Monday, 8 October 2012

[567] BRB

Sorry, I've fallen behind on the blogging front. I'm not idle, though - I've been working full-time for BAFTA, and also writing for Den of Geek, Little White Lies and Grolsch Film Works, and I even had a little piece in Empire last month. Believe me, I've been busy.

So... no time for blog, Dr Jones.

If you want more up-to-the-minute updates on what I'm doing, then you can stalk me on Twitter.

Monday, 16 July 2012

[566] Crispian Mills & Chris Hopewell Interview

Out this week is A Fantastic Fear Of Everything, a new British flick starring Simon Pegg as a writer beset by his own overactive imagination. Behind the camera are two debut feature filmmakers, Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell, but they’re hardly unfamiliar faces. Hopewell has enjoyed success for years as a director of visually inspired music videos such as Radiohead's There There, whereas Crispian Mills, the son of director-producer Roy Boulting and actress Hayley Mills, is the former frontman of 90s Brit-rock hippies Kula Shaker.

Ahead of the film’s release, we had the chance to chat with the two directors about Fantastic Fear Of Everything’s long gestation, the difficulty of describing the film’s mix of visually-vivid live-action comedy, nostalgic animation and macabre eccentricity, and the helpful presence of leading man Simon Pegg.

Also, keep reading for one of the most unique personal phobias we’ve ever heard, courtesy of Mr Mills himself...

Read the full article here.

[565] Robert Weide Interview

Making a documentary is no easy task - especially, it seems, when your subject is Woody Allen. As the theatrical cut of his biographical flick Woody Allen: A Documentary hits the UK, Michael had the chance to speak with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robert Weide (who also directed the majority of Curb Your Enthusiasm, trivia buffs) about the art of the documentary.

Where do you start? Where do you stop? And how do you tackle Woody’s eclectic, prolific career in just under two hours? Thanks to Weide’s tremendous experience and insight, here is Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Docs, But Were Afraid To Ask.

I'm not sure where to start...

Well, let's not! [laughs]

Read the full article here.

[564] Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) Review

With as definitive-sounding a title as Woody Allen: A Documentary, this new bio-doc from Curb Your Enthusiasm director (and Oscar-nominated documentarian) Robert Weide has one hell of a task on its hands. After all, Woody is a real all-rounder, having achieved success as a stand-up comedian, comedy writer and playwright before finding success as an actor-director over 40 years ago.

43 films later, he's back on a high with the success of Midnight In Paris, which has grossed more than any other Allen flick to date, and has garnered the bespectacled auteur yet another Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (his third, and fourth overall). With that in mind, there's no better time for an all-inclusive documentary. And, with its mixture of classic clips, new interviews with a comprehensive list of collaborators and critics, and unprecedented access to the man himself, Weide's film does a great job of summing up Allen's career, and providing a compelling glimpse at the films that have built his reputation.

The exclusive footage with Allen, in particular, is an absolute treat, with the director's famously self-effacing modesty, and outright grumpiness, undercutting much of the sense of occasion that comes with such a documentary. “Writing,” he says at the opening, “is the great life. Then reality sets in.” Over the course of the film, Weide takes the viewer into Allen's home, and takes the director out of his comfort zone. This conjures up some moments of true insight, such as when Allen opens up a bedside drawer, and reveals a messy clump of paper scraps, each containing different ideas for movie scripts, or when he takes the camera crew on a tour of his childhood home of Brooklyn, wryly commenting, “It doesn't look like much, but it wasn't.”

Unfortunately, the film, as we see it in this limited UK theatrical run, is a cut down edit of an American Masters television two-parter. In its transatlantic transit, over an hour of material has been cut, which only accentuates the film's lopsided structure.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

[563] 'Never Give Up' - An Interview With Nick Abadzis

Last month, I interviewed graphic novelist Nick Abadzis for IdeasMag, picking his brains as a long-serving comics stalwart, in conjunction with the release of the collected Hugo Tate. Originally printed in Deadline - the 90s Brit-comics Bible which is now the subject of reverent, nostalgic whispers from older readers - Hugo Tate has, fortunately, now been rescued from oblivion by Blank Slate Books.

I've witnessed the power of Abadzis' comics before. Laika, his 2007 graphic novel about the Soviet space dog, is a deeply moving work. So much so that it can reduce a grown man to tears within ten pages, eliciting open sobbing on a London Overground train.

Laika should top any comic fan's list of must-reads, but reading Hugo Tate is quite a revelation. As the pages fly by, not only does the writer-artist grow in confidence - maturing from short strips and dramatic sketches to full-blown, dreamlike narratives that span the American continent - but the lead character himself, the eponymous Hugo, fleshes out as his personality develops. When we meet him, he's a mere stick-man; when we leave him, he's so much more.

Unfortunately, the article at IdeasMag had to be trimmed down to fit editorial guidelines, but here is the interview in full.

What first inspired you to start making comics?

I first made comics as a kid, imitating the funnies I found in humour comics like The Dandy and The Beano. Tintin and Asterix were also really big influences - Herge's work blew my mind when I first discovered it. Charles M. Schulz was also a big early inspiration - I loved Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

Did you study art or illustration? Did that inform your style at all?

I did an art foundation course at Chelsea School of Art but didn't go on to do a BA because after that year I still hadn't figured out whether I wanted to do fine art or illustration. I took a year out, travelled a bit then found myself rediscovering comics. That really sealed it - I'd had my calling.

What artists inspired you to at the beginning?

Apart from those mentioned above, there were others like Dudley D. Watkins, Ken Reid, Leo Baxendale, John M. Burns, Ron Embleton, Mike Noble, Martin Asbury, Harry North and many other stalwarts of British comics publishing. I was also a big fan of European comics and the likes of Uderzo, Morris, Moebius, Phillipe Driulliet. Later came American artists like Robert Crumb, The Hernandez Brothers, Art Spiegelman, Dan Clowes... many others.

What was your first big break, and how did that come about?

I was working in the original Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street in central London and a friend told me there was a job going as a colour separator at Marvel Comics UK (back when Marvel had a UK office). He arranged for a friend of his who worked there to view my portfolio and I managed to talk my way into that colour separating job. This was in the days when everything was done by hand, the old four-colour method - very laborious! But comics is a labour-intensive business. I learned how to colour pages by that method and soon worked my way into editorial. Marvel UK was a good university of comics - you learned things a particular way but it was all useful stuff. It gave me confidence to pursue my own direction, which I did after about a year and a half of working there.

At what point did comics become a concrete, sustainable career for you?

Ha! I'm not sure it ever has - I've always supplemented my comics career with other work, as an editor, illustrator, newspaper cartoonist, magazine developer - the secret to my longevity has been diversification.

A lot of older artists and writers talk about the early 90s - with the British invasion of American comics, and UK publications such as Deadline - as a sort of heyday for British comics. Is that just nostalgia talking, or was it as full of opportunity as they say? What do you think was so special about that period?

Probably a bit of all those things. When I was given the opportunity to experiment with my own characters and get paid for it (albeit not much) on Deadline I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I'm not sure it translated into great success for me personally but it did at least give me a history and a small, solid fanbase and reputation, something I'm eternally grateful for. In that sense, it was a great time - there was room for experimentation. I think a few writers got really lucky and rightly capitalised on the perception that they were part of some Brit wave of talent, but there were just as many writer/artists for whom it wasn't quite so easy.

