Friday, 31 July 2009

[219] Simon Viklund Interview (GRIN)

Even though my feature on remakes re-envisioned for digital distribution finally found a home on Gamasutra (as Classics Live Again: The Art of Downloadable Remakes), there was much material from the initial interviews that couldn't be shoe-horned into a 'mere' 3000 word feature. I'll start by reposting my chat with Simon Viklund, from GRIN, who served as Creative Director on the hit remake Bionic Commando Rearmed. He was eloquent, bold, and offered great insight into the design (and thought) processes behind remaking such a fan-favourite.

-- To start with, I would like some background context to how the project began. Of course, GRIN are also working on the fully-rebooted console version of Bionic Commando, but was Rearmed planned simultaneously? How did the idea to rebuild the game come about - why not just port across the NES or Arcade original, like so many other XBLA games?

BC3D was prototyped and approved for full production before the idea of a sidescroller remake of the original game came up. The initial intention was to have it be just a “port” or a low budget version made by some other development studio – it was and still is primarily a marketing release. The more we discussed it between the companies though, Capcom saw the potential in the game and eventually decided to put more effort into it. As we, GRIN, did both the 3D sequel and the 2D remake we could tie the two titles together not only through story but also visually and technically to make the sum of the two greater than each title by itself.

-- Bionic Commando is now over 20 years old. Rearmed, at its heart, is a re-vamped port. Did you approach the project from the point-of-view of remaking the game for a new audience? Or is it satisfying a niche?

We wanted to both please old fans and appeal to those who hadn’t played the original. Detailed references to the original were put into the game in order to make it a truly “worthy” remake – you know, the 8-bit style music, the 80’s aesthetics, the pixelated icons, make “Haley” and her Hyper Bazooka a reference to “Hal”, etc. The graphics were updated to make it visually appealing to everyone. I do, however, feel that a remake – any remake – should do more than just update the graphics; it should update the gameplay as well, because it’s not only graphics that age – gameplay does too. The challenges of games back in the day are not the kind of challenges that today’s gamers enjoy – they see it as purely frustrating. I can feel that today’s games are leading the player by the hand a little too much, but we wanted Rearmed to at least be a little more accessible in terms of difficulty. Hence the difficulty options and infinite “continues”. Still, Rearmed is a tricky game but that’s all part of the legacy.

-- The original Bionic Commando was created at a time when the vocabulary of game design was still being created. One of its major innovations is the grappling arm. However, now that conventions are more solid, how do you think 'an action platformer where you can't jump' will go down with those more used to Halo, or God of War?

I think that anyone who thinks that a platform game requires a jumping ability is narrow minded. I really do. Bionic Commando is not just an action game – it has a fairly prominent puzzle dimension too. By trading the ability to jump for the ability to swing you are forced to think in new ways: Suddenly you need to look at ceilings and overhead platforms for the way forward. The inability to jump makes you completely dependent on the bionic arm. It highlights the bionic arm, the core mechanic of the game, and it is therefore a brilliant design choice – whether it was made because of a shortage of buttons on the NES controller or not. In the “jump or no jump” issue alone, I honestly couldn’t care less about what the so-called “modern gamers” would say.

Ok, I’m going to go into a rant here - even if this interview isn’t really focused on this question – but I have to get this off my chest so bear with me…

Rearmed consists of block-by-block remakes of the original levels and a jump ability would completely mess up the level design, forcing us to make fundamental changes to the layout to accommodate this new movement mechanic… but let’s assume for a moment that Rearmed wasn’t a remake, that we had created entirely new levels from the get go and that we therefore had the possibility to add a jump mechanic. The game would actually be even harder: First off you would have more core mechanics to juggle (and more buttons to move your thumb between) – jumping, grappling and shooting. Then, the levels would suddenly demand that you jump off the very edge of platforms in order to reach something with your bionic arm, resulting in even more occasions where you fall past the block that you need to grapple – which we know is one of the trickiest things to pull off in Rearmed.

