NZ Film Festival: Our reviewer's picks

Film reviewer Christine Powley gives us her picks for the 2012 International Film Festival.

DIRECTORS

Amour: It won the Palme d'Or this year at Cannes and director Michael Haneke has made other memorable festival offerings - The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon. This universal story of the slow-moving agony of a shared life coming to its inevitable end is told in Haneke's sparse style.

Screening: Friday, August 3, 10.45am, Regent; Saturday, August 4, 5.45pm, Regent.

The Angels' Share: A Scottish crime caper revolving around whisky is not director Ken Loach's normal fare but he is perfectly capable of doing comedy. A petty criminal who decides that his newborn son deserves a better life and stumbles upon a scheme to pull a whisky heist sounds Ealing-tinged but Loach has not gone too soft-centred. He finds the time to include the devastation that victims of crime experience as well as the sapping effect of being born without options.

Screening: Saturday, July 28, 6.15pm, Regent; Tuesday, July 31, 11am, Regent.

From Up on Poppy Hill: Beloved master Japanese animator Miyazaki Hayao is winding down but his studio continues. Here, his son Goro directs a coming-of-age tale set in 1963 Japan which is gearing up to stage the Tokyo Olympics. In the standard tale of Olympic hosting, down-at-heel areas must be razed to make way for glamorous modern stadiums to proclaim to the rest of the world that the host nation has finally made it. Looking back, what was swept away has a nostalgic value that cannot be regained.

Screening: Sunday, August 5, 1.15pm, Regent; Wednesday, August 8, 10.30am, Regent.

Killer Joe: You would think that the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist would have continued in the same vein, but William Friedkin did not manage to repeat those huge commercial successes. He never stopped making films but his star definitely faded. With this movie, he proves he has lost none of his ability to get you to care about characters. Matthew McConaughey, playing a corrupt cop, shows he is never so effective as when he is channelling his Texas roots.

Screening: Friday, August 10, 4pm, Rialto; Saturday, August 11, 8.45pm, Rialto.

Moonrise Kingdom: Devotees of Wes Anderson will have been keeping a close watch for this one to turn up. The story of two 12-year-olds who head out into the wilderness to be together has enough echoes of Rushmore to be irresistible. As a further sweetener, Bill Murray is prominent in the stellar cast.

Screening: Thursday, July 26, 7.30pm, Regent.

Where Do We Go Now?: Director and leading lady Nadine Labaki won many fans for her sweet comedy Caramel about the battle between the sexes in the Middle East. She sticks to her knitting here with the women in a remote Lebanese village banding together to call a halt to the religious vendettas that are wiping out their menfolk. How they go about it might not win UN approval but, in the fantasy of the film at least, it works.

Screening: Thursday, August 9, 10.30am, Regent; Saturday, August 11, 6.45pm, Regent.

ACTORS

Bernie: Even the keenest Jack Black fan must be feeling the burn of his every role being basically the same. Here, reteamed with School of Rock director Richard Linklater, he pulls off what seemed impossible, inhabiting a new persona, that of the nicest man in town who just happens to have murdered a wealthy widow whom everyone hates. This is a true crime so odd it always seems like a comedy. Linklater encourages the merging of fact and fiction by including a chorus of real townsfolk commenting on events.

Screening: Friday, August 3, 8.45pm, Regent; Tuesday, August 7, 4pm and 8.30pm, Rialto.

The Hunt: Mads Mikkelsen is a sex symbol in his native Denmark but all American producers know to do with him is cast him as the villain, most notably in Casino Royale and as a young Hannibal Lecter in upcoming television series Hannibal. Here, he plays an innocent man falsely accused of child molestation. What follows is too close to the Christchurch creche case to make comfortable viewing in New Zealand.

Screening: Monday, July 30, 3.30pm, Regent; Tuesday, July 31, 8.30pm, Regent.

Liberal Arts: Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) wrote, directed and starred in this but, more importantly, he has gathered an interesting cast: current it girl Elizabeth Olsen as his love interest, Zac Efron having fun as a college stoner and the always delightful Allison Janney as the voice of reason. The romance between Radnor and college student Olsen has hints of Woody Allen's Manhattan but Radnor's real role model is Zach Braff, another sitcom star who went on to write and direct his own indie films.

Screening: Monday, August 6, 1pm and 6.15pm, Regent.

