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More Paranormal Activity, a couple of VIFF favorites and word of a new film festival

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He starts a label, records the band (although they couldn’t seem to care less) and goes to London to get a big company interested. No dice but joy comes later. The BBC’s trend-setting DJ, John Peel, loved the record so much he played it twice in a row. The film, building up great momentum, gets across the excitement of the time and the elation of success, culminating in a massive concert.  It also mirrors the character of the city, tough, aggressively ambitious and sentimental and gives a rare positive view of Belfast Protestants. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5

DESERT RUNNERS: (Here's what I wrote at VIFF): An intense study in obsession. Or maybe just testing yourself by giving everything you’ve got. This documentary follows an attempt by a group of runners to do the hardest series of marathon runs on earth: across four deserts –the Gobi, Sahara, Chile’s Atacama and Antarctica – all in the same year.

 

One is doing it to honor his wife who died of cancer. One will fail, initially, but come back and succeed anyway. All will push themselves to ridiculous limits, running up to 100 kilometers in a single day in temperatures up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Some have to deal with blisters, dehydration, inability to keep food down. Excellent camera work takes us right along to see—and feel—it all.   3 ½ out of 5

ITALIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Odd isn’t it? We’ve got film festivals from Serbia, Brazil, Taiwan and many other countries and not one from Italy. Even though that country has a rich cinematic history. Granted, not so much now as back in the 1060s but still.

Well, next week, starting Jan 10, the gap gets filled with a short festival playing at the Vancity Theatre and organized by three groups, including the Italian Cultural Centre.

They’re showing 10 films, five contemporary and five that draw on that rich history. Three won Academy Awards, the opening film, Federico Fellini ‘s Amarcord, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow which presents Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in a trio of comic stories, and the lesser-known Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.

 

That one I watched again recently and it’s as incendiary now as it was back in 1970. A police chief in Rome commits a murder, is briefly in charge of the investigation and stays involved after he is promoted to head the political crimes unit. There he rails against student protesters and left-wing agitators. He oversees a massive surveillance effort. “Repression is our vaccine,” he proclaims. In the murder case, he brings out evidence to implicate himself just to prove that a citizen like him could never be a suspect. It fit the anti-authority mood exactly 40 years ago. It still feels modern thanks to a mobile camera, crisp visuals and a psycho-sexual strain that keeps the story gripping and twisted. (4 stars out of 5)

Of the new films, two deal with music. John Turturro explores Neapolitan music with little dialogue but 23 songs in Passione and the life story of Domenico Modugno is told in Mr. Volare, which refers to his most famous song.He wrote many, acted in movies and on stage and in his later years served as a progressive politician. The film is a trimmed version of a massive biography produced for Italian TV.

Of the new films, I was able to watch Terraferma which is absolutely contemporary. On the tiny island of Lampedusa, just off Sicily, fishermen try to keep their trade alive, tourism is replacing them and illegal migrants regularly arrive in rusty boats from Africa.

 

The problem is frequently in the news. This drama puts a human face on it, both with the local residents and the desperate people who come to them. The debate gets heated on the island, but so do the stories the migrants bring, and ultimately it's simple humanism vs modern callousness that propels the story.  (3 ½ out of 5)

You can find more about the festival, including special package deals, at http://www.viff.org/theatre

NOTE: Images here are movie stills provided by the producers. They are the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

 

More in New Movies

Coming back to Downton Abbey, Brad Pitt on a space trip in Ad Astra and Robbie Robertson’s tales of The Band

Also: some angry race relations, a cool Miles Davis, a Chinese surprise and a 5th from John Rambo

Angry history in Official Secrets, dubious flash in Hustlers and a muddle in The Goldfinch

VIFF has just added this: Michael Moore will be here to show and give a creator talk about the film that made his career: Roger and Me. It was the most popular documentary where it premiered at VIFF...
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