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Empire Blogs

Under The RadarVenice 2012: To The Wonder

Posted on Monday September 3, 2012, 13:54 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Venice 2012: To The Wonder

Terrence Malick's To The Wonder was, after The Master, perhaps the hottest ticket on the Lido this year, but the scenes outside the cinema at yesterday morning's press screening were nothing like the carnage that occurred before the equivalent screening of Tree Of Life last year in Cannes. Perhaps it's because attendances are down this year, maybe it's because Ben Affleck is no Brad Pitt, or it could just be that Tree Of Life was so long in the making that it became almost mythical. Any which way, it just didn't seem that there was the same level of interest in Malick's relatively rapid follow-up.

Which was perhaps just as well, since To The Wonder is a very disappointing film that borders on self-parody with its tics and flourishes. I wasn't wild about Tree Of Life, but I did feel that – outside of the dreadful Sean Penn scenes – it had a visual lyricism and a strong narrative angle,...

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Under The RadarVenice 2012: The Master

Posted on Saturday September 1, 2012, 12:02 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Venice 2012: The Master

The Master is one of those films that takes on a life before anyone has seen it, fuelled by rumour and information of the dis- and mis- kind. Before going any further, I feel duty-bound to say that this film is not in any way “about” Scientology or a takedown of L Ron Hubbard and his pseudo-scientific “religion”. If anything, it is a very old-fashioned love story, forged in the style of Nicholas Ray or, at a push, Douglas Sirk, and should perhaps be regarded as a man's picture of the kind lately being made by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful) or Jacques Audiard (Rust And Bone).

Where to start? After There Will Be Blood, this is another outstanding technical achievement from Paul Thomas Anderson, and, visually, the film is near faultless. Some felt it a little long, and it does wobble slightly in the second half, but this felt more controlled than its predecessor, at least to me. If TWBB was about the founding of contemporary America in a ...

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Under The RadarVenice 2012: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Iceman and Bait

Posted on Thursday August 30, 2012, 14:21 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Venice 2012: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Iceman and Bait

After Black Swan and The Ides Of March, Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist seemed like an odd choice to start the 69th Venice Film Festival. There's still some Hollywood star wattage there, with supporting turns from Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson and Keifer Sutherland, but here they are pressed into the service of a provocative political drama that questions the validity of the American dream to outsiders. In short, it is a pro-America film that dares voice un-American thoughts, and though it is perhaps overlong and certainly uneven at times, there's a lot to think about here.

For this we can thank Riz Ahmed, who is fast becoming one of the best leading men of his generation. If it wasn't for him, this film simply world not work, since it asks us to identify with him as Changez Khan, a smart and sensitive Pakistani man who appears to drift from privilege and social conformism to radical terrorism (which isn't unprecedente...

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Under The RadarKarlovy Vary Film Festival 2012: The Almost Man, In The Fog and two from Jean-Pierre Melville

Posted on Monday July 9, 2012, 00:29 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2012: The Almost Man, In The Fog and two from Jean-Pierre Melville

The 47th Karlovy Film festival came to an end on Saturday after the jury presented Norway's Martin Lund with the Grand Prix – and $25,000 – for his film The Almost Man. I have to say, though, that for this to be the case there couldn't have been much strong competition. Although it has some very funny moments, and an engagingly offbeat leading man in the Chris O'Dowd-like Henrik Rafaelson (who also won Best Actor), this might have been better titled The Almost Film. Inevitably for a Scandinavian film, it raises the spectre of Denmark's Dogme movement, not so much for its jittery, handheld style but for the simplicity of the story, its realism and its darkness.

Rafaelson plays Henrik (itself a Dogme-esque flourish), a 30-something husband whose work life is going nowhere. Henrik is bored at the office and unwilling to commit fully to starting a family with his wife at home, and so he lives in a childlike, childless limbo, unwilling to jettison t...

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Under The RadarKarlovy Vary Film Festival 2012: Kenneth Lonergan interview

Posted on Friday July 6, 2012, 17:32 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2012: Kenneth Lonergan interview

Kenneth Lonergan's extraordinary film Margaret premiered in London on December 2 last year in a single screen at arguably one of London's most unremarkable cinemas. This was three months after it bowed in the US, where it fared little better. But, miraculously, there was a lot of goodwill surrounding the second film from the director of 2000's Oscar-nominated Sundance hit You Can Count On Me. Telling the story of Margaret (Anna Paquin), a somewhat dramatic, privileged New York teenager whose life is changed when she accidentally causes the death of a pedestrian by distracting a bus driver, the film was a long 11 years in gestation and nearly three hours in running time when it reached screens here and in the US.

