Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Berlinale 2011

I recently visited one of Europe's biggest film festivals for the first time. I probably should've made a habit of going to Berlinale a little earlier, as I heard a lot of grumbling from veteran festivalgoers that things just weren't as good as they used to anymore. Ticket prices had gone soaring up, and getting the tickets to the screening you wanted proved to be tricky to say the least. Also the programme didn't seem as high-quality as it had been on previous years. But I've got no beef as I got to see the one film I eagerly awaited, and got a lot of information about interesting films which will probably crop up later on in interesting places. Thus, after a few reviews, I also have a MIWS section at the end of this post.

The Devil's Double
Director: Lee Tamahori

Since his most acclaimed film, Once Were Warriors, director Lee Tamahori has made a career in Hollywood directing shitty action films. His latest, The Devil's Double, is at least a little more ambitious, although it's by no means a masterpiece itself. The film tells the story of iraqi Latif Yahia, a man who was forced to act as Uday Hussein's doppelganger. Uday, son of Saddam, was a person who was directed by his impulses. He could brutally murder on a whim, pick up underage schoolgirls from the street for just feeling horny, and generally acted like a threatening lunatic. It's no wonder Latif starts to develop a plan to escape from him in one piece.

The main thing I got from the film was interest in the actual historical facts, upon which the film is based on. I wonder if there really had been so many double-crossings and all-round spy stuff surrounding the court of Saddam. In the case of Uday Hussein, I'm willing to accept any kind of mad ramblings as being actually true. Dominic Cooper does a terrific dual role as both Uday and Latif. The film obviously portrays Uday as a stone-cold psychopath, like he really was. This is balanced by Latif being shown as almost inhumanely virtuous and righteous. I get that the film tries to create the Freudian analogy of Id and Ego running around personified. But I would just feel a little more morally dubious main character would've been more interesting. As the real-life Latif has been closely tied to the filming of the movie and was present at the screening himself, they wouldn't do this to taint his reputation, of course. This is why biographies should be made only after the subject has died, or as thinly-veiled analogies.


Griff the Invisible
Director: Leon Ford

The director-screenwriter Leon Ford was also present at the screening of this symphatetic drama-comedy. He explained that the idea for the film became from observing a 5-year-old acting out his superhero fantasies. The film itself is a study on what would happen if an adult would never abandon these fantasies, but would go on playing a hero in his everyday life. Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a timid and shy young man, teased by his co-workers. His friend is worried that he doesn't go out enough, and intoduces him to a young girl, Melody (Maeve Dermody). Melody becomes intrigued by Griff's fantasies and wants to start participating in them. But is it really healthy to live in one's own world or is growing up required for everyone?

Griff the film is a little hard to get a grip on. Parodying the modern superhero films, it has a dark colour pallette and athmosphere, which makes Griff's loneliness seem crushing. But one really can't think of him as a pure victim, as he fights secretly back to his office bullies and creates nasty ways to mess with them. In theory I like that such a silly premise is played so seriously. Yet, the film made me laugh very scarcely, but ponder the relationships adults have on their daydreams and their values all the more. It's a good thing, I suppose, but a whole different kind of film than I was expecting.


The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Director: Göran Olsson

Sweden, about as white-bread as countries get, had a strange fascination on the Black Panther movement in the USA in the late 60's and early 70's. Many reporters were working in the country shooting the everyday life in Harlem, interviewing movement leaders and of course reporting on the most important events. Director Göran Olsson has recently found these tapes and cut them together as a movie that tells a story about the Civil Rights Movement from a little different perspective than usual.

The material's strength is in the multiple interview tapes of important Civil Rights protesters that were not that well known outside America. As Olsson said in the film's Q&A, the media in the US was more interested in the violence and other concrete acts the Movement was able to do. They never asked too many questions about their ideology, unlike the Swedes. The political viewpoint is nicely formed in the various interviews of the film. Olsson has also peppered his film also with modern interviews with people linked to the movement. As he's out to create an image of the past times, he only uses the modern interviews in audio, letting the contemporary images tell another half of the story. This is a stylish idea and works incredibly well. The only quarrel with the film is that one must know the main details about the American history in those years beforehand. The most important leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are ever-present in the background, but their basic ideas and means are dealt with only briefly in the film.


The Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Director: Werner Herzog

My most awaited film of the festival was somehow also the easiest to get tickets for, too. So, I got to walk the red carpet to my favorite director's latest documentary's world premiere. Herzog has decided to shoot a film about the oldest cave-paintings found on this Earth, at Cave Chauvet in Southern France. This is the cradle of our culture, yet it's not available for just everyone to see nowadays. Thus, it makes sense that Herzog's film has been converted in 3D as the paintings have been made to a certain uneven canvas and make good use of the varying depths. Other mediums wouldn't be able to recreate the paintings as accurately. The paintings themselves are marvelously beautiful, deeply mysterious and they do feed one's imagination quite a bit. I almost dropped from my seat as Herzog revealed a painting of a half-bull half-naked woman - the same kind of themes Pablo Picasso used in his work. The Human Culture certainly carries similar themes along it through the ages. It's miraculous to think how old these paintings are, ranging from 26,000 to 32,000 years.

The only fears I had towards this film beforehand were whether Werner would be able to fill up 1,5 hours of running time by just shooting cave walls. But one needn't worry. Herzog has again found his trademark eccentrics to interview about the subject. There's a computer expert that used to be a circus performer, an ancient weapon-maker who demonstrates ancient spears and a fellow who feels he should dress in the same kind of furs the stone-age people had. Herzog also allows himself to have some poetic monologues of himself. Only at the very last scene does this go a little over the top, but otherwise the questions he raises on the dreams that create culture and whether it is possible to have a relationship with the past are very relevant.

★★★★  1/2

The Advocate For Fagdom
Director: Angélique Bosio

The films of Bruce La Bruce are always fun to see at various film festivals because they at least stir controversy and it's fun to see when other people walk out of the theatre. They like to mix hardcore gay sex with gory subjects, such as zombies and skinheads. At core, they are simple romantic love stories. In the end, his films are not that good, alas. They are made pretty cheaply and keep the fucking around with genres as the most important thing rather than a story or a multi-dimensional message. It's still a lot of fun to see La Bruce talk about his own work and his peers on his merits in this documentary film. Like one would guess, John Waters pops by to praise La Bruce from the earth to the sky. The man should make a truly shocking trash movie after a while himself, instead of always just encouraging others. But mostly the interviews are poignant enough and it's interesting to see La Bruce's orgins as one of the first people to embrace a gay punk scene. It's also respectable that to this day he makes his own kind of films and has never sold out to make more easily distributable films, like so many of his peers.

What I would've hoped for this film would've been to pin La Bruce's part in the American underground filmmaking a bit more precise. For instance, we don't hear a lot from his influences, besides the general American drive-in -culture. I wonder what kind of influence the Kuchar brothers and Kurt McDowell must've had on him, as their earlier work, such as Thundercrack, already has a mixture of horror themes and outrageous hardcore sex, like is evident in La Bruce's films as well.

