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Continuing our preview of the 20 titles in the running for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which kicks off next week. Today's selection includes new films from Hayao Miyazaki, Peter Landesman, Errol Morris, Alexandros Avranas and Gianni Amelio.
"The Wind Rises," directed by Hayao Miyazaki: It's been five years since the last Miyazaki-directed feature, "Ponyo," premiered in Competition at Venice -- and honestly, that sweet but unapologetically minor children's film wasn't enough to satisfy Miyazaki fans' cravings for over half a decade. Since the veteran Japanese animator ascended to festival auteur status (a promotion sealed when eventual Oscar-winner "Spirited Away" won the Golden Bear at Berlin), his work has arrived with crossover expectations that "Ponyo"'s gentle maritime charms couldn't quite fulfil. That looks likely to change with "The Wind Rises," a significant change of pace for the director, and one of the most ambitious projects of his big-dreaming career.
Downplaying -- if not entirely forgoing -- his customary fantastical storytelling in favor of history, this fictionalized biographical drama (based on Miyazaki's own manga) is inspired by the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer of Japanese fighter planes in the Second World War. Covering Horikoshi's life from small-town boyhood through to professional triumphs and the loss of his wife, the 126-minute film reportedly uses elaborate dream sequences to portray it subject's inner life -- and, presumably, as an outlet for Miyazaki's unfettered imagination -- but otherwise sounds like one of Studio Ghibli's more grown-up efforts. This change in direction, however, hasn't hurt Miyazaki's latest in its homeland, where it's been another commercial smash for him. The film has also drawn its share of awestruck reviews (as well as a smattering of local controversy over its factual liberties.)
We already know that an English-language version of the film will not be ready this year. The subtitled, Japanese-language version that premieres at Venice will also be the same one that is entered this year for Oscar consideration in the Best Animated Feature category. (It remains to be seen whether Japan enters the film as its submission in the Best Foreign Language Film race.) Whether or not the Academy bites, it's not hard to imagine the Venice jury welcoming Miyazaki back with a major award. This is the third time he's vied for the Golden Lion -- "Howl's Moving Castle," which won a technical achievement prize from the jury in 2005, precedes "Ponyo."
"Parkland," directed by Peter Landesman: It's hard to read any blurb about this American biographical drama -- the last addition to the Competition lineup -- without Emilio Estevez's "Bobby" springing to mind. I'll leave it to you to judge whether that's a good thing or not, but the on-paper similarities between the two are obvious: Peter Landesman's debut feature may cover the already amply-covered assassination of JFK rather than his younger brother, but it appears to use a comparable all-star ensemble to revisit the old "where were you when you heard" meme that still surrounds his death.
Zac Efron (returning to Venice after "At Any Price" premiered there last year) has received the bulk of the publicity so far for playing Jim Carrico, the first doctor to attend to John F. Kennedy after his shooting. Jeremy Strong ("Lincoln") stars as Lee Harvey Oswald, the ubiquitous Jacki Weaver his mother Marguerite. Others in the ensemble include Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, James Bade Dale and Colin Hanks. indeed, it's a Hanks family effort: Tom Hanks, apparently not quite busy enough this year, co-produced the film with three others, including Bill Paxton.
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