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The first Sione’s movie arrived in cinemas in 2006 – before I com­menced this weekly cata­logue of hits and misses – so I have to plead ignor­ance about the Duck Rockers and their earli­er hijinks. I didn’t even try and down­load it. How lame! So, Sione’s 2: Unfinished Business has to stand on its own two feet and I’m pleased to report that it does just that.

It’s five years on from Sione’s wed­ding and the boys have been brought back togeth­er for a dif­fer­ent kind of fam­ily gath­er­ing but one of them has gone miss­ing. The min­is­ter (the great Nat Lees) gives them a mis­sion: find Bolo (the great David Fane) and bring him back before he does some­thing he will regret. So com­mences a mad dash around cent­ral Auckland in a com­mand­eered taxi – from my memory of Ponsonby/Grey Lynn most of those jour­neys would have been faster on foot – try­ing to loc­ate Bolo before all Hell breaks loose.

Sione’s 2 isn’t so much a Kiwi movie as an Auckland one. I don’t think I’ve ever been more aware of the cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences between Auckalofa and the rest of New Zealand and the film – much like the city itself – doesn’t both­er to acknow­ledge that there is a rest of the coun­try to acknow­ledge. Jokes about Glenfield and Grey Lynn abound – and I can’t ima­gine any­where oth­er than Auckland hav­ing a Maori gour­met fast food oufit called Chur Burger – so my laughs were often one step removed.

The pace flags a little in the final third – due the need to give all of the boys an arc – but the cli­max in yet anoth­er Auckland bar is sat­is­fy­ing and ties up the loose ends nicely. Heart always trumps head for me at the pic­tures and Sione’s 2 has a decent one.

Tomas Alfredson’s adapata­tion of John Le Carré’s labyrinth­ine Cold War thrill­er Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy requires more brain than any­thing else I’ve seen recently. Don’t doze off whatever you do or you’ll be lost. Gary Oldman – under­play­ing for per­haps the first time in his career – is the mis­un­der­es­tim­ated mas­ter spy George Smiley, brought out of retire­ment to find the mole the Soviets have been run­ning inside British intel­li­gence. There are four sus­pects – Smiley him­self hav­ing been earli­er coun­ted out for not being inter­est­ing enough – and any false move would reveal the invest­ig­a­tion and spook the spooks.

Cutting over 300 pages of dense trade­craft down to just over two hours of screen time – it took more than sev­en for the fam­ous 1979 BBC adapt­a­tion – means plenty of stream­lin­ing and at least one trim makes things harder to under­stand than the oppos­ite. Alfredson and his design team do a mag­ni­fi­cent job of mak­ing the 1970s – the dec­ade that taste for­got – watch­able and British act­ors seem to be genet­ic­ally pre­dis­posed to the supressed emo­tion­al­ism that this sort of cloak and dag­ger mater­i­al demands.

After the suc­cess of Bill Cunningham New York last year, there seems to be a wel­come new trend in doc­u­ment­ary – good films about nice men. This year’s entry is Buck, an obser­v­ant little film about ace horse train­er Buck Brannaman. He spends most of his life trav­el­ling the world help­ing people with horse prob­lems – or as he puts it “help­ing horses with people prob­lems”. He grew up in an ter­ri­fy­ingly abus­ive house­hold and – like a lot of abused chil­dren – he learned to be extremely sens­it­ive to the world around him. That sens­it­iv­ity is now less about self-preservation and more about con­sid­er­a­tion – listen­ing to horses rather than whis­per­ing to them.

A bril­liantly wise indi­vidu­al who care­fully rations out his ter­rif­ic smile, Buck is a great sub­ject who has an enorm­ous reser­voir of under­stand­ing to share with the world. You won’t regret spend­ing 90 minutes in his company.

In the new sequel to Journey to the Center of the EarthJourney 2: The Mysterious Island – young Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia, The Kids Are All Right) gets a new father-figure: Brendan Fraser is replaced by the much more box office friendly Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and to add insult to injury his non-appearance goes com­pletely unex­plained. Now, it’s a faint radio mes­sage from Grandpa Anderson (Michael Caine) that kick­starts their Verne-ian adven­ture with the Rockster com­ing along for the ride with heli­copter pilot Luis Guzmán and pretty daugh­ter Vanessa Hudgens.

The plot is light­weight, serving only to get our crew to the island as fast as pos­sible and then off it even quick­er. It’s a good job Guzmán, Caine and Johnson are around because Hutcherson and Hudgens are fairly charm­less and you wouldn’t want either of them to carry a film alone.

Finally, is this the longest delay between a Festival screen­ing and a loc­al release? Francisco Vargas’ El viol­in was made in 2005, screened in the 2007 International Film Festival and now has a short sea­son at the Paramount. A tense drama in moody black and white about a Latin American rebel­lion that isn’t going well. The bru­tal régime are clos­ing in on the free­dom fight­ers and eld­erly Don Plutarco (Ángel Tavira) is the only one who can cross the enemy lines to retrieve ammuni­tion bur­ied in the corn fields.

He smuggles it out hid­den in his viol­in case but when the loc­al com­mand­ant asks for music les­sons things get pretty stress­ful pretty quickly. The open­ing scene sets a viol­ent tone and it’s the memory of that sequence that helps emphas­ise the stakes and keep the stress levels high. Worth a look if you can seek it out.

The first half of this art­icle was prin­ted in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 25 January, 2012.