★★★  1/2

Mishen - Target
Director: Alexandr Zeldovich

I closed my festival with its most difficult film. Mishen is a Russian sci-fi film set in the near future. It uses elements from such Russian classics as Stalker and Anna Karenina to create something entirely different. In its world, the rich are even more priveledged than today. The women use age-constraining masks every morning and stay looking like 19-year-olds long after their prime. But it can't be maintained forever. A group of these snobs travel to a mysterious target that supposedly has the ability to give immortality as well. But of course this comes with a price of one's humanity for good.

Most clearly the film is an attack on the new-found upper class running rampant in Russia. In the satirical film, the rich really have almost no limits, and are able to treat poorer people, especially immigrants, as they please. Yet fortune is not consistent. People are willing to gamble and in weird TV shows they might lose their entire fortune by losing one crucial bet. Hilariously the same logic is applied also to elections which are handled by advocates shouting their policies in the middle of a cooking match. Politics is reduced to nothing, the real value in Mishen's world is found in business.  China is the country to suck up to and a lot of effort is being put to please the Chinese businessmen, because a deal with them can resolve a lot from one's future.

The rich people in the film may have strong passions, but in the end, they have problems coming up with real emotions. When everything is handed to you on a platter for all eternity, it is hard to act humane at the point of defeat. The rich do try to act as if they act by their emotions as hard as possible. Sometimes they must go to extremities to accomplish this. That makes it so chilling when the tables are inevitably turned and all the coldness gets to shine out. Mishen doesn't spell everything out and it's scenes can sometimes feel inconsistant. It is a mammoth of bitterness, a fight against the unfair modern world. And that's what I got from it from a single screening. It would deserve to be seen again as there is so much more going on.


Missed, but eagerly awaited:

Like I said, I missed a lot of interesting films in the festival, but would like to list them here so you'll remember where you first heard about these when they come to the cinema near you.

Tropa de Elite 2 - The Elite Squad 2

The sequel to the southamerican drug film that goes a little like The Wire times City of God. The drug business has roots in almost every major part of the society, and thus is almost undefeatable. Familiar characters are put on a surprising bend on the sequel. I haven't seen the first one, so I missed the sequel on purpose. Nearly everyone who saw it hailed is as one of the best of the festival. As soon as I returned home, I put the first one on order and eagerly await a new chance to see this.


I hear it's a fantastic romantic drama, like Scott Pilgrim but a little more down to earth. It also won the main award at Sundance earlier this year.

Viva Riva! 

This Congoan thriller reportedly has a strange, upbeat feeling in it. It was a sure hit with the audience, with huge lines flocking to see it.


One of the most talked-about films of the festival, this is a documentary about the Russian billionaire, who dared to face up against Vladimir Putin. Sure enough, he's now in prison, but this controversial film tells his story about fighting the Russian windmills.


Wim Wenders directed a 3D ballet movie about the dancer Pina Bausch. This attracted a lot of older dames that didn't seem to go to the movie often. Oh, well. Even though I was intrigued by the director and the 3D, I wasn't that interested in the subject matter.

Gandu - Asshole

This Indian avantgarde film has cult already written on it. Directed by a fellow named Q, it seems to channel a lot of the nightmarish surrealism like the Tetsuo films. I heard it wasn't that good as a whole, but some strange scenes were definately worth watching.

Kampf die Königinnen (The Fight of the Queens)

Having witnessed the cow-fights in the Lausanne region in western Switzerland, I would've been interested in seeing the documentary made about this brutal sport. Each year, the cows fight to find out who's the Queen that will lead the others to the summer herds. The Swiss have made this into a sport, betting on different cows and having a true festival around the happening. Alas, I wasn't present on the viewing days and I fear my chances of seeing this elsewhere are pretty slim.


I really had no idea that this was even playing at the festival. Yet it is a new Studio Ghibli movie and thus a must-see in my books. This one is a remake of The Borrowers, a story about tiny pixies, who tend come out at night to borrow stuff. Doesn't sound that cool, but I bet the Japanese studio can pull off a charming tale out of that.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Romantic 00's

The Best Romance Films of the 2000s - Part 10 of our ongoing series

Before Sunset (c) 2004 Warner Independent Pictures
Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you didn't think I was done with these Best of the Decade -lists? I have plenty still to go, so here's the 11 Best Romance Films of Last Decade

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Director: Marc Webb

500 Days Of Summer Dance Scene from Randy Beeman on Vimeo.

In a love story that has a broken narrative, we take glimpses here and there of a romance between Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). The boy is deeply in love, but Summer is whimsical by nature and when it seems the relationship is getting too heavy, she breals it off. Tom is having a hard time adjusting. It's a film a lot more about the pains of love than the good parts movies tend to focus about. But it is also an optimistic film about coping with loss and a broken heart.

This isn't the kind of movie that'll cheat you with false premises of love. Rather, it is one that'll make you feel better about relationships that don't work. It's funny and charming, but also painfully real at parts. The empty or overwhelming feelings felt inside when in a one-sided relationship are brought out especially well. The music and athmosphere is still a bit too indie for its own good. This isn't overtly analytical about relationships but if you want that, you can go watch Woody Allen instead. For us with a warmer heart this is a real treat. Even if it doesn't give us easy, simple solutions. 

Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005)
Director: Carlos Reygadas

This might be a story of an unrequited love, or not. The film seems to be a lot of things. At least it contains a lot of sex, from the opening scene featuring a blowjob on. The middle-aged chauffeur Marcos (Marcos Hernéndez) dreams about the young general's daughter Ana (Anapola Mushkaditz) who he drives around. Ana works as a prostitute, which increases Marcos' desperation and horniness both. Marcos also carries guilt for having kidnapped a baby which has died.

Mostly the film seems to be a portrayal of a middle-aged man's mind coming to pieces. It's not easy to say what is Marcos' fantasizing and what is real. At the scene where he finally has sex with Ana, for example, his mind begins to wander and the camera goes slowly around the neighbourhood. Could this all be just a daydream or is it that just to show just sex won't satisfy his hopes towards Ana? The Christian religion also plays a major part in the crushing guilt Marcos is feeling (it's in the title), and that is probably what makes him do the things he does in the end. It won't end happily for those concerned, but the film in all its difficulty is well worth multiple looks.

Before Sunset (2004)
Director: Richard Linklater

Before Sunset is one of the biggest miracles of the decade. How is it that Linklater was able to create such a perfect sequel to his 1995 Generation X romance? It's largely thanks to the actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They helped out with the script, and as a result, both characters pour their hearts out at their frozen thirtysomething lifestyles in a painfully realistic manner. Hawke's marriage in the film is crumbling, although he has a young child. In real life, Hawke was soon divorced from Uma Thurman.

