Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's resolutions

A New Year is coming! I think I've made some real progress on this blog during the course of this year, but since I still have only two subscribers, I'll try to enhance this blog even further. Here's some points of what I'm about to do.
  • More reviews. I feel genuinely bad for not doing a proper review about The Social Network and some others even though I went to the press screening. That's about to change. I'll write a review here on every film I see, providing I won't write the review to another publication.
  • More obscure films! I realize I've been focusing too much on stuff that other blogs write about as well. I see plenty of weird shit as well, including a lot of those Movies I-wanna-see. I'll try to write about them, as well as a lot about finnish films. I feel not enough of them is written in English, so I might have a clear advantage on a lot of finnish-written movie blogs.
  • Personally, I'll try to watch as much as I can from my pile of unwatched DVD's. Currently, it includes the following:
  1. 8 1/2
  2. Arabian Nights
  3. Bandolero!
  4. Bay of Blood
  5. Big Bullet
  6. Boiling Point
  7. Caligula
  8. The Canterbury Tales
  9. Confession of Pain
  10. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
  11. The Dead Zone
  12. Decamerone
  13. Delta Force
  14. Delta Force II
  15. Death On The Nile
  16. Les Diaboliques
  17. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
  18. Eyes Without A Face
  19. Fanny & Alexander
  20. A Farewell To Arms
  21. Fata Morgana
  22. Full Alert
  23. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  24. Glengarry Glen Ross
  25. La Grande bouffe
  26. Heart of Glass
  27. The Insider
  28. Joe
  29. Jules & Jim
  30. Kabuli Kid
  31. Ken Park
  32. The Killing of Satan
  33. Machine Girl
  34. Mamma Roma
  35. Obsession
  36. Once A Cop
  37. Once Upon A Time in China II
  38. Once Upon A Time in China III
  39. Pieces
  40. Prison
  41. Punk: Attitude
  42. The Promise
  43. Rififi
  44. Rude Boy
  45. Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom
  46. Scum
  47. Seraphine
  48. Sonatine
  49. The Story of Richard O
  50. Stroszek
  51. Tales From The Golden Age
  52. They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
  53. Tremors
  54. Twilight Zone: The Movie
  55. The Valachi Papers
  56. The Vanguard
  57. Vengeance is Mine
  58. Violent Cop
  59. Zorba The Greek
So that makes 60 films to watch. More than one for every week. And I'm not even including the Blu-rays and TV DVD's I have. I shoud try to be less a collector and more a watcher. Which I promise to be.

Have A Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Best of 2010 - Part I: The Films

Another year over, and what have you done? Well, watched a load of films, which means that I'm contractually obliged to give out a top 10 list of the best films the 2010s have seen so far. So here it is, a look back on the best films of the year. This list is based on the films which peremiered in Finland during 2010. Thus you may find a number of 2009 films also included.

It was a very good year for film. I had real difficulties on what to include on the list and what to leave out - plenty of good films were left out (even from the bubbling under-section), and I still had to divide this post into two. I have to do various other Year-best lists, yet as I get the instructions later, I'll put it out early next year. I'll also put in a list of the best DVD releases as a compensation, then. But now, let's just have the top 10 Theatrical Releases:

Bubbling Under: Armadillo, A Good Heart, Inception, Rare Exports, The Town.

10. Enter The Void
Director: Gaspar Noé

There are a number of faults in Gaspar Noé's latest film. It is way overlong and promotes a little too much the Buddhist philosophy on which its story is based on. But damn it, if it isn't one of the most captivating movie theatre experiences I've had probably ever. A real trip, and I wouldn't reccommend anyone to watch it anywhere else than a movie theatre. If you can turn your gaze away from the screen, you will. It's part of the Trip to accept these hard-to-watch moments as well. If 2001: A Space Odyssey had only a trippy end, Enter the Void is something like that from beginning to end.

The story is about the drug-shooting Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), who drifts along the streets of Tokyo, making drug deals and reading Buddhist philosophy. When a friend sells him out, the main character gets killed during the first half hour. The rest of the film he begins a Buddhist Spiritual Journey, looking back on his life and the world without him. Oscar's mournful and long Journey is cast heavily in japanese neon-lights with dirt and grit. Not to mention the unique directing style which is unmistakably Noé, and wouldn't benefit from me trying to explain it any more. He's treated the camera as a character before as well, and now uses this idea in the story as well. The film is nerve-wrecking, and seizure-causing and repetitive. yet it is also hauntingly beautiful and probably the ugliest movie about the beauty of life I've ever seen.

9. Jackass 3D
Director: Jeff Tremaine

Every time a new Jackass film is announced, I feel like the joke has gotten too old, as have the stunt performers. Yet when I see the final film, I can't help but laugh. I feel like Jackass 3D might be the best of the trilogy. I at least got the best laughs this year watching this. A film which makes Bam Margera cry can't be a bad one.

It is also probably the only film this year, where the 3D feels appropriate. It shows that many scenes are shot with expensive, high-def cameras. Besides that we get cool slo-mo impact shots when people get a fist to their face, we get to realize just how far away a jet turbine throws a football. We have then a good idea of the force which sends the football to the groin soon afterwards. I think the jet turbine prank with the clumsy waiter might be the best skit. Or, of course, the money shot that is the poop shoot in 3D. Or can music tame the wild beast one. Or, or, there are many good ones to choose from.

8. A Prophet (Un Prophete)
Director: Jacques Audriard

A Prophet is one of the most brutal prison movies ever made. Not so in violence, but because in its world prisons rather create and inspire criminals than cure them. A shy boy is sent to prison for reasons never explained. There he must run tasks for a mob boss in order to survive. This game he is forced to play soon starts to rot him to the core. It is a sort of Godfather story build inside four walls. It's not the first time Audriard takes ideas from an American crime classic and turns it into something undeniably French.

The violence itself is disturbingly realistic. The murderer is left shaken, stirred and changed forever. It might give him the vivid nightmares which come to earn him the nickname Prophet. Respect in criminal world still does only come from carnage. The base of criminal operations is not even limited to the prison. As the prisoners goes outside for vacation now and then and spread the Prison gospel of crime and murder there as well. As the main character's emotions are usually not that clear, one can easily reflect their own emotions there. It's not so much a character as an Avatar or a vessel for us to project ourselves in the same situation. Prison has been depicted as the ultimate place where the rules of survival of the fittest goes for us humans. A prophet shows us there is a way to make it, even if you are not physically strong, if at least you are quick-witted and ready to do bad things. But the cost is of course your whole former identity. Once you are ready to play along the Animal rules, you have to become one as well.

7. Four Lions
Director: Chris Morris

Four Lions shouldn't work. It is a comedy about a group of bumbling terrorists planning a major suicide bombing. Yet the film never feels like it tackles this difficult subject just to be edgy, nor treats its characters as one-dimensional Jihad-monsters. Maybe wisely director-screenwriter Chris Morris downplays the religious aspect of the terrorists to avoid discussion on irrelevant subjects. It's not by any menas a film about a war between religions. It is a film about humanity in general, and a search for a cause.

