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Hmm...

Posted on Sunday December 14, 2008, 19:05 by Damon Wise

I'm afraid I haven't had chance to blog much lately......

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Moon

Posted on Friday December 5, 2008, 10:29 by Damon Wise

Does it count as a blog if I just write: this film is in the Premiere section at Sundance next month and I can't wait to see it?

Directed by Duncan Jones, it stars Sam Rockwell (pictured) as Sam Bell, a moon miner who has a three-year contract to work on the far side of the moon mining the element Helium-3. And at the beginning of the film Sam is at the end of his contract, he's been incredibly lonely but he's managed to survive the term, along with his robot companion Gertie (voiced by Kevin Spacey, not pictured). But one day he has an accident, and when he wakes up afterwards, things aren't quite as he remembers them. Because he's no longer alone...

 I went on set of Moon at the beginning of the year and it promised to be amazing, not just because of the set but because of everything Rockwell was prepared to do for the role. "Sam's very effective and believable when he has the more emotional scenes," said Jones, "but he's also very playful and...

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Who will watch the Watchmen?

Posted on Friday November 14, 2008, 18:35 by Damon Wise

A quick mention of the Watchmen footage that was shown in London today. I've been keeping the graphic novel at arm's length for years now, after making the mistake of reading From Hell in Prague just before I went on set to see it being filmed. I have next to no experience of comic books but there's something I do respond to in the work of Alan Moore and his obsession with detail: historical, philosophical and pop. From Hell is literally an epic in that sense, with its endless appendices and footnotes, all converging to present Jack The Ripper as the bloody manifestation of the century to follow. Needless to say, though I quite enjoyed the Hughes brothers' gothic nightmare (even Johnny Depp's maligned but quite authentic accent), the From Hell on screen bore almost no relation to what was on the page. It was, in fact, just another gussied -up slasher movie.

I'm also amused by Moore's purity, and any writer who refuses to be associated with – but will not actively block – a mainst...

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Milk and Slumdog Millionaire

Posted on Thursday November 13, 2008, 14:08 by Damon Wise

I feel bad because I didn't get round to delivering any kind of wrap on the London Film Festival, but I think I just about covered everything except for the closing night film, Slumdog Millionaire, which I'd been very much looking forward to. Although I'd recommend it – the pace never slackens and director Danny Boyle's enthusiasm for India is contagious – I must admit I was disappointed after all the things I'd heard. The main problem for me was the tone; it's a feelgood film in which some quite grim things happen, especially at the beginning. If you hadn't heard, the framing device is India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and when the film starts, a poor kid from the slums is about to win an awful lot of money. Suspected of being a cheat, he's taken to the police station, where he is beaten, half-drowned and, er, connected to a car battery. I don't know about you, but if that happened over here, I think there'd be a little bit more paperwork involved.

From her...

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LFF: Che and The Baader-Meinhof Complex

Posted on Sunday October 26, 2008, 13:30 by Damon Wise

Due to being hellishly tired, I missed the first screening of Steven Soderbergh's Che in Cannes and didn't catch up with it, despite it being shown on two more occasions. As a result, I developed a kind of Pavlovian response to it, and even though the combined running time is about four and a half hours now (including a 20-minute intermission), in my mind it seemed much, much longer and began to loom like a forbidding Mount Everest of cinema. Still, a ticket arrived and I thought, Why not?

I'm glad I went in the end, although I'm not sure that back-to-back is the right way to view them, as the combined experience somewhat undermines the strengths of both films. The first one is certainly the most satisfying, and, for all the talk from Cannes of it being “wilfully uncommercial”, it definitely isn't one of Soderbergh's experimental monstrosities. Still, neither is it one of his mainstream offerings, and as the insightful Joe from Rotten Tomatoes pointed out, it's an intere...

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LFF: W

Posted on Saturday October 25, 2008, 16:17 by Damon Wise

Oliver Stone's W is a film I had my doubts about, and I suspect the film I was dreading is the one everybody else wanted: a big, noisy, Natural Born Killers-style satire portraying George W Bush as savage, ignorant baby killer. Instead, he's given us one of the most thoughtful and intelligent dramas of the year, certainly loaded with moments of knowing, dry comedy but presenting a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of possibly the most controversial president of all time. With all the Bush-baiting that goes on in Europe, it's easy to see Bush as a redneck buffoon, but redneck buffoons don't just stroll into the Oval Office, and what W does extremely well is show how Bush Jr turned himself round after a wild, restless youth and became focused on politics, partly out of a need to impress his emotionally distant father but also out of a genuine drive to better himself.