When the bottom fell out of the UK comic market in the mid-90s, many of those very talented people were forced into career paths such as games development or similar. They were tough times and any of those Brit creators who are still around and making comics are doing so because they really, really love comics - the language, the medium and the industry.

Now, there are new publishers and a new generation of artists forging their own creative paths. You've worked with a handful of them, from the DFC to First Second and Blank Slate. How has the landscape changed, in your eyes?

I'm very pleased to see that there are now comics for younger readers again. I think good comics for children are very important as they're the next generation of fans who may grow into adulthood appreciating the medium so giving them quality storytelling when they're young is key to that. I applaud any publisher who understands and nourishes that. But comics really is much more than an entertainment medium now - it is a language and a swiftly evolving one. Every time you turn on a smartphone or computer, you're faced with something approximating comics iconography - it's all linked, all the different facets of design and comics grammar are feeding into the way we interact with the world through e-media these days. Exciting times.

You've worked on very different projects over the years, from serialised narratives to graphic novels. How does your creative process work? Does it differ, depending on the format?

It does - I tend to approach every project that comes my way differently, whether it's a commission or something that I've brought to a publisher. How does it work? I don't know. There's a lot of strugle after the initial burn of an idea, a lot of sweat and a long period shaping the structure and shape of the story. I do a lot of thumbnails before I even think of doing finished art.

How is creating all-ages or children-focussed comics (Cora's Breakfast, Laika) different from more adult-oriented work like Hugo Tate or Sober Dog?

Younger readers will let you know very quickly if they're bored by the story you're telling them so it's worth giving it plenty of twists and turns. But really, it's the same for adults - you have to engage your reader whatever age they are, and hook them into the story so they can't put it down. So, not a lot of difference, really.

You recently moved to the USA. A lot of your work has not only been informed or influenced by American culture (O America), but some of it has been published by American publishers, too. Do you think that British comics artists should look Stateswards (as opposed to, say, inwards or Europewards)?

I think British creators should look to wherever the work is coming from, because they've got to be survivors. Being a comics creator can be a tough old game. Of course, it's so much the better if the work is being offered by British publishers, and we currently have a disparate and thriving scene here which is fantastic to see. Personally, I'm a pragmatic sort of bloke, and I don't like to have all my eggs in one basket so I don't think there's anything wrong with working for more than one publisher, here in the UK or abroad.

There's also much discussion about what to call comics, and the term 'graphic novel' seems to have been adopted as a way of smuggling comics into more literary contexts. What's your take on this? Is it just a name, or is it just another form of stigma?

I'm not sure who originally coined the term 'Graphic Novel' but it seems to be used a lot by the book trade to describe long comics, be they documentaries, memoir, fiction or whatever. It's a clunky term and I don't like it much - especially when it's prefixed by the word 'literary' - I've heard my own work described as 'literary graphic novels'. They're visual narratives, fusions of words and pictures that are utterly immersive when they're doing their jobs properly. But in all honesty, I don't spend much time thinking about it - I think about the storytelling and whether it's working or not, whether it's going to hook a reader in. That's what's most important.

Do you think the surge of interest in superhero movies benefits comics at large?

I think it's part of it, yeah, part of the appeal in a general way - but in truth it's an offshoot, more an occurrence of merchandising than of comics per se. Comics as a cultural and linguistic phenomenon doesn't need to be justified by that - that is just one indication of comics' influence and colonisation of other areas of culture. I love movies, but when I'm watching a movie I don't necessarily want it to look or be like a comic - I'm looking for a different kind of experience. I don't think making those movies will necessarily bring a new readership to comics, it's just a success of marketing those particular characters.

What will bring new readers to comics is good new comics, new directions, new evolutions of the form and sophistication of storytelling. It can be an incredibly expressive, personal method of telling stories, of exploring the human experience, so why be limited to one particular genre? It isn't, so I would advise anyone interested in good storytelling to look further afield than mainstream comics. There is some incredible work around these days, coming not only from the UK but from Europe, the Americas and Japan. All these countries have their own mainstream comics and also their own independent sectors where all manner of experimentation goes on, be it online, self-published or curated by small publishers still in love with the print medium. It's here that you'll find the genuine vanguard of comics, not on cinema screens.

What advice would you give to young artists and illustrators interested in making their own comics?

Never give up. Follow your own instincts, your own voice and get your vision out there.

Visit Nick's site here. The Hugo Tate collection is available at all good comics shops, but you can also order direct from publisher Blank Slate Books here.

Monday, 11 June 2012

[562] Simon Pegg Interview

'Dear 14 year old Spaced fan...'

After last year’s Hollywood triple-whammy of Paul, The Adventures Of Tintin and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Simon Pegg is back on our screens this week in A Fantastic Fear of Everything, a macabre comedy in which a hapless writer is paralysed by his own paranoia. Following such massive, multiplex-sized movies, this is a step back into more modestly budgeted territory for the co-creator and star of Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz.

When we had the chance to chat with the man himself last week, we asked about working with first-time feature directors Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell, the differences between Hollywood and UK films, and the perks of appearing in such ‘geek dream’ flicks.

But first, we couldn’t resist a quick question about The World’s End, and his future plans to work with Edgar Wright...

Everyone’s excited about World’s End. Of course, that’s the conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy. Do you have any plans to work with Edgar Wright after that?

Oh, God yeah! Edgar and I never sat down and said, “Let’s make a trilogy”. We’ve been friends since Spaced, since before Spaced, actually, since we did Asylum. We’ll always work together. But with these films, we kind of set out to do three films that tied together thematically. We had the idea of thematic sequels rather than direct sequels. So World’s End will be the ribbon that ties Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz together, and will form a definite trilogy about the individual versus the collective. That’s kind of the thing.

After that, yeah, we’ve got loads of plans to do stuff. I know Edgar’s got Ant Man coming up, and I’m probably... I don’t want to be in that, because I like watching Edgar Wright films, and I distract myself. And another two scripts he’s written, which are fantastic, which he’s going to develop. That’s Edgar’s stuff. He’s such a talent, and I trust Edgar, I think, more than anybody, in terms of creativity, so I will always sit on his coat-tails as much as I can!

Read the full article here.

[561] Nick Frost Interview

Nick Frost has come a long way in the last 12 years, from playing the lovably gung-ho best mate Mike in Spaced, to appearing in the likes of Paul, The Adventures of Tintin, and the upcoming fourth entry in the Ice Age series. This month, he is one of the eight seriously grumpy dwarves in Rupert Sanders’ epic Snow White And The Huntsman.

After catching a tantalising 30 minutes of clips of this new take on Snow White (we've since seen the whole lot), we caught up with Frost at an advance press junket, where the actor spoke about being an angry dwarf, his career to date, and what the future has in store...

I still feel that we need to be pulled up to speed about Snow White and the Huntsman. We only saw half an hour of clips from the film...

Which is 26 minutes more than I’ve seen, by the way...

Read the full article here.

[560] Ray Winstone Interview

Ray Winstone’s ‘hard man’ reputation precedes him, but it takes no longer than a second for it to dissipate.

In a Central London hotel room, at an advance press junket for Snow White And The Huntsman, in which he plays one of the eight (!) dwarves in newcomer Rupert Sanders’ radical, epic reworking of the well-known fairy tale, Winstone stands at the window, slowly working his way through a packet of cigarettes.

He’s super cool, but before long he’s gushing. Gushing about working with confident filmmakers, about the relevance of fairy stories, and about how lucky he feels to be a hard-working, in-demand actor.

He even talks about that ‘tough guy’ image, but by then the spell has been long broken...

