The Stan Lee cameos didn’t start with the MCU, of course. He appeared in 1989’s The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and he’s come and gone in the X-Men ﬁlms, but only the MCU has made him a ﬁxture. In the ﬁrst Iron Man, Tony Stark mistook Lee for Hugh Hefner at a gala event, in the ﬁrst of six appearances (including the non-MCU Deadpool) that cast the long-married Lee as some variety of ladies’ man. It’s by far his most popular gag, though he’s been a security guard twice, in Hulk and The Winter Soldier; a veteran in The First Avenger and Age Of Ultron, and an average Joe who saved fellow bystanders in the ﬁrst two Spider-Man ﬁlms. In the MCU Lee has generally had one line, almost always a joke, but he is capable of more. He provides a rare moment of pathos in X-Men: Apocalypse and is a superhero in his own right in the animated Big Hero 6. One cameo, in Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, was lifted directly from the comics and saw Lee attempt to crash Sue Storm and Reed Richards’ wedding. Sadly, his long-time collaborator Jack Kirby had passed away and couldn’t complete the scene, as he had on the page. Lee’s own favourite cameo, he says, was as a World War II veteran drunk on Asgardian liquor in Age Of Ultron. That’s because, Lee told CinemaBlend, “If you think about it, that is the only cameo I’ve done that had two scenes… It was almost like a role in the movie! So now I’m shooting for cameos that have three scenes, four scenes. Eventually I hope to be the co-star.” By that token, he must have loved Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, which bolstered his mid-ﬁlm glimpse with a post-credit sting and validated a far-out fan theory: the notion was that Lee was playing one character all along, an aged but ageless watcher over the heroes of the MCU. Or rather, a Watcher, one of a vastly powerful alien race who silently observe the universe and very occasionally interfere in various ways.
Above: As Age Of Ultron’s drunk war vet. Below: Is Lee — seated here in Guardians 2 — always the same character?
James Gunn’s ﬁlm partially validated that theory when he showed Lee, dressed in a Tintin-style spacesuit, regaling three Watchers with tales of his exploits. “Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted, at that time I was a Federal Express man,” he says as the Guardians pinball across the sky. Later, in the post-credits sting, the Watchers walk away as Lee desperately tries to call them back. “Hey, wait, where you going? You were supposed to be my lift home! How will I get out of here? Aw, gee. I’ve got so many more stories to tell.” He’s credited as ‘The Watchers’ Informant’, a presumably immortal or time-travelling agent of their inefable work. Kevin Feige, at a press conference, conﬁrmed that this was a deliberate choice. “Stan Lee clearly exists, you know, above and apart from the reality of all the ﬁlms… Where he references that time he was a Federal Express agent... we thought it would be fun to put that in there because that really says, ‘So wait a minute, he’s this same character who’s popped up in all these ﬁlms.’” It’s an intriguing idea to add to the canon, though a baling strategy by the Watchers. After all, it’s not like Lee’s always been there for pivotal moments of superheroics. In Thor: The Dark World he’s locked in a mental health ward with Dr Erik Selvig, and he doesn’t turn up in Civil War until the ﬁghting is long over. There’s an epic piece of fanﬁc to be written (or, let’s face it, already out there somewhere) explaining the sheer mechanics of his travels from a pre-World War II Army career (leading to his generalship in the mid 1940s) to storming Omaha Beach (presumably as a younger man). What qualiﬁed him to serve as judge in a beauty pageant? How did he get from a Seoul casino in Black Panther, just a week after Civil War, to Sakaar, where he sported what looks like a buzz-cutting cyborg arm? What’s he doing on Sakaar when he was just on a New York bus during Doctor Strange? And why is he reporting on his Civil War cameo in Guardians 2, which takes place two years earlier in 2014? The Marvel timeline’s problems only get worse if you assume Lee is playing the same guy. Furthermore, is he the same guy across the non-MCU Marvel movies such as Deadpool, or the TV shows like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Does his work span diferent universes? Whatever the (non)answers, we keep wanting him to show up. His performances have improved steadily from the low point (in many ways) that was Spider-Man 3, and it’s a nice tribute to the work Lee did keeping Marvel’s ﬂame alive for decades to feature comics’ elder statesman in these worldconquering ﬁlms. The great Jack Kirby died before he saw this new life unfold for his heroes; let’s involve the creator we have left for as long as he’s willing.
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A WALKING TREE, A TALKING RACCOON — GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY WAS A HUGE RISK. IN 2014, EMPIRE VISITED THE SET TO FIND OUT EXACTLY WHAT MARVEL WAS PLANNING
WORDS HELEN O’HARA
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED EMPIRE ISSUE 302, AUGUST 2014
ince the day of its announcement in July 2012, Guardians Of The Galaxy has been widely, and repeatedly, described as Marvel Studios’ riskiest step yet. It is a relatively obscure comic, a space-set story about a team whose current line-up includes a tree, a raccoon and a green woman. But that’s just the start of the challenges that face what Marvel Comics subtitles ‘The Future Avengers’. This is a project where every step taken seems to have moved away from traditional Big Blockbuster territory. Although in the end, like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, surprise may yet be its greatest weapon. “There’s a lot of strange stuf in the movie,” admits director James Gunn who, having cut his teeth at Lloyd Kaufman’s lo-ﬁ horror-farce outﬁt Troma, sure knows his strange stuf. “But that’s the thing that
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makes it diferent.” He is embracing the concept’s inherent absurdity and appears to be having a ball playing around with it. “Some other superhero movies try and take something seriously that really can’t be serious,” he grins, “because the concept is just too fun at its core.” Gunn is speaking on set at Longcross Studios outside London, a former military base and the place where, under the production title Full Tilt, the ﬁlm has been shooting during summer 2013. Yards away from us rise the industrial steel walls of the galaxy’s notorious Klyn prison, dominated by a huge panopticon that surveils the worst criminals in the known universe — among them, our ostensible heroes. A crew that the ﬁlm itself describes variously as “a bunch of A-holes” and “a thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac”… And that’s just the start of Guardians’ problems.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.
Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) hang out. Below: Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace).
he main character, Chris Pratt as Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill (the thief ), is a guy best known for playing the schlubby best pal in so-so bigscreen comedies. His sidekick, Dave Bautista’s Drax The Destroyer (the maniac), is played by a professional wrestler who spent the last couple of years without an acting agent. And director Gunn’s last solo efort, Super, made little over $300,000. This is not an obvious blockbuster team — even given the presence of Zoe Saldana as assassin Gamora, or the voices of Bradley Cooper as Rocket (a genetically engineered raccoon-like being) and Vin Diesel as Groot (a walking tree with a three-word vocabulary: “I am Groot”). Yet there is potential here: Pratt’s generally the best part of whatever he’s in, and is brilliant on TV’s Parks And Recreation, while Bautista has a shy charm beneath his imposing exterior. And one of the elite group who saw
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and loved Super was Avengers assembler Joss Whedon, who suggested that Marvel take a meeting with its director. There, something clicked. “I was called into Marvel, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go because Marvel’s quite a trek from my house,” says Gunn. “They brought up Guardians and it seemed intriguing. I went home, started thinking about it and wrote this 100-page document just on how I saw the whole movie.” For a guy who learned to read with Disney comics and progressed to daily doses of Marvel and pulpy sci-ﬁ, the job began to feel like the call of destiny. “I have raccoons in my back yard that come and eat persimmons of my tree and I sit back there and watch them all the time,” he says. “I just can’t imagine a movie being more tailor-made for me, and I can’t imagine myself being more tailor-made for a movie. If I was genetically created in a lab, it would be to make this ﬁlm.” Once aboard, Gunn rewrote the script, taking a team line-up suggested by Marvel head honchos Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito and locations familiar from the comics, but shaping them in a way that is not taken from any particular storyline — although he acknowledges an inﬂuence from writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who in 2008 reinvented the original 1969 title. Gunn also brought in pulp sci-ﬁ artist Chris Foss, the man
responsible for many of the elegant, multi-coloured spaceships that once adorned the genre’s paperback covers, to help visualise his ideas. “The document I wrote when I went home, a lot of it had to do with reincorporating visuals from ’60s scienceﬁction movies that were more colourful. When Alien or Blade Runner came along they made everything very dark and very dingy, but it’s a little boring now. So it was about bringing in the best of both those worlds. We’re very dirty and industrial but also very colourful with a really enormous feel to it. Visually it’s the biggest movie Marvel has ever made.” Touring the sets at Longcross, it’s clear he’s not kidding. The Dark Aster, spaceship headquarters of bad guy Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), shares the same ziggurat scale as Prometheus’ central location, while outside on the backlot there’s a whole alien city plaza populated with groovy beings in go-go boots and weird modish fashions, their skin in every shade of sherbert. Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector, an immensely powerful being described by Gunn as “an outer-space Liberace” and glimpsed at the end of Thor: The Dark World, lives amid a collection of curiosities from all over the universe (including — Easter egg alert! — the creature from Gunn’s monstrous directorial debut, Slither). And then there’s the Klyn, a metal cage three storeys tall that has to withstand a full-on prison riot. “It’s £350,000 of steel and still it’s kinda saved us money [compared to] if we had green screen,” shrugs Gunn of his practical sets. “Maybe not if we used ﬁve guys in Russia in their basement, which some ﬁlms do, but really when you’re using top-of-theline visual efects, something like this saves money.” “It was an environment that I was strangely accustomed to, except that everything is 20 times bigger,” smiles Karen Gillan, who builds on her sci-ﬁ experience in Doctor Who as the fearsome, blueskinned, stick-wielding antagonist Nebula. On the day we visit, she’s training of-site while ﬁght coordinators pace out a vicious ﬁght between Nebula and Gamora aboard the Aster, with stunt women in blue and green body paint twirling around to provide a visual reference for the crew (the actresses will later perform the entire ﬁght themselves).
illan is part of an eclectic cast. Gunn pitched some of his actors while presenting his concept for the movie, among whom was Zoe Saldana as Gamora. “I’d been a fan of her for a long time,” he says. “Fortunately we get on really well; it’s a risky thing, ofering people roles because you never know if they’re gonna be good.” When we catch up with Saldana on set, painted green and wearing yellow prison fatigues, she appears to be enjoying the experience, despite a daily spraypaint job and endless touch-ups, especially trying during the few hot days of the English summer. “Viewing James’ work, he’s the kind of director who’s able to deliver a fantastic fucking movie that has great adventure and amazing special efects and everything, but maintains a levity,” she says. “All the other ﬁlms that I have done were so much more intense, so to do a comedy set in space is absolutely great!” Finding the rest of the cast, however, was tougher. Casting director Sarah Finn snuck Chris Pratt in for a read, to Gunn’s initial scepticism. “I was looking for someone who would bring a full character into it, what Robert Downey did for Iron Man. Then Chris came in. He was overweight at the time, not what you think of as a superhero. So he read for about 20 seconds and I was like, ‘That’s the guy.’ I knew instantly. It took a lot of convincing a lot of people.” Pratt’s Peter Quill was taken from Earth as a child with only an ’80s-era backpack to remember the old days. He’s a thief who seems motivated more by curiosity, or restlessness, than greed. And he’s a scoundrel too; the Comic-Con line-up listed “illegal manipulation of a Gramosian duchess” among his crimes. “Yeah,” says Pratt sheepishly, in a quiet corner of the sound-stage while the lighting is reset. “The way I see it is I was dating her, and her father charged me with a crime because I broke her heart in a scoundrely way.” Next, Empire sits down with Quill’s sparring partner Dave Bautista, covered
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
