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Karlovy Vary: Third Report

Posted on Thursday July 9, 2009, 12:55 by Damon Wise

One of the reasons I came to Karlovy Vary was to see the latest film from Jim Jarmusch, The Limits Of Control, which was heavily tipped to appear in Cannes but never did. The word on it has been poisonous, most notably from Variety and the reviewer there really went to town on the film, to such an extent that it seemed as though Jarmusch had personally betrayed him. Well, the film really isn't that bad, but it does raise some interesting questions, most notably: where will this film end up, and how will it fare in the marketplace? Personally, I'm a bit torn. I think Jarmusch is a good filmmaker, and this film will appeal to his fans, but should it get a release simply to enable a small, hardcore audience to check the box and add it to their list? These are really, really dark times for independent movies, and though I fully support Jarmusch and his fierce independence, I'm really not sure this is the right time to be using mainstream money to make such an enigmatic film.
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Karlovy Vary: Second Report

Posted on Tuesday July 7, 2009, 14:27 by Damon Wise

Karlovy Vary is a great place to catch up with movies from the festival circuit, and there's usually a fair few from Sundance. They're usually pretty good, too, which is why I was surprised by Everything Strange And New, a rather dull, digital-shot indie about an ordinary man struggling to get by in credit-crunch America. If there was humour there, it was so dry it must have flaked away from the screen as soon as it started. My viewing companions and I were not impressed and made our excuses to an already half-empty cinema. Enough of that, however, because there were two truly great American indies playing here, both of which scored deserved raves in Sundance.

I'll start with Black Dynamite, a fast, funny, funky homage to blaxploitation cinema, because that's the easiest. I wasn't quite sure how it would play here, to be honest, because the likes of Shaft, let alone Avenging Disco Godfather, aren't likely to have been big hits in the former Czechoslovakia in the 70s. I also wondered...

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Karlovy Vary: First Report

Posted on Monday July 6, 2009, 13:29 by Damon Wise

The Karlovy Vary film festival is in full swing. I arrived here on Friday for the opening night screening of Shana Feste's The Greatest (pictured), which, sadly, wasn't. It's a bizarre film to open a festival with, since it's downbeat drama about grief and the death of a loved one, in this case Bennett (Aaron Johnson), whose parents (Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon) take in his pregnant lover Rose (Carey Mulligan) after she turns up on their doorstep. As you can tell from the synopsis, there's a lot of acting in this film, especially from Pierce Brosnan, who attacks the script like an alcoholic on a five-day bender. Sadly, the script feels a little too much like an actor's workshop, with lots of powerful, emotive scenes and not enough narrative glue. Surprisingly, newcomer Mulligan holds her own against Brosnan and Sarandon, and it can't hurt her already rising profile (she's also in Lone Scherfig's An Education, which is great). And I kept wondering for ages...

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Where to see Moon...

Posted on Thursday July 2, 2009, 13:41 by Damon Wise

If you're looking forward to the best low-fi sci-fi experience of the year, you'll find Duncan Jones' Empire-approved 4-star-rated film Moon screening at the following locations. Don't forget! It's out July 17, so do pop along...

LONDON:

Soho Curzon
Screen on the Green
West End Apollo
Enfield Cineworld
Chelsea Cineworld
Haymarket Cineworld
Mill End Genesis
Milton Keynes Cineworld
Brixton Ritzy
Swiss Cottage Odeon
Shepherds Bush VUE
Stevenage Cineworld
Reading Showcase

SCOTLAND:

Glasgow Cineworld
Edinburgh Cameo
Glasgow Film Theatre
Aberdeen Belmont
Edinburgh Omni VUE

WALES:

Cardiff Vue
Cardiff Cineworld

REGIONAL:

Oxford Phoenix
York City Screen
Manchester CNR.HSE
Leeds Hyde Park
Newcastle Tyneside Cinema
Cambridge Picture House
Norwich Cinema City
Nottingham ...

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Edinburgh preview

Posted on Sunday June 14, 2009, 14:14 by Damon Wise

Ten films I've seen and recommend (in alphabetical order)...