Then someone says “well just because one gives the player the ability to jump doesn’t mean that one needs to design the game around combining the jump ability with the bionic arm” but what that person fails to realize is that by giving the player a certain ability you also give the player a pretty good reason to believe that this ability is needed. Either the player will jump towards grappling points that one can reach from the ground and thereby make things unnecessarily hard for himself – or he will start jumping off ledges left and right thinking that there are platforms “out there” that you can reach if you just jump towards them. Visually, the game would be more difficult to get an overview of because all distances would increase. More often than now the player would hesitate and ask himself “can I make it across this pit?”

The game would just be vaguer because you would have these mechanics at your disposal that you wouldn’t know when you needed to combine – and even if you never actually needed to combine them you would think that you needed to, and you’d try to combine them and in the process make things overly complex. In the end, if one added a jump ability that wasn’t really required to complete the game – why add it in the first place? People don’t realize that limitations and simplicity create freedom, because you can look at a situation and know exactly how to solve it – because you know what you can and can’t do. Piling capabilities on top of each other doesn’t create freedom – it only creates and abundance of choices and in the wake of that: Confusion. The same goes for making the player able to shoot the arm out in any direction with the analog stick – I recall some reviewer bringing up that idea too. It wouldn’t float for a minute.

-- Rearmed adds a lot of presentation flourishes, extra modes, new features, as well as the HD graphics and your new score. However, the central gameplay and unforgiving difficulty are still very faithful to the NES game. Since release it has been branded as a 'hardcore' game for nostalgics - what's your take on that?

It’s not what we aimed for, but I don’t mind that the game has that kind of reputation. Novice gamers can play the game on the “easy” difficulty setting – that should be a breeze to pretty much anyone. In these modern times we have long games that are so forgiving that you run through without a hitch, while in the olden days we had short games of which you played every little part over and over again (because of unforgiving demands on perfect timing and eye-to-hand coordination) and that was what made these old games long.

That’s one way to categorize new vs. old games: Long and easy vs. short and difficult. Rearmed is a block-by-block remake of the original game – we couldn’t make it easier or it would have been a 45 minute experience, despite the fact that we added like three levels. I realize that this sounds like a defense speech but what I really want to say is that some gamers should muster up some persistence and stop being such crybabies. It’s a game dammit – it’s supposed to be challenging!

-- Equally, some would argue that talented developers and inspired designers should invest time in their own, original work, as opposed to rehashing classics. Even with all of the new aspects in Rearmed, it is still tied to its source in the late 80s. How would you respond to that?

First off, if I’m considered an “inspired designer” then thanks for the compliment – but the fact that I am one surely hadn’t been proven before I made Rearmed anyway. Secondly, it’s impossible to determine how many original concepts fail to be made because the publishers or developers would rather create remakes, so it’s kind of a strange argument. I don’t think innovation is rewarded with high enough sales figures for publishers and developers to dare put all their efforts into that. Remakes, reused concepts and sequels are still the sure ways to a steady cash flow. If consumers want innovation they need to vote with their money – but I’m not sure innovation is what they want. If it was, Halo 3 wouldn’t outsell Mirror’s Edge.

People don’t want new IPs and new concepts. They just want good games – regardless if it’s a remake, a reused concept, a sequel or something entirely new – and that makes the argument in question pointless. Lastly, I think you (or the people you claim have these opinions) formulate the argument in their favor by using the negative word “rehash”. Rehashes we can all live without, but ambitious remakes of deserving classics that both celebrate and update the original are always welcome. Tell me if I’m wrong.

-- Did you have much communication with Capcom Japan about the game? I see that Tokuro Fujiwara is credited as a 'consultant'. Were you given freedom to indulge your ambitions, or were there certain rules you had to abide to?

I had full freedom to indulge my ambitions, but needless to say I had to run every major idea by Capcom and have it approved. Rearmed is very much a display of Japanese and Swedish forces combined. We had Capcom’s original concept, my ideas on how to improve that concept, Shinkiro’s comic style art and GRIN’s brilliant technology and effective development pipeline. There was a constant exchange of ideas regarding difficulty, trailer scripts, logotype design and so on – almost no decision was made by one company or one person alone. It was a great collaboration.