Read the full article here.

[559] The Angels' Share (2012) Review

Well, that’s my original opening paragraph out of the window. Last Sunday, The Angels’ Share, the latest offering from social realist stalwart Ken Loach, was presented with the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, guaranteeing it much more attention than it would otherwise have garnered. This is especially so, considering that this is a particularly unassuming trifle from the filmmaker who first trod the Croisette promoting Kes over 40 years ago.

It doesn’t start so tweely, though, as The Angels’ Share opens with a bunch of Glasgow ragamuffins, sentenced to community service after an assortment of misconduct, from shoplifting to assault, from drunken-and-disorderly behaviour to dicking about on a train station platform. While we are at first introduced to this bunch as an ensemble, Loach soon homes in on young Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a lad with a temper who is given one last chance to get his life back on track.

For the first act or so, The Angels’ Share is a typically British social drama, exhibiting all of the genre’s flaws and strengths. Loach shoots Robbie’s predicament with an immediate intimacy, which makes moments of reflection more poignant, and sudden, violent outbursts all the more disturbing. Glasgow is seen through an oppressive, grey murk - a grimness which leaches through into the characters’ lives. But Paul Laverty’s script, while shot through with an undercutting, sometimes deliciously sharp wit, is lumbered with whistle-clean themes and morality-tale simplicity, its melodramatic, transparent dialogue full of grand proclamations about responsibility and the seeming impossibility of escaping one’s past. Robbie simply wishes to get on with his life, and care for his girlfriend and newborn son, but his father-in-law, a gang of local goons, and society itself seem to be conspiring against him.

That is, until Harry (John Henshaw) comes into his life. No doubt the repeat recipient of the Scottish Social Worker of the Year Award, Harry wastes no time before taking Robbie under his wing, bussing him about when he should be painting the interiors of public buildings, and taking him and the group out on trips on his days off. One such display of warmth is to pass on his passion for whisky to Robbie, who, it turns out, is quite the natural. Before long, he’s developing his palette and pursuing this new-found hobby with life-changing enthusiasm.

Read the full article here.

[558] IdeasTap: How To Get Into Videogames

After BytesCorp's six-month tenure at the Woolyard in Bermondsey, I was really chuffed to finally contribute to the editorial section of arts funding/facilitating powerhouse IdeasTap. About videogames, too! Thanks to Pete Collier, Robert 'Mr BAFTA Games' Jones and David Hayward for their help with this one.

The videogame industry is no stranger to debates and discussion.

But now, snobbery and moral panic are starting to look rather outmoded, as the headline questions of old – “Are videogames art?”, “Do they rot our children’s brains?” – are being replaced with others, such as, “How will the UK support its most promising industry?” And “How can young creatives get involved in making the next generation of hit games?”

Read the full article here.

Monday, 28 May 2012

[557] Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review

For all his distinctive aesthetic touches and familiar thematic concerns, Wes Anderson isn’t a particularly predictable filmmaker, and no film came as more of a surprise than 2009’s stop-motion trifle Fantastic Mr Fox, which melded Roald Dahl’s world with Anderson’s own melancholic pre-occupations. However, while Moonrise Kingdom, the director’s new film, may not be tied to a much-loved children’s story, it is nonetheless a continuation of his exploration of childlike whimsy.

When 12 year old boy Sam Shakusky (newcomer Jared Gilman) hightails it from his Scout camp, he teams up with his tween sweetheart, Suzy Bishop (the equally fresh-faced Kara Hayward) for a pre-pubescent elopement through an isolated island community in remote New England. Armed with a BB Gun, a small yacht and a Davy Crockett hat, Sam is a fastidious mini-adventurer, who uses his Scout skills with expert efficiency. Suzy, a pair of prized binoculars slung around her neck, has a penchant for French pop and escapist fantasy fiction, reading seemingly made-up novels with evocative titles such as The Girl From Jupiter. Together, they’re on the run. From what? The Scout troop bullies who tormented Sam? Or Suzy’s idiosyncratic family, headed by matriarch Frances McDormand and patriarch Bill Murray?

Whatever it is, they’re on an Arthur Ransome-like adventure, indulging in flights of the imagination while immersing themselves in the natural surroundings of New Penzance. They’re a diminutive Bonnie & Clyde, on the lam from the local authorities - a police-force-of-one consisting only of Bruce Willis’ bumbling sheriff - and the deputised Scouts-in-pursuit, who spread a dragnet across the region, searching with spiked clubs and bows in hand.

Read the full article here.

[556] 2 Days In New York (2012) Review

Back in 2007, French actress Julie Delpy stepped behind the camera, and quietly put out 2 Days In Paris, a modest comedy-drama that mixed together the neurotic quirks and cutaways of Annie Hall, and the walk-and-talk navel gazing of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

But Delpy proved to be much more than the sum of her influences, as the film cut straight to the heart of its central relationship - that of Delpy's nervous thirtysomething Marion and her nebbish American beau Jack, played by Adam Goldberg - while delivering both a searing portrait of its Parisian surroundings, and a consistently well-observed meet-the-parents farce.

In that latter regard, the ace up Delpy's sleeve came in the form of Albert Delpy, the director's real-life father, who played her fictional dad Jeannot with an overweight, lascivious abandon. Flash forward five years, and Jeannot is back (although sadly without Marie Pillet, his on- and off-screen wife, and Delpy's mother, who passed away in the interim) jetting across the Atlantic to visit his daughter in the Big Apple, as she mounts an ambitious photography exhibition.

Jack is long gone, and Marion now lives with Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio DJ, with his daughter, and her son. Their life together is one of comfort, routine and, whisper it, maturity - and it is ripe for disruption of a distinctly Gallic variety. Accompanying Jeannot is Marion's sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and ex-lover Manu (Alexandre Nahon, both credited as co-writers), and the trio waste no time causing all sorts of fuss for their hosts.

Read the full article here.

[555] How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2012) Review

Let’s face it. If you were Mel Gibson, you would want a holiday. But he’s not jetting off into the sunset just yet. No, with his public reputation in tatters, and his movie career in freefall, the actor-filmmaker has drafted his own action-packed comeback, the sweat-soaked, bullet-ridden lark How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Gibson stars as a grizzled career criminal - a Man-With-No-Name listed in the production notes as Driver - who within minutes literally jumps the USA-Mexico border with a car full of cash. Apprehended by the corrupt Mexican police force, the crook is banged up in an open-plan prison-cum-slum, while the coppers make off with the dough. Left to fend for himself in this minimum-security favela, Driver must deal with his fellow inmates before finding a way to reclaim his money.

Despite his rather one-dimensional name, though, Driver quickly reveals himself to be more of a suits-any-purpose tough guy. His impressive CV includes petty street crime, the US Army and various gangs, giving him a unique skill-set that covers pickpocketing, sniping and cool observation - all of which serve him well when navigating the prison’s dangerous microcosm. But wait, he’s not just a brash brute. He’s also a kind-hearted fellow, and upon discovering that the prison isn’t only populated by macho gents, he soon takes under his wing a young scamp (Kevin Hernandez) and his victimised, yet strong-willed mother (Dolores Heredia).

Directed by first-time director Adrian Grunberg, How I Spent My Summer Vacation (known as Get The Gringo in the US, where it isn’t even receiving a theatrical release) is co-written and co-produced by Gibson himself, under his Icon Productions banner. While the actor may not be in the director’s chair this time around - and Summer Vacation has little in common with Gibson’s cinematic epics - a glance at Grunberg’s filmography reveals First Assistant Director gigs on both Apocalypto and Edge of Darkness, Gibson’s last stab at action-tinged mainstream cinema. Conspiracy theorists, determined to feed the controversy machine, will no doubt attempt to out Grunberg as a Gibson stooge. Of course, this is preposterous, but the star’s hand is nevertheless present throughout the film.

