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.
That’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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
I 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.