Adventureland (Greg Mottola, US)
Mottola's coming-of-age story is one of my films of the year, an absolute joy. Jesse Eisenberg plays a college grad whose father's demotion scuppers his European vacation plans, forcing him to take a summer job at a rundown funfair. The comedy is broad and bittersweet in equal measures, and despite the beautifully observed early-80s period setting, its appeal is surprisingly timeless.

Exam (Stuart Hazeldine, UK)
Cube meets The Apprentice in this excellent low-budget debut (pictured) from British writer-director Hazeldine. Some time in the near future, eight candidates apply for a high-powered job, and on entering the exam room find only a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. The stage is set for some venal power-play, and, amazingly, Hazeldine sustains the single-room tension without cheating.

Fear Me Not (...

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Fish Tank

Posted on Wednesday June 10, 2009, 23:55 by Damon Wise

I really, really, really like this film. More from Edinburgh! Or before if I have time......

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Basterds Blog

Posted on Sunday May 31, 2009, 19:23 by Damon Wise

Now that the dust has settled, I feel I must write what they used to call a spirited defence of Inglourious Basterds, a film that generated a lot of column inches out of Cannes but didn't actually appear to have been 'reviewed' in any great depth by anybody*. The verdicts varied greatly; some liked it, some did not, but in every case the yardstick seemed to be the same: was it the new Pulp Fiction? (Answer: No.) It seems to me that we are somewhat losing the plot in terms of film criticism; the internet has shrunk our minds and memories so much that we can no longer take anything in at all sensibly. Of all the reviews I read of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, not one mentioned the fact that it contained visual echoes of Element Of Crime, his over-stylised debut, and its follow-up Europa. Not so surprising, you might say, but significant since Von Trier rejected that style of filmmaking with Dogme, and has only gone back to it with his most tortured and personal film yet. And...

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Cannes Day One: Up

Posted on Wednesday May 13, 2009, 13:24 by Damon Wise

The Cannes film festival got off to an unusual start for me, since I was actually able to get into the press screening of Up in good time and actually sit downstairs in the Salle Debussy, which may not sound like much of a treat but it should tell you something about the bureaucracy here that it is. It's like the scene in Borat when he realises his New York hotel room has a chair in it: king of the castle indeed. But what made the extra difference was the the 3D specs I was handed on the way in. Not the red and green ones I got for Creature From The Black Lagoon, or the polarised ones I got for Parasite or even My Bloody Valentine 3D: this were big chunky red plastic goggles. Even festival director Thierry Fremaux got excited, getting up onstage to take a snap of the bespectacled masses.

This certainly was the cutting edge of 3D, but the downside of wearing the damn things is that it made Up, a light, funny and very brisk comedy, seem longer than it ought. T...

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Critics Week and Directors' Fortnight

Posted on Sunday April 26, 2009, 12:28 by Damon Wise

Just a quick note to comment on the line-ups of both Critics Week and Directors' Fortnight, both of which were announced earlier than I expected. To be honest, Critics Week has mostly been a mystery to me, since it showcases many unknown talents. When time is at a premium, it’s not always possible to spare the time to take a gamble in Cannes, and I hate walking out of a movie. (You’d be surprised how many people are happy to do so; I once saw a slightly older guy walk out of Mulholland Drive after less than half an hour, which made me wonder whether some of the people who attend this festival actually know anything about cinema at all.) This year’s Critics Week is another mysterious selection, then. I was hoping to see at least one British title in there, but it didn’t make the cut. Still, the selection is strong on films from Latin America, a pretty hot region of late, especially for – believe it or not – comedies (Tony Manero and Rudo Y Cursi are two of m...

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Cannes Line-Up 2009

Posted on Thursday April 23, 2009, 14:42 by Damon Wise

Who cares about Cannes? Well, I do. Perhaps too much. When the festival announces its line-up, I often have a sense of disappointment before it's even begun. In the weeks prior, there's always lots of mad speculation about the films that could, should and will be there, so that when they're not, I get a totally unfair feeling of anticlimax. Today, for example, I'm already wondering why the Coens' A Serious Man isn't going, or, more strangely, Steven Soderbergh's The Informant, which I know the director wrapped and edited before Christmas. Personally, I was sure that Werner Herzog's hotly anticipated (but only by me) Bad Lieutenant remake would be there, but, no, it's not.

