The movie industry has not been kind to Lupita Nyong’o this year. She had to endure dark times, deaths and bloodshed in US and thanks to writer/director Abe Forsythe (Down Under) she now has to face evil again. It seems that acting in a twisted horror film is Nyong’o her strength. Together with Josh Gad and Alexander England, she gives us both the shivers as well as a joyful feeling in Little Monsters.
Shake the zombies off
A happy teacher wearing a bright yellow dress. Playing Ukelele in front of her small class full of happy, playful and innocent children. Nothing seems to imply that this movie will be about zombies. Certainly not when Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), her children and Dave (Alexander England), one of the parents, are going to a zoo full of cute animals. Playing Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, learning new words and just being surprised by all the beautiful animals. How does something so happy turns into a zombie apocalypse? Well, not far from the zoo, a zombie outbreak has happened in a chemical laboratory where loads of secretive research is happening. Many of those researchers became zombies themselves because if the undead bite you but don’t kill you then you turn up becoming one of them.
While the zombies are making their way to the farm, the
children just arrived and met one of the most colourful television
personalities they know: Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad). It all goes fine until Miss
Caroline, Dave, the children, and McGiggle are coming face-to-face with the
zombies. While trying to shake them off and protecting the children, everyone
is making their way to the safe place: the souvenir store. Not sure if that was
the best idea. The children are feeling that something scary is happening and
while Miss Caroline is doing everything she can to keep them calm and happy,
it’s not going as planned. Not only because of the (strange) character of
McGiggle but sadly also because of a medical incident with Felix, one of the
little boys. Will Miss Caroline and Dave be able to help him and get the
children to safety or will the zombies unleash an apocalypse on them?
For the love of family and film
While the story seems predictable and unoriginal it’s everything but that. For director Forsythe has had a personal meaning as ‘it’s a love letter to his son’ and also because he made that exact trip with his son and the school children. Well, minus the zombies luckily. That’s why the film gets an even more personal touch than just ‘being another zombie movie’.
We always feel sorry for the make-up and special effect teams working on a zombie film because sometimes they don’t get enough credit for that. That’s not the case when it comes to the teams of this movie. During our interview with Forsythe, he mentioned that he was incredibly proud to have Oscar-winning makeup artists on board. We understand why they did an outstanding job. We could feel the splashing blood, the smell of dead flesh and the zombies coming to us in no time.
A marvellous cast
There is great chemistry between the leading cast. Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave) doesn’t only literally and figuratively light up the screen with her bright yellow dress but also with her captivating, passionate and affectionate performance. She’s been accompanied by two brilliant actors. Both England and Gad bring their elements to this film and especially the scenes between the two of them are worth the trip to the cinema. England (Alien: Covenant, Down Under) shows us beautifully and compassionately how much children deserve and how to protect them from danger.
He was LeFou in Beauty and the Beast and just like then, Gad (Murder on the Orient Express, Marshall) brings a comic note to this film but also a darker element this time. While McGiggle seems to be the cheerful joyful person on the outside, there’s a lot of hatred and self-pity going on inside. Of course, we can’t forget the eleven cute children who put a smile on your face for sure, especially when they bring the Ukelele version of Shake it Off. It was very hard to get that song for this movie. Forsythe tried multiple ways but it was only thanks to Lupita that it made it into the movie.
Predictable but still unique
A group of innocent people hiding from some flesh-eating zombies? It sounds predictable. However, the very unique inspiration for the story, the undeniable passionate crew, an outstanding lead cast and that catchy Taylor Swift song make from Little Monster a film you will enjoy.
Comedy-Horror, Little Monsters, starring Lupita Nyong’o, tells the story of a washed-up musician, who teams up with a teacher and a kids show personality to protect young children from a sudden outbreak of zombies.
Little Monsters‘ writer / director, Abe Forsythe had a chat with Big Picture Film Club’s Liselotte Vanophem about his latest film discussing Lupita Nyong’o, Taylor Swift and working with children.
Liselotte Vanophem: Hi Abe, how are you?
Abe Forsythe: I’m doing fine, thank you. Been doing interviews all morning.
LV: Congratulations on Little Monsters. How did you come up with the peculiar story of this film?
AF: Well, it was based on my son’s first year of kindergarten. My son has multiple life-threating food allergies just like Felix in the movie. Before he went to school, he had never been out of my care. It was a terrifying thing when it happened. I had to trust his health and safety to someone else. Luckily he got the most incredible kindergarten teacher who wasn’t only able to look after his health but who also opened up his eyes to the world for the first time. It made me realize how important teachers are, specifically kindergarten teacher.
The story was also based on the time when I was on a school excursion with my son’s class and his teacher. It was me, the teacher and 25 five-year old children going to a zoo.
There was something that happened during that school excursion that gave the idea of “what if the animals were zombies?” and “if it was a zombie, how would you save those little children from a zombie apocalypse?”. Questions like “how would you stop them from being eaten?” and “how would you stop their mind from being corrupted?” also popped-up. The characters and the story of Little Monsters grew from there. It’s a love letter to my son and everything he taught me about the world through his eyes.
LV: He’s probably young to see it?
AF: Way too young. He’s eight now. He played a zombie in the movie and had a great time doing that. He saw parts of the film already and keeps on asking why he can’t see the full film. The whole point of this film is shielding your children from the horrors of the world.
LV: After you finished the story, how did the cast come together?
AF: I’ve worked already together with Alexander England, who plays Dave in this movie. I always knew that he would be the right person for that role and was cast first. We had nine names to play the role of Miss Caroline and a lot of them were really good. We just started pre-production and had seven weeks before shooting. My US casting agent was confident that we would get one of those people. We had to think about the one we really wanted.
For me, Lupita [Nyong’o] was the first person that came to mind. We weren’t fully confident that we would get her for this but we thought we would try. We did send the script to her agent. Timing-wise it was perfect because she was looking for something different. She wanted to do a comedy. Her agent put the script in front of her, she read it and responded. 24 hours later I was talking to her and 24 hours after that she was on board. It happened remarkably fast. She responded to the truth of the character and not because she wanted to go to Australia and do a zombie movie. It was an amazing turn out of events.
When she said yes, it was unexpected but so affirming for me and the crew because she responded to the things that I wanted to say with this movie. Both my cast and crew were incredible and of high calibre. For example, the make-up team who did the zombies already won an Oscar. We didn’t have a big budget by any means and people were just there because they believed in the movie.
LV: How many extra cast members did you have? Because by the end of the movie, there were a lot of zombies present.
We made the call for zombie extras and despite they weren’t getting paid for it, they got full zombie make up applied by Oscar winners. We reached out to people during a zombie walk through Sydney and some crew members went to hand out some flyers.
In the end, they were way better than some extras we paid because they just wanted to play a zombie in this movie. For me, it’s so much better to work with people like that because they gave it 110%. We got thousands of zombie extras in this movie and so we wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay a tenth of that.
LV: In this movie, Shake It Off from Taylor Swift is used many times. Whose idea was it to use that song?
AF: This song was part of my son’s kindergarten “end-of-the-year” show. A ukelele band and some children came out and they played that song on the Ukelele. I had never heard this song before or at least not like that. I remember turning to one of the parents and asking what that song was. They were like “Oh, it’s Shake It Off. A Taylor Swift song”. I went home and I put it in the script. It was so specific and it worked great for the story, especially hearing it being played on the Ukelele.
