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Venice 09: Mr Nobody

Posted on Saturday September 12, 2009, 12:22 by Damon Wise

Two days have gone by since I saw Jaco Van Dormael's Mr Nobody, and I still don't quite know what to make of it. It's a sort-of-sci-fi European romance in which Sliding Doors meets The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, with a hefty dose of The Matrix thrown in at the end. On the one hand, it's a bit of a mess, because it's just so complex and busy, but, on the other hand, it does have a strange sort of poetry. The nominal star is Jared Leto, but he's only really in a third of it. He plays a character called Nemo Nobody, and at the start of the film Nemo is dying. He's the last mortal on earth and, aged 128, is waiting to die, but while he's on his deathbed he is approached by a journalist (Daniel Mays), who wants to know his life story. Nemo tells him, but the story contradicts itself in every possible way: he married this woman, he married that woman, he didn't marry that woman, etc, etc. All we know for certain is that when he was a little boy, Nemo had a choice to make: hi...

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Venice 09: A Single Man

Posted on Friday September 11, 2009, 13:33 by Damon Wise

Tom Ford's A Single Man was on my to-see list but I wasn't expecting much. Tom Ford, if you don't know, is a big noise in menswear and the man who saved Gucci, so I figured his directing debut would look like an aftershave commercial: lots of nude male buttocks and billowing drapes. Such things do appear in A Single Man, but I was surprised to see how good and involving the central drama was. All the performances are note-perfect, and although the film is not likely to cross over to the masses (it's not just lightly gay-themed, it's gaymungous), I can't help thinking that it might be the dark horse come awards time – perhaps not for Ford, but certainly for its two leads, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore – while the film is also a showcase for the talents of two more Brits, the excellent Matthew Goode and, more surprisingly, Nicolas Hoult, the grown-up child star of About A Boy. If the Brokeback Mountain audience supports it, it will surely have a distinguish...

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Venice 09: Survival Of The Dead

Posted on Wednesday September 9, 2009, 14:15 by Damon Wise

George A Romero's new film Survival Of The Dead crept up on me so fast, I didn't even know it was being made, let alone ready to be shown. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing, as it didn't give me much time to get too excited. To put things into perspective, I love Romero's first three Dead movies and I like Martin an awful lot. His studio work has been a bit hit and miss, and I really wasn't at all gone on Land Of The Dead, simply because it looked too slick and didn't have much to say (ultimately, it was just a gory satire on gated communities). There was also the fact that it had Dennis Hopper and Asia Argento in it; Romero's films have never needed stars, much less those of the knowing, genre kind. Diary Of the Dead, while not exactly a return to form, I enjoyed very much, partly because the killings were far out and effective but mostly because it seemed to be about th...

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Venice 09: The Men Who Stare At Goats

Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 12:56 by Damon Wise

The Men Who Stare At Goats didn't fill me enthusiasm when I first heard about it. No disrespect to the book, but I didn't see how a fiction feature could be woven out of Jon Ronson's largely anecdotal history of the American military's covert experiments with psychic warfare – to be frank, I'd have been more excited about a documentary. Having seen it, however, I must admit that it does work. There are some obvious pitfalls – there's really not much of a central story, so it doesn't feel quite as emotionally satisfying a good movie should – but there are some great performances, a lot of very deft comedy and writer Peter Straughan (aided by Grant Heslov's tight direction) captures the deadpan, ironic style of Ronson's writing despite making major changes to the framework.

Ronson is not a character in the movie but his role in the book is reflected in the film in the character of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a cuckolded, smalltown j...

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Venice 09: The Informant!

