Thursday, 29 April 2010

[334] Potential Service Interruption

Writing and bloggery might slow down for the next few weeks, as I am working at Sight & Sound Magazine, getting the inside scoop on the BFI's monthly periodical. So, sorry for the silence, but I have piles of magazine supplements to sort through.

See you on the other side!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

[333] Transformers: War for Cybertron Interview

You know, I have next to no knowledge about Transformers, but it has struck me how easily the minds at Hasbro, Activision, and so on, are so adept at spinning out product at a consistent rate, seeming to offer something ever so slightly different at every turn. Maybe it's because it was always a license to sell toys anyway: they want to you keep buying. Here is an interview with producer Jason Ades, about the new Transformers video game, War for Cybertron.

It has been less than twelve months since Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen was released in the cinemas, and subsequently took in 800 million dollars. Likewise, the same amount of time has passed since we first cast our eyes on the film's tie-in videogame, yet fans of the franchise don't have to wait long for their next fix, as Transformers: War For Cybertron is coming this summer.

We recently had the chance to see some scenes from the game, which is shaping up to be a very different beast from its predecessor. Unlike
Revenge Of The Fallen's area-based, free roaming approach (which brought games like Desert and Jungle Strike to mind), War For Cybertron looks mightily like a Gears Of War-style shooter, with a grey, gritty paint job slapped over the Generation One Transformers universe, and a reliance on an over-the-shoulder camera.

Narrative-wise, it's reminiscent of the origin stories that have been used by many long-standing properties. This time, we're taken back to an early period of the Transformers' timeline, way before they came to Earth.

Instead, there is trouble brewing on their home world, Cybertron, with the Autobots and the Decepticons engaged in civil war. Here, focus is on large-scale encounters and huge boss battles, like the epic Battle of Decagon, or a final showdown between Megatron and Omega Supreme, the Autobots' last line of defence.

We didn't get a hands on, but we did chat with producer Jason Ades, who is working with High Moon Studios (
Darkwatch: Curse Of The West, The Bourne Conspiracy) on the game, asking him about the major aspects of War For Cybertron, its style, narrative and its relation to the films of Michael Bay.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 23 April 2010

[332] Confessions of a Superhero (2007) Review

I won't shoot my mouth off, I'll just say that Confessions of a Superhero struck a cord with me.

Documentary film director Matt Ogens' Confessions Of A Superhero is a remarkable piece of work, taking under its gaze the community of wannabe actors and odd kooks that dress up as movie stars, classic characters and superheroes, and wander along Hollywood Boulevard, trading photographs with passers-by for tips. It is a subculture that treads the line between legitimate tourist trap and begging, but a strange code of conduct keeps most of them on the good side of the tolerant local law enforcement.

The film focuses on four such caped street entertainers - a Superman (Christopher Dennis), a Batman (Maxwell Allen), a Wonder Woman (Jennifer Wenger) and an Incredible Hulk (Joseph McQueen) - and takes a look at their lives through candid footage of their daily routines, and long talking head interviews.

While some of the situations are, in essence, comic (such as the Batman impersonator having both a dark past and anger issues), the film treats its subjects with a certain pathos, an intimacy that treads the line between respect and voyeurism with often brutal frankness.

They are not scrutinised for laughs. They instead become a warped refraction of our dreams, be they the ambition to be a movie star, or the fantasy and obsession of pop culture.

When Superman stands in his apartment, which has become his own geeky fortress, stuffed with memorabilia, toys, comics and posters wallpapering each room, he becomes a symbol for the ageing obsessive, investing time and endless energy into their chosen hobby.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

[331] The Market / Pazar (2008) Review

Now screening at the BFI in London, and soon to be appearing at other cinemas throughout the UK is this intermittently brilliant film about black market trade in Turkey.

Writer-director Ben Hopkins' Turkish film The Market (Pazar) has the fitting subtitle 'A Tale Of Trade'. This international co-production, with money coming from Germany, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Britain, is a testament to the filmmaker's ambition, as it is shot both in Eastern Turkey and in the Turkish language, telling the story of a black market businessman in the mid-1990s, hustling and scoring small jobs in order to get by in an era of economic shift.