-- Rearmed may be an exception, because GRIN's work has been championed in reviews around the 'net, but do you think that working on these remakes and ports is a thankless task? Many of these developers put time and money into these games, but the finished product only re-affirms the quality of the original game, and boosts the reputation of the original designers. Do you think there is scope for creativity and recognition in making games like Rearmed?

As you say it hasn’t been a thankless task for us, but there are probably other developers who beg to differ. I went into this project because it was a chance to work on the remake of one of my favorite games – not to make a name for myself – so I don’t know if I would claim the task was “thankless” even if we would not have gotten any recognition as creators of the remake. It so happens that we did get quite some recognition and that’s of course a huge bonus – and it also answers your last question: Yes I do think there’s a scope for creativity and recognition in making remakes. You just have to put your heart into it, and the gamers will sense it.

-- What are you thoughts about download services like Xbox Live Arcade, the Virtual Console/Wii Ware and PSN? At the moment they seem divided between new, small-scale games and ports of classics (either revamped or otherwise).

I think it’s very much a growing – and improving – business. Download services are becoming less and less a platform for mere “cell phone style” games and half-assed ports and more and more a platform for quality titles. Braid and Castle Crashers are of course excellent examples of this – and they were both very successful so we’ll see more of that in the future without a doubt. Hopefully these lower-risk projects with smaller budgets dare to be truly innovative so that developers of big budget games dare to follow suit. In other words – downloadable games are a force to be reckoned with in themselves, but I think they can pave a few roads and let a breeze of fresh air into other parts of the business as well.

-- There are many Western developers behind these remakes of Japanese of properties - of course, GRIN are based in Sweden. Do you think there is anything typically Western/European/Swedish about Rearmed? Do you think that the North American and European 'gamer subculture' is more nostalgic than the Japanese? Or is there anything fundamentally unique with how the NA/EU subculture views classics like Bionic Commando?

Bionic Commando was a cult hit in the West, but Capcom themselves had a hard time understanding its success because back home – in Japan – it flopped, so I think it was a Western concept from the very beginning. The fact that it has a military theme alone makes it very un-Japanese. Furthermore, I don’t think that anything we did with the concept in Rearmed is typically Swedish – maybe typically Western. The design of the weapons is very Western I guess; you have the shotgun, the rocket launcher, the machine gun, etc. It’s quite cliché. Also, some of the new features, such as the ability to grapple barrels and throw them at enemies, are mostly very Western – we’re all about offensive force and destruction here in the West. If Rearmed was made in Japan they’d probably focus on other things. What that would be, I’m afraid we’ll never know.

Thanks to Simon Viklund for taking the time to talk with me. Visit GRIN's site here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

[218] Watchmen Graffiti on South Bank Pictures

I swear, this is the last time I'm going to write about Watchmen. For a while at least.

As I mentioned last week, today there was a special art event happening down at the South Bank skate park - one of my favourite areas of London. Graffiti artist Chu was going to create a Watchmen-inspired piece there, with Dave Gibbons in attendance, in conjunction with the release of the movie adaptation of the comic being released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Chu had been working on the piece since midnight, and I turned up around 3pm, so he was quite a way into it, recreating an integral panel from the comic's first issue, in his highly stylistic, three dimensional-esque manner - which spilled over, up on the ceiling and floor. It was a striking, detailed, vibrant piece - and it was great to see Chu deftly building up the disparate parts of the overall image.

Dave Gibbons was there, chatting with those who had turned up, and signing some copies of the Watchmen graphic novel for fans (for one fan-derived write-up, check Geek Syndicate here). Managed to have a quick chat with the man himself, marvelling at his iFanboy-sourced 'Hurm' t-shirt. There was a good turn-out, with some families braving the bustling, kamikaze traffic of the skate park to get a look in. As it went along, though, it took a turn for the incredibly odd.