Mantrap: After the success of The Artist, it is timely to see a real silent movie it girl in action. This is Clara Bow one year before she was officially anointed as having It but it is clear here that whatever It was she had it in spades.

Screening: Sunday, August 5, 3.30pm, Regent.

The Sapphires: Easily summed up as the Aussie version of Dreamgirls but this has more heart, based as it is on the experiences of writer Tony Biggs' mother and aunts. Deborah Mailman, an Aborigine/Maori actress with a talent for capturing the audience's affection, plays one of the singers, and real-life singer Jessica Mauboy makes the vocal performances soar. Irish comic actor Chris O'Dowd is a great foil as their nice-guy manager.

Screening: Friday, August 10, 1.30pm, Regent; Sunday, August 12, 6.15pm, Regent.

Shadow Dancer: Clive Owen as a MI5 officer trying to do the right thing by his IRA informant would be reason enough, but as a bonus the informant is played with perfect pitch by Andrea Riseborough, who was touted as one to watch by Dame Helen Mirren after working with her on Brighton Rock. Riseborough is fresh from playing Wallis Simpson in Madonna's W.E. and was strong enough for it not to have derailed her growing career.

Screening: Wednesday, August 1, 8.45pm, Regent; Tuesday, August 7, 3.45pm, Regent.

This Must Be the Place: Watching Sean Penn play a retired glam rocker who has retained the dress code is unnerving not because he looks and sounds ridiculous but because he totally makes us believe and connect with his fragile character. This is out-on-a-limb casting that succeeds and ultimately handles something more interesting than seeing Penn in a fright wig.

Screening: Wednesday, August 8, 1pm, Regent; Friday, August 10, 8.30pm, Regent.

SUBJECT

A Monster in Paris: A gentle animated 3-D of 1920s Paris through the eyes of a musically gifted giant flea and his love interest (voiced by Vanessa Paradis, a real-life sultry French movie star and songstress). You can take your children to this if you must but there is enough complexity in the story to keep any adult Francophile pining for Paris very happy.

Screening: Saturday, August 18, 11am, Rialto; Sunday, August 19, 11am, Rialto.

Farewell, My Queen: What is not to love in a big flouncy costume drama, and they do not come more big-haired and puffy than the court of doomed Queen Marie Antoinette of France. It is told through the eyes of the queen's reader, a court position that has confused some Americans but this was before iPods. We see the intimate life of the queen before revolution gave her a starring role as a tragic heroine or villainous oppressor, depending on your political bent.

Screening: Saturday, August 4, 1.15pm, Regent; Monday, August 6, 10.45am, Regent.

First Position: it would not be a festival if there was not at least one ballet movie. This one is very relateable to all the ballet kids because it follows a group of talented bunheads on their journey through all the hard knocks and work drills that it takes to become one of those most elusive and rare creatures, a professional ballet dancer.

Screening: Saturday, July 28, 4pm, Regent; Thursday, August 2, 10.30am, Regent.

I Wish: Kids in films are always coming up with crazy schemes to get their parents back together again. This Japanese film shows a more bohemian style of life than the rigorous regimentation we normally associate with Japan and, most importantly, the kids are cute.

Screening: Wednesday, August 1, 10.30am, Regent; Thursday, August 2, 6.15pm, Regent.

The Minister: The hothouse of the 24-hour news cycle collides with our unrealistic demands for saintly perfection from politicians. An unguarded aside caught on camera creates the "gotcha" moment that can define a career. This is a French take on the political spin satire and will be irresistible to all those political junkies out there.

Screening: Thursday, August 2, 8.30pm, Rialto; Sunday, August 5, 1.30pm, Rialto; Monday, August 6, 3.45pm, Rialto.

Monsieur Lazhar: When an Algerian refugee is hired as a replacement teacher for a class of Montreal sixth-graders who are traumatised by the death of their teacher, it just might be the cultural differences that help them come to terms with their loss. Monsieur Lazhar is not even a teacher (he ran a restaurant in his homeland), but his own experiences of loss give him the fortitude to address the elephant in the room.

Screening: Friday, July 27, 11.15am, Regent; Sunday, July 29, 3.15pm, Regent.

