Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Summer is here!

Summertime is upon us again! One can tell from all the trailers and posters and ads for upcoming movies. So now is the time to take a look at all the big-budgeted blockbusters we all will be seeing instead of going outside and enjoying the sunshine.

I am also taking a vacation, and thus not updating for at least two weeks (shocking, I know). So if you're waiting for the report from Night Visions, keep on waiting. It's gonna be a doozy, I can promise you that.

April 27th/May 4th

The Avengers
Director: Joss Whedon
Studio: Marvel

As has become a tradition, the summer season kicks off with the latest adaptation of a Marvel comics hero. Only in this case it's a whole bunch of heroes. Yes, after years of teasing us with post-credits sequences, Marvel's major super team will be assembling up! Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury and pals will be taking on the power-hungry God of Mischief Loki and his mystery army of some sort of alien/interdimensionary beings. Luckily the good guys have a Hulk.

What I like most about these movies is that they have successfully resisted the Nolan lure of going more realistic and grittier, opting to be more fun. In these films, comedy's an important element, as are individual characteristics for our heroes. And I think every trailer will show that this film will be bucketloads of fun. Just having Robert Downey Jr. throwing smart-assed remarks will be worth the ticket price alone. And director Whedon has shown in his various own TV series that he can handle a group dynamic, giving each cast member the time to shine. Heck, he has shown in his own scripted comics that he understands the dynamic of The Avengers well. The only problem the movie could have is for the villain to be underwhelming (yet again). Tom Hiddleston didn't really get his time to shine in Thor, and generic scooter-based alien-things and their Transformer-like robot dragon pets don't seem that exciting either. Presumably The Avengers will spend more time fighting each other, like comic book types are won't to do before teaming up.

It's a small miracle that we here in Europe get to enjoy the company of Earth's Mightiest Heroes from April 27th onwards, while Americans have to wait until Star Wars Day, May 4th, to see the film. Ha, ha! One can tell where the biggest source of revenue comes from!

Predicted Stars: ****
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win!

May 11th 

Dark Shadows
Director: Tim Burton
Studio: Warner Brothers

The problem with Tim Burton these days is that he's playing it too safe. He's taking on subjects that were the Timburtoniest to begin with, and the end results are usually just what you expected them to be. To be a proper auteur, he should fight against the norms more (like he did in the late-80's, early 90's), not create them himself. And like director-like-muse, the same applies to the career of Johnny Depp. So their latest film together is an adaptation of some sort of a gothic soap opera from where-ever. I guess that has some sort of a built-in fan base.

Depp plays a 200-year-old vampire (those are popular now, right?) who gets released from a curse and reawakens in the 1970's. He finds out his descendants are now inhabiting his old home mansion and decides to help them out in their life problems. Hijinks and hilarity (presumably) ensue. Depp's own soap opera 21 Jump Street was recently made into a movie so he retaliated by making another one. I myself have never seen a good soap opera movie adaptation. But 21 has had some praising reviews.

I would really want Burton to be good again, so I'll give this the benefit of a doubt. He does work best as an underdog, so perhaps this will be a pleasant surprise. The trailer doesn't quite convince me, with it's Basic Hits of the 70's #3 soundtrack. But it may be that the big audiences are as tired of him serving the same shit over and over again and don't bother turning up at cinemas. Maybe.

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail?: So-so.

May 18th

The Dictator
Director: Larry Charles
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Sacha Baron Cohen is back with another wacky character. Like Charlie Chaplin before him, he's decided to send off various dictators around the world this time. Although Chaplin didn't wait Hitler was dead before doing so, like Cohen has done with his version of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Ghaddafi and Kim-Jong Il. Cohen can't surprise celebrities any more, but he sure as hell can annoy them, as witnessed when he dumped a bowl of ashes on Ryan Seacrest in the Oscar red carpet (my hero!).

I think this will be more or less like Brüno, a mixed bag of occasional brilliance, but also way too many dumb celebrity and body fluid jokes, and raising up of Cohen's own bloated image. But the viral marketing has ensured that it will go well with audiences.

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win

May 25th

Men In Black III
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio: Amblin Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Like with many other major movie stars nowadays, also Will Smith's bankability is currently on the downhill slope. Thus, he also needs to go back to his former successes. Due to the fact that X-Men: First Class did all right last year, the Galaxy Defenders are taking a blast to the past now, and goung to the swinging 60's. Yeah, baby, yeah! Totally original and radical, dude! It even turns out lady gaga is an alien! Who knew?!

I don't think there are too many MIB fans out there any more. The whole thing feels too much like a late-90's thing to make me interested. It's like watching a sequel to The Matrix.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: Fail.

June 1st

Snow White And The Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Studio: Universal Pictures

From the people who brought you Alice in Wonderland (except Tim Burton), comes another classic fairy tale update that sees the heroine as a Chosen One to defeat the Evil Queen and bring Order to Chaos. Y'know, since Alice in Wonderland worked so well and wasn't at all bullshit (I'm being sarcastic). And it stars that mouth-breathing lady from those vampire movies!

I would be surprised if anyone would be interested in another Snow White movie just a couple of months since the last one flopped. To be fair, Tarsem's Mirror, mirror seemed a lot worse judging by the trailer. This has the Magic mirror turning into shrapnels and killing a whole lot of dudes. On the con side, the dwarves seem to be quite sidelined, and they are played by shrunken tall actors. But one of them is played by Nick Frost! Yeah, I know. Faint praise and all. Better is that Hossein Amini, screenwriter of Drive, had a hand in the script.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: Fail.

Piranha 3DD
Director: John Gulager
Studio: Dimension Films

Now here's high concept for ya! Whereas the first Piranha got quite close but not quite at the manic Joe Dante-style gleeful chaos, Piranha 3DD seems to want to top it in any way. If ever there was a movie for chauvinist pigs, it's this – tits are promised even in the title! And we have David Hasselhoff parodying himself and Gary Busey and Christopher Lloyd making cameos. This time, it has actually been shot in 3D! Plus it has even more, outrageous Piranha carnage! My ticket is practically bought already.

Predicted Stars: ****
Box Office Win/Fail?: So-so.

June 8th

Director: Ridley Scott
Studio: 20th Century Fox

I can finally rant about Prometheus! What is it about Prometheus that has gotten everyone so crazy excited? I mean, sure, it's a sci-fi movie made by Ridley Scott, which might have been exciting in the late 70's, early 80's. But the Scott we have today is not much better from your basic Bruckheimer hack, having delivered at best forgettable thrillers and at worst unbelievable garbage the last decade or so. This may be a bit better than most of those, but I wouldn't wager it to be worth more than three stars.

Okay, so the trailer that mimics the one from Alien does have a few interesting-looking scenes. But I myself am more or less done with the world of Aliens. And I'm dead worried that my beloved xenomorphs get an origin story nobody wanted to hear. It's just too much of a price to pay to see a couple of beautiful sets. One can see about half of them by watching Alien on blu-ray anyway.

Even this Viral ad featuring Michael Fassbender as an android didn't win me over, even though everyone and their grandmother is raving about it. The reason? The script is godawful. I mean "What is it about robots that makes them so robotic?" If this is a joke, it's a bad one. And Fassbender is a good actor but here he seems to ham it up when he's supposed to be as unemotional and asexual as possible. Rant over.

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win! Thanks to marketing.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
Director: Who Cares?
Studio: DreamWorks

So they made another one of these as well. Enh, whatever. The kids will probably see it nevertheless. That's about as much thought as the studio executives gave for this in advance.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail?: So-so.

