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World Cinema Showcase 2012

By Cinema and 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.

Beats, Rhymes & ife: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest posterMusic 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: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Collector, Skin & I, Don Giovanni

By Cinema and Reviews

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World posterYour cor­res­pond­ent is a big fan of young English dir­ect­or Edgar Wright. His first two fea­tures, in col­lab­or­a­tion with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, were the redoubt­ably enter­tain­ing Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There’s a won­der­ful per­cuss­ive energy to Wright’s film­mak­ing which brooks no bore­dom. So, I was look­ing for­ward to his latest film, the heav­ily pro­moted com­ic book adapt­a­tion Scott Pilgrim vs. the World which opened world­wide this week. And I really wanted to like it. No, strike that. I did like it. I just didn’t love it the way the film so des­per­ately wants to be loved.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno) is a young Toronto slack­er who plays bass in a ter­rible band and has just begun dat­ing a high school girl. If he seems without much in the way of ambi­tion that may be because he is still griev­ing after being dumped a year ago, or it may be that he simply lacks ambition.

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Review: G-Force, Shorts, The Secret of Moonacre, Ponyo, Year One, Fame, Every Little Step, Disgrace, North Face and Cheri

By Cinema and Reviews

So, it’s the school hol­i­days and the nip­pers are boun­cing off the walls. You’re not allowed to just leave them in the car while you play the pokies any­more so it’s time to get cre­at­ive. There are plenty of kid-friendly movie options around and the only draw­back is that you might have to sit and watch with them.

G-Force posterIn G‑Force 3D guinea pigs save the world from – actu­ally I can’t tell you as the twist is quite a good one. A top secret research pro­ject involving Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and rodents with the voices of Nic Cage, Sam Rockwell and Penélope Cruz is pressed into ser­vice when an entire con­sumer brand (toast­ers, cof­fee makers, etc) goes ber­serk. The anim­a­tion is first class (and CGI rodents are always cute) but the film as a whole nev­er really gets going. It’s a Bruckheimer pro­duc­tion so was prob­ably con­sumer tested bey­ond endurance.

Shorts posterAnother fic­tion­al con­sumer brand gets a pum­mel­ling in this new era of anti-commercialism in Shorts , Robert Rodriguez’ spunky and invent­ive, low budget effort. Black Industries make a Black Box – an all-in-one port­able everything device that turns out not to be nearly as cool as the rain­bow magic wish­ing stone that causes hav­oc every­where it goes. Pitched slightly young­er than G‑Force, and without the pol­ish, it is still worth a look.

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Review: Charlie Wilson’s War, Juno, Cloverfield, Meet the Spartans and The Jane Austen Book Club

By Cinema and Reviews

Charlie Wilson's War poster

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day in 1979. They remained in the coun­try, bru­tally sup­press­ing the loc­al res­ist­ance, until they were forced to leave in 1989: almost ten years of occu­pa­tion that des­troyed one coun­try and ruined anoth­er. One side of the story was told in the recent film The Kite Runner: in it we saw a vibrant and cos­mo­pol­it­an cul­ture bombed back to the stone age by the Soviets and their equally one-eyed Taliban replacements.

For peacen­iks like myself, the Soviet aggres­sion was an incon­veni­ent fact, dif­fi­cult to acknow­ledge dur­ing our efforts to pre­vent nuc­le­ar anni­hil­a­tion at the hands of war-mongerers like Ronald Reagan. While we were march­ing for peace and dis­arm­a­ment, play­boy Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was secretly fund­ing the Mujahideen insur­gents to the tune of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, provid­ing them with the weapons that would bring down the Russians.

With the help of a reneg­ade CIA-man (won­der­ful Philip Seymour Hoffman), a Texan social­ite (Julia Roberts), an Israeli spy (Ken Stott) and President Zia, dic­tat­or of Pakistan (Om Puri), Wilson per­suaded, cajoled, threatened and coerced Congress to pay for all this – without them even know­ing what it was for. Aaron Sorkin’s script is razor-sharp, often very funny, and does a great job of not spelling out all the les­sons we should be learn­ing. Charlie Wilson’s War may have brought about the end of the Cold War but it also opened up Afghanistan to the bru­tal fun­da­ment­al­ism of the Taliban, increased the influ­ence of the Saudis in the region and indir­ectly led to the Iraqi poo-fight we are in now. As Wilson says, it’s all about the endgame.

Juno poster

How strange it is that two of my favour­ite films of the past twelve months should be about coming-to-terms with an unwanted preg­nancy. Knocked Up, last year, was a broad com­edy with a good heart and this year Jason Reitman’s Juno is even bet­ter: full of unex­pec­ted sub­tlety and nuance from a great cast work­ing with a tre­mend­ous script from gif­ted new­comer Diablo Cody.

Like last year’s Hard Candy, Ellen Page plays a pre­co­cious teen­ager only this time she is not a hom­icid­al revenge mani­ac. At only 16, she finds her­self preg­nant to the unlikely Paulie Bleeker (Superbads Michael Cera) and takes it upon her­self to find appro­pri­ate par­ents for the little sea mon­key grow­ing inside her. The rich couple who sign on (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) look per­fect, but looks can be deceiv­ing. Juno is an easy film to love and I can see people going back to it again and again.

Cloverfield poster

If a film has a good heart you can for­give its flaws, but what to do when it has no heart at all? Cloverfield is a modern-day retell­ing of a clas­sic Hollywood mon­ster movie and once again New York gets a ter­rible pound­ing. A group of self-absorbed yup­pies are caught in the carnage and try to escape but man­age to film the entire thing on their cam­cord­er. Yeah right. Technically admir­able, Cloverfield clev­erly main­tains the home video con­ceit but shaky-cam motion sick­ness got to me in the end.

