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Words From The WiseSundance 2013: The Round Up Part One

Posted on Wednesday January 23, 2013, 10:30 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2013: The Round Up Part One

According to founder Robert Redford, the ethos of the Sundance Film Festival can be described in one word: change. “Some people fight and resist it because they are afraid of it,” he noted at the opening-day press conference on Thursday, “others accept it and roll along with it.” Though we're not talking seismic changes, Sundance is certainly a festival that moves with the times, and after the breakout success last year of Beasts Of The Southern Wild – which is following 2009's Precious to the Oscars – this year is definitely attracting interest from an industry looking for fresh new ideas.

They're not being disappointed. Yesterday saw the world premiere of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, the director's first film since his prize-winning cerebral sci-fi drama Primer in 2004 – and quite possibly the most anticipated movie at Sundance this year. Although the festival attracts hundreds of bona...

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Words From The WiseWhy I Love Django Unchained

Posted on Sunday December 23, 2012, 14:53 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Why I Love Django Unchained

I was surprised when it turned out Sony Pictures had pitched the hardest to release Quentin Tarantino's new film internationally, since I remember all too well the last time that studio released a spaghetti western featuring Leonardo DiCaprio: it died a death. I haven't seen Sam Raimi's The Quick And The Dead since it came out in 1995, but back then it was considered toxic. I, on the other hand, loved it; a kind of berserk, ultra-heightened Sergio Leone pastiche – as made by the Three Stooges – it nevertheless maintained the genre's grim sense of anarchy, albeit by making that point in a wildly literal way. All the same, it wasn't loved, and neither was James Mangold's underrated 3:10 To Yuma (2007), which – although it was played much more straight, being a remake of a 1957 “proper” Hollywood western based on a short story by one of ...

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Words From The WiseFestival report: CPH:DOX Part Two

Posted on Tuesday November 13, 2012, 11:53 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Festival report: CPH:DOX Part Two

The interesting thing about the hybridisation of documentaries is that nothing is always what it seems. And just as City World (see last post) suggested something more expansive than a child's-eye view of life, so I Have Always Been A Dreamer, by Sabine Gruffat, led me to expect something smaller than a compare-and-contrast view of two huge cities: Detroit, USA, and Dubai, UAE. Though certainly informative, the film can't help but suffer comparisons with two recent docs on the Motor City – mostly Detropia, by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and also Julien Temple's BBC film Requiem For Detroit? – while the Dubai section doesn't have as much history to work with. I found my mind wandering a bit, which was also, unfortunately, the case with The Last Station, by Cristian Soto and Catalina Vergara. A very beautifully lit and respectful st...

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Words From The WiseFestival report: CPH:DOX Part One

Posted on Monday November 12, 2012, 17:11 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Festival report: CPH:DOX Part One

CPH:DOX is now in its tenth year and has quickly established itself as one of the hippest documentary festivals on the calendar – not quite the juggernaut that is IDFA in Amsterdam but certainly a buzzing industry hub. Like many city festivals, CPH:DOX permeates Copenhagen without actually seeming to have a centre, which often makes it hard to know whether you're in the right place watching the right film. But unlike most other festivals this one does seem to have an ethos, and though all the films on display are indeed documentaries, they're far removed from the flat talking-head variety that dominated the landscape in the 70s and 80s. The buzzword these days is “hybrid”, and the films programmed this year more than blurred the edges of the genre – so much so that some of them actually seemed to stand completely outside it.

As was to be expected, not everything worked. For one thing, there were a lot of prose poems, like City World

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Under The RadarSan Sebastian Film Festival: First Report

Posted on Tuesday September 25, 2012, 20:04 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
San Sebastian Film Festival: First Report

The 60th San Sebastian kicked off on Friday with Arbitrage, a surprising choice for opener since it sees the financial crisis through the eyes of Wall Street banker (Richard Gere) who is involved in a fatal car crash while in negotiations to sell his deeply fraudulent company. Austerity measures are big in San Sebastian this year – the whole Basque region is closing down tomorrow as part of a mass regional protest – but the presence of stars Gere and Susan Sarandon perhaps diverted a bit of attention from the film's somewhat kid-gloves treatment of the rich and immoral. Hollywood types are big round here, and even Oliver Stone's tepid Savages – which barely caused a stir in the US and was dismissed almost entirely in the UK – found a good reception here.

Otherwise, San Sebastian remains an excellent catch-up festival (not to mention a great place to get a steal on the upcoming London Film Festival). Such films included...