Celine (Delpy) hears Jesse (Hawke) is in paris to promote his new book and seeks him out. The couple haven't heard from each other since the last film - neither arrived at the rendez-vous. But they have a lot of catching up to do before Jesse's flight back home. The story follows the couple in real time as they wander around the streets of Paris, talking about their lives and everything else. The talk is more down-to-earth this time as 30-year-olds are more practical than 20-somethings. Linklater cuts the film perfectly and makes the whole film seem effortless. The couple starts to see the affection they had the last time around but were too scared to follow. The film ends just perfectly, not saying too much but giving us just the right amount. Will there be a third one in a few years? If there is, that would need to have an all new kind of magic as well.

Far From Heaven (2002)
Director: Todd Haynes

You could call Far From Heaven an anti-romance film, as it depicts a couple whose marriage is falling apart. But there's also a lot more subtle romance going on. In 1950's American suburbs the husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) drives around going around in bars not knowng what he's looking for. The lonely housewife Cathy (Julianne Moore), on the other hand, grows friendly with a black man, Raymond, son of her late gardener. This raises up all sorts of rumours among the suburb's other housewifes.

Later on it becomes obvious that Frank has homosexual urges. He tries to act as a real husband but with no avail, which makes him drink and rage. Poor Cathy is ever in a worse situation, yet her friendship with Raymond deepens with their common interest in art. The blooming romance is spoiled by the racist athmosphere of the times and the will for Cathy to keep her face. Also it can create danger of violence on innocents, like Cathy's daughter has to face. Only at the very end she realizes that she deserves happiness as much as Frank, but by then it's too late. Director Haynes nails the old Douglas Sirk formula of making melodramatic dramas, yetmanages to make an issue film that's easy to follow, yet doesn't feel it's pandering its audience with a hard-handed message.

In The Mood For Love (Fa yeung nin wa, 2000)
Director: Wong Kar-wai

One of Wong's finest deals with an apartement block where a man and a woman meet. They are both married, yet their spouses are never there and the couple feel lonely. As they start to spend more time together, they start to realiye their spouses might even have an affair among themselves. This puts a stop to them wanting to have a deeper relationship with each other as they both "don't want to sink to the same level" of a homewrecker.

Christopher Doyle does tremendous photography here and creates vivid and colourful images that are melancholy and deep at the same time. Likewise Wong has a great film that doesn#t have any easy answers nor anything extra within it. A must see.

I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK (2006)
Director: Park Chan-wook

This list's black horse is a fantasy-romance set to a madhouse, directed by the Korean wonderboy Park Chan-wook. It hasn't been as critically acclaimed as many other of park's films, but I simply love its whimsical nature and giddy funniness. It is a love story between a woman who thinks she's a cyborg, and a masked cleptomaniac. He prefers to walk backwards, she talks to lights and vending machines and sucks batteries. And of course dreams sbout brutally murdering all the nurses in the clinic with her fingertip machineguns. It's rare that a romantic comedy is so violent, even though in actuality, only one person dies in the film. But nevertheless, the core romance is touching. The man doesn't try to change her love, but rather works with her on the same rules as she plays to get her to eat and do other things she really needs to survive. That's basically what every great love is all about, but this one comes as a bonus for having fantasies to shrinking so small as to ride a ladybug around.

Lost in Translation (2003)
Director: Sofia Coppola

I think this list might show off my view of romances as being by definition complicated. Indeed, very few of these are straightforward boy-meets-girl -stories that have a happy ending. Well, a boy meets a girl here - if you can call 50-something Bill Murray a boy. He plays Bob Harris, a 50-something actor, out in Tokyo to shoot a Japanese commercial. Bob meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful young newlywed, whose husband is a photographer and always out to work. Both people, left alone in a big city, find console in each other. It's not entirely clear whether it is a depiction of your typical romantic love, but some sort of mutual admiration is found between the pair.

Tokyo is depicted as full of everything, all of which is worthless. Bob can't get inside the Japanese culture, which causes more alienation. The only downsides in the film are some racial tones, which Coppola uses to emphasize this contrast. She would later get more skillful with it. Yet Bob also has differed from the youth of his own homecountry, as told by his costume choice when out to meet young people.

As it is, LOT is a pretty gripping piece of work that perfectly captures the comfort we get when we get remedy for aching loneliness. The main characters may keep on having pretty much the same kind of lives, but it is heart-melting to watch them ease up even just a little.

Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, 2008)
Director: Sion Sono

Love Exposure is so much unlike any other romance film there is. At four hours, it feels like a short music video and by the end the viewer is left wanting more. The punk music, below-the-navel humour and cool fight scenes help a lot, I suppose. Love Exposure is to love what 2001: A Space Odyssey was to the development of mankind - it includes it in its entirity. Celibacy, first love, sexual relationships, homosexuality, late bloomers, perversity and, of course the never-ending frustration are vividly brought to life by Sono's imagination.

Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a preacher's son. As a devoted catholic, he's promised to keep his virginity until he finds the perfect lady. He also is interested in finding out about the worlds of sin, just so he could have something to confess to his father, who's lost the will to live after his wife's death. One day, after losing a bet to his friends, Yu is forced to dress up as a woman. He soon gets into a major street brawl, where he first meets Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima). He falls head-over-heels in love and so does Yoko - but she to the female character Ms. Scorpion Yu was dressed up as. Things get even more complicated when Yu's father marries Yoko's stepmother and they become siblings. In addition to that, Yoko's friend and cult leader Aya Koike (Sakura Ando) has some reasons of herself to keep the couple away from each other. And that's just the setup, about the first hour of the film.

Even though the film doesn't shy away from such bad taste, it also has a ponderous side of the nature of love and how one creates it. And it has also a darker side. All the characters are three-dimensional as they have skeletons in the past, which helps to understand why they do the things that they do, and how hard it is to get to a happy ending. Sono directs it all with a wonderful, weird touch and plenty of great ideas.

The Man without a Past (Mies vailla menneisyyttä, 2002)
Director: Aki Kaurismäki

The most internationally acclaimed Finnish director has made a long career of brilliant films, but this one is one of his best. It is a romance told with small nyances and scenes. A rewatch revealed that it was also a lot more. A man (Markku Peltola) arrives by train to Helsinki and is soon brutally beaten. The man is pronounced dead at the hospital, yet he escapes without remembering who he really is. He starts working at the docks and falls for a Salvation Army worker Irma (Kati Outinen). The man, now known as M makes friends with the poor, but has troubles with the authorities as he can't remember his name. He's been told that the government isn't interested in knowing anything other than his name.