in tissue-thin red-green prosthetics that mimic ritual burn scarring, a sort of tribal tattoo. Bautista’s wrestler’s muscles and shaved bonce suggest he’s the type to headbutt ﬁrst and ask questions later, but once he gets talking, a very diferent impression emerges. “I come from a professional wrestling background, and it’s been rough for me getting work as an actor,” he admits. “The week after I ﬁnally got an agent, he says, ‘It’s a long shot, but I want you to go read for this part.’ I have really bad audition anxiety. I literally was just going nuts, I didn’t sleep. But when I met James, he’s so easygoing. He asked me to read with Chris too, and I just kind of played along with him and luckily enough, we really vibed together. James was really hellbent on making sure that there was good chemistry between the cast and there weren’t going to be assholes.” Hardest of all to cast was Rocket, who Gunn describes as “a kick-ass anthropomorphic animal that takes itself seriously”. The director was incredibly protective of the genetically modiﬁed raccoon-like alien (strictly, since he’s not from Earth, he is not a raccoon) and found it diicult to commit to a voice. On set his brother, actor Sean Gunn, performs in a leotard, occasionally toting a scale model of the character for reference (Sean also plays Kraglin, sidekick to Michael Rooker’s Yondu). “After my dog, I love Rocket more than anything else and he’s not even real,” laments James Gunn. “So to allow someone to take on that character is a big deal. I know I’m being diicult about it but we’ll ﬁgure it out.” Months later, when the director phones Empire from his editing suite, he has unbent enough to cast Bradley Cooper. “The truth is we auditioned a very select group of people for Rocket. We did comedians, actors and voice artists. A lot of the voice actors, things just sounded cartoony all of a sudden. Some of the comedians didn’t bring the depth, because Rocket is a tragic ﬁgure in some ways, and some of the actors weren’t funny enough. Bradley was the guy who was able to hit all of those bases and do so in a remarkable way. Then I was on top of him in the studio, every second!” “I think Rocket has maybe got the best arc out of all the characters,” reﬂects Pratt. “People are going to walk away from this movie and fall in love with that raccoon. Or hate him, and if they hate him then the movie is gonna be terrible… It all lives and dies on the raccoon!” Elements of Sean Gunn’s performance remain in Rocket’s motion and expressions,
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
and it’s clear from what we see being shot that Rocket’s an integral part of the crew. As the gang attempt a prison break, Rocket’s the one with a plan, taking over the prison controls and enlisting the rest to gather the equipment he needs to make the break. Pratt’s Star-Lord holds up a prosthetic leg he has acquired at some personal risk. “Oh, I was just kidding about the leg,” says Rocket dismissively. “I thought it’d be funny. Was it funny?” Finally, there is the tree, Groot. Prodigiously strong but apt to literally put down roots if he stands still for too long, Groot makes a quiet counterpoint to the more loquacious Rocket. “He’s literally the biggest hippie I’ve seen in my life,” laughs Saldana of a character who may work as house plant-slash-muscle but who’s easily distracted by butterﬂies or ﬂowers, and is Vin Diesel’s ﬁrst big-screen voice performance since 1999’s The Iron Giant. “Vin’s crazy,” says Gunn from the edit suite. “We don’t do it one time, we do it a thousand times per line, and he’s very speciﬁc. He wants to know exactly what he’s saying every single time. He’s a total perfectionist but, man, you’ll never believe how much emotion and thought and dynamism he brings to three words.”
Above: A sartorial crisis for StarLord. Left: Guardians goes full air combat.
his unlikely lot is brought together by their shared pursuit of the ﬁlm’s MacGuin, simply known as the orb — each for his, her or its own reasons. But they’re forged into a team by the threat posed by Lee Pace’s Ronan The Accuser and his cohorts, including Nebula and Djimon Hounsou’s Korath The Pursuer. “There’s bad; then there’s us,” laughs Pace. “We are bad.” Behind this trio looms the shadow of Thanos, the Mad Titan glimpsed at the end of Avengers Assemble. Voiced now by Josh Brolin, his predations give the Guardians a common cause — and his search for the orb gives a new urgency to their eforts. “At its core the movie is about these characters that don’t really care but who learn to care for each other and become a family,” says Gunn. “As much as I have a reputation for being harsh or edgy or whatever, I’m sentimental in that respect. I think we take the characters as seriously as they can be taken, and there’s gonna be way more drama than people expect. That just comes from a love of the source material.” But it’s still a ﬁlm in which the characters visit a space station built inside the severed head of a vast, ancient alien, and one where the forces of law and order are represented by Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Peter Seraﬁnowicz. Yet that weirdness, swear all involved, is what is going to make it work. “I’ve been attached to other big movies as a director and I became very disillusioned because things become so vanilla after a while,” says Gunn. “With this, I really thought that no-one else would make this movie in the way that I would.” “This is very much a James Gunn movie,” insists Pace. “It’s got his sense of humour, his sense of fun and adventure. James is the glue between this far corner of the universe and the rest of the Marvel world.” And get Guardians right, and you open the door for ﬁctional races like the Shi’ar, more Kree (like Ronan, a warrior race), the Skrulls, the Celestials and many more. You can even start thinking about The Avengers heading of into deep space. “For cinema to remain relevant,” claims Gunn, “you really need to try to make things that are a little bit diferent. I think that’s what Marvel is trying to do. It’s what cinema needs right now. The oddness is only oddness if it doesn’t work, y’know?”
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
AS SUGGESTED, SQUABBLED OVER, AND EVENTUALLY GRUDGINGLY AGREED UPON BY THE EMPIRE STAFF
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
MONKEYS IN A BARREL IRON MAN 3
One of the irst action sequences Shane Black and Drew Pearce talked about when writing Iron Man 3, this scene in which Iron Man saves a group of White House staffers from falling to their doom is, as Tony Stark himself suggests, named after the famous toy where you interlink a group of toy monkeys. And it’s more fun than an actual barrel of monkeys.
SHAWARMA AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
The Big Apple has been devastated. Iron Man has been almost turned into Dead Man. And the world’s faith in the Avengers has been shaken. The aftermath of the Battle Of New York is one of the most solemn moments in MCU lore. So it was genius to puncture the gloom by having the heroes all go off for a bite to eat — work colleagues letting off steam after a tough week.