As Rorschach-styled hoodies were handed out among the PR team, and a bunch of, I'm guessing, capoeira/power move-centric b-boys turned up, and were asked to pose and handstand, in front of the piece. It was almost too much to take - with the already-slightly-surreal mixture of skaters, sofas, spray paint fumes and a tall white lamp.

[It turns out that the gent in a handstand in the above picture is Ryan Offer, a freerunner in a team called puremovement, check the comments for more info, or his youtube page here]

Chu was still putting the finishing touches to the piece by 4.30pm, when I had to make my move Peckhamwards - hoping to finish by 5 (17 hours after starting!). Nevertheless, it was quite an experience watching his handiwork. If you're in the area, make sure you check out the piece, before it is inevitably painted over, in the cycle of Graffiti art.

- For the rest of my photos from the event, check my flickr, or picasa.
- Check out Chu's (enlightening) in-depth preparation process for the piece, on his blog, here.

[217] Watchmen (Theatrical Cut) DVD Review

I wrote a frenzied, up-against-it review of Zack Snyder's big-screen adaptation of Watchmen back in February. I was a bit perplexed when offered to review the DVD iteration of the theatrical cut (2 more cuts forthcoming), but I still jumped at the chance - I'm up for anything, me - to re-assess, and bring the weight of 4 months' solid contemplation to bear on this big, crazy project.

I started writing the review in a direct attempt to do something informative, critical, yet subjective, personality-driven and entertaining. I've been reading a lot of the great, great PC gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently, and their style is something I hope to strive for some day. The writers, featuring the likes of Phonogram writer and games journalism warlock Kieron Gillen, manage to make reviews, mini-essays, and bits of blather seem vital, engaging, and filled to the brim with character. In fact, his recent review of Darkfall, for Eurogamer, was pretty much an event in itself - not only because of its controversial birthing period, but because of its wide-ranging ambition.

Well, it just didn't work out, and the review ballooned, way beyond any acceptable word count. I cut it down, hedged a bit, and felt pretty shaky about the end product. You can see the result below - better luck next time, I suppose.

Has the dust settled yet? Watchmen was 2009's first blockbuster, released back in March, greeted with gnashing of critical teeth, squirting of geek-squee juices or, well, apathy. Since then, we've had Wolverine, Star Trek, Transformers 2, Angels & Demons, Harry Potter - films that have enjoyed internet-controversy, fan-adulation and record-breaking box office performances among them. In relation, Watchmen, a film that towered over public consciousness before its release, grossed just under $183 million worldwide, only scraping into the top 15 films at the 2009 box office so far.

So now, four months later, we've got the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the film's theatrical cut. How has the film aged in the last 1/3 of a year? How does it translate to a medium sized TV, with crappy sound-system in a South London flat? Quite well, really.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 24 July 2009

[216] Dave Gibbons, Watchmen Graffiti on the South Bank, July 28th

Next Tuesday, July 28th, in conjunction with the release of Watchmen on DVD and Blu-Ray, Dave Gibbons will be appearing at the Skate Park on London's South Bank, to oversee a graffiti art piece inspired by the graphic novel. The piece will be created by Chu, an artist whose work is full of crazy style, flair and detail, as well as playful uses of perspective and dimensions (more on his Flickr)

The skate park is one of my favourite little landmarks in the capital, and it will be interesting to see what Chu will do with the Watchmen universe, so I will most definitely be going down to the event. With Dave Gibbons in attendance as well, this looks like a great event to check out. It runs from 2-5pm that afternoon. I've posted an excerpt from the original press release below, with the raw details.