Posted on Monday September 7, 2009, 11:10 by Damon Wise

I first had my hopes raised about The Informant! when I spoke to Steven Soderbergh last year. “I think a lot of people think, based on the subject matter, that it's going to be a Michael Mann film,” he told me. “But it's more Alexander Payne than Michael Mann.” It is indeed, with a sparky, cocktail-jazzy score and a big dash of Petulia-era Richard Lester melancholy. Because though it's set in the 90s midwest, it could easily be the 70s, a time explicitly evoked in the music and the typefaces that pop up throughout. It's an odd style choice, but it's a handy one that stops the film simply becoming another true-crime story. However, these quirky elements have already divided audiences here; and while the film played very well with the public, some of the critics haven't been so nice, labelling the film “smug” and “really kind of smarty-pants” (I'm not naming names!).
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Venice 09: The Horde

Posted on Monday September 7, 2009, 09:48 by Damon Wise

In amongst all this Venice talk I must now give a quick plug to the organisers of the excellent Frightfest, who alerted me to one of their bigger hits this year, which, being very cool people, they managed to snag ahead of its debut here. Called The Horde, it is a very bloody, very exciting and very, very entertaining French horror movie that plays as an extremely effective blend of Escape From New York and 28 Weeks Later (yes, the second, better one). It's a shame I knew a bit about it going in, since it's one of those cool pulp movies that switches tack midway through. It starts like a gritty policier, with four dirty cops attending the funeral of one of their undercover colleagues and vowing to wreak a terrible revenge on the man's gangland murderers. After a brutal interrogation scene, they trace the gang to a deserted housing estate in the north of Paris, where they don balaclavas and creep in, armed to the teeth with guns and knives. Their plan goes horribly, violently wrong, but just as the gang are about to turn the tables, something bizarre and horrific happens. Outside, there's a strange crowd gathering, and inside... well, things get gruesome.
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Venice 09: Oliver Stone's South Of The Border

Posted on Sunday September 6, 2009, 17:15 by Damon Wise

Following hot on the heels of Michael Moore's latest came another politically charged documentary from a controversial American director – Oliver Stone, this time with a brisk look at the state of South America, with particular focus on Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Called South Of The Border, it makes a neat companion piece to his Fidel Castro movie Commandante, but it's a much leaner and slightly more distanced work that raises some interesting points about the USA's nearest neighbours. There's a lot crammed in here, which makes it feel a bit overloaded with information, but Stone is a surprisingly low-key presence as he moves from country to country, interviewing their leaders in an informal but still somewhat deliberately arch Frost/Nixon style.
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Venice 09: Capitalism, A Love Story

Posted on Sunday September 6, 2009, 10:07 by Damon Wise

Michael Moore arrived in Venice fresh from the edit suite with a film so new, it features footage shot in early 2009. Pre-publicity for the film was sketchy, but the title alone – Capitalism, A Love Story – was a bit of a giveaway. Much more like his breakout hit Bowling For Columbine than the recent health-industry expose Sicko, it is arguably his best since Fahrenheit 911 and, although flawed, it's quite a worthy successor. It's highly possible that Moore may revisit the film after the reviews he reads in the next few days, so some of these flaws may not make the release version, but on the evidence of the festival cut, Moore may have another hit on his hands. Not on the scale of F911 but better than any documentary about the recent financial crisis could ever expect to be.
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Venice 09: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

Posted on Saturday September 5, 2009, 10:42 by Damon Wise

After the initial shock of The Bad Lieutenant (pictured) actually being good, there was a second turn-up for the books yesterday: the festival's first surprise film, one of four, was Werner Herzog's other new film, the heavily anticipated My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?. Produced by David Lynch, whose fingerprints are on every frame, it's an interesting companion piece for Bad Lieutenant, even though it's quite different, rather more experimental and, er, very much like a David Lynch movie. The style is American gothic but with a hyperreal glow, and it starts with a cop (Willem Dafoe) regaling his policing partner with an anecdote about a high-speed chase with a hayseed sheriff. “Sometimes I wonder who's worse,” he muses. “Us or the fuckin' criminals.” Almost instantly a call comes through, and the two are assigned to a homicide: the murder of a woman in San Diego. When they get to the crime scene, they unwittingly encounter the killer (Michael Shannon) straight away: he's the bearded guy outside with the big coffee cup who advises them to “razzle-dazzle 'em”.
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Venice 09: The Bad Lieutenant!