LUIS TELLS TALES
ROCKET RACCOON SHEDSATEAR GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
Make no bones about it — throughout Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Rocket Raccoon acts like a total trash panda. He’s rude, insufferable, and seems determined to push away anyone who cares about him. It’s all a front, of course. Which is why James Gunn’s decision to end his movie on a close-up of Rocket, illed with a mixture of guilt and regret over the death of his friend Yondu, is so bold. As a single tear rolls down his cheek, it’s a sombre, heartrending end to a ilm that trades for the most part in frenetic fun, and might signal a sea change for the Guardians’ gobbiest member.
Making an impact as a supporting character in a MCU ilm is not an easy thing to do, what with, you know, all those superpowered folk lying around and punching people really hard. But Michael Peña’s Luis is Ant-Man’s MVP. And his inest moments are his often off-topic “tip montages” that reveal his hidden depths, including a love of ine wines and Neo-cubism.
THANOS SMILES AT THE CAMERA
Nowadays, the world and its wife knows who Thanos is but, judging by an overheard reaction in Avengers Assemble’s postcredits sting, that wasn’t the case back in 2012. (“Was that Hellboy?”) The Big Bad of the MCU is introduced right at the tail end of that movie, revealed as the organ grinder behind Loki’s attempts to rule mankind, smiling sinisterly while looking at the camera. Nobody else has broken the fourth wall in the MCU, before or since, and the message is clear: the Avengers had best watch out.
“HE’SAFRIEND FROMWORK” THOR: RAGNAROK
Thor’s reaction when he’s faced with an armoured Hulk in the Grandmaster’s Contest Of Champions (fun fact: that line came from a Make-A-Wish kid visiting the set) is emblematic of Taika Waititi’s entire ilm. The crackling script punctures pomposity at every turn, while the stylish and colourful visuals are like a splash panel come to life.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
THE PLAY THOR: RAGNAROK
In a parallel dimension, possibly accessed via the Devil’s Anus, the Thor movies starred Luke Hemsworth, not Chris, as the Norse god, plus Matt Damon as Loki and Sam Neill as Odin. Thor: Ragnarok treated us to a hilarious glimpse of what that would have looked like via Asgardian am-dram put on by Loki — and given it’s hammy as hell, it’s probably for the best that we don’t dwell in that dimension.
QUICKSILVER’S DEATH AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
“You didn’t see that coming…” One of the chief criticisms of the MCU has been the lippant way in which death is treated, with major characters dying and coming back to life, sometimes just minutes later (hello, Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3). That’s addressed, somewhat, in Age Of Ultron, when Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s speed demon, Quicksilver, is riddled with bullets, never to return. It’s a deft piece of sleight of hand by Joss Whedon. All through Age Of Ultron, Whedon seems to be setting up Hawkeye for a fatal fall (we meet his wife, he talks incessantly of future plans), only to shift his focus onto the young Avenger at the last minute. We didn’t see that coming, indeed.
PETER PARKER’S IN BIG RUBBLE SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Outsmarted by Adrian Toomes. Abandoned by Tony Stark. Trapped under a ton or two of collapsed rubble. This is where the boy Peter (Tom Holland) needs to become a man. As coming-of-age moments go, it’s not exactly subtle, but it’s true to one of the comic-book’s inest moments (from Amazing Spider-Man #33) and a rousing bit of weightlifting.
FRIGGA’S FUNERAL THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Frigga’s heroic death in defence of Jane Foster and her people deserved recognition, so we got a Viking funeral worthy of Valhalla itself. She is sent over the edge of Asgard in a shower of golden sparks in one of the MCU’s most visually stunning moments, and one echoed when Odin says goodbye in Ragnarok.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
GROUNDHOG DAY! DOCTOR STRANGE
The climax of Doctor Strange sees Benedict Cumberbatch’s resourceful sorcerer journey into another dimension to bargain with the dreaded Dormammu for the future of Earth. Dormammu kills Strange instantly only for the master of the mystic arts to resurrect himself, again and again. And again and again, for good measure. Strange has imprisoned them both in a time loop that will only end if Dormammu agrees to said bargain. It’s possibly the most selﬂess act to date by a hero in the MCU. Some of those deaths (Impaled! Squashed! Burned!) look painful.
THOMAS DERAILED ANT-MAN
An idea so good, it’s being re-used in Ant-Man And The Wasp, albeit with a giant Pez dispenser being the child’s toy that suddenly becomes dangerous with size-changing technology. But it’s the switch in perspectives — from us watching Thomas from the characters’ point of view to suddenly zooming out to see it how it really is — that sells the giddy ridiculousness of the scene.
THE SUITCASE ARMOUR
IRON MAN 2
A little-discussed theme in Iron Man’s ilm appearances has been Tony’s endless quest to make his armour easier to put on. He’s had robot valets, self-propelled rocket-crotches and bracelet-controlled dressing, but his irst prêt-à-porter effort remains his most stylish. The Bond-esque Mark V is gorgeous as well as powerful, and makes Tony’s the most desirable suitcase since Pulp Fiction.
AUNTMAYFINDSOUT SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
It’s a inal scene that wraps everything up neatly, until it doesn’t. Peter Parker, having defeated The Vulture, returns to his Queens apartment to ind Tony Stark has bestowed his souped-up Spider-Man suit. All is well. Then Aunt May appears in the frame, and the ilm abruptly ends — mid-curse.
If you thought Ant-Man was just the origin story for Ant-Man, this mid-credits scene proved you wrong. After Hank Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) spent the whole ilm wondering why he wouldn’t entrust his nifty shrink-tech to her, he belatedly passes the torch, with a punchthe-air pay-off. Now that’s a sting.