June 15th

Rock of Ages
Director: Adam Shankman
Studio: New Line Cinema

It's some sort of a high profile romantic musical where Tom Cruise plays an aging rock sta-zzzzzzzzzzz.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail?: Fail.

That's My Boy
Director: Sean Anders
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Meanwhile, unlike Tom Cruise and Will Smith, Adam Sandler thrives just by name recognition alone, no matter how awful garbage he feeds to his audiences. Is this a sort-of sequel to Big Daddy? If you paid to see Jack & Jill, you don't deserve anything better.

Predicted Stars: *
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win.

June 22nd
Director: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Studio: Disney/Pixar

Now we're talking! Pixar returns to do original stories with this yarn about gender differences in a medieval scottish village. What I like most about this one's premise is that it's not otherwordly or to far-fetched a concept. It's a simple old-timey tale of bravery and knight-viking-like warriors. It may have a lot to do with the nature of storytelling and tall tales as well.

Visually, this looks as realistic as ever, with it's believable copying of natural light, be it from daylight, candlelight, dawn or dusk. The fog and cloud effects are breathtaking as well. These sort of details and settings are important in the overall athmosphere of the story. Pixar's jump to live-action films can't be far behind.

Predicted Stars: ****1/2
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win!

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Regularly I don't much care for the literary genre of inserting monsters in a straight book. And I wouldn't read the one this one is based on. But damn, if I don't find the concept of ol' Honest Abe battling it out with some bloodsuckers. The trailer doesn't show much, besides some guys talking in the woods at night and some pretty horrific clips of hell. I'm still intrigued.

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail?: Fail.

June 29th

G.I. Joe – Retaliation
Director: Jon Chu

As you may know, if you've ever read a similar post written by me, that I'm easily fooled by a cool trailer. If a trailer looks good enough, I'm willing to forget that the film is a sequel to something which should have no sequels whatsoever. I really don't know a single case where a sequel to a bad movie would have been a considerable improvement, at least in Hollywood.

But that being said, dang, if the trailers for the next toy soldiers fight toy ninjas movie doesn't look entertaining! This time around the Joes have an actually threatening villain to fight with, not just a cloud of nanobots. And they have to fight for America's freedom! And their own freedom to survive and to be able to shoot America's enemies! It seems the various actors posing as action figures have adventures worth repeating at one's sandbox this time. I mean, ninjas fighting at mountainside! Bruce Willis! I can't add any more to that trailer, watch that.

Predicted Stars: ***1/2
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win.

July 6th

The Amazing Spider-Man
Director: Marc Webb
Studio: Sony Pictures/Columbia

I would like it more than anything to have the smart-assed, playful Spider-Man I so love reading about on the big screen. Tobey Maguire was great as a teenaged nerd, but he's no comedian. It seems long-time comic nerd Andrew Garfield has a better grasp of the character. But the clips I've seen so far make the joking Spidey act like quite an asshole bully. I wonder what kind of taunting will The Lizard have to endure?

For all the pandering to the Twilight crowd, I also like really much that Spidey is at odds with the police. He's a weird vigilante with odd powers, and can't resist joking on the expense of the boys in blue. I'd rather watch that than him having a parade and kissing babies or whatever was in Spider-Man 3. The melodramatic romances were also done quite well before, but the combination of Emma Stone and Gwen Stacy would melt even the hardest of cynics.

It seems that the film will be a mixture of familiar and new. The villain, of course is another scientist/father figure who has an experiment go wrong and turns into a monster. Hey, Batman's villains are all horrifically disfigured crime bosses. Spidey has these. I like The Lizard but really hope he doesn't speak. Rhys Ifans is a weird choice to play him, but I can see they are going somewhere very different with this. I'm also very intrigued to know where they are going with all the mysteries surrounding Peter Parker's parents. And it seems that even though we get Spidey's origin, it will play out quite differently from Sam Raimi. I don't think this will be the Spidey movie of my dreams (Spider-Man 2 is the closest one we'll get of that for a while), but I will definitely be there to see it.

Predicted Stars: ***1/2
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win.

July 13th
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Director: Steve Martino (The non-union Mexican equivalent of Steve Martin?)
Studio: Sony/Blue Sky

See Madagascar 3. Or rather, see what I wrote about that. See Brave, so we'll get some more original animated films that bring the humor and heart.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: So-so.

July 20th

The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan (had to check it!)
Studio: Warner Brothers

This is the big thing of the summer, there's no denying it. There's a lot of trust in Nolan, even though he has to juggle against impossible expectations following clearly the best superhero film ever made  and the subsequent threequel-itis. But word has flowed that those who have seen the opening sequence say it's as appetite-wetting as the opening for The Dark Knight. Plus, as we have a clear auteur on board, it is intriguing to see how he plans to close one of the biggest franchises in the world. It's the sort of chance we may never again witness in the history of motion pictures.

That's not to say there won't be more Batman movies. It's the end of this interpretation, and as with comics there have been multiple reincarnations of the character. But will this last chapter make this take truly legandary, to be talked about by superhero fans for all eternity to come? It seems that no grandiosity of thought would not be too big enough when discussing this movie. But still, after all that thought and talk, it's best to remember it's still just a movie. It has three acts, it's a rise-and-fall-and rise story in three acts and it's an action film about a hero's journey. It's not the messiah.

Still, I'm kind of bummed we don't have IMAX theatres in Finland. Nolan has had more piles of money to burn than The Joker could ever dream of and he has used them no doubt in some quite impressive explosions. I wonder how much of Gotham City will be left at the end of the film. I also wonder how exactly does Catwoman fit in the story about Bane wrecking Batman's body, city and life. But we shall see.

Predicted Stars: ****
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win!

Anything opening the next week after that one might as well not open at all.

August 3rd

The Bourne Legacy
Director: Tony Gilroy

Want proof Batman will be coming back? Another hero had his story wrapped up good and nicely in a satisfying trilogy-closer. They insult the memory of the good times with this. Oh, Jeremy Renner. You're in so many tentpole films that you're just going to get shunned just like Sam Worthington or Shia LaBeof or that guy who was in the first G.I. Joe, whatshisname?

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: Fail.

Total Recall
Director: Len Wiseman

Another film that has a premise that guarantees that I'm not interested. Wait, scratch that. I might be interested in a Paul Verhoeven remake, if it were done by a similarly strong auteur, such as Darren Aronofsky or José Padliha. When you got the guy who directed the Underworld films, man, you would've been better off even calling to Brett Ratner or Paul W.S. Anderson.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: So-so.

Genius director Fernando Meirelles' new film also opens that same day, but since it's about old people having sex, it has about snowball's chances at a Mexican drug cartel.

August 17th

The Expendables 2
Director: Simon West
Studio: Lionsgate

I know I didn't like The Expendables 1. That was directed by the man who directed Rocky IV. But that man is an egoist, and this film is helmed by the man who brought the world the Best Action Film of the 90's, Con Air! At most, we have already witnessed just the cast list of this steroid-pumped super ensemble piece. But just the knowledge that Arnold Schwarzenegger will fire a gun this time around will more than make for this to be the film to close quite an extensive summer of big tentpole movies.

Predicted Stars: ****
Box Office Win/Fail: Win!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Them's fighting words!

Today is my birthday. I'm going to spend the night the best way I know how: at Night Visions Festival, enjoying a full night filled with horror, oddities and hilariously goofy old movies. But I'd also like to spread the cheer. After all, this blog recently topped 50,000 viewers so I figure I owe my loyal readers a treat (feel free to thank me in the comments). I'll take a page from Chris Sims and present several of the rootinest, tootinest, fightinest films known to man! If this doesn't grow hair to your bathing suit area, nothing will. Let's party for our right to fight!

