REVIEW: Under The Silver Lake (2019)

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace

Written by Sam Comrie

“Maybe there are people out there who are more important than us, more powerful, communicating things in the world that are meant for only them and not for us.”

Despite a troubling distribution schedule after hitting the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell’s follow up to tantalizing It Follows has finally begun to see the light of day. Bringing back D.P Michael Gioulakis (Split) and composer Diasterpiece, Mitchell’s third feature-length endeavour is a left field swerve down a road that is as mysterious as the title itself. Stepping away from the anxious social horror of It Follows, Under The Silver Lake is a delirious suburban noir that brings us along on a spiralling web of underworlds, Illuminati style mysteries and a murder or two along the way.

Wearing its modern noir disguise in the open, Mitchell’s picks apart another agenda underneath the green grass and naive city smiles. It’s an agenda of hidden codes, intentions and goals that are only for those higher in the social hierarchy. Not for a greasy, problematic slacker that hasn’t paid his rent in god knows how long. Enter Andrew Garfield, giving a sleaze-filled performance that proves to be a career best, despite his troubling perspective on women that makes for an uneasy watch.

It’s uncomfortable and skin crawling but works to make Garfield’s “Sam” a vessel for all the cynicism and underworld brainwashing that he will ultimately endure to seemingly no real positive in his quest. And a quest it is indeed. When a woman from his flat complex disappears, with no explanation or trace to her existence, Sam takes it upon himself to uncover the real mystery behind her disappearance. His past and job history is never truly touched upon, only picked away at by other characters trying to uncover some human component inside Sam.

The clues begin to appear and bring an anxious sense of doubt with them. Are we actually finding a lead or we are actually going crazy the more we pull on the threads? Mitchell’s eerie and precise direction is on form once more in tandem with the dreamy wide lensed aesthetic that Gioulakis soaks the suburbia in. Palm trees and crosswalks are chosen favor of the glossy high rises that function continuously in the background.

Mitchell’s commitment to how truly unpredictable and oddball he takes the mystery is what really sold me on my experience with Silver Lake. It’s littered with brilliantly intriguing characters that add to contained lore that the film builds for itself almost unintentionally.

In the supporting cast, Patrick Fischler and Jeremy Bobb pop up along the way providing some of the best moments of strange character intricacies and sometimes reality shattering revelations. I particularly enjoyed spending time in the “lair” of Fischler’s simply titled “Comic Fan”, who has built his own web of messages. It adds to the continuous notion that Mitchell is painting a narrative that exists behind the scenes for anyone but Garfield.

Under The Silver Lake, in the end, proves itself to be another hazy passage through the unexpected, in the same vein of Mulholland Drive and Inherent Vice. I bet they’d make a unique triple bill.

SAM’S VERDICT:

5

REVIEW: The House That Jack Built (2018)

Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman

Written by Lucy Buglass

Danish director Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy. He has certainly divided film fans with some praising his work and some condemning it.  The House That Jack Built is his most recent creation, causing audience members at Cannes to either walk out in disgust or stand up and applaud. This seriously mixed reception caught my interest and I wanted to find out what he’d done to generate such a response.

I’ve only seen two of his previous films; Antichrist and Melancholia, the former being a film that disturbed me so much I haven’t been able to watch it a second time. Its visceral, raw and harrowing portrayal of sex, violence, and self-mutilation is something that is a thoroughly uncomfortable and unpleasant watch.  Because of Antichrist, I felt nervous yet strangely excited to see what The House That Jack Built had in store for me. I was surprised, however, to discover that it is arguably his tamest film to date, with a lot of the more graphic content happening off-screen. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its disturbing moments, but it was a lot less visceral than I was expecting based on its recent backlash.

The film is split into five chapters labelled ‘The Incidents’ and an epilogue, detailing some of the murders that Jack carried out over a 12-year span. Two of these incidents include child abuse and female mutilation, but is presented in a much more psychologically disturbing way rather than uncomfortable close-ups and drawn out scenes that you watch from behind your hands. The House That Jack Built spends more time tapping into Jack’s own psyche than it does the atrocities he commits, with Matt Dillon really stealing the show as the titular character.

It’s also darkly funny in places, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Dillon’s portrayal of a psychotic killer with OCD is both terrifying and amusing. He is simultaneously charming and unhinged, which is a difficult thing to pull off. He was by far my favourite thing about the film, reminiscent of so many iconic serial killers that have fascinated the general public. The film relied heavily on Jack’s character and inner thoughts so it was great to see Dillon pull it off so brilliantly.