34 ENTER NICK FURY IRON MAN
BUCKY GRABS THE BIKE AS IT’S MOVING CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The irst post-credits sting, and still the best. Certainly, the most important. Kevin Feige made his intentions clear right from the start and (almost unbelievably given most shared cinematic universes stumble early) followed it through with style. And, Christ, didn’t it just have us all dying to see it all pay off? Smart move.
OKOYE’S WIG-FU BLACK PANTHER
Some classic MCU moments reveal hidden character layers, or expand the universe in unexpected ways, or combine heroes that you didn’t expect to share screen time. Others just look ridiculously, undeniably, totally badass. Bucky’s slow-mo 180-degree bike-lip halfway through Civil War’s epic highway chase is one of those.
African hair is a political issue, one that is summed up when Okoye, shaven-headed by choice, throws her detested wig at an attacker mid-ight. It’s not a vibranium-laced wig, just your basic fake hair. But it creates a perfect distraction and allows Okoye to put social expectations to a useful end.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
“I NEED A HORSE!”
The God Of Thunder’s cinematic debut balances weighty Shakespearean struggles (thanks, Kenneth Branagh) with pitch-perfect ish-out-of-water comedy. The high-point? A straight-outta-Asgard Thor storming into Pet Palace to demand “a horse!” or a cat/dog/bird “large enough to ride!” Hemsworth’s deadly stern delivery sells it.
CAN YOU DIG IT? IRON MAN 3
Iron Man 3 is one of Marvel’s loosest, most relaxed movies, with an ‘anything goes’ vibe. That attitude stretches all the way to the end credits, which sees Brian Tyler, an otherwise fairly forgettable musical contributor to the MCU, jazz up his Iron Man theme in a funky, horn-tastic, ’60s-inluenced style that lodges itself in your ear and refuses to leave long after the credits have rolled.
PETER’S WALKMAN TOMB-RAID GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
31 CAP HOLDS THE HELICOPTER CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
In a ilm of intensely giffable moments, this perhaps takes the biscuit: the moment when Steve Rogers, desperate to stop his frenemy Bucky Barnes (triggered into becoming the kill-crazy Winter Soldier) from escaping in a helicopter, grabs the chopper. Much is made about how Captain America has a heart so pure he can make Mjolnir wobble, but let’s not beat around the bush. This is entirely about Chris Evans’ rippling man-pecs.
DOCTOR STRANGE TAKES A TRIP DOCTOR STRANGE
For all its conventional origin story trappings, Doctor Strange is perhaps Marvel’s most visually ambitious movie, and nowhere is that more obvious than the moment when Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) takes his irst step into a larger world. Catapulted by The Ancient One into a tour of just some of the alternate dimensions bordering our own, it’s a mind-bending odyssey that opens not just Strange’s eyes, but the whole MCU to new possibilities.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
James Gunn’s big opening statement of intent: yes, this is a big sci-i adventure. Yes, its protagonist is an Indiana Jonesish rogue, stalking ruins for a much-coveted MacGufin. But, we’re not just getting ’80s-style heroics here. We’re also getting a mixtape. So, via Star-Lord’s Sony Walkman, the opening credits (the irst-ever in an MCU movie) are danced through by Chris Pratt to Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love. Groovy.
THE BRIEFCASE FIGHT ANT-MAN
Question: what’s cooler than two miniaturised foes battling inside a briefcase? Answer: that ight happening in mid-air, as the case plummets towards Earth from a crashing helicopter. The gags are wonderful, too: Ant-Man has to dodge a giant pack of Lifesavers, while villain Yellowjacket’s threat, “I’m going to disintegrate you!” leads to Siri cueing up The Cure’s Disintegration on an iPhone. Thank you, Siri.
FURY IS ATTACKED CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Nick Fury has a much-alluded to military background, but in the MCU, he’s more of a talker — rarely given the opportunity to lex his badassery. The key exception to this is in The Winter Soldier, during this frantic high-tech battle that takes place on the streets of Washington DC. For all the whizz-bangery of the superpowered gang, it’s immensely satisfying to see ground-level action like this bring the series back to the thrilling action-movie basics.
TESTING THE SUIT BLACK PANTHER
As well as being a tech genius who makes Elon Musk look like Fred Flintstone, Black Panther’s Shuri is a little sister. While Q merely waved deadly gadgets at Bond, Shuri ﬁgures that her brother can survive a little pummelling and goads him into acting the guinea pig for her latest take on his suit. It’s a perfect character beat.
“I COULD DO THIS ALL DAY” CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
25 EVERYONE TRIES TO LIFT MJOLNIR AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
This scene of superhero dick-swinging perfectly shows how the Avengers have become more than just colleagues. Which makes what comes next (especially as the team turn on each other in Civil War) all the more poignant and heart-breaking. Not bad for some drunken gestures of bravado.
Super soldier serum or no, Steve Rogers was always Captain America. Nowhere is that more evident than in this moment when a puny, pre-serum Steve takes on a bully. Rogers gets the stufing knocked out of him, only to rise up for a second helping. “I can do this all day,” says the indefatigable little guy, heart as big as a house. It becomes the line that deines Captain America.
LOKI KILLS COULSON AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
The event that truly brought the Avengers together. Earth-invasion aside, Loki’s most truly villainous move is murdering S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Agent Coulson, the man behind the Avengers Initiative. The upside is that his death sparks the gang into action, while the character secretly got to live on after being revived in TV series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Nobody tell Cap.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
“I’M MARY POPPINS, Y’ALL!” GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
Among the zillion quips in the Guardians sequel, one stood out: the moment in which sapphire-skinned alien Yondu (Michael Rooker) excitedly tells the rest of the gang, “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”, under the false impression that Poppins is some sort of macho dude. It’s daft, sweet, and has inspired enough memes and T-shirts to ill a very large umbrella.