The terrorists are as multi-dimensional characters as any one of us. They could come from any background, and as a matter of fact they do too in the film. They make a lot of mistakes, and are also seriously misguided, trying to channel their various emotional traumas and hardships into something destructive. On the journey some of them find the joy of living again, but some get even more thirsty for blood because of the previous failures. As the subject isn't an easy one, there isn't also an easy way out for our characters. It is a comedy-faced tragedy, which feels especially bad as you've both laughed at and with these characters during the course of the film. Chris Morris is an infinetily skillful as both writer and director and I for one can't wait what he'll come up with next. Probably something completely different.

6. Kick-Ass
Director: Matthew Vaughan

OK, mostly this is just here because it is a kick-ass movie. Matthew Vaughan is a good genre director, and directing action he knows to use just the right amount of awesome, ridiculous, and ridiculously awesome. Most action films are so pussy these days that the action feels like something you're forced to sit through to get to the meaty part (like in, say, Iron Man 2 or A-Team). Not so in here. Guns, clubs, canes and swords are swung and they cause actual wounds and bruises and burns, oh my. It's a really violent film in case you didn't know. But damned entertaining at that. The perfect casting of both silly archetypes, and over-the-top specialities helps immensively as well.

Kick-Ass is a story about a regular nerd deciding to become a vigilante superhero, which means to beat people up for justice. He soon finds out he's taken a larger bite than he can chew. Kick-Ass is also a really postmodern super-hero film. The characters have also seen Spider-Man and act accordingly. The parody goes as far as the viral internet campaigns of superhero films. As a fan of the genre it is fun to see its pretty formulaic plot patterns, costumes and even dialogue mocked. As a parody, it is one that moves to be ever more outrageous. It starts pretty realistic but soon develops into an actual nerd-boy power fantasy, yet made to be so over-the-top that one can't help but to smile. The only part which doesn't quite fit the part is the romantic and sexual awakening, which I feel was in the end too close to the formula. Maybe Vaughan will pick up the pieces in the sequel. Good job for comic creator Mark Millar's world. Now, if we could only get a film as faithful to the ideas of Garth Ennis...

5. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Director: Werner Herzog

There was much fighting going on before the release of Werner Herzog's latest, about who has the rights to a classic film. Abel Ferrara famously disowned this film because he felt it tainted the legacy of his own 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant. Luckily, Herzog is smart enough to take an entirely different path on a familiar story. It is not a religious redemption story of a black sheep gone astray, but rather a black comedy about someone who should screw everything up, but in the end comes out of every mess victorious. The end result stands on its own and is different enough that one can easily embrace both films.

In Nicolas Cage Herzog has found the closest Hollywood representative of the manic acting style of his departed muse Klaus Kinski. Cage plays the loony Lieutenant Terence McDonagh who is seen as something of a hero, despite he doing things pretty impulsively due to him being high on painkillers and various other drugs pretty much all the time. The scene where he threatens an old lady is a classic in its own right. Herzog's pitch-black sense of humour hasn't gotten such a good channel for a while now, and it's nice to see the maestro kick back with absurd imagery. True, it also has a few hard-handed metaphors, but then Herzog has never been one to rely solely on deep metaphors. Instead, we get a layered piece that still has an air of mystery around it - like is Val Kilmer's character actually real? He only seems to appear to torment McDonagh to do the wrong thing, yet those moments the only time he decides to do the right thing and gets rewarded. Bad Lieutenant can only exist if there is an even badder one to defy. Much like the film itself.

4. The Social Network
Director: David Fincher

I had nearly no expectations about this one. I felt like Fincher had sold himself off by making the dreadful Benjamin Button film, and that the idea of making a film about the finding of Facebook was probably the dullest idea for a film that I had ever heard. Shows what I know. The end result is a class act all the way, from Aaron Sorkin's great machine-gun dialogue script to the performances of great young cast who fit to their roles prefectly. The film is not so much about developing technology as it is about the modern times, where we use websites to maintain our relationships. As much as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is (portrayed as) a withdrawn, lonely and socially inept figure, he has turned us all into his own image.

This could've so easily been a film where a nerd gets a taste of the sweet rich life, but in the end learns a valuable lesson in friendship and such. Instead, the characters are like Seinfeld characters: however extraordinary their adventures are, none of them learn anything from any of that. They start out with claiming to wnat money and fame. Some get it, some don't. All want more. Even if they wreck their own relationships, they are essentailly the same characters from beginning to end. The film tries to tell that if we freeze our social experience online, there shall not be any room more to develop it. It is clearly the best film about turning yourself inwards I've seen in a long while.

3. Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich

Another film, about which I was a tad nervous beforehand. Pixar shall one day make another lacklustre film like Cars (Cars 2 next year?), but I sure as hell am glad this is not it. I've heard a wise reading of the Toy Story films (probably in Empire) in that they are all essentially about working life. The first one is about a new co-worker who you fear will replace you. The second one is about getting a promotion you don't want. And this third one is about retirement, whether you have served your purpose during your life and watching children grow up. Andy's toys, featuring Woody, Buzz and Rex, decide they won't go quietly to spend an eternity in the attic, but rather to investigate the retirement possibilities at a local Daycare Centre.

True, it repeats some themes from TS2, but this happens mostly at the beginning of the film. Even if the cast is packed to the rafters with caharacters old and new alike, the balance between all of the ingredients is handeled masterfully. The film is also incredibly swift in changing its tone, but it never feels forced that it does so. So, we get a good hour and a half of excitement, character-based drama, plotting, thrills, laughs, shock and horror and finally the best goodbye a film franchise could ever have. I didn't cry like I did watching Up and Wall-E, but I sure got misty-eyed and walked out of the theatre happy-sad. Well played, Pixar, well played.

2. The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)
Director: Michael Haneke

Were things really so good in the olden days? Seems like people's lives were much narrower and pre-set, not to mention living constantly in fear of parents, priests, officials, the law and of course, God. The Evil That Men Do lives on and on, as Iron Maiden so wisely put. Haneke seems to suggest that the Evil within also increases generation by generation. By setting his story before the First World War, he is essentially telling a story about the childhood of the Nazi Generation. No wonder the children here are so cruel.

The film is called to be one of the easiest Haneke film to access. I'd say in fact, that at least this time the director restrains from giving straight answers and spelling things for the viewer along the way. The black-and-white colour as long as the setpieces are as traditional as can be, yet the viewer's attention never goes astray. Haneke also handles his ensemble cast very well; there may seem to be multiple stories going on in the village at the same time yet it is all part of the bigger picture. As is usual for the director, there is no easy ending with a catharctic climax. This just leaves a more hauntic taste in the viewer's mouth. Multi-layered, thought-provoking, brilliant. It's The White Ribbon.

