Thursday, 16 August 2012

Love & Anarchy Preview

Autumn's string of film festivals is about to kick off*. Espoo Ciné opens tomorrow with Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or-winning drama Amour (Love). But because there's plenty more time to discuss that film, and the European allstar lineup they serve at Espoo, let's turn our attention elsewhere. For today's also the day that The Helsinki International Film Festival published its annual tabloid paper, which also reveals most of the festival's films. Now, I've again done some work for the festival, wrote a few articles to both the tabloid paper and the festival catalogue. Thus, I might be a bit biased to recommend the festival, even though I haven't seen a vast majority of the films on display. But I'm willing to bet there's more than a few film fans that are anxious to hear which films are worth seeing this year. And I will be spending a lot of money myself for a chance to see many of these firsthand on the big screen, and with an appreciative audience.

The films on this category I've already had a chance to preview.

Tabloid (USA)
Director: Errol Morris

There's no need to try to look for the festival's most incredible story among any fantasy films. It is told in Tabloid, acclaimed documentarist Errol Morris' latest film. It is a love story and a biography of a sort of the former Miss Wyoming, Joyce McKinney. The smart and headstrong woman fell in love with a mormon missionary and planned to get married in the 1970's. But the Mormon church heads had other ideas and the pair was separated. What Joyce did to get her fiancée back set the consequences for her to be sentenced to jail for years. The tabloid press was having a field day with the story. For it contained sex, kidnappings, a small-time celebrity, nudity, exotic locales, religion, sex, kinky sex and a whiff of conspiracy. And things kept on snowballing as soon as Joyce was released from prison.

Morris uses the same minimalist tricks employed in his several latest documentaries. Mostly he depicts just people talking, using only the minimal amount of archive footage, retro news stories and graphics to illustrate the story. But he doesn't need anything else, since the story is so captivating by itself and he rolls out interesting characters after another. He also tells more than just one side of the story, even if some realities have forced him to leave out interviews with several key persons of the events. But also, he has the skill to make his interviewees appear honest, talkative, interesting and sticking to the point. Morris also questions the Tabloid newspapers' enthusiasm for sensation, and the way that they themselves influenced the wrecking of a young girl's already-shattering life. In this case, it seems that they actively also prevented any kind of truths to appear about the thing. Whether this is the final truth, Morris leaves up for the viewers to decide. The story's modern twists include clones.

Killer Joe (USA)

Director: William Friedkin

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Festival Ministry gave one of the event's top slots, The Love & Anarchy Gala, to this small-scale gem. Although the film boasts with a movie star cast featuring Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple and Emile Hirsch, and a world-famous classic director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection, To Live And Die in LA), it is still a play adaptation that prominently features only five characters squabbling.

Basically, it's about an insurance scam gone wrong, and a hit man beginning to demand his fee from the family that hired him. McConaughey has started to finally choose proper film roles over cheap romantic comedy fluff, and the former pretty boy truly proves he has talents. His Killer Joe Cooper is at once a charming, smart and cautious professional, a dangerous psycopath, out for blood and getting laid by any means necessary, and a straight-backed character that has principles contrasted to a family of total scumbags and weasels that have none. But the dumb and mean Smith family also has earned audience's pity for being so darn dysfunctional, silly dumb people. They don't care what people think, as the family's mother may open the door without being dressed in anything below the navel. These hand-to-mouth people desperately need money but are too stupid to figure out an honest or even smart way of getting any.

The film has a down-to-earth aspect, yet some bizarrely delirious ideas, such as a pizza cook being the most notorious gangster boss of the town, or Juno Temple doing nude kung fu moves in the middle of the night for the hell of it. Not only is Temple's performance truly eye-popping, her character Dottie, a mentally limited teenager, is probably the only character in the film worth rooting for. Temple manages to make her a tragic character but at the same time, the most optimistic and cheerful one in a film full of rotten apples. Friedkin stages most of the conflict inside an extended trailer. The movie is at parts laugh-out-loud hilarious, at parts gut-wrenchingly vile and unrelenting. Friedkin hasn't eased his standards one bit while all these years have passed from his magnum opuses.

No Rest For The Wicked (No habrá paz para los malvados, Spain)
Director: Enrique Urbizu

I don't trust the police. This seems to be a smart thing to do, particularly in Spain since the country's films tend to warn me about it from time to time. First came Torrente, a corrupt, lazy, racist, sexist asshole of a policeman, that was also kind of loveable. But the bad cop in this newer Spanish flick,  Inspector Santos Trinidad (José Coronado), is altogether more determined and sinister by nature. Totally burned-out Trinidad spends his nights playing slot machines and drinking himself silly at bars. One night he tries to get into a strip joint after closing time by force. He ends up shooting the bar's owner, bartender and one of the strippers. Yet one witness manages to escape him. But lucky for him, he's also assigned to investigate the situation, so he can find all the leads to find the last witness and silence him forever.