We tried for six months to get the rights of that song but we couldn’t get it through her either. The record label came back at some point and mentioned that using this song would cost a certain amount of money. We weren’t able to afford that. It was just a nightmare. When Lupita came on board, she mentioned that the song was one of the elements that appealed to her. It was also a very significant song in her life at one point. She, just like me, mentioned that she didn’t want to do the movie without that song in it.
Lupita said that she met Taylor once and that she was going to write her a letter. She wrote Taylor this e-mail and 24 hours later we had the rights to the song.
It was amazing! It just felt like it came all together: Me hearing that song at my son’s show, the connection I had to the song and Lupita coming on board. We wouldn’t have the song if it wasn’t for Lupita.
LV: There are a lot of things elements in this film: The many extras, the difficult make-up, etc. What was the hardest part of making this film?
AF: It was working with eleven five-year-old children. That by far was the hardest part. Though as well, that was also the whole point. We had to protect these children and engineer the events in this movie in a way that they could react to something that they saw for the first time. All the reactions are authentic and there are very few “take 2’s” in the movie.
It was important for me that the children were all five years old because that was the age my son was and it reflects how five-year-olds react. How and what they see in the world. We couldn’t fake that with children who were seven or eight who might look younger. When they become six, they just start to change.
LV: The schoolchildren you had for this movie was it a real class?
AF: No, we did ensemble the kids separately. We saw over 700 kids for those eleven roles and the casting took three months. We had those big workshops with them to prepare them to work on the movie and also testing their patience. Over those workshops, we just would lose kids because they didn’t the focus.
During the filming, we could only get the kids for four days and five hours each day. There also had to be a break in between those hours. Between nine and ten in the morning was when their focus was the best. They’ve woken up and had something to eat but they hadn’t been distracted yet by a lot. After that, we would gradually lose their attention. At the start of every day, we needed to be ready for that hour’s timeslot and just get everything that we wanted for them in that hour.
LV: Your son is in this movie as a zombie. Are you in it as well just like in your previous film Down Under?
AF: Oh no way! The only reason why I was an extra in my previous film is that it was a scene involving someone that never acted before. He has down syndrome and is also in Little Monsters. During one of the key scenes in Down Under, someone has to abuse this down syndrome character. The only reason why I put myself in that scene was that it would make him feel better as it was only his second day on set. As supposed to some stranger who you just met and who has to abuse you right after that. It was more out of necessity and I would never do it again.
LV: Let’s say that if your son comes to you in ten years or so and mentioned that he wants to be a filmmaker. What would you say to him?
AF: I had very supportive parents and were very encouraging me to become a filmmaker. I would be happy for my son to do whatever his passion takes him to. If you want to work in the film or entertainment industry, you have to be prepared for work long hours and also being broke. I’m trying to get my son into coding because he’s very interested in that. I always tell him that that’s going to be the future. I’m trying to push him into that area but at the same time, you also have to let them do whatever they want to do.
LV: So where did your passion for the film come from?
AF: Especially from the early Peter Jackson films and his Bad Taste. Basically everything before Lord of the Rings. I was like “That’s what I want to do”. It became an interest and now I don’t want to do anything else. As hard as the film industry is, it’s so much fun to get people together to work on something and to have a common goal. It’s working on projects that you’re passionate about instead of just doing it for the money.
LV: So how does it feel for you to see people their reaction after they watched your film?
AF: It just feels amazing! I was very proud of the last film I made because it was the exact kind of film I wanted to make. Even when you make something that you do believe in and you’re proud of, it’s still luck of the draw. To be able to travel around the world and share your film with people is just an amazing experience.
The fact that people are responding in their way to the universal things that my son taught me is just been wonderful. The point of making this movie was to show the best and the worst of human behaviour. I couldn’t show one without the other. Ultimately it’s a really sweet movie. I’m so very lucky to be in this position and I never take it for granted.
LV: Do you already have other films coming up?
AF: Yeah, I’m doing something that we will hopefully start shooting next year in Australia. It’s a sci-fi film but with characters that shouldn’t be in a sci-fi film. We use that genre to make a statement about how the world is right now. We have a bigger budget for that than we had for Little Monsters.
Does the name Roland Emmerich ring a bell? No? He’s the brain behind bombastic films such as The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and White House Down. Three films that have many elements in common such as impressive CGI effects, a story about survival and A-list stars. That’s exactly what he uses in his latest Midway. However, this time it doesn’t do the trick for 100%
The battle of Midway is near
This film is retelling the events from the first months of the War in the Pacific beginning with Pearl Harbor in 1937 to the Battle of Midway in 1942. After their defeat during the Pearl Harbor attack, America wants to take revenge on Japan. In Midway, we see these events unravelling from both Japanese and American positions. On the Japanese side, there are Admiral Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa), Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) and Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (Jun Kunimura). The American story is being told mostly by bomber pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and intelligence officer Lt. Comm. Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson).
The Pearl Harbor defeat is still lingering in the head of Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) who was recently appointed as Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. America might be able to get their retribution for that dark day sooner than they think. After intercepting a Japanese radio message, Layton is convinced that Midway is Japan’s next target. America starts gathering all the troops. From bomber pilot Lt. Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) to aviation mechanic Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) and from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid) to Air Group Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans). They’re all gearing up to protect their country. The aircraft carriers are lined up, the destroyers are strategically placed and the bombers are ready to fire. The battle of Midway is upon us…
Both hits and misses
The story of Midway probably sounds familiar. Not only because it’s based on real-life but also because it was already told in Jack Smight’s Midway. Just like Smight, Emmerich can count on a fascinating story and an all-star cast. His Midway might not be the biggest hit he ever made but it’s still an enjoyable film.
Ok, yes the CGI effects are completely over the top and sometimes too excessive but that doesn’t mean they don’t do the trick. They give Midway that extravagant and ‘made for the big screen’ effect. The most impressive special effects scenes are during which we are in Best’s pilot seat seeing the events through his eyes.
Secondly, this movie stays incredibly true to the actual events. It showed us what sacrifices people had to make during that difficult time and while some details might have been incorrect, the majority is spot on. The great thing about Midway is that both the American and Japanese points of view are represented and not just one of them.
Strong performances but too many characters
When it comes to the characters, there are certainly resemblances between the people who had to go to the battles and the actors portraying them. Sadly, none of the actors get the chance to shine due to the incredibly fast (too fast sometimes) pace and the introduction of too many characters. Skrein (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Deadpool) is leading the cast to the apotheosis as the rebellious but also heroic Best in a charismatic and cocky way. Adding some smartness to this movie is the excellent Wilson (In the Tall Grass, Annabelle Comes Home) as the intelligence officer whose warnings were previously ignored.
They’re joined by the engaging Harrelson (Zombieland: Double Tap, Venom) and also by young and fine acting talent such as Keean Johnson (Alita: Battle Angel, Low Tide) Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Luke Kleintank (The Goldfinch, Crown Vic) and Daren Criss (All You Ever Wished For, Girl Most Likely) who all give it their best shot. To balance out that testosterone, there’s Mandy Moore (Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Darkest Minds) as Best’s wife. Her role could have been a little bit more explored and present in the film but nevertheless, Moore delivers an emotional performance.
Of course, there’s also the Japanese side that’s being represented by Toyokawa (Paradise Next, Samurai Marathon 1855), Asano (Thor: Ragnarok, The Outsider) and Kunimura (The Witness, The Great War of Archimedes) who create without a doubt one of the most emotional scenes of this film. Shame, it’s right at the end.
