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Words From The WiseSan Sebastian Film Festival 2013: First Report – Enemy, Le Week-end, Quai D'Orsay and The Railway Man

Posted on Sunday September 29, 2013, 18:03 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
San Sebastian Film Festival 2013: First Report – Enemy, Le Week-end, Quai D'Orsay and The Railway Man

The 61st San Sebastian Film Festival ended Saturday night by giving its highest award, the Golden Shell to Mariana Rondon’s Bad Hair, a lightly gay-themed South American drama that deals with a mother trying to come to terms with her pre-teen son’s obsession with straightening his hair. Todd Haynes’ jury apparently gave it a clean sweep, but this year’s competition selection was nothing if not varied, from Argentinian animation (Juan Jose Campanella’s Foosball) to French political drama (Bertrand Tavernier’s Quai D’Orsay), via British whimsy (Roger Michell’s Le Week-end).

But by far the strangest in the line-up was Denis Villeneuve’s companion piece to this weekend’s release, Prisoners. Though it was shot back to back with that film, and also stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Enemy (pictured) bears no relation at all to the recent Hugh Jackman kidnap drama. In fact, it bears very little of consequ...

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Words From The WiseToronto 2013: Starred Up, Belle, The Invisible Woman, Dom Hemingway, The Double

Posted on Friday September 13, 2013, 17:14 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: Starred Up, Belle, The Invisible Woman, Dom Hemingway, The Double

It was an incredibly strong TIFF for British films this year, my personal favourite being David Mackenzie's Starred Up (pictured), a harsh prison drama in the vein of Scum. I've followed Mackenzie's career for a while now and considered him to be a director who maybe hasn't quite reached his full potential yet. But even with that in mind, I could never have imagined him making anything quite as full-on and potent as this, a very singular and sustained piece of work that may not hit big with a mainstream audience but will certainly raise both the director's profile and that of his charismatic young star, Jack O'Connell, formerly from the parish of Skins.

It begins with new inmate Eric (O'Connell) being transferred from a young offenders' institution to adult prison. As per the title, Eric is “starred up”, which means his file is marked on account of his violent behaviour, and he arrives as he means to go on: self-contained and unafraid, lashing out at men twice his ...

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Words From The WiseToronto 2013: All Is By My Side, We Are The Best!, Sunshine On Leith

Posted on Friday September 13, 2013, 13:28 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: All Is By My Side, We Are The Best!, Sunshine On Leith

Now for a musical interlude. I didn't see Can A Song Save Your Life?, but seeing as Harvey Weinstein just paid $27m for it, I can only assume it can. Something I did make a bee-line for, however, was All Is By My Side, which didn't cause as much of a splash as I thought it might, being the second feature by John Ridley, screenwriter of Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave. Although it's a very, very low-budget endeavour, the film's limitations – which preclude the use of Hendrix's most famous music – play to its advantage, since Ridley eschews the usual biopic approach, instead taking a snapshot of 12 crucial months in the musician's life, three years before his death in 1970.

What surprised me most is how much attention Ridley plays to the British characters who moulded Hendrix's ideas and images. We first meet him in 1966 in a New York nightclub, where he is talent-spotted by model Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) playing guitar with jobbing R&am...

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Words From The WiseToronto 2013: Child Of God, Bad Words, Life Of Crime, All Cheerleaders Die, The Dog

Posted on Friday September 13, 2013, 11:23 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: Child Of God, Bad Words, Life Of Crime, All Cheerleaders Die, The Dog

Here we start coming to the square pegs of the festival, the films that don't quite fit into any of the usual sections. I'll briefly skim over James Franco's Child Of God, partly because it was in Venice too but mostly because it's really not very good. Like his Cannes entry As I Lay Dying, it is a literary property, adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy, that tells the story of a gibbering hillbilly (Scott Haze) who is dispossessed of his father's estate and later finds some kind of comfort in the company of not-very-living ladies, one found in a natural state, the rest made not-alive to order. It must be said that the most enjoyable thing about this dingy misery-fest was watching people at the film's press and industry screening leave the cinema in droves, but Franco's film isn't an actual misfire, just an unsuccessful attempt to translate the writings of a sage and superior talent without the equivalent visual vocabulary with which to do so. Haze, given to...

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Words From The WiseToronto 2013: Labor Day, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave

Posted on Wednesday September 11, 2013, 19:47 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: Labor Day, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave

Going into Toronto, at the top of my to-see list was Jason Reitman's Labor Day, the director's first foray into straight drama. Reitman's comedies are usually character-based, so this seemed to be no bad thing, especially with the casting of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in the leads. I have to say the result is somewhat disappointing, especially since it is clear that Reitman can certainly handle the required shift in tone, and the film's better moments involve silence and a growing sense of tension. However, I don't think too many audiences will buy into the storyline, which promises a slick, Stand By Me-like tale of a boy's Last Summer Of Childhood but actually delivers a rather creaky melodrama that veers wildly between romantic licence and outright implausibility.