That would be a grim enough thriller subject as it is. But there's also another layer in the film's plot. The fact that it's set in Madrid, 2004 should give you a clue, exactly what else are the police and agents seeking in the middle of the triple homicide investigations. Trinidad happens to stumble upon much more sinister plots than he himself has in mind.

So this is the kind of thriller that has violence bursting through quite unexpectedly. Some heavy symbolism and a pessimistic worldview questions the world which allows horrors to happen. The cynical film doesn't let any Spanish authorities off easy. Most cops are incompetent and wallovng in their own problems, the only one who can make things happen is a total psycopath. The slot machine is the most central symbol of things happening. Due to coincidences and chance, plot threads come together in the end. But this film at least it doesn't work randomly, but well-planned and executed, and does reward it's viewer handsomely in the end.

The Parade (Parada, Serbia/Slovenia/Croatia/Montenegro/Macedonia)
Director: Srdjan Dragojevic

Serbian films tend to look at some pressure points in the national psyche, caused due to the former Yugoslavia's violent recent history. But I'd much rather watch a gross-out comedy commenting it than another faux-artistic torture porn. This one deals with the male machoism and homophobia shared by many Serbian men. At the centre are the futile efforts to organize a Gay Pride parade, that won't turn out to be a massive violent brawl.

Limun (Nikola Kojo) is a violent but rich thug, who teaches a self-defence class, loves his bulldog and is about to marry his head-strong fiancée Biserka (Hristina Popovic). Several incidents make him come across the gay couple Radmilo (Milos Samolov) and Mirko (Goran Jevtic), a vetenarian and a wedding decorator, respectively. Mirko in particular is a fierce gay rights activist, while Radmilo is a little more subdued, quiet, shy and timid. They agree to make Biserka's wishes come true and give her and Limun the wedding she's been dreaming of, but only if Limun agrees to recruit a posse to watch over the upcoming Pride parade. So Limun and Radmilo head out to find the gangster's former army buddies that owe him a favor. On the way, Limun secretly figures he can make a man out of Radmilo. But the bachelor party/recruiting mission through Serbia it's natives in such an ugly light, that even Limun may be forced to change his opinions.

Not only is the film about a very sensitive and important subject of accepting everyone as they are, it is also funny enough to get away with such preaching. The key to the film's success are it's well-rounded cast of characters, who are goofy enough yet believably written and with realistic motivations and hopes. The film won't work out as a travelling advertisement to Serbia, although it's good that the nation can deal with its issues with some hearty black humor. The film has become a minor hit in the former Yugoslavia area. Some laughs are also to be had on Hollywood's conception of homosexuality, and how it affects our view on the subject. Limun totally misses the thick subtext in the early scenes of Ben-Hur and figures it's a film for the manly men. His affection for the western Magnificent Seven is also on the spotlight. A real, magnificent cowboy fights for what's right and stands up for the downtrodden.

Interesting films:

The Opening Film:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director: Benh Zeitlin

I'm actually trying to keep the information about this film as minimal as possible. All I know it several journalists who I know who went to Cannes all said it was easily the greatest film they saw there. And it was totally mind-blowing and incredibly beautiful. It seems it concerns the relationship between a boy and his father in the swamps of Louisiana. It says something that this debut direction from Zeitlin has been given such a prestigious slot on such a strong movie year. I bet this'll be cinematic fireworks!

The Angels' Share (UK)
Director: Ken Loach

Class-aware Brit director Ken Loach takes a look at low-class underdogs in his latest one. But it is also about a hobby for the gentlemen, whether rich or poor, whiskey. A group of former jailbirds are inspired by a trip to the distillery to turn over a new leaf in their lives. They start to make fine whiskey by themselves. The comedy is said to be bittersweet, so leave it to Loach to be cruel to his main characters.

Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire, Italy)
Directors: Paolo and Vittorio Tavine

This black-and-white drama won the main prize at this year's Berlinale, and it combines documentarist tricks with fictional settings. It's about the inmates at a rough penitentiary, that choose to stage a play and re-enact William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Although the film has been staged, the actors in the film are real inmates and the story is a real one. Can The Bard's immortal words bring comfort to hopeless thieves and murderers? I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing.