No victory but no defeat either
It might seem that a 138 minutes film about the war between America and Japan would be a dragging one and yes, sometimes that’s certainly the case. That prolonged feeling and the too many characters (with too little potential to grow) are present in Midway but the CGI effects and performances make from this film worth the watch.
Becoming a teenager is never easy as it undeniably comes with a lot of responsibilities and expectations. Expectations that might be a little bit too high. Well, not for Luce. He seems like the most excellent student, public speaker, and star athlete. However, behind the perfect façade, is something darker is going on? That’s exactly what you will wonder the entire time throughout the newest film from director Julius Onah (Don’t Look Back, The Cloverfield Paradox). His Luce starts like any other family drama but it soon will turn into a mysterious, gripping and head-twisting thriller.
Violent psychopath or innocent teenager?
From the moment we meet Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) we see the perfect poster boy for young black teenagers. After being a child soldier in Eritrea, he was adopted by Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). This was the start of a new life for Luce as he grew to become the perfect schoolkid: A great public speaker, filled with dreams and who’s there for everyone. Even his history teacher Harriett Wilson (Octavia Spencer) praises him. However, that will change sooner than expected. After discovering Luce’s essay discussing radical philosopher Frantz Fanon’s belief and the need for violence to oppress people, Wilson sees this as the first sign of Luce’s darker side. When she finds illegal fireworks in his locker, it’s time to ring the alarm bell and to warn his parents. Being loyal to their son, Amy and Peter don’t want to confront Luce immediately. However, that doesn’t go down well with his teacher Harriet Wilson and she’s not afraid to show that at all.
The friendly relationship between Luce and Wilson turning into a tense one doesn’t go unnoticed by Amy and Peter. They’re getting the feeling that Luce is keeping things for himself, especially when he withdraws himself from them. It’s just a matter of time before their love and compassion are taken over by doubts and mistrust. After all, you can take the kid out of the war but can you take the war out of the kid?
Harrison Jr. and Spencer are worth gold
You might think “why again a film about the difficulties black
emigrants in America have to face”? Well, let us explain to you why Luce
deserves its place during the upcoming award race.
First of all, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (JT LeRoy, Assassination Nation) delivers a talented and confident performance, and he certainly knows how to grab our attention. He’s stunning as the young man who’s trying to fight the prejudices and the expectations the society has and who at the same time has to find out who he wants to be. Thanks to his dazzling acting, we asked ourselves the “is he out for violence or is he being betrayed by the people the closest to him?” question every single minute.
Another reason why that question is constantly on our minds is because of the astounding performance of Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shape of Water). We already saw her in a dark role in Ma but now she steps up her game even more. Spencer is immensely on-point as the history teacher who’s either overprotective or who has a hidden agenda. The scenes between her and Harrison Jr. are the beating heart of this movie.
The supporting performances from Watts (The Glass Castle, Chuck) and Roth (The Hateful Eight, Hardcore) are wonderful as well. The climax at the end is a masterpiece by the entire cast.
From family drama to an intense thriller
What was so intriguing about this movie is the way the biggest story and the small mysteries are unravelling. One moment, you will feel sorry for Luce but the other, you might think that he is a violent psychopath in the body of a saint. What about Wilson, the strict teacher who finds it necessary to protect her school, no matter how many dreams of young people are being shattered? Will the parents stand by their son unconditionally or not? Well, you might find it out after watching this suspenseful film.
That Luce goes from predictable family drama to an intense thriller is also thanks to the stunning cinematography from Larkin Seiple (Swiss Army Man, Cop Car) and the poignant score from Geoff Barrow and Ben who both worked together on Free Fire and Ex Machina. They play in the hand of the genre expectations but without losing that thrilling and mysterious effect.
Sitting on the edge of your seat
There’s no denying that Luce is an intense and solid thriller. Not only the most delightfully narrative but also the great performances (from both lead and supporting actors), the suspenseful cinematography and the bombastic score make sure that you will be sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time.
What do you want to become when you grow up? A heroic fireman/firewoman, a creative baker or an immensely successful businessman/businesswoman? Well, Amelia Wren and James Glaisher give a different answer to the question. Amelia wants to become a pilot of a big air balloon while scientist James dreams of being able to predict the weather. They come from diverse backgrounds and have many peculiar ideas but when they come together, their ideas become even more ambitious. We can’t deny this newest work from Tom Harper (Wild Rose, War Book) telling their true story is an ambitious project as well. Thanks to the extremely wonderful performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones The Aeronauts would have flown incredibly high… if the first part was only as great as the second one.
Up in the air
Both living in London in 1862, Amelia (Felicity Jones) and James (Eddie Redmayne) are trying to change the society in which they live. She wants to prove that females can become professional pilots, while he’s excited to show the world that the limits of knowledge are endless. Who thought that a party encounter between them would be the start of something new? Together they want to fly a hot air balloon to the newest heights. Heights that no one has ever reached before. After months of preparations, it’s finally time to take their baby into the air. Surrounded and encouraged by the London audience, friends and acquaintances, they’re about to realize their dream. It’s a dream that might become a nightmare as James his weather predictions weren’t as accurate as they should have been.
It looks like it might be over for Amelia and James but you always have to keep your head held high. The hope they share seems to be bigger than the unpredictable weather. After a time of insecurity and fear, the voyage takes a quieter and beautiful turn. It’s finally time for them to enjoy the beautifulness, the peacefulness, and the amazing sky. But as any Londoner knows, the weather can change from one moment to another. Sadly, that’s exactly what happens and Amelia and James have to take drastic actions. Actions that might have catastrophic consequences…
Fabulous chemistry between Jones and Redmayne
If you saw the previous collaboration between Jones and Redmayne The Theory of Everything then you know that they can deliver fireworks. What that film had was a lot of emotions, touching moments and tons of chemistry between the leading characters. This is exactly what The Aeronauts has but sadly not as much as in The Theory of Everything. Don’t get us wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the performances of Jones and Redmayne. Jones (On the Basis of Sex, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is captivating, charming and terrific as the determined and fearless pilot who’s not afraid to show her emotions and making emotional decisions. This character thread is even more explored during the second part of the film when Amelia is becoming even more determined and a fighter as it becomes a flight of life and death.
Just as in The Theory of Everything, Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Danish Girl) is playing a genius whose knowledge knows no boundaries and who’s not afraid to put his knowledge and wisdom out there. In this film, it’s Jones who takes the emotional upper hand but that doesn’t mean that Redmayne’s performance isn’t emotional, charismatic and extremely well-performed as well.
Cinematography is the brightest star
While director Harper can count on those big stars, the brightest one of his team is cinematographer George Steel (Robin Hood, Peaky Blinders). Right from the very beginning, Steel has us in his power thanks to the vibrant and engagement colours. He keeps us engaged with the gorgeous and visually stunning blue sky or the cold and turbulent end scenes. We step into the balloon with the leading characters instantly thanks to his work.
Reach for potential heights
After flying by the Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, The Aeronauts made a stop in the UK during the BFI Film Festival London. If you’ve missed it, then we have good news for you. This wondrous film is released in UK cinemas on the 4th of November. We recommended that you watch this movie on the biggest screen possible, entirely for the stunning cinematography of Steel. The film itself might have a sluggish start but once Jones and Redmayne are up in the air, it takes you on an incredibly exciting flight.