After all, whichever way you cut it, this is a vanity project. At its worst, you have the sort of flattering writing that only delights the star in question. In playing Driver - who, it must be stressed, is supposed to be a wheelman for a botched robbery - Gibson gets to play the lovable rogue, the surrogate father, and the morally-ambiguous anti-hero. He spouts witty one-liners like a reincarnated Raymond Chandler character, before engaging in expert moves that range from slow-motion gunfights to elaborate, explosive con artistry. He even gets the last laugh.

But what a laugh. Gibson’s charm and charisma - the effortless way that he waltzes through the plot’s messy mix of dark comedy, cloying drama and over-the-top action - have been barely dimmed by age. Indeed, there are few actors who can crack wise with bent border officials in one scene, only to chuck grenades in goons’ faces in the next.

For those yearning for the uncomplicated, iconic Mel of old - the smirking hero that many used to know and love - there are fun, escapist moments aplenty in this crackerjack crime caper. Although, it must be asked, whose escapism is How I Spent My Summer Vacation serving - that of the audience, or of Gibson himself?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

[554] Dark Shadows (2012) Review

If we were in the business of giving out ‘tl;dr’ versions of our reviews, we’d have this to say about Dark Shadows: yep, all the doubts and fears inspired by the film’s trailer are dead on target.

For the last ten or so years, since the sentimental Big Fish, Tim Burton has been honing his previously odd, gothic-meets-kitsch aesthetic into a rich, pristine gloss, all the while trampling on familiar properties from Sweeney Todd to Willy Wonka. 2010’s Alice In Wonderland was not only Burton’s most expensive, but his most successful film to date, but it found the director, who was once feted as the most distinctive of modern Hollywood visionaries, slipping towards humdrum mundanity.

Here, Burton is once more playing with other people’s creations, but after the family entertainment of Alice and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows, based on the 60s television show, is a shift towards supernatural comedy. Hopeful fans would point to the unhinged Beetlejuice or the madcap mess of Mars Attacks as positive precedents, but Burton, as is becoming sadly apparent with the passing of time, never fails to disappoint.

Read the full article here.

[553] Mark Ruffalo Interview

When you look at the line-up of heroes that Marvel have corralled into The Avengers, this week’s super-powered blockbuster offering, you can spot an odd-one-out among the ensemble. While, indeed, Bruce Banner and his green, ultra-peeved manifestation The Hulk have appeared in multiple films beforehand, this marks our introduction to Mark Ruffalo in the role.

Ruffalo, a seasoned veteran of quite fantastic films of all shapes and sizes (The Kids Are All Right, Zodiac, Shutter Island), proves to be a perfect choice, and brings a wounded, nervous vulnerability to Banner’s simmering, submerged superpower. However, as revealed at last week’s Avengers press conference in London, he was initially moved by the ‘brutal’ fan reactions to his casting.

Afterwards, we had the chance to sit down with Ruffalo at the Avengers press junket, and this curiosity-killed-the-cast-member story was an unavoidable talking point. His answers, candid and free of press-managed polish, were extremely enlightening, as Ruffalo covered not only his relationship with Marvel Studios moving forward, but how he has come to terms with being a player in the often intimidating Hollywood machine.

Read the full interview here.

Monday, 14 May 2012

[552] Tom Hiddleston Interview #2

Seriously, this man... Don't get me started. Last time, The Odyssey; this time, Henry V. Mancrush achieved.

Will nothing stop Tom Hiddleston’s geek-crush level from rising? After his striking, bright-eyed turns in a variety of films, from a cringe-inducing, well-meaning upper class chap in Archipelago, to F Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, he’s only gone and done it again with his darker, more troubled reprisal of Loki in The Avengers.

And, as if that’s not enough, last week he wrote an article for The Guardian, praising contemporary superhero movies as ‘the pinnacle of cinema’, modern-day equivalents of mythology and morality tales. This actor, it seems, is quite the believer in the power of the comic book movie.

At the Avengers press junket that same morning, we had the chance to quiz Hiddleston about the article, as well as his mould-breaking career so far, and the projects he has lined up in the future.

Do you feel quite lucky to have broken out of the well-spoken, prim British mould by getting the role of Loki? It’s certainly not the Jane Austen-y type of role usually given to well-spoken, classically trained Brits.

It was completely different. I hope that the person you see sitting in front of you... I’m not obvious casting for Loki. I don’t have long, greasy black hair. It was funny, because I think it took a while for Marvel to come around to the idea, too, because I initially auditioned to play Thor. That was what I was being considered for, because I’m tall and blonde and classically trained, and that seemed to be the mould for what Thor was, he was to be a classical character. And it was in my auditions. I owe this entirely to Marvel and their open-mindedness, they saw something that they thought was interesting. They saw some temperament that they liked.

It was one of those things where [Kenneth] really couldn’t have given it to me on a plate, it was just going to cost too much money. So the people who hold the purse strings need to make sure that the money is being spent properly. It’s a big movie, it’s a big blockbuster, that’s a lot of responsibility. So I auditioned and auditioned, just like Chris Hemsworth did, both of us. It took us both four months to get the roles.

But I knew I had an advocate in Kenneth Branagh, because we had worked on television together, we’d worked on stage. And that is really where we got to know each other. When you act with someone on stage, there’s no hiding place. You see who somebody is, you see what makes them tick. You see their process, their professionalism. It is a job that we do and Ken and I just really connected.

So I knew that he trusted me and I trusted him, and we had the same taste. We’re in this business for the same reasons, because we just love it. Love cinema, love acting, love stories and characters. So when push came to shove, and Marvel were thinking, I hope, that I was an interesting prospect, then Ken was probably able to say ‘you can trust him on this’.

Read the full interview here.

[551] Clark Gregg Interview

One way of looking at the recent run of Marvel Studios films, which reaches its apex with the release of The Avengers this week, is to read it as The Rise of Agent Phil Coulson. The suit from SHIELD, played with great poker-face by Clark Gregg, has slowly developed over the years, from cheeky cameos in the Iron Man and Thor movies, to a full-blown supporting role in The Avengers, where he not only steps up alongside the superheroes, but finally gets his fair share of screen time, too.

At the Avengers press junket last week, we had a chance to chat with Gregg about superheroes, the hard slog of being a working actor, and the slow-burning development of fan-favourite Agent Coulson.

What do you think is so fascinating about superheroes?

That’s a really good question. You’d think it would be done by now! There have been so many of them, for many years. I thought it was a specifically American, bizarre pop phenomenon, because we grew up with it... Superman, even Batman, from the 40s! And yet, there’s something about when I saw this film, it felt like all those ideas had been taken and, as I guess always happens, the culture calls out for what it needs, and there’s something about this that feels very self-aware, and the superheroes seemed much more flawed.

Yet you notice their egos and their psychological complexities are very much like hubris. And then you go, well wait a minute, this has actually been around kind of always! And there’s always the idea of a hero, and a super antagonist, and those are the building blocks of story. And I don’t think that this movie would work if it didn’t connect somehow to something deeper, because then it’s just a bunch of people flying around and we wouldn’t care.