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (Lik Wong, 1991)
Director: Ngai Kai Lam

I like my fight scenes like I like my stake: RAW and with an obscene amount of killings. That is also why probably my favorite splatter film is this gloriously over-the-top Japanese manga-based prison flick. The titular Ricky is certainly a kind of a superhero – of beating people until there's nothing more than a pile of bloody goo! The super-powered youngster is sent to the big house for killing a crime boss responsible for the death of his girlfriend. Ricky always stands up for the down-trodden, the persecuted and the weak, and thus sets out to clean out the corruption and the gangs from the joint. Thus, his chief rivals are the joint's sadistic warden and The Gang of Four, a fearsome crime boss ring, each of which controls one wing of the prison.

Unlike other films listed on this post, Riki-Oh is clearly meant to be funny. But it does it so violently and with such an over-the-top mentality that one can't help but to love it. The film clearly has a comic book sensibility, and it tops the ante with each subsequent action scene. It's even just the right length so that when you feel that you're finally getting tired of the gore, the film ends.

Plenty of Japanese flicks (many made by the company Sushi Typhoon) have tried to imitate its madcap charm, but none have succeeded. It helps a lot that all the gore scenes in this are practical effects as opposed to computer-generated blood. Thus, stomachs get blown open, jaws disengaged, organs fall into meat grinders and heads explode a plenty. There still didn't seem to be enough in the effects budget to make a convincing dummy girlfriend to throw off the roof. And there are also other ridiculous scenes such as Ricky practicing with his sensei by punching through gravestones he's throwing at him. Or the downright nasty scene where Ricky is buried alive. Or, or...

If films like Evil Dead 2 and Braindead are your thing, you owe it to yourself to check Riki-Oh. It should be just as big as a splatter cult classic. It does have friends in high places, though, as director Edgar Wright has admitted loving the film.


Avenging Force (1986)
Director: Sam Firstenberg

American Ninja mastermind Sam Firstenberg reunites with his star Michael Dudikoff for this dumb-as-a-rock action flick. Dudikoff plays the ex-secret service man Matt Hunter (a great character name, by the way), who arrives to New Orleans to help his friend Larry Richards (Steve James) run for governor. But since Richards is both black and a democrat, he's also the target for the secret Nazi Illuminati called The Pentangle. Hunter attempts his best to keep Richards and his family alive from the hit attempts and hides them in his grandfather's farm where he lives with his sister Sarah. But The Pentangle can receive information of their whereabouts with their connections and do a major strike. Hunter soon becomes the hunted, but he's also going to make sure The Pentangle never hurts anyone any more.

The plot mashes it's perfectly serviceable espionage plot to a mind-bogglingly stupid manhunt plot. The Pentangle like to dispose of their victims by hunting them like animals through a large swampland area. The end fights there are what really make the film memorable. Hunter takes care of each Pentangle member in a hand-to-hand combat. The shirtless Dudikoff wrestling with various burly men (one of which is dressed like a gimp) in the mud is astonishingly homoerotic. In particular, Hunter likes to lock his enemies to the ground with his thighs, and penetrate them with a knife or some other phallic object. Each villain also has a orgasmic last gasp that Vernon Wells would see as a bit overdoing it. The film's uneasy sexuality also doesn't end there. Hunter has a bit too much affection to his 10-year-old sister. When The Pentangle's top members kidnap her, they threaten to take her virginity (!). She's later found among transvestite hookers in the red light district. Firstenberg doesn't strain himself much, and gleefully burns likeable characters to death and executes children. The end result is very special 80's cheese, and another evidence that Firstenberg is the man to go to when you want some so-bad-they-are-excellent action films.

The entire film is currently on YouTube, if you want to watch it.

★ or ★★★★★

Undefeatable (Cui hua kuang mo, 1993)
Director: Godfrey Ho

I'm not actually sure where this film is supposed to take place. It's in English, but the film crew is from Hong Kong. The American-seeming setting, however is some warped version of our reality, where every person, man and woman, is a musclebound martial arts expert. From the look of things, as well as the slowness of their thinking, it seems that steroids and other illegal substances seem to be legal in this world, too. And everyone is on drugs, all the time. The mafia, however, organizes illegal street brawls that the police are unable to stop. Kristi (Cynthia Rothrock) turns tricks at these fights to earn money. Hey, it beats being a crack whore.

Unbeknownst to her, Anna, the wife of the notorious underground fighter Stingray (Don Niam) leaves her abusive husband. This drives Stingray mad and into a frenzy. He starts a killing spree of kidnapping any women that come into his path and gouging out their eyes. If any men try to stop him, he beats them to a pulp. When Kristi's sister dies at the hands of this brutal mass murderer, it becomes personal. Kristi joins with detective Nick DiMarco (John Miller) to take down the killer – by any means necessary!

Undefeatable is a parade of hilariously awful acting, worse hair, mind-boggling stupidity and, in a word, insanity. But one can't say that there aren't a couple of nifty fight scenes in this. Hong Kong action director Ho knows how to make his actors do the splits. But he can't tell a story worth shit. In a Hong Kong-set film the context of the film's martial arts fighting would be right at home, but in an American film they feel really odd. It doesn't help (or rather, it does) that the film contains heaps of gore and brutal violence. It's more or less unexplained what makes Stingray so crazy as to kill people with his bear hands, other than misogynism and abandonment issues. Lucky for the viewers, most of the effects are cruddy and thus obscenely violent the murder scenes become quite funny as well.

The end fight of the film isn't the best choreographed in the film, but it is probably the most stupid, and definitely the most brutal. It's precisely because of clips like this why the film has gained new following from YouTube. Just don't spoil yourself if you intend to watch the loony film in its entirety.

★ or ★★★★★

Road House (1989)
Director: Rowdy Herrington

Easily the best-known of this post's films, Road House is a genuine cult classic about bouncers in a very seedy tavern somewhere in the midwest. Their leader, the New Yorker Jack Dalton (who incidentally shares his name with MacGyver's best friend) is played by the late, magnificent Patrick Swayze. And he's the toughest of the tough, cleaning the entire town when he was only assigned to clean up the local tavern The Double Deuce.

Dalton is an expert cooler, advising the other bouncers, and breaks up a number of violent bar fights before the property damage goes over $ 50,000. A lot of the fights are caused by the minions of local kingpin Brad Wesley (also the dearly departed Ben Gazzara), who has financial control over the town. When Dalton also becomes involved by his ex-girlfriend, the town's sexy female doctor "Doc" (Kelly Lynch), Wesley takes a personal vendetta to get rid of the man. But Dalton isn't one to be easily bullied, and as a student of philosophy, his conclusion is pain.

Road House would be memorable even from the odd table-turning of a film about bouncers turning into a modern western, where a stranger cleans up a corrupt city of criminals. The dialogue is deliciously foul-mouthed and the film's humor sexist and rowdy. But what really makes it a classic is Swayze's character. Always the philosopher, he delivers deadpan such incredible one-liners as "Pain don't hurt" or "Nobody ever wins a fight" (Both of which are rules he comes to break during the course of the movie). No wonder, he's been studying philosophy and that sort of shit. nevertheless, for all his zen approach, Dalton is basically just as vengeful and brutal as a Steven Seagal character when pushed too far.