Do you prefer Sleeping Beauty over Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Cinderella? Well, we have good news for you! After creating her story in a dark but heart-warming way in Maleficent, Disney has now brought her back to the big screen in the sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. This movie from director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Max Manus: Man of War) probably won’t be crowned as the film of 2019 but it’s still a very enjoyable watch.
A magical story about love and war
Just a quick recap to Maleficent. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), a compassionate but heart-breaking fairy, finds Aurora, the newborn daughter of her ex-lover Stefan. Being vengeful against her and Stefan at first, Maleficent opens us towards Aurora and makes her the princess of the Moors. The goal is to unite the human kingdom and the magical one under one throne and that’s the start of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. After meeting and falling madly in love with each other, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is now engaged to her Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson). This is the perfect opportunity o unite two lovebirds but also two different kingdoms.
However, not everyone shares that same joy. Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), the mother of Philip, sees Aurora as a mysterious and dark intruder like Maleficent and Maleficent herself doesn’t want to give up her daughter to the humans. During the oh-so-important family dinner, it all goes off the rails. King John (Robert Lindsay) falls ill and Maleficent is being accused of poisoning him. When Aurora chooses the side of her in-laws and breaks her loyalty to Maleficent, Maleficent feels betrayed and is out for revenge. She’s not the only furious, vengeful and powerful woman. Queen Ingrith wants to honour the legacy of her husband and gather her troops to protect her kingdom, no matter the consequences. It becomes an immensely heated battle. Who will win this war and what will happen to the union of the kingdoms?
Characters are key
There was already the battle between “dark vs white”, “good versus evil”, “magical creature versus human” in the 2014 film and it’s that same conflict that Rønning is showing in this movie. Because of that and also because it’s a fairytale, the storyline seems very predictable. However, there’s still some elements that will make you fall in love with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
The characters in this sequel are both hit and miss. The
biggest hit is without a doubt casting Pfeiffer (Avengers: Endgame, Murder on
the Orient Express) as Queen Ingrith. If you’re a fan of accents, you might
wonder why they cast her but once you’ve seen her in the full battle outfit as
the furious, head-strong and dark Queen, you know why. Pfeiffer puts on such a
bombastic and powerful performance as the warrior but also a more emotional and
friendly one as the caring and protective mother(-in-law). The scenes between
her and Jolie (By the Sea, The Tourist) are the dark highlights of
this movie. Of course, this is also because of Jolie’s stunning acting. Yes,
sometimes her white and thin face can be a little bit over-the-top but once you
get over that you see an energetic, impressive and badass Jolie. Luckily for us
and this film, Sam Riley (Radioactive,
Sometimes Always Never) is returning
as Diaval, Maleficent’s loyal servant. Riley brings an immense rock ‘n roll
vibe, tons of humour, wittiness and funny moments to the screen
This film is not only about the war but also about love and the marriage between Aurora and her Philip. In a relationship, it’s all about chemistry and passion but that’s not visible in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. This has absolutely nothing to do with Fanning (Teen Spirit, Mary Shelley) her wonderful, beautiful and strong performance, especially during the second part of the film when she gets the chance to shine bright. The reason why there’s no chemistry is the character of Prince Philip and the associated acting performance from Dickinson (County Lines, The Darkest Minds). It falls incredibly flat, it’s bland and doesn’t do this movie any justice. We would have loved to see Brenton Thwaites again as Philip.
Is there such a thing as too much CGI?
In a fantasy film like this, the CGI should be on point and again, we’re divided about this. The special effects are stunningly made, definitely the eye-catcher of this movie and fit the story incredibly well. It brings the fairytale element to life, especially when the ones taking place in the magical forest. At first, you will be swept off your feet by all the romance, the clever and sticky special effects. Sadly, the great VFX will fade when things are heated and becoming more darker. There’s just overuse of CGI. It becomes too much, a little bit of confusion and a mess. As a result of that, Jolie and Pfeifer can’t show their acting skills. Don’t get us started how cringy it feels to see Juno Temple (Lost Transmissions, The Pretenders), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread, Hampstead) and Imelda Staunton (Downton Abbey, Finding Your Feet) as the three CGI fairies.
Not great but certainly not bad
Rønning is no stranger when it comes to making big-budget films as he sat in the directors’ chair during Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Just like that film, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil doesn’t reach its full potential. The reasons for that are the extravagant use of special effects and some half-written characters. However, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is still an entertaining, marvellous and eye-catching film because of some strong acting performances, humour, and vividness.
Being a teenager can be hard. You get those first feelings of love, doubts, and insecurity and there’s the undeniable body change. However, we’re pretty sure that your teenage years weren’t as bad as the ones the Monos, a group of young kids, have to go through. Instead of playing football and partying, they’re being turned into warriors far away from human society somewhere in Colombia. Their stories are now being told in the latest work of Alejandro Landes (Porfirio, Cocalero). The storyline of Monos might not be everyone’s cup of tea but the striking cinematography, great soundtrack and uniqueness make this movie one you can’t miss.
Some details will never become clear in Monos such as who the characters really are and where their fights are taking place. However, there are so many wonderful elements to discover in the storyline of the movie. Numerous young fighters are preparing themselves both mentally and physically for the hard time that awaits them. The location is unknown and so are the real names of our young protagonists. Instead, they’ve been given nicknames such as Boom Boom (Sneider Castro), Smurf (Deiby Rueda), Lady (Karen Quintero), Swede (Laura Castrillón), Wolf (Julian Giraldo), Dog (Paul Cubides), and Bigfoot (Moises Arias). They’re driven by “The Organization” with their messenger (Wilson Salazar) as the only link with the outside world. Their tasks are simple: protecting a dairy cow named Shakira and ensuring that the American hostage Doctora Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson) does not escape.
Those tasks don’t seem to go as easy as the teenagers
thought. This leads to doubts about love, friendship, their purposes, many
disagreements, frustration, anger and difficult and hard time. The fact that
they’re right in their puberty doesn’t help at all. Will they be able to cope
with these many changes in a civilized, human and peaceful manner or will they
solve it in the way they also do: violently, ruthless and furiously?
While watching Monos, you will face many questions. You are probably going to ask yourself things like: where do those kids come from, have they been “working” for The Organization their entire lives or is this what happens to young people when you raise them with weapons and military training instead of love and tenderness? We wouldn’t be surprised if films like Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now would pop into your mind but don’t expect Monos to be just a homage to those movies. No, this film from Landes has many unique components.
The main reason for its uniqueness is without a doubt the sublime camera work of Jasper Wolf (Open Seas, Broers). He stunningly brings out the wilderness and the remoteness of the landscape that’s untouched by modern society. The beautifully and vividly shot scenes have an even bigger, more enduring and fascinating impact because of the slow paste of the film. You will be able to enjoy this greatness of nature every single time and especially when Wolf uses those long and panoramic shots. That he’s an immensely skilled and versatile cameraman is shown in his use of extreme close-up shot scenes or scenes that are deliberately out of focus. Because of this, we can feel the alienation and dehumanisation of young children. Monos is certainly not shy of showing sex, violence, and blood. The cinematography of Wolf is why you should watch this movie on the biggest screen possible as it has an undeniable impact on the movie and on you. It’s no wonder Wolf already won the award for Best Cinematography during the Newport Beach Film Festival earlier this year.