Grabbers (Ireland)
Director: Jon Wright

The Irish sci-fi horror-comedy is about an invasion of Bloodsucking Aliens on an Irish island. Since there's no escape, many locals board up in the local pub. But the aliens have a fatal weakness – hight promille alcohol levels in blood! So, the best way to defend oneself is to do what comes naturally for rural Irishmen, get totally shitfaced! Of course, it probably won't be so easy to get rid of all those pesky aliens. This clearly aims to be another Shaun of the Dead, which is of course hard to beat in the field of horror-comedies. But based on the giggle-worthy premise, it might have the chops to be a fun Friday night film with your mates.

Himizu (Japan)
Director: Sion Sono

With the two previous years, it has become almost a tradition to see a new Sono film every year in Love & Anarchy. And they tend to be a lot better than Takashi Miike's yearly efforts, too.  This one has the appetite-wetting (for me, at least) premise of combining modern socio-political issues to a violent genre film. In 2011 Tsunami-wrecked areas of Japan, two teenagers set out to be vigilantists by killing whoever they deem to be "bad". The Sonoan themes of the relationship between the triangle of love-sex-violence seems to be as sharp as ever. I'm eagerly awaiting to see how this manga adapatation compares to Sono's past work.

Into The Abyss (USA/Germany)

Director: Werner Herzog

I always love me some (documentary) Herzog, and this one is said to be his strongest film in years. Herzog never shys away from difficult subject matters and such is the case here, too. He's looking at the American Death Sentence and interviewing prisoners in Death Row. He's also trying to find justice for a case where an innocent man was executed, with his peasing german-accented voice. The version shown at the festival is shorter than the two-part TV mini-series Herzog also cut from his material. Nevertheless, I'm eager to see both cuts.

Marley (USA/UK)
Director: Kevin McDonald

It's about time we have an extensive documentary about the most essential reggae musician, and one of the major 3rd world icons that truly changed the world during the 20th century, Bob Marley. He made some pretty groovy records, too. This 2,5 hour biopic has been made with the blessings of Marley's family, and several members, such as the reggae musician Ziggy, have also been interviewed for this. The film has gained praises upon praises in almost everywhere it has been shown.

Pusher (UK)
Director: Luis Prieto

A British remake of Nicolas Winding Refn's instantly classic gangster film could be anything, a horrible flop or a proper kick in the balls and a feel-bad event of the year. Fortunatelly, the signs point that it won't be the first, since there are no vain famous actors involved, who would want to compromize the violent, relentless tale of a drug deal gone bad. But there is one familiar face, Zlatko Buric reprising his role as Milo. It just wouldn't be a Pusher movie without him, would it?

Director: Oliver Stone

The acclaimed director Stone has fought against irrelevance since the 90's. But this time around he may have the most interesting new work in ages. And perhaps also the craziest. It's about a polyamoric relationship of three, where the happy threesome also grows pot together. But then Mexican gangsters kidnap the one girl in the trio, Blake Lively's O. For Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) have to put their minds together to find a way to save their girl and face off against the ruthless criminals. Stone promises us a Savage battle of wills, and damn, if it doesn't look intriguing.

Shopping Tour (Russia)
Director: Mikhail Brashinsky

This one will probably be a nice curiousity for us Finns, and fly over the head of others. It's a horror-comedy about a group of Russians coming to Finland to buy, buy, buy. But they chose their travel date poorly since they come on Midsummer's Eve. But instead of stores being closed and Finns being at their summer cottages, the Finns have all magically turned into flesh-hungry zombies! Dawn of the Dead's consumer criticismflipped into dealing also with the difficult relationship between Russians and Finnish? I'm so wanting to see this.

The We and the I (USA/UK)
Director: Michel Gondry

The French visionary Gondry has stepped away from Hollywood blockbusters (The Green Hornet) to do a smaller-scale teenaged love story. And that's more than fine by me. The film takes place during a bus ride on the last day of school. How will the relationships develop between these modern teens? Will there be romance? I bet there will be romance.

The Closing Film:
Rust & Bone (France)
Director: Jacques Audiard

Audriard is one of the top genre-film making talents today, because he laces his films with so much subtext they hold for multiple viewings. This time it may look on the surface that he's gone soft on us. For his latest film is a love story between a whale-trainer (Marion Cotillard) and a street-brawling bouncer (Matthias Schoenenarts). But one can bet that the latter's violent hobbies come back to haunt the both of the lovebirds. This is a pulp film, set on the beautiful beaches of Southern France. This contrast itself would make this worth our interest, let alone it's directors confident style and knack for surprises.

* At least if you live in Helsinki, which I happen to do.

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