1. Somewhere
Director: Sofia Coppola

I've just realized that this list begins and ends on highly dividing arthouse films. Well, I'd say Somewhere deserves all the acclaim the film got at the Venice Film Festival, and then some. Sofia Coppola brings us another story about a loss of identity, getting lost in the modern society and a redemption which is highly reminiscent of her earlier masterpiece, Lost in Translation. But Coppola is a good enough artist to take two similar premises and deliver something intriguing both times. The slowly unravelling story is aabout the middle-aged actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who feels bored and lost in the middle of all his playboy antics. Everyone knows fame and wealth surely doesn't bring happiness, but it's hardly ever been pictured as clear and matter-of-factly as it is here. The slow storytelling and repetitive scenes are in favour of thescript here. I love how the usual macho Hollywood thrills such as fast cars and beautiful women are portrayed as mundane, even sleep-causingly boring in the near silent opening sequences. That is some of the most unerotic stripping I've ever seen on screen. A life where you can get anything just for yourself doesn't have big thrills, however you look at it. Marco's attempts to handle his life on a here-and-now basis don't really lead to anything (or at best, just some meaningless sex), like when he tries to follow a lady in a convertible.

However, when his twelve-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to visit, he starts to get a new grip on life. The moment when Dorff watches her ice-skate is the first time he shows any emotion in the film. And it comes just after another boring striptease scene, which emphasizes that the feminity in his pre-teen daughter is already stronger than in two money-hungry strippers who don't have any identity whatsoever, save for their names, which tend to get mixed up.

Coppola might have highly obvious symbolism in her film, but it is handeled with such confidence that it can't help but to bring a smile to one's face again and again. For example, in one scene Marco gets cast into plaster to create a make up for his upcoming film. Both the viewers and the actor wait ages for the plaster to be removed and out emerges an old man. Life can get by pretty fast if all one is concerned is yourself. Happily, Somewhere is an optimistic film and Marco does seem to have a chance to make his life worthwhile yet.

Much is being read into the relationship Coppola had with her own father, the acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. I myself am not that interested in such trivial matters. Somewhere is a film about finding one self's worth and will to live. It isn't in material and shallow things we usually lust for, but rather finding little adventures with your loved ones, and maybe create them for ourselves as well. That's why I think this is the best film of the year.

The Best New Release of An Old Film

I realize this category might not have too many contestants each year. But I figured it shouldn't be on any of the other lists and I want to mention it. Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke got its theatrical premiere in Finland in 2010.

Like Miyazaki tends to do, he tells another story about the relationship between men and nature. The story is pretty epic and rough and thus aimed more clearly to older children and adults. Yet it might also be the biggest canvas of Miyazaki's creativity alongside Spirited Away. Visually, the film is nothing short of breathtaking. Miyazaki is at least on par with Satoshi Kon's Paprika in creating uniquely vivid animation. The forest gods, pixies, the fortress of ladies. The whole shebang leads to the pretty good question on why we humans tend to waste our vast resources on futile things like war and not to learn live more peacefully with nature and among ourselves.

Top 11 Festivals & Not yet in Programme

I'm gonna let these pass without a bigger comment, because most of these are already introduced in posts such as the HIFF-introduction. I'll return to them if there is any need to.

10. Winter's Bone
9. Mother
8. Animal Kingdom
7. Exit Through The Gift Shop
6. Symbol
5. Dogtooth
4. The Illusionist
3. Love Exposure
2. Sons of Cuba
1. Black Swan

High-rated films I didn't get to see in time:

Fantastic Mr. Fox, Heartbeats, How to Train Your Dragon, In A Better World, The Other Guys, Shutter Island, Submarino, Up in the Air

The Worst Film:

I actually didn't see anything really bad this year. However, I can tell what the most overrated film is: I Am Love. Even though I do love Somewhere, there is a fine line on how much drama I can take from the lives of the rich and the priveledged on film. If the characters are not right, the whole thing feels tedious, forced and all around uninteresting. All the characters in I Am Love might as well be replaced with planks. Tilda Swinton plays a rich housewife who begins an affair and blah blah blah yawn. This overlong episode of a daytime soap opera is never as steamy or clever as it think it is. Milan is an overrated city, yet the landscapes pictured in the film are the only thing of the remotest interest I could get from this. I really just couldn't get critics who put this drivel into their best-of-the-year lists. Maybe I should be an upper-class housewife to learn to understand this. The film wipes us in the face with its metaphor of making food = making love. Christ, everything else in our life is already sexualized. At least let us eat, drink and shit without having to constantly think about sex!

So here it is. I wish you A Happy New Year, and stay tuned for more hijinks here at the Last Movieblog!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Christmas Story Medley

'Tis the season, and thus the time (and the only time) to watch some Holiday films. Rather than to rewatch the same old classics each year, I prefer to always watch films I haven't seen before (though I can rewatch Die Hard, Gremlins and Nightmare Before Christmas just about endlessly). So, here's a medley of Five Festive Films ranging from classic to crap.

Christmas Story (Joulutarina, 2007)
Director: Juha Wuoljoki

No, not the comedy about the bespectacled kid wanting a BB gun for christmas (we'll get to that). This finnish fairy tale is relatively recent, but already gets steady airtime in finnish TV. The film does like many Hollywood franchise starters like to: goes to the roots of a particular legend. But as anyone who has seen Santa Claus: The Movie or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians knows all too well, Santa isn't usually a very good protagonist on celluloid.

The premise of Christmas Story itself feels calculated. For the information of my foreign readers, Finland has a strange obsesion to prove Santa Claus is Finnish. As an example, they poured a shitload of government money to this movie, which is little more than a travel advertisement to Lapland. There are long, lingering shots of beautiful landscapes, but a boring story and theatrical acting. It's just like most other finnish films made today, then. No wonder we usually do so badly at international film festivals.

Santa grows up as a little boy called Nikolas, who goes to live in different houses each year in his poor village. As the switch to a new house happens in Christmas, he leaves presents for the children of the house. As time goes on, he gets more and more obsessed of giving gifts to all the children.

It's nice that Santa has also shades of grey in his character, but for a fantasy film, everything happening in the film is pretty mundane and way too realistic. All the magic is left to the imagination of the viewer, which sounds like a good idea, but is executed poorly here. Where did Santa hire his elves? Where does Mrs. Santa come from? Why is Santa obsessed with children being naughty and nice? Why does he watch us while we are sleeping? And why does he lust after mommy? These are just some of the questions the film has no intention of answering. For a cheery christmassy feel-good film it sure the plot revolves a lot around sorrow, pity, regret and obsessive behaviour.

If you will watch only one Finnish Santa Claus movie, I recommend Rare Exports. At least that one was based on the actual Finnish pagan god, not the German saint who was developed into a marketing figure in the United States. Santa is multi-national, not in any way Finnish.


A Christmas Story (1983)
Director: Bob Clark

This is the more popular Christmas Story in most of the world, yet I suppose not in Finland as I had never seen the film before recently. This cult comedy is about little Ralphie Baker (Peter Billingsley) who gets ready for christmas in a small American town in the 1940's. The preparations, toy lists, wait for Santa, everything is told from a prespective of a child pretty well. It seems children in the 40's weren't that much different from the children in the 80's when this was made, or in the early 90's when I was that age. They all felt enthusiastic, anxious and a little fearful around Christmas just because they hoped they would get everything they wanted from Santa. Ralphie's misadventures in school, in the playground and at home are narrated by a much older Ralphie, played by Jean Shephard.