BRUCE BANNER BITES THE BIFROST
KILLMONGER TAKES DOWN T’CHALLA
Taika Waititi’s movie is (Ragna)chock-full of cliché-undercutting, LOLZ-worthy moments, but Mark Ruffalo gets arguably the biggest one of all. Realising it’s time to green up and tackle a giant undead wolf rampaging on the Bifrost, Ruffalo’s Banner leaps heroically into battle… And splats ineffectually onto its rainbow-y surface, noticeably non-Hulked-out. It’s shocking. It’s daft. It’s pure Waititi.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
The big showdown between King T’Challa and the pretender to the throne, Killmonger, was never going to end well for the greatest warrior in Wakanda. Ryan Coogler stages the action so that T’Challa seems like a boy next to the sheer brawn of Killmonger, as soon as it becomes clear how much blood Killmonger has on his hands: a scar for each life he’s taken. And he has a whole lotta scars...
STAR SPANGLED MAN
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Due to the arcane chicanery of Oscar voting, Best Original Song at the 2012 Academy Awards had just two contenders: Man Or Muppet (which won), from The Muppets, and Real In Rio, from Rio. Neither can hold a candle to Star Spangled Man, a glorious parody of George M. Cohan’s patriotic numbers, which plays out over a montage of Captain America making personal appearances across the country, becoming a huge star, and punching ‘Hitler’. A lot. Frankly, it was robbed.
TONY STARK DONS THE MARK I
The Hulk has always been about control, an eternal game of chess between Bruce Banner and his not-so-jolly green pal. “Now would be a good time to get angry,” advises Captain America as a giant, lying Chitauri snake-thing bears down on the Avengers. “That’s my secret, Captain,” replies Banner, nonchalantly walking towards danger. “I’m always angry.” And then — ta-daaa! — he transforms into the Hulk, and proceeds to walk off with the last 30 minutes of the ilm.
Everyone knew it was coming — except his captors — but when Tony Stark inally dons his unwieldy, roughly welded iron armour it’s still a thrill. Shot from inside the suit’s helmet, Tony’s perspective is hampered by the narrow eye-holes and his own sweaty panic, but he still blows his terrorist captors away. Next stop: unstoppable.
HULK REVEALED AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
THE AVENGERS 360-DEGREE SHOT AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Behold: the culmination of the entire franchise (at that point), boiled down to a ten-second shot of the entire sixmember Avengers team, assembled in a neat circle for the irst time. As iconic moments go, it’s hard to beat. And as the centrepiece of the ilm’s Super Bowl trailer, it was a money shot seemingly able to print money at will.
HULKVS HULK-BUSTER AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Sometimes, you don’t want nuance. Sometimes, you want to see eight-foot superheroes beat the living daylights out of each other. Having come down with a serious case of the Scarlet Witch-itis, Hulk is angry — even more so than usual — and it takes Tony Stark’s Hulk-Buster suit (‘Veronica’, as he christens her) to hydraulic-drill-punch him back to reality.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
“HAIL HYDRA!” CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Possibly the moment when it became clear that the MCU was beginning to penetrate the zeitgeist, and all it took was a leeting hug between treacherous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) and Senator Stern (Garry Shandling). “Hail HYDRA”, they whisper to each other, revealing the full extent to which those evil goons have iniltrated America’s power structure. Following The Winter Soldier’s release, you couldn’t move for pictures of people hugging with the caption “Hail HYDRA”.
“WE ARE GROOT” GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
The Guardian with the biggest heart is the one without any organs. Branching out for the irst time from his three-word vocabulary, tree-man Groot (Vin Diesel) employs the irst person plural by way of explaining his gang-protecting act of sacriice as the Dark Aster goes down. “We were all weeping,” remembers Zoe Saldana of shooting the scene. “Groot is so unconditional, we just felt in awe to be in his presence.” So he’s the biggest heart-breaker, too.
BABY GROOT SAYS ELO GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
The Guardians Of The Galaxy movies play by a different rulebook to the rest of the MCU. Without straying into Deadpool territory, they’re a little more irreverent, a little more knowing, and a little more free to take creative risks — hence Vol. 2 starting with a small talking tree dancing to ELO. Visually, the whole thing is one great, big glorious gag about the excess of sequels, as the Guardians ﬁght a battle against a space monster in the background while Groot gets his groove on in the fore. “In any other action ﬁlm, what you would focus on would be the battle with the creature,” Gunn tells Empire, who supplied the motion-capture moves for Baby Groot. “And I love giant monsters and space creatures with tentacles. But I also love Baby Groot dancing.” No contest, really.
PETERPARKER MEETS TONY STARK AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
11 “IAM IRON MAN” IRON MAN
Before Iron Man, cinematic superheroes only ever existed in the shadows — all secret identities and hidden lairs. It was a call made late in the day, but the decision to have Tony Stark throw caution to the wind changed everything, and has given untold beneits to the MCU — from touching moments with Peter Parker and Harley Keener (the Iron Man 3 kid), to the location of Avengers Tower in central Manhattan.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
The introduction of Peter Parker to the MCU is as amusing as it is touching — Tom Holland’s endearing take on the character proving the ideal counterpart to the always quip-ready Tony — and this scene plays to their strengths efortlessly. But when you stop to consider exactly what it took to get here, then it really thrills. Spider-Man is perhaps Marvel’s best known (and best loved?) character, but the MCU was already 12 ﬁlms old by the time he was added to the fold. Whatever deal was struck between the top bods at Sony and Disney for them to agree to share the character, it was worth it. For both parties, as it turned out — Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming easily being the character’s best standalone ﬁlm in over a decade. (Although not that the competition was all that strong.)
“BEFORE WE GET STARTED, WOULD ANYONE LIKE TO GET OUT?” CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Before The Winter Soldier, you could count the number of great MCU action sequences on the ingers of one Ininity Gauntlet. The Nick Fury car chase sequence is at number 26 in this list, but the capper — excuse the pun — comes when Steve Rogers, full of doubts about S.H.I.E.L.D., climbs into an elevator, and inds himself faced with a bunch of burly guys. Sizing up the situation quickly, Steve issues a very gentle warning: “Before we get started, would anyone like to get out?” And that’s the trigger for a bout of claustrophobic mayhem as Steve royally rogers S.H.I.E.L.D. — sorry, HYDRA’s — inest guys. A mini-masterclass of tension and ight choreography, it gives the whole ilm a lift.