The film is on this list because of the fight between Dalton and Wesley's right-hand man Jimmy (Marshall R. Teague). This is the scene where the film goes completely off the rails (although it had been odd before). First the homoerotic mouth-off, and finally the surprisingly brutal final blow, which would fit a low-budget splatter film better than a Hollywood high-concept movie. It's probably needless to say that this is one of my favorite films of all time.


Gymkata (1985)
Director: Robert Clouse

Last, but definitely not least we have the most Reaganist film ever created, and also one of the most awesomely 80's films. Someone had the bright idea to turn the Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas into an action hero, and thus the film sends him out to fight for truth, justice and the American way.

In what has got to be one of the stupidest film plots ever written, the US secret service contacts Olympic medalist Jonathan Cabot (Thomas), because they need to set up a Star Wars -space programme weapons satellite in the eastern European nation of Parmistan. The way Cabot could handle this is to win the age old The Game, in which the Parmistans compete against a flock of ninjas. Whoever wins, gets one wish granted by the King of Parmistan. The only problem is that no-one has survived The Game alive in 400 years. So, Cabot goes through a frivolous training to win. During the course, he falls in love with his martial arts instructor, the princess of Parmistan, Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani).

Needless to say, the satellite plot is dropped pretty soon, and the film mostly concerns Cabot trying to survive in the hostile country. There just being an American is enough of a reason for everyone to try to kill him, whether part of The Game or not. Fortunately, his gymnast skills combined with the martial arts training prove to be so deadly, he can beat down huge crowds of people (some of which fall down without even being touched by him). The Parmistanian architecture favors elements on the streets that could as easily be used as gymnastic equipment. But he needs them, since The Game is even more deadly then the Hunger Games, and mostly involves ninjas shooting people running away with arrows.

The hilariously awful fight scenes are not even the stupidest thing of the film. The film is astonishingly racist, seeing as European countries still being in the Medieval times. Save for the country's princess, every single Parmistanian is a hideous old crone or old peasant without teeth, and frivolously hating America. Which is why it is hilarious that Cabot decides to wear his Stars 'n Stripes-coloured sweater when walking through the country's streets. Cabot also doesn't care much whether he accidentally beats some innocent people when taking care of his pursuers. Or some too touchy old women. Stupidly, the film also comes up with the idea of Cabot's father being missing while taking part of The Game in the middle of the film. He appears unharmed and almost unexplained and dies almost instantly by taking a few arrows in the back. This insanity is truly brain-meltingly strange. The film should be watched for the extended scene where Cabot wanders across a misty town, where every inhabitant seems to come out to laugh at him from the windows. Which is followed by this gem:

★ or ★★★★★

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Artisokka Film Festival 2012

The Artisokka Film Festival has been around for a while and has traditionally profiled itself as a festival about films made by women, about women. But since it has been on the grow, and because it's being handled by much of the same crew as Love & Anarchy, it has now become a sort of a little sister to Helsinki International Film Festival each spring. This year, the festival premiered a number of great and/or interesting films that hadn't yet or haven't at all been brought to big screens in Finland. Thus it's about time to take a look at the festival's program this year.

A Dangerous Method (Canada/USA)
Director: David Cronenberg

Director David Cronenberg is on a roll, since his sci-fi epic Cosmopolis (taking entirely place inside one car) is presumably premiering in Cannes this year. But that film's production has been a long and rocky road, so Canada's own had time to compete this relatively straight-forward period drama before that. And I use the word "relatively" because this is Cronenberg we are talking about, and the resulting film does feel a lot like it was made by its auteur.

Cronenberg has been interested in psychology all through his career and now delves into the sources of some of it's leading developers. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is a young psychiatrist running a hospital in Zurich and developing ways in which treat patients from their mental illnesses. Jung gets tangled in an intriguing case when Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is sent to him, suffering from severe hysteric outbursts. Jung uses various methods on her, such as word association, dream interpretation, and open discussions. Since she takes a turn for the better, he eventually allows her to help him around the hospital. Jung also develops a friendship with his idol, Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and they have lengthy discussions about the nature of psychoanalysis and particularly the place sexual impulses play in a person's psyche.

Jung, an academic professional, eventually gets tangled up in a spiral of sexuality, and gets turned entirely from what he was in the beginning of the film. Thus, the story is quite Cronenbergian. The director is seemingly having a lot of fun depicting various psychiatric methods on film. The film is also quite distant and cold, with little warmth or sympathy. The film's cold color scheme reflects it, and visually the film reminds almost a sunday evening BBC drama series. But I mean this as a compliment, and Cronenberg has put extra effort in making the world seem reasonable and realistic, when it's characters psyches and emotions clearly are not.

The story is told matter-of-factly, while at the same time Jung and Freud argue about the need for emotions for their line of work, or about how much their friendship is just analysts bouncing ideas back and forth and how much true comradship and mutual respect. The biggest problem of the film lies therein. The three-act structure brings Freud into the picture only at the second act, with the emphasis being on the relationship between Spielrein and Jung. By the third act the focus has shifted entirely to Freud & Jung, and Spielrein has been sidelined. Never mind the actual historical facts, this is sloppy storytelling. Fortunately, all three leads are pretty great (I also bought the exaggerated hysterical expressions of Knightley, even though a number of people have problems with them). Cronenberg makes it interesting of just seeing his leads talk to each other. Vincent Cassel's sex-obsessed Otto Gross steals the show for the few scenes he's in. Eventually the film is about the loss of idealism.

The film is very cranial, while actual sex scenes are few, and violence non-existent, which has disappointed some of the more superficial of Cronenberg's fans. So the whole film is not quite the culmination of the psychological studies of his filmography. It is still an interesting film, and arises fascination in psychoanalysis in even the layman viewer.

★★★ 1/2

Martha Marcy May Marlene (USA)
Director: Sean Durkin

The difficult-looking title delves right into the core of its main character (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and her past, using a different name at different times. Marcy May is one of the workers in a creepy farm, led by their charismatic leader Patrick (John Hawkes). One day she escapes this group and moves in to her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Living with her and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), she is known as Martha.  Martha refuses to talk about her past experiences and where she has been the last few years. Yet the past keeps haunting her, surfacing as delusions, paranoia and disturbing flashbacks.

The film doesn't offer clear visual clues on which time level we are moving, so the viewer must pay attention to know what is present and what is past. At times watching the film can be as disorienting as Martha herself views the events. Nevertheless, the structure in which the flashbacks explain directly the events happening in modern time are a bit straightforward.

The film wisely avoids many pratfalls and clichés attached to movies about various cults and communities. In this film, they are not religious wackos or raving lunatics, just good liars. Like Winter's Bone before it, this is another indie film digging into the evil lurking within picturesque mountainside wilderness, this time in the Catskill mountains. As a result, the visual representation is also similar, with blue-toned greyness and brown shades. This makes the colorful ranch sequences taking place in daylight all the more harrowing. As Marcy May is being lured into trusting a false ideal, the surroundings seem quite off as well. She is systematically being led out of her identity with a combination of sweetness and abuse and with a huge dose of lies that everything is OK and she is loved. This culminates in the scene where she answers the phone with a shared identity of "Marlene".

As a psychological piece, it is a very painful picture to watch. Olsen as the central character is present in nearly every scene, and thus makes the film work with her performance that goes right under your skin. As a fractured, broken human being she is capable for various acts, good deeds and wickedness. Strong acts of courage and disturbing madness. In the center is a cry for help for the abused. That's why it's good that the character shows her weaknesses and isn't supernaturally good at handling all the terrible things that have happened to her. Martha aims to be strong and silent, but her mind simply can't handle everything that has happened, spiraling her out of control. Sean Durkin's debut feature is a captivating film, making him a talent to watch for.  Quite haunting stuff, which reminds us all to keep track of our personalities.