I thought the best thing in the film, however, was not in its depiction of child culture, but rather in little touches. My favorite character was Ralphie's Old Man, Mr. Parker (Darren McGavin). The scenes where he is watching his family acting obnoxious, whether the kids are porking up their food with their mother encouraging, or horribly singing Jingle Bells out of tune, it's clear that the man would wish to be as far away from them as possible. The threat of spending the holidays indoors with them seems unbearable. For the kids the father is also a sort of Punisher, the supervisor who will straighten out behaviour that's out of the line. He is also has a soft spot for awful kitch, and is not well beloved by dogs. This all doesn not mean that the man hasn't got his heart in the right place. In the end he will give his sone the present, which will probably not be a good idea.

Seeing as director Bob Clark also directed Black Christmas, he seemed to have the right idea about the holiday. A Christmas Story is a bit too American and a bit dated for me to want to watch it every year again and a again, but it holds well even when watched first as an adult. I suspect it would go down well with the kiddies, too.


An American Carol (a.k.a. Big Fat Important Movie, 2008)
Director: David Zucker

As this happened to be one of the last films of Leslie Nielsen, Dennis Hopper and, um, Gary Coleman, I was intrigued to watch this. I didn't expect it to be good, but as even Scary Movies 3 & 4 had their moments, there was no way David Zucker could fail, even if the movie's premise sounded a little too neo-conservative for my tastes.

Yeah, right. The fact that it features a Paris Hilton cameo tells you enough about this films "quality".

It was absolutely horrible, Meet the Spartans-sized bad. For starters, even though the film is loosely based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the film itself is set around the 4th of July. As it's not actually a Christmas movie I felt doubly stupid for watching this piece of shit.

The moronic documentary directory Michael Malone (Kevin P. Farley) hates everything about America and is smelly and fat. That's why three ghosts appear to show him what America is all about. And that includes shooting liberals who don't share your views and being ready to blow up every arab there is because they might all be terrorists. And it's so absurd to think Christians might ever do anything bad to anyone with their views or actions that it's a subject of a skit.

Now, I have nothing against gross-out comedy and I can handle different political views in films (I usually embrace them, such as Charles Bronson's vigilantist films). That being said, this was not so much conservative, as so crazily right-wing it seems a campaign film for Tea Party candidates. The film begins with a joke how all arabs are named Mohammed Hussein (seriously), does plenty of bad terrorist jokes and it's all downhill from there. Eat your heart out, Chris Morris.

If it all were made with a tongue-in-cheek sillyness that would suggest that the whole film is a big joke, it would be just fine, but sadly the film is also preachy as hell. It's the kind of film that critizises Michael Moore for showing only one side of the truth in his films, yet cuts corners in just about every one of its arguments at the same time. And sure enough, like all poor conversation stirrers, Zucker likes to pull the Hitler card as an argument to anything. The overall message seems to be that because The United States of America is the world's greatest country, one is a traitor to his own country to critizise it in any way. A good citizen just accepts anything the officials tell him to. And of course that the war against terrorism is the worst threat America has faced since Nazism. It's sad to see Communism doesn't rank that high on the American list of biggest threats of all time any more. In addition to the afore mentioned dead celebrities, Zucker has lured the Hollywood conservative likes of Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight to do roles in his bug-crazy near-fascist fantasy. Seriously, the film portrays African-Americans only in a scene where they perform modern slaves (because that's what would have happened if The Civil War had been resolved with diplomatic means) and liberals wanting to seperate church and state are portrayed as deadly zombies that should be shot to the head.

The people responsible for this drivel would deserve it more. It did have one good joke, which infuriates me, as it pains me to say anything positive about this. The worst film I've seen in a long, long, long time.

Scrooged (1988)
Director: Richard Donner

For a much better modern adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, I had to turn to Bill Murray. Good ol' Bill, he never fails. Except when he made Garfield, of course.

Bill Murray plays a TV executive that's a real dick to his employees, family, the poor in general and to his long lost love, played by Karen Allen. And that, of course nothing plays to the strengths of the film's lead actor than the ability to act a complete douchebag. After firing a back talking employee, putting a scary promo of a heart-warming Christmas special on air and humbugging just about half of NYC's population (including Miles Davis' street orchestra), Bill gets a meeting from a ghost of a long-lost buisness partner. Now, the film is quite close to being a horror-comedy. Yet, the ghastly sequences are done in a tongue-in-cheek manner that reminiscens Creepshow and the likes. Probably the scariest moment in the film comes when the rotten zombie ghost tangles Bill Murray from a scyscraper window and his wrist starts to rot off. For someone afraid of heights, this makes a dizzyingly terrifying scene.

Bill meets up with several more ghosts, and as the story goes, after seeing himself dead in the future, he decides to change his ways. The ending is a bit overkill in all its feel-goodiness. I would've gotten enough christmas spirit fom just Karen Allen's smile. Boy, that gal sure has a beautiful smile. But anyway, the film delivers plenty of laughs and a classic character for Bill Murray. I don's see why I wouldn't want to watch this again, come next christmas.


Pictured: Holiday cheer.

Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984)
Director: Edmund Purdom

I have a weird fondness of various Christmas-themed horror films. So I had to see one for this article as well. Usually it is Santa Claus who does the slaughtering. yet in this British slasher classic, it is Santa Clauses who get the axe. It has everything that a good slasher should have. Plenty of funny deaths (one santa gets impaled with a spear through the mouth when blowing on a party whistle, one has his penis cut off while urinating) and some gratitious boobs. The plot itself is the most basic one one can have, with police pursuting the killer that seems to always be one step ahead, and a heroic journalist slowly uncovering better evidence. If the film wasn't so outrageous in its violence, it would be your standard Halloween-carbon copy. Yet with the Santa theme, it is a fun ride. And the present that ends the film is quite unforgettable.

★ or ★★★★★

OK, that's enough of holiday cheer for this time. Merry Christmas to both my readers and if people should happen to stumble to this post, Happy Hanukkah, A Crazy Kwaanzaa and a solemn and dignified Ramadan to you as well! Or Happy festivus for the Rest of Us!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bye Bye Bristol

One of the best places in Helsinki was stripped away from us film fans last weekend as the film theatre Bristol was closed. The theatre had been viewing films since 1961. For me, Bristol was always something of a hidden gem in the city's theatre lineup. It was a big theatre, showing interesting films, but with kind of few other moviegoers. If I wanted to see a film on an opening night, Bristol was the best bet to get good seats. I remember seeing Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring there for the first time. However, the viewing experience then wasn't so pleasant, as people threw popcorn off the balcony, someone smoked in the matinee constantly and people didn't turn off their mobile phones. I've heard rumours that Bristol was also the theatre where Finnkino put it's worst employees to work.