7 MEET DAD SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
It’s very hard to pull off a twist in a blockbuster, especially one that takes its inspiration from famous source material. But from the off, it’s been quite clear the MCU isn’t a series of direct adaptations. Civil War the movie bears basically no resemblance to Civil War the comic, for example. And this commitment to forging new stories allows for moments like the jawdropper in Spider-Man: Homecoming when Peter Parker (Tom Holland) swings by to pick up his prom date, Liz. He rings the doorbell. He waits. A igure comes to answer the door. The door opens. And everyone loses their shit. For it turns out that Liz’s dad is Adrian Toomes, aka The Vulture, the lying supervillain who’s been a thorn in Spider-Man’s side. Spider-can open, spider-worms everywhere.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
IRON MAN 3
Bloody Vision. What a chancer. Most Avengers actors can be in four, ive, even six MCU movies and not get a moment like this one. Yet Paul Bettany’s android rocks up about two-thirds of the way into Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and waltzes off with the movie’s best bit, in which he immediately proves himself worthier than most by lifting Thor’s magic hammer, Mjolnir. Much to the astonishment of everyone in the room who, lest we forget, spent an entire sequence earlier in the ilm trying to lift it to no avail. “It came from, ‘You know what would be cool?’” laughs Joss Whedon. “But I needed them [the Avengers] to take this guy with them, and I needed something to say, ‘We’re off.’” Beautifully played by Bettany, Hemsworth et al, it’s a joyously funny pay-off to the idea that only Thor can wield his mighty tool, established way back in 2011’s Thor.
We need to talk about The Mandarin. In the comics, he’s Iron Man’s ultimate foe, but he’s also a giant racial stereotype — a conniving, Fu Manchu-esque Chinese character that, Kevin Feige admitted to Empire, “we weren’t going to touch with a ten-foot pole”. But when The Mandarin was inally called upon for Iron Man 3, it’s as part of one of the most audacious twists in modern cinema. The Mandarin, as played by Ben Kingsley, isn’t the Mandarin at all — he’s a front. He is a drug-addled actor by the name of Trevor Slattery. Brave and bonkers the reveal may have been, but fan reaction at the time was mixed so Marvel walked it back slightly in the One-Shot short ilm Hail To The King, which implies the real Mandarin is out there and is none too happy about his name being used. Still, the impact of that initial reveal hasn’t dulled.
“IHADADATE” CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Marvel has acquired a rep for knowing how to construct an ending. Some are funny — Luis blinking furiously in Ant-Man. Some are cliffhangers — Loki revealing himself (steady) in Thor: The Dark World. But none are as poignant as the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, when Steve Rogers awakens after 70 years. As far as he’s concerned, he was piloting a ship into an ice loe just minutes earlier. As he bursts past S.H.I.E.L.D. security into a very different Times Square to the one he knew, it takes a moment before he realises that he’s not going to meet Peggy Carter for that dance. “You gonna be okay?” asks Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury. “Yeah,” replies a forlorn Steve. “It’s just… I had a date.” It neatly sets up Rogers as a man out of time, marooned in a world he has no emotional connection to, and it’s a bravely sombre way to end a ilm.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
“DIDYOUKNOW?” CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The glory of a multi-ilm narrative is the way it can dig deep into the characters, and pay off plot strands that were set in motion a long time before. The raw hurt and betrayal in Tony Stark’s eyes as he asks Steve Rogers, his fellow Avenger and friend, if he’d known Bucky had murdered his parents is a million miles from the glib showman we met at the beginning of Iron Man. And here’s where a kids’ ilm, a mere blockbuster bauble, would have pulled a last-minute swerve away from the emotionally uncomfortable. Instead, what Joe and Anthony Russo, the movie’s directors, do is have Steve Rogers, the MCU’s pillar of truth, look his friend in the eye and tell him the hardest truth of all. “Yes.” Emotionally, it’s a high point of the series, but it’s these characters at their lowest.
HULK SMASHES LOKI AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Joss Whedon went out of his way to make sure every Avenger has a scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in Avengers Assemble. Most of them are quite involved dialogue scenes. But when it came to Hulk, that wouldn’t ly. The Hulk doesn’t riff. He doesn’t banter. What he does is smash. All the way through Avengers Assemble, there’s a subtle emasculation of Loki. For all his attempts to be a menacing villain, he’s undercut at every turn. And when he inally comes face-toface with the Hulk, he’s had enough. “I am a god, you dull creature!” he rants. “And I will not—” But he doesn’t get to inish the sentence, what with being grabbed by the Hulk and then smashed, unceremoniously, into the ground. Several times. Nobody has treated the God Of Mischief with such indignity, before or since. It’s the funniest moment in the MCU.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
SOMEWHERE IN BURBANK...
THE AIRPORT FIGHT
WE NEED SOMETHING BIG FOR CIVIL WAR.
A REAL CENTREPIECE MOMENT.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
WELCOME TO OUR, AHEM, ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION OF HOW THE RUSSO BROTHERS CAME UP WITH THE SINGLE GREATEST MOMENT IN THE MCU.
REMEMBER THOSE COMICS WE USED TO READ AS KIDS, ANTHONY?
ARTWORK NEIL EDWARDS
HULK NO WANT TO BE IN MOVIE. HULK SAD.
WITH THE BIG SPLASHDOWN FIGHTS OVER TWO PAGES?
SO IT WAS DECIDED. THE STANDOUT WOULD BE A BIG FIGHT BETWEEN TWO FACTIONS OF HEROES. THEY JUST HAD TO GET THE LINE-UPS RIGHT…
COME ON, STEVE. PLEEEEAAASSE PICK ME.
I BET I GET PICKED LAST.
I CHOOSE BLACK PANTHER. AS LONG AS HE PROMISES NOT TO OUTSHINE ME WITH HIS SOLO MOVIE.
