Monday, 23 January 2012
The most internationally dreaded way in which the world can end on 2012 seems to be financially. The world's economies have struggled against the advent of the second great depression since 2008 and are at breaking point in many parts of the world. Personally, I see the hardships that the world's economies have faced as a sign that they should be developed into better-controlled, more equal systems where the richest 1% of investors doesn't reap all the benefits when the poor get poorer and poorer. But then again, I am a dirty liberal, possibly even a communist depending if your economic views are particularly right-winged. You don't have to believe me, as more qualified documentarists have already explained the causes of financial crises and how we should go on from there better than I ever could. In honor of DocPoint also starting tomorrow in Helsinki, here are four of them.
Inside Job (2010)
Director: Charles Ferguson
The most famous documentary about the current financial crisis is this film, which also won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2011. The film, as narrated by Matt Damon, goes to the roots of the international financial problems. The film makes complex financial subjects so simple even a child could understand them, using simple graphs and clear-worded interviews. It also dares to point out the seedy CEOs and government officials who gain massive bonuses while their own companies are failing and requiring government bailout. If one doesn't get angry at fat cats while watching this film, one must either be one of the 1%, or have no pulse. Things aren't even necessarily getting better as of this moment, since politicians aren't preparing to change the system but rather just waiting for things to go back to the status quo. That's why it should be the duty for every voter in every western country to be aware of the shortcomings of current international economy and demand for change.
A lot of time and money has been used to make the film. This is seen in the huge number of interviewed financial experts, and the polished style with which the film flows forward. So, the film is multifaceted. Therein also lies the biggest flaws of the film. It attempts to capture too much of faults of the international businesses according modern neo liberal world view. Thus it takes fleeting shots here and there but doesn't linger on, or delve into many interesting things properly. The film could do well without life stories of poor people foreclosed by banks – their story is fascinating but now feels like only an afterthought in an overtly stuffed film. However, if the viewer feels that the economic crisis is a massive, hard thing to grasp, and doesn't know where to start unfolding the international issues, this is a good place to start. In other words, if you only watch one financial documentary, make it this one.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Director: Michael Moore
On the other hand, the erstwhile gripping documentary maker Michael Moore's subsequent efforts continue to diminish in their outcome. The Michigan-born liberal filmmaker grew famous with his Oscar and Cannes winning films in the mid-2000s, but with the growth of his fame he has had to struggle to create all of his subsequent films. No longer can he just play dumb for his interviewees and lure them into revealing sinister agendas. All the while Moore has listened to his critiques and made his films less comedic, and featured less of himself in them. But there's still no mistake about who has directed this, probably one of the most big-headed documentaries of all time.
For Moore's aim is no less than to get the United States to renounce the Capitalistic world view. Or, at least the neo liberal ethos that has transcended in the nation's economic affairs since Ronald Reagan's presidency, but Americans are not known to be that good with political concepts. Moore uses his trademarked sarcastic wit and sense of humour to paraphase his points, as well as using archive footage to illustrate them. At times this is quite funny, but the whole thing feels more like a political pamphlet than anything resembling journalism. Moore has also been one to make entertainment out of issues, which usually works in balance, but he's lost it here. Even more than Inside Job, Capitalism bounces back and forth on issues that Capitalism touches.
As the whole political-economic viewpoint is even a more vast subject than the economic crisis, it is nigh impossible to fit everything important about it in two hours. Moore's ideas on how to replace the system are ill-rationalized and confusing. Does he want the sort of social democracy Nordic countries have to descend into America, or does he want to return to the more state-controlled capitalism of American pre-Reagan era? It's hard to believe he'll be able to convince anyone with his half-baked film even though judging by the film's final words he seems to think he can start a massive rebellion against monetary power.
Hey, Moore, you're a millionaire yourself. That's why it should be questioned whether you can really be the voice of the 99%. I know you use some of your massive fortune for charities, but if you really would want to hammer the message home, you'd give it all away, like Jesus taught.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Director: Alex Gibney
As a proof of the economy's ongoing redistribution of wealth, this film works better than Moore's or even Ferguson's efforts. Even though Enron was released seven years ago (and is based on an even older book), it still feels fresh. The bankruptcy of the Texan energy, commodities, and services company Enron corporation in 2001 was a tip of the iceberg for things to come. The template of that financial disaster was followed pretty clearly by companies such as Lehman Brothers or the Bank of America, that really got the ball rolling on the new worldwide depression. The difference is that Enron's executives actually were prosecuted in court, whereas the culprits for more modern financial crises tend to walk away scot free.
The film itself is about the funnest one about economy issues. You don't have to dig pertty well, when there's always indescribable greed and power-hungriness beneath huge failed businesses. In Enron's case, the decadence this has caused for the giant oil corporation would be hilarious if it weren't so damn scary. Strip clubs, gambling, cheating in booking, even getting involved to earn more moolah from California's energy crisis. It seems that Enron's executives and traders had little to no morale or decency when it came to earning money. But they had an ace in keeping good realtions with politicians who'll help them out here and there, such as, infamously, the then-president of the United States, George W. Bush. He also appointed his own friends to high-ranking seats in Enron, and gave good new jobs to former Enron executives who lost their job for one reason or another.
The film's problems are that since there are little actual filmic evidence of these happenings at Enron, it has to rely a lot on talking heads. That is quite a usual approach in financial documentaries. Fortunately, they have quite interesting stories to tell here. The film is also a fascinating piece on how certain news events affect corporations. It also shows how the personalitites of the high-ups can affect the company's big decisions. But it is also a sad reminder that no one actually fixed the system where executives and traders are rewarded for taking more and more outrageous risks at the cost of poorer people's jobs.
Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (2011)
Director: Peter Joseph
Unlike many other financial documentaries, this one takes a look in the future and attempts to visual how society should be developed to be more equal and to take away the power given to bankers and rich investors. A valiant effort, but sadly, the film is utopist to the point where it starts to work against itself. No wonder The Zeitgeist movement is seen by many as being only for nutcases such as conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts. That is not entirely true. The international Zeitgeist movement is a low-level social movement aiming for resource-based economy based on the principles of sustainable development (meaning that people shouldn't consume resources more than Earth can produce). It is an important issue worth fighting for, because the survival of every individual on this planet is at stake. The only thing I disagree with the Zeitgeist movement is what the end result should be, but since we're not there yet, we should all work together, not give each other easy labels.
The film is the third and the most popular of the trio of director/writer Peter Joseph's films about the economy. The 2,5 hour film (!) goes through four parts which consider what kind of an economic future is possible. Each part takes about 40 minutes. It has to be said that by content, this film is the furthest away from journalistic commentary of financial issues. Maybe Joseph's two previous films deal with the issues further. This one starts with (well-grounded) physical and psychological proof that greed is not in human nature. rather, living in communities, assisting others is. Joseph takes it that the modern aggressively capitalist system is unnatural and made for unsocial individuals that are bent on abusing others for their personal gain. Because this is mostly done with interviews with a handful of experts, it is not as interesting than it really should be.
The other half of the film is devoted to the new world view of Joseph, and by extention, the Zeitgeist movement. The resource-based future abolishes money, rebuilds cities to work more efficiently . There are certain good ideas in the mix, such as the localization of distribution of resources, but as a whole, it seems silly and way too big a change. We would need a nuclear war (to clean the plate), thousands of years of time and international cooperation to actually achieve it. The bad CGI model pictures do little to convince that this would be the only possible future for all mankind. The film is also shaky in its tone. Most of the time it's almost hilariously straight-faced which makes a single Monty Python-tributing scene fit the film poorly. Joseph himself is hardly as magnetic a personality or even as good a filmmaker as Michael Moore, so it is easier to take his sayings with a grain of salt. But it is at least couraging that there are people internationally willing to work for a better future, and distributing these films and giving free screenings...
... Likewise I'm proud that the sort of non-violent protests such as Occupy Wall Street have spread around the world. I try to be a realist myself, but I do think that it is possible to change the outcome of this here Earth and end the tyranny of neo liberal economy, which serves only to redistribute wealth for the small upper class. You should fight against injustice, too. Get out and spread the word!
Friday, 20 January 2012
|Five Days of War (c) 2011 Anchor Bay Films|
The finnish Hollywood director Renny Harlin has been giving out interviews in local newspapers where he claims his new film is about the shades of grey in modern warfare where wars are being fought in multiple fronts at the same time. At the same time he claims that even though his mother helped the war effort against the Soviet Union neither his family or anyone from where he lived as a child had fear, anger towards Russia or any sort of discriminating feelings toward Russians. Judging by his new film, Five Days of August, neither of these claims are even remotely true.
The film is based on the short-lived war between Russia and Georgia during August 2008. The area of South Ossetia wanted to become independent, which Russia supported. Thus, Georgia sent troops to silence rebels in that area. Russia saw that as an act of aggression, and in turn sent their troops to Georgia. Aftera number of hostilities, a truce was signed after five days, yet the conditions that led to the war didn't improve much. South Ossetians still live in poverty and squalor under the iron hand of their Georgian leaders.
Clearly, this is a war where it's not easy to pinpoint guilty parties, since neither Russia nor Georgia really worked according to Internationally accepted protocols. But Harlin's propagandist film portrays the war as a Russian invasion, where Georgians are a heroic folk that get invaded byt the eeeeviiill Russians. And while the rest of the world is tuned in to the Olympics, the Georgians get no international help in their fight against the stronger aggressor. The conditions in South Ossetia are barely even mentioned. Fittingly, the film begins with the clichéd quote "The first casuality of war is the truth". Harlin certainly isn't portraying any.
|Five Days of War (c) 2011 Anchor Bay Films|
Harlin's still not a bad director, which makes it a shame he always makes so godawful films. The action scenes blow up reasonably enough dirt and are loud enough that the viewer does get a feeling that he's in the middle of a war. The trouble is, the film's otherwise so clichéd, so filled with pathos and so one-dimensional, it's an effort to even try to symphatize with the characters in the film. The main plot sees a race to release footage of Russian soldiers murdering, raping and pillaging a civilian farm. The film's diabolic portrayal of Russians reminds me of Harlin's first feature film, Born American. The film portrayed Russians as so ridiculously evil and sadistic, the film was cencored in Finland to not awake controversy with the foreign relations with our bigger, neighboring state.
Harlin also has trouble keeping his film's overarching themes consistent. Garcia has little to do in the film but to worry and make a patriotic speech in the end. All of his scenes are repetitive and quite boring. Harlin's own interest also lies in the battlefield, not in politics. To bring a little more B-grade star power to the film, Val Kilmer plays a veteran war correspondent called The Dutchman. He fits in the film even worse than Garcia. Kilmer has bloated a lot in recent years, and acts through his scenes as if he's deeply stoned. He mumbles a few hilarious phrases that have little to nothing to do with the film, and wanders off again. The image of fat Kilmer in a bubble bath in the beginning is something that does not wash away from eyes that easily.
|The "War is like a toothless bitch" scene is the best one in the film, though.|
The final straw of it's sheer propagandistic flavor is that Harlin ends the whole ordeal with shots of actual war widows, orphans and people who lost others close to them in the war. As an attempt to make the viewer uneasy and a little guilty, this accomplishes. But as an effort to make it touching, this fails, as the idea was done better in the end of Band of Brothers episodes already. Renny, a word of advice (sure you're reading. I follow you on Twitter!). If you want to depict a certain truth about something, do a documentary. If you do propaganda, do so, but don't lie straight to our faces that it's the truth.