Much like Von Trier’s previous work, The House That Jack Built features lots of symbolism throughout the narrative. In this case, it focuses heavily on religion, art and family, with Jack being challenged on all of these as he recounts the incidents. The voice challenging him is a mystery to us until the third act, where Bruno Ganz’s character is finally revealed to us. I found this reveal to be a little jarring and strange, but not unexpected from one of his films. For me, the third act is where it started to go downhill and I lost interest, which is a real shame after the strength of the first two. Despite seeing some really great analyses online, it wasn’t enough to change my own views on the way it ended. It just seemed a little too out of place for my liking.

The visual style is interesting and combines live action with animation and still images. This feels very random but in the context of this particular film, it actually works in its favour. Both Dillon and Ganz narrate over the animation and still images, giving us monologues that act as food for thought and raise questions about morality, life, death and so on. It’s an intense film in that regard and one that you have to really concentrate on in order to enjoy properly.

The House That Jack Built is a depressing, harrowing and strange film. Its blend of sadistic violence and humour makes it a truly unique horror film that seems to appeal to a very specific audience. It’s not for the faint of heart, and Jack’s misogynistic killing sprees teamed with his nihilistic outlook on life is bound to be uncomfortable for many to witness. As a case study on a serial killer it’s a fascinating watch, but out of the three films I’ve seen, this one is unfortunately the weakest in my eyes.

 

LUCY’S VERDICT:

3

REVIEW: Bumblebee (2018)

Directed by: Travis Knight
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’Brien, Justin Theroux, John Cena, Angela Bassett

Written by Dave Curtis

Let’s be honest, Transformer fans haven’t had an easy ride with movie adaptions. Back in 1986 during Transformers: The Animated Movieevery child’s favourite Autobot Optimus Prime was unexpectedly killed off. In 2007 Michael Bay unleashed the first (and best) of the live action films. What came next were 4 sequels all declining in quality. All were filled with giant explosions and very loud noises, but what they all lacked were any real cohesive storylines.  Frankly, they made no sense, it was all just crash, bang wallop. It was Paramount’s cash cow. Eventually, the cow ran dry and it was announced that the next film in the series would be a prequel/reboot of sorts centred around Bumblebee; the once little VW beetle but now a flashy Camaro getting his own spinoff movie. The fan reaction was mixed at best, but when it was announced that the film wouldn’t be directed by Michael Bay but by the exciting talent of Travis Knight (director of ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’), it gave new hope to a stagnating franchise.

Bumblebee begins right in the middle of a brutal battle in the last days of Cybertron. The Autobots are on the back foot. Optimus Prime (still voiced by Peter Cullen) sends Bumblebee to earth to escape and maybe set up base for the future survival of the alien race. On arriving at Earth he quickly runs into trouble with the army (John Cena) and he is also being pursued by two Decepticons, Dropkick and Shatter (Justin Theroux and Angela Bassett). Badly damaged, he goes into hiding where Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds the damaged beetle in a junkyard and takes him home.

Whereas Michael Bay thought bigger was better, the Travis Knight approach is a much more refined affair. The focus is not so much on the set pieces but on Charlie’s relationship with her new car. His decision to scale back on the number of the Transformers works wonders. It is not stuffed full of mindless action which might have been fun the first time around but quickly got tedious five movies in. Bumblebee very much uses its executive producer’s Steven Spielberg blueprint of movie making. Imagine E.T but with a giant transforming car and you are halfway there. It is full of Spielberg troupes like being set in a small rural town and a missing father figure. This kind of treatment may sound like a less of a spectacular but it helps drive the plot forward to a more grounded and enjoyable film.

The cast are all excellent in their own way. Hailee Steinfeld carries on from her fine performance from Edge of Seventeen. Her performance doesn’t get overshadowed by her CGI counterpart. This is her film. John Cena as Agent Burns chews up every line for fun. He knows what kind of movie this is and he doesn’t pull back from it.

Setting the film in 1987 lends itself well to the film, the era which the original cartoon first appeared helps capture the spirit. The 80’s soundtrack helps create a bridge between the character and the script and the history and era Transformers first came popular in. Knight’s decision to return Bumblebee to his original form (Bay wasn’t a fan) will please the fans.

Christina Hodson’s smartly written script doesn’t get bogged down in any mythical madness. It is pretty simple that it doesn’t try and squeeze too much out of a wafer-thin idea. It also benefits from a reasonable runtime. Where Bay’s films were over two and a half hours (sometimes pushing 3) Bumblebee is just under 2 and it zips along nicely. The action scenes don’t over stay their welcome and the characters are actually more than just eye candy (sorry Megan Fox).