The bulk of the film takes place in the run-up to the war in Iraq, with Karl Rove telling Bush, “People liked Afghan...

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LFF: Awaydays and 1-2-3-4

Posted on Tuesday October 21, 2008, 01:10 by Damon Wise

A quick break to talk about two British movies in the LFF this year. The first I wasn't expecting to see at all; someone from the festival rang up and said I had a ticket for it, so I figured it was fate and went. It's called Awaydays, and I knew nothing about it. When I found out it was about football hooligans I had flashbacks to Green Street and almost fled, but I'm glad I stayed. I think I might need to see it again but on first watch but this is a very, very absorbing drama about a particular period of British history, with a very singular soundtrack. At the moment I'm still weighing up whether I really did like the movie or whether it just took me back, but although it is certainly flawed I think director Pat Holden has achieved something a bit special here. The thing that may harm it commercially is that its leading man, Paul Carty (Nicky Bell), starts and stays an enigma, a late-70s Liverpool kid who could do better for himself but instead just wants to ruck with The Pack, a lo...

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LFF: Of Time And The City

Posted on Sunday October 19, 2008, 14:50 by Damon Wise

Last night I felt pretty cinematically correct when I made it to the Odeon West End for the third day (proper) of the London Film Festival, as I'd seen most of the films on offer and felt I hadn't really wasted my time with any of them. Incendiary was something I'd seen in Sundance and didn't like at all, but I was very taken with Michelle Williams' performance. Cast somewhat majorly against type, she plays a working-class London slapper who cheats on her husband with a wealthy journalist (now there's an oxymoron!) while he's out at a football match with their son. During the game, a group of suicide terrorists blow up the stadium, killing the husband and the boy, sending Williams' character into a spiral of guilt and self-hating delusion. Looking back, I don't quite remember the specifics of why I took against it so much, but I know I didn't like the structure (Williams' voiceover reads aloud a letter to Osama Bin Laden) and, overall, the film just didn't quite know what to do to humanise su...

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LFF: Bronson!

Posted on Saturday October 18, 2008, 15:13 by Damon Wise

Being in Abu Dhabi recently means I've neglected my LFF duties, which began last night with the world premiere of Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson, a biopic of Charles Bronson, Britain's most violent prisoner. I'll declare an interest now and reveal that not only is Refn a friend of mine, I actually thought he shouldn't do this film, thinking it would just be another British gangster movie and a waste of Refn's talents. I also met its star Tom Hardy on the set of RockNRolla last year, and the reverent way he talked about Bronson (the man, as the film hadn't been made yet) made me wonder if he wasn't a bit deluded, in the way that middle-class people who hobnob with criminals usually are. However, having seen the finished result, I was wrong about both these things, and while it's not for everyone, Bronson is an extraordinary attempt to get inside the mind of a sociopath, a criminal whose prison is literally his world. I was expecting a straight biopic, but although it has some of those e...

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Arabian Nights Part One

Posted on Friday October 17, 2008, 11:54 by Damon Wise

The Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi isn't one of those festivals you can report on in terms of days – you know, like, IT'S DAY ONE! IT'S DAY TWO! IT'S DAY THREE! as you can in Cannes and used to be able to do in Venice. The MEIFF is only a year old and still finding its feet, so there are no major premieres or hot new films coming under the radar. Indeed, if there is anything 'hot', chances are it's because it was launched at another festival, and it seems a shame to start with a negative but I think the festival is trying to be a bit too ambitious with its programming. I say this because at the screening of Blind Loves, a nice Slovak documentary about working-class Eastern European blind people, there were only eight people in attendance when I arrived, a number that doubled with the arrival of some local Arab people in their pristine white dish-dashes. This was in a huge hall that was considerably busier for the local premiere of Easy Virtue, the comeback film fro...

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Would The Real Damon Wise Please Stand Up?

Posted on Wednesday October 8, 2008, 15:42 by Damon Wise

Sam Toy reports from the British Film Festival in Dinard...