Five Days Of War
Mikko Alanne, David Battle
Rupert Friend, Richard Coyle, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Mikko Nousiainen
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Rio de Janeiro by far the most famous city in South America. But it is not only rainforests, football matches and post card sceneries. The city is home to 7,8 million people and includes some of the biggest financial divisions in the world. Whereas the few rich live in seaside palaces, the hills are filled with favelas, where millions live in squalor. Not surprisingly, the crime rates are also through the roof. Even the police are afraid to go into the most notorious favelas, because they are seething with heavily armed criminals with itchy trigger fingers.
This is not just a sad proof of the wealth distributing in the modern world, it is also a source of a few great films, which I'd like to take the opportunity to talk about a little more.
City of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002)
Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
One of Rio's most notorious favelas is the Cidade de Deus, City of God. The impoverished area was taken over by criminals already in the 1960's and 70's. Fernando Meirelles's film is based on real events that happened in the favela during that time. The erstwhile writer Paulo Lins is represented in the story by the character of Buscapé, who wants to become a professional photographer.
The story begins in the 60's as Buscapé is still a child. His brother Marreco is a member of a trio of underaged criminals who loot business owners and give part of the profits to the poor people of favelas. They are idolized by the adolescent Dadinho, who eventually gains their trust and joins them in a gig at the motel. He is set to serve as a lookout and given a gun to shoot if the police arrive. But Dadinho is untrustworthy with a weapon. He shoots a lot of innocent people and get the police coming down on the trail of the trio. In the aftermath he also murders Goose.
Years pass, and Dadinho grows as a notorious drug dealer known as Zé Pequieno, or Li'l Zé (Leandro Firmino da Hora). He's taken over almost all of the drug businesses in the City of God, and his iron-handed rule has brought out a shallow peace. He is still a murderous psychopath, though. The only thing keeping Zé cool is his best friend Bené (Phellipe Haagensen). But when Bené is accidentally shot with a bullett meant for Zé, the peace is broken out. The mad Zé is driven completely off the edge, and becomes even more dangerous and adamant to crush his enemies. Caught in the middle of the impending gang war is the now adult Buscapé (Alexandre Rodriguez), who desperately wants to leave the slums to become a professional photographer.
The film serves as a believable representation of the inflammable conditions in the slums. It's burned up, scorching cinematography undermines both the nostalgia, but also the barren, wasteland-like conditions that the main characters have to live in. The actors feature many actual slum-inhabitants, which might explain how amateurs are able to pull off their roles so intensively and believably. A lot of thanks has to also go to Meirelles, and his co-director Kátia Lund, who manage to get so much out of their big cast.
The film opens with chickens being made ready to cook. In a way the children in favelas are also raised up to die young in a dog-eat-dog world. You either eat or be eaten, and escape from the slums to a better life is nigh impossible. Buscapé succeeds, because he manages to exploit death and misery just as much with his photographs than others with their guns and drug businesses. The film chronicles years' worth of crime. The scope is at the same time massive and microscopic, as these people and conditions are so easily forgotten by us westerners. Things look different from the micro-level, but at the core there are still some essential human values. City of God is an incredible, unforgettable piece of work, and one of my very favorite films made in the last ten years.
The Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite, 2007)
Director: José Padilha
Captain Roberto Nascimento (Wagener Moura) is a tough, uncompromising leader of the squad. Yet he's getting weary of trying to fight a war that's unwinnable. His wife is waiting for their first child, and Nascimento decides to find a follower to lead BOPE's operations. He strikes his eyes on a pair of uncorrupt freshmen cops after they do a daring strike to a huge favela party hosted by gangsters. André Matias (André Ramiro) is an idealistic bookworm, bent on upholding the law and reading up on criminal justice at the university. His childhood friend Neto Gouveia (Caio Junqueira) on the other hand knows no fear, and is willing to go to brutal lengths to fight crime. He is the one leading the pair to strike into the hearts of criminal operations in favelas. Nascimento follows the two work their way through the state military police and subsequentally hand-picks them to go through BOPE's training. The training is meant to narrow only the best of the best and the uncorruptable to be able to work in BOPE. But at the same time, Nascimento himself falls deeper and deeper into a circle of violence, and can't maintain a healthy private life any more.
The Elite Squad basically feels like a war movie, where boys have to become men to be able to play a part on a brutal, inhuman game. Director José Padilha poses questions about how much must we lose of our humanity to accomplish what we feel is for the greater good. Altough Nascimento's Elite Squad is uncorrupt and able to execute difficult operations at the heart of slums, they do work a lot on a morally grey area. A lot of people have to die for them to get what they want, and percieved criminals get shot just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. At the heart of the movie is a terrific boot camp sequence. The boot camp is so tough and cruel, that it should prepare would-be BOPErs into following orders unquestioning, to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the team and to be able to withhold abusive situations without blowing up or succumbing into corruption. Of course, the real BOPErs may have difficulties in several of the areas even after their camp experience.
|"This is like the gun I had in 'Nam."|
Altough Nascimento works as our narrator, it is hard to like the man. Popping pills, beating his pregnant wife and taking his aggressions and stress out on his trainees, he is seen almost as a demon, trying to lure idealistic young cops into his way of thinking. We are set to symphatize more with Matias, arguing with his even more idealistic class-mates about the nature of justice, and going through a major arc. Neto is a sort of darker reflection of him, with his almost sadistic glee he gets out of killing.
All in all, the first Elite Squad has been rightfully critizised of right-wing glorification of a police force that has a licence to kill. But it should not be seen as a film that does it unquestioning. Throughout the film there are multiple debates about the nature of right and wrong. In a totally crime-infected areas such as the favelas, such questionings should be important. Even if one doesn't agree on the stance the film poses, it at least works as opening conversation. Plus, its action scenes are totally kick-ass.
The Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora É Outro, 2010)
Director: José Padilha
The Elite Squad's sequel cuts down on the action, but increases the hopeless image of a society trapped in a corner with no way out. As a reward it became the biggest hit in Brazil cinema history. Like all good sequels do, it expands the scope and looks at the same subjects from new perspectives. The film delves deeper into the politics in Rio de Janeiro. The outlook is cynical, and the society is shown to be so corrupt that it's almost unfixable. The film also features a bigger character arc for Nascimento, coming to question his own place in the society, as well as his old methods.
Nascimento has divorced from his wife, who has subsequently married a Human Rights Aid member Diego Frada (Irandhir Santos). The two men see differently with just about everything, so there's certainly a rivalry going on, and not the least on the bringing up of Nascimento's son Rafael (Pedro Van-Held). After BOPE turns a prison riot (where Frada has also been present) into a bloodshed, Frada calls for punishments to Nascimento and his right-hand man, André Matias (Ramiro). Matias faces bigger hardships, as he's taken back to work in the Military Police. Due to Nascimento's popularity with the public, he's given an office in the Secretariat of Security. From there on, Nascimento begins to look into the businesses his department has with the State governor, the State police, and paramilitary milicias.
|"What's this? A favela for ants?!"|
Journalists rush headstrong into tough situations they are totally unprepared to handle. Humanitary aid finds it's way into the wallets of fat cats fighting to gain power for themselves. Thus also politics gains more power-hungry, corrupt sleazebags than people who actually are willing to make a change. Television shows are sheer right-wing propaganda, shouting for more money for the police. The police are corrupt to the point of shooting their own if they ask the wrong kind of questions. And even BOPE's old shooting criminals-gig doesn't work when the real enemy's within the system, and able to raise three more criminals in the place of the fallen.
As it is, the film follows a large number of characters, each representing a layer of the society and/or a level of corruption. Altough all of their approaches to corruption are cynically viewed as unfunctioning, the characters aren't all clearly set to be only right or wrong. Some of their ideas don't work in practice but some do. Most of the film's characters are three-dimensional, with also ulterior motives regardless of their political alignment. The main focus is in Nascimento, who while still maintaining some of his moral complexity, also comes into his own terms as a character here. Nascimento starts to feel old and weary by the end of the film, and loses some of his will to fight wrongs. Surprisingly, he has a strong end speech about the human values, and he also sees some error on his own ways. He sees that weeding out upper-level corruption would have helped his cause a lot more than shooting poor people in slums, but by now it is already too late.
|"Shh! They're playing Radar Love!"|
The film reminded me strongly of The Godfather II. So good is this sequel, widening up the scope of its predecessor and moving from mythical movie legends to cold realism. Organized crime has slowly infiltrated all aspects of the society, so it's getting harder and harder to battle against it. While Nascimento as a character is as morally conflicting as Michael Corleone, he's actually gradually turning from II's Michael into the Michael from the beginning of I. So there's still a glimmer of hope.
Saturday, 14 January 2012
As January goes on and New Year's Resolutions start to fade away into the sands of time, one question remains at our hearts: What will the year 2012 bring? There's no need to contact a clairvoyant on the subject, because IMDb lists dozens of movies that have 2012 in their title. There are also a few sci-fi movies that take place on this year. So, to find out how this year will turn out, let's take a look at a few prophecies made for this year.
Director: Roland Emmerich
The most famous prophecy regarding this year is of course the mega-budgeted catastrophy film from the mastermind of blowing up landmarks, Roland Emmerich. Seeing as he still had a few holiday spots on Earth he hadn't blown up before, he blew the whole thing out of proportion with this 2009 epic. The Apocalypse prophecised by the Ancient Mayans is just a good an excuse as any to run through his usual shtick. The film has been selected as the least scientifically accurate sci-fi film of all time by scientists.
Earth's core is heating up, which causes an Indian scientist (Jimi Mistry) to warn the US president about impending doom. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover), seemingly named after the actor who played Biff in Back to the Future, of course doesn't listen. So, three years later, in 2012, Earth's magnetic poles start to switch places. This causes volcano eruptions, massive earthquakes and basically the continental faults to start to sink, destroying entire cities. This in turn causes giant tsunamis and floods. Destroyed are such landmarks as the wholes of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., The Vatican, Yellowstone Park, Mt. Kilimanjaro and, unforgivably even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Through all these catastrophic events one can almost hear Emmerich making sound effects as he goes along: CRASH! BOOM! CRUMBLE! CRUNCH!
The film follows a broken-up American family The Curtises, led by the estranged dad played by John Cusack. The Curtises have to pull themselves together and learn to rely on each other to survive the catastrophy (yawn). They accomplish this by running away from the apocalypse a lot. A lot. Thsese scenes are the stupidest, the most hilarious, and the very best in the entire film. Where-ever Cusack goes, various apocalypses soon follow. But he's quick-witted and quick-footed enough to hop on a car, plane, SUV or an ark to always get away within fractions of seconds. If the Apocalypse was a person, he'd be no doubt slamming his hat on the ground and stomping it whenever Cusack manages to escape.
|"Drat, drat and double-drat!"|
Emmerich certainly doesn't waste time in trying to come up with new tropes for his films. The characters in this are almost interchangeable with, say the characters from The Day After Tomorrow. Or, from outside Emmerich's own films, Deep Impact. That's why it's hard to care about any of them. Everyone knows that the film will end with the family-unit back together, and small-part actors are just there to die and give some weight to the issues. The teary-eyed last phone calls to loved ones are horribly dreary and the film goes on and on for two and a half fucking hours. One of the few bright spots comes from the Pusher trilogy's Zlatko Buric who plays a suitably sleazy russian billionaire. Still, he's really not enough to make this film recommendable. Let's hope the world doesn't end this way. I'd like Armageddon to be at least entertaining.
Director: Anthony Fankhauser
Since you can't copyright a year, Emmerich's film of course gained a mockbuster follow-up by the hacks at Asylum. And it makes the Hollywood CGI effect demo seem like a towering masterpiece by comparison. This film's ensemble includes Brian Krause from TV's Charmed, the awesomely named Asylum veteran Londale Theus, and... those two are probably the biggest stars on display here.