Bumblebee is a vast improvement compared to its predecessors. It’s not all about giant fight scenes with loud noises. Gone are the muddled storylines and useless MacGuffins. This is a story with real heart and it actually makes sense. The central relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee are key and the main focus of the movie, and Travis Knight doesn’t let that get away from you. As Bernie Mac says in the first Transformers film “A driver don’t pick the car. Cars pick the driver. It’s a mystical bond between man and machine.” In this case, the car picked the right driver. Finally, Transformers fans have reasons to be happy and look to the future. Autobots roll out!

 

DAVE’S VERDICT:

3-5

REVIEW: Aquaman (2018)

Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The DCEU badly needs a win. To say the DCEU has had peaks and troughs is something of an understatement. Despite, for my part, ‘Man of Steel’ being far stronger than the wider consensus says, and ‘Wonder Woman’ being as universally acclaimed as it is, the DCEU is badly trying to course correct after the mixed reception received on ‘Batman v Superman,’ and the genuinely shambolic efforts of ‘Justice League’ and ‘Suicide Squad.’ It needs a film to reunite DC fans everywhere that convinces them the DCEU could be a success. I think ‘Aquaman’ could well be that film.

Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa stars as Arthur “Aquaman” Curry, a human-Atlantean hybrid with super strength and a swimming ability not too far behind that of Michael Phelps. Living his life as a metahuman living amongst us, Arthur forgoes the secret identity schtick, openly embraces being Aquaman, and spends his time saving people from various nautical disasters. When Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s half-brother, stakes claim to the throne and threatens an Atlantean takeover of the world, Arthur must return to his true home and claim the throne that is rightfully his.

I’m going to cut to the chase. ‘Aquaman’ is the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in months. I’ve seen some terrific films in the last year, even some genuinely all-time great superhero films like ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,’ but nothing compared to ‘Aquaman.’ As the film escalates towards its inevitable, CGI-tastic battle scene, I found myself actively cheering the action on screen. It forced various exclamations that basically said, in umpteen different ways, “this is so cool.” Because that’s what James Wan, the stellar filmmaker behind films like ‘Saw’, ‘The Conjuring,’ and ‘Furious 7,’ managed to do. He made Aquaman cool. He made the guy who has been the joke of DC for years and known as “the one who can speak to fish” cool.

What really works for ‘Aquaman’ is its cast. It boasts a terrific ensemble, and no matter how ridiculous it all is if you really look at it, everyone is all in on their characters, embracing the ridiculousness of it all, and just having a great time with it. There’s a chemistry amongst every major player, from Arthur and Orm, to Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard), to Arthur and Vulko (Willem Dafoe), to Mera and Vulko, and to Orm and Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), that makes the film work. All the different relationships between the characters are, admittedly pretty blatantly, clear and their motivations are presented well so that everyone knows where they stand as the tensions mount into the third act. The ‘will-they-won’t-they’ dynamics, the rivalries, the father-and-son relationships, it’s all well thought-out and executed extremely well, thanks largely to the great cast.

Where the film does have flaws – and believe me, it has its flaws – is largely down to its dialogue. Despite the well-fleshed out relationships I mentioned above, the conversations are about as on-the-nose as it comes. Characters explicitly describe their emotions and plans in every line of dialogue, shoving in corny, superhero focused one-liners to raise an obvious moral question for Arthur to ponder for 20 minutes. It’s blunt, but it’s serviceable; there’s no room for subtext. But then again, this is fucking Aquaman. At one point, sharks are used as surfboards. Subtext left the writer’s room 27-minutes into Day One. And that’s okay.

The average cinema-goer goes to a superhero film for the action. You can claim all you want that people live for the interpersonal drama you find in the MCU, but a superhero film lives and dies by its action sequences. ‘Aquaman’ raises the bar for what a superhero film’s action scenes should look like. They’re the cleanest, best choreographed, and best shot action scenes since probably ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ In the first 10 minutes, there’s a very cool fight scene involving Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) in a living room that’s a long-take, one smooth shot in which all 3 enemies are vanquished in expert fashion as the camera swirls around the room. At that moment I knew we were in good hands, but that was just a taster.