Kaurismäki makes no mistake he would miss the Finland of the olden days where a man was measured by his friends, not by papers and a bank account. He tells the story in his common style, with a lot of dry humour and deadpan delivery of literary lines. No single line is used that doesn't have use for the story. The film is funny as hell and has great musical numbers in between. The central romance perhaps isn't the deepest part in the story, but has great captures of moments, such as the part where M and Irma go out to collect mushrooms. This is the sort of image I'd like foreign people to have about Finland.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

An Adam Sandler movie worth watching? Now I've seen everything. Yet the greatest American Actor's Director Paul Thomas Anderson nails it again. Sandler does have some of his manners, but is not playing his moronic man-child image purely for cheap laughs. Instead, he is a mostly symphatetic person that has his darker sides that we as viewers feel uncomfrotable with. Does a borderline mentaly ill person deserve a romance or should he need some help? Sandler's character Barry Egan is a novelty item salesman, constantly tortured verbally by his seven sisters. Barry's lonely, desperate and prone to having bursts of rage. To the outside world he's something to take advantange of, and he tries to do the same thing himself, with poor results. Barry has a string of bad luck that gets him chased by some shady men. But then he meets Lena (Emily Watson) and it all seems to finally go OK. But the people bossing Barry around aren't going to let him go that easily.

Anderson mixes just the right amount of weird real life quirks (such as the pudding scam to achieve free air mails) to a love story that's dark around the edges. I find it strange that the film is not more acclaimed. It's smaller in scale and a lot more intimate than the puffed-up and overrated Mangolia.

Wall-E (2008)
Director: Anderw Stanton

I may have already used Wall-E in these lists (in Sci-fi one), but I just don't have the heart to leave it out. For I truly think it's one of the most touching romance films of the decade. And probably the most identifiable for me, as well. A lonely garbage disposal meets a high-tech scout droid. Against all odds such different beings do find common ground. Wall-E falls for EVE in a second, but part of the film's magic is watching the process in which EVE learns to love Wall-E too. All without saying no more than each character's names. Now THAT'S dialogue minimalism that would impress Kaurismäki. It is not a perfect film, as all scenes not concerning the love of the two robots seem to belong into another film, more noisy and idealstic. I would've been happy just to watch these two the whole time, stranded on wasted Earth with each other.

Bubbling under:
Brokeback Mountain (2005), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Fountain (2007), Let The Right One In (2008), Mister Lonely (2007)

To be seen:
The Dreamers (2003)
Intimacy (2001)
Innocence (2000)
The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste, 2001)
Shortbus (2006)

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Oscars 2011

I'm not terribly excited about the Oscars this year. Of course, every movie fan worth his salt knows that the awards are by definition, worthless. But still they usually offer at least some entertainment to me. No, the problem this year is that we've had TOO good a movie year. There's no drama in following a good film and a bad film battle it out. Our worst case scenario is 127 Hours winning Best Picture, and that was an OK movie that was still a lot better than Slumdog Mllionaire and more award-worthy than any of the other 2009 Best Picture nominees.

Still, for the first time in history, I've actually seen all of the 10 Best Picture Nominees this year, so I figure I owe it to you to share my thoughts on them. As the movies matter, and awards not, the guess on which awards they will win will follow a short review. The films are in my preferred order.

Black Swan
Director: Darren Aronofsky

This is the darkest film of the nominees, and that's why it's difficult to believe it winning the big gong, great though it is. Personally I think this might be Aronofsky's best film to date, and that's saying a lot. The Polanski-inspired mind-fracturing psychological thriller follows a young ballerina Nina Sayers. Nina, brought to life by Natalie Portman's wonderful performance, dreams of being perfect in her dancing. Yet she is kind and timid, and her director believes too shy to show off her true passions in her dance. Nevertheless, Sayers gets a double role in the production of Swan Lake as a good White Swan and the evil Black Swan.

For a person with a poor self-esteem forcing herself to be nasty and ruthless is a project that has scary consequences. Nina starts uncovering her deepest passions, sealed tightly within. And this starts fracturing her mind, causing different sorts of paranoia and fears. If there's one problem with the film it's one single scene where Aronofsky feeds us jump-scares and other dire horror clichés. But this can be forgiven, as it really happens in the mind as a reaction to earlier experiences. Black Swan is a frank film about our true selves, personalities and passions. Also the need for perfection within us, which denies an individual to actually adapt to problems and mistakes. It is well shot, edited and scored. The operatic scale of all of this is stunning and if one sees this in a huge canvas, one leaves the theatre utterly aghast. But as it is such a dark film, I suspect it will win only the Actress Oscar for Natalie Portman's utterly believable turn from a nice young lady into a raging monster.

Awards it will win: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Natalie Portman)

True Grit
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

If last year at the Oscars were a celebration for women being able to direct, this year's films have plenty of strong female characters within them. The strongest of them are True Grit's Mattie Ross and Winter's Bone's Ree. Both are strong teenaged girls grown on a tough and ruthless areas, and who will go to far lengths to balance their father's legacy. Mattie, played by the brilliant young Hailee Stanfield, here is a little tougher, more vengeful and more adamant to do as she wants. The film is told from her point-of-view, just like in Charles Portis' classic western novel, of which this is a good adaptation.

Mattie comes to a small western town to haggle a sum of money from a bank, that owed her murdered father. She uses the money to hire a county sherriff to help her hunt down the murderer. She chooses the toughest one she can get, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), an old drunkard that has a habit of shooting first and asking questions later. The film is shot on grey and brown tones, so reminiscent for the westerns of today. Nevertheless, the wintery prairies look genuine and one can also feel the creeping coldness as snowflakes start slowly falling. I say it's high time the Coens' genius cinematographer Roger Deakins will win a recognition for his wonderful work over the years.

I waited a lot from this film and was definately not disappointed. For one, this might be the first time ever that I've watched Jeff Bridges in anything and didn't think of a single Big Lebowski quote in appropriate places. He owns that role, John Wayne ain't got nothing on him. Yet with all the Grit, the Coens still bring sackfulls of their trademark black humour to the film, faithful to the book. Rooster defending his actions in court, the unfair hanging and of course Rooster getting drunk and showcasing his shooting skills tickle my funny bones just right. Yet the film doesn't shy away from the meat of the book, either, and make it a straightforward redemption story so beloved by Hollywood. It is to me a story about how trying to be too tough can get you old and bitter and leave you out of touch from your friends. We need a little warmth, not just vengefulness. There's not an ounce of sentimentality or forcefeeding this thought. It is given subtly and anyone can find also other things in the film.

I believe executive producer Steven Spielberg is responsible for the few flaws of the film, including changing the book's narrative to have the obligatory group feuds and fallings apart in just the right places for the basic Hollywood story formula. And while the film keeps the book's ending, I kind of miss the minor part where Mattie starts judging old criminal Frank James in her mind for crimes he had been suspected but not condemned. It shows that, as the narrator of the story, Mattie's judgement might not have been the best possible one, as it's been based on feelings rather than facts. Yet for these minor grumbles it is still a class act from the Coens and one of my absolute favorites this year.

