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World Cinema Showcase 2012

By Cinema, Reviews

After a splen­did Wellington Film Festival last year, the New Zealand International Film Festival might be for­giv­en for put­ting their feet up and tak­ing it easy but instead they have gone out of their way to pro­duce anoth­er bas­ket of good­ies to fill the Easter week­end and bey­ond: the grandly titled World Cinema Showcase.

Arguably the only real dif­fer­ence between their two events now is the scale – and the lack of Embassy big screen – but there is qual­ity all over this year’s Showcase. Like they do at its older – wintri­er – sib­ling audi­ences are surely temp­ted to try the “will it come back” lot­tery but those odds are deteri­or­at­ing all the time. Indeed, at time of writ­ing one film (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus) has already been with­drawn from the com­mer­cial release sched­ule and Showcase screen­ings are the only chance to exper­i­ence it on the big screen.

As is my wont, though, I asked the Showcase people to feed me pre­views of the little bat­tle­rs, the unher­al­ded, the films that are often over­looked by a media demand­ing big names, head­lines and page views. I was giv­en 10 to look at, a couple dropped off as I didn’t feel up to recom­mend­ing them, but I’ve added two more that I saw (or par­tially saw) at last year’s Festival. So, here’s ten to watch at Showcase 2012.

Music docos have always been a major com­pon­ent of both Festival and Showcase and sev­er­al hun­dred Wellington movie­go­ers were dis­ap­poin­ted when a power cut inter­rup­ted the July screen­ing of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. They (mean­ing I) get a chance to see the con­clu­sion of this fas­cin­at­ing por­trait of hip-hop pion­eers in an uncom­fort­able middle age. Also deal­ing with the fal­lout from suc­cess are the folk duo Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Oscar win­ners from the 2006 film Once. As The Swell Season, they toured and recor­ded, try­ing to ride the wave they were on and keep their rela­tion­ship intact at the same time. Hansard’s troubled fam­ily back­ground and Irglová’s youth con­spire against them how­ever and the film of their post-Oscar lives is more about a rela­tion­ship fizz­ling out than your usu­al rock doc­u­ment­ary. Which is good because there’s noth­ing start­ling about the music.

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Review: Into the Wild, This is England, Once, Bee Movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The White Planet and Hitman

By Cinema, Reviews

In the Summer of 1990 Christopher McCandless donated his life sav­ings to Oxfam and, instead of going to Harvard Law School, headed West in search of him­self, nev­er to talk to his fam­ily again. The jour­ney he took, and what he found and left behind on the way, is the sub­ject of Sean Penn’s crack­ing Into the Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer.

Driven by an intel­li­gent young man’s self-righteousness McCandless lived off the land and the gen­er­os­ity of strangers, all the time tak­ing him­self fur­ther away from the people he thought he didn’t need. Emile Hirsch as McCandless has the look (and star qual­ity) of the young Leonardo DiCaprio and the sup­port­ing cast are flaw­less, par­tic­u­larly Catherine Keener and the legendary Hal Holbrook who is just heart­break­ing as lonely wid­ower Ron Franz.

There’s no finer cine­mat­ic sur­vey­or of the cav­ernous and mostly uncharted regions of the male soul than Penn and Into the Wild is his finest achieve­ment to date, lyr­ic­al and beguil­ing. It’s funny how sit­ting in a dark room with strangers can some­times leave you more engaged with the world but this film, the best of the year, did it for me. I came out of the theatre into the cool sum­mer rain and walked home determ­ined to exper­i­ence every drop as if it was the first one.

Margaret Thatcher once said “There’s no such thing as soci­ety.” As a res­ult, under her malevol­ent lead­er­ship English com­munit­ies dis­in­teg­rated as young people without eco­nom­ic or cul­tur­al hope went look­ing for fel­low­ship and found it wherever they could. Set in post-Falklands north­ern England, gif­ted English dir­ect­or Shane Meadows (TwentyFourSeven and A Room for Romeo Brass) is back on top form with This is England, a mem­oir of sorts of his own Nottingham youth.