The other reason I get a tinge of disappointment is that certain films are so assured of a slot, it barely feels like news. Into this category fall the likes of Lars Von Trier's arthouse horror flick Antichrist, which has been mooted for a Competition slot since the dawn of time, Ken Loach's football-bas...

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Antichrist and other thoughts

Posted on Tuesday April 14, 2009, 14:49 by Damon Wise

It occurs to me that I haven't written anything on this blog for quite some time, so I'll just do what everyone else does on the net and ramble on about some recent news. The last thing to land in my inbox was an email about the recent death of Simon Channing Williams, perhaps best known to me as the producer who raced off to Venice with a VHS of Mike Leigh's Vera Drake to show the head of the festival there while the selectors at Cannes were still trying to make their minds up. The film's resulting Golden Lion win spoke volumes about his instincts. Williams had a long-standing association with Leigh since High Hopes in 1988, and had a sizeable hit of his own in 2005 with The Constant Gardener. I never met him, but then neither did I hear of anyone with a bad word for him, but the news of Williams' death, at 63, as a result of cancer, was a shock to me mostly because it followed two other recent deaths in the film world. The most widely reported of these was the death last week of Wouter Barendrecht...

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Red Riding: 1974, 1980 and 1983

Posted on Sunday March 1, 2009, 00:33 by Damon Wise

My review of this very, very good crime project will follow just as soon as I've gathered my thoughts! In the meantime, here's a shot of tonight's NFT panel with (from left) Michael Hayden (NFT/BFI moderator), Andrew Eaton (producer), Tony Grisoni (writer), Julian Jarrold (director, 1973), James Marsh (director, 1980) and Anand Tucker (director, 1983).

And here it is:

I'll put my hand up and admit now that I've never read a word of fiction by David Peace, although, having had him explained to me several years ago by one of the UK's most underused actors I feel as though I do very much know what he's about. And I think if you haven't read his Red Riding Quartet by now, it's probably best to wait until after this three-part series is over (it starts on C4 this Thursday). In the meantime, all you really need to know is that Peace was born n...

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Berlin 2

Posted on Friday February 13, 2009, 14:07 by Damon Wise

As Berlin rumbles to a close, I've quite concerned to hear pretty much no sounds of anything even vaguely equating enthusiasm coming from the Potsdamer Platz region. I can't even say that the films getting a controversial reception have made me want to be there, these being Lukas Moodysson's Mammoth, Andrew Bujalski's Beeswax, Francois Ozon's Ricky and Mitchell Lichtenstein's Happy Tears.

Stories are tr...

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Berlin 09: The View From Not There!

Posted on Saturday February 7, 2009, 20:03 by Damon Wise

Well, the festival opened on Thursday with another controversial choice. I love Berlin and I love the festival but I find the programming somewhat baffling and, for a journalist, it's a pretty difficult event to turn a profit on it, quite frankly. When Dieter Kosslick took over, I really thought it would make the festival much younger and more exciting than it had been under Moritz De Hadeln, but it seems more excitement spills out from the market and the Talent Campus than the festival itself. Many people don't understand why I enjoy Sundance so much, but, even when the films are bad (and they often are) there's a genuine sense of enthusiasm; most of the people you meet (even the LA types) are usually either coming from a movie or heading to (at least) one, and there's a lot of curiosity about the films you have and haven't seen. With Berlin, though, there's often a sense of dread that pervades the journalistic contingent, and this year's choice of Tom Tykwer's The International (above), sta...

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Sundance PS

Posted on Sunday February 1, 2009, 15:48 by Damon Wise

After being reminded by JLG87 it occurred to me that, no, I didn't see Black Dynamite (pictured above). I gambled on it being repeated at the end of the festival, but it wasn't. I heard good things about the first 30 minutes, but my spies said that, after that, it drifted a little into pastiche. Still, Sony bought it for North America, and a few UK distributors were looking at it too, last I heard. But thinking about Black Dynamite reminded me of a few other films I saw but didn't write about: mostly, but not solely, because I didn't like them. Interestingly, two of my duds were Iraq movies. The Messenger stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson as two soldiers whose job it is to knock on doors and inform the residents of their loved ones' demise. It's an angry, well-played film, but, try as I might (director Oren Moverman co-wrote my beloved I'm Not There), I just couldn't get involved with it, especially when Steve Buscemi made a cameo as a displeased father. It skew...

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