I caught up with Lonergan this week in the Czech Republic at the 47th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where the release cut of the film was playing to packed houses. Because of a potentially ruinous lawsuit, which could, say sources, ba...

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Under The RadarKarlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Good Vibrations

Posted on Sunday July 1, 2012, 09:27 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Good Vibrations

What is a film about a man who once ran a record shop in Northern Ireland doing opening a film festival in Eastern Europe? That was the question that was bothering me on my way to the 47th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Are they such fans here of arcane punk trivia that a film dramatising the signing of The Undertones would be seen as positively mainstream? But when I finally saw it, I realised that this film by Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D'Sa is actually a pretty good fit for a country that has had to navigate an exit from communism while resisting co-option by the west. Though it appears to be a biopic, Good Vibrations is actually a very buoyant and really quite infectious film about the power of hope as a force for change. It is also – quite crucially at a time when the coalition government is sidelining the young in far worse ways than Margaret Thatcher ever did – a very t...

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Under The RadarEdinburgh Film Festival 2012: Ten Picks

Posted on Wednesday June 20, 2012, 12:01 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Edinburgh Film Festival 2012: Ten Picks

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is upon us once again. Let's not dwell on last year's debacle, a complete farrago management-wise that still managed to provide some excellent movies thanks to its ever-vigilant and tasteful creative team. We can accept that the EIFF has never been the richest festival on the block, but last year's ridiculously drastic austerity measures simply went too far. Happily, the programming under the fantastic new festival director Chris Fujiwara shows the pendulum swinging back the other way, not towards lavish parties and A-list guests but towards a firm commitment to emerging talent, cult movies and other leftfield discoveries.

As a result, this year's roster is incredibly audacious; there are next to no budget-gobbling megastars, and a surprising amount isn't even in the English language, making Fujiwara's festival an exciting, new and very European-feeling addition to a crowded calendar. The festival starts tonight, and there'll ...

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Under The RadarCannes 2012: The Awards

Posted on Monday May 28, 2012, 13:28 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Cannes 2012: The Awards

And so the dust settles on another grueling Cannes. I now longer know where I am, who you are or what day it is, but I dimly recall something about a Palme D'Or last night. On reflection, the decision to award it to Michael Haneke's Amour was, like The Artist at the Oscars, something of a dead cert, with critics trying to roll back the tide by positioning several other movies as the one that could and would beat it. I wasn't completely sold on it, because I never am fully sold on Haneke's films (with the exception of The White Ribbon), but there was never any doubt that this was Palme D'Or material. Though I would dearly have loved to have seen Holy Motors take the prize (even though it is weirdly similar in its themes), it would have seemed a bit silly and even a bit mean in the face of Amour's seriousness and power, notably from its excellent two leads.

I always stay for the awards since it is a stark reminder of the gulf between the press and the ju...

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Under The RadarCannes 2012: Mud

Posted on Monday May 28, 2012, 12:26 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Cannes 2012: Mud

Mud screened on Saturday and was the last American film of the festival. By chance it was also the most American film in the official selection, taking place in the southern midwest state of Arkansas, written and directed by local boy Jeff Nichols and starring Texan Matthew McConaughey in the title role. After the rustic noir of Shotgun Stories and the intense mental illness drama Take Shelter, Mud perhaps gives a better reflection of this smart, unassuming director's true personality. Malick is a touchstone here, in more ways than one, but Nichols prefers a less obvious, more story-based style of visual poetry to most of the reclusive legend's imitators (give or take a couple of insert shots of spiders).

The Malick connection comes not just via shared producer Sarah Green but also from the film's protagonist – Ellis, a 14-year-old boy living on a houseboat, is played by Tye Sheridan (above, left), one of the boys in last year's Palme D'O...

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Under The RadarCannes 2012: Cosmopolis

Posted on Friday May 25, 2012, 10:55 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Cannes 2012: Cosmopolis

Somehow David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis articulates everything I think about post-financial crisis capitalism, ie, the world today. It goes without saying that it is weird, but even from the director of eXistenZ and Videodrome it is bizarre, with the mannered, affected performances of the former and the outsider characters of the latter. It doesn't quite fit with the early body-horror movies but there is, like A Dangerous Method, a viral metaphor at play here, and this time the virus is not free thought but the free economy (towards the end of the movie, Robert Pattinson's vampiric playboy comments that “nobody hates the rich, everybody thinks they're ten seconds away from being rich”). But what is money? Is it the dollar? The baht? The dong? Could it be a rat? A live rat, a pregnant rat or a dead rat? What does money even mean?

Cronenberg's cool, intelligent film asks all these questions – literally – and more, then goes even furt...

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