Read the full interview here.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

[550] Whit Stillman Interview

Whichever way you look at it, 14 years is a long time in the film business - and that is how long it’s been since writer-director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days Of Disco) last graced us with a slice of dry-humoured, acutely-satirical comedy.

His new film, the East Coast college flick
Damsels In Distress, is both a return to and a break from form. The budget is still low, and the characters still wrestle with toe-curling lapses in self-awareness, but this time around there’s a new generation of pitch-perfect performers (Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody) giving voice to Stillman’s dialogue.

The night before I was due to chat with the director, I caught one of his three London Q&A appearances, where he answered questions covering the racial make-up of his cast, his obsession with dance crazes, and his fondness for the ‘stupid, innocent comedy’ of Will Ferrell. With such a packed promotional schedule, I worried that all possible questions had already been asked. What could we possibly talk about?

Luckily, as he has proved in his films, Stillman is the master of looking at similar situations with different, fresh perspectives. When I arrived at the PR company’s Soho offices, the director broke ranks, wandered out into the foyer, and suggested we conduct our conversation over coffee. And, amongst the Berwick Street bustle, Stillman proved to be a chatty fellow, full of anecdotes about his unrealised projects, advice about being an economical filmmaker and opinions on the current state of the film industry.

Read the full article here.

[549] Being Elmo Review

Thanks to the success of the recent Muppets revival flick - a sequel to which has just been cheekily announced by Disney - interest in the work of Jim Henson is higher than any other time in recent memory.

With that in mind, has there ever been a riper moment for a documentary that looks into ‘the soul of a puppeteer’? In a stroke of serendipitous movie magic, this week we are treated to the release Being Elmo, a biographical documentary about Sesame Street puppeteer Kevin Clash. The timing couldn’t be better, and, what’s more, the film isn’t half bad either.

Read the full article here.

[548] Damsels In Distress Review

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Damsels In Distress, the first film from writer-director Whit Stillman in well over a decade, is its unassuming lightness. Any expectations of grand statements, mostly fermented in the gap between this and 1998’s The Last Days Of Disco, are dissipated almost immediately by a buoyant pep.

This is in no small part due to the film’s star, indie darling Greta Gerwig. For years the poster child of ‘mumblecore’ flicks by the likes of Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers, Gerwig’s unconventional charm recently propped up No Strings Attached and graced Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg. Here, she is Violet, lead moppet in a clutch of florally-named students, whose altruistic tendencies lead them to run their leafy East Coast college’s Suicide Prevention Centre. Their preferred methods? Doughnuts and dancing.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 4 May 2012

[547] Elfie Hopkins Interviews: Jaime Winstone, Ryan Andrews & Aneurin Barnard

British film! Here's a little bit of press junket coverage I did for Youngsters talking about being young filmmakers in a fresh-faced fashion.

'It's like being a plasterer: the more you do it, the better you get.'

Ryan Andrews has been working hard, but the slog is finally paying off. His feature-length, directorial debut, Elfie Hopkins, is due for release this week, putting an end to five years of hard graft.

The film, in his words a mixture of 'American Grunge and British Twee', is a collision of aesthetic styles and narrative influences, from Tim Burton and fashion photography, to the stories of Raymond Chandler and Roald Dahl. Our young protagonist, the titular Elfie (Jaime Winstone), skulks around her rural Welsh town, playing the wannabe super-sleuth in Doc Martens and John Lennon shades. However, when a mysterious new family move in, this grunge-y gumshoe unearths more than she'd ever bargained for.

Starring bright young things Winstone and Aneurin Barnard (last seen in Marc Evans’ nostalgic Welsh drama Hunky Dory), the film’s mix of genre tropes, meticulous production design and lush cinematography makes it a very unlikely project for a first-time filmmaker, especially considering the supposedly cash-strapped, risk-averse times that currently plague the film industry.

Last week, on the cusp of the film's release, we sat down with Andrews, Winstone and Barnard, and spoke with them about starting out in the film world, building confidence and contacts, and how a film like Elfie Hopkins gets made.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

[546] Ginger Heroes

It's May! How did that happen? Time has been flying, and I've been very busy indeed. Expect a bunch of updates over the coming days, but here's an article I've been, well, destined to write my whole life.

Yes, over at MSN, I count down my favourite, film-y ginger heroes. Immense fun! And the editors even added one in afterwards. Can you guess which?

You know, it's not easy being ginger. Name-calling, freckles, sunburn - these are but three of the problems plaguing young redheads the world over.

But wait, fear no more. This summer, all fair-skinned ginger-nuts can stand side-by-side and herald the coming of Merida, the carrot-topped heroine of Disney-Pixar's upcoming animated adventure Brave, due for release on 17 August.

To celebrate, let's round-up the redheads for a ginger jamboree! Please join us as we look back at the most august of auburn-locked stars, from past to present.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 9 April 2012

[545] A Gang Story (Les Lyonnais, 2011) Review

I'm back on the Little White Lies bandwagon! And, true to form, here's me being snarky about French crime flick A Gang Story. Personal achievement in this one? Slipping in the verb 'to mope'.

French crime cinema seems to be enjoying quite a renaissance of late, with a rich vein of gritty and stylish dramas such as A Prophet, Mesrine and Carlos finding success outside of the country’s protectionist cultural borders. In a similar timeframe, writer-director Olivier Marchal has been churning out morally ambiguous, sporadically violent crime flicks that have drawn on his own experience as a cop, peaking with 2004’s César-nominated, Depardieu-starring 36.

Marchal’s new film, A Gang Story, is based on the true story of an infamous stick-up gang that worked the Lyon region in the ’60s and ’70s. In the present day, gang leader Momon Vidal (Gérard Lanvin) seeks a peaceful life in which to grow old, raise a family, and, in his case, develop a tasty combo of bronzed tan and immaculate facial hair. Such peace, however, is disrupted when Serge (Tchéky Karyo), Momon’s unpredictable former colleague, crawls out of the woodwork and brings with him snooping cops, vengeful crooks and long-repressed memories of their youthful capers.

Read the full review here.

Monday, 2 April 2012

[544] This Must Be The Place (2011) Review

Hello, April! I'm starting you with gusto, with a review of This Must Be The Place, which talks more about the Talking Heads song from which it steals its title. Don't you know it's the best song ever?

An aside: I don't like Sean Penn. I'm not sure I've met anyone who does. Does he have fans? Die-hard fans? Creepy fans who mimic his mannerisms? I'd like to meet them, if so.

First up, here’s a musical fact. This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) by The Talking Heads is the best song ever written. Maybe it’s the synth bassline and brittle guitar part, circling around each other in an endless loop. Or maybe it’s David Byrne’s yelping, meandering vocals, bleating non-sequitur-laden platitudes. Whatever it is, whether you’re listening to the lazy groove of the studio version, from their 1983 breakthrough album Speaking In Tongues, or gawping at Byrne dancing with a lamp in the concert movie Stop Making Sense, there’s something utterly beguiling about that tune.

For his first English-language film, Il Divo director Paolo Sorrentino has not only pilfered the song’s title (sans the parentheses), but also brought in Byrne to provide both the soundtrack and a quirky cameo. However, the Talking Heads connection stops there, as the film’s plot focuses on Cheyenne (Sean Penn), a middle-aged rock star who is living out his reclusive later years in an Irish mansion.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

[543] Joss Whedon Interview

Joss. Whedon. My latest interview for Den of Geek. Yep, that guy. We talked about a bunch of things, and it was a heck of a lot of fun.

