The seasonal gods having rammed home the point that it's well and truly winter, we can once again cheer up in the face of the expertly curated New Zealand International Film Festival which begins in Auckland this week, before making its annual expedition around the country. Here are some of the treats in store.
ART AND CRAFT: An expertly constructed exploration into the life and crimes of prolific art forger, Mark Landis. Well, if you consider painting a perfect reproduction of a classic artwork and then gifting it away a crime. Even the experts featured differ on the extent to which they believe Landis is a menace to the art world whose clinical compulsions must be stopped. The documentary is fascinating, both in its character examination (Landis's sad background and ensuing life story is just begging for a cinematic retelling with some young Oscar nominee as the lead) and its structure: as one scene follows the investigators who are hot on his trail, the next cuts to Landis in his cluttered apartment, caught in the act, paintbrush in hand. Bittersweet, yet unmissable. Sarah Watt
E-TEAM: With opening titles which shamelessly evoke many a gritty TV crime drama, this on-the-ground portrait of four members of the Human Rights Watch Emergencies Team gets its worthy message across effectively. Interviews with battered survivors of crimes against humanity (often perpetrated by their own governments) are interposed with archive newsreel which shows just how often an E-Team report has made it to the headlines and even to the White House. It's inspirational stuff, none more so than when we see these quiet warriors for justice back at home in Paris, New York or Geneva, snatching moments of ordinariness with their own families before shooting off again to fight the good fight. SW
KUNG FU ELLIOT: A self-proclaimed kung fu and kickboxing champion, Elliot Scott is aiming to be Canada's first action hero. Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau's surreal and cringingly intimate look at the Halifax star of They Killed My Cat and Stalker and the Hero, starts out by documenting Elliot and long-suffering partner Linda's work on their new film Blood Fight, but soon segues into a raw portrait of a relationship in crisis. Elliot may initially seem like an amiable, likeable bloke acutely aware of his limitationsbut it isn't long before his small slice of fame starts to go to his head. And bizarrely, it boasts an ending to rival Blair Witch. James Croot
LOCKE: Be prepared to marvel at a film in which the 85-minute running time simply constitutes one man in his car. Tom Hardy sports a Welsh accent and a slowly-unfolding backstory as the titular Locke, a man under pressure from all quarters of his life who must project manage said pressures via his mobile speakerphone on a night-time drive from Birmingham to London. The plot is gripping as revelations are delivered gently, but it is Hardy's characterisation which is magnetic as the camera barely leaves his face. SW
POINT AND SHOOT: Although raised on action movies, Baltimore's Matthew Vandyke was initially inspired to travel by watching the films of Australia's Albie Mangels. Finding himself drawn to Libya, he ends up documenting what he saw of the Gaddafi regime. Befriending locals, he joined their Arab Spring uprising, landing himself in prison for almost six months. While that experience chastened him it didn't stop him documenting their continuing battle with those in power, as some of the amazing footage in Marshall Curry's documentary shows. Equally compelling is Vandyke's take on war in the digital age - "everybody wants something to share on Facebook", he notes as yet another man lines up to have his picture taken holding a big gun. JC
REACHING FOR THE MOON: A drama based on the real-life love story of American poet Elizabeth Bishop and the radical Brazilian architect who upended her literary and emotional world. Australian actress Miranda Otto portrays the prickly Bishop with aplomb, pitching her uptight sensibilities against the flamboyantly free Lota (Gloria Pires) as passion blooms in the most exquisite setting of Lota's Rio home. Melodrama (perhaps inevitably) ensues but this pseudo biopic never fails to enthral. SW
THE ROVER: Australian writer-director David Michod's followup to his breathtaking Animal Kingdom is another brutal blokey film, only this time set in a post-apocalyptic future. Joined by a surprisingly good Robert Pattinson (Twilight), Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) is our anti-hero, out to retrieve his car from a trio of crims. But while the setting and narrative conjures up memories of Mad Max, in truth the film feels closer to another Mel Gibson flick, Payback, as Pearce's character seeks his own brand of justice for them who done him wrong. JC
UNDER THE SKIN: The Year of Scarlett Johansson continues with this creepy and compelling low-fi, sci-fi. She plays a mysterious woman trawling the streets and isolated scenic sights of Scotland looking for male specimens of the Celtic race. What could have been simply an art house version of Species or The Terminator is elevated by liquid and luscious visuals, a slowly unfolding mystery and the hypnotic power of both Mica Levi's score and Johansson herself. Proving her versatility, she delivers a performance at the other end of the spectrum from Her - all physicality and body language and very few words. JC
VENUS IN FUR: Passion, teasing but repressed, is at the heart of Roman Polanski's latest stage adaption. His cinematic rendering of Carnage was notable for cramming four Oscar-worthy actors into a New York apartment to tear each other apart over their children's dispute. Here Polanski raises the bar by situating the entire hour-and-a-half on an empty Parisian stage where two players, the director (Mathieu Amalric) and the would-be leading lady (Polanski's own wife, Emmanuelle Seigner) audition each other for a play. The conceit is frequently provocative and endlessly intriguing. SW
VIRUNGA: Former pro-snowboarder Orlando Von Einsiedel wanted to make a documentary about the rebirth of Eastern Congo. Civil war had subsided and a hardy group of locals were working hard to save the remaining population of endangered mountain gorillas. However, not long after he started filming, hostilities renewed and oil was discovered in the area - sparking a frenzied, fierce battle for control of the region. Raw and visceral, Von Einsiedel's camera captures the incredible carnage, conniving and corruption that ensued. JC
For the full festival schedule go to www.nziff.co.nz
- Sunday Star Times
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