There are a lot of nice little action sequences throughout the film, all of which are well done, but there are two stand-outs: Sicily and The Battle of the Trench. Sicily, for starters, includes a glorious long-take following a Atlantean battering ram crashing through 15 apartment walls as it’s the fastest way to Mera who is running along the rooftops, while simultaneously Arthur is being chased by Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the film’s sadly underused but encouraging secondary villain, with various moments for combat thrown in, an exploding church bell, and Arthur using a literal ball and chain as a weapon. At one point, the camera shows Arthur’s fight and zooms across the rooftops to catch up with Mera, mere minutes before she creatively uses red motherfucking wine as a weapon. Just thinking about this scene again brings a smile to my face. It’s chaos in its most glorious form.

The climactic Battle of the Trench is, thankfully, a worthy capper on a terrifically fun time. I can’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but this scene is the main cause of my exclamations of disbelief I mentioned earlier. Some of the moments on screen are wildly creative, they’re moments that will stick with you for months, because it’s a battle on the same scale as that of Helm’s Deep in ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ only this time it involves sharks with freakin’ laser beams attached to their heads, giant crocodiles, giant crabs and lobsters, and there’s even the closest thing to an actual kaiju. It’s not a case of Wan throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks here; everything sticks. The final 30 minutes of ‘Aquaman’ is the best climax to a 2018 film this side of ‘Hereditary.’

Aquaman’ is fantastic. I can forgive the flaws of its screenplay when the action is this satisfying and this impressive. It has charismatic performances, a fantastic soundtrack (‘Aquaman’’s theme is the best superhero theme since ‘Wonder Woman’, for everything the DCEU is doing wrong, it’s nailing the music), and stellar direction and cinematography. It’s one of the most bombastic, energetic, insane films of the year, and it deserves your attention.

Give me more ‘Aquaman.’ I want so much more ‘Aquaman.’

 

RHYS’ VERDICT:

5

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Friday After Next (2002)

Directed by: Marcus Raboy
Cast: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Terry Crews, Anna Maria Horsford

Written by Thom Marsh

I was going to write a huge diatribe about how this film deals with some serious socio-political issues as well as how some of the films’ more offensive jokes would be viewed in a “woke” society and move onto how much I dislike this holiday season (10 years in retail is enough to crush anyone’s festive cheer). Hence my choice of a rather unconventional Christmas film. However, as I sat down I found myself unable to contain my laughter however inappropriate the humour might be.

So sit back, relax.

Smoke em if you’ve got em!

It’s Friday. It’s Christmas Eve and Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps) are back in Crenshaw where it all began. The film starts with ghetto Santa Claus, “picture ODB in a Santa suit”  breaking into our hero’s apartment and taking everything that wasn’t nailed down including the rent money hidden in the stereo. A genuinely funny slapstick routine with Craig ensues after he walks in to find aforementioned  Santa on the rob, the highlight of which being our hero getting beat down with a Christmas tree.

This provides the launch pad for the hilarity we’ve become accustomed to from the Friday franchise, although the absence of Smokey (Chris Tucker) is felt. The cameos of Joel McKinnon Miller (pre-Brooklyn 99’s Detective Scully) as Officer A. Hole, Terry Crews as the landlady’s “fresh out the pen” son Damon and Katt Williams as Money Mike more than make up for this factor. The latter of the trio provides us with some of the movies most memorable quotes. Money Mike screaming “pimp in distress” as he finds himself trapped under a shop mannequin will never cease to bring a smile to my face.

Like I said though this instalment is incomparable to the first Friday film from 1995. Which even now has me laughing from “it’s Friday, you ain’t got no job and you ain’t got shit to do.” However, it is considerably better than Next Friday (2002) which, as much as I love Ice Cube as a musician and now actor, I still find difficult to watch. I think the loss of Crenshaw as a backdrop to the film’s antics is a huge part of the problem. That and Epps as a replacement for Tucker without the calibre of supporting cast from this instalment just doesn’t work so well.

I’m not going to lie although technically yes this film is set at Christmas and it does teach the important lessons of “togetherness” and “family” that all good Christmas films should contain, I’ve definitely still watched this film in the middle of summer. I’ll never not find it funny to shout “you got knocked the fuck out” at the TV. Its antics make it one of those Christmas movies along with A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) and The Night Before (2015), which makes it very stoner-friendly so would definitely recommend smoking beforehand.