Posted on Friday September 4, 2009, 13:44 by Damon Wise

Waiting in the queue for The Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call: New Orleans (to give it its full title), I couldn't decide what to think. After all, it's a remake of an Abel Ferrara film, which can only be a bad thing. But it's made by Werner Herzog, which can only be a good thing. It turned over in my mind with a mechanical precision – bad, good, bad – until the credits began, appropriately enough, with a shot of a snake swimming in black water. The scene, it turns out, is a New Orleans cop shop in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the holding cell is filling up with water, rising to neck level on its lone inmate. Upstairs, soon-to-be promoted police sergeant Terence McDonough (Nicolas Cage) is talking business with a colleague (Val Kilmer), and when they realise there's still someone down there, there's a darkly comic scene in which they wonder whether or not to leave the poor guy there. Will Terence do something good? Bad? Good? Bad? Finally, despite wearing $55 cotton boxer shorts, he jumps into the filthy water to spring the jailbird. It bodes well for a film that, despite some considerable flaws and a daring, out-there performance from Cage, is pretty good too.
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Venice 09: The Road

Posted on Thursday September 3, 2009, 16:00 by Damon Wise

Venice began this year with the usual chaos, this time enhanced by the construction work that will continueslong after the festival has finished, transforming the once-tranquil Lido, literally, into a building site. I won't mention the fact that the festival gave me the wrong pass (again), or that the opening film (Baalia) was a flashy, noisy, elegantly designed bore, or that last night's documentary presentation Great Directors – comprising interviews with such random subjects as Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch and, er, Richard Linklater – was very disappointing. Instead, I'll star with the first good film: John Hillcoat's The Road, a dark, apocalyptic drama based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Admirers of Hillcoat's last film, The Proposition, will be interested to see that he hasn't sold out his uncompromising vision, and, though it ends on a note of hope, The Road is one of the most resolutely stark and challenging English-language films you'll see next year. The closest comparison I can think of is Alfonso Cuaron's Children Of men, which I saw in the same cinema several years back, but minus that film's leavening mordant humour. The Road is a film about mortality and parenthood too, and as such takes its duties very seriously.
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A very, very spoilerific Moon interview...

Posted on Wednesday August 5, 2009, 14:07 by Damon Wise

Now that Moon has been out a few weeks and you've had time to digest it, here's a very, very spoiler-heavy Q&A conducted in January at the Sundance film festival with director Duncan Jones and star Sam Rockwell that would surely get me shot if it ran in the magazine...
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Venice Thoughts...

Posted on Friday July 31, 2009, 15:04 by Damon Wise

I must confess to being pleasantly surprised by the line-up of this year's Venice film festival; last year's was, quite frankly, awful. A seemingly wilfully self-sabotaging selection, it seemed as though the selectors were actually giving up the ghost and saying: “Look, this is all that's out there!” At the end of the festival – at which one of the mainstream 'highlights' was a children's film, Ponyo, to my mind Hayao Miyazaki's worst film by miles – the only relief came with a 1-2-3 courtesy of our American allies, when The Hurt Locker, Rachel Getting Married and The Wrestler emerged from the murk.
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Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar

Posted on Wednesday July 29, 2009, 23:57 by Damon Wise

Just my opinion. Admit it. He fucking rocks....

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Karlovy Vary: Fourth Report

Posted on Friday July 10, 2009, 06:43 by Damon Wise

Just as I suspected (see my previous blog here), I did end up seeing We Live In Public again, and I now officially have the T-shirt (pictured)...

Slightly trimmed from the Sundance version, Ondi Timoner's vibrant study of dotcom visionary Josh Harris really has grown on me. The differences are very subtle, but I couldn't help feeling that the story was tighter and more focused, but that may have been because I now knew what to expect. To recap, Harris made a ton of money in the early dotcom boom and lost it all in the ensuing bust. His moment of glory, however, was that in 1999 he staged a mammoth underground art project that found 100 people living for free in a hotel with no privacy and a gun range downstairs. Busted by the police, who believed the event – called, ironically, Quiet, and only meant to last a month – was a millennium cult, like Heaven's Gate, Harris went on to instal camer...

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