Mihram is a hapless, unlucky sort. We first meet him attempting to sell some telephone wire, only to find out the customer had recently been burgled of that same length of cable. Later, he loses money at cards, sells cigarettes at football games, and drinks his worries away. Not exactly the textbook Muslim, he still finds time to spare a few words of prayer, begging for the good fortune of profit, in order to invest in an upstart mobile phone company. So, once a local doctor asks him to make a quick trip into Azerbaijan to buy a shipment of children's medicine, he sees his opportunity for some wheeler-dealing with the hospital's money.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

[330] Cemetery Junction (2010) Review

Here is my review of Cemetery Junction, the debut film from the directing and writing duo of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

Two things that didn't make it into my over-long review.

First, can we please put a ban on using 'All The Young Dudes' in any filmic context where there are teenagers or 20-somethings? It's a belter of a song, in both Bowie-prominent and Mott the Hoople versions, but it is overplayed and by now completely meaningless. It sorely hurts the soundtrack of this film, which otherwise is quite tastefully poppy and unpretentious ('Crazy Horses', 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting', 'Cum On Feel the Noize'). Plus, there's a brilliant sequence set to Led Zeppelin's 'The Rain Song', from the under-rated album Houses of The Holy.

Second, what is it with nostalgia at the moment? In the review, I refer to The Boat That Rocked and An Education as two extremes of a spectrum in which Cemetery Junction sits comfortably in the middle. Those three films have come out in the last 12 months, and I am sure they are not the only pictures doting on the 1960s-1970s period. Thankfully, An Education dodged that by sinking into pre- or non-Beatles pop and jazz, and had much more interesting, character-driven depths, but it needs to be said.

I commented on Twitter, that I look forward to, in 20 years time, a glut of softly focused, slightly smug, self-mythologising, pleasant comedies about a group of late 90s teenagers listening to Green Day in Chorley. Sewing patches onto their rucksacks and wearing hoodies two sizes too large. And we can look back and smile and say 'yep, that's exactly what it was like and wasn't the music brilliant?'. We can call it Chain Gang, a tactful two-pronged phrase that links their youthful rebellion with the length of metal chain hanging from the back pocket of their baggy cargo jeans.

Enough of my ranting. Read the review! See the film, perhaps! It's actually, in some ways, pretty good!

The crackle of vinyl gives way to sweeping Vaughan Williams strings, as the camera gazes over sun-bronzed English countryside. Vistas of double decker buses and vine-chewed pubs share space with graceful tableaux of hard graft factory work.

This is the 1970s in Cemetery Junction, a fictional town near Reading, home to a trio of cheeky 20-somethings who are still finding their place in life, stuck between youthful rebellion and the inevitable march towards blue-collar labour. Breaking from the cycle, Freddie (Christian Cooke, a sort of British Emilio Estevez, with sandy hair, blue eyes and a boyish charm) decides to shoot for the big money, by going into the life assurance business.

The tone is leaden and poignant, but it doesn't take long for the first punchline to slice through the atmosphere, bringing with it an eruption of rock music, expressive cutaways and an opening sequence that boldly affirms itself. Of course, this is
Cemetery Junction, the debut film from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, their transition from small to big screen.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

[329] La Gueule Ouverte Review, in Film International 8.1

A nice surprise arrived in the post on Friday: the new issue of Film International.

Good cover, eh? I'm still picking through it, but this issue is stuffed with great pieces and essays, including the lead article by Gary McMahon, 'On the Edge', a quickie meditation on comic villains, psychology and society, and a fascinating exploration of Egyptian cinema's representation of homosexuality, 'Real Queer Arabs', by Omar Hassan.

My interest is slightly affected by selfishness, however, as a review of mine also features, of Maurice Pialat's La Gueule Ouverte.