Awards: Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Art Direction (Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh)

Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich

Now that there are 10 Best picture Nominees, Pixar's nomination is pretty much a given. They probably still won't ever win the big gong - that's what the Best Feature Animation Oscar is for. But the most-crossing film of the year is still great work. Woody the Cowboy, Buzz Lightyear and other toys try to adapt to retirement from being playthings - yet they want to retire with style. That's something the local Daycare Centre doesn't offer them, so they must do something about it.

Pixar really wanted to end this film with dignity, and succeeds probably better than anyone before them with a third installment. The ending is so perfect, I really hope there won't be any more of Toy Stories. Yet the heartless Disney executives will probably demand one more once their stocks go down enough. I recently rewatched the film from Blu-ray. I found that when you know that the moving on part in the end is coming, it's even harder to handle. The two most touching films nominated this year are animations - the other is The Illusionist. So I find it's a bit unfair that only the other one can win an award for its troubles.

Awards: Best Animated Feature Film, Best Original Song ("We Belong Together" - Randy Newman)

The Social Network
Director: David Fincher

Ah, it is about time for Fincher to get some recognition. For the competition seems to be mostly between The King's Speech and The Social Network, and Academy tends to award those directors with the more impressive back resumé. It ain't Tom Hooper. I think TSN will be the big winner in other categories too, come February 27th. The Social Network is not bad at all as a film, either. It would take a genius like Fincher to liven up something as mundane as Facebook, but he nails it. The rich tones of mahogany and the noble university enviroments surrounding petty and childish persons sqabbling in a film that is perfectly directed and cut. Fincher mostly forgets the actual programming - in fact computer programs could be switched to almost anything else, and the storytelling and the drive of the film would still keep on being just as interesting. But of course the real treat in the film is the contrast between a website which is supposed to bring people together, that only further divides people who are not that good with relationships to begin with.

Much of the praise of the film goes to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, too. Sorkin is used to writing great machine-gun dialogue to government officials, so to make equally unlikeable hermit-like programming nerds interesting is a task he alone can accomplish. And what characters we have! The film's cast is brilliant in that we can see them think their next move as the story progresses. Nothing is a given, so one can read all sorts of messages from their performances. Jesse Eisenberg is great as the lead, but as social ineptitude is not a curable illness compared to a speech impediment, he'll be left without an award. Even better in his role is Andrew Garfield, who didn't even get a nomination. Film music win for Trent Reznor is also entirely possible, but to be fair I don't recall any pieces of music from the film, unlike I do with Inception and its "BRRAAAH"-tones.

Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), Best Film Editing (Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter)

The Fighter
Director: David O. Russell

I suspected that David O. Russell wouldn't be out just to copy Rocky and I was right. Like any good sports film, The Fighter is barely at all about the sport itself. Rather, it's about a family living in a small community. This family is more a burden than a support to promising boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). His older brother Dicky (Christian Bale) brags about punching out Sugar Ray Robinson, but his glory days are clearly behind him. Today he does shady deals and crack in addition to coaching his brother. The Ward family, that includes a demanding mother with her new pushover spouse, a seedy douchebag brother and a seemingly well-balanced but actually as-as-bad-as-the-rest protagonist reminds me of Arrested Development. And the family also includes plenty of Patty and Selma-like hag sisters. Like The Bluths, the Ward family thinks they are big shots while each of them is actually a foul human, looking only after their own benefits. The community doesn't look up at them, but rather laughs at them. But later the family does get a change for redemption by pulling the same rope together. The problem is how to lure them to do so. The inevitable final boxing match comes more of an afterthought than an actual climax.

I view this almost as a comedy, although that is a bit unfair to the dramatic portion of the film. A little fame in a small town can lead to a big fis-syndrome. That, in turn can make life go totally askew, although the film has an optimistic tone. Much of the hilarty as well as the weight of the film is thanks to Christian Bale's brilliant performance. I think it's easily his best since American Psycho, no doubt. His Dicky is the kind of guy that would jump from the second storey into a dumpster when his mother is ringing the doorbell, just in case. His finest moment is probably raising money for his brother by getting his girlfriend to turn tricks for cruisers and then posing as a policeman to rob them. Bale nails the small nyances, untrustable nature of crack-addicts, yet his Dicky is also highly symphatetic, at core well-meaning character. There's a beautiful part where he realizes the downside of his fame-seeking bragging - being a poor father and role-mother to his daughter.

I really hope The Fighter could be the Black Horse of the awards. It's been ages since there came a boxing film as good, but probably it will go the way of Raging Bull, collecting the actor award and that's it.

Awards: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christian Bale)

Winter's Bone
Director: Debra Granik

Winter's Bone is almost a companion piece, or a modernization of True Grit. Both have strong teenaged girls fighting their way through frighteningly cold and cruel American wilderness, where truly evil men hide. Director Debra Granik directs the film as more down-to-earth, matter-of-factly. This emphasizes of the coldness and one can draw any kind of allusions to this world where people are hostile to those that most need help.

The protagonist Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) isn't out to avenge her father, she's just out to find him, alive or dead. If she doesn't, the bank takes the home away from her, her two younger siblings and mentally ill mother. But Ree has to do this all all by herself, almost completely without help from the other occupants of her village. Instead of help, Ree is met with threats, mistreatment and open violence. The reasons for this vary from fear of the local kingpin, or the authorities, or just plain emotional coldness. This coldness of the is emphasized by the wintery grey landscapes. It is also contrasted with Ree warmly playing with her siblings and teaching them how to hunt and cook. She's trying to teach them how to take care of themselves - something she must've probably learned by herself, not from her absent father. Ree is a complex character that has her fears too, but she won't allow them to cripple her and her will to do what she must is much stronger. We have a real, three-dimensional female main character in a good movie after a while.

Because Winter's Bone has the smallest budget of the nominees, it also has the least money to campaign. I think it will be overrun by bigger films in the Gala and left without a single statue. Even Natalie Portman will annihilate poor Jennifer Lawrence (who will still have a pretty great career ahead of her anyway). All this probably couldn't interest director Granik less, as she's not interested in the Mainstream in the least. And that's probably for the best, for otherwise we wouldn't have gotten such a great film.

Awards: None

The King's Speech 
Director: Tom Hooper

The King's Speech is the most obvious film straining for awards of the bunch. Historical subjects and overcoming a crippling feature are what many, many previous award wins are made of. But even if The King's Speech is also pretty common in its plot, it is still a lot better than most other films of the same kind. It is basically a buddy film, between King George VI (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). There's also a very British quality in the film, and it doesn't feel like a Hollywoodization of a historical subject. The film benefits from a good script and great actors, who manage to flesh out droll historical characters. They have their own goals, joys, grievances and most poignantly, skeletons in the closet. As it's usual for these kinds of films, it takes huge liberties with history, but it all works.