Acclaimed Watchmen illustrator, Dave Gibbons to curate a 3D graffiti art installation on London’s Southbank on July 28 2009

Who: Original Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons and graffiti artist CHU
What: Re-creating key scenes from the film in 3D comic book style
Where: The Skate Park, below London’s Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX
When: 2pm – 5pm, Tuesday July 28 2009

[215] Dave Gibbons Interview

Dave Gibbons' work on Watchmen is awe-inspiring, so I jumped at the chance to interview him this week, during the run up to the DVD/Blu-Ray release next week. A really nice chap - a very enjoyable chat. Probably one of my favourite interviews so far, and I also managed to bring in questions and topics I haven't heard him talk about before. Such as his work on Wednesday Comics, on the Kamandi strip. Lovely stuff - and the article was even re-tweeted and linked to around the web, including on the Forbidden Planet Blog, so I was quite proud of that too. Check it out below.

Ahead of next week's release of Watchmen on DVD and Blu-ray, I had the chance to chat with Dave Gibbons, comic artist and co-creator of the landmark graphic novel. Unlike Alan Moore, the writer who has asked for his name to be removed from any big screen version of his comics work, Gibbons was an early advocate of Zack Snyder's adaptation, visited the film set, and appeared in many interviews during the lead up to release. He also penned the lovely coffee table book Watching The Watchmen, a personal, retrospective look at the book's genesis and publication, to coincide with the film.

Now that time has moved on, and the hype has dissipated, we spoke about Watchmen, and how it has grown after repeat viewings, as well as Gibbons' crazy, jet-set year of promoting the film, the experience of having one of his creations adapted to screen, and his latest work - namely his contribution to the currently ongoing (and brilliant) Wednesday Comics project, Kamandi.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

[214] 5 Craziest Uses of Historical Figures in Video Games

After previewing a pre-release build of Wolfenstein last week, I wrote a feature piece for Den of Geek. A light, silly piece, called 'Top 5 Craziest Uses of Historical Figures in Video Games'. Fun to write and research, definitely, but I also think it makes a point about having a more liberal, light-hearted approach to using history in games -- and I'm still playing through Eternal Sonata. Check it out below.

There's a trend in some corners of the video game industry for games to become more 'authentic', 'visceral' and 'meticulously researched'. All three of those phrases whiff of back-of-the-box quote-spin, but this is particularly true when it comes to games that attempt to incorporate, or recreate historical events and contexts.

One needn't look further back than April to find the controversy surrounding Konami, peddling their now-cancelled Six Days in Fallujah project, which sought to do justice to, and create entertainment out of, one of the key early battles in the still-ongoing conflict in Iraq. It shouldn't have to be pointed out that one of the main aspects of gaming's appeal is recreation, or 'fun'. When war meets interactive entertainment, it's hard to be respectful - and many have expressed their awkward feelings when, in a Call of Duty or Medal of Honour game, they feel that real history of pain and suffering echoing behind all the achievements and headshots.

Thankfully, there are games that take history a little less seriously, using pure expression, imagination and kookiness to, in some cases, sidestep the gravity and responsibility of their historical basis. Wolfenstein, id Software's long-running FPS series, is one example, which takes its setting of 1940s Nazi Germany and, like Indiana Jones and countless pulps, infuses it with a spirit of crazy, tongue-in-cheek silliness. The latest installment is due out next month, and in honour of that, we present five of the barmiest uses of historical figures in gaming. They're a bit weird, and often incredibly inaccurate, but at times they offer some glimmers of real genius.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

[213] Wolfenstein Hands-On Preview

This week, I was able to check out a short preview of the upcoming Wolfenstein game. Check out the article below.

Wolfenstein, in theory, on paper, by name only, posits itself as a welcome blast from the past. Like Doom, or Quake, developer id Software's other flagship franchises, Wolfenstein harks back to the early days of the first-person shooter genre, where the boundaries were still being discovered, and bespectacled geniuses were breaking all sorts of barriers - and, equally, where level progression was linear and tactics mostly involved walking into a room and holding down the shoot button.

Alongside modern shooters, they stand a little awkwardly, but Wolfenstein's ace in the hole involves its utterly crackpot approach to things. With its leftfield take to World War 2, focusing on 'Schweinhund!'-barking Nazis, mad scientists and a healthy dose of the occult, it looks like it could be the antidote to all those FPSes based on gruffly-serious space marines, or 'faithful' cinematic recreations of war and warfare both past and present.