Nevertheless, Bristols seats were comfrotable, there was plenty of leg space and the first row on the balcony was probably the best place to see a giant blockbuster in my home city. Bristol became a comfrotable place for me also because it held a great number of press screenings of films. So there I saw the Good (Where the Wild Things Are), the Bad (Big Momma's House 2) and the Underrated (X-Men: The Last Stand) for the first time.

The final weekend's programme consisted screenings of old classic films. It was ridiculously awesome to see Conan the Barbarian on a big screen, in a theatre packed to the rafters but me and my friend in my favorite place, balcony front row, centre. I won't do a Conan review now, as I have bigger plans for the barbarian epic in the future. Suffice to say, this story shall also be told. I hadn't time to see other classic films that weekend as I had something of a christmas rush at work. Seeing Back to the Future, Talvisota and Jaws on it's giant screen would've also been cool. But there was no way I was going to miss Bristol's final screening.

Ben-Hur (1959)
Director: William Wyler

The classic Hollywood Epic Ben-Hur was the film which was also the first film ever shown at Bristol. I give big props for the theatre staff for arranging the screening to be accurate, from the playing of the opening music for the first ten minutes and having the Intermission time. Minuses for the modern audience not aware of these old-time habits.

I hadn't seen the classic before. As the film itself features occurences running parallel to the story of Jesus Christ, it was also more than suitable film to be shown so close to Christmas. For a person who thinks Life of Brian is one of the best films ever made like myself, Ben-Hur was also a fun ride. The Pythons clearly got a number of ideas for their masterpiece from the classic poster to the opening and closing scenes. I just about could manage in the theatre without starting to shout quotes like "Blessed are the cheese-makers", "Welease Wodewick!" and "Alms for an ex-leper!" during the course of the film.

Sure, Ben-Hur was quite pompous. It shoe-horned its Christian message to the point of boredom during the last twenty minutes and in every now and then during its course of three hours and 45 minutes. At its core it starts as a simple revenge story of a man wronged, but rising up from his downfall to avenge his fate to his oppressor. It is a pure Count of Monte Cristo story in the beginning. The titular Judah ben Hur (Charlton Heston) is condemned for a crime he didn't commit by his former friend Messallah (Stephen Boyd). Messallah wants to rise up in the ranks of the Roman military and sees this conviction as a way for better circles. Ben Hur goes on from being a slave to a war hero and then to become an adoptive son of a Roman aristocrat Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) and a very powerful man himself. But he always keeps his vengeance and worry about the fate of his family in his heart.

I felt that the plot was oddly structured. Everyone has at least heard of the chariot scene in the film, but how it is glued to the actual story never makes sense to me. Why would a powerful Roman consul race lowly peasants often enough to be the best of the best in races which have a huge death toll? How convinient that Judah learns just the art of races during his time as an adopted son of a Roman aristocrat. The character motivations are also flimsy and switch from their goals bit by bit. The characterization isn't stable to say the least.

Nevertheless, the main scene itself is just as breathtaking as it had been promised to be. The stunt work is nothing short of marvellous, the editing, the sense of speed and of course the crashes made my pulse go from 0 to 200 in seconds. And to see it on a canvas as large as at Bristol. Wow! I can see George Lucas was inspires to make the pod race from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace here. As it is shoehorned to the plot just as badly, Lucas makes the mistake that the viewers don't give two shits about anyone racing and the might as well be robots. In Ben-Hur, however, the antagonism of Judah ben Hur and Messallah culminates in the scene, as well as their worldviews. Messallah uses his horses purely as a mean for his own victory and constantly beats them to do a better job. Judah loves his horses and to keep them from harm is more important to him than gaining positions in the race. He fights Messalah only when he is attacked first and with Messalah's own weapons, the whip and the wheel. As he is shown to be such a good character I was waiting for him to forgive Messalah for his sins at his deathbed after the race. But Judah actually just gets even angrier.

One can see the Christian moral story of refusing the help of Jesus until it seems too late. Yet for the repenting one, redemption can still come. It is as flat as can be as long as morales are concerned, but at least Christ symbolizes here what he is supposed to: forgiveness to others and peace within oneself. One surely would need those qualities today as well as then.

★★★ 1/2

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Directors: Satoshi Kon

I am starting a new series on this blog. I take a look at the work of various film directors. I am interested in different sort of filmmaking from time to time. So the only limit is that I have to have seen all of the feature films each director has directed (not necessarily if he's done only episodes, produced, wrote, etc.) For current directors, I do a SWOT analysis. For those that have passed away, a necrology. I will rank all their fims together with a rate average. Thus, we can eventually learn, who is or was the greatest director of all time.

The first one in this series shall be the anime maestro Satoshi Kon, who sadly passed away earlier this year. I was appointed to write a necrology about him at Helsinki International Film Festival, which was when I noticed I actually hadn't seen any of his films! Kon had the chance to only direct four feature films before his untimely death, aged 46. He was a maestro of anime films which all had modern characters caught in illusions and false conceptions, and usually also some sort of merger of reality and fantasy. The topic itself may not seem that special, but Kon's unforgettable style was something never seen before. The strongly visual, sometimes also frightening, stories mixed dreams, illusions and reality very colourfully and vividly. Kon's style has influenced numerous other directors, including Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan. The viewers of Kon's films could never be sure themselves, what was real and what fantasy which made the films intriguing yet sometimes difficult to follow.

At the time if Kon's death he was working directing the film Yumemiko kikai (The Dreaming Machine). The fate of the film remains uncertain. So powerful was Kon's vivid imagination that no one else seems quite sure what he was looking for in the finished film. Let's hope the film shall be finished and take a look at the four other ones left behind.

Perfect Blue (Pâfekuto burû, 1998)

Kon directed perhaps his best film as his debut feature length. Perfect Blue is a story about an ex-pop star who leaves her old career and attempts to switch to an acting career. However, a stalking fan is not too pleased with this decision. The popster soon finds not only her life is in danger, but also that her grip of reality is shaking and she doesn't know what is real and what fantasy any more.

Perfect Blue is a film about the collective pop culture experience, which can drive people to madness, if they get too obsessively tangled to it. A celebrity is felt to be public property and feels like a traitor when she decides to do something else than expected. For the celebrity herself this is not an easy decision, as it's hard to know what people actually want from her and whether she is just being exploited. The Hitchcockian layers of psychological damage and sexual subconscious run through the film elegantly and the slowly decending madness is worthy of Polanski. The film actually mostly resmbles a certain Brian DePalma film, which I'm not going to spoil. The only downside is the main character with her basic anime looks and squaky voice. I would've wished a deeper characterization, a treat which is troublingly rare in Kon's filmography.


Millennium Actress (Sennen joyû, 2001)

A couple of reporters arrive to a legendary japanese actress's house to do an interview about her life. They soon find that her story comes to life with them as minor characters in it as well. Moreover, the actress's story doesn't so much follow the times than it follows the trends in japanese cinema over the decades. Thus war times can turn into feudal countrysides where samurai roam, or a rocket launchpad. Godzilla cameos.