Thom’s Verdict

3

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney

Written by Fernando Andrade

You know that feeling when you walk out of a movie knowing you have witnessed something special, something you have never seen before. That’s the feeling you get walking out of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Even though it’s based off a comic book and this character has been done six times before and we know the basic story of Spider-Man, the people behind this movie found a way to make it fresh and have produced not only the best animated movie this year, but hands down one of the best movies of 2018.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse centers around Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), aka Spider-Man. In Miles’ dimension Peter Parker (Chris Pine) is a hero to the people of New York, stopping crime at every corner and doing it with grace. That is until Parker has a run in with Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) and his gang of other notable Spider-Man villains including Green Goblin and The Prowler. They have built a device which causes dimensions to collide in an attempt to bring back Fisk’s wife and son who where killed. In the exchange, Peter Parker is killed, yes killed in an animated PG movie, leaving Miles the one and only Spider-Man – so he thinks. Of course as the promotional material has shown us, several dimensions collide bringing with them other Spider-people with them. We have Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Gleen), and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) – but from a different dimension. It is up to the 6 of them to come together and defeat Fisk in order to return to their respective worlds.

This movie probably could not have come out at a better time, due to the tragic death of Stan Lee, as it shows the true power of comic books and why people love this character. While yes, on the surface this movie is a standard comic book movie pitting good against evil, heroes against villains, it is so much more than that. This character of Miles Morales is so pure and so easy to connect with. A lot of it has to do with the fact that he loves his family, he wants to make them proud, and he is just kind at heart. Honestly it was a nice change of pace seeing this familial interaction and not one having to do with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. This interpretation of Spider-Man also comes with a bit of a different message, although the presence of “with great power comes great responsibility” is still felt, here we get to see someone figure out that they have the ability to become something great and that you are never alone.

This is beautifully done through the brilliant use of all the other characters. Yes, some are used for more comedic purposes and some of the villains just show up, but they are not the main focus. However, all the characters fit, they all have their moments, and it works seamlessly to help tell Miles’ story. Each of the different Spider-people/animal have their own problem, their own origin story, and so do we as individuals – we all have different paths, which is why it is so easy to relate to this story. Sometimes it can feel very lonely out there, as Miles feels as his relationship with his family begins to dwindle as the piling amount of pressure he has to be a worthy Spider-Man builds. But it is through those same worries in which he finds the power to become who he was meant to be. This story has attempted to be shown in other Spider-Man movies as well, some being more successful than others, but the way it was told in this movie has been the most effective. We get to see a young, half black half Latino kid, dropped to this position where he must learn to face this massive challenge, with some pretty great people to help him along the way.

Not only is Into the Spider-Verse a beautiful story, the technical aspects on display here are some of the greatest ever in animation. This is probably what people felt like watching Toy Story for the first time seeing all those 3D animations, but in animation today all we really see is polished, hyper realistic worlds. It is a wonderful change of pace to see such a unique approach to animation, and it works so well with this story. This could never be reproduced into life action ever, it could only have been done this way.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has come along and made itself known as one of the best movies of 2018, and should be leading the charge at the Oscars for best animated feature. Its a universal story that can be loved by everyone, filled with beautifully touching moments for both comic book and non-comic book fans alike, great laughs, and some pretty great music. This movie really showcases what minds like Steve Ditko and Stan Lee saw in these characters and what they wanted to express; a mask is a mask, but what really matters is who is underneath it – and that could be anyone.

 

Fernando’s Verdict:

4-5

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Elf (2003)

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Peter Dinklage

Written by Sarah Buddery

Arguably the greatest Christmas film ever, and easily the most quotable, Elf is the festive family staple that you’ll wish you could watch more than once a year.

Whilst Will Ferrell’s “man-baby” routine may be a little tiresome in some of his other more adult comedies, in Elf, it is perfectly pitched and suits the innocence and naivete of Buddy the Elf perfectly.

Elf is one of those rare, recent (although it is 15 years old this year!) Christmas films that has shown the test of time and still tops many people’s festive favourites. Everyone knows the story by now, but Elf follows the story of Buddy (Ferrell), a human who finds his way to the North Pole when he is just a baby, and is subsequently raised by Elves, believing himself to be one of them too. When he finds out he is in fact a human, and his biological Father lives in New York City, Buddy embarks on a journey through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops and finally walks through the Lincoln Tunnel in search of his Daddy.

In the magical realm of New York, Buddy finds his family and tries his best to blend in. And this is of course when the hilarity of Elf kicks in. Elf succeeds in being consistently funny and delivering laughs and memorable moments in abundance. It has in fact been a Christmas tradition of mine for a few years now to attend the quote-a-long screenings at the Prince Charles Cinema, and nothing quite spreads the Christmas cheer like a room full of people (mostly adults!) screaming “SANTAAAAAAAAAAAA” at the appropriate moment.