The most outstanding work of Mica Levi
Mica Levi already made furore with her astonishing score for
Jackie so it’s no surprise that
director Landes wanted to work with her on Monos.
The dark and mysterious vibe created and the questions raised by the
cinematography of Wolf become even darker, dreamier and more confusing thanks
to Levi’s outstanding music. Her work was already awarded for its originality
multiple times and it’s incredible understandable why. It brings such a
bombastic, thunderous and enigmatic effect to the film and while Monos is a very slow movie, her score
will keep you awake without a doubt. Roaring, impactful and emotional. A score
doesn’t have to be more than that.
An unknown cast with great talent
While there’s a place for violence and war, Monos is mostly about the emotional and
psychological journey the teenagers have to go through. To pull this off
beautifully you need a strong cast and that’s exactly what the casting team gave
to director Landes. It’s unbelievable that most of the young cast such as Sofia
Buenaventura (Rambo), Rueda (Pitufo), Cubides (Perro) and Castro (Boom Boom)
make their film debut in this movie as they all put on an incredibly strong
performance. You will also see more well-known talent in Monos such as Nicholson (I,
Tonya, August: Osage County) who
portrays the most complex character of this movie in a gripping, emotional and
Made for the biggest screen possible!
Monos already won 23 awards during its festival run, of which most of them were for the film itself. The movie might not be everyone’s taste but it’s clear that it’s loved and praised by both public and critics. Not only for its mysterious vibe but also for the perplexing and unique way universal topics such as love, friendship but also anger and violence are being handled. The overall cast amazes from start to finish thanks to the chemistry, stunning acting performances, and captivating charisma. Add the exceptional score from Levi and eye-catching, energetic and baffling cinematography from Wolf and you know that you will see a stunning and potential Academy Award-winning film. One you should watch on the big screen when it’s released on the 25th of October in the UK.
How long ago was it that you saw a great black and white film? A few days, weeks, months or is it that long ago that you forget it? Well, if there’s one black-white movie you will remember forever, it’s The Lighthouse from director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Tell-Tale Heart). Together with co-writer Max Eggers, he wrote a very compelling story that is being turned into a masterpiece by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
Follow the light
Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) are two lighthouse keepers who are being sent to a remote island. They will live there for only a few weeks but that will be much harder than they think. While both of them are lighthouse keepers, it’s Wake who’s clearly in charge of the lighthouse. Instead of being Wake’s prodigy, Winslow seems to be his slave. He needs to get the food in the pouring rain and heavy wind and needs to clean up the mess. At first, he’s fine with doing all these chores but it doesn’t take long before that feeling changes.
Living together 24/7 in a very small place is putting pressure on both men. Winslow is getting more agitated about his work, wants to operate the lighthouse and wants a woman he can love instead of living with an “old man”. Wake, on the other hand, is getting more annoyed by Winslow his behaviour and finds him very ungrateful. Deep down he wants someone who takes care of him and who appreciates the things he does. How long will it be before the men are getting at each other throats?
Perfectly crafted film
Since winning the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival where the film got its world premiere, The Lighthouse is creating an Oscar buzz. One or multiple Academy Awards would be well-deserved as this movie is an outstanding one for many reasons.
This film was shot on 35mm and in the Academy ratio and it’s so liberating to see a modern film like that. These days we get to see revivals from more older films shot 33mm and so it’s great to see that director Eggers decided to honour that unique way of shooting in a more recent movie. If this would have been shot in colour, it would certainly have not the same effect. The Lighthouse is visually perfect and it fits the story impeccably well.
A big part of the movie is without a doubt the sound, especially at the beginning when there are not a lot of conversations. Whether the loud honks are imitating the sound of the boats passing by or just to create the right atmosphere of this film, they do the trick. It gives The Lighthouse a very special horror vibe but at the same time, the film also becomes a drama and psychological thriller. It transcends genres, that’s for sure.
The writing process for this film must have a very interesting one. There’s not much dialogue going on in this movie. Most of the conversations are either monologues of the two men following each other up or some drunk debates. Sometimes they don’t make any sense, especially when they come from Wake who’s suffering from loneliness, but they will leave you breathless.
Dafoe and Pattinson outdo themselves
These are monologues that are being brought perfectly by both Dafoe and Pattinson. What Pattinson (High Life, The Lost City of Z) didn’t have in The King, he has now in bucket loads in The Lighthouse. Charisma, the power to drawn people to the screen and to the ability to put on a spot-on performance. From someone who shows respect and loyalty at first to a broken man who doesn’t let someone walking over him. Pattinson allows us to sympathise with his character who has to endure a hard time. His performance reminds us of the one he put on in Good Time.
What about Dafoe (The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate)? Well, he’s just superb as the drunken, unstable and confused lighthouse keeper who has lost the grip on reality. The hangover scenes between the two men are just gold and bring a fun element to this film.
The Lighthouse guides you to the cinema
If there’s a movie you have to see on the big screen, it’s this one. After making the brilliant The Witch, director Eggers pulls it off again. The incredibly dark and hypnotic The Lighthouse will blow you away with its smashing cinematography and intense score and is an impressive two men act from Pattinson and Dafoe. Catch it while you can during the BFI Film Festival on Friday the 11th of October or Sunday the 13th. If you can’t make it, then you’re going to have to wait until the beginning of next year. Not sure if you want to wait that long…
Rating: (4.5 / 5)
(This review was written as part of Big Picture Film Club’s coverage of the BFI London Film Festival 2019)
Whether you know him as Clown Prince of Crime or the Harlequin of Hate, you know who we’re talking about. The Joker! That green hair, the pale face and the bright red lips are back because of director Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover). However, the Jester of Genocide was never this human, terrifying and compelling as he’s in Joker. The man you have to thank for that: the dazzling Joaquin Phoenix.
From party clown to murderer
Welcome to Gotham City in the ’70s. It’s a time during which a massive economic and political crisis is threating the city, that’s crumbling down completely. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is one of the people who have to endure those uncertain times. He’s having mental health problems, a cigarette addiction and when his social worker won’t give him medication, life becomes even worse. His job as a clown and his ambition to become a stand-up comedian bring a little bit more laughter to his life. Most of the time way too much laughter as Fleck has to deal with his uncontrollable laughter decease. Despite his troubled and dark life, he’s trying to give his mother (Frances Conroy), with who he lives together, the best life possible. He’s cooking her food and watching her favourite show “The Murray Franklin show” together.
His life gets even darker when he is fired from his job and when his comedy act isn’t working. When people are making more and more fun of his incurable decease, something in Fleck’s mind snaps. Ready to take revenge on those who mock him and those who neglected him when he and his mother needed them the most (such as Thomas Wayne). What happens when his anger, frustration, and vengeful feelings are being enhanced by the troubled society? Well, then Fleck becomes the Joker!
Give the man an Oscar
You probably have seen joker in multiple shapes (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger,…) and many different films (Batman, The Dark Knight,…) but no one or no film comes as close as the real thing as this one by Phillips.
The main reason is without a doubt the stunning performance from Phoenix (Walk the Line, You Were Never Really Here). Having to portray a broken, confused, desperate but also vindictive, violent and determined man must have been extremely hard to do. Phoenix pulls it off extraordinarily. He’s shy, reserved and insecure as the comedian but strong, violent and reckless as the Joker. We can still hear his hard and cruel laugh. By the end of the film, he made us feel confused, uncomfortable and astonished, all in a good way though. We certainly need to applaud Phoenix’s stunning psychical transformation.