This new game, due out in August, continues the story of B.J. Blazkowicz, the most inglourious of basterds, as he goes behind enemies lines for yet another crack at Castle Wolfenstein - home to the Third Reich's supernatural research projects.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

[212] Film and Festivals, Issue 14

I should have posted this over a week ago, but here it is. The new issue of Film and Festivals Magazine.

This month's focus is the blooming Latin American cinema scene. There's a fantastic line up of articles, including interviews with filmmaker Carlos Cuaron, and actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, ahead of the release of Cuaron's directorial feature debut, Rudo y Cursi. There are also great interviews with Alfonso Cuaron, who talks about the Mexican film industry, and composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who talks about his currently-ubiquitous film music.

Also, make sure to check out the brace of features on Latin American film, including Sandy Mandelberger's piece on Gay Latin American cinema, and Christiaan Harden's look at the current state of the documentary in the region.

This month, I contributed the UK festival previews column. Three of the festivals covered have already passed, and the fourth, the Workhouse Festival in Powys, is finishing today. But you can still read it here.

Read the full issue at the Film and Festivals website.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

[211] Lovely By Surprise (2007)

Out today in the USA is Lovely By Surprise, an intelligent, imaginative indie flick. Bypassing a traditional theatrical release, the film has been released on DVD (and through on-demand services like Netflix), after a few isolated screenings and festival appearances over the last 2 years (including an award-winning turn at Seattle, where it won a Special Jury Prize).

Lovely By Surprise is a modestly-budgeted (reportedly around $1 million), charming and ambitious cousin to mainstream-indie films like Stranger Than Fiction, or the collected works of Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, especially). The narrative intertwines three strands, bending the viewer's conceptions of time, reality and causation. Marian (Carrie Preston) is an author, struggling with her first novel, The Neverything - whose characters, Humkin (Michael Chernus) and Mopekey (Dallas Roberts), live an innocent, isolated life on a land-stranded boat. Parallel, and initially unrelated, is the story of recently-widowed car salesman Bob (Reg Rogers) - who struggles to keep his job, and engage with his traumatised, withdrawn daughter.

Marian takes the advice of an old tutor (Austin Pendleton), who suggests that, as her story lacks tension and direction, she kill one of the two characters. Unfortunately, Humkin - portrayed by Marian as a self-aware character - doesn't take too kindly to this development, and breaks free of the novel, and the author's control. He strays into the real world, and runs straight into Bob's life.

Lovely By Surprise
zips along in an appealingly light manner. First time feature writer-director Kirt Gunn is astonishingly assured, and successful, in the film's plotting and structure, with the flights of fancy and warping of narrative logic coming across as natural, entertaining developments. For the most part, it avoids the needlessly obscure, quirky, or indulgent excesses of consciously post-modern cinema (it runs a refreshingly, compellingly brief 98 minutes).

Key to this is the strong central cast. Preston, Chernus and Rogers deliver charismatic, memorable performances, without relying on mawkish sentimentalism, or over-worked schticks. Rogers, in particular, imbues his initially comic role - where he spends more time talking potential customers out of buying a car, than giving them the hard-sell - with a vein of tender pathos and uncertainty. Humkin, in nature a more abstract role - a man-child, often simply dressed in Y-fronts, who talks in a manner that is halfway between childlike murmuring and highly poetic non-sequiturs - but Chernus brings a lot of warmth and depth to such an on-paper caricature.

Lovely By Surprise is a solid, impressive first film. It works with themes of fiction, imagination and memory - with a focus on relationships, and personal experience. These aspects are drawn out gently, without bludgeoning the viewer with epiphanies, conclusions or answers -- provoking thought and discussion as the Tom Waits-soundtracked credits roll. It is well worth seeking out. Read more about the film here, or read about the film's innovative, unconventional mode of distribution here.

