Sunday, 29 August 2010

Espoo Ciné 2010 report

I got my first accreditation to a film festival to this year's Espoo Ciné. It's the third most important international film festival in Finland, yet I hadn't visited it before. They had renovated their main theatre, Kino Tapiola, which was in its cave-likness perfect for various genre pictures. In fact, uring the festival a jury awarded the Mélies d'Argent award for the best european fantasy movie of the year. The winner this year was Amer, more on which later. I'll do a short review on each of the eight films I saw.

The extraordinary adventures of Adéle Blanc-sec
(Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec)
Director: Luc Besson

Besson used to be the hope for european genre films, but since The Fifth Element, very few of his films have even sounded interesting enough for me to check them out. According to the reviews, I've been ignoring him rightfully. But his latest film at least sounds good on paper. In early 20th century Paris, a feisty reportress is trying to solve the mystery of a loose Pterodactyl and trying to revive an egyptian mummy to revive her deceased sister. Why she wouldn't just revive her sister straight away isn't exactly clear, but then again this film has plot holes big enough for a giant Pterodactyl to fly through.

French comedies are certainly not my cup of tea, as their sense of humour is second only to the germans in badness. The jokes in Adéle Blanc-sec are particularly cringe-worthy. It also doesn't help that the characters aren't that lovable, but rather selfish types who'll thrive towards their own goal without having any consideration for the others. Particularly bad is Mathieu Almaric's (who is masked to look exactly like a Trash Humper) loony professor, who'll revive a dinosaur just for the hell of it even if it does kill people and run havock. And he's supposed to be a good guy. The film has certain fun ideas, such as the cute revived mummies close to the end of the film. Also nice is to see the 19th century Paris, but I love the city itself more than its depiction in films.

The film is based on a somewhat obscure cartoon (I love european comics but hadn't even heard of it before). I might check them out for the premise.


Director: Neil Marshall

If films like 300 had any ambition, this is what sort of historical action films we would get to see more. In the 2nd century, Romans are fighting the picts in Scotland. A group of Romans gets caught behind enemy lines and tries to make their way back home before they are all brutally slaughtered. Essentially, this is a film about a group of uber-machos who get de-masculinated by two strong female characters in two different ways. It's also a metaphor for the Afghanistan-Iraqi wars. I know the latter has been done a few times already, but this at least show both blame and goodness in both sides and in the end, the mighty attacker might be a whole lot worse than the savages they are trying to fight.

Neil Marshall is the same kind of filmmaker as Tarantino and De Palma. This means that he's willing to steal entire scenes from other films, but crucially, can make them work differently on his own context. It's also nice that he has time in the beginning to show the characters happy in introduction. The fact that most of them won't make it will give a bigger emotional punch this way. Of course, showing threatening situations is Marshall's best skill. It's a very gory and violent film, but it doesn't linger on the carnage. It's over as fast as it started, leaving behind only the corpses. Those were violent days and there's no need to sugar-coat it. The despair of the main characters just shows through better. Yes, I'd say this is the best Marshall flick after The Descent. And I like all of his films. I can't wait what he'll come up with next.


Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich

I was wrong to be worried. While TS3 starts off by mirroring some themes and settings of TS2, it soon shifts to its own gear. Yeah, I think it's the best of the three. On Pixar's whole catalogue, it's the third ot fourth-best. Which isn't bad at all. In the story, Andy's toys are divided between staying loyal to their (now grown up) owner and finding a new place to get played with. This has more adult themes than would first appear. In fact, if one would replace "playing" with "having sex", this could be a melodramatic relationship drama. Woody feels guilty by being played with someone else than his owner, even if he likes it. And that's just in the first 30 minutes. The second 30 are a kick-ass prison movie, not unlike Chicken Run, but at least equally funny. And the last 30 minutes are the best part, from a truly scary climax to a heartfelt ending notion. It's good to see that the philosophy of the previous films hasn't changed anywhere, even if the beginning got me a bit worried.

Toy Story 2 lingered a bit too close to the human world. I'm glad they didn't have the toys interact with humans (other than with kids playing). This one peeks more closely to the Toys' secret society in a Kindergarten. The amount of characters is overwhelming, yet the film can concentrate on the ones we care most sufficiently. And it's also funny to boot. I had the misfortne of having some heckling kids in the same screening. Even they were quiet during the last few minutes of life moving on. I didn't cry this time, but got misty-eyed. I also began to wonder that these Pixar films might be too good for children. Oh well, as I'm still not seeing Cars 2 next year, it'll be a long wait for the next animation as good as this.