Meet the Spartans poster

Meet the Spartans is all flaw and no redeem­ing fea­ture: anoth­er miss and miss spoof of last year’s hits. Soft tar­gets include “Ugly Betty”, “American Idol”, Paris Hilton (yawn) and 300. The Spartans were gay, appar­ently. And not in a good way.

The Jane Austen Book Club poster

The Jane Austen Book Club is a well-intentioned adapt­a­tion of the pop­u­lar nov­el about a group of women (and one dude) who meet once a month to talk about their favour­ite author. Writer and dir­ect­or Robin Swicord has assembled a fine ensemble cast includ­ing Maria Bello, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman and Jimmy Smits but too often they are rep­res­ent­at­ives of people rather than people them­selves and the film is un-persusasive. Actually, that’s not entirely true: the tent­at­ive rela­tion­ship between Bello’s inde­pend­ent hound breed­er and Hugh Dancy’s shy IT guru works nicely (for the most part).

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 30 January, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Charlie Wilson’s War screened at a Reading Cinemas print check, 9am last Tuesday morn­ing (thanks, Hadyn), sit­ting in the com­fy Gold Lounge chairs; Juno screened on Sunday after­noon in Penthouse 1 (the ori­gin­al). It’s nice to see the Penthouse finally repla­cing the seats in Cinema 1 but per­haps they could think about repla­cing the sound sys­tem with some­thing that wasn’t salvaged from a tran­sist­or radio. Meet the Spartans was seen at a busy Saturday mat­inée at Readings where the brain-dead teen­agers around me hooted at every stu­pid, lame, joke. Cloverfield was in Readings digit­al cinema (Cinema 5) and looked sen­sa­tion­al. Digital really is the future and it can­’t come soon enough. I shud­der to think how ill I might have felt if I’d seen Cloverfield from a wobbly, scratchy print. The Jane Austen Book Club was the second part of a Penthouse double-feature on Sunday, this time in Cinema 3 (the new one) which is splendid.

Review: Superbad, I Do, Perfume- The Story of a Murderer, Evan Almighty and The Future is Unwritten

By Cinema and Reviews

When your cor­res­pond­ent was a nip­per back in the early 80s, two of the most prized pir­ate videos avail­able were the legendary Porky’s and some­thing called Lemon Popsicle – two films about horny teen­agers in the 1950s – and illi­cit cop­ies were pre­cious cur­rency. Now the mod­ern gen­er­a­tion gets its own fat Jewish kids try­ing to get laid in Superbad: a very funny, filthy, com­edy spawned fully-formed from the dirty minds of two horny 14 year olds (writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg pro­duced their first draft when they were, in fact, only 14).

High school kids Seth and Evan are des­per­ate to get lucky so they’ll be able to go to col­lege with “exper­i­ence” and the only way they know to achieve that is to get chicks drunk. With the help of an extremely humor­ous fake Hawaiian ID and two hil­ari­ously easy-going loc­al cops they get pretty close. As you might expect, the per­fect audi­ence for this film is about 14 years old, and con­sid­er­ing the R16 rat­ing it would only be fit­ting if they watched it on grainy VHS or wagged school to sneak into the flicks.

I Do is that rare beast: a romantic com­edy that works bet­ter as a romance than a com­edy, largely due to dir­ec­tion from Eric Lartigau that makes a hor­rible meal of the broad com­edy moments and self-effacing per­form­ances from leads Charlotte Gainsbourg and Alain Chabat. Chabat plays hen-pecked met­ro­sexu­al per­fume design­er Luis Costa, saddled with five sis­ters, sev­en nieces and a wid­owed moth­er, all of whom are des­per­ate to see him mar­ried off. As seems to be the way of things in French cinema recently Costa hires a stranger to pre­tend to be his fiancée so she can dump him at the alter and the fam­ily will get off his back. A match­less plan I’m sure you’ll agree.

Surely it can­’t be a coin­cid­ence that this film is released in the same week as Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, anoth­er film about an emo­tion­ally stun­ted wonder-nose. Perfume is based on the well-loved Patrick Süsskind nov­el that many (includ­ing Stanley Kubrick) con­sidered un-filmable and so it proves. Ben Wishaw plays Jean-Baptiste Grenouille: born into poverty in pre-revolutionary Paris he has a remark­able tal­ent for dis­cern­ing scent. Unfortunately, as a char­ac­ter he’s not much more than a monkey-boy with a nose and dir­ect­or Tom Tykwer fails to find a sat­is­fact­ory cine­mat­ic rep­res­ent­a­tion for the sense of smell which defeats the point somewhat.

I won’t go as far as recom­mend­ing avoid­ance as, unlike most films, it is full of mem­or­able moments and will at least pro­voke a response – its just that mine was negative.

The like­able comedi­an Steve Carell takes the lead in Evan Almighty, sequel to un-likeable comedi­an Jim Carrey’s smash-hit Bruce Almighty from 2003. Carell plays politi­cian Evan Baxter who is taught a les­son in humil­ity and eth­ics by gen­i­al prac­tic­al joker God (Morgan Freeman). Soft-headed, dim-witted but warm-hearted.

Punk came along at just the right time for Joe Strummer. As “Woody” Mellor (after folkie Woody Guthrie) he was a middle-class art school drop-out chan­nel­ling his energy into women and pub rock until he heard the siren call of punk and made his mark as lead­er of The Clash. Julien Temple’s mov­ing bio­graphy, The Future is Unwritten, is an excel­lent guide to the punk peri­od but is even bet­ter on the per­son­al and artist­ic resur­rec­tion of Strummer’s final years. Highly recommended.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 September, 2007.