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Under The RadarTIFF 2012: The Impossible and Song For Marion

Posted on Saturday September 15, 2012, 20:24 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
TIFF 2012: The Impossible and Song For Marion

The Impossible was one of two films that, though well received by the public, were subjected to a number of swipes by some of the more heartless critics. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, director of the supernatural thriller The Orphanage, it is a spectacular and very direct film that perhaps succeeds too successfully in what it sets out to do, since there are no genre trimmings, next to no action-based subplots or any nuances to “read” into. For me, it worked perfectly, but others complained that there wasn't much to it. Seeing as it tells the story of a very real family of five whose lives where changed forever by the Thailand tsunami of 2004, I thought that was a tad unfair.

Another criticism was that the film was in some way “Hollywoodised” and an insult to the local people killed in this tragic event, but, personally, I thought it worked having a very ordinary western family as the focus (the original family seem to have ...

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Under The RadarTiFF 2012: Zaytoun, Apres Mai, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, End Of Watch

Posted on Saturday September 15, 2012, 20:10 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
TiFF 2012: Zaytoun, Apres Mai, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, End Of Watch

Zaytoun (pictured) is a somewhat leftfield next movie for the people behind The King's Speech. One would assume it might be something slightly bigger and starrier, maybe even more American – in short, something like Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. Instead, they have given us Zaytoun – from the Arabic word for olive – which couldn't be more different. Although it also comes from a very worthy place, Eran Riklis's film goes to the opposite side of the world for this sweet, subtle road movie. Like The King's Speech, it is the story of a very unlikely friendship, this one much explicitly crossing the tracks, so to speak, since the gulf here is so much more than social.

My one quarrel with Zaytoun is that, for once, it requires the viewer to do a lot of catching up from the outset. Thankfully there is no voiceover, and neither should there be, but it takes a little while to get a handle on the history of the film's setting. We begin...

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Under The RadarTIFF 2012: Genre round-up

Posted on Saturday September 15, 2012, 14:00 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
TIFF 2012: Genre round-up

A quick word on the genre titles. TIFF's Midnight Madness strand at the Ryerson theatre – which is a bit of a hike to get back from when it's raining, but worthwhile for the atmosphere – is where Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths premiered and went down a storm. Sadly, some of the other films I saw in this selection didn't really come close. The ultraviolent No One Lives played out like one of the subplots in McDonagh's meta comedy, since it involves serial killers being chased by a serial-killer killer. It reminded me a bit of the Butcher Brothers' FrightFest entry The Thompsons (sequel to The Hamiltons), since it involved a band of outlaws who meet their match, and it was certainly splashy enough to please that film's demographic. The self-consciously “sassy” dialogue drove me a bit nuts however, as it did in the 3D drunken-exorcists horror-comedy Hellbenders, which had a great idea – a kind of defrocked-priest...

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Under The RadarTIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines

Posted on Thursday September 13, 2012, 15:39 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines

Excuse the delay, TIFF is an incredibly overwhelming film festival, where so much clashes, it's much harder than it is at the big European festivals to create any kind of meaningful schedule. This means that I saw Silver Linings Playbook at a private screening before most of the US critics, who immediately cleared a space for it on the 2012 awards table. I have to say, it mystified me, and I have no idea what the film's chances are in the UK, since the title is a riff on a very well-known American football term (I kept waiting for an explanation but none came). It's also, like many of the indies on offer here, somewhat rooted in the American culture of self-medication, with characters that owe more to Benny and Joon – not to mention Romy and Michelle – than Harry and Sally.

Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who is released from a mental institute, into the care of his parents, after spending eight months there for the savage beating o...

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Under The RadarTIFF 2012: Jason Reitman's Live Reading Of American Beauty

Posted on Monday September 10, 2012, 16:07 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
TIFF 2012: Jason Reitman's Live Reading Of American Beauty

Owen Nicholls reports...

After the triumph of Looper and Argo, the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival 2012 finished with a film launched by the Canadian fest nearly a decade and a half ago; American Beauty. Rather than a 3D Conversion in which the plastic bag looks real enough to touch, or another example of a “too soon” Hollywood reboot, this evening's entertainment was the latest “Live Reading” arranged by Jason Reitman. No rehearsals, no cameras, music only used as a header and footer, the night is about the actors, Alan Ball's words and how one of the first steps in the artistic operation works.

Once it was announced that American Beauty would be the chosen, film speculation immediately began as to who would play the lead. The first to jump to my mind was Steve Buscemi, simultaneously capable of playing put upon and being different enough from Spacey to not feel like a carbon copy, which is never the ...

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