Starting with a short, quiet establishing shot in a hospital waiting room, La Gueule ouverte (The Mouth Agape, 1974) is a film weighed down by the certainty of death. Reportedly influenced by director Maurice Pialat's experience with his mother's passing, the picture is a stripped-back portrait of a family in the grip of mortality. Monique Mélinand appears as a woman slowly succumbing to terminal illness but, despite a few scattered scenes throughout the film, her struggle is left in the background. Instead, the lingering reminder, and eventual closure of her death is used as a pivot around which this piece revolves.

As always, it's a joy to see work in print, and this is a piece I'm quite proud of. It reminds me, actually, I need to get to work on my next review for Film International, of For All Mankind. I think Warren Ellis' recent column on space travel might be an influence.

You can read more about Film International at their website, or the website of its publisher, Intellect Books. It has become increasingly difficult to find in the UK, since Borders shut down, but if you are in the London area, the BFI store does carry it.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

[328] Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Interview

Two game preview articles in one week?! Here's a piece about the new Spider-Man game, which has quite an interesting twist in its tail.

In the wake of last year's Arkham Asylum, it must be tough to be given the task to develop a new comic book-influenced videogame, but Activision and Beenox have a few surprises up their sleeve with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Such as doing away with a lot of the trappings that have been repeated over the recent cycle of games featuring ol' web-head, including open-world segments and an explorable New York City, in favour of something more linear and story-driven.

Shattered Dimensions' most striking aspect, however, comes from its central flourish. The story takes place across four separate dimensions, each corresponding to a particular spin on the Spider-Man character. Only two have been announced so far, and they are the Amazing and Noir universes, with the former being the familiar world of the hero's main ongoing series, and the latter being the dark, Depression-era re-imagining from 2009's limited series.

Each universe has a distinct look and approach, with the Amazing missions bathed in primary colour washes, and featuring a focus on various web-slinging attacks.

At the recent London preview event, a mission was shown from an early, rough build of the game, in which Spidey was taken out of New York, and sent to a wild jungle in order to battle Kraven the Hunter. The Noir level, however, was based around a shady, gritty palette of light and shadow. This time around, stealth was key, as Spider-Man swung from ground to perch, out of sight, in order to perform take-downs on goons in an industrial estate operated by mafia boss, Hammerhead.

It is certainly an intriguing set-up, although this is more of a tease than anything to justify significant anticipation. The two unannounced universes will prove key to this, as with 'stealth' and 'fast paced action' gameplay modes out of the way, it's a little tough to think of other Spidey incarnations that could offer such distinct playing styles. (Any true believers out there got a hunch? We're thinking maybe
Spider-Man 2099. Grant us your wisdom in the comments!)

More information will trickle out as we edge nearer to the game's September release date, but for the time being, I had the chance to pick the brains of the game's executive producer, Meghan Morgan, and producer, Kevin Umbricht, asking them to fill us in on
Shattered Dimensions' plot (that reportedly has contributions from Amazing Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott), as well as explain their approach to the character.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

[327] Blur Preview, Bizarre Creations Interview

Blur is shaping up to be quite an arcade racing hit, if the anticipation stoked by the beta (now a public multiplayer demo) is anything to go by. Here's a short preview article I wrote for Den of Geek, followed by an interview with two members of the development team.

Blur's concept seems so obvious in retrospect: why not twin the photo-realistic graphics and licensed cars of Forza with the arcade-style mayhem of Mario Kart? It's a simple setup that yields a lot of excitement, as many gamers have already found out through the game's Xbox 360 pre-release beta, which kicked off at the beginning of March.

Based around real-world locales, like Tokyo and Barcelona,
Blur pulses with electric energy, as players pick up items such as lightning bolts, mines and speed boosts to wreck their opponents, or get the edge on the rest of the crowd.

With much of the game's core aspects still being kept under wraps - a single player career mode that comes complete with social media parodies, for instance - plenty of attention has been given to the multiplayer, which is engrossing and fast-paced. It's shaping up to be a racing equivalent to
Modern Warfare 2, with an XP-style 'fan points' system, which are granted for racing and completing specific challenges, and unlock new cars and gaming modes as the player levels up.