Aside from Ferrell, this film has a host of other great performances, including one from a very young (and blonde!) Zoey Deschanel and James Caan, most well-known for being part of the Corleone family in The Godfather. A very different role in Elf, as you can well imagine, Caan is great as the put-upon Dad, and his onscreen relationship with Ferrell’s Buddy, is particularly wonderful.

Part of Elf’s enduring, endearing quality is that it has all the elements of a perfect Christmas movie. It is about as Christmassy as you can get, it’s full of jokes for all the family, and it delivers the perfectly wrapped message of Christmas spirit, believing in Santa, and the importance of family that really helps to cement it as a Christmas classic.

There’s not much more that can be said about Elf that hasn’t been said already. It is the staple of my festive film watching, and I’m sure it is for you too. Ignore anyone who says this is a kids film, it is a film for everyone, whether you grew up loving it or are a recent convert. It isn’t Christmas until you’ve watched Elf, so settle down with a bottle of syrup and get ready to sing loud for all to hear, “Santa Claus is coming to town!”

INTERVIEW: ‘Suspiria’ Spoiler Filled Interview With Prosthetic Make-up Designer Mark Coulier

Interviewed by Fiona Underhill

For our latest Sunday Spotlight, Fiona sat down to interview Academy Award-winning prosthetic make-up designer, Mark Coulier, who has worked on films such as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – for which Coulier won the Oscar for ‘Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling’ in 2015,  Ready Player One, the Harry Potter series, and upcoming films Stan & Ollie and Pinocchio!

Fiona chatted with Coulier about his recent work in the Suspiria remake and the use of practical effects for some of its standout scenes, so there are spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet!

You’ve been warned…


I have to start with what is a stand-out scene, from a make-up point of view and that’s the infamous scene with Olga in the mirrored dance studio, where she’s being contorted and twisted – how much of that was practical and how much was CGI? How did you achieve that scene?

So, I’d spoken with Luca (Guadagnino, director) about that scene quite early on in our conversations about the film and he wanted that to be a pretty brutal scene that establishes how dangerous the situation is and he wanted to, I think the word was ‘pulverize’ this woman and break her down so we talked about how to do that practically, we wanted most of it to be practical. I’d seen Deliverance, I mentioned this guy who gets washed down a river and his arm gets dislocated and it’s twisted round his shoulder and it looks pretty intense. We decided that would be a good place to start – to twist this woman’s arm around and break her jaw, what else could we do that would make her all twisted and contorted? He had this amazing dancer called Elena Fokina playing the part and she was able to do a lot of the stuff herself. So we started off with the arm and then we did the leg and the rib cage – we did a prosthetic chest piece for her and a jaw piece and we moved her teeth. It kind of built from there really and we tried to get her into this position at the end where she was completely broken down and twisted up. It was Luca who wanted her to look really destroyed.

So it sounds like it was heavily practical then?

It was all practical in the sense that it was prosthetic appliances, the visual effects side of it was that they removed her real arm and her real leg. I think they augmented the jaw being twisted into place. So I’d say it’s about 75% us and 25% visual effects.

I have to ask about the character of Dr Josef Klemperer (played by Tilda Swinton). I think the creation of that character, from the performance combined with the make-up is just absolutely phenomenal. I want to ask about how you built that character – I mean the detail on the face is just sensational – how did you achieve that?

Thank you. That was Luca calling up and I think he’d seen Grand Budapest Hotel and we’d done an age make-up on Tilda Swinton in that film and Luca wanted to see if it was possible, to see if we could turn Tilda Swinton into this old Jewish man. So we did a test make-up probably eighteen months before the film actually started, just to see if it was possible. The test make-up was totally different to the Josef Klemperer character that you see in the movie, but it gave Tilda and Luca an idea of what we could possibly do. It was an idea that Luca had that he wanted all the characters, the strong characters to be female. This idea of Tilda playing this part is linked to the idea of the three witches that are the core of the story – Mother Suspirium, Mother Tenebrarum, Mother Lacrymarum – and he wanted Tilda to play the three parts of Madame Markos, Madame Blanc and Klemperer. So that was it really, that was the start of it, so we did a test to see if we could possibly do it and we ended up re-sculpting it and re-making it and applying it to the finished character.

I heard a rumour that she even had a prosthetic penis, can I ask if that’s true?

That is true, yes. Well it was really more of a weighted thing that we put in there because she wanted to feel masculine, so she wanted to feel this weight between her legs. So I guess it’s a bit like Robert De Niro wearing silk underpants to play Al Capone. One of those little things that nobody else will see but it makes her feel more of the part.