While Phoenix does rise above everyone else, this is not a one-man show. As the entertaining, suave and typical talk show host, we see captivating and intriguing Robert De Niro (The Irishman, Silver Linings Playbook). It might not be his best work but the last scene with Phoenix makes up for that big time. That talk and everything around it shows the best of the best of both actors and will leave you breathless way after the film ended.
The motherly emotions are being brought to life by the great and captivating Conroy (American Horror Story (TV series), Mountain Rest) as the sad, confused and naïve Penny. More wonderful supporting performances come from Brett Cullen (Ghost Rider, The Dark Knight Rises) as the egocentric, powerful and forceful politician Thomas Wayne and from the fine and delighted Zazie Beetz (Lucy in the Sky, Deadpool) as Fleck’s neighbour who’s a little spark of light in his life.
More than just a comic
While watching Joker, you might even forget that this movie is based on the DC Comic characters. Phillips made such an immensely mature movie. Instead of focussing on the superhero side, Joker becomes a psychological study of a damaged and mentally ill man. Phillips wasn’t only able to create this via the brilliant acting performances but also via the impressive cinematography from Lawrence Sher (The Hangover, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and the bombastic music from Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl (TV series), Sicario: Day of the Soldado).
Phillips and Sher already worked together during The Hangover films and their partnership is again spot on. While Phillips brings the Joker story to life by work, Sher does it with dark, enigmatic and mysterious images. Images of which you ask whether they’re happening or whether they’re just Fleck’s imagination. That very last scene is really the highlight of their corporation. If you add the grandiose, over-the-top and disturbing musical score from Guðnadóttir to it, you feel the gloomy, dark and disturbing vibe coming out of the (IMAX) screen instantly.
Who’s laughing now?
Well, pretty sure it’s director Phillips. Since the world premiere during the Toronto Film Festival, both critics and audiences fell in love with Joker. Not so hard to guess why. This brilliantly made, perfectly performed and spot-on dark character study will blow you away big time.
Are you familiar with the Ann Freedman case, the $80 million forgery scandal that shook the art world? No? Well, then you should check out Driven to Abstraction the first chance you get. We sat down with director Daria Price and talked about this incredibly fascinating case, her new documentary, the art world and Price’s her love for the film industry.
Liselotte Vanophem: Hi Daria, welcome at the Raindance Film Festival. How do you feel about your film being screened here at the lovely festival?
Daria Price (Director): It’s very hard to know at festivals whether people will come to see it or not. I know a certain amount of people who are coming. I tried to get the word out to everyone. It’s very hard to do that when living in New York. I was trying to get the word out to art galleries and to places of which I thought they would be interested in seeing this film. I hope some strangers will come as well. One of the composers of the film just flew in from Padua and I have a few other friends coming as well. One of the participants in the film is going to be there as well.
LV: How did you become aware of the Ann Freedman case?
DP: Well, I’ve read an article in the New York Times from Patricia, who becomes one of the main characters in the film. I’ve always followed art forgery cases. I wrote a screenplay many years ago. One of the characters was a restoration expert and the two others were painters of which one of them was a bit of a forger. I had done an enormous amount of research because of that and it was like I already knew a whole lot about forgery. My eyes always fell on articles regarding art forgery and so I started to read multiple of those.
I always clipped articles. Something that my whole family does. I thought the story of Ann Freedman became a crazier and crazier story but it was a very difficult story to figure out how you would get into it. There’s always that “is she guilty or not guilty?” question. More than that, it was such an embarrassment for people in the art world, including completely innocent people. That’s what’s interesting about this case. Whether they were consciously tricked or whether it was just a sort of conspiracy. I became more and more interested in it and the story didn’t make a whole lot of sense in some ways. Then you find out that it wasn’t only Knoedler but also more of esteemed art galleries.
LV: As you said, some people didn’t want to participate in this film. Who was the first person you contacted that said yes to this?
DP: I’ve already been collecting for a couple of years articles about this case and then I started to do my own research so I could find out everything about it. Any filmmaker I knew said, “Do not make this film. It’s a great and fascinating story but you just can’t make it because everyone is going to run away if this would be true“. I went to speak with Patricia from the New York Times, who dug into the story and knew a lot about it, and when she agreed to participate that’s when I went “Ok, I should make this”. At least, it meant that I had a way in.
LV: In this film, we also see Ann Freedman’s attorney. How was he?
DP: It took a long time to get him. It wasn’t like he said not but he just wasn’t available. He’s a very busy and successful lawyer. When I interviewed with him, he became the spokesman of that side of the story. I think he did a very good job. Lawyers tell the story that they want the world to believe. Many things didn’t end up in the film. We could have easily made another film about how an attorney can spin a story. He did have an answer for everything.
LV: People told you “maybe you shouldn’t make this film“?…
DP: Well not because they think it wasn’t a good idea but they just thought that it was impossible to make. Raising money for a documentary and getting access to the right people is a very hard thing to do. I wasn’t going to get access to some people because they were under indictment. Ann Freedman was another story because she was under a lot of legal threats and she ultimately didn’t want to go on camera.
LV: Were there any moments you thought “Ok, maybe thee’s people are right. Maybe I can’t make this movie”?
DP: I think as a filmmaker you always have those moments. You’re going “what on earth am I doing?”. The work kept going on forever and I was going broke. I tend to finish things I started. It’s maybe insane. I think that there were people that were kind of glad that I was making this film. Those people weren’t guilty of anything but they’ve been to Ann while her (fake) painting was sitting there. It wasn’t their job to say “hey, is that a real one?”. That’s not what happens in an art gallery. You’re sitting in Knoedler and so you’re not questioning whether something is real or not. Some people like it that I was making this film but they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to participate. It wasn’t going to them any good. It wasn’t also that they were so heroic that they were going to do it for history. I think in the end I got interesting people to talk about interesting situations.
LV: Before making this documentary, you were already collecting articles about this case. While filming this documentary, what was the biggest surprise for you regarding the case? What was something you didn’t know beforehand?
DP: As I started to interview people who also knew other things, I was learning more and more about it. Why wasn’t it so unusual that these art experts would not raise a red flag. Some of them did so it would be wrong that say that they never did it. People don’t buy houses for 15 million dollars without having a lawyer coming around and checking it out. These collectors were buying paintings for millions of dollars. A painting that has no papers attached to them. Anonymity is what every buyer wants and then sadly they pay the price for it. They would have that people don’t know that they just bought a fake painting for a lot of money. What happens then is that no one’s talking about that topic.
I think the biggest surprise was this whole thing with Ramiro Gonzales. She wasn’t even someone I was trying to get because she was under a lot of indictment. She wasn’t going to go on camera. She was sort of the least ambiguous character because she had admitted guilt. Then it turned out that she has been beaten up by her boyfriend. Things like that do change your attitude towards her. At first, people were angry at her because they thought that she had ruined the art world but eventually she was just another woman abused by her husband.
LV: This documentary now premiered at Raindance. Are you going to take it to other film festivals after this one?
DP: Yes, it goes to the Haifa International Film Festival in Israel and then we’re taking it to upstate New York to the Film Columbia festival. In November, it will be screened at the Fort Lauderdale Int Film Festival.