So, now I've interviewed Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman. Basically, I now need to interview Anne Rice and my 14 year old self will be forever content.

2012 is a big year for Joss Whedon. After years of his creative output being scuppered by studio interference, or cancelled mid-flow, the Buffy, Angel and Firefly creator has his name attached to two upcoming major releases. And, in fact, they’re both out in the UK this month.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll see his super-powered ensemble blockbuster The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble), but first comes the long-delayed horror-comedy film The Cabin In The Woods. Originally written and shot in 2009, with Whedon producing and co-writing with director Drew Goddard, The Cabin In The Woods has had its fair share of production mishaps, including a botched attempt at 3D post-conversion, and an indefinite shelving when film studio MGM filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Now, it is finally hitting our screens, and, even better, we had the chance to talk with Whedon about horror movies, production woes and Much Ado About Nothing, his micro-budget Shakespearean side-project, which might also see cinematic release this year.

It would be unsporting to give too much away about The Cabin In The Woods, but it’s probably safe to say that it messes about with the conventions of the horror genre. What was the writing process like? It’s a very fun film, was it fun to take the genre apart in the way that you do?

The writing process was ridiculously fun. Drew and I got a bungalow in a hotel in Santa Monica. He had the upstairs, I had the downstairs. We already had ten pages and our outline, and we’d already broken it into three acts. Then we’d wake up in the morning, we’d take an act, go through it very specifically, divvy it up, and we both had to do a minimum of 15 pages a day in order to create a screenplay. And we did not talk about anything else. You get in a writers room, and there’s just a huge amount of anecdotes and dirty jokes and off-topic stuff.

Drew and I literally didn’t speak about anything except the film, and wrote all day. And I’d run upstairs and say, “What about this or that!” and he’s come downstairs and say, “How does this connect with this?” So it was the fastest and most enjoyable thing. We did it in three days. And obviously there’d been a lot of prep, and a lot of polish after, but basically the bulk of the thing just came from our brains.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

[542] A Man's Story (2012) Review

Only I could take a flick about a fashion designer, and turn around a review that mainly discusses documentary ethics. This film reviewing lark is fun, isn't it?

While we don’t like to play to stereotype here at Den Of Geek, it’s easy to say that high fashion isn’t our strong suit. So when a documentary comes along that offers an intimate look into the life of designer Ozwald Boateng, our response is almost sickeningly predictable: “Who is Ozwald Boateng?”

You may not have heard of the man, but you certainly know the men he clothes. Boateng’s suits have been worn - and championed - by the likes of Will Smith, Laurence Fishburne and Jamie Foxx, and his designs have appeared in films ranging from The Matrix to Die Another Day.

However, with a title like A Man’s Story, the assumption would be that director Varon Bonicos’ thesis is that Boateng, despite his sharp suits and international renown, is a normal chap, with everyday problems and doubts. By going down this indefinite route - seriously, you can’t get a more non-specific title - the film effectively skips over the qualities that make this man so special.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 12 March 2012

[541] Impressive

Ah, Wikipedia. An endless source of time-sapping knowledge and trivia. It should come as no surprise that I spend a significant amount of my idle moments meandering my way through their millions of topics. This is wildly educational and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll hit upon something unutterably bonkers. Something that has either slipped through the rigorous editorial net of the Wikikeepers, or something so barmy it’s true. Here’s one of my favourite recent finds.

I love the tube. In a psycho-geographic, body-poetic way, it’s the guts of London - but it’s also just a fascinating transport system to read about. It’s old and evocative and full of history, and each tube station or underground line has its own quirky secrets to discover. Piccadilly Circus isn’t my favourite station, but its circular station concourse (and lack of a surface-level ticket hall) makes it unique.

It also appears, oddly, in the incredibly weird music video for ‘Press’, by Paul McCartney. A textbook slice of directionless pop from the ex-Beatle, ‘Press’ wasn’t a hit at the time, and its plodding production does it no favours to modern ears. The music video, however, is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. I’ll let the (remarkably off-Style Guide) Wiki entry describe it:

McCartney is seen walking boldly, proudly and with supreme confidence around the station, elegantly catching a tube train and speaking with excited members of the general public on their own level.

Yes. And if you turn off the music, it looks like he’s muttering to himself while harassing his fellow travelers.

I like to think that Linda’s holding the camera, and that this is just what passed for a weekend lark for the Maccas back when Paul's mullet was in full effect. Of course, there are flashes of Bond Street and Charing Cross, among others, in there - but on the Wikipedia page for Piccadilly Circus, it says the following:

...the station is a popular pilgrimage site for McCartney fans keen to reenact the video, that is now regarded as one of music video's defining moments, known amongst fans as 'McPressing'. In 2006 a total of 76 Brazilian fans 'McPressed' at the same time, breaking the previous record by 11 people set by Oxford Brookes University students in 1991.

As much as I’d love this to be true, I can’t seem to find any reference to ‘McPressing’, or the Oxford Brookes and Brazilian flashmobs anywhere online.

That means one thing. This is our chance to make a mark. Let’s get McPressing, people. Who’s in?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

[540] Joss Whedon On The Avengers

In case you somehow missed my horrendous name-dropping and smugness on Twitter, here's the highlight of my February: I interviewed Joss Whedon. Somewhere deep inside my cynical, cold self is a glimmer of the 14 year old Buffy obsessive, and he was given a rare moment of fan-squee. It was an experience.

We primarily chatted about Cabin In The Woods, the horror-flick-with-a-twist that Whedon produced and co-wrote, which recently received its festival premiere and will make its way over here in April, but I also made sure to ask about The Avengers, his big shot at summer blockbuster glory.

The embargo for Cabin In The Woods reviews was lifted on Saturday. It's a terrific film - have a read of Sarah Dobbs' review over at Den of Geek if you want more spoiler-free info. Alongside the review, though was a short excerpt of my interview with Whedon. It reads a little like this:

When we asked him about his relationship with Marvel on the movie, he told us that "they really did let me make my own film".

He continued: "They said, ‘here are the things we need; here is the villain, we want this to happen; we need the conflict here; here’s the third act, it will involve the following’. Which I’m fine with. That’s great, give me the parameters, because then I know where I’m going, and it does some of the legwork for me. And I know what their agenda is in terms of style, and what we’re delivering, in terms of thrills and the adherence to the Marvel universe, with which I’m very familiar."

He continued: "But it was like comics, because they didn’t interfere. I told them ‘this is the kind of movie I want to make’, and they said ‘all right, make that movie’. And that is what happened. And they were as unmeddlesome as any studio I’ve ever worked with, even though they had the very strict touchstones that had to happen. So it was a weirdly free experience."

The full interview will be up soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

[539] Looking Back At Legend

It's March! Spring is here! And things are going to get a whole lot more productive from now on, I promise.

To start, here's a bloody big essay I wrote about Legend for Den of Geek. As with most of my previous 'Looking Back' pieces, I ask some pretty large questions, and push at the edges of my own critical sanity.

Hindsight is a strange gift. Geek history dictates that the 1980s were a heyday for the fantasy genre; however, few of the decade’s sword ‘n sorcery flicks were outright hits, and many barely made a comfortable profit. Indeed, nostalgia may enshrine the likes of Dark Crystal, Clash Of The Titans and Willow, but even the most successful only just cracked the domestic top 20 for their respective years.