Like the title suggests, the apocalypse comes this time from a Supernova that has exploded 200 years ago. It has only gained destructive power since, and is travelling towards Earth. Hilariously, the Supernova waves blow up Pluto and one of Jupiter's moons on the way. Dr. Kelvin, played by Krause, is the only scientist smart enough to know how to keep Earth from exploding, too. But he needs the access to dangerous nuclear weapons in the middle of the desert. These weapons also gather the interest of terrorists. As they do.
Mockbusters are a tricky genre, since Asylum clearly doesn't have much money to spend to create a true spactacle. So how can one make an epic disaster movie with only a few CGI special effect scenes? Much of Supernova is spent driving on a single highway across dester, arguing in a car. At times the action moves to an empty warehouse. The CGI effects would've looked bad on the original PlayStation. Altough nothing makes much sense, there's really nothing to like in the film. The plot, acting, direction, scenes, all are dreadful. This is godawful.
Director: Shane van Dyke
|I love how the ship's mast frowns in terror.|
Let's move on to a little lighter subjects than the total devastation of Earth. Did you know that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the world's most famous ship, The Titanic? It's true! People at Asylum also have noticed this, for they churned out this sci-fi extravaganca in 2010, set on this very year. I have to admit, when I think of Titanic II, I think of this:
Sadly, the film doesn't have thawed-out Leo DiCaprio as a man outta his own time. But Asylum at least deserves some credit for belonging to the same group as RoboCop 2: Films that have the number two in the title but also do feature the sequel to the machine after which they have been named in the first place in their plots. Too far-fetched? Sorry, I didn't really sleep much last night, which might explain a lot.
So, in other words, the film is built around the monumentally bad idea of building another Titanic and getting rich folks to sail on its maiden voyage from America to England. At the same time, an ice surfer notices huge icebergs getting chopped off from a glacier. The resulting impact causes a huge tsunami, that sends big icebergs on Titanic II's route. And we all know what that means. Here we go again!
This film, directed, written and starring the no-talent Shane van Dyke, at least has some campy fun in it. The film's characters are prone to stating the obvious, such as a command at Titanic II's cruise control: "Avoid ice! I repeat: avoid ice!" What, wasn't a shipwreck thought to be included in an authentic Titanic cruise? When inevitably the ship hits an iceberg, rich folk begin panicking and the ship sinking, someone remarks: "This is history repeating itself all over again!" I think that sentence speaks for itself as to how smart the characters in the film are.
Sadly, the end of the film is a lot more boring affair. We have characters n one cares about being trapped in small areas while the water is rising. There are some underwater scenes and – it's basically very hard to watch this part without falling asleep. I know, because I watched the ending twice and still don't remember anything from it. Suffice to say, it contains another teary-eyed end scene, but withou any sort of weight to it. The film also ends abruptly. Nothing can be as bad as 2012: Supernova, so at least the funny start gives Titanic II an extra point, even if it all turns to tears for all the wrong reasons by the end.
Director: Mel Gibson
You know, for all the talk about Mayans and their calendar this year, maybe it's in place to watch a film about those guys. After all, there aren't a lot of those guys left to warn us what's really going to happen this year. Whatever happened to them? Some sort of Apocalypto? This is also a clever ruse to get to include at least one watchable film in this post.
For all of his want for accuracy, such as the violence and making the entire film in the Mayan language, Mel Gibson's film fits a whole lot of consequences and changes of scenery for a single thrill-ride. Basically, a central American indian has his whole village destroyed by blood-thirsty Mayans and is taken to their city to be sacrificed. He manages to escape their cruelty, and runs back to the forest where his wife and child are trapped in a well. But the angry Mayans are right on his trail.
Like it was said on South Park, "Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the man knows a good story". More than that, he knows how to direct, and to keep the pace brisk. The viewer, as much as the film's main character, has little to no chances to catch their breath before another cruelty or chase scene ensues.
Ultimately, the film does seem to showcase the barbarian habits that would be wiped off by Catholic conquistadors. Gibson has little to no interest in the actual civilization and culture of the Mayans that didn't include sacrifices. And while they were fierce, the film also over-emphasizes their bloodthirstiness and need for sacrifices. It's Gibson who feasts on such stuff, showing all the gory details with manic glee. He seems to say that a gory culture inevitably also destroys itself from within. This may be intended to be some sort of a parallel that a bigot might want to make on countries in the modern world. But the film is certainly no Passion of the Christ, and Gibson's own intents keep well on the background, while the audience can focus on the breath-taking chase. But the same can't be said for his fascination with various torture methods. I think the man may have a small problem.
So there you have it. Originally, I planned January to have Apocalypse as a theme. As it turned out, I came up with so many ideas for articles that it will be a running theme this year, with at least one article appearing each month. Waiting for December 21st has never been so much fun!
Sunday, 1 January 2012
According to the Mayan calender, we have until next December to live, which is plenty of time to see some of the most eagerly awaited films ever made. Just in case we might survive the entire next year, I'll include 32 films for next year running to the end of the year. These are divided into three different categories.
10 Spring Premieres:
|Iron Sky (c) 2012 Energia Productions|
Director: Andrew Stanton
Pulp heroes tend to have it tough on the big screen. Recent failures of adventures such as Conan or Solomon Kane or (shudder) The Immortals are not exactly raising spirits. But this is my eagerly awaited event movie of the spring for one good reason: It is Pixar director Andrew Stanton's first foray into live-action films. With the director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo behind it, surely this will find time for the characters as well as just big space sci-fi scenes and explosions. Not sure about the title, though. If they try to bring people who are not sci-fi nerds into the theatre by dropping the "Of Mars" from the title, then why is the trailer almost nothing but big action scenes, weird-looking martians and spaceships?