LV: Do you have any paintings from famous artists yourself?
DP: No, but I do have a lot of friends who are painters. A lot of the paintings that are in the background of the interviews in this documentary were made by my friends. There’s a certain look that a lot of documentaries have now and it’s a very beautiful look and very sophisticated but sometimes I have the feeling that where the interviews are being taken place has nothing to do with the documentary they’re making.
I wanted to give the people the feeling that they were always in the world of art. Not necessary in the world of the masters in the art industry because those paintings might have been fakes anyway. I wanted to put authentic work painted by contemporary working artists as the background of those interviews. You will get the feeling that you’re always surrounded by paintings and art. For me, it was really about creating the environment.
LV: Do you already have other projects coming up?
DP: I have other ideas. Making this documentary and promoting it is so time-consuming. After spending a lot of time making a film, you’re becoming your sales-person. You’re doing the festivals and you’re trying to find a distributor. I have no time to start making another project.
(This interview was written as part of Big Picture Film Club’s coverage of the Raindance Film Festival 2019)
Last year, director Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent, The Wind Journeys) made furore with his Birds of Passage (original title: Pájaros de Verano) and won nineteen prestigious awards with it. Pretty sure that his newest film Waiting for the Barbarians, which is also his first English-language feature, will receive the same success. Not only because of the superb performance of Mark Rylance but also because he created a visually attractive, emotionally and stunningly crafted movie.
The compassionate Magistrate versus the frigid colonel
The unnamed Magistrate (Mark Rylance), who’s working in a distant outpost near the frontier, is living a humble and down to earth life. There’s not much going on his village and so he enjoys his spare time by doing some writing. However, that peace is disturbed by the arrival of colonel Joll (Johnny Depp). Despite the Magistrate good intentions, the colonel has everything but that. No interrogation tactic is too cruel for him to make sure that every Barbarian is serving ‘justice’. After concluding that Barbarian people are indeed savages, the colonel decides he has seen enough for now and says goodbye to the village.
The colonel might be gone but the troubles are still present for the magistrate. After encountering a homeless (and Barbarian) girl (Gana Bayarsaikhan) in his village, he decides to take her in. Not only because he’s good to everyone but also because she had to endure a hard time by the hands of the colonel. She seems a closed book at first but after opening up to the Magistrate about herself, her family and her future, he wants a future with her. Sadly, she wants to return to her family. Even though it would be against his people their beliefs, the Magistrate decides to help her to get back to the Barbarians. However, both his town as well as the colonel see this as treason. What will await him when he returns home?
Mark Rylance outclasses everyone
If this story sounds familiar, then you’ve probably read the
novel by the South African-born writer J. M. Coetzee. His work was the
inspiration for this film. Just like the book by Coetzee itself, this movie has
many great things to offer.
One of them is the strong performance of Rylance (Dunkirk, Ready Player One). We haven’t seen a lot of actors who can play such a modest, honest and poignant role as he does in such an outstanding way. To some, it might seem that he’s underplaying it but that’s where his brilliance comes in. Big emotions subtlety performed. Who’s absolutely not subtle is colonel Joll, played by Depp (City of Lies, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) in a dark and mysterious way. His character is the opposite of Rylance’s. A cold-blooded and cruel colonel who only wants it his way. While we don’t see much emotions of Depp, due to the nature of the colonel, he still puts on a convincing display.
He’s another of those big names attached to this film but it takes a long while before we see a glimpse of Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse, High Life). While we, from the bottom of our hearts, want to believe the powerful traits of his officer Mandel, it’s hard to do that. Not only because of Pattinson’s laughter but also because he lacks a little bit of charisma in this movie. His performance might have its flaws but it was still very enjoyable to watch. The female touch and emotions are provided by Gana Bayarsaikhan (Wonder Woman, Ex Machina). She brings an even more vulnerable and touching vibe to this movie which certainly balances out the masculinity in this film.
Congratulations to the entire crew!
Despite the performances being on point, they’re not elements that stand out in this film. No, it‘s clear that the teams behind the camera are the ones that excel in this film. There’s no doubt in our minds that the members of the makeup department are really the ones that brought this film to life. The gashing wounds, the painful injuries or the deep cuts. With that in mind, we want to say that this movie isn’t for the light-hearted. We also certainly want to applaud cinematographer Chris Menges and location manager Youssef Abagourram. They were able to bring together beautiful, eye-catching and diverse landscapes, which light up the big screen in a gorgeous way. You have to stay until the very end to see one of the most beautiful made scenes in this movie.
Captivating, intriguing and splendid movie led by Mark Rylance
Waiting for the Barbarians is divided into four different segments, which represent the four seasons. They all have delightful stories to tell, stories you need to see and hear. Want to catch this captivating, intriguing and splendidly made film that included a dazzling performance from Rylance? Well, then you’re in luck. This movie will be screened at the BFI Film Festival London on Sunday the 6th, Monday the 7th and Wednesday the 8th of October.
Rating: (4 / 5)
(This review was written as part of Big Picture Film Club’s coverage of the BFI London Film Festival 2019)
Hilda, the newest film from writer/director Rishi Pelham, recently got its premiere at The Raindance Film Festival. The movie is an incredibly emotional, moving and relatable story about a teenage girl going through a rough phase in her life. We were able to speak with Pelham himself and with leading ladies, Megan Purvis and Yasmin Al-Khudhairi.
Liselotte Vanophem: Welcome to the Raindance Film Festival. Excited to be here?
Rishi Pelham (writer/director): Yes, but also nervous at the same time. It’s our first time here at the festival and this is also a debut film for a lot of people in front but also behind the camera. It’s the first time that we show this movie to an audience, so it will be interesting to see how they will react. The nerves are always slightly high when things like this happen.
LV: Where did the idea for the story come from?
RP: It’s a weird thing. I was on the tube on one point and it was rush hour. There was a line of these people in business suits who all had a horrible expression on their faces. There also was a young schoolgirl who looked like she didn’t have fewer problems than any other person on that train. However, she had her headphones plugged in and it sounded like there was metal music coming out and she was just dancing along on her seat. All she needed was the music and her imagination. I couldn’t get that image out of my head for a very long time. Somehow the story for this film evolved from that.
LV: It’s a very emotional story. How did you prepare for a role like that?
Megan Purvis (“Hilda”): We did a lot of build-up as a team before filming. We had loads of workshops and improv sessions in character. We were also getting to know everybody, so then when we arrived on set and when we were doing the emotional scenes, we just played them as a character rather than thinking like “Ok, now this line and then that line”. It was more being in the moment and seeing what that character would do in certain situations. The preparations we did months before shooting, which was also the first time I’ve ever done those, was great because most of the time you don’t get that process. I think it really paid off in this film and especially in the friendship between Hilda and Ayala.
LV: Was this also how you experienced it, Yasmin?
Yasmin Al-Khudhairi (“Ayala”): Yes exactly like that. For me, it was the backstory of my character that was the main methodology that we used. That was new to me as well. We could have made a whole new film with all the backstory for my character that I got. When I was reading the lines, I wasn’t focussing too much on the lines but just wanted to get all the emotions coming out. I had all of that backstory information, and for me, it was all about how my character would feel about Hilda and the relationships she has.
LV: Does that backstory help with processing the verbal abuse in the film and not to take all the [characters] words personally?
