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Empire Blogs

Empire StatesFive Reasons To Cherish Whit Stillman

Posted on Wednesday April 25, 2012, 11:50 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Five Reasons To Cherish Whit Stillman

As The Guardian’s Michael Newton pointed out in a lovely piece on the filmmaker last weekend, it’s impossible to imagine anyone turning out the kind of film Whit Stillman makes in England. All those upwardly mobile, thesaurus-swallowing Oxbridge types? It'd end up like Bullingdon Club: The Movie or Oxford Blues, but with Rob Lowe replaced by Spencer from Made In Chelsea or a puppy-fat David Cameron. Filmgoers would queue up just to blow raspberries at their local cinema.

That’s not to say that class isn’t polarising on the other side of the Pond too, only perhaps not as polarising. Stillman is one of a realm of American filmmakers who’ve set up their cameras inside the ivy-clad walls of preppiedom without, to the best of our knowledge, a single raspberry blown. Still, it’s instructive that he’s much happier to hear people comparing

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Empire StatesEmpire Reports: Autism-Friendly Cinemas

Posted on Friday April 13, 2012, 18:04 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Empire Reports: Autism-Friendly Cinemas

Flicking through the paper recently, I came across an ad for the Picturehouse chain’s special autism-friendly screenings. It caught my eye for two reasons: firstly, I have a brother with Asperger syndrome who has an unquenchable love of movies (current favourites: War Horse; anything with titans in it); and secondly, it was adorned with a whopping great picture of Pirate Captain from Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists, which I loved. Needless to say, he’s brandishing a fish slice rather than the traditional cutlass. (Pirate Captain, not brother.)

Pirates! is one of the films currently showing at Picturehouse Cinema’s special screenings around the country. The others - Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and The Muppets among them – are consciously family-friendly choices designed to give the parents of autistic kids the chance of a trip to the movies without the usual stresses of a lo...

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Empire StatesFive Things We've Learned About Brave

Posted on Thursday April 5, 2012, 11:42 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Five Things We've Learned About Brave

I was lucky enough to be invited down to watch sneak-peak footage from Pixar’s next big release, Brave, recently. These screenings are usually held in top-secret locations (or 'London hotels' as they're sometimes known), accompanied by embargoes (not the kind in The Phantom Menace) and biscuits so perfect they make choral noises when you eat them. If there’s a frustration in not to being able to tell anyone about it afterwards, it’s counterbalanced by the sheer joy of discovering something so new, it’s not even finished. And, of course, those singing biscuits.

This one felt a bit different. It’s an understatement to say that bad buzz isn't something Pixar has had to worry about down the years – the studio’s Metacritic average is a steepling 81 – but this is an interesting time for the denizens of Emeryville. Cars 2 was its first true critical failure (even if it did brisk trade at the box office) and parent company Disney is still su...

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Empire StatesWhat's Hollywood Favourite Sandwich?

Posted on Wednesday November 2, 2011, 17:09 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
What's Hollywood Favourite Sandwich?

November 3 marks International Sandwich Day! Yes, we know what you're thinking: it's a big old marketing ploy concocted by the sinister Condiment-Industrial Complex to shift a few jars of pickle. But no. We think of it as a time for celebration and, next to 'Move Like A Ninja Day' and 'Hug A Hippo Day', it's one of our favourite little-known days of the year.

The main criterion for treasuring ISD is that unlike, say, 'Talk Like A Pirate Day', it doesn't involve doing anything you probably wouldn't be doing anyway (ie eating a tasty sandwich) - although admittedly since they merged 'Talk Like A Pirate Day' with 'Talk A Bit Like You're From The West Country Day', that one got pretty straightforward too.

So how to celebrate? Well, as keen Empire webchatters will know, we've all been confusing delighting Hollywood stars with seemingly random enquiries into their favourite bread spreads for some time now. We don't know why it started exactly, except that they'r...

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Empire StatesOnce Upon A Time In West London: Empire Learns The Harmonica

Posted on Friday September 9, 2011, 16:49 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Once Upon A Time In West London: Empire Learns The Harmonica

Many bourbons have been slugged debating the Greatest Western Moment. Is it Shane’s final shot of Alan Ladd disappearing righteously towards the horizon? That first iconic shot of John Wayne in Stagecoach? Clint’s graveyard showdown in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly? High noon in, um, that film with Gary Cooper? Mungo’s candygram in Blazing Saddles?

For me, it’s got to be the cool-as-iced-cucumbers introduction of another Man With No Name: Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing gunslinger at the beginning of Once Upon A Time In The West. Sergio Leone’s revenge epic has been my favourite Western since boyhood, a perfect storm of my favourite things (Bronson, Jason Robards, Ennio Morricone, trains). My Darling Clementine and The Wild Bunch run it close, but neither have a Mexican stand-off with a six-minute opening sequence that ends with the some of...