Pirates! - Band of Misfits
Directors: Peter Lord, Jeff Nevitt
You know what's as reliable as Pixar? Aardman! The creators of Wallace and Gromit seem to have delivered an exquisit pirate rompt to wash away the sour aftertaste of the last Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. I truly adore this trailer, with its goofy humour. It seems like this doesn't talk down to children and thus we get jokes about limbs falling off and fishermen being crushed by pirate ships. And a giant fish that the mad pirate captain has dressed up as a crewmember! With sea monsters, ghost ships and swordfights aplenty, this could've been my favorite movie in the world when I was 12. But there's no reason I wouldn't enjoy the hell out of it now, either.
Ghost Rider 2: The Spirit of Vengeance
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Mark Taylor
Bad movies rarely have good sequels. But I'm willing to give this Marvel adaptation the benefit of a doubt for the fact that it's being directed by the guys behind the hilariously insane Crank films. So, suitably, this is a film where Nicolas Cage turns into a flaming skeleton that can vomit lava and pee fire. There's a high concept for you. The film has had bad early word-of-mouth, but I'm willing to watch any Nicolas Cage movie, particularly if it is as insane as this. Bring it!
Director: Ti West
Run-off-the-mill horror directors such as Eli Roth or Rob Zombie have somehow earned the title of being the Future of American horror. Well, one director who has truly earned that title, is Ti West, the director of 2008's effective House of the Devil. Like he did there with 80's-style horror, he has picked another popular horror sub-genre and shown others how it's supposed to be done. A haunted house! Admittedly, the trailer shows a pretty regular-seeming ghost house story, with its jump-scares and all. But I'm fairly confident that West sells his film by good direction, rather than unique stories. At least I hope so.
Director: William Friedkin
2011 was a year of return for many veteran directors. So, also William Friedkin has had a new film done, altough it has yet to premiere outside film festivals. The master of crime films such as The French Connection or To Live And Die in LA has now chosen to do a black comedy, and I'm all the merrier. There's not a trailer out yet, at least not in YouTube, but the above scene tells a lot about what to expect. Matthew McConaughey has pulled himself together since his comeback last year in The Lincoln Lawyer. He plays the titular hitman, who gets hired to do a job, but it gets complicated since he strikes his eye on his employer's sister. It's a lot more low-key than that sort of plot usually would imply, with no mob bosses to be seen. The real threat comes from Killer Joe himself, and I'm confident he's able to do some pretty terrible things.
Bullett to the Head
Director: Walter Hill
Another intriguing new project by a veteran action director is the new film by Walter Hill, director of The Warriors and 48 Hours. The film is not a remake of John Woo's craziest film, but an original action drama starring Sylvester Stallone, Christian Slater and Jason Momoa. It's a film based on a graphic novel where a cop and a hitman have to form an uneasy alliance to kill the murderer of both their partners. Stallone still is in freakily good shape for his age (that's steroids for you), so let's hope he has it in him to pull off another Rambo and deliver a huge bodycount.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Altough Dead Snow didn't work as a whole, the film had a number of delightfully twisted ideas and good scenes. So that alone makes the new film by director Tommy Wirkola worth waiting for. In an age when classic fairy tales get a modern re-imagining, casting Hansel and Gretel as full-grown witch hunters dressed like a pair of extras from Underworld movies makes me at least curious. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton seem to be good leads for such a film, and Zoë Bell plays a witch. So let's hope the result is a lot better than The Brothers Grimm.
Director: James McTeigue
I'm a sucker for off-beat adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, which is why I love Roger Corman's Poe movies so much. But this one, directed by V for Vendetta's James McTeigue, somehow re-imagines a poem where almost nothing happens (except in the mind of the lead), as an action movie. The trailer reveals that actually this is a Sherlock Holmes / From Hell / Se7en ripoff, where Poe himself (perfectly cast as John Cusack) is called to help solve murders based on his own writings. This is a goofy concept and I really want to see it work, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
The Wettest County
Director: John Hillcoat
Another director whose new work always intrigues me is John Hillcoat, the director of The Proposition and The Road. Particularly as it's script is been written by Nick Cave. Hillcoat is bringing his trademarked brown-shades this time to do a gangster story set to the prohibition era. Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Shia LaBeouf play brothers who lead a pack of bootleggers, threatened by the corrupt FBI agent played by Guy Pearce, who wants a slice of their cake. The film is an adaptation of Matt Bondurant's fact-based book The Wettest Country In The World, which was based on the life of the author's grandfather.
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Last, but definately not least, a very special Finnish film, which is looking to be released in the April if the winds are benevolent. The guys who started out doing Star Trek parodies in their basement proved that they could do a feature-length movie with 2005's Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning, which was released free in the internet and became a hit with millions of downloads. Their next film has been in the making since then, and has finally been finished with a lot of help from fans around the world. But this is not a amateur film by any means, as its script has been made by award-winning fantasy author Johanna Sinisalo, and it stars international character actors such as Udo Kier, Christopher Kirby and Julia Dietze. Oh, and what the movie is about? Nazis conquering the moon on the last days of the Reich and setting a base there. And the Moon Nazis attacking the Earth in 2018. How's that for a high concept?!