Weekend (UK)
Director: Andrew Haigh

The seemingly straight Russell (Tom Cullen) goes to a house party with his friends in the city of Nottingham. After the party, he sneaks by himself to a gay club and picks up a handsome stranger just before closing. He wakes up the next morning with regret, hoping that the man lying next to him, Glen (Chris New), would leave. But Chris wants to talk. And they talk about everything, their past, their identities, their sexuality. What was meant as a one-night stands deepens. n. But there's something in Glen's life coming up that will keep the men apart. They only have the present, this weekend. Which is why Russell needs to do some soul-searching.

The film is well-acted and consists mostly of the two men just talking. Basically, it's not even that important that they are homosexual, as this could be taken to mean any relationship. Of course there is Russell's dilemma about coming out of the closet. That's why it seems like a major triumph when he finally allows himself to be seen in public together with Glen. The film has a clear time definition, of taking part during a moment and evolving truthfully. But for me at least, the film also doesn't offer much new. It's been done before, and it's clear where the film is heading from the get-go. Sympathetic though the main pair are, one's interest falters while watching them for 96 minutes non stop. An OK romance film, but not that special.


We Need To Talk About Kevin (UK/USA)
Director: Lynne Ramsay

The only actually woman-directed film I've so far seen from the festival's program was this film, based on the acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver. And it is very well-directed piece, visual and story wise. It's also a real feel-bad film, that forces it's viewer out of his/her comfort zone to ponder about the nature of evil and injustice.

Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a broken woman, having to deal with the grief and guilt caused by something horrible her teenaged son Kevin (Eszra Miller) has committed. Hated by her neighbors and ignored at her work, she is utterly alone in these feelings. When someone throws red paint all over her house at night, she begins to clean it, all the while thinking about Kevin and how he came to this point. She has felt alienated with the child ever since he was born. Kevin has been a stubborn, destructive and odd kid even when little. But whenever she would want to talk about his development or weirdness to his husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), she gets shrugged off. Franklin doesn't see anything out of the ordinary in Kevin.

At first I didn't like how evil Kevin is represented from the get go. Slap some Latin chanting in the background and he could easily be Damien from The Omen. But as the film progressed, I started to realize it's because this version exists in the memories of her mother, trying to make sense of all the events that have unfolded. It's also because he seems so unstoppably evil that she feels so helpless and that there was nothing that she could've done to stop the chain of events. In the scenes depicting the modern day, there are always some red elements in the background, with the blood work not allowing Eva a moment of tranquility. There are plenty of scenes of her attempting to wash red color off from her house's walls or from her hands, intercut with her memories of Kevin as a child. The real Kevin appears in the film's final scene.

Rather, the film sees Eva as bit too much of a martyr. The very opening scene sees her in a Christ-like pose, carried by a number of people all covered in blood-looking tomato sauce. The woman has had to give out her life of adventure and happiness for her family, and Kevin still resents her. The film is understanding for the resentment of a parent towards the child, but is also careful in not delving into over-analyzation. The film is about one woman's cross to bear, and any connections to sad real-life events seem consequential. In the flashback scenes, Ramsay uses (and Eva likes to listen to) Kabuki music, which emphasizes that the motherly love she feels for Kevin is all a masquerade. Or perhaps it's Kevin who masquerades as a good boy while in the presence of his father, but shows his true nature for his mother? The whole film is also laced with melancholic country songs, which give out a clear signal of a tale of a person that has lost everything.

Parents, punish your children. Not out of spite, but for love.


The Rum Diary (USA)
Director: Bruce Robinson

The festival closed with this box office bomb that was excluded from Finnish theatrical release altogether. It's a shame, really, since it's a sort of return to form for Johnny Depp, and a fun enough alcohol-fueled adventure from the director of Withnail & I.  It adapts more Hunter S. Thompson's actual life and diaries, than the fictional novel of the same name he wrote. The blurriness between Depp's character and real Thompson may also have been confusing to the audiences. If I remember correctly, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas wasn't initially a big hit, either.

Depp plays American journalist Paul Kemp, who has arrived to Puerto Rico and takes on various freelance jobs while there. He's assigned to do boring pieces about tourists that never leave their hotel, while a revolution is boiling on the streets. Kemp wants to get in on the action. He's much into alcohol, and his story hunts tend to end on him getting wasted. The situation is not helped when he hits it off with Sala (Michael Rispoli), another hard-drinking journalist. Another side of Kemp's misadventures revolves around the real-estate magnate Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his ravishing young wife Chenault (Amber Heard) who strikes her eye on Kemp.

As one might think, there's not much in the way of plot, with just Depp and various other bonkers character bumbling their way through the film. That also makes some scenes very funny, but most of the film very uneven. Journalism is forgotten for the most part in the get-go, as Paul and Sala focus their minds on how to get incredibly wasted. Eckhart's character in turn seems to fit some other film altogether and the blossoming romance between Paul and Chenault is almost cringe-worthy in its clunkiness. As for Puerto Rico, the film manages to show both the luxurious and the seedy parts, making the island both idyllic, and more than a little dangerous at the same time.


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Special: Visions of Jesus and Theology

Whatever one's religious stance is, there's no denying that Jesus kicks ass. Filmmakers have taken quite a few different approaches to him during the years. While some may want to be iconoclastic, it's strange that so few films want to present him as he truly was; dark-skinned, ethnically middle-Eastern man. Instead, most films draw from the Medieval European representation of the character. Also what varies is what message he's preaching to the crowd and how it is received. We take a look at four different versions, just as there are four gospels. But I do feel that the message could be summarized in two words: Peace out!

The Life of Brian (1979)
Director: Terry Jones

Clearly the most respectful representation of Jesus on film makes him little more than a background character. But he's also clearly a force that's working in the background, coming up in people's conversations and affecting their acts. It's a contemporary film, you know. The Monty Python group famously disagreed among themselves about how blasphemous their biblical comedy should be. But eventually they decided that rather than attacking religious symbols, their film should be about the religious followers and how wrong they get even the simplest of message of loving your neighbor wrong. The film's first sketch after the opening credits features people mishearing Jesus speaking about how the meek are the blessed ones, and take it to mean the cheese makers. The titular Brian (Graham Chapman) does hear the sermon right, but doesn't really take it to heart. When he later tries to save his own skin, he masquerades as a prophet and tries to get the message he's heard across to his pursuers. The listeners start to think of Brian as the one true Messiah even though they don't understand a word he's saying.

Jesus appears only briefly in the film's two first scenes. In the second, he's giving his Sermon of the Mountain.
This is quite a thoughtful message for a film that's designed to be first and foremost roll-on-the-floor funny. The result is one of the best comedy films ever made. But still Malcolm Muggeridge and a bunch of other narrow-minded people of course attacked the film severely blaming it to be blasphemous and confusing the comedy character of Brian with Jesus even though they both appear on the film. One might even think that they might not have seen the film at all. As a result of the controversy, the film was banned altogether in Norway.

But wait? Preaching about the power of love, and the dangers of putting greed and the self-perceived moral superiority before it? Trying to make corrupted religious leaders to see the error of their ways? Having to endure a shit storm because of it as well as a what was meant to be a public humiliation, but turned out to bring out the power of the words tenfold? Monty Python seems to have their equivalent in history after all.

