Here are a few recent collaborators from head make up designer Ve Neill's resume: Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Gore Verbinski and Ron Howard. Big name players call on Neill to supervise the design and construction of elaborate make up creations for some of Hollywood's biggest projects, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd, Chronicles of Riddick, Eragon, Austin Powers: Goldmember and Constantine (and that's just in recent years).
Her latest is The Hunger Games, the blockbuster hit currently preparing for another number one weekend at the box office. The dystopian sci-fi is in a world of its own, full of extravagant citizens of the Capitol to the grungy inhabitants of District 12, and each one required its own makeup job — and amazingly, especially for a major event picture, Neill had little time to create all the visual styles seen in the movie. "I had two weeks prep on the movie, and we started in the woods," she tells Hollywood.com in an exclusive interview. "I can sit and draw all the pictures in the world, and until you see it on somebody, you’re never really going to know what it looks like. Basically, we did it within a week. We attached the week before we started working there.
Neill's showiest production may be the much-discussed Effie makeup for actress Elizabeth Banks, for which she took careful consideration in conceiving. "She has to go out to the districts, so she can't be totally outrageous. She has to be attractive in her grotesqueness. I really wanted to give her a soft, but off look. You have to take into consideration that her clothes are really flamboyant, and if you put garish makeup on her, she'll look like a clown." While Hunger Games lead fashionista has a distinct look, Neill's subtle work in Peeta' Hunger Games camouflage may be the film's most impressive makeup job.
"It was actually applied by my third Conor McCullagh, because I was already in Charlotte starting work for Capitol City. Before I left I did a test on one of our P.A.’s legs. I mixed together clay and glycerin and a couple of other components to create this mud so that we could actually emulate the rocks that were there. We had done one previous to that where she was in the moss, and it just wasn’t really what we decided we wanted to have, because it should have been something that [Peeta] could have sculpted. It was just basically molding it into a rock.
"[It took] least an hour. To get it on and to mold it all around [Josh Hutcherson], to be all in his features and to really get him laid in their properly, and then to dress all the shrubbery as well — the moss all over the rest of his body and everything — it was probably three people working on it to get in there, because we didn’t want him lying there longer. He was probably getting numb anyway. Then we had the spatter, the speckles to match the rocks. I’m sure it took an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to get him completely camouflaged into the rock."
We also have Neill to thank for Wes Bentley's swirly Seneca Crane beard, which director Gary Ross wasn't so keen on. "I had to fight to get that beard on Seneca. The first we did it, [Gary] said, 'Oh my God, Mephistopheles.' I said, 'No, no, he's got to me the ultimate bad guy here!' We had to make him distinctive. He thought it was too extreme." Neill admits that she did have to tone down the wild facial hair a bit. "The little curly cues that were on his check were big "V" cuts. It almost looked like a tribal thing on his face."
With Hunger Games reaping the big bucks at the box office, a sequel is all but a given — and Neill is already hard at work conjuring up new ideas. "I am prepping for the next one. There's a lot of makeup in the second book. I just read it a couple weeks ago and then…all the dyes and the burns. There constantly getting hammered with physical things that are happening. And I have to start thinking about the fact that they're always going to be around water — and that's salt water to boot."
Next up for Neill is the upcoming superhero reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, which features a reptilian baddie: The Lizard. The villainous alter ego of Dr. Curt Connors will be almost fully CG, but Neill made sure to convince that practical makeup was essential to his realization. "I worked with Legacy Effects, they designed the creature in it. Originally he was never supposed to have but one little piece of makeup, and I kind of forced them into doing a lot more. There's definitely practical stuff. Marc [Webb, director] is very collaborative because I said, 'I think that blah blah blah' should happen and he said, 'Ve are you trying to rewrite the script?' and I said, 'No I'm just trying to have it make sense to everybody!' you know, as far as his character goes. And he said, 'that's a great idea.'"
Having worked with so many talented directors over the years, who is Neill's favorite creative partner? "Joel Schumacher. He's very art based. He was a costume designer, an art director, a lot of things before being a director. He let me do whatever I do! The two Batmans [Batman Forever and Batman & Robin] I did with him had a lot of makeup in them!"
The Hunger Games is in theaters now.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
I expected Your Highness David Gordon Green's R-rated sword-and-sorcery farce to be a medieval stoner comedy something in the vein of Monty Python-meets-Cheech and Chong. This was not an unreasonable assumption given a) the film’s clearly suggestive title and b) the fact that its stars (Danny McBride and James Franco) and director previously collaborated on the THC-laced epic Pineapple Express. But I was waaaaaay off. Sure drug references abound in Your Highness but they are relatively benign in comparison to the film’s exhausting barrage of adolescent sexual humor and often shockingly crude language. Less bongs more schlongs is Your Highness' overriding ethos.
Taking care not to stray too far from the winning comic persona established in Eastbound & Down and The Foot Fist Way McBride plays Prince Thadeous a royal ne’er-do-well who lives in the shadow of his handsome older brother Prince Fabious (Franco) gallant knight and heir apparent to the throne of the kingdom of Mourne. While Fabious is out defending his father’s realm against various supernatural threats and earning acclaim for his illustrious deeds cowardly and entitled Thadeous parties with loose maidens and smokes hallucinogenic herbs with his twink-ish toadie Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker). But he finds he can no longer shirk his heroic duties when an evil sorcerer named Leezar (Justin Theroux) crashes Fabious’ wedding and absconds with the crown prince’s fiancée Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel). Urged to aid in his brother’s quest to rescue her Thadeous resists — that is until his father threatens to cut him off from the royal teat.