At a recent hands-on event in central London, various journos were shoe-horned into leather sofas and given a test drive of the game's 4-player split screen. Trash talk was spewed, victory dances were broken out, and a few tears might have been shed.

More importantly, we were given the opportunity to chat with two representatives from Bizarre Creations, the Liverpool-based development team. I grabbed a quick chat with Ged Talbot, lead designer, and Chris Downey, lead environment artist, asking them about their intentions for the game, how to craft a compelling multiplayer experience, and looking for originality in a bloated marketplace.

We also touch on the game's beta - now closed for registration, but expected to be released as a free, open Xbox Live download on April 6th - and the anticipation it has created, as well as their reactions to the government's recent plans to provide tax breaks for the British game industry.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

[326] Epigrams and Epitaphs, a Tease...

I have a lot going on at the moment, but I thought I would post a teaser for a project that, hopefully, will gather some steam.

I bought this book for 50p in Birmingham almost three years ago. It stuck out of the pile of yellowing, dusty books in Mr. Wycherley's shop because of one attribute: it was heavily annotated by its previous owner.

The previous owner of the book, which was originally published in 1897, was Dr. Frederick Parkes Weber, a noted dermatologist and prominent figure in many cross-sections of the London of his lifetime, which spanned almost a century, from 1863 to 1962. I am using this book as a guide, as part of that man's legacy, to explore the debris of life that shoots outwards in the form of physical media, patronage and artefacts. In the world of PDFs, iPads and virtual shopping, it seems all the more important to trace the webs of living through matter.

I have already started the adventure, hopefully I will have more to show soon.

Monday, 5 April 2010

[325] Warwick Thornton Interview, continued.

I had to cut down my interview with Samson & Delilah writer-director Warwick Thornton when it was published over at Film4, in terms of both length and swearing. Here are the segments that were chopped. As I said earlier, I thought this interview was a good one, with Thornton - despite jet-lag - managing to speak with a lot of authority and insight. After speaking about the film's use of documentary-style shooting, and its look at Aboriginal culture, we also spoke about the role of music in the film, and the flashes of poetry that occur throughout.

You can read my review of the film here. It is certainly a powerful piece, and worth checking out.

While this is about Aboriginal issues, you instead focus on this strange little romance between Samson and Delilah...

Well, first and foremost it was a teenage love story, and they use whatever love it is to survive, to overcome those barriers.

So do you think love is the way that we can get through it all? They do suffer for it in the film...

Yeah, you use whatever you can to survive. They use that bizarre kind of love. He's kind of neanderthalic. She listens to these Mexican love songs, that's her concept of love. It's bigger, and slightly fairy tale. And neither of them are right or wrong, it's just the way to get through it all.

This is your debut feature. Did your previous short films prepare you for this stripped down feel, with you multitasking and having a skeleton crew?

Yeah, but I've made five minute films with a hundred people on set. For this film, this was the way it needed to be made. The next film I'm writing, you might have a hundred people on set. It's a much bigger, much more demanding film. Whereas this one didn't need that many people.

While there is that sense of realism to the film, it also has this sense of poetry to it, with the repeated motifs of the two characters daily routines, or in the images, such as the village's phonebox, which always rings, but no one ever answers. And also in the way the film looks at violence...

Absolutely. Even when I was writing it, I knew to keep with that structural style. I didn't write in other scenes without Samson and Delilah. You know, cutting to other characters, or the big truck coming over the hill. Everything happens in real time. And whenever something happens to Samson and Delilah, whenever they meet someone, or they got hit by a car. It would happen at the same as for the audience, they audience were there in the sense. They didn't know the car was pulling up, they didn't know anyhting. Just like Samson and Delilah. And not to use that trick of keeping the audience one step ahead. You know, it's a very classic Hollywood trick. As an audience member, you know what's around the corner. It's a very safe, numbing way of making cinema. And I don't like it. I like the idea of not knowing what the hell's going to happen. Because that what happens in life.

But, equally, the violence and exploitation that the characters suffer - say the car accident, or when Delilah is abducted by a group of men late in the film - is not made explicit, was that a conscious decision as well?