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Empire StatesClubbed To Death: How To Make The Perfect Clubbing Movie

Posted on Monday September 5, 2011, 15:54 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Clubbed To Death: How To Make The Perfect Clubbing Movie

Even if you don’t spend too much time fretting about your age, there are movies that make you feel a bit too old for things. (500) Days Of Summer, for example, makes me feel a bit too old for the following things: moochy crushes on slightly mysterious girls, drunken singing of Pixies songs, and doey-eyed navel-gazing. Admittedly, I did have a go at being a bit zany in Ikea recently.

Weekender is one of those kind of films. Superficially it’s a thriller-cum-buddy-movie, but deep down it’s a love letter to clubbing and house music, all the things are 30-something aspiring family man (one day... maybe) should be filing away with the ripped jeans, hi-tops and passion for cola bottles. As I walked out feeling like I’d stumbled from a nightclub, it dawned on me that I’m now officially Way Too Old for clubbing. My running man has developed early-onset arthritis, the beanie makes me look like an extra in Last Of The Summer Wine and strobes ma...

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Empire StatesOscars 2011: The Highs, The Lows And The James Francos

Posted on Monday February 28, 2011, 06:27 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Oscars 2011: The Highs, The Lows And The James Francos

Another Oscars came and went with its share of ‘Eh?’ moments, many of them provided by co-host James Franco who seemed determined to spend the evening acting out some kind of weird Wes Anderson cheese dream. This, while something we’d pay to watch, probably wasn’t entirely what the Academy had in mind. Alongside him, Anne Hathaway was a predictably safe pair of hands – charming, funny, jaunty and musical in equal measure – and, for a few eccentric minutes, Kirk Douglas appeared to leave his stamp on things. Fittingly for a man who did much of his greatest work with Stanley Kubrick, Douglas’s cameo defied any attempt at instant analysis. It was an appearance that may, in due course, need its own Warren Commission, but, weird or wonderful, it was great to see him back in the bright lights.

As for Best Film, it was one of those years when feelings didn’t seem to run so high that anyone was likely to be catcalling injustice at the Academy voters. Compar...

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Empire StatesThe Day I Joined The Na'vi

Posted on Monday November 15, 2010, 13:37 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
The Day I Joined The Na'vi

I’m crouched in the middle of Weta Digital’s performance-capture stage (or ‘volume’) in Wellington, sporting a full motion-capture suit and trying my darnedest to channel my inner Andy Serkis. Acting is definitely not my forte and yet I’m about to perform a scene from Avatar in front of the man who produced it. Yikes. The scene is from Avatar’s newly extended Collector’s Edition and sees Na’vi Jake (that’s me) exploring a long-abandoned Na’vi classroom, the scene of a brutal SecFor massacre in Pandora’s recent past. There are stingbats dangling menacingly from the ceiling, violently overturned benches and bullet holes peppering the wall. I know this only because I’ve just watched the scene in Weta’s 200-seat cinema, an opulent, Arabian Nights-style screening room just down the road at the effects house's post-production centre. All I can see in front of me are the two benches, a copy of Doctor Seuss’ The Lorax on the ...

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Under The RadarThe 30(ish) LFF Films We're Excited About

Posted on Tuesday October 12, 2010, 15:14 by Phil de Semlyen in Under The Radar

I’ve seen Bright Star and thought Ben Whishaw made a suitably tousled John Keats, but I’m not still buying that whole Autumn ‘a season of mists and mellow fruitness’ business. Autumn sucks. The leaves are falling off the trees, it’s suddenly got dark at 6.30pm (er, when did that happen?), the price of Kit-Kats has gone up and Wayne Rooney is still trying to remember whereabouts in Rustenburg he left his brain. Ugh, basically. Thank god, then, for the London Film Festival, a chance to put autumnal worries aside and get lost in movies for 15 days. We’re pretty stoked about it in these parts and hopefully you are too. Unlike Venice and Cannes, it’s all open to the public and as democratic as moviegoing should be. This year – the 54th festie since a posse of film critics got things started in 1956 – there are 197 features and 112 shorts screening, a stat to defeat even Empire’s own viewing machine Kim Newman.

So what to see? ...

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Small ScreenNikita: The Premiere

Posted on Wednesday September 15, 2010, 17:46 by Phil de Semlyen in Small Screen
Nikita: The Premiere

When a dossier thumps onto your desk last week with the word ‘confidential’ embossed across the front and an unusual request within, your interest is bound to be piqued. “I have recently escaped from a secret organisation that brainwashed me and trained me to become an assassin,” read the dodgy dossier. “I need you to help me bring down this corrupt organisation.” Hmmm, curious. What organisation could I, a humble hack who often struggles to tie his own shoelaces unassisted, possibly bring down?

As it turned out, my reverse-Apprentice skills weren’t called on. The reality – the world’s first iPad premiere, showing off the first episode of CW’s new miniseries Nikita – was no less exciting, not least for the possibility that they might forget to collect the iPads afterwards*. Held in the kind of cavernous, brick-walled edifice Jack Bauer would feel at home being tortured in, magically comfy-ed up, the event was like the TV equivalent ...

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