The "WCS" is the World Cinema Showcase, which happens every April and May in New Zealand (Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin; this year's Christchurch programme, sadly but unsurprisingly, has been cancelled), is upon us; the films start unspooling on Friday in Auckland at the SkyCity Theatre.
The selection this year is, as the locals here say, fucking choice. I could enthuse about many, many films in this lineup; but with due respect to such worthy but likely to return titles as RABBIT HOLE, ANOTHER YEAR, CATFISH, and OF GODS AND MEN, the many enticing documentaries (I'm particularly curious about OPERATION 8, the only Kiwi film this year, which is about domestic anti-terrorism initiatives; NZFF returnees BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK and WASTE LAND, war documentaries ARMADILLO and RESTREPO, and art-world stories THE WOODMANS and THE ART OF THE STEAL also stick out for me), and the surprisingly strong selection of "genre" or otherwise strange films (KABOOM, TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL, REIGN OF ASSASSINS, and GALLANTS amongst them), these are the five I am absolutely jazzed for.
RUBBER (w/d Quentin Dupieux)
I've seen this film once already, at the 2010 Vendetta 24-Hour Movie Marathon, and it blew me away; it's the second best new film I saw this year, after CERTIFIED COPY. Which it has next to nothing in common with. I can't improve upon a friend's (paraphrased) description: "There are only two things you need to know about this movie. One is that it's about a psychic tire that blows up people's heads. The second is that that is the least strange thing about this movie." I'd also add that it's beautifully photographed and very funny, in a very dry, casually surreal way. And that (although this should be clear by now) it will be like nothing you see this year, here or elsewhere. If you aren't convinced, check out the opening scene on YouTube (though if you are convinced, let yourself be gleefully surprised in the theatre).
THE WAY BACK (w/d Peter Weir; based on the novel THE LONG WALK by Slavomir Rawicz)
I don't know the book. I do know Peter Weir, albeit not as well as I should: somehow, WITNESS, THE MOSQUITO COAST, GALLIPOLI, and THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY have all slid by me. But MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD is one of the overlooked treasures of the 2000s, a film that by all rights should have established Peter Weir as the major go-to action/adventure director of our time. Instead, it's been nine years since that masterwork, and now his latest film, a grim and gritty tale of survival, came and went without much fanfare in the States. Hopefully it gets a better reception here. Also, Ed Harris.
WHITE MEADOWS (w/d Mohammad Rasoulof)
While fellow Iranian director Jafar Panahi (who also edited this film) has received the lion's share of press for his recent imprisonment and ban from filmmaking, the director of this film has received the punishment. That in and of itself would be sufficient enticement for me to go, but it's apparently much more. I'm expecting WHITE MEADOWS to be one of the most rigourous art films of the WCS (along with the beautiful, headscratching UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, which I saw at NZFF 2010 and am considering revisiting). A lengthy discussion of Rasoulof's films by Michael Sicinski can be found here tl;dr? "This is a strikingly beautiful film, simultaneously lush and austere, characterized by expansive, elemental landscapes and seascapes."
COLD WEATHER (w/d Aaron Katz)
As an ex-Portlander who still loves his adopted home city deeply, any film set there will get my attention. But by all accounts this modern re-purposing of Sherlock Holmes into the lives of aimless twenty-somethings has much more to offer. Apart from beautiful photography, the idea of applying a detective novel structure to a keenly observed character piece really appeals to me. I've seen one film by Katz, QUIET CITY, which had nice moments of beauty but fell prey to the aimlessness of so much of the "mumblecore" genre (and if you don't know the term, you're probably better for it). If that film could be called "promising", then this film, I've been led to believe, delivers on this promise. Potential bonus or awkwardness: the aimless, bookish protagonist is named Doug. (Formerly a very rare name in movies; THE TOWN and THE HANGOVER seem to be changing this.)
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (w/d Jorge Michel Grau)
Of the five films on the list, this is the one I feel most nervous about recommending, and not just because it's about a family of Mexican cannibals (and presumably featuring all the grotesquerie such a scenario dictates). The early reviews I saw of this were glowing, comparing its artistic treatment of genre material to the fantastic LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. More recently, however, acquaintances I know who have seen the film have found it lacking, with some claiming its social metaphor is too blunt and others bemoaning its slow pace. Nonetheless, I'm holding on to my initial hope, and at least expect some nice photography out of it; for those on the fence, the trailer might sway you, one way or another.