Very soon into his journey we discover why Thadeous was heretofore so reluctant to join in his brother’s adventures: Quests in the Your Highness universe entail an awful lot of encounters with homoeroticism – both latent and blatant. Knights dress in tights and codpieces and seem unusually affectionate toward one another. The price for advice from the Great Wize Wizard a bedridden seal-like creature wearing what looks to be a jellyfish as a skullcap is an open-mouthed kiss and a handjob. A sassy manservant is stripped of his clothing and revealed to be a eunuch. A tribe of feral women is ruled by a half-naked highly effete cherub-like figure named Marteetee. And so on.
Your Highness reaches its homoerotic apex during a pivotal scene in which Thadeous in his first real act of bravery intervenes to prevent Courtney from being raped by a minotaur which minotaur happens to be sporting a massive erection. Wanting a trophy to commemorate the deed he severs the slain beast’s still-engorged member and hangs it around his neck giving us for the remainder of the film a vivid monument to the filmmakers' most reliable comic device. (It’s an impressive sight – I fully expect “hung like a minotaur” to gain much greater prevalence in the lexicon should Your Highness be a hit.)
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And Your Highness does throw in a few hetero bits to help balance the sexual ledger especially when the cast is joined by Natalie Portman playing a feisty fellow-quester and McBride’s unlikely romantic foil. Portman should at the very least be commended for being able to utter lines about a "burning in her beaver" with unvarnished sincerity.
Your Highness is often wickedly funny – a filthy spot-on send-up of The Beastmaster Krull and other campy '80s fantasy flicks. But there’s precious little beyond the filth and eventually the bawdy language and infantile shenanigans grow repetitive especially when the plot starts to meander in the second act. Green's primary comic instinct is to aim for shock value — as in Pineapple Express the action in Your Highness is punctuated by cartoonish violence — which grows tedious toward the end credits. His efforts would have been better devoted to expanding Theroux's and Deschanel's roles — they are woefully underutilized — or giving McBride something funnier to say than "motherf*cker."
Shedding many of those trappings that make a James Bond movie well a James Bond movie Quantum of Solace is really the first sequel ever in the long-running series. While it’s always exciting something gets seriously shaken and stirred in the translation. Picking up exactly where the brilliant Casino Royale left off we see Bond (Daniel Craig) trying to get to the bottom of why his love Vesper Lynd had to die jumping right into the first of many MANY chases as he traverses six countries. Still on rogue patrol Bond then inadvertently meets the crafty and gorgeous Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who introduces Bond to the evil Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric) the head of an eco-phony stealth operation angling for some prime desert land while financing a crooked Bolivian general’s planned coup. With the ever resourceful M (Judi Dench) trying to keep him in line at all times Bond must put his revenge plans on hold as he crosses paths not only with Greene and his fake pro-environment front but also the intriguing and mysterious group known as Quantum. In this outing Daniel Craig -- leaner and meaner than any previous Bond -- really becomes a man of single-minded determination and grit. He’s less like the James Bond we know and love and more a humorless killing machine like Jason Bourne (those two should really get together). Still Craig is such a compelling actor that we are with him all the way even if he doesn’t go for the suave Bond moves. Olga Kurylenko is a great foil but not totally in the tradition of a Bond girl. A later encounter with Gemma Arterton as a British agent in Bolivia does however briefly recall the heyday of Goldfinger. Judi Dench has taken the perfunctory role of M and turned it into a full-blown supporting role. Her dry wit and take-no-prisoners attitude is welcomed every time she shows up on screen. French star Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) doesn’t really pull off his villainous alter-ego ecologist while Jeffrey Wright is pretty much wasted as U.S. agent Felix Leiter. At least Giancarlo Giannini returns for some nice moments with his Craig. Although they usually leave the challenging job of steering the Bond ship to an English director oddly this time the baton was handed to Marc Forster known more for his intimate dramas such as Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball. His grip on the action sequences is secure but he never really seems to have a handle on what distinguishes this legendary movie spy from everyone else. There’s a reason Bond has survived as a screen icon for almost half a century but the sort of workman-like filmmaking Forster displays here does not represent 007’s finest hour. It’s almost like the producers had a checklist: car chase on winding roads; boat chase; airplane chase; rooftop chase -- all check. Quantum of Solace is definitely worth checking out however. I mean it IS Bond and we wait for these movies on bated breath. Just maybe next time a little less Bourne please.
The human race doesn't see it coming. It isn't a comet a war a virus nuclear bombs or terrorism that brings us down. It's simply running out of gas on Aug. 12 2012. Suddenly the world becomes divided between the hunted and the hunters. In this case the young people are known as Foragers and they've holed themselves up in a large empty hospital while outside hang the Rovers ready to cook them up. The Rovers are run by brutal renegades with names like Jackal (Michael Madsen) Viper (Michael Kelly) and Mongrel (Vinnie Jones) and when the Foragers take in a newcomer Neon (Rachel Miner) a band of Rovers are hot on her tail. They stalk the young meat holed up in the hospital and shout "We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way but by sunrise we'll be gnawing on your bones." Comforting. When a frightened Miner as Neon talks about how the Rovers are going to "to cook one of us” every night she does it with a straight face. She's the post-apocalyptic Gretel of the fairytale Hansel & Gretel and they have to figure out how to outsmart the witch--or in this case the posse of cannibals--outside their door. There’s lots of full-throttle screaming and the actors get to wear cool Viking outfits and suits of armor. Madsen is typically over-the-top in the vicious role but no one would dare tone him down not even Quentin Tarantino. Director/writer Mark Young makes a stand-out cannibal film. Cannibals wearing war paint and other battle accoutrements brandishing large knives and scythes while some of them walk around with half-eaten skulls it’s all quite effective. These characters are killing machines who can talk back which makes them even more frightening. Young balances the camp and horror perfectly so ultimately Tooth & Nail is a good scare.