Picked on and lonely, 11-year-old Shaun is taken under the wing of benign skin­head Woody (Joe Gilgun). When gang lead­er Combo (Stephen Graham) returns from pris­on, his extreme National Front polit­ics splinter the group and Shaun takes the wrong side. Meadows has always been able to get great per­form­ances out of young people and the won­der­ful Thomas Turgoose as Shaun is no exception.

Once is a little gem, like a per­fect short story, sweet and funny and then gone in a heart­beat. Glen Hansard is a broken-hearted Dublin busk­er who meets immig­rant single moth­er Markéta Irglová and bond over a broken vacu­um clean­er. They share a love of music and over an intense week two dam­aged souls help heal each oth­er (and us).

Working our way down the list of the week’s films, in order of qual­ity, we get to Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie. It’s a Dreamworks com­puter anim­ated tale of young Barry (Seinfeld) who, dis­il­lu­sioned with a pro­scribed life­time of end­less work, wants to break out of the hive and see the world. He dis­cov­ers that humans are exploit­ing bees for their honey and decides to right this ter­rible wrong, dis­tort­ing the bal­ance of nature in the pro­cess. It’s a hit and miss affair, at its best when the Seinfeld “voice” is giv­en full reign (which isn’t often enough) but kids watch­ing would prob­ably say the opposite.

Also for young­lings is the live action toy shop fantasy Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium star­ring twinkly Dustin Hoffman as the 200 year old toy impres­ario and shoe wear­er. He wants to leave and hand the shop over to his man­ager, Natalie Portman, but she lacks self-belief and the shop is start­ing to sulk. Derivative and inter­mit­tently inspired, Magorium passes the time eas­ily enough.

I’ll con­fess that I drif­ted off to sleep sev­er­al times dur­ing The White Planet, a doc­u­ment­ary about Arctic wild­life that man­ages to make the Embassy screen feel like a tele­vi­sion set tuned to Animal Planet. I prefer my polar bears clad in armour and tak­ing on bad guys and, frankly, when you’ve seen one nar­whal you’ve seen ’em all.

Candidate for stu­pid­est film of the year, Hitman, is the biggest load of inane rub­bish I’ve wit­nessed in ages. Based on the video game of the same name Hitman, stars Timothy Olyphant (from Die Hard 4.0) as mys­ter­i­ous Agent 47. He’s been dis­avowed by his employ­ers, the secret organ­isa­tion known only as The Organisation (so secret they have their fancy logo plastered all over their laptops) after an assas­sin­a­tion of the Russian Prime Minister goes wrong. Dougray Scott (Perfect Creature) is the Interpol agent who has been track­ing him for three years with no luck, des­pite the fact that 47 has the num­ber 47 tat­tooed as a bar code on the back of his head.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 12 December, 2007.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Into the Wild screened in Penthouse Two which still has appalling shut­ter tim­ing prob­lems (I’ve men­tioned this before and Cinema One suf­fers sim­il­arly) and now has a notice­able hot spot in the centre of the screen. Penthouse are re-seating Cinema One but I wish they’d fix these prob­lems first. This is England was in Rialto 2 which has had a reprieve through until March, I under­stand. I will dance on the rubble when it finally goes. Once was in the very nice Penthouse Three. Bee Movie screened at Empire 2, and thanks to all the kids was quite lively. Magorium was a Classic Hits radio pre­view early Sunday morn­ing at Readings. The Embassy screen is not a per­fect curve – in fact it is a series of nar­row planes that looks like a para­bola in most cir­cum­stances. This is very notice­able when the image is mostly one bright col­our like the snow and ice of The White Planet (and the sand of Pirates of the Caribbean). Hitman was also at the Embassy and looked and soun­ded fine.