Unfortunately, even though I love the film's premise, I find this to be Kon's worst film. Kon hasn't been that good in creating multidimensional female characters in any of his films. Even though his women are strong when they need them to be they usually have about as much charisma as any stock anime girls. Whereas Perfect Blue is driven by other things besides the main character's psyche as well (such as the pop-culture obesessed japanese mentality, not to mention murders and such), Millennium Actress lies solely on the shoulders of its central love story. Which is bland. Although it might be that Kon just tried to copy the most basic love story from the cinema history as well. It still doesn't make this film more than a wasted opportunity.

★★ 1/2

Tokyo Godfathers (Tōkyō Goddofāzāzu, 2003)

Tokyo Godfathers was the reason I wanted to time this necrology around Christmas. It is a Christmas fable about the good will toward men. Three homeless drifters find a dumpster baby and bicker among themselves on what to do with it. They intend to return the baby to its parents, but the method causes a lot of trouble and for all of them to come to terms with their past.

The characterization of main characters, which usually was Kon's main fault, works actually very fine here. The film stars an ageing transvestite, an old boozehound and a young girl who has run from home. Each of these characters is portrayed multi-dimensionally and interestingly. The filmitself also bears little similarities to Kon's other, more fantastical work. Tokyo Godfathers is firmly rooted to real world, and could've easily been shot as a live-action film as well. But then we would miss all of Kon's fantastic art from the caharacter's very expressive faces to the city-scape of Tokyo, which is almost a main character in itself. The film brings to mind Lee Man-hui's The Road to Sampo in that it is about a trio of drifters who learn a lot about life while striwing for their destination. The humour is a little too goofy and the film has a little too many happy coincidences, but this is welcome change to the same old holiday fims you see every year.


Paprika (Papurika, 2006)

Paprika was the last film Kon finished before he died. It's also his biggest epic, so lushingly full of imagination, detail and luscious visuals that most other animated films pale by comparison. It is also probably the hardest of Kon's films to follow. Reality, dream, subconscious, ego, id, superego, avatars and culture begin to blend in surprising and surrealistic ways that has to be seen to be believed. The plot features therapists on a dangerous trip through different patient's dreams to pursue stolen technolgy, which could cause huge harm in the wrong hands.

Like Inception after it, Paprika takes us inside other people's dreams. However, Paprika follows more closely the logic within dreams. Thus, surreal images are common, things can morph, appear suddenly or act strangely. It is very hard to describe the film any further, but I'd surely like to watch this film a couple more times before I can make a proper judgement on its themes. As it is it's still a stunningly fine-looking film, probably the most eye-catching and visually beautiful anime film I've ever seen. It is worth to watch because of that alone. And it's a must-see for anyone respecting Kon's career as it works very fine as a swan-song to a maestro who pushed the borders of his medium multiple times. That is, until they finish his work on The Dreaming Machine.


Satoshi Kon's score: 3,25

Monday, 13 December 2010

Fun in -10

It's the darkest, most stressful time of the year. But many of the most fun films ever made take place at Christmas. Movies like Die Hard, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon and Silent Night, Deadly Night. So I figured it would be suitable to take a look at some of the films meant to be fun released this year. Now, I will do a best of the year list nearer to the end of this year (after all, there's still about 5 % of the year left). This post will feature some action movies that we watch just for fun. They aren't probably good enough to get to my end-of-the-year list, but I can still rate them by their funness, right?

The A-Team
Director: Joe Carnahan

The A-Team (c) 2010 20th Century Fox

First stop is the film version of the TV series about a crack commando unit I used to watch every sunday morning on reruns. Despite this, I never had any idea what was the crime our heroes didn't commit, but were accused of, which made them survive as soldiers of fortune. Not surprisingly, this remake is all about that subject, as it tells the orgin of (cue machine gun shots) ...The A-Team. And I still couldn't care less about the plot. The film's strengths are the same as the series': Charismatic lead actors and stupidly complicated plans to accomplish everything. And of course, as is suitable for a summer blockbuster, a bunch of stuff blowing up.

I suppose the morale of the story is that military should be privatized and bureaucratic ladders cut down. But one can also see why Mr T refused to have anything to do with the film. In the series, the character he used to play, B.A. Baracus, is a sworn pacifist. I don't think the A-Team ever actually killed anyone, even though they are soldiers of fortune. In the movie, much of the running time this same status quo is kept. But before the finale, Liam Neeson gives Baracus (played by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson") an idealistic speech about how one must be prepared to fight for what's right, and quotes Gandhi as saying this. As the film takes place after USA has withdrawn its troops from Iraq, the message coudn't probably be clearer.

Fun: ★★★★
Film: ★★★

Iron Man 2
Director: Jon Favreau

I might be more forgiving to this film if they would've kept this awesome opening scene instead of the Spider-Man and Se7en copying vengeance montage there is in its place.

I had high hopes for Iron Man 2, as I think its predecessor was one of the funnest action films of the Naughties and could balance between light-hearted humour and massive explosions pretty niftly. It was all carried by it's boyish charm. the sequel promised more of everything, but bigger, as they usually do. And while everything seems to be OK on the surface - dialogue's still good, action is kick-ass, soundrack has AC/DC and The Clash on it - there is something amiss in the film.

It might be because the sequel tries to juggle so many stuff at once. There's Tony Stark's vunerability to his battle suit, which brings him ever closer to death and alcoholism. There's his quarrels with the US Military over the ownership of his technology and with a rival arms manufacturer Sam Rockwell (who is excellent as a puny douchebag). There's a vengeful character from his father's past (Mickey Rourke), who seems to have a one-up in creating battlesuit technology. There's his relationship with his assistant Gwyneth Palthrow, and him making her a new CEO of his company so he can deal with all the shit mentioned above. And finally, there is some pointless bullshit about the secret SHIELD organization testing Stark for the Avengers initiative to connect the film to the upcoming Avengers blockbuster. Iron Man is one of the rare superhero films where I'd rather watch the man behind the mask than the actual superhero himself. There is actually pretty little Iron Man action in the film. And two times out of three it's all very good. But the end fight feels a little anticlimatic, just like last time. It's a little worrying, since director Jon Favreau is no Pixar genius. Does he actually have any more tricks up his sleeve for the third part?

Fun: ★★★
Film: ★★★

Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis

Ah, I've waited long to see Machete. And had such bad luck doing so. When the Night Visions-prize winning mexploitation finally rolled on the screen, my expectations were as high as Cheech Marin on his glory days. And I was let down, even though the film isn't exactly bad.

Like Iron Man 2, Machete has had to cram way too much stuff into it. Everything that was in the Grindhouse fake trailer has to be there, as well as meaty enough roles for every one of the impressive ensemble cast. Even though this is the first film where Danny Trejo's starring, he still feels like a bit-part player. But he does deliver. I was surprised to notice that Machete the character actually isn't depicted as the sharpest tool in the shed. But then again, he gets double-crossed so often, and seems to always aim to look good killing, rather than efficient, that he is bound to be. Also entertaining after way too long are Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez and Steven Seagal, who finally got a role insane enough for him. Yet the anti-US border politics threads are way too hardhandedly delivered for a ridiculous exploitation flick and some of the battle scenes, particularly the one in the end, are too sloppily directed. There are some fun scenes not featured on the trailer (like the one featuring a turkey thermometer), but not nearly enough. I would've been happier with just the trailer, yet it's clear other people enjoy this more, so it's good that it got made after all.