2011 Throwbacks Top 10:
Many parts of the Earth are not as lucky as the Americans, and we haven't yet seen many of 2011's most interesting films premiere here. Whereas in the USA spring is mostly quiet film-wise, in Europe it might be the most exciting time of the year to go to movies, as we finally get a chance to see the most awited award-baits. I've collected 10 of these films in this part.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
One of the biggest shoe-ins for The Best Picture Oscar is surprisingly this French silent movie. Big deal, Mel Brooks did a comedy silently in 1976, but didn't win any awards for it. But in seriousness, this is reportedly a love letter to cinema itself, with plenty of slapstick gags that reminisce the best of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. And, I would also bet if it's an Oscar favorite, that the film has a softer side too, and is willing to not only make people laugh, but, perhaps, also make them shed a tear for the changing times.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Director: Lynn Ramsay
Director: Martin Scorsese
To tell the truth, I wasn't terribly thrilled about the trailer for Martin Scorsese's 3D adventure movie. But then praise started to flowing in. Even James Cameron called the "best use of 3D technology he'd ever seen, including his own films". Recognizing the apt notice that this is the first time in history that James Cameron has recognized that someone is better at something than he himself, the film must be a real miracle. I'm also interested because Steven Spielberg did so well on his own 3D experiments in The Adventures of Tintin. Surely the friendly rivalry between the two old pals ensures that they both are innovative films.
Director: Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne's new look into the mindsets and tragedies of middle-aged people is also almost certainly worth a shot. This one is not just a crisis that the wealthy land-owner played by George Clooney goes through in Hawaii. It is also a story about an estranged family that has to come together. That there is a pretty basic independent dramedy material, but I'm sure Payne has both good enough caharcter observations and funny enough jokes to this be a worthy candidate to watch.
Director: James Bobin
I'm not the world's biggest Muppet fan, but I recognize that we are direly in need of them in these times. There's something seriously old-school in The Muppets, and not just that the puppets are hand-craft actors, not CGI effects. The variéte style that the films encompass has been resurrected by the world's biggest Muppet fan Jason Segel, and the subsequent musical-comedy has been praised as pure joy. This film is in threat of going straight to DVD in Finland, while crap like Journey 2 and The Phantom Menace 3D get theatrical releases. I'm willing to fight for my right to see The Muppets in theatre. It's a big-sized comedy. If put just on DVD, I fear it will be mixed with such lesser movies as Muppets from Space or The Muppet Wizard of Oz. I'm certain that the powers behind this have put a little more effort into bringing Muppets back to the limelight.
This Must Be The Place
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
One of the first premieres in Finland this year is this Sean Penn-starrer. He plays a Robert Smith lookalike that attempts to carry out his estranged father's last wish and to murder the Nazi that tortured him in a concentration camp. A hijink-filled road trip ensues. With music by David Byrne. There's another High Concept for ya. This one will either work like a charm or fail miserably. Judging by the trailer I'm willing to bet for the former.
Director: Roman Polanski
Yes, even Roman Polanski is among the list of veteran directors who managed to produce an intriguing new film last year. This one relies on star actors for a good performance and little else. Two sets of parents (Jodie Foster & John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz) arrange to have a discussion since their adolescent boys have been in a fight. But as both sides are willing to fiercely protect their own offspring, things are about to turn ugly. Polanski has relied on big issue-filmmaking in recent years, so it's refreshing to see him do a completely character-based film. He is one of the finest actor's directors alive today, as anyone that has acted for him will tell. Because this is about adult reaction to their child's misbehaviour, this seems like a natural companion piece to We Need To Talk About Kevin.
Director: Steve McQueen
Not just old veterans have done interesting new films. Steve McQueen proved he had strong cinematic sense with Hunger, and he has teamed up again with actor Michael Fassbender for his latest. Like previously, this is a frenetic piece about an obsession. Fassbender plays a sex addict who attempts to hide his shameful ways from the outside. This becomes harder as his sister arrives to his place to stay over. McQueen is a visual storyteller, who can work without much dialogue. Still, I hope the film will be less experimental in style as Hunger was.
Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy
Director: Thomas Alfredson
Another bright and rising talent is the swedish director of Let The Right One In, Thomas Alfredson. In his Hollywood debut he has gained enough reputation to be able to direct one of the best actors alive, Gary Oldman. Oldman is also due to a comeback, since he has mostly been seen as a (albeit very good) bit-part player in big ensemble pictures such as The Dark Knight trilogy and the Harry Potter films. The film is a return to the thinking man's espionage pictures, taking place during the Cold War. The British Intelligence goes through rough times as an operation in Istanbul goes haywire. Oldman's George Smiley is brought from retirement to capture the Russian spy hiding among MI-6. And he's willing to get his hands dirty to find him.
Tropa de Elite 2 – The Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Director: José Padliha
One of the most kick-ass action films of the 2000s has gotten a sequel that has been hailed as even better than the first one. As the first one was about a paramilitary police squad bent on cleaning up the favelas from crime, the second one delves deeper, into politics and structures of the society. This may be the Brazilian Wire, but in action film form rather than a TV series. I can't fucking wait. Fortunately, this arrives in Finland already in January, so it won't take long any more.
Rest of the Year Top 12:
If one thing's for certain, it is that it's impossible to know what the year's truly interesting films will be until one sees them. So, because big blockbuster films are the ones that start their marketing early, they are also the ones that we have most information about at the moment. The best films of 2012 may be ones we've never heard about. But then again, there will be plenty of interesting, and BIG blockbusters, too. Here's 12 projects that have captured my interest for the rest of the year.
12. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Video game adaptations and Takashi Miike films: two things that are more often bad than not. But still, Nintendo's crazy handheld lawyer game is tailor-made for a director as crazy as Miike to direct. This may be the japanese Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in a courthouse – an odd mixture of computer graphics and overladen drama. I'm hoping to catch this at autumn's Love & Anarchy festival.
11. Twylight Zones
Sopranos mastermind David Chase has directed and written his debut feature film! It's a film set in New Jersey in the 1960's, where a group of friends decides to form a band. Sounds intriguing, and seeing as Chase has brought James Gandolfini with him, I'm hoping this will touch some layers of brilliance. No pictures have come out yet, but I remain interested.