I have to ask about the finale – how long did it take to shoot that sequence and what was the preparation, what were the decisions involved in that sequence? Again, how practical was it, how many buckets of blood did you use etc?

Yes, again, it was heavily practical. This is not a big budget, we had very little time for everything. We had nine weeks, we were supposed to have fourteen weeks, but we had nine weeks which is not a lot of time. We had full body suits – we did the character of Death, which is really intense and quite a  character to create. We had the character of Markos to do – the witch, which is also Tilda Swinton playing that character in full body make-up which is pretty intense. And we had all sorts of stuff – we had disembowelments, lots of crazy stuff that Luca wanted to create for that finale. And we sort of created a workshop out where we were shooting and I brought people over from the UK and we were just frantically building things and finishing things off while we were out there. As well as making stuff in the UK, we did a full body make-up on Chloe Moretz. We were supposed to do that for two days I think and we ended up doing that make-up for five or six days. So we were frantically building pieces and making pieces out in this abandoned hotel where we were shooting everything in Italy. And it was quite intense but it was quite practical, a lot of it was practical, a lot of visual effects augmentation of the self, the blood, the bodies being destroyed, pulling the intestines out. [spoilers] We had the dead Patricia, the dead Olga make-up, we had Markos – which was this big full bodysuit thing that we built for Tilda, who was also playing Madame Blanc in that scene. We had the make-up where she gets her head chopped off…or almost chopped off. So, again, it was about 75-25 practical – there was visual effects involvement. And when you read that stuff on the page and spoke to Luca about it, it was really hard to try and work out in your mind what Luca actually wanted, what was it going to look like, you know?

What was the detail like in the script, what were the descriptions like?

I think Luca just wanted it to be a descent into madness, which is at the core of the witches. This is all going to ramp up and the film builds slowly into this big crescendo at the end, with the Mother Suspirium character appearing in the movie and he wanted to give a sense of craziness and the evil that’s at the core of the movie, this sort of power of the witches and we were just trying to put that into visuals. It was quite hard to read it and understand what Luca wanted. When you see the movie, we’re like; “oh right OK – so this is what we were making! It was very interesting.”

I’m sure there’s surprises for you, even when you’ve worked on the film. When you see the finished product, you’re still surprised by it.

Yeah, more so than most films that I’ve ever worked on. There’s three movies I did last year, I did Stan & Ollie and Bohemian Rhapsody and I did Suspiria at the same time and I think the most surprising one out of all them is Suspiria. We make these sequences and we make the stuff, I remember Fernanda the hair and make-up designer, who did most of the ‘straight’ make-up looks said to me – she’d worked with Luca on a few movies – and she said “we just have to trust Luca, we have to trust our director.” It’s an interesting comment that she made – you’re making all this crazy stuff, how’s it going to look? She said; “We just have to trust Luca, he’s a visionary” he’s got this idea and when you see the movie, you understand. This crazy end sequence – the tension builds throughout the movie and then it all goes pretty wild at the end.

That’s the exact experience I had watching it, because I was skeptical going in, with it being a remake. But, as soon as it started, I thought, of course, it’s Luca, just trust in that vision and he absolutely has this precise vision and I think he totally followed it through with this piece.

Yeah, I felt the same way about it, actually. When you see the movie, we were busy out there making stuff, while he was busy filming all the stuff that didn’t have prosthetics in it, we didn’t see any of the dance stuff, the drama and the development of the witches’ characters. We weren’t privy to any of the filming of that, we were busy making stuff. So it’s always a surprise when you see the film at the end, I’d read the script and the story obviously and had all the conversations with Luca, so I had a pretty good idea of how it was going to develop, but it’s still quite surprising. And I really enjoyed it, I thought it was great. It’s a long movie, it’s slow, the tension builds, it’s really creepy and that end sequence. There’s a couple of sequences – the Olga dance sequence really grabbed me and I’ve seen it three times now and the audience is completely silent after that bit. Everyone is watching it thinking “my God, this is what the witches are all about – this is the evil at the core of the movie.” And you know then it builds quite slowly to that crescendo at the end, which really grabs you.


We ran out of time there (I had at least three more questions)! But I loved the movie and Luca created something truly unique with his team of master craftspeople, including Mark.

We’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk to us!