Ex-leper: "Half a dinare for me bloody life story?!"
Brian: "There's no pleasing some people."
Ex-leper: "That's just what Jesus said, sir!"


Godspell (1973)
Director: David Greene

If another portrayal of Jesus should have earned as big a controversy it would have been this musical that attempts to bring the Gospel to these hip young urban people of today (or rather, the early 70's). The attempt is equal parts a musical and a clown act. As a result, Jesus is cast as a skinny hippie with a huge jewfro (Victor Garber). I know he's supposed to be from a class of citizens the most of society looks down on, but this is ridiculous.

Yup. He looks like this for the whole movie.

Running through the streets of New York, Jesus and his apostles play out the various stories he used as parables to his teachings. Too bad the clown group does them the most obnoxious way possible, clowning around with exaggerated faces, gestures and silly voices. The end result resembles one of those well-meaning acts touring around Elementary Schools that attempt to make Public Service Announcements cool, but instead just raise distaste and repulsion. One starts to hope all the hippie apostles could be crucified at the end of the film as well.

But several scenes in the film are so insane as to make the whole thing worth it. In particular the one where Jesus talks to the huge monster representing the Pharisees and Judges is memorable. Also the beginning scene where John the Baptist (or is it Judas) gets the apostles together from their mundane jobs, which ends in them digging up scrap at a junkyard is totally outrageous. During the course of the film, the director forgets whether the players are just playing out the stories of the Gospel straight to the viewers, or attempt to film the life of Jesus. But the songs themselves aren't too bad and the helicopter shots of 70's New York are interesting enough. As a musical, this has rightfully been forgotten under such contemporary pieces as Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair.

Jesus: "Did I ever tell you I used to read feet? Some people read palms or tea leaves. I read feet. Look what it says! Ahh, it says 'Rejoice.'"

★ 1/2

The Milky Way (La voie lactee, 1968)
Director: Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel's classic pilgrimage film isn't all about Jesus (altough he does appear here and there, played by Bernand Verley), but it is all about religion. The ambitious film looks at various Catholic dogmas and studies theology in sequences taking place at various points in time and space. Buñuel doesn't attempt to be blasphemous, and declares at the closing credits that the entire film's script being from either the Bible or old theological books. Nevertheless, he can't resist the temptation of allowing his images tell a little of his own thoughts about each subject. The way in which he brings old texts to images is very much his own.

At surface level, the film is about two down-on-their-luck pilgrims, Pierre and Jean (Paul Frankeur and Laurent Terzieff), in the modern day taking a walk to see the relics at Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, either they have supernatural experiences and travel back in time, or their imagination pictures the historical sequences as they happen. All of them seem to deal with some sort of heretics who have abandoned the old dogmas and come up with a reasoning leading to the development of new ones. Fransisco Aranda sums the six catholic dogmas that awaken hereticism as the following:
1) Jesus is both a God and a living human being at the same time.
2) The trinity: God has three different forms at the same time.
3) The wine and bread at the Holy Communion turn into Christ's body and blood.
4) Jesus being born straight from the Holy Spirit without sex being involved.
5) Humans have free will, but God has a preconception of all their deeds.
6) The nature of evil; why God allows evil if He hasn't himself created it.

Jesus can appear at any time level of the film, often talking with his apostles about the dogmas and correcting their errors in his own mystical way. Buñuel's film is of course, groundbreaking. The interest in the piece as a whole depends on how interested one is in these representations, how familiar one is with these leading religious disputes and how willing the viewer is to open up with a film that's more an essay than a coherent story or even a string of episodes. Buñuel's unbelievable courage to do whatever he wants, his sense of humour and his colorful imagery do make the film interesting even if the viewer wouldn't agree to meet all these conditions.

Jesus: "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."

★★★ 1/2

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)
Director: Lee Demarbre

Lastly, we have an exploitation film that has little to no interest in Christ's teachings and theology. It utilizes Jesus as a character purely because of his recognizability and his reputation as a troublemaker as much as a peacemaker. Abraham Lincoln may have a similar big-budgeted re-imagination lining up this year, but truly outrageous exploitation needs to be done with zero budget and a lot more ideas than they have money for.

After a group of lesbian vampires that can walk in daylight start wrecking havoc, a punk rock priest prays for Jesus to makw the second coming. And Jesus does, but he soon finds out that his old tricks, crosses and holy water can't handle the vampires alone. So he starts to attempt to become modernized, cutting his hair and beard off and changing his style in clothes. He gets help from Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton), and later from the Mexican Saint himself, the wrestler El Santos (sic)! Jesus needs all the help he can get in his attempt to stop the evil Dr. Praetorious (Josh Grace) before he can figure out how to make the vampires even stronger with his genetic manipulation, and allow them to take over the world.

The power of Christ compels you!

So, it's another high concept fan film, where the budget is minimal, the acting atrocious and sets non-existent. But there's still plenty of fun to be had with the total goofiness of the concept and the makers taking the idea and running with it. The different ways with which vampires can be killed for instance get interesting variations. A bathroom scrap which sees the fanged ones get stabbed into heart with a plunger stick and that utilizes one poor soul taking a crap but never missing a beat in vampire-killing is pure silliness gold. It seems the film is mostly a parody of the Blade films that attempted a similar approach at the time. This approach works as it brings out how silly this over-serious, vampire killing kung fu action reaching for coolness on surface level, actually is. Jesus is also treated more or less with respect, with him having a nugget of wisdom or two about the situation at hand. One also has to love a film about Jesus that ends in a Caddyshack -style group party where everyone is promised to get laid!

Jesus (about lesbians): "There's nothing deviant about love."

★ or ★★★★★

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Finnish Cult Movies, part I

Today is the Finnish premiere day of the eagerly awaited Finnish science fiction epic, Iron Sky. Although the film didn't really work for me, it has produced enough enthusiastic buzz that I'm convinced we are witnessing either a major break through hit for the film industry in this country, or at the very least, the birth of an international cult hit. But Finland also has a long film history, alongside which many different kinds of films fit, some of which have a cult status among this country, some of which don't yet even though they would deserve it. I for one would love to raise awareness in Finnish cult cinema, so I'll start this series. I had a lot of candidates on which to write about, so rest assured. There's still a lot more to come.

Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning (2005)
Director: Timo Vuorensola

It actually pains me to compare this comedy with some actual movies, but numbers don't lie: 10 million downloads say that currently the most watched Finnish film ever made is this fan-made amateur film. When looked as a movie, it's not very good. But as a home made project it's actually more interesting. The film's special effects are impressive for being made in someone's mom's basement. And like witnessed in Iron Sky on a bigger scale, these tech students from the city of Tampere are some sort of geniuses in selling their unfinished ideas on the Internet and thus raising money, help and extras to help complete the film.

Due to his previous adventures, Captain Pirk of the spaceship C.C.P. Potkustartti (Samuli Torssonen) is stranded in the 21st century with his crew. Times are desperate since he can't even get laid. But Pirk comes up with a plan to invent the tools they need to get back home, and alter history. When they get back, Pirk is the unquestioned Emperor of the Earth. But once Pirk has conquered the planet, he gets greedy and sets his eyes on more. This leads to a war-declaration on the space fleet led by the ship Babylon 13.