It begins in the supermarket, where Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) is shopping with his introverted divorced mother Adele (Winslet). The boy is accosted by a stranger, Frank (Brolin),...

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Words From The WiseToronto 2013: The Fifth Estate

Posted on Friday September 6, 2013, 15:38 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: The Fifth Estate

Julian Assange, cooped up in the Ecuadorian Embassy, already feels like yesterday’s news, upstaged by Edward Snowden and his flight to Hong Kong, never mind Bradley Manning and his post-lock-up gender reassignment plans. And so does the opening night film of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival; called The Fifth Estate, it is a turgid political drama with very little politics or drama. It’s the sort of film where the characters try to drum up some excitement by exclaiming what’s happening in a quivering state of excitement, hoping that maybe they can make a silk purse out of what is effectively a film about some people seeing some emails they weren’t supposed to see (there is no physical macguffin).
One could argue that The Social Network didn’t have much fibre either, but that film really IS All The President’s Men compared to this. It begins with a montage of ancient writing techniques, before zipping i...

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Words From The WiseVenice 2013: Under The Skin

Posted on Thursday September 5, 2013, 08:09 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s third film received a sort-of kicking at the now awards-predicting Telluride film festival, where its presence as some sort of special “preview” in advance of its Venice world premiere will forever put off producers, notably British ones, from ever doing that kind of thing again. The reviews from that fest, notably from Variety, braced us for the worst, but most critics were pleasantly surprised when the film surfaced on the Lido. While Under The Skin is certainly difficult, sometimes impenetrably so, it joins a burgeoning number of films – this year alone – that deal in abstracts and do not give a flying fuck about commercial considerations. It’s perhaps not as haunting as Only God Forgives, arguably not as frustrating as Upstream Colour, and definitely not as psychedelic as A Field In England. But this is definitely a significant movie, British or not, and there are certainly going to be repercussions – good ones – from...

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Words From The WiseVenice 2013: Parkland, The Sacrament, The Zero Theorem and Locke

Posted on Monday September 2, 2013, 19:50 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Parkland, The Sacrament, The Zero Theorem and Locke

Venice has a bit of a thing for Kennedy dramas, having played host in 2006 to Bobby, an ensemble piece set at the hotel where JFK’s brother was assassinated. This year saw Peter Landesman’s Parkland make the trip, an equally star-studded historical piece that begins in, but is not confined to, the hospital of the same name, where JFK himself was taken after being shot in the head on a visit to Texas in 1963. Unlike Bobby, this is a quite a nuts and bolts affair, a mosaic of lesser-known details that seeks to tell a forensic story of the day rather than the subsequent conspiracy-theory industry that has since sprung up around it.

The result is not so much the anti-JFK as the un-JFK, ignoring Stone’s film completely and painting instead a portrait of a city plunged into a panic, a microcosm of the wider world. Some players are better than others, and the famous faces are a little more distracting than they were in Bobby, since this is a constantly evol...

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Words From The WiseVenice 2013: Philomena

Posted on Sunday September 1, 2013, 12:34 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Philomena

Philomena is the result of an unlikely collusion between Steve Coogan, Stephen Frears and Dame Judi Dench, telling the story of an Irish woman who, in her 70s, breaks the news to her daughter that she had an illegitimate son in her early teens. What happened to the mother – disowned by her family, sent to a Magdalene home, and forced into near-slavery by nuns before being coerced into giving the boy up for adoption – is bad enough, but the woman’s fears for her son are even worse. Is he dead? Homeless? Drunk? This all sounds like a recipe for sure disaster, either a glum misery-fest or the most inappropriate laffer of all time. And yet Philomena is nothing but a resounding, unqualified success: funny, sad, angry and forgiving, a beautifully understated and very un-Hollywood comedy that covers familiar emotional territory in a very unusual way.

The key is a very smart and considerate script by Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope, which is loosely but still quite faithfu...

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Words From The WiseVenice 2013: Joe and Night Moves

Posted on Saturday August 31, 2013, 17:14 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Joe and Night Moves

American cinema is usually well represented at Venice, but the pickings have been a little more backwoods than Hollywood this year, two very good examples being David Gordon Green’s Joe and Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (pictured). Both are representative of each director’s style and each suggest career movement – in Green’s case, a move away from broad mainstream comedy and back towards the smalltown drama of All The Real Girls and Snow Angels (criminally, never released in the UK), while Reichardt’s film is a good indication that the director may someday cross over on her own terms, having made a crisp, clean arthouse thriller that also works a traditional level.

To start with David Gordon Green’s Joe, this also sees Nicolas Cage returning to a much more complex character than his usual parade of grotesques. Here he plays Joe Ransome, the boss of a loggi...

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