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Preview: 18th Italian Film Festival

By Cinema

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Feel like vis­it­ing some­where new but don’t have the time or money right now? A film fest­iv­al is the next best thing. If you want to under­stand a coun­try and its cul­ture it’s hard to go past watch­ing their com­mer­cial cinema – their mul­ti­plex and block­buster fare rather than the arthouse.

18th Italian Film Festival posterThat’s why the region­al film fest­ivals are so import­ant – and the Italian Film Festival is king with attend­ance num­bers every year that are great­er than all the oth­er region­al fest­ivals put togeth­er. Festival dir­ect­or Tony Lambert has been at this for over a dozen years and his for­mula works – a well-constructed sur­vey of the cur­rent Italian cinema fea­tur­ing broad com­ed­ies, romances and his­tor­ic­al dra­mas. These are the films that Italians have been watching.

This year’s fest­iv­al opens at the Paramount on the 9th of October with a gala screen­ing of Welcome to the North (a sequel to the 2010 smash hit Welcome to the South, itself a remake of the French com­edy Welcome to the Sticks). After that we have two and a half weeks of screen­ings with most films play­ing four or five times.

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Review: Killing Them Softly, The Angels’ Share, Safety Not Guaranteed, Frankenweenie, Paranormal Activity 4 and God Bless America

By Cinema, Reviews

Andrew Dominik was born in Wellington but shipped out at the age of two for Australia. We really need to claim him back as he’s one of the most intriguing dir­ect­ors cur­rently work­ing. Perhaps that should be “rarely work­ing” as his latest, Killing Them Softly, is only his third fea­ture cred­it in 12 years. Chopper turned heads in 2000 and got him to Hollywood. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was an ele­gi­ac adapt­a­tion of a great nov­el, the screen ver­sion echo­ing great late-period west­erns like Heaven’s Gate and The Long Riders.

In Killing Them Softly, Dominik remains in genre ter­rit­ory but again he is tran­scend­ing and sub­vert­ing it. It’s a gang­ster flick fea­tur­ing a bunch of famil­i­ar fig­ures – James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom). You see those names on the cast list and you think you know what you’re going to get, but here they stretch out in supris­ing dir­ec­tions, reveal­ing lay­ers of human­ity no less ugly than the clichéd bang-bang we are used to, but truer, sad­der and ulti­mately more trenchant.

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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: Sione’s 2: Unfinished Business, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Buck, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and El violin

By Cinema, Reviews

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.

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Review: Beginners, Contagion, Happy Ever Afters, Last Train Home, Eco-Pirate and 13 Assassins

By Cinema, Reviews

Beginners posterI really don’t want much. It’s simple. All I ask is for someone with tal­ent to take some of their life exper­i­ence and merge it with that tal­ent in the hope that the res­ult­ing work of art might help illu­min­ate some aspect of my life. That’s all. And yet it rarely hap­pens. Which means I’m very grate­ful that with Beginners, Mike Mills has done exactly that and pro­duced a ter­rif­ic film that is intensely per­son­al – both to him and to me.

Ewan McGregor plays a gloomy Los Angelean illus­trat­or: lone­some, intro­spect­ive, self-sabotaging; all les­sons learnt grow­ing up an only child in a house­hold where his fath­er was a closeted gay and his moth­er lived a con­strained and lonely life of ima­gin­a­tion. When she dies of can­cer, McGregor’s fath­er (Christopher Plummer) is freed from the bonds of mar­riage, comes out at the age of 75 and throws him­self whole-heartedly into the the LA gay scene – includ­ing post­ing reveal­ing per­son­al ads and start­ing a rela­tion­ship with a bud­ding pyro­tech­ni­cian named Andy (Goran Visnjic). And then he gets cancer.

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Review: The Three Musketeers, Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Monte Carlo and Tabloid

By Cinema, Reviews

The Three Musketeers posterI don’t know what the French did to be so roundly insul­ted at the movies this week but I’d advise them to steer clear of Wellington cinemas for a while – per­haps until their film fest­iv­al gets under way again next year. Firstly, crass action auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) attempts to reboot a fran­chise from one of France’s most cher­ished pieces of lit­er­at­ure but then makes The Three Musketeers without a single French per­son appear­ing on screen.

Actually, I’m teas­ing a little as neither the 1993 Charlie Sheen ver­sion or the 1973 Oliver Reed one had any sig­ni­fic­ant French involve­ment, but to pop­u­late the latest film with Danes (Mads Mikkelsen), Austrians (Christoph Waltz), Germans (Til Schweiger) and Ukrainians (Milla Jovovich) does seem a bit on the nose.

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