The film is pretty hilarious at its first half. The brits sure know their dry humour. To see a person born to luxury getting humbled by a common therapist makes me chuckle. Nevertheless, when things get serious it takes a whole new agenda. The film plays pretty much on the symbolic value of a king. It is also situated in a point in history, where mass media started to gain global signifigance. Both of these switched at the same time, which is noted within the film. A king must be ready to motivate his subjects at hard times, or he's not a leader with authority. Being a good leader is compared to be a good actor, which is why Logue uses methods that make use of Shakespeare's plays. Hitler is shown on film as an example of how masses can be raised with the right kind of speaking at the right time and the right emphasis. George (or Bertie, as he's more commonly called in the film) must forget his personal troubles, which have caused him to stutter in the first place. In other words, he must stop being a private person and start being a king, a leader to the people. As simplistic and against my democratic views the ending is, where the King finally delivers his idealistic WWII speech, I found a tear in my eye. Well done for making me actually care about one of the royal family.

Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Colin Firth), Best Costume Design (Jenny Beavan)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Is it really true that I haven't talked about Inception in this blog yet? If I had made a Top 20 list of the best films last year, or maybe even Top 15, Inception surely would've been on it. It's a big, silly summer shoot 'em up, but still ridiculously entertaining and has a few interesting thoughts somewhere in there, too. It's the first film to use Kierkegaardian philosophy of reality simplified for a popcorn movie since The Matrix (which is referenced at one of the dream stages). Inception is by no means a super-deep masterpiece, but maybe at least it can lead a whole generation to films where everything in a narrative isn't always a given. And for that it at least deserves its nomination.

Inception concerns a group of corporate thieves who steal business ideas from dreams. Why anyone would dream about detailed business ideas is not entirely realistic, but Nolan's dreams in the film are complicated structures that have a strict sense of rules in them anyway. The film spends most of its running time explaining these, although for dreams they should be more surrealistic and things morphing and whatnot. Instead, the dreams are like stages in a video game about the greatest action films ever filmed.

But the overwrought exposition and the inability to properly utilize all the possibilites a dreamworld offers are the only minus points the otherwise fine film has. While Nolan's dreams don't work like one's subconscious does, it at least allows for some stunning secuences where cityscapes self-destruct in a unique way only possible with a huge budget. The film has nice characters, too, although by no means any deeper than in any of the Ocean's films. They have basic personalities and as it happens their leader (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the romantic, whose pining for a lost love almost destroy their complicated job.

Nolan compares love to living in a dream pretty accurately. We all build our own little worlds to our head and it's funny to show someone actually living in them. But in love one must also face some hard realities, that are symbolized here by eascaping the idea of one character's earlier death. Mixing reality and dream is disastrous to the dream and often to the reality too, which has caused big traumas for Di Caprio's character. There's also the even more obvious metaphore for the dreams as being the world of cinema. Nolan has also spent years in perfecting a world of his own where a specific set of rules apply and to break these rules would be disastrous for the entity.

Nolan uses different sounds and music very well for an action film. Listen how, for instance slowed-down music is used in the main theme. As this is the film I best remember the quality of the athmosphere created by sound, I'll have to pick this to win these awards too.

Awards: Best Original Score (Hans Zimmer), Best Special Effects, Best Sound Editing (Richard Kindl), Best Sound Mixing

The Kids Are All Right
Director: Lisa Cholodenko

It seems to me that The Kids Are All Right is the token Minority Nominee. Oscar has been flirtatious with gay films before but they've been so far denied from the big gong. And probably will again. TKAA is not a bad film by all means. Heck, it is nice to see an independent comedy about a family that is FUNCTIONAL. All the characters are basically happy and content. What starts to drive this family of two mommies (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) apart is when their children's father-figure arrives. Mark Ruffalo is wonderful as the hapless sperm-donor that lives one day at a time, never thinking of long-term consequences.

But for a film for sexual minorities, there is some pandering, too. A common myth about lesbians is that they can be converted by a heterosexual male. While I suppose there are a lot of bisexual women living in homosexual relationships, the convertion happens a little too easy here. Likewise, the film has a habit of forgetting characters and arcs. For instance, the teenaged son gets rid of his douchebag friend easily, and after the confrontation of Bening with Ruffalo and Moore about the latter's Ruffalo is scarcely heard of again. Did he learn anything from this? But maybe it's better that the film doesn't try to forcefeed us with any strong morales, it would be nice for the film to at least acknowledge there has been a change rather than to just go back to status quo.

Awards: Best Original Screenplay (Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg)

127 Hours
Director: Danny Boyle

I've summed pretty much of what I think about 127 Hours earlier. On a weaker year it would have better chances of winning, but now everyone just keeps remembering: oh yeah, THAT was nominated too. Not a bad film, still, by no means. There's always next year for James Franco.

Awards: None

Oh, and I'm hoping the legendary Aussie actress Jacki Weaver wins a Best Supporting Female award from Animal Kingdom. So there you go. As I'm an insomniac and easily amused, I still will be following the 83rd Academy Award broadcast live. I won't comment on it here, but you can follow me on Twitter to get my thoughts. @pmihal

Monday, 7 February 2011

Review: Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek is a great music video director who directs feature films quite rarely. He was supposed to direct last year's The Wolfman, but left mid-production due to creative differences (i.e. he wanted to make something creative, the studio didn't). Now his latest film arrives with a lot of talk of how the Oscars ignored it completely included. It seems that this smaller-scale film didn't have enough money to campaign for nominations. Well, seeing as I think this year's nominations are already pretty high-quality, I don't really think any major crimes were commited by leaving this out. But the film still would deserve the attention it would've gotten from its status as a Nominated film.

Never Let Me Go is a good old-fashioned Melodramatic Romance. It has some flavours of sci-fi and social commentary, but wisely it doesn't play its whole hand right in the beginning. It is very hard to talk about the film without spoiling some surprises the film has in store. If you're easily spoiled by reviews, I'd advice to see the film first and return to the review later. There's no major Shyamalan-size twists in store, but in order to analyze a film one must consider its whole world-view.

Still here? Good. The film follows three people: Kathy, Tommie and Ruth. They grow up and develop relationships together during the years. Charlie Brown Tommie has an inferiority complex for being bad at sports and art, and is prone to have hissy fits. Lucy Ruth is bossy, crabby and secretly insecure. She also bullies Tommie and generally demands that things are done as she wishes. And our protagonist Kathy is... well, she's in love with Tommie, which I suppose is a characteristic.  First they are met as children attending an English boarding school. The opening scenes resemble an English period drama, with something just a little amiss and ominous. Eventually the truth is revealed by a teacher: all the children in the school are clones, grown specifically to be harvested for organs. The children aren't that worried: after all their organs will only be taken in their late twenties', which is lightyears away.