As sci-fi nerds can guess, film's plot exists to put together space fights between star ships from Star Trek and Babylon 5. But like the bad parody makers the film's four writers are, they base their creations around original characters and concepts too tightly. For a viewer not familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation or Babylon 5, the function of characters and settings taken for granted are left in the dark. There's a huge cast of characters, and only Pirk (Samuli Torssonen) and Babylon 13 Captain Sherrypie (Atte Joutsen) get any serious screentime nor arcs. The film would benefit from a better central character besides the all-around hateable and annoying Pirk. And of course, since the film stars mostly amateurs and crew members and their close relatives, the acting is, simply put, atrocious.

There are a couple of chuckle-worthy gags in this film, that mostly involve shooting someone with a ray gun. But I wouldn't recommend sitting through the film just to see those few bits. In fact, I find it nothing short of a miracle that someone outside Finland would find any interest in the film. The film is strictly for the hardcore tech-nerds and sci-fi overdosers.


Ruusujen aika (1969)
Director: Risto Jarva

Iron Sky and Star Wreck are not by far the only sci-fi movies ever produced in Finland. And not the best, either. Director Risto Jarva tried his hands on doing a prediction about the future already in the 1960's, and he set his film about 50 years from then, to 2012. The film starts out as a what if-scenario, but turns more and more interesting as it goes along. Jarva was interested in the media philosophies of Marshall McLuhan, and thus made a film that wouldn't look too much out of place in David Cronenberg's filmography.

Unlike many other futuristic films at the time, Jarva pictures the future as democratic. Or at least claiming to be democratic when in fact what you can do measures who you are in the society. Historian and documentary maker Raimo Lappalainen (Arto Tuominen) is at the top of his game. After producing a number of highly acclaimed films about the past, he aims to recreate the history of a time period 50 years before. He figures the bast way to accomplish this is to tell a story of a contemporary individual, and chooses Saara, a young woman who died tragically. He picks the beautiful young athlete Kisse Haavisto (Ritva Vepsä) to play her, and starts to go through her life events with her in real life. The director also develops a relationship with his starlet, which may jeopardize the whole project.

The film has some bitter comments about documentarists who claim to be objective observers of their subjects. Raimo thinks he's almost an invisible force behind his work, but in reality his underlying preconceptions, ideas and emotions drive his work. Because he can't come to terms in admitting this, he also acts coldly and matter-of-factly in his life. In other words, the maker gets tangled in the media for which he's producing content, making him and his film inseparable. Borrowing from Hitchcock's Vertigo, his raising obsessions also make him manipulate and transform his loved one into something he truly desires. In this case it's an idea of the past that never existed in the first place.

The film's technology is decidedly 60's, as is the extended "documentary" sequences showing how world developed to this point. Jarva does acknowledge in his work that films about a different time period are always tied to the concepts of the time it was created. But he still had some very apt ideas about the future, which came to pass, such as the importance of information, telecommunication and hand-held devices. Too bad the free sexuality and steamy swinger ball games haven't also made it to our day.


Sensuela (1973)
Director: Teuvo Tulio

Think the concept "Nazis on the moon" makes a weird movie? Or "an archeological dig reveals an evil Santa Claus that starts to kidnap children"? Neither of those movies can hold a candle in weirdness for the swan song of the acclaimed melodrama director Teuvo Tulio. The film spent 10 years in the making and thus forced the director into some pretty creative solutions in attempting to hide the fact. The end result is equal parts a travel advertisement to Finland and a skin flick. It is 100% bonkers and mere words can't even describe how much so. If one film from this post would deserve to break big into the hearts of lovers of camp and cult cinema everywhere, it is this.

During World War II, the German pilot Hans (Mauritz Åkerman) crash lands into Lapland. A group of Sami reindeer herders rescue him from the wreck, and the beautiful Laila (Marianne Mardi) nurses him back to health. During the following weeks, Laila begins to develop a crush to Hans, much to the dismay of his strict, old-fashioned father Aslak (Ossi Elstelä). But since the course of the war turns, Hans must soon flee for his life, leaving his helpers behind. After years and years (though no one seems to get a day older), Hans suddenly returns, now as a successful photographer, and persuades Laila to come with him to Helsinki. They run off together, to the anger of Aslak.

In Helsinki it turns out that Hans is living in a world of decadence. He's having odd orgies where swingers dress up as skeletons and jump around. And some sex is being had as well. The maltreated Laila can't handle such a life, and escapes. She falls to the factory worker Pekka (Ismo Saario), but doesn't tell him anything about Hans. But for one poor choice, this natural child has wrecked her entire life and things soon fall apart like dominoes. Aslak will have his brutal vengeance on the one who betrayed the purest of loves – and it's a scene so odd that the viewer's jaw will surely drop to the floor.

Okay, for a list of things hilarious in this film, let's start with the film's minimal budget. It can be seen from oddly minimalistic sets such as an aeroplane's cockpit that looks like a couple of drapes with a chair and a steering wheel in the front. Or from the use of stuffed animals alongside archive footage in the reindeer-herding scenes. Even more odd is the dubbing, which even in Finnish sounds oddly tacked on. Tulio seemingly shot the film silent and had actors dub in lines years later – and not necessarily even the same actors. Even many sound effects and animal sounds are made by people. The music consists of familiar classical pieces by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, but never quite fitting on what's going on on screen. This makes in particular the love-making scenes oddly uncomfortable because they have a gloomy, rumbling classical score to them. And boy, there is a lot of sex scenes in this. They rarely show anything below the navel, but women's breasts in particular are shown more often than not. For foreign people admiring the nudity, the film has also a lengthy, and frankly useless, scene set in a sauna.

The film can't decide whether it's set in the 40's, 50's, 60's or 70's, and elements of all decades show in the film. To top the illogical plot, the film's editing sometimes intercuts two things that have nothing to do with each other. Thus, for instance, it seems Aslak is looking worriedly at Laila having sex with Hans when the love-making pair should be in Helsinki and Aslak in Lapland. The dialogue is simply hilarious, stating obvious facts and arising odd reactions no real human being would have. The acting is hilariously over-the-top, particularly Elstelä's constantly raging Aslak.

With all these flaws altogether, the film is oddly psychedelic. Tulio doesn't concern himself on minute detail (or would want to hire assistants who would), he just wants to put colorful visions (that are cheap at the same time) on screen. It is a film about the loss of innocence, but since it seems like it was made by people as innocent as not having any idea of what happens in orgies or bordellos, the message is quite underwhelming.

★ or ★★★★★

Young Love (2001)
Director: Arto Lehkamo

There's been a lot of Teen films made in Finland during the last few decades, and with almost all of them rotten. And this is about a case in point. For the fans of hilariously awful, there's this Romance film, that manages to be fundamentalist christian and perversely voyeuristic at the same time.

The 13-year-old Jukka (Joonas Nordman) moves into a new city with his mother. Mummy dearest is having her hands filled with work while at the school Jukka is called names and bullied. But he discovers his father's old camera and becomes interested in photography. The school's gay communist art teacher(!), Martti (Pekka Lukka) helps him become started, teaching him about zooms. And as a 13-year-old is won't to do, Jukka uses his camera's zoom to spy on a girl through his window. This girl is the late-teenaged Johanna (Saija Lentonen), who likes to strip in front of a window and admire herself from the mirror until her stepfather comes home drunk and beats her. One night, Johanna catches Jukka spying on her, immediately figures out where he lives, and comes to the door to demand for him to stop. But Jukka suggests to her to become a model. As this has been her dream, the duo shake hands and Jukka begins as her manager and trusted photographer. They aim to enter her in a Miss Teen pageant, but Jukka also begins to blossom into love with his partner.