The Door (Die Tür)
Director: Anno Saul

This german sci-fi film has a lot of interesting themes and poses relevant questions. David, played by the always-charismatic Mads Mikkelsen, is screwing around. One afternoon when he's supposed to watch for his daughter, he goes to his next-door neighbour. When he comes back from this booty call, the kid has drowned in his pool. Five years later his life is a wreck and his ex-wife hates him. But he finds a cave that takes him five years back. He can now save his daughter's life. The only problem is that timeline's other David.

The time-reaveling with its paradoxes mixed to the cold, naturalistic and character-driven european film style brings to mind the spanish masterpiece Timecrimes. This isn't quite as good, as it lingers too long in the middle. The end brings up a lot more fucked-up ideas, which is a little too much a little too late. It is still a quite fun little morality tale. Changing the past won't work without victims, you know.


The Lake (Un lac)
Director: Philippe Grandrieux

I have to be very careful when reviewing art films I don't quite get. Usually I at least find some particularly good part where to build up some good points about the film's quality. Not so with this. At the risk of being ignorant I'll have to say that this was not a very good film. In fact, The Lake feels more like a parody of an art film than one.

This isn't a film about a plot, it barely even has one. The dialogue is minimal and when there is some (every ten minutes), it's just very flat clichés, like "the cold wind goes through my heart". This sentence is then met with a single tear from another person. There isn't any music. The film is shot on either close-up shots or blurry close-up shots. There is a couple of wider shots, but they rarely show any characters, only boring snowy landscapes. Thus, it is often hard to tell who does what.

It's not totally rubbish, as the opening sequence of a lone boy cutting down a tree with the camera shaking with each blow is quite effective. But I would just like to warn people that like movies as an entertainment as well as an art, that this is something pretentious film-buffs will probably bring up in a conversation. It is as bad as many finnish art films.


Director: Vincent Lannoo

Vampires are pop right now and I for one am sick of the blood-suckers in media. Both as emo-boys and as CGI-generated video game monsters. This belgian mockymentary shows promise in its depiction of the creatures of the night. The silly opening sequence where vampires trick a couple of fimmaking crews to feed off, is quite hilarious. It's too bad the rest of the film can't follow it too well.

We meet a normal vampire family, who have the mummified corpse of clown in their house (hilariously underplayed "the previous owner of the house"), a refridgerator (a russian prostitute kept alive to get constantly blood to drink) and a childless pariah vampire couple living in their basement. Too bad the films jokes are either stolen (the family's daughter, wearing pink and wanting to kill herself "like humans" is straight from the pages of Terry Pratchett) or flat (vampires order takeaway and get African immigrants delivered to their door). In the mockumentary style jokes should be underplayed, but in this, it's hard to tell there is even supposed to be any jokes at all. The audience in the screening laughed precious little.


Directors: Héléne Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Ah, good old italian giallo-style. How I've missed thee. Amer makes even the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava look mundane, so frantic is the mixture of the greatest hits of italian pop-cinema's iconography. As is suitable for these sort of films, it's clearly style-over-substance. Iconography is everything, dialogue is scarce and the characters wafer-thin.

Amer tells the story of a young girl's growth to a sexual being. As it happens, it goes as bad astray as it can. From the strict mother to the death of her grandfather, she connects sex with death and violence early on. The film plays with various sensual situations later on, making the athmosphere almost unbearable. It's a hot and heaving picture with very little actual sex, but some gruesome violence to counter-balance that. The problem is that most of this has been already done before. It's a very good pastiche, and works well enough, so I'm willing to let that pass.

★★★ 1/2

Director: Samuel Moez

Lebanon is also coming to the Helsinki International Film Festival this September so consider this my second recommendation from the programme (the first being Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). The director Samuel Moez was fighting for Israel in the first Lebanese war in 1981. He has had trouble living with the horror of these experiences ever since, so he decided to make a movie out of it. The film takes mostly place in a single tank. A group of Israeli soldiers are sent to an easy search mission to a small town, which turns into total carnage later on.

Moez certainly has a strong mission in his work. In fact the horribleness of war threatens to go overboard from time to time. It is a very melodramatic movie, but luckily it also depends on the dynamic between the men in the tank. They have various views on the war from fear to anger and apathetic. The film doesn't go quite to the depths of the superior Waltz with Bashir, but for fans of Das Boot, this is something definately worth checking out. Even if it does leave a world-weary feeling.


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