YA: Yes definitely. Sometimes it’s hard to separate things and I remember that when we finished a scene that I wasn’t in the same mindset as before for a few moments after that. I guess that’s when I knew whether I did a scene right or not. If I didn’t get the feeling after a scene then I felt like I had to do the scene again. When I felt that I was still angry or upset just like my character for a long time after the scene, I knew that we got it right.
MP: When I felt like I had nothing more to give, I knew that I did Hilda justice. That’s when I felt like I was satisfied. Luckily for me, I’ve never been through the experiences that Hilda has been going through but being in that moment and playing in that way allowed me to let those emotions go when we were offset. They didn’t linger for too long, for me that was nice. It was weird because we worked with a lot of music, especially for Hilda’s scenes, and I kind of adopted that as an actor. The music became the escape or how I got into her mindset. Rishi gave me Hilda’s iPod and we listened to it. All those things were something I took on board as an actress. It was the music that would take me in or take me out off. That was a big help for me for these emotional scenes.
LV: How was it for you to see your story come to life every day on set and then to see the finished film?
RP: It felt weird actually. It was a privilege working with these two actresses and also with the other cast and crew. It was a strange thing. We worked on this film for three years. Mainly due to the lack of funds or how long it took to finally being able to shoot the movie. There was also a lot of time during the workshops.
We wanted to throw the audience right from the beginning into the action, into that metal club. At that moment, Hilda is already at a certain threshold in her life. We wanted to spend time to understand how all characters would be feeling at that same moment. There were certain times during the shoot where, after I’ve written something, I didn’t know if it came from certain memories or my subconscious. I would be looking at it afterwards with assistant director Michael Honnah (The Yellow Wallpaper) and then I would remember where that idea for that scene came from.
closer together as a team while we were working on this project and we all
reached pushed each other the give the best of ourselves.
LV: So you, Yasmin and Rishi, knew each other before making this movie?
YA: Yes, indeed. We’ve known each other since university. I auditioned for one of his plays at university and that’s how we became friends. A lot of people on the team were friends of Manchester University and that was very nice to have. Then Meg came in and at first, she was like “Oh, you’re all friends” but then she auditioned and we became friends as well.
RP: During the auditions, I wanted to cast the main cast first before finding the rest of the crew. Especially the roles for Hilda and Ayala. We didn’t have any money to rent out some audition space so we found a tortilla restaurant and we were inviting actors to come to that restaurant and to do their audition next to the kitchen. I think that might have turned a lot of people away when they saw the context of how we would do our auditions. Megan came in and she just gave a performance that got us locked in. As a result of that, I think we became close friends as well. I think that’s how we all came to know each other.
LV: Was it one of the scenes you had to do in that restaurant?
MP: The first one we did was one that isn’t in the film. It was one where I was in a club and dancing. The second scene was one that I didn’t see before the audition. It was a surprise one and it was the one in the film in which my baby brother is being given water by Ayala and my character gets rather upset with that. I like to have my lines in advance and I like to know them beforehand so that I can forget them during the scenes. When I was being handed the script during the audition, I was like “Oh my god” but I was trying to pretend that I was cool with it. When we were doing it, I noticed that it was quite wordy and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to remember it. I literally threw the script away and just went for it like that. I was thinking about what would be said in a scene like that. Michael was playing the role of Ayala during my audition and I just threw words at him.
When Rishi gave me the script, and I read it, although I’ve never been through what the character was going through, I could see her. I knew what she was thinking. When he gave me that script during my audition, I just put it aside because I knew what she was going through and what she was thinking. I remember that there were a few high fives after my audition and it felt like it was the best audition I’ve ever given.
LV: What was the first scene you (Megan and Yasmin) had to do together?
RP: Well, they met for the first time when they were in character.
MP: It wasn’t during a scene. It was during one of those workshops.
RP: But they didn’t speak to each other then.
MP: No, true. I didn’t know what Yasmin looked like. I was in Manchester and I had never been to Manchester before. Rishi would be like “Ok, she’s standing next to the supermarket at the corner”. I was like “Ok, am I going to greet someone randomly?”. Obviously, I could see where they were filming the workshops and so I thought “Ok, yeah it must be the girl standing in front of the camera”. That’s where we did our first improv.
RP: That workshop went on for about five hours. We ended up in a Jazz club and did Hilda her night out during which the girls discover their love for dance and music. That’s what we wanted to create during that first workshop. We started at that street corner, went to the club and ended up in the park where we played our music.
MP: In terms of filming on set, we did most of it chronologically. I think the first one was the sneaking out of the bedroom one.
LV: Who created the dance routines you have to do in this movie?
RP: That was Justyna (Szymanska) from Manchester. Apart from being a dancer, she’s also studying for her Maths degree. Michael sent me a video of Justyna performing and we’d seen a lot of fantastic dancers around that period and they were always trying to make the dance look very impressive and all about the show. Justyna is one of the best dancers I’ve seen in my life and she was the only person who understood that this wasn’t a dance film and that it wasn’t about the best dancer in the world. It was about someone who just loves dance and was trying to find her style. Justyna took that on and worked tirelessly while also getting a degree in Maths and doing her dance projects. She worked very hard on this film. Megan also had to work incredibly hard to embody these crazy routines Justyna came up with. Justyna really was the brains behind how Hilda expresses herself through dance. Hilda is a character that isn’t very good at talking to people and who can’t vocalize things. Somehow, when the music is playing and when she’s able to dance, she knows how to express her emotions. Without her, this film wouldn’t be what it is today.
YA: The moment where I had the feeling that I understood my character is when I did a workshop with Justyna. It was just a moving workshop and was all about the movements and music. Justyna was doing these different workshops with me and made me understand that’s not all about Hilda and that Ayala also has her own life as well. Ayala isn’t just someone on the sideline. Thanks to those workshops I was able to come to terms with who my character was and how she moved. After that, I found it all so much easier.
LV: Will Hilda have further screenings after its Premiere at Raindance?
RP: Of course we would love for this film to reach as many people as possible. The feedback that we got is that this film is very relatable for people, even if they’re not going through the same difficult time as Hilda. We do believe that the film could have the potential to do that. What we’re going to try to do is, hopefully, have a good festival run with this film and get it seen by as many people as possible. Getting people speaking about it.
LV: What’s next for you guys after this?
RP: When working on this film, someone said to me that before I go to the festivals with this film, that I had to know the next projects I would be working on. This film is the first one of the production company that I and Tomos Roberts founded. We’ve always helped each other during various projects. Sometimes I had to do lighting for a play that he was doing or then he might need to be a gaffer for a play that I was doing. We filled in each other’s roles. Tom did an incredible job producing this film but he also has other projects of his own. I’m thinking about some other projects myself and starting to write my next feature.
YA: For me, it’s just auditioning. I’m quite new to the acting game so I hope this might open some opportunities for me. I’m hoping just to focus on acting soon and do whatever I’m trying to get into. On the lookout for new and interesting roles. Ones that are a bit different and in which I can play the character in the way that other people might not play it.
MJ: I’ve got a couple of films coming out so I’m going to see how those go. I’m waiting to hear back from some auditions. I’m really hoping that this festival will open some doors for us and for people to see what we can create and to see our talent. We can take on projects that we want to do because we want to dedicate our lives to being in the film industry. We’re hoping that Raindance really will help us do that. It’s a festival that celebrates independent filmmaking and it really does do that. We’re excited to get our film and our talent out there and show the world what we can do.