 

 

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Batman Returns (1989)

Written by Bianca Garner

People probably don’t realise just how successful Tim Burton’s gothic version of Batman (1989) was, it made a staggering $410 million, (it had a budget of $35 million) so therefore it would be inevitable that a sequel would be made. Despite being classed as a ‘christmas film’ Batman Returns was released in June 1992, regardless of this fact Batman Returns is a Christmas film just as much as Die Hard is. At first, the director had no real interest in returning to helm the sequel. It was only when he was given more creative freedom that he agreed to come back to Gotham. Critics have criticised his first film as too dark, but they were probably not expecting things to get even darker.

The film begins at Christmas (33 years prior to the film’s events) where socialites Tucker and Esther Cobblepot give birth to a deformed baby boy, Oswald. Disgusted by his appearance, they ultimately throw him into the sewer, where he is discovered by a family of penguins at Gotham Zoo. We fast forward to the present where millionaire Max Shreck proposes to build a power plant to supply Gotham City with energy, somehow Schreck is kidnapped and meets Oswald who is now a crime boss, going by the name of Penguin. Schreck and Penguin, both want the same thing, control over Gotham, but which one is more evil and twisted?

At first, the Christmas setting of Batman Returns seems hardly noticeable; we are far too caught up in grimacing at the revolting Penguin (played by the superb Danny De Vito) and watching Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer who oozes sex appeal) seduce Batman. However, the film’s first lines of dialogue is an exchange of ‘Merry Christmas’ and rewatching the film through the lens of Christmas, we realise that it has always been there in one form or another. The mise-en-scene with it’s giant Christmas trees decorated with tinsel and twinkling fairy lights, seem to be lost in dark, bleak and gothic architecture of Burton’s Gotham city. Occasionally we will witness a character reference Christmas, and the season of goodwill, but the idea of Christmas cheer is far from the minds of our main characters, and we can understand why this is the case. Burton’s decision to set the film’s events at Christmas is an interesting one. Of course, there must be Christmas in Gotham, however, Christmas in Gotham is like no other. The concept of Christmas is presented as a hyper-real portrayal, clearly representing the German expressionism films that Burton was influenced by. To Burton, it would seem that Christmas is just as twisted a holiday like Halloween.

Okay, so far Batman Returns just seems to be an odd pick for a Christmas film, why on earth would anyone want to watch something so depressing, right? It is what I refer to as an anti-Christmas film, a perfect antidote to all the sentimental films that get shown this time of the year. Christmas isn’t always a time of happiness and goodwill, bad things can still occur at Christmas, and Burton isn’t afraid to remind us of this fact. Batman Returns is the far better film out of Burton’s Batman flicks. Its main villain is far more loathsome than Jack Nicholson’s The Joker, and I am not talking about De Vito’s Penguin here. Walken’s Max Schreck is the film’s true villain. A man who uses people’s vulnerability and their Christmas spirit, to exploit them and manipulate them in order to get what he truly desires. One could argue that Schreck is the embodiment of everything gone awry with Christmas, a symbol of greed and corruption. Schreck tries to pass himself off as a contemporary ‘Father of Christmas’, with his tousled white hair, his red bow tie and wide smile. He seems very jolly at least on first glance. However, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who thinks nothing of pushing his secretary, Selina Kyle out of a window.

Christmas films tend to follow a basic feel-good formula about personal growth or gratitude, our main protagonist is meant to grow as a person. There is no real redemption here, Batman still remains shut off. If we can judge anything about his current track record with women (err, what exactly did happened to Vikki Vale?), then we know that his relationship with Selina will be short-lived (if she ever returns to him that is). Batman Returns helps to reinforce the idea that not everyone is able to share in the warmth and love that the Christmas is supposed to offer. Heroes aren’t like everyone else, they aren’t always allowed to partake in the celebration of Christmas. Crime never sleeps. If anything, Burton’s Batman Returns helps to reinforce the isolation and pain that Bruce Wayne aka Batman, must have to endure every year. We can picture him reminiscing in the Batcave on Christmas day, alone and reflecting on his parent’s brutal death, while Alfred brings him his Christmas dinner.

Batman Returns is as twisted as a Christmas movie can get and that’s why it’s great. The Penguin’s plan revolving around stealing Gotham’s first-born sons like the evil king David from the story of the nativity reminds us just how morbid the actual nativity story is when you deconstruct it. It is also a well written dark comedy that reminds us of a screwball comedy from the 1940s (‘’A kiss under the mistletoe. You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.’’ ‘’But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.’’). A film like Batman Returns helps to remind that mayhem and chaos occur 365 days a year and that Christmas in the Burton household must be a blast.