If you ask a seasoned festival pro like Damo, he’ll tell you that the British Film Festival in Dinard, a little coastal town in North eastern France, enjoys a reputation for being laidback. It only runs for four days, and manages to escape the feelings of chaos and pressure which are usually synonymous with the bigger festivals. This is particularly true for any British journalists in attendance, who will doubtless already seen a fair percentage of the films already, and are therefore not – in the traditional festival fashion – running around like blue-arsed flies, trying to see everything on offer. So when The Wise asked me at the last minute if I wanted to cover for him, I didn’t take much convincing.

He’s right of course – it’s more groovy little shindig than big, flashy hootenanny, where none of the five cinemas are more than ten minutes walk from each other (usually less), ...

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Farewell San Sebastian 2008

Posted on Monday September 29, 2008, 02:33 by Damon Wise

More so than other festivals, San Sebastian really does close up shop quickly. Over the years, similar events that finish on a Saturday have become increasingly open to running “Best Of The Fest” days on the Sunday, so audiences can catch up with the prize-winning films. Not so the Spanish; by Sunday lunchtime, everything festival-related was gone, from the big TV screen by the main hotel (the Maria Cristina), to the festival shops (which is where I planned to buy one of the fantastic posters/T-shirts for the impressive Japanese Noir sidebar), to the press boxes (where I tried to hand my key in). Never ones to hang about, most of the Brits were mostly home by teatime.

But then, the festival had come to a head on Saturday, at the press conference for the awards. It was quite something, more like Britain's Got Talent than a sober prize-giving, with cheers for the popular decisions (of which there didn't seem to be many) and hoots and whistles for the unpopular decisions (of which there see...

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An Appetite For Hunger

Posted on Tuesday September 23, 2008, 13:07 by Damon Wise

Sometimes film festivals throw up the strangest symmetry. After Genova, I saw Fear Me Not, which was another film (partly) about fatherhood, and after Frozen River I saw My Prison Cell, which was the second film of the day to feature a tattooed big toe. Last night saw two films about terrorism screening here, both of them rather beautiful and experimental in style. I'll start with Bullet In The Head (Tiro En La Cabeza), which totally puzzled me. Luckily, the screening began with a voiced disclaimer, saying in hurried English that the festival did not support the activities of ETA, the local Basque separatist/activist organisation. Without this hint, God know what I would have made of Jaime Rosales's remarkable film. I can't say I enjoyed it, and I actually nodded off a little in the middle, which didn't help. But something about this film really captured my imagination.

The gimmick, so to speak, is that there is no dialogue, but it's not a silent film. There's lots of talk, but...

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Frozen River and Tony Manero

Posted on Monday September 22, 2008, 11:50 by Damon Wise

Film festivals force you to make some tough decisions. Yesterday I had to choose between a press conference with John Malkovich, here for Burn After Reading, and a screening of Frozen River, the film that won the big feature prize at Sundance this year and which Quentin Tarantino gave a passionate case for on closing night. Paradoxically, I'd heard bad things about it all that particular week, so I wasn't quite sure whether to see it or not. I'm glad I did. While it's quite rough around the edges – just storywise, really, not visually – it's an interesting movie that ticks a lot of Sundance boxes (it's about poverty in America, Native Americans and comes with a big feminist attitude) but it does so with humour and, towards the end, tension. Melissa Leo, from 21 Grams and Three Burials, gives an extraordinary performance as Ray Eddy, a struggling New York-state supermarket worker whose deadbeat husband has just run off with the deposit for their new prefab house. By coincide...

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San Sebastian!

Posted on Monday September 22, 2008, 01:48 by Damon Wise

The San Sebastian film festival got off to a great, if confused, start last Thursday. I wasn't actually here at the time, but there was much confusion as to whether it opened with Richard Eyre's The Other Man or Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. In fact it was the Eyre film. But if we're just talking parties and star presence, it was the Allen film that set this boat to sea. Sexy, flirty and funny (and screening in the parallel Zabaltegi section, not the official competition), it set the scene for what was to come, in the sense that San Sebastian is a relaxed and friendly festival that doesn't take itself as seriously as certain other festivals, such as Cannes and... well, just Cannes.


Arriving on Saturday, my first duty was to see the new film from Michael Winterbottom, called Genova, which I've been gagging to see since I first heard about it. I have to say, though, that it didn't live up to anything I either was or wasn't expecting. Put it this way: I'm still thinking about it...

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