Of the bunch, Ridley Scott’s Legend remains a particularly tricky case. On its theatrical release, it wasn’t just a box office failure, it was that terrible thing: a box office failure that, even after much pre-release tinkering by the studio, still bombed. Various cuts, endings, even soundtracks exist, but nothing that Universal changed attracted the desired audience. In 1985, Legend was pronounced dead on arrival, and Time critic Richard Corliss used the opportunity to open his review with a damning epitaph for the fantasy genre:

“A long time ago, in a conference room far, far away... it was ordained that sword-and-sorcery movies would be the Next Big Thing. Just imagine crossing the fantasy worlds of JRR Tolkien and George Lucas! Mythic reverberations! Megabucks! Didn't work.”

Nevertheless, Legend lived on. It endures as a pop culture footnote, where, depending on how you look at it, it could be either The Film Ridley Scott Made After Blade Runner, or The Film Tom Cruise Starred In Between Risky Business and Top Gun. However, there is something strangely alluring about its confluence of chaos and creativity, and, with its recent Blu-ray release, there’s no better time to reassess with fresh, 21st Century eyes.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

[538] This Week's Linguistic Breakthrough

Do people use bookmarks any more? I don't. Well, I only have one, and it's consistent across all of my Internet-browsing devices. It's Oxford Dictionaries Online. True, it's for work, but it turns out that reading the digital dictionary is fun after all.

This week, I disrupted the peace and quiet of the office by enjoying a little Eureka moment of my own, where I softly screamed 'I love language!'. It was when I looked up the word 'till', as in the word often used alongside 'until'. This language note was attached:

In most contexts till and until have the same meaning and are interchangeable. The main difference is that till is generally considered to be the more informal of the two, and occurs less frequently than until in writing. Until also tends to be the natural choice at the beginning of a sentence: until very recently, there was still a chance of rescuing the situation. Interestingly, while it is commonly assumed that till is an abbreviated form of until (the spellings ‘till and ’til reflect this), till is in fact the earlier form. Until appears to have been formed by the addition of Old Norse und ‘as far as’ several hundred years after the date of the first records for till.

Mind. Blown. Believe me, the amount of arguments and discussions that I've had about this very subject has been... well, not exactly sizeable, but English students have to talk about something, right? And the 'proper' usage of 'til, until and till was a surprisingly common conversation point. Now, I know. Maniacal laugh.

Oh, sorry for the silence. I'm working on things, and blogs will be blogged in due course. Till then, why not watch some VIGIDEN?

Friday, 17 February 2012

[537] Pow? Wow!

It's been an odd week. One morning, this video fell into my Dropbox.

Bytes-Pal Ed Szekely has been editing together footage from films screened at the Greenhorn Short Film Festival, and this clip came very early in the short 'Pow?' - a documentary about the comics scene in the UK. Obviously, I get everywhere.

Check out the full video for chats with, among others, David Hine, Shaky Kane, Sarah McIntyre, Geof Banyard, and almost the entire staff of Orbital Comics.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

[536] VIGIDEN Episode 1, Now on!

After all that build-up... VIGIDEN launched last week on! And, uh, we didn't even blog about it.

Consider yourself informed, blogosphere! Watch it! Now!


As the video game world is rocked by the news that the House of the Dead star has contracted HIV, Nick Moran talks with series stalwart Caleb Goldman - an interview that feels oddly reminiscent of the games’ famously clunky dialogue.

What do you think? Send in your comments, feedback, and death threats... and tune in next week for more VIGIDEN!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

[535] Monumental Text, Back In Action

Two years ago, as part of the 'Get Ambitious in 2010' initiative, I started a Tumblr called Monumental Text, which was weighted down by a concept that mixed observations about London, photography, and psycho-geographic mumblings. It didn't last long.

Nevertheless, I still took pictures of various signs, plaques and text that I came across throughout London, and I thought that, with the new year and all, it was a good chance to give the project a soft reset. Now, there's less of an emphasis on overwrought, Sinclair-style prose, and more of a focus on the simple stories, lives and insight that can be uncovered by wandering around the capital.

There are still blue plaque pictures, but there are now just as many oddities - from charity coin chutes, to the insignia of the Haberdashers Company. There are also mysteries. What does 'SFG' stand for?  Who is Mr Thomas Peacock, who owned property one foot east of Lytham Street? The old adage is 'if these walls could talk', but in London's case, they often do - and they can tell us a lot about the city and its people.

Perhaps we'll never excavate a London-wide narrative to match my Frederick Parkes Weber project (a précis of which was published in Ink+PAPER, now available in digital formats), but give it time, and we'll see what happens. For now, let's accept it for what it is: a glimpse into the endless esoterica of London. Splendid.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

[534] Bytes-Reel, Spa Workshop

We're so close to the launch of VIGIDEN. Accepting time differences, it's just a day away! I'm very excited to see what people think about it. The first sketch is rather odd - and sets the tone perfectly.

In the meantime, we've been hard at work doing other video pieces, and pitching for other jobs. As part of that, we've put together a showreel of the video work we've done together. And here it is!

Now, that may just look like a showreel, but let me tell you... it's chock-full of VIGIDEN spoilers. Consider it yet another little tease before the sketches actually go public.

In other Bytes-news, last night we put on a workshop at IdeasTap, as part of their 'Spa' programme of careers-advice events. It was all about filming on a shoe-string budget - and it went rather well!

We asked people to come to the workshop with whatever camera equipment they owned, and we gave them all sorts of advice, tips and tricks that will help them on their way to making glorious, low-budget video. We really enjoyed it, and the attendees seemed to get a lot out of it, too, so we're hoping to do more in the future. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

[533] Interview With Nick Brandestini

Darwin was my surprise film of the London Film Festival. Buried relatively deep in the programme, it nevertheless stuck out because of its rather compelling hook. The first feature-length documentary from director Nick Brandestini, Darwin is a documentary about a small town in Death Valley, whose ageing population numbers less than three dozen. Who are these people? What has led them to live in one of the least hospitable areas of the globe? And what are their lives like?

It reads like an episode of the NPR radio show This American Life, where erstwhile esoteric stories can give great insight into the workings of the USA and its inhabitants. Darwin fits this mould perfectly, quickly moving away from the freak show titillation of its premise and finding great depth in the personal histories of the town's residents.

It is remarkably well-judged, especially as Brandestini becomes more intimate with his subjects, and, considering the budget level, it is more beautiful than a shoestring, festival-bound documentary has any right to be.

At the LFF, I had the pleasure of chatting with Brandestini about Darwin, over coffee and macaroons. Naturally, I had to ask about both the act of interviewing and the process of putting together this mostly one-man production...

- This film has a great set-up. A town in Death Valley with just 35 people living there. It’s so compelling. How did you find out about the place to begin with?

I didn’t find Darwin at first, but similar places, because I was driving to Las Vegas in the desert, and there were other areas, and I was curious about who would live in such an environment, with this heat and nothing to do around. So I was looking for a documentary project, I only did two short documentaries before, and I thought, okay, this is something that fascinates me, and it looks great. So I thought this is the perfect topic.

I just wanted to know more about the people. It was a boom town in 1874, when it was founded, until 1877. So, like, three years, it had 3000 people and then whoops, it just died. Now there’s 35 people.

- And most of the population is in their middle age, or older, so you got the sense that this is a community with no future. How did you go about making contact first time?

The hippie lady was organising these parties. She’s the unofficial mayor, more or less. Or she thinks she is. She was the first that I contacted. She was a bit reluctant - she said ‘yeah, you can be here, but no cameras allowed’. But then later on she trusted me, and said ‘okay, let’s do this’. But it took her two days for her to say it was okay. And the other people had no problem at the beginning.