10. The Amazing Spider-Man
When one of the most popular superheroes of all time (that isn't Superman) has a new movie coming out, and it's only the third most awaited superhero epic of the year, you know it's 2012. Spidey is a sort of underdog of the year, which is hardly surprising. The film seems to be aimed at Twilight audiences who love brooding and pouting. Spidey fans got enough drama from Sam Raimi's films and are hoping for a more light-hearted take in the same vein as Iron Man and Thor. But, this advertizes as being "the untold story", so the film might have tricks up its sleeve even for die-hard comics readers. And I think Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone seem to be a good casting choice as the lead lovebirds, seemingly even better and more apt than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Spidey remains my favorite superhero, and I will see the film no matter what.
|Also make a lot of these hand motions and "Thwippp" -sounds.|
9. The Life of Pi
Meanwhile, whatever happened to Tobey Maguire? Well, as is seen in Ang Lee's latest film, he got stuck on a lifeboat with an orang-utan, a zebra, a hyena and a tiger. This is a perculiar story, but I'm willing to bet Lee makes it into a heartwarming adventure story. Also I like to see how a lifeboat filled with animals will cope.
I'm still willing to give Tim Burton the benefit of a doubt, particularly when he makes stop-motion animations. This one is based on his own live-action short, that was heck of a charming yarn in the first place. It's a story of young Victor Frankenstein, who resurrects his dear dog Sparky after it's hit by a truck. But the people living in the suburbs don't take kindly to such creature to walk the Earth. It's nice to see Burton call back his earlier cast members such as Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, who will provide voices.
7. The Expendables 2
If Simon West, the director of Con Air, the best ensemble action film of the last 20 years, can't produce explosive gold with a cast that includes Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Chris Hemswoth, and bigger roles for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who will at least fire a gun this time around), then America has failed as a nation.
Welcome back, Mr. Bond. We've missed you. What way to welcome back everyone's favorite agent than giving his new adventure's director's chair to Sam Mendes? I hope all the time spent worrying over MGM's fate has given the director time to think the film through, as no one wants to see the repeat of Quantum of Solace's failures. We want a streamlined action thriller with exotic locations, and to see what the hell is going on during the action scenes. No Paul Haggis on screenwriting duties means no frustrating underlining of the film's themes. This time, there's also serious acting talent involved, with Javier Bardem playing the main villain, and also Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith and Albert Finney being involved. Most interesting will be that Q and Miss Moneypenny return the series as younger versions after a long while. Maybe 007 will have back some of his boyish humour after the last two films were almost comically serious affairs.
This certainly is a year filled with cinematic adventure. Pixar is returning to form after the wreckage of Cars 2 with a relatively low-key one. The biggest threat in Brave is not awakening ancient evil, or the destruction of Earth, but just a big bear. True, the story's a sort of Mulan re-hash with a young girl wanting to be a warrior but shunned. But she'll prove them wrong. I'm totally in love with the fim's visual look, that doesn't resemble an American CGI animation at all. It has a really European, and medieval feel to it. Much of this is achieved with the various light effects, which are truly marvellous. The film seems to be as funny, exciting and perfected as Pixar's finest.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
So far I've felt like the promotional material for Christopher Nolan's trilogy-closer have been quite underwhelming. Third parts are never easy in franchises, particularly if you have to follow the excellent Dark Knight. The trailer doesn't tell much about the story, just that Batman has to stop Bane from destroying Gotham City. Bane as a villain seems to be just a mumbling muscleman with a jockstrap in his face. I'm almost missing the screaming retard from Batman & Robin.
But everyone who likes big action movies will wait for this nevertheless. Nolan is known for his secretiveness, and there are almost certainly twists and turns in the film no one saw coming before. I'm also willing to bet Bane and Catwoman aren't the only supervillains in the game, and that several others may also make a surprise appearance. It's never really been done before that a superhero's story has an end, and it will be exciting to see what tricks Nolan has up his sleeve. If Batman Begins was inspired by Year One, The Dark Knight by The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween, than this one must be inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, not plot-wise, but thematically. And that's the best Batman story there is, so it's suitable.
3. The Avengers
But for all its brooding and a sense of end, I'll still rather take a light-hearted ensemble action romp where a lot of things go boom. Building up a big team-up with five movies has got to mean that The Avengers is one of the biggest films ever. Because the nerd-friendly Joss Whedon is directing, the whole thing has good chances of working. True, it is probably mostly Robert Downey, Jr.'s show, but then again, he is so good, he should be the centre of attention. This is another trailer that doesn't really tell much, just that the heroes are assembling to fight a threat. Since Loki is involved, I bet he's pulling the strings on The Hulk at first (like in the comics), but perhaps on an attack by a certain shape-shifting alien race later on. Any Marvel fanboy worth his salt just can't wait!
2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I'm betting many others were also not aware of how much they have missed Middle-Earth. From the trailer's first notes it feels like an opportunity to go back home. As the source book was meant more or less for children, we are able to expect a much more lighter-hearted film. One should note that the trailer showcases locations and moods more than actual actions, which are pretty light during the first part of the book. The adaptation seems to be interwoven with prequel duties, setting up things that happened before the events of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. But let's hope the film will not be only walking around and Tolkien songs, but exciting and fun as well. With Peter Jackosn back directing, and Guillermo Del Toro in scripwriting duties, there's a pretty good chance for it.
1. Django Unchained
I have to ask myself, what it is about this film that excites me so. And I must answer that it has to be the cast, probably the most impressive of Tarantino's career, or at least after Pulp Fiction. Tarantino has new roles for the two best actors of his two latest films, Christoph Waltz and Kurt Russell. He has Hollywood A-listers with Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He has cult favorites such as Don Johnson, Anthony LaPaglia and even Franco Nero himself. He even has the wild card in Sacha Baron Cohen. The whole thing pulled together with Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington as the leads. So, this is the kind of cast I'm willing to follow to hell and back. And with Tarantino always whipping up good performances, it'll be a hoot to see who out-acts the other out. And who knows, maybe there will be something new or unexpected in the film. Wouldn't actually be so strange for Tarantino, after all.
Have a good 2012, everyone, and remember to go see movies!