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Cannes Film FestivalCannes 2015: Sicario

Posted on Monday May 25, 2015, 20:38 by Damon Wise in Cannes Film Festival
Cannes 2015: Sicario

Sicario (the Spanish word for hitman), the first English-language film by French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, landed like a hand grenade in a festival that had dropped down a pace or two after the explosive Fury Road. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and shot by Coens collaborator Roger Deakins this gripping narco-thriller plays out like a mix of Oliver Stone’s Salvador with a dash of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, but with a voice of its own.
Blunt is the ostensible star, playing Kate Macy, a kidnap-situation specialist who is recruited by Brolin’s funky CIA agent Matt to help with a special ops mission down in Mexico. Kate is concerned at first but soon agrees, believing she is serving her country in the war on drugs. Before too long, however, it becomes clear that agent Matt has a far more sinister agenda and that Kate isn’t simply valuable to the mission for her capability. Kate isn’t reassured by the presence of mysteriou...

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Words From The WiseThe European Film Awards 2014: A Victory For Ida

Posted on Monday December 15, 2014, 17:36 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
The European Film Awards 2014: A Victory For Ida

The European Film Awards ceremony is something like a more regular Brigadoon: every other year it pops up in a random European capital before reverting to Germany, its home nation. And once it’s over, there’s a similar amount of head-scratching: was it really there? Did it really happen? Did anyone really drink the Jägermeister?

This year the event was hosted by Riga in Latvia, birthplace of Sergei Eisenstein, an amazing city filled with art nouveau architecture, theme parks for bunny rabbits and really big wooden spoons. But though it barely troubled the headlines in the way that the likes of the Oscar, the Baftas and the Golden Globes do, this year’s EFAs highlighted something important in the early days of awards season: the strength of world cinema this year, in the wake of a very weak showing from Hollywood and the rest of the English-speaking mainstream.

With just two weeks to go to close of play, the Academy Awards’ Best Picture f...

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Words From The WiseCannes Film Festival 2014: Awards Wrap

Posted on Monday May 26, 2014, 23:07 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Cannes Film Festival 2014: Awards Wrap

The main thing that can be said for the rise in daily internet coverage of the Cannes film festival is that the story carried in the media is no longer just Best Cannes Ever/Worst Cannes Ever. There is still a certain amount of hyperbole, however, and the festival opened to howls of derision for Olivier Dahane’s ludicrous Grace Of Monaco – immediately dubbed one of the worst opening films of all time, even though it actually isn’t (The Da Vinci Code still has that distinction for me). However, the good news is that it means the official selection is no longer written off at the halfway mark, as so often used to happen, with the result that even though the 67th edition got off to a slow and stumbling start, the critics allowed it to unfold film by film, at its own steady pace.

On paper, the Competition line-up didn’t prove especially scintillating – lots of regulars and a preponderance of reasonably dependable old-timers but nothing like the auteur...

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Words From The WiseSundance London: An Introduction To The 2014 Edition

Posted on Wednesday April 23, 2014, 23:54 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance London: An Introduction To The 2014 Edition

Some 15 years ago, we at Empire made a terrible mistake by sharing our discovery of a wonderful Christmassy village in Utah that every January showed great independent films by terrific emerging filmmakers to enthusiastic audiences. It had been an open secret for a while before then, but sometime in the late 2000s the Sundance Film Festival simply exploded, making it not just the first appointment festival on the calendar but an event that now resounds throughout the rest of the year. Never mind its rep as the festival that discovered Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Smith, Sundance continues to be relevant by championing films that in recent years have launched X-Person Jennifer Lawrence, (re)discovered the elusive Sixto Rodriguez and made Benh Zeitlin a surprise Best Picture nominee for his debut Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

With Sundance London returning for its third year at London’s O2 this weekend, we thought we’d catch up with festi...

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Words From The WiseSundance 2014: Final Wrap

Posted on Thursday January 30, 2014, 14:49 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2014: Final Wrap

Although a secret screening of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Volume One was perhaps intended to provide this year’s dash of controversy, the film that arguably ruffled more feathers was Zach Braff’s somewhat more innocuous Wish I Was Here (pictured), the follow-up to Garden State. The film’s premiere screening at the MARC gained a little notoriety due to being besieged by Braff fans begging for extra tickets, bemoaning the fact that they had paid for it (via Kickstarter) but couldn’t get in. It made for a provocative news angle, but the fact remains that Sundance tickets were never going to be part of the film’s reward scheme, in terms that were made quite clear.
Braff’s film has been under fire since the Kickstarter project was announced, but it’s hard to see quite what the problem is: Braff has delivered a studio quality film that pretty much delivers what its backers were promised. Pe...