For any viewing experience of Young Love, the making-of feature on the DVD of the movie is an essential addition. That clears up a little of the thick fog surrounding the question: what the hell was the director thinking? On the documentary, Lehkamo seems pleased of having snuck in some of his own messages in his film. This is shown in the scenes where the gay Martti is dying (presumably of AIDS) and renounces his wicked communist-homosexual ways and embraces God. This has little to do with the rest of the plot, as do the lingering shots of the teenaged Lentonen stripping. These scenes are lingered on so lovingly and for such a long time that even the most perverted audience members start to feel uncomfortable. Sadly, these few amazingly awful scenes happen in a movie that's mostly just bland and thoroughly mediocre. Lehkamo clearly has no idea about how teenagers talk, act, or what they do, and also on how to attract them to see his film. A music video-like scene with the band Kemopetrol playing in the end didn't cut the cheese and the film flopped quite badly.

Lehkamo himself went into politics after that but was kicked out from the Christian Democrats party for having way too fundamentalist views on politics. Nordman came a stand up comedian when he grew up.

★★ (★ or ★★★★★ with the making of-documentary)

The Hangover (Baksmälla, 1973)
Director: Jörn Donner

Long before The Wolf Pack was first conceived, Finnish culture multitalent Jörn Donner tangled with an idea that starts out similar. But it turns out to be something different altogether, and Donner uses the cheesy set-up to ponder about the nature of relationships, as well as have some t&a on screen (so the film could be sold as Scandinavian erotica), and to have fun with the film he's making. Donner is one of the finest filmmakers in Finland, which is why it's so strange he has had little respect inside or outside of Finland for his films. He's better known for his books, politics, starting the Finnish film archive and for producing some of his friend Ingmar Bergman's more well-received films.

The director plays Leif, as clear as Donner's own alter-ego as all of the characters he plays. Leif is a used car salesman, who wakes up in a weird house after a night of heavy drinking from which he remembers nothing. But looking at his ring finger he soon finds that he's been married to a woman, Lena (Dianne Kjaer). He then walks around her house, trying to remember. Leif discovers another woman sleeping in another room, and finds out he's already cheated on his new wife with her. Leif trying to stay on top of the situation is intercut with the new married couple talking about their former romantic life and disappointments therein.

Baksmälla (1973) UK TRAILER by klubbsuper8

Donner's film takes a very carnevalistic approach to the subject, and it is very funny. The film is filled with things repeating themselves over and over again, mundane and silly alike. For instance, an aeroplane takes off repeatedly, which has little to do with anything. The film's timeline is skewered and anti-linear. In fact, thanks to this it may be the first arthouse film to be watched while having a massive hangover, when one isn't necessarily the most observing. It's hard to call the film a farce, though. Because of the film's tone, it is all the more surprising when it strikes with surprisingly melancholic pieces on loves lost and unrequited. Leif does attempt to build a spine and a pair during the film if only because he doesn't want to hurt his new wife badly again. Hijinks ensue, and popular comedian-singer Vesa-Matti Loiri has a cameo.


Laulu (1986)
Directors: Arto af Hällström, Janne Kuusi

A real cult classic is hard to find, and beloved by those few that have seen it. A reason for this can be that the film is different from anything else and thus quite hard to describe. On top, this film seems to be a documentary about Nightlife in Helsinki, framed by the live performances of the band Sielun veljet. But there are also acted sequences such as the actor Kari Väänänen playing a drunk telling random people his views about the facts of life. And there's an interview with a scientist (named Paavo like my name!) who has utopistic views about the future. In fact, the film represents neorealism, a pseudo-documentary that sums up the artistic feelings in Finland in the 80's. The film was a production by Ryhmäteatteri, a theatrical group looking to break boundaries in the early-to-mid-80s. The result is a true underground film.

It's hard to figure out anything to say about Laulu, because it isn't the sort of film that comes to any conclusions. It raises thoughts, but they come from the person viewing them, the makers are not spoon feeding any ideas. The film objectively just shows a series of various things happening at night time, whether entertaining, cultural, or borderline illegal. Even the off cross-cutting or jumping isn't meant to compare these events, it's just to keep the viewer on his or her toes. The impressions come from within the scenes themselves. The music scenes are sweaty and intimate, or in the case of the scene depicting the humor rock band Lapinlahden linnut, oddly contrasting lowbrow humour with it's rich elitist audience. The film mostly concerns little people and little moments in more poor places. The overall mood is quite gloomy and melancholic. Paavo's future scenarios don't seem all that plausible in a city where drunken people brawl and a taxi ride from the East to downtown doesn't reveal any people but only the dark, rain washed streets. This would be an utopia for only Travis Bickle.

★★★ 1/2


Sunday, 1 April 2012

RIP The career of Eddie Murphy

It was shocking news to hear about the untimely demise of Eddie Murphy's career (Dec 8th 1982–Mar 9th 2012), even though he had been ill for a long time. Murphy's career was a major draw in the 1980's, producing some of the most quotable comedies and action-comedies of all time. Murphy's career often led him to play smart, motor-mouthed hustler-type characters, whether it was a Cop or a Robber. These classic films include 48 Hours (1982), Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Coming to America (1988). There were some signs with trouble ahead with some hints at racism (The Golden Child, 1986), or homophobia (Raw, 1987) in his films. But the audience didn't much notice those things, and flocked to see his movies. Murphy's brother and Career entourage member Charlie reminisces how they used to hang out with the likes of Prince and Rick James at the time.

But the hard partying ways of Career led him to wrong paths and much of the 90's were a big blur to him as well as the audience, where it seemed nothing much mattered any more. At the shooting of 1996's The Nutty Professor, he caught a number of dangerous diseases, such as a draw to fat suits, multiple personality disorder and a draw to lowest-common-denominator kid's films. Nevertheless, once in a while Career still did manage to deliver such well-received or reasonably good films as Metro (1997), Bowfinger (1999) and Shrek (2001).

But in 2002, Career was in a near-fatal accident that nearly cost his life. He almost sinked to rock bottom, when the outrageous cash flow attached to the film Adventures of Pluto Nash almost drew him with them. He barely made out alive, and was diagnosed withseveral terminal illnesses. By the early 2000's, his films were often critically maligned, but produced enough money for Career to treat his illnesses. Exhausted, Career still decided to show the world just what he was made of. In 2006's Dreamgirls, he played definitely-not-James-Brown sleazy soul singer James "Thunder" Early, and got an Oscar nomination for his troubles. But he didn't win, and soon resorted back to selling his body to any passing fat suit comedies.

Also, his head began to inflate so much it had to use a truck to get around.

Just this spring, there was some hope for Career's comeback, what with him being chosen to host the Oscars. But Career took a turn for the worse, and decided to stick with a homophobic greaseball, and turned down the offer to return to stand up. He did bring up rumours of planning to do a tour, yet with all his illnesses he couldn't come up with good enough material. Finally, the illnesses took him over, and a magical elf gave him only A Thousand Words to say before death. They were all used up by that day's afternoon. The demise of Eddie Murphy's career has been taken hard by the entertainment business altogether. Ivan Reitman has declared that he's fetching his long lost 1991 film Triplets: A Sequel to Twins from the vaults of Universal Pictures. Universal executives didn't trust the film's quality at the time, and teaming Murphy with such then-nobodies as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito was thought too hazardous for movie-going crowds. Also controversial was to set the film in the future and put all it's lead actors in old-man makeup. But since Murphy's career is now gone, perhaps it is high time to finally see this lost film as it was meant to. Presumably high as a kite, or drunk as an Irishman at a Bachelor Party.

★ or ★★★★★


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