Yeah, we know exactly what the fuck happened. And your imagination, as an audience member, is about ten times better than my directing. So, why don't we use that to our advantage?

And you do. For example, in the scene where Delilah is hit by a car, you instead focus in on Samson's reaction, which is quite cloudy and subjective.

Yeah, absolutely, you go to a point of view, in a sense. You go to Samson's point of view, or the back of his head. That stuff is slightly there to annoy you. You know, 'turn around, you dickhead! Go and help her!'. And it's the realisation that he's gone deeper and deeper into the substance abuse.

There's a way of thinking about drama, that the darker moments make the lighter moments seem more vivid. Do you think the film's ending, where Samson and Delilah are bruised but together, is happy?

Yeah. Well, they're alive. It's actually a darker ending, in a strange way. In Romeo and Juliet, they die. You walk away, and go 'well, I can't help them, they're dead'. There's nothing there for them tomorrow. But since they lived, it actually hurts a lot more because, well, what's going to happen tomorrow? And, can I help? What can I do now? There's Samsons and Delilahs in London, they're not aboriginal. They're teenagers who are in love, and they're neglected and they're homeless.

So do you think the story transcends that culutral specificity, then?

I fuckin' hope so! You know, if an audience can't click with that... What happened when you went away from the film, did you think about what was going to happen to them next, or what?

Well... it is interesting, watching international cinema, or watching films from other cultures, because there is that specificity to it. I've not seen many Australian films, but not many of them deal with that community, but as you say it happens and it must be there. So that does play on your mind, even though there is the connection to the characters and the story, and the emotional resonance. Speaking of this international feel, the music of the film is very interesting as well. You have the Ana Gabriel ballads, the Verandah Band who play a sort of Ska...

Skanky reggae, I thought...

...And then you have Tom Waits as well. And you did some of the music yourself, too. So is the music an integral part of the film?

Yeah, having hardly any dialogue, I needed to find songs that the audience could relate to the situations of the characters. So the opening song is 'Sun Shiney Day', and Samson's sniffing petrol in squalor. It's a sense of place, it's creating a position for the audience in the first five minutes, and they go 'okay, we're not in Kansas any more, and we're watching a very different film from what we'd be watching normally'. So I set that up, using music more to create narrative than emotion. A lot of films, and I'm a big partnership to this crime, you finish the edit, and you fill it full of - now this is a sad scene, so if we're going to make it sad, let's chuck in a sad song. Using it for emotion, not for proper storytelling. On this film, I purposefully wrote it, and in the script I had all the actual songs. I listened to the songs, I worked out the lyrics. And thought, how can I use this to tell the story, rather than just create some quick emotion. So that was really nice doing that. I find music incredibly important in films.

It shows, as all the characters seem to have their songs, or what they use as their own expression or escape.

Yeah, their theme songs.

And that image of a young boy listening to the radio, looking outside of his immediate surroundings, is quite powerful.

Radio is used in Central Australia as like a telephone. Information is passed through radio, as a lot of telephones don't work in communities. So people will write letters of request, and do strange things to feed in information to different communities. So he's listening, and he's listening for information - when does his father get out of jail, that kind of information.

And it carries that subtle subplot...

Yeah, not just spoon feeding them information, but giving enough to keep people happy.

Because in a different film, that could have been a major plotline...

Or a reason why he's a dickhead! But it's not a reason why he's a dickhead, it's just the way it is. You can put kids through the best schooling in the world, with 24/7 parenting, and they still come out dickheads. [laughs]

Samson & Delilah is currently screening at selected cinemas, and will be touring the UK throughout April and May. For a list of locations, visit here, or for more information, check

Saturday, 3 April 2010

[324] Samson & Delilah (2009) Review

Here is another review for, of the Australian film Samson & Delilah. I interviewed the writer-direct, Warwick Thornton, back here. There was a lot of good stuff from our chat that I had to cut out, so I'll probably post up more in the next few days.