Friday, 3 July 2009

[210] Public Enemies: Michael Mann Conference

I was quite astonished by Michael Mann. Even though I have seen a few of his movies, I realised as he stepped into the room at the Berkley Hotel in Knightsbridge that I'd never seen the man himself. Never seen him interviewed, or even seen a picture of him. I was surprised to see the grey-haired, 60-something gent - fast-talking and loquacious. His press conference was more like a presentation - his answers twisted, developed, jumped from topic to topic. It was quite an overwhelming experience - and educational, which is something I wouldn't say about Public Enemies itself. He was a far more thought-provoking, and compulsive ambassador for the period.

Transcribing was hard, he dropped references quickly and often without real emphasis, meaning I had to dig things out. Certain aspects were incredibly perplexing - like his assertion that 'on the lam' comes from a fellow called Herbert K. Lam, for which I can't find any etymological source. Dizzying though. Sadly, some of the journalists made no attempt to hide their apathy - they turned off their recorders, saving space and battery life for Johnny Depp. Depp was awesome, yes, but Mann was quite something else. Check out the article below.

Public Enemies, Michael Mann's new crime thriller about 1930s American bank robber John Dillinger, is out this week. As part of the promotional routine, Mann and stars Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard were in London, and took part in a press conference for a motley crew of journalists.

They were interviewed separately, for 20 minutes each. Michael Mann was sandwiched in between the two actors, and delivered an engrossing semi-lecture on 1930s America, bouncing off and ignoring questions as he deemed fit. Like his films, he came across as bold, charismatic and confident - but he has a fast-talking manner, a depth of reference and a heavily intellectual streak that would give migraines even to the seasoned culture vulture.

He packed in discussion of literature, human geography, history and media - tying it all to the importance of Dillinger and the social changes of the early 1930s; he communicated his passion for the project, and his acute attention to detail. Indeed, he probably imparted more information about the real history of the period than he gave away in his relatively minimalist, evocative film. An utterly heady, barmy press conference.

Read the full article here.

[209] Public Enemies: Marion Cotillard Conference

I knew little about Marion Cotillard before attending the Public Enemies press conference this week. She was charming, and quite open about her approach to acting. See my report below.

At the recent press conference for Michael Mann's summer crime blockbuster Public Enemies, the throng of scribblers and hacks were given the chance to chat with lead actress Marion Cotillard. Gracious and winsome, the French Academy Award winner was only fazed by a particularly energetic audio-sensing microphone hooked up to one of the many digital recorders placed in front of the stage.

The quick chat covered many bases, from how she decided to portray John Dillinger's lover Billie Frechette, her in-depth research and preparation for the role, and her relationship with co-star Johnny Depp, and director Michael Mann.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

[208] Public Enemies: Johnny Depp Conference

Johnny Depp is one of my favourite actors, and has been in certain roles in certain films that have really influenced and affected me over the years - from Edward Scissorhands, Finding Neverland and Ed Wood, to Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Dead Man. So, it was particularly awesome to attend a press conference for Public Enemies in London this week - which essentially played out as three 20 minute interviews, en masse, with Depp, Michael Mann and Marion Cotillard individually. I was entirely struck by him - his elegant manner, and slightly poetic turn of phrase. Check out the article below.

Public Enemies, the new film from Michael Mann, tells the story of Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger. Starring as Dillinger is Johnny Depp, who is already courting a small amount of Oscar buzz if any of the pre-release reviews are to be believed. At the film's press conference, Depp sat down and answered questions from the assembled journos.

Suave and dapper in a waistcoast and open-cuffed shirt, he cuts a sensual, catlike figure - as iconic and enthralling as his screen roles. From his entrance, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, pausing to regard an oversized film poster draped behind the stage. In a moment of awkward, bashful humility, he laughed, and said "Well, that's entirely too large, is it not?", before easing into his designated leather armchair.

In the conference, he touched on his reaction to his popular image, his long career, as well as his approach to playing notorious Public Enemy Dillinger.

Read the full article here.