Fun: ★★★★ for newcomers, ★★ for people who have seen Grindhouse
Film: ★★★

Director: Nimród Antal

Predators (c) 2010 Troublemaker Studios

So Robert Rodriguez didn't even direct Machete alone. Is he too busy or what? Unlike the old times where he released one action film and one kids' film per year, he brought us two action films this year. And the first one he didn't even direct, just produced and helped to write.

I am a Predator apologist. I think the first film in the series is one of the best action films ever made and I enjoy the hell out of the batshit insane Predator 2. The experience of watching AvP films was softened a little because they had Predators in them. But somehow, I didn't expect that much from this film. And unlike Machete, it managed to take me by surprise. It was quite good!

In a nod to the first film, the action takes place in an actual jungle once again. This time, the soldiers have been specifically brought there to be hunted down. By evil pussy-faced aliens. There is a nice international variety to the fighters this time around, and they react in a different way on all the slaughter going on around them. The Predators themselves are kept mostly at shadows. We don't learn much new about them we didn't already know and maybe this is for the best. Some characters are better when left a little mysterious.

Predators isn't still anywhere near the goodness of the first film. The characters are too heavily archetypical to become anywhere near more interesting than the dogmeat they are. In the first Predator, this was accomplished with very little dialogue and just short scenes. I would've also hoped some more (or at least some) humour in the film too. It's nice that the Predators are taken seriously, but the first one had the best macho bullshit ever written and this one only raises a smile when the action gets insane enough. Make wittier dialogue! Machete had some good quotes, at least.

Fun: ★★★★
Film: ★★★ 1/2

Piranha 3D
Director: Alexandre Aja

Piranha 3D (c) 2010 Dimension Films

And last, we come to probably the funnest of them all. For once, this is true exploitation instead of something trying hard to be. This is seen also on the decision to convert the film in post-production to 3D, which is a cheap gimmick which allows the producers to raise ticket prices. But I digress.

Piranha 3D is an unashamedly chauvinistic film. The first half shows big-breasted ditz's and moronic douches party out at a lake and the latter half shows them being ripped to sheds by prehistoric fishes as well as various accidents caused by mass panic. Unlike with action films, with horror I like the fact that the more ridiculous the premise is, the straighter it must be played. And Piranha manages to balance just right on the line between goofy and obnoxiously self-aware. Aja as a talented horror-director even manages to create one scene with actual suspense, even though to call the characters two-dimensional would be an insult to the Pong bats.

Returning to the previous rant, the biggest fault of the movie is the crappy 3D, which is probably the worst I've ever seen. Mostly the just looks like ViewMaster slides, with flat characters lined in different depths. but occasionally it gets a lot worse, as objects are sloppily cut and their outlines exist in two different dimensions at the same time. Even the supposedly flat lake seems as round as the whirlpool from the opening scene never left. Even though I enjoyed the film, I'll probably think twice before wasting my hard-earned money on another 3D film converted in post-production.

Piranha: ★★★★
3D: ★

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Leslie Nielsen - the man, the myth, the movies (or: A Dangerous Assignment)

Drebin: A good cop - needlessly cut down by some cowardly hoodlums.
Ed: That's no way for a man to die.
Drebin: No... you're right, Ed. A parachute not opening... that's a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine... having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that's the way I wanna go!

Last week had about the worst possible beginning as I heard my long-time hero Leslie Nielsen had passed away, aged 84. Goodyear? - No, the worst. But, at least that gives me an excuse to take a look back at some of his earlier films which I hadn't seen and of course remember some of the quotes and classic scenes from his classic films. You can read my appreciation for Forbidden Planet here.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Directors: Ronald Neame and Irwin Allen

This one is notable also because its director Neame has also recently passed away. He was in the ripe old age of 99 when he died. The film is about a capsizing cruise liner, as you may well know. Nielsen plays the ship's captain, who has a habit of answering various Bat-phones with blinking red lights around the ship. As a stock character, he is the one official getting worried about a threat, and when he tells some higher officials about it, they in their greed ignore his warnings. Nielsen's deadpan delivery of ridiculous lines would serve him well later on in the ZAZ movie Airplane!

Otherwise, it's the typical 70's catastrophy movie, with a lot of people falling to their deaths for two hours. It also has an ensemble cast worth dying for delivering cheesy lines as hammy as possible. A proper sandwich for a movie, then. As usual, if there is one character one would wish to die painfully and as early as possible, it's the annoying kid. Too little Nielsen, too much of this snot-nosed brat.

The Captain (Nielsen): It... seems to be building up to those shallows. By the way, Happy New Year.

★★ 1/2

Project: Kill (1976)
Director: William Girdler

Amazing title for a movie. This is the sort of film especially the later Nielsen parodies used to spoof, but without any jokes whatsoever. It is played as straight as can be. The hard-as-a-rock sergeant Nielsen escapes from an army base which plans to assassinate assassins or some shit and thus brainwash soldiers to do their bidding. It may seem like a good laugh from the premise, but mostly it's just dull, dull, dull. Still, it did have this scene:


Prom Night (1980)
Director: Paul Lynch

Nielsen was advertized as the lead actor in this cheap Halloween ripoff, yet he is a long way from Donald Pleasance - he only appears in two unimportant scenes! He plays the mourn-stricken father of a long-since dead child and is OK in his role, I guess. Otherwise the film isn't very good at all, even though the opening scene with taunting children is suitably creepy and horrific. The attempts to create a threatening athmosphere just make the long wait for the carnage an even longer one, and for gorehounds there isn't enough tits and blood. The ending saves a little, but not much.


Airplane! (1980)
Directors: Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, David Zucker

Dr. Rumack (Nielsen): Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
Dr. Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.

And thus, Leslie Nielsen reinvents himself. It's funny that some of his most hilarious lines were actually from the film Zero Hour! of which Airplane! was a comedic remake of. Lines, like:

Dr. Rumack: The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner.

The role of Rumack is one of the most serious in Nielsen's comedic career. There are no goofy faces, no embarrasing situations. Just saying the most stupid possible lines with as straight a face as possible. Nielsen is still just a part of an ensemble cast, but as there is in fact no difference in his acting here, and say, The Poseidon Adventure, he stands up well on his own. The fact that he gets some of the most famous lines and funniest skits doesn't hurt, either.

Dr. Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Elaine: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

Dr. Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine: A hospital? What is it?
Dr. Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.


Creepshow (1982)
Director: George A. Romero

A friend of mine always keeps reminding how shocked he was to find that the Nielsen-starring sequence of this film isn't at all funny - at least in the patented ZAZ -way. Nielsen plays a jealous husband set to have his vengeance on his wife and her lover Ted Danson. The smirking sleazebag buries them in sand and watches the videos of them drowning back home. Nielsen may be overplaying, but it's exactly the style which fits this over-the-top tribute to the EC comics of the old days. The fact that his character may make a fan of his comedies uneasy just tells how good he has done both his goofball roles as well as this role here.