Unfortunately, after the children grow up and move to live in the same cottage, Romanek seems to be more interested in the story going forward than the characters and their inner turmoil. The main characters start to be played by stiff actors Carey Mulligan (Kathy), and the much-better-in-Social-Network future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield (Tommie). Keira Knightley is the only one of the lead trio that lets loose a little as she's playing a total bitch for a change. Nevertheless, all the youngsters are tragically one-dimensional, only characterized by the one thing that they want or aim for. In the case of Kathy the protagonist, she is the one that most keeps her feelings inside. Later she is explained to have huge passions flowing below the surface, but without any proof of such occurences actually happening. The only feelings she shows at this point are pining and annoyance when Ruth and Tommie start having a relationship that includes both loud fighting and love-making.

As the years pass and the eventually fatal organ harvesting draws closer, rumours of a change for survival draw the characters together again. Kathy and Tommie still have the total hots for each other, 16 years after their first kiss. Romanek seems to want to make something akin to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, where a great love is headed into imminent destruction by outside forces.  But the switch between childhood and adulthood waters this down seriously. While the viewer easily accepts that the pre-teen Kathy and Tommie should be together, this feeling doesn't transfer that easily to the adult versions. We're supposed to accept that neither of them ever move on with their lives and secretly pine for each other without seeing once in 10 years in different cities. Call me a cynic if you will, but I find it hard to adapt to someone being THAT into their first crush.

But luckily the film deals also with other subjects. The fragility of the human body is emphasized on young people, that will not live to grow old. The ethics of medical sciences are also called into question: If we allow feeling animals to suffer to lengthen our lives, what stops us to harvest second-class citizens the same way? Romanek doesn't give us any the oppressing government- and scientist-types. The unfairness isn't attributed to any single villain but to a whole system that very rarely thinks about the ethical questions concerning their will to live long and prosper.

Screenwriter Alex Garland gives the film a very British view of public school humiliations and keeping a stiff upper lip toward any hardships. He also ends the film with a real blow. While love may be Everlasting in life, it can not transcend death or the unquestioned oppression. There's also something very human about how easy it is to cling onto convinient rumours. We lie to ourselves about an easy rescue to avoid thinking about unpleasant thoughts that could save our lives. So while the characterization and especially the middle part drags, the film at least has plenty of interesting ideas to ponder. That is not bad at all.


USA/UK, 2010
Director: Mark Romanek
Screenplay: Alex Garland, based on the Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

Thursday, 3 February 2011

DocPoint 2011 Report

It seems that the popularity of the 10th DocPoint festival surprised everyone - even the organizers. But probably because of the high quality of the documentaries made in Finland recently has been so high, audiences also know to demand to see more good documentaries. So here's to the success of the festival. I didn't get to see all the films I wanted to, but the ones I did manage to see were pretty good, too. Here's a look at them.

I'm Still Here (USA, 2010)

Director: Casey Affleck

I opened my festival with one of its most talked-about films. There's been much discussion whether I'm Still Here portrays real events from the life of actor Joaquin Phoenix or whether it's just a big joke on  the celebrity media. Concerning this question I fall on somewhere in the middle - after all most documentaries ARE a mixture of truth and fiction, and show things in different light. It's obvious some scenes are staged here (I don't think famous faces like Ben Stiller, P. Diddy and Edward James Olmos would appear on such a film by a whim). Yet there's something genuine in Phoenix's crazy prancing around and hissy fits. I think he's just not that good an actor to pull off a completely artficial mad dope-head character from out of nowhere. Trying to pass that as his real image would be pretty hazardous to his career to boot so maybe he WAS trying to quit his acting in Hollywood. He's clearly had a change of mind since the making of this film, because he's already attached to new projects.

But in the end, like the film says, the pondering about the genuinity of this film is quite meaningless. It is a story, no matter how rooted it is in reality. And the story is a poignant portrayal of artistic pains. When you feel your old career has nothing to offer you but can'tcreate anything else artistic, when you're tired of the same routines and the old faces that follow you around, and when you try to be a credible artist that doesn't listen to what other people say, yet get mocked for your appearance and idea of following your dreams, then you'll understand how Phoenix must feel. I'm not convinced he really wanted to be a rapper with such shoddy skills, but this career change could've been almost anything else, really. Anything to maintain an illusion of freedom in a readymade world. Maybe I should become a Hollywood psychiatrist as I seem to have understanding on the problems of the priveledged.

The film is also pretty hilarious.

★★★ 1/2

Exit Through The Gift Shop (USA, UK 2010)
Director: Banksy

I actually saw the street art film by guerilla artist Banksy a while ago in Berlin, but seeing as it was probably the most popular film in DocPoint this year, it makes sense to deal with it here. It's interesting as Exit is another film which is at least blurry in its realisticity. On surface it might be a documentation of a French madman Thierry Guetta who happened to be at the right place at the right time. By copying more talented and creative artists he was allowed to go all the way to the top of the LA art circles. But when Banksy is in question, there might also be the possibility that he is pulling our legs. Feeding the public an unimaginative artist and then making a fake documentary of his rise to power, which the public also adores unquestioningly, could be Banksy's biggest prank ever.

Nevertheless, this film should be also seen as a whole, not to be thought by the cloud that surrounds it. This one is a pretty funny film as well. The hijinks that Banksy and friends need to endure to produce some of the street art pieces we usually only see on expensive art books, appear funny. Murphy's law is constantly in use. As a main character, Guetta might antagonize the street artists he so admires by the end, but he is portrayed as somewhat symphatetic, if a bit crazy even by Banksy's standards. As a person who only lives through media (in this case recording everything he sees on film), Guetta isn't a really creative person, but tries as hard as he can to be. We can all get behind this as most of us are not artistic geniuses. To be fair, I even find some of Guetta's work pretty cool, but still it's pretty clear that he hasn't his own voice. He's a art-scen broiler, not developed artist.

The film criticises mostly the art world which is ready to adopt a poseur with a face, but not the inventive but mysterious and faceless Banksy. He portrays himself as almost a suffering artist who gets hit with bonkers accusations and demands he has to show his face. He also underplays his prankser image, but there may be a very good reason for that. I'm more surprised that a film by Banksy doesn't issue the dilemma of proclaiming a public space for art that much, but then again I guess his work speaks for itself and that's not the main issue on his story here. I hope this one takes home the Oscar, because I can't wait to see how Banksy would terrorize the entire Oscar audience.


Restrepo (USA, 2010)
Directors: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

I'm starting to get sick of the War on Terror on film as much as I am in real life. It's getting a bit hard to appreciate a well-made film like Restrepo, because I've seen it so many times before, both in fiction and documentary form. Restrepo is like the American Armadillo, in that it follows the soldiers in Afghanistan at one dangerous outpost. The soldiers mostly talk crap and slack off, but occasionally they fire away on an unseen enemy. At some points they try to speak to civilians and to get their support but with uninspiring results. A good scene features the discussion to replace the Afghani farmers' dead cow, which the American soldiers shot by mistake in a gunfight. It's also interesting how the mountain-based outpost carved in rock reminds me of the places terrorists like bin Laden are said to be hiding in. Both sides aren't that different, but they are caught up in a stationary war, where both of them are as immobile as the mountains where they are based.