- How long were you there for?

Five times over a period of two years. A week each, or ten days each time.

- Were there people there that were cautious about you, or reluctant to speak to you?

At the beginning, yeah, but after a while they opened up.

- There’s a difficulty with this kind of documentary... When you have a set-up like that, it could be easy to all into the trap of exploiting the ‘kooky people living in the desert’, and making them figures of fun. How did you go about dealing with that?

It was 100% clear that I didn’t want to make fun of them. I never wanted to make a ‘freak show’ out of them, because Darwin has a very bad image in the surrounding areas. And I know that it’s not like that, and people have the wrong impression of these people. So I just wanted to make it real, while still keeping it interesting and exciting. Because that’s part of what attracted me to the place, because it’s not a normal suburb place. It is special, and I wanted to show it in a positive way.

- In the second half of the film, you get quite intimate with some of the residents, and we see beyond the kookiness of their living circumstances. Was that because you’d grown close to them over time?

One thing that I’m sure helped is that I’m Swiss, I think they found that funny and curious. And if it were an American, they would be more reluctant or skeptical. And also, even though I told them that I hoped this film would play in festivals, they didn’t believe it. But I always told them that that was the big hope. And the crew was only me, so the camera was a professional one, but it was only a camera and they didn’t feel threatened. And I don’t know, they just wanted to share their stories. But it took a long time for some of them to open up.

- Do you think the film will turn Darwin into a minor tourist attraction?

That’s a common question. Everybody asked it. But it’s kind of funny, because it implies that the film is seen by many people, and so far it’s only at festivals, so it’s not likely! You have to really want to go there, because it’s quite far off the regular track.

- This is your first feature-length documentary, what were some of the major differences or challenges that came with the larger canvas?

Well, the structure was a big challenge. This is where my co-producers helped, to shape the film, because it would not have turned out so good if I’d not had them on board to make the film as it is. Now, it has these chapters, and before it was more of a random thing. There’s not one story, but there are different themes, so it took a long time to figure out how to deal with it.

- The cinematography in this film is fantastic. Of course, the landscape lends itself well, but the film looks particularly good for a one-man, low budget documentary.

I just like to make things look good!

- There’s even a helicopter shot in there, with aerial views of the surrounding area.

That was actually not a helicopter, but an old plane. I hired a pilot for very little money, and it was very scary, because it was shaking like crazy, and I was leaning out of the window! Everybody says it looks like a helicopter...

- It looks like you spent a lot of money...

Only $300! [laughs]

To find out more about Darwin, visit This interview was co-conducted by Paul Weedon.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

[532] Five Things You Need To Know About VIGIDEN

We've been talking about VIGIDEN for quite some time, and I've just realised that there must be a bunch of questions left unanswered. We at BytesCorp believe in transparency - so, dear viewers, do not fear! Below, we address some of the most burning queries about our forthcoming sketch comedy series. Read on!

- What does VIGIDEN stand for?

...We’re not entirely sure. We’ve been talking about this video game news sketch show for quite some time (way back in episode 3 of Behind The Bytes, in fact), and VIGIDEN is an acronym that felt right, even though we hadn’t figured out what it exactly meant. I decided to ask the BytesBoys, Nick Moran and Ed Szekely...

NM: Video Game Digitainment Information News Network...? Maybe there should be two N's, but then it would be VIGIDEEN if you go by rules of Latinate poetic meter. Actually, that’s not right... Oh, I don't know!

ES: Video Game International Digital Entertainment Network. I'm quite comfortable with that.

NM: I don't think that's canon!

So there you go. We don’t know! (Although, if pushed, I think I’ll side with Ed.)

And, what do we stand for? Truth, justice, and the VIGIDEN way. Well, depends on your definition of ‘truth’. And ‘justice’. How about... confident, incisive coverage of an entirely fictitious spin on the gaming industry? Unbound by notions of ‘reality’, ‘coherence’ and ‘sanity’?

- What does VIGIDEN cover?

Everything. It’s a full scale news/entertainment network! We have scoops, analysis and exclusive interviews from all over the video game map. Expect insight from your favourite - and not-so-favourite - video game personalities, all processed through the VIGIDEN blender.

But that’s not all. While we’re newshounds at heart, VIGIDEN is not confined to the newsroom. From lifestyle content to topical discussion, we’ll be filling out your well-rounded diet of FACTUAL(ish) PROGRAMMING.

- Is Chad Makepeace dead?


VIGIDEN runs on from Behind The Bytes. In fact, Behind The Bytes is buried somewhere deep in the VIGIDEN programme slate. (I think they want to forget the whole ‘five episodes, three corpses, and twenty lawsuits’ debacle.)

That means that, amongst other things, Jeff Tozai and Clarissa Ankle are still around. (Don’t worry, Andreas got his just desserts in the end) It also means that Chad Makepeace is very, very dead.

Luckily, though, we dug around in the VIGIDEN archives, and found tapes of his groundbreaking late-night talk show Deathmatch Discourse, with opinions-for-hire Emma Scott and Victoria Bandopadhyay (played by Jennifer Pick and Lucy McCormick, both from GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN).

- Wait... Will VIGIDEN be on Screwattack?

Oh, yeah. We’re back with Screwattack.

They’ve just gone through a major overhaul of their site, and they’re set to take 2012 by storm. We’re mega-excited to be full-on partners this time around.

Imagine our excitement when VIGIDEN was announced at MAGfest last weekend, by Stuttering Craig himself! Check the recent episode of Sidescrollers here, around 44 minutes in.

- When are you launching, anyway?

February 2nd! On Screwattack! Get excited!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

[531] Tom Hiddleston Interview

Interviews can be so much fun. This is one of my favourites, and this comment captures why:

Just when you thought Hiddleston couldn't get more awesome, he enthuses about The Odyssey for, like a page.

What a charming chap. He looks good in uniform, too.

Before we'd even sat down to chat with Tom Hiddleston, he had us pegged. As soon as he heard the words ‘Den of Geek’, he beamed and joked, “I'm armed. I have so many filters. No spoilers here!”

Well, wouldn't you, faced with one of the stars of the upcoming Marvel supergroup blockbuster The Avengers, squeeze in at least one question?

It turns out that Hiddleston was more than happy to chat about the preparation for The Avengers, and the subtle changes made to his character, Loki, under Joss Whedon's direction. However, there were plenty of other things to chat about, not least Hiddleston's rather rapid rise to fame over the last eighteen months, and his current peak, working with Steven Spielberg on his equine epic War Horse.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

[530] Kathleen Kennedy Interview

So my rather negative review of War Horse had an interesting effect on the Den of Geek readership - but I won't let that influence my coverage of the film itself! In fact, I had a spring in my step as I walked up to Claridge's last Monday, on my way to interview both producer Kathleen Kennedy and actor Tom Hiddleston. They're my first interviews of the year, after all! And where best to start, than with reportedly the second most successful producer currently working in Hollywood?

It’s not every day that you get to talk to one of the most successful producers in Hollywood history. So when we sat down with Kathleen Kennedy, who has collaborated with Steven Spielberg on the majority of his films from the last 30 years, we tackled the big question: what, exactly, does a producer do?

With reference to everything from Spielberg’s latest films, War Horse and The Adventures Of Tintin, to the future projects of Lincoln and Jurassic Park 4, Kennedy gives us a detailed break-down of what it’s like behind the scenes of a blockbuster.

Read the full article here.