★★★ 1/2

Police Squad!, The Naked Gun Trilogy (1982-1994)

As well as Chaplin had with The Tramp and Peter Sellers had with Inspector Clouseau, Nielsen found his signature role in Lt. Frank Drebin. And created one of the greatest comedy characters there has ever been. Like Clouseau before him, Drebin is completely insane and unaware of scale of the destruction he causes around him. Unlike Clouseau, however (and hilariously), the outside world doesn't treat him as the menace he is, save for commissioner Annabelle Bumford.

Bumford: Do you realize that because of you this city has been overrun by baboons?
Drebin: Well... isn't that the fault of the voters?

The Naked Gun 2 1/2 - The Smell of Fear

It all started at the Police Squad TV-series which represented the ZAZ comedy at its peak. The serialized police series was as much done to death for being ripe for satirizing as the catastrophy genre before it. And the Zuckers sure had it. The series boasted on inspired running gags, great dialogue ("Sergeant, take her away and book her." "Sergeant Takeheraway, Sergeant Booker.") and the likes of Joe Dante and John Landis directing episodes. But the heart and soul of the series was Nielsen's wonderfully straight-faced cop Frank Drebin. If most of Drebin's hilariousness comes from Nielsen's poker face, the scene where he goes undercover as a stand up comedian is pretty funny itself. Unfortunatelly I couldn't find the clip on YouTube, but suffice to say Drebin adopts a sleazy entertainer-persona and tells the lamest jokes - yet makes everyone in the room howling with laughter. A goofy parodying of the fact undercover cops are always perfect when they have to act their part - or meta-level jokemaking on the fact of how we laugh at Nielsen the straight-faced actor in increasingly loony situations? Can't it be both? Police Squad also gave us things like these:

Drebin: We're sorry to bother you at a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn't dead then.

Drebin: Ed and I drove around for hours for no particular reason. We came up empty.

Veronica: Say, that was nice work. You took a big chance doing that.
Drebin: Well, you take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.

Ratings-wise the show was somehow a complete bomb, which is a shame because the world was gifted a mere six episodes. Yet the world of Police Squad! with its bumbling policemen and moronic cop-show logic was so perfectly formed that it could be transferred straight to cinema screens.

I still don't think I've ever laughed as much as when I first saw The Naked Gun. I was a small kid who had never seen a comedy with raunchy humour. And here was an old uncle-like policeman who forgot to take off his microphone and farted in the bathroom. The instant love for Nielsen as well as the whole ZAZ humour was sealed by one scene, which I still think is the funniest in the whole motion picture history:

Ludwig: Drebin!
Jane: Frank!
Drebin: You're both right.

Drebin: I've finally found someone I can love - a good, clean love... without utensils.

Drebin: The attempt on Nordberg's life left me shaken and disturbed, and all the questions kept coming up over and over again, like bubbles in a case of club soda. Who was this character in the hospital? And why was he trying to kill Nordberg? And for whom? Did Ludwig lie to me? I didn't have any proof, but somehow, I didn't entirely trust him either. Why was the 'I Luv You' not listed in Ludwig's records? And if it was, did he know about it? And if he didn't, who did? And where the hell was I?

The first Naked Gun is the most plot-heavy of the trilogy, taking about the most clichéd cop-movie plot there is and turning it to a gag-parade. It just wouldn't work without Nielsen's perfect delivery of stupid lines, aside from the moronic faces he occasionally makes. See the scene where he first meets the queen for details. The second one is nearly as good, but it also contains a bitter political analysis of the era of the first Bush in the White House.

Baggett: What's that smell?
Drebin: Oh, that would be me. I've been swimming in raw sewage. I love it!

Drebin: Oh, it's all right. I'm sure that we can handle this situation maturely, just like the responsible adults that we are. Isn't that right, Mr... Poopy Pants?

Drebin: I'm sorry I can't be more optimistic, Doctor, but we've got a long road ahead of us. It's like having sex. It's a painstaking and arduous task that seems to go on and on forever, and just when you think things are going your way, nothing happens.

...and of course there are plenty of poop-jokes and below-the-navel-gazing. The last one in the trilogy has its moments, which at best are still brilliant (the opening scene with the disgrunteled mailmen and the film parodies at the Oscar gala), but it depends a little too much in movie-parodying and celebrity cameos to be a coherent one. In fact, it is starting to resemble the parody films of the Naughties. Nielsen's delivery, however, is still pretty much perfect.

Police Squad: ★★★★★
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! ★★★★★
The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear ★★★★
The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult ★★★

Wrongfully Accused
Director: Pat Proft

The best of the parody films Nielsen made without Zuckers. Director-writer Pat Proft of course has been an asset to numerous films by the ZAZ team, so no worries there. This one targets mostly films like The Fugitive and The Usual Suspects - a fact of which I was not aware of when I first saw this as a preteen. Although the movie-parodies carry the plot, there are still plenty of good lines and silly slapstick to make it an enjoyable experience. I would've liked to say the same about Spy Hard, but after rewatching it recently and finding out that the Dynamic Duo of the Death of All Comedy are writers behind it (I'm not going to name any names. Look them up at IMDb if you must), some good will towards that movie is gone. Even if it has the I <3 style="font-style: italic;">Ryan Harrison (Nielsen): Your dog sure has a surprised look on his face.
Lauren: That's because you're looking at his butt.
Harrison: Uh, then he's certainly not going to enjoy that treat I just fed to him.

Harrison: Don't move. I've got a gun. Not here, but I got one.

Harrison: Your lies are like bananas. They come in big yellow bunches.

Wrongfully Accused: ★★★ 1/2
Spy Hard: ★★ 1/2

Scary Movie 3 & 4 (2003, 2006)
Director: David Zucker

I'm almost ashamed to say this, but I like the two latest Scary Movie sequels. It's largely thanks to David Zucker, taking over from the unfunny and talentless Wayans brothers. The films are not exactly subtle, and contain many bad, bad, groan-worthy jokes (Charlie Sheen's Viagra scene, anyone?), but hell, they have Nielsen playing the president of the United States and they make fun of the inexplinably popular Signs movie so I have no beef with them.

President Harris (Nielsen): These men died for their country. Send flowers to their bitches and hos.

President Harris: You're excited? You should feel my nipples.

President Harris: I just don't get kids. Remind me to sign that abortion bill.

Scary Movie 3: ★★★
Scary Movie 4: ★★★

I didn't dare to touch on any of the films he made after the Scary Movies. Let's just give salute for Leslie Nielsen. He was a true one-of-a-kind legend. As Peter Graves and Lloyd Bridges are also now dead, at least. But seriously, I will Shirley miss Nielsen and will continue to rewatch Naked Guns whenever I'm feeling particularly blue. Let's guve the last words for Leslie himself. What has he to say over his career longer than 50 years?

Drebin: Oh, and by the way: I faked every orgasm!

OK, how about what message would he leave for us mere mortals over our mundane lives?


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