No: When you want to give a character a dark heart, you make him an ad man. It is 1988 Chile and ad man René, played as always with charm by Gael Garcia Bernal, is asked to handle the account for the No Vote in the upcoming plebiscite to end the dictatorship of General Pinochet. So is this just another account or will there be stirrings of conscience?Screening: Tuesday, August 7, 8.30pm, Regent; Wednesday, August 8, 3.45pm, Regent.

Rebellion: A gut-wrenching depiction of French duplicity in their Pacific colony of New Caledonia. We know ourselves they display a heavy-handed arrogance in the Pacific, but how much worse they behave when in their own territory will have you catching your breath.

Screening: Thursday, August 9, 8.30pm, Regent; Friday, August 10, 10.45am, Regent.

KIWI CONNECTION

Pictures of Susan: I am fascinated by outsider artists because their creative impulses seem so pure. The case of Aucklander Susan King is both perplexing and intriguing. She does not talk and although drawing was her main source of communication she stopped for 20 years before starting again. Her loving family want to do the right thing by her but are flummoxed by what that might be.

Screening: Sunday, August 12, 2pm and 6.15pm, Rialto; Tuesday, August 14, noon, Rialto.

Vivan las Antipodas!: We are so used to being referred to as antipodeans that we forget its true meaning of being directly opposite on the globe. The ethnocentric Europeans defined our location in relation to themselves, but as we live on a globe there is no one set point of orientation. This study of four antipodal couplings includes New Zealand and Spain.

Screening: Thursday, August 2, 1.30pm, Regent; Sunday, August 5, 6pm, Regent.

West of Memphis: A true crime story to make you pleased that we are subject to our own justice system where at least geography does not influence how justice is administered. Three teenagers were railroaded into confessing to grisly murders in Arkansas in 1994. Almost immediately, attempts were made to exonerate them but authorities refused to respond to any new evidence. The Kiwi connection is that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh became aware of the case and got involved.

Screening: Monday, july 30, 8.30pm, Regent.

DOCUMENTARIES

Dianna Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel: Anna Wintour is the scary fashion editor du jour but Dianna Vreeland was the mother of all fashion editors. Even 50 years after she retired from her position of power as editor of Harper's BAZAAR, it is a given that if you are interested in fashion you will know who she was and still want to know what she had to say.

Screening: Thursday, August 16, noon, Rialto; Saturday, August 18, 1pm, Rialto; Sunday, August 19, 3.30pm and 5.45pm, Rialto.

The Imposter: It is every parent's worst nightmare for their child to disappear but there can be things worse than nightmares simply because they seem so beyond belief that we cannot imagine them. Why would a 23-year-old French man want to impersonate a Texan teenager and why would the family embrace him as their returned son when he bears no physical resemblance and has a French accent?

Screening: Thursday, August 2, 6.15pm, Rialto; Saturday, August 4, 11am, Regent; Monday, August 6, 8.30pm, Regent.

Marley: Kiwis loved Bob Marley so a documentary that exceeds two hours will have plenty complaining that it could have been longer. If you are looking for some muck-raking, forget it, this is made with love and concentrates on his glorious musical legacy.

Screening: Sunday, July 29, 5.30pm, Regent; Wednesday, August 1, 3.30pm, Regent.

Step Up to the Plate: each year it seems that finally our obsession with food must have peaked and each year it only intensifies. Michelin starred chef Michel Bras was trained in his parents' inn and is about to hand over to his son Sebastien. It is a time for nostalgia and joy and we get to share this low-calorie option.

Screening: Sunday, August 12, 11am, Regent; Monday, August 13.11.30am, Rialto.

JUST BECAUSE

Holy Motors: The Age of Melbourne called it pretentious even for a French film. Fans say it is a film that forces you to feel rather than think. Either way, as arguing over what it all means is the essential festival experience, this could be the one to gather your friends around and prepare to be perplexed. As a bonus, Aussie songbird Kylie Minogue showcases her French in a memorable cameo.

Screening: Thursday, August 9, 3.30pm, Regent; Sunday, August 12, 8.30pm, Regent.

The Cabin in the Woods: This was shot in 2009 but did not get released because the studio wanted to turn it into 3-D. This delay caused speculation that there was a quality issue and it often gets referred to on writer/producer Joss Whedon's resume as a failure. Intended as a subversion of the horror genre, this is as much a black comedy as a horror film, but being a horror fan will probably help.

Screening: Friday, July 27, 9.15pm, Regent; Tuesday, July 31, 4pm, Regent.


- Written by Christine Powley.

 

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