NEXT, THE RUSSOS HAD TO CHOOSE A LOCATION FOR THEIR BIG SHOWDOWN. SOMEWHERE QUIET, ISOLATED, WHERE COLLATERAL DAMAGE WOULD BE MINIMISED.
NOW THIS IS MORE LIKE IT.
THINK OF ALL THE FRICKIN’ DAMAGE WE CAN CAUSE. NOPE. LANGUAGE. 40
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
LATER, IN ANOTHER MEETING...
WE LIKE YOU IN THIS SCENE.
THE BIT WHERE YOU GO INSIDE TONY’S ARMOUR? GREAT!
WE NEED TO INTRODUCE A NEW CHARACTER TO LIVEN THINGS UP. ANY IDEAS?
BUT THAT WAS KEVIN FEIGE’S IDEA.
AMAZING! WE NEED SOMETHING BIGGER... HOW ABOUT...
YOU’RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER TRAILER. TWO YEARS IN THE PLANNING.
EVENTUALLY, THE BIG SHOOT COMES TOGETHER...
AND PLENTY OF SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. WE SHOT IT PIECEMEAL THROUGHOUT THE COURSE OF FILMING. BUT IT’S ALL WORTH IT WHEN YOU SEE THE…
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
1. Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and Captain America: Civil War, because he’s careless) 2. Yellowjacket in Ant-Man 3. Thor in Thor: The Dark World 4. Groot in Guardians Of The Galaxy 5. Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3 6. Uly ses Klaue in Avengers: Ag Of Ultron
IN EVERY PHASE TWO FILM, SOMEONE LOST THEIR ARM OR HAND
PLANETSSEENINTHEMCU Earth, Asgard, Sakaar, Ego, Sovereign, Xandar, Muspelheim, Morag, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Svartalfheim, Ria, Contraxia, Berhert, Arago-7, Aakon, Easik, Niﬂheim, Hala
2,296 MINUTES TOTAL RUNNING TIME OF THE MCU TO DATE
QUICKSILVER YONDU GROOT PEGGY THE FRIGGA ODIN UDONTA CARTER ANCIENT ONE Riddled with bullets by Ultron
Freezes to death in space
Destroyed when Ronan The Accuser’s ship crashes. His son grows from a twig found in the debris
Stabbed by Malekith The Accursed
Succumbs to old age
Stabbed by Kaecilius
IN MEMORIAM HOW THOR SHOULD HAVE GOT FROM CHARING CROSS TO GREENWICH 44
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
Succumbs to old age
REMEMBERING THE MCU HEROES WHO DIED AND STAYED DEAD...
1. NORTHERN LINE TO WATERLOO (TWO STOPS)
TOTAL WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE TAKINGS * OF THE MCU TO DATE
$14,406,804,593 PHRASES YOU NEED TO TRIGGER BUCKY BARNES:
THE MCUâ€™SBOX OFFICE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE $1,519.5M AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON $1,408.2M
IRON MAN 3 $1,215.3M
*At the time of going to press
WOODEN SPOON: THE INCREDIBLE HULK $265M
THE KEY FACTS AND FIGURES THAT ADD UP TO THE MCU SO FAR
STEVE AGENT PEPPER BUCKY NICK ROGERS COULSON POTTS BARNES FURY Crashed a plane into the Arctic. Eventually found and thawed out
Skewered by Loki, resurrected by S.H.I.E.L.D. with alien blood
Falls into a fireball, but the Extremis virus gives her rapid healing power
... AND THE ONES WHO REFUSED TO DIE
Falls from a moving train. Lands in a snowdrift, is found by HYDRA
Shot by the Winter Soldier, had doctors stop his heart to fake his death
Falls from space, but Hulk shouts at him
LOKI Stabbed by Kurse, but he was faking it
2. CHANGE TO JUBILEE LINE TO NORTH GREENWICH (SIX STOPS)
3. 188 OR 129 BUS FROM BUS STAND C
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
THER EXTREMIS? N3
le: So Tony Stark obtains this new hich can super-regenerate people, ps it from also making them e. Then it’s never mentioned again. ing: Maybe he wasn’t able to e Extremis as well as we thought he en if he reduced it to a teensy chance ng a patient into a living time bomb, till too much of a risk for any selfing medical professional, right?
“EIGHT YEARS LATER” SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
The hole: We’re told the main story is set eight years after 2012’s Avengers Assemble: so, 2020. Only we’re also told it’s two months post-Civil War, which the Vision said was “eight years” after Iron Man’s 2008 debut. The filling: Avengers is actually set in 2010! The script places it a year after Thor’s arrival — 2009, if you go by the sting in Iron Man 2, h makes later. So d down).
LIKE A CRAZY GIANT-SPACESHIP PILOT FLYING INTO THE DEVIL’S ANUS, WE ATTEMPT TO FILL THE MCU’S BIGGEST PLOT HOLES
LOKI’SSCEPTRE really: 1) Why nly Inﬁnity Stone ki, just to get hold YDRA get a hold the Avengers as a deleted scene e sceptre to s. 2) This being ikely nabbed it agents.
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU
the ent sh it ut why d it ? Maybe, d mean tion so re from gems?
THORANDNORSE MYTHOLOGY THOR
The hole: A prologue shows Thor and Loki as kids, being told by Odin how Asgardians have now “fallen into man’s myths and legends”. But later, Erik Selvig reveals that in the MCU, Thor is clearly a part of Norse mythology as a full-grown hero. Hmm. The filling: Well it’s quite obvious that at some point in the millennium between Thor’s prologue and Thor’s banishment to Earth, he used Doctor Strangey timemagic to travel back and have all those adventures. SOLVED. Cough. DAN JOLIN
. S E M A N T S E G G . I T B S S A ’ C D D O O HOLLYWOWARD-WINNING P A S ’ E R I P EM AY
D I R F Y R SODE EVE CAST
TEN YEARS OF THE MCU