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Words From The WiseSundance 2014: The Raid 2 – First Look

Posted on Wednesday January 22, 2014, 14:52 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2014: The Raid 2 – First Look

How do you follow an action film as tight and tense and damn near perfect as The Raid? The answer, it seems, is to make a film as broad, intricate and damn near perfect as The Raid: Berandal, aka The Raid 2. Obviously the first point to consider is whether Gareth Huw Evans’s second feature matches up to the bone-crunching mayhem of the first, and it does – with gore to spare. But the second point is more crucial: does it hold up as a stand-alone movie in its own right? The answer to that is a resounding yes too; leaving behind the Carpenter-esque confined spaces of the original, Evans’s sequel heads out into the streets of Jakarta, bringing in so many new and fascinating characters that it’s hardly noticeable when the film’s nominal hero Rama, played by a much more confident Iko Uwais, is absent from the screen (which he is for surprisingly long patches).

The first few moments suggest that the film might be hard work, since it carries on almost immediately in the wake ...

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Words From The WiseSundance 2014: First Report

Posted on Tuesday January 21, 2014, 17:36 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2014: First Report

The 2014 Sundance Film Festival took a little longer than usual to find its feet, but once it hit its stride it did so with a slew of titles that are among the strongest seen here in recent years. Top of that list has to be Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (pictured), which was added to the programme at the last moment. Very little was known about the film at that time, other than it took Linklater 12 years to shoot, so I was expecting one of his more experimental affairs, like Tape or Waking Life – projects I can appreciate but not necessarily enjoy. The running time of 164 minutes gave me the shivers, so I sat in an aisle seat just in case.
...

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Words From The WiseShane Carruth Interview: Upstream Color

Posted on Sunday January 5, 2014, 17:27 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Shane Carruth Interview: Upstream Color

Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, his second feature film after 2004's delirious time-travel drama Primer, debuted almost a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, where its sold-out screening at the Eccles Theatre was one of the event's hottest tickets. The film baffled and impressed in equal measure, telling the story of Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth), whose lives are intertwined by strange external forces, including a pig farmer-slash-record producer, a family of orchid gatherers and a conman who uses insects and plant residue to steal money from his victims.

My attempts to sit down with Shane in Park City came to nothing; meetings were arranged and cancelled on account of both our busy schedules, so I followed him on to the Berlin Film Festival. Yet again, Shane was hard to pin down, this time because he was handling all the elements of his film's springtime roadshow release in the US while finalising the packaging for the film's Region One ...

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Words From The WiseLars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac: First Look

Posted on Tuesday December 17, 2013, 12:33 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac: First Look

Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac arrives with a very different kind of controversy to the one we expected. It is indeed sexually explicit, as advertised, but is it the whole movie? The answer is yes and no, since the version screened to Empire in Copenhagen at the beginning of December began with a disclaimer noting that the film has been edited – with Von Trier's permission but without his involvement. So while it is the genuine, official release version, there is the small matter of a further 90 minutes, which will very much be the elephant in the room when it comes to reviewing it.

Funnily enough, though, Nymphomaniac not only feels like a complete film, it doesn't feel madly long in its four-hour format, which breaks down roughly into 1hr 50 for Volume One and 2hrs 10 for Volume Two. First things first, however: this is not an entry-level Von Trier film, and it helps to have a certain familiarity with his style...

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Words From The WiseThe European Film Awards 2013

Posted on Monday December 9, 2013, 15:21 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
The European Film Awards 2013

The European Film Awards kicked off on Saturday with a goodie bag that included chocolate biscuits, some gummy bears, a CD DJ mix sponsored by sparkling vodka and an umbrella with a torch on the end. In its marvellous chaos, it reflects something of the randomness of the evening itself; unlike the Oscars, there isn't really any campaigning network, so lesser known films such as Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown stood a very real chance of challenging such established Cannes hits as The Great Beauty and Blue Is The Warmest Colour, competing under its original French (and much more explanatory) title La Vie D'Adele, Chapitres 1 & 2.

All eyes were on Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme D'Or winner to take the main prize, which instead went to Paulo Sorrentino for The Great Beauty, a win accompanied by major prizes for Sorrentino as director and his regular leading man Toni Servillo. Industry gossip suggested that Kechiche's film was a late entry to th...

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