Where Restrepo excels as a documentary is following a particular group of soldiers who get to be pretty familiar during the course of the film. My favorite scene portrays a rare moment of joy as the soldiers have a Christams Party in the base and dance in very close quarters to bad EuroDisco music (Günther I think). Armadillo attempted to create the same familiarity with the soldiers but during the course of that film made them all pretty much the same. In Restrepo there are no strong war film characters, but the banter feels more familiar and the fact that the dead are mourned brings them closer. The outpost Restrepo itself is named after a dead medic, who is shown in the beginning of the film. At the end when the soldiers finally head home the viewer feels as relieved as they are to get out from the spot. It is pretty clear that the war is unwinnable, as the trench warfare has produced only two things, Jack and shit. And Jack just left the town.


The Temple (Temppeli, Finland 1991)
Director: Pekka Lehto

OK, This clip isn't from the film, but I wanted to have Ior Bock in here somehow and this was the best clip I could find in YouTube. Sorry this is only in Finnish.

As the screening of the cult documentary Yksinteoin was cancelled due to legal problems, the sole documentary I saw from the prolific documentary director Pekka Lehto was this one. And it didn't fail. Like Yksinteoin (which focuses on the theatre legend Jussi Parviainen), The Temple has a cult figure at its centre. In this case it is the mystic, shaman (read: hippie) and tour guide Ior Bock. The late Bock was known most of all for two things: one was his incredible skill to make up onomapoetic and mythical backgrounds for any common-day words. His way of telling his crazy theories sounds as he's saying historical facts and sounds really believable. The other was his unrelenting search for a temple of an ancient finnish god Lemminkäinen. Both of those things are well documented in Lehto's film.

The Temple was supposed to be found inside a mountain in Gumbostrand, Sipoo. Bock and his friends started to dig there in 1987. The project got widely popular a couple of years later when the finnish construction industry company Lemminkäinen agreed to fund the dig and loan Bobcats. This is also where Lehto's film begins. He succeeds in maintaining the mysticism and excitement surrounding the search, even if we modern viewers know that it is to be unfruitful. Lehto also mixes just the right amount of the eccentric explanations of Bock in between, contrasted with the down-to-earth construction workers who get ever more excited about the search, too.

It is a shame Bock was murdered last year. As the document shows, he brought a little bit of magic into the lives of us living in a more mundane world. But I'm even more grateful that such a great documentation of this unique personality has been saved for future generations.


Public Speaking (USA, 2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese

Ahh, Scorsese returns to depict the character of his native New York after a while. Besides the city, Public Speaking's other main character is the constantly blabbering writer Fran Lebowitz. The film resembles an episode of Seinfeld: it has neurotic but smart New York jews in the spotlight, there are stand-up scenes, a lot of scenes in a coffee shop, and a lot of witty and funny banter about things that are not focused on anything particular. It is about as fun to follow as Seinfeld as well. Lebowitz constantly makes Scorsese laugh off camera and this joy easily catches on to the viewer as well.

Lebowitz is an interesting documentary subject. As smart and witty as she is, she has a number of bad qualities in her as well. Like the fact that she declares herself to be vengeful and encourages everyone to be too. Her sharp tongue can cause also other undesired effects. Yet she is intensly likeable and one can easily listen to an intellectual speaking for one-and-a-half hour is she (or he) can be as funny and poignant as Lebowitz at her peak. Scorsese also shines light on the history of (New York-based) intellectuals giving witty statements in public from James Baldwin through Truman Capote to Conan O'Brien.

Yes, at core it's only about the modern life in New York, but it's refreshing to get one of those after a long while, eh?


Hoop Dreams (USA, 1994)
Director: Steve James

Hoop Dreams has a huge reputation of being one of the best documentaries ever made. And it is an interesting look at the urban American life in the early 90's and the search for the American dream. At that time basketball really did seem like the biggest thing in theuniverse and formed a lot of other kids as well. It is also impressive that the director Steve James managed to follow the main characters for five years through their shools and formative years. However, I wasn't quite sure how it got such a lofty reputation, for at almost three hours it's tragically overlong and repetitive.

The film follows Arthur Agee and William Gates, two poor African-American youngsters in Chicago who hope to make it big in the basketball fields and to make it in the NBA. They do get a basketball scholarship to go to college, but they have trouble adjusting to the studying. Their minds are in basketball and other things young men usually dream about. We get to know this via an almost endless stream of scenes in the student councelor's office. It does have a point that the youngster's are confused and clueless about their future, especially as poor performance and injuries on the basketball field can make their dreams seem distant. There is also turmoil within their own families, which undergo changes at the same time. Still, I'd be more generous for the film if it had been an hour shorter.


Lemmy (USA, 2010)
Directors: Greg Olliver, Wes Orshoski

I must admit that I have a soft spot on rockumentaries that are part silly and part awesome. It doesn't matter how many famous rock stars they bring out to sing praises to the documentary subject, the key to a good film lies in the core personality and soul of the rock star being depicted. And they hardly could find a better one than Lemmy Kilmister, the hard-rockin' bass player and band leader of Motörhead. For one, he's old enough to remember the time before rock 'n roll, so he's a Rocker of Ages himself.

Over the years Lemmy has been a sort of mystical figure to me. There has never been that much talk about his background or private life. Lemmy the film manages to shed some light into these questions, but still maintains the mysticity of its subject. Lemmy seems to be the kind of guy that lives in a tiny apartement filled with Nazi memorabilia, has a tank in his carage and spends most of his days sitting in a bar playing slot machines and drinking endless streams of Jack Daniels. In shot, he is as awesome as any human being can physically be. No wonder he's so respected. Thet and the unique bass-playing style and skill, not to mention his rocking personality and wit.

As I mentioned, the film features far too much testimonials from famous rockers. It is not a big flaw, but could've used some trimming for the qualities of the testmonials are varying. It's no surprise the pussies from Metallica mostly just kiss Lemmy's ass. Some more talented and experienced rockers like the Damned, Ozzy Osbourne and Nikki Sixx offer much more amusing anecdotes from their history with Lemmy. And Dave Grohl seems to be a real buddy, emphasizing his friend's best qualities so far as to get genuinely moved in front of the camera, and tells a story about defending Lemmy to the Darkness's face. Ace. I wouldve also liked to see some more live footage of Lemmy on tour.

All in all, this is a profile of a true rock 'n roll star. In that it feels honest, clear and open. Lemmy truly seems like a man who truly doesn't care what other people think, he does it just the way he wants.  How else can you explain that in the summer heat he likes to wear never nude -shorts?

★★★ 1/2


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