Filmed on location in Central Australia, Samson and Delilah is a film of youth, love and Aboriginal experience. However, first-time feature filmmaker Warwick Thornton chooses to avoid political stridency or cheap drama in favour of something much more complicated, artful and engaging.

Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) live in a small, isolated village in the Australian desert, where days are dusty and repetitive. Delilah aids her aged, craggy Nana (Mitjili Gibson), painting intricate canvases that are bought by the village's white shop owner. By contrast, Samson, a boy with long, baby-blonde hair and an insolent cackle of a laugh, spends his days clowning around, commandeering abandoned wheelchairs and sniffing petrol. One day, he etches into the shop's wall 'S + D', and their love is set.

Read the full review here.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

[323] The UK Web & Mini Comix Thing 2010 / Podcast #1

Last weekend I went down to Queen Mary's University for the UK Web & Mini Comix Thing.

It was a drizzly day, but the morning was fresh, so I walked down from Aldgate, via Whitechapel market, where I purchased some halal pick 'n mix, and prepared myself for a day of sugar and sequential art ripped straight from the digital pages of the internet.

That was until I had paid the entry fee (£4), and made a purchase for the Finnish Girl (£4.50), and realised that I had scant pennies left over. Nevertheless, here is my haul.

- An Ellerbisms Tote Bag, from Marc Ellerby (about to be sent Nordwards).
- Tozo - The Public Servant, issue three, from David O'Connell (complete with an awesome tactile section with paper money).
- Curia Regis, by Robin Hoelzemann.
- A great little Darken side-story, playing on the Genie-in-a-Bottle form, by Kate Ashwin.
- An adorable My Cardboard Life postcard from Philippa J. Rice.
- Another ace postcard from Adam Cadwell's series of Childhood Villains, this one of Moominpapa.

Slim pickings, I know. Although that is not a comment on the wonders on offer. I was particularly taken this time by the wildly imaginative artwork of John Miers (especially his Tower of Babel project). It was also a kick to see Ellen Lindner, Howard Hardiman, Phillip Spence, Alasdair Maceachern and Joe List (whose The Annotated Weekender, a series of doodles on the Saturday Guardian's glossy magazine supplement, is lovely indeed). If I'd had the money, I would have definitely bought the new book from Melody Lee, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's children's story The Happy Prince, with her hyper-detailed, adorable animals (check out some pages here).

This year there were less international exhibitors, it seems, apart from a keen German delegation from Zwerchfell books. But, wow, it was still overwhelming. One of the little quirks of the year involved most creators having stickers to give out to punters, to fill in their Thing Passport. I had a new notebook to christen, so that did the job perfectly.

Now, on to major business. I decided to take along the battered AKG vocal microphone that a good friend has loaned me, and took some quickie interviews in order to cobble together...

...A prototype Wild Tyme podcast!

I am hoping to branch out into more audio work in the future, and thought that this was a good opportunity to test out my sound recording set up, do some editing, and get something out there for people to listen to.

LISTEN HERE (right click to save as)

This is very rough, but it is a report from the Thing nonetheless. I interviewed:

- David Wynne, enthusing about his new comic project Particle Fiction, and its approach to the webcomic form.
- Steven and Chris Denton, chatting about their series Massacre for Boys, which is a jolly good riff on boys' adventure comics, with added zombies. [Despite my emphatic confidence, I got muddled at this point. Chris speaks first, and Steven finishes up.]
- David O' Connell, of Tozo fame, talking about prints and postcards, the BirdSong/SongBird anthology (which is worth a look) and working with Sarah McIntyre on children's books.
- Adam Cadwell, musing about the Thing, and letting slip his plans for a comic on Slacker Vampires.
- Marc Ellerby, intellectualising on merchandise and comic cliques, and declaring Solipsistic Pop the future of UK comics anthologies (and it really is, judging by the previews for the next volume. Wow. Read my piece on the first volume here.).

As I say, it is all very unrefined, with levels all over the place and no music, but it's a learning experience, and I think I might try to do these for future comics events.

Thanks to the above creators for chatting with me. Please feel free to retweet or pass the link on, and leave comments below with observations, advice, and trash talk.