Sunday, 29 August 2010

Espoo Ciné 2010 report

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

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

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

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

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


Director: Neil Marshall

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

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


Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich

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

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


The Door (Die Tür)
Director: Anno Saul

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

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


The Lake (Un lac)
Director: Philippe Grandrieux

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

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

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


Director: Vincent Lannoo

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

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


Directors: Héléne Cattet, Bruno Forzani

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

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

★★★ 1/2

Director: Samuel Moez

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

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


Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Expendables 2 wish list

I proved my manhood today by finally going to see The Expendables. It was good enough that I didn't feel ripped off by the kickass trailers and whatnot. But as a huge fan of the reaganist 80's action films, there were some things I would've wished would have been done better.

For instance, this was sold as a team picture, but most of the time it's just Sly and Jason Statham talking. When the team finally assembles for the finale, Terry Crews does all the heavy ass-kicking. Seriously, all Sly, Statham and Jet Li do is get punched a lot. But Crews ain't letting nobody take him for a bitch - ever!

As The Expendables has made army trucks full of money by staying on top of the box office for two weeks, a sequel is on the way. During all the boring parts of the Expendables (ie. parts where there is talking and Arnold Schwarzenegger AND Bruce Willis or Mickey Rourke aren't involved) I used to fantasize about the sequel that would improve upon all areas.

The point for the Expendables was supposed to be to resurrect old 80's actions stars. Well, obviously Sly already resurrected himself with John Rocky and Rambo Balboa. And Mickey Rourke with The Sinster and Wrestle City. And Arnold and Bruce Willis merely cameo in the Exes. That leaves Dolph Lundgren the sole big winner of 80's action guys. All the others in the film are either more modern action stars or wrestlers. I wouldn't want to see the missing action superstars, like Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme, in the sequel. Van Damme saved his career with JCVD, Seagal probably does with Machete (even if he doesn't deserve to). I have much better ideas on how Sly should use his sequel-making millions.
  • Sly isn't actually that good a director. Could we try to resurrect a better 80's action helmer this time? Get John McTiernan to save his career!
  • And Sly isn't that great a writer either. Seriously, the so-called jokes in Expendables were pretty terrible. Let's resurrect Steven E. de Souza, screenwriter of Commando, The Running Man and Die Hard! And because he also wrote Street Fighter and The Flintstones, get Shane Black to supervize and improve on the one-liners.
  • We need a good and charismatic main villain. Those lameasses in the Expendables make Bennett look like a potent threat. I'd like to see someone like John Travolta or Nicolas Cage ham it up. Or Christopher Walken, who'll do anything for cash.
  • Gary Busey! I don't care if he would just play a hobo on the street, he looks like he could take down an Expendable or two with his craziness. You better believe it, butthorn!
  • Where you have Busey, you should have Mel Gibson. Seriously, that dude would need the sympathy. Although the audience would probably just want to see him shot to tiny pieces. And hell, me too.
  • More right-wing politics! I'm not gonna lie, as a bleeding-heart liberal, that's part of the guilty pleasure of watching a good ol' 80's action movie. That, and the homoerotiscm. And that might do the Expendables good too. Get the men into a closer team together.
  • Of the big names, I would like to still see Chuck Norris, Wesley Snipes and Kurt Russel. If the latter can't find proper films after Death Proof, he'll be ripe for ensemble acting soon enough.
  • Bill Murray as a ghost.
  • Mr. T needs to show he's not just a pussy that shuns on the A-Team remake's violence and raps lamely about his mother. Get him to be a bad guy who rips someone's head off with his bare hands.
  • Ditto Hulk Hogan.
  • Speed boats!
  • Get a Predator reunion! It's the best ensemble action film of the 80's. Get Carl Weathers, Richard Chavez and Jesse Ventura on the rival team of the Expendables. You know, the one commanded by Arnold himself!
  • When all else fails, get Arnold to do a bigger role. I would scrap all the previous ideas just to see a movie where the Expendables take on Arnie - alone!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Thrilling 00's

The Best Thrillers of the 2000s - Part VI of a series

Oldboy (c) 2003, Egg Films, Show East

Thriller is a funny genre (not ha-ha funny, of course), because usually thrillers play with some other genres at the same time. Thriller is the modern equivelent of the suspense genre, which was a new-fashioned film noir in the first place. It's not a crime movie, although it might center around murders. Crime movies center around the world of organized crime, and thrillers center around the suspense. It's also not a horror movie although it might have a murderer. A thriller is more commonly told from the point of view of the police chasing the criminal, not the victim as in horror films. Most of these films here are gritty films that usually have some sort of a revenge motif.

Some perfectly good thrillers had to be left out simply because they fit other lists yet to come better. In particular, thrillers based on true historical events will come up later so don't get your underpants in a twist.

2004, dir. Michael Mann

Mann did a lot of hit-and-miss work that decade, but this one is a genuine class act. It's the first time he directed a film totally with digital video cameras. Clear, sharp shots create tension as well as a vivid cityscape on canvas. As a result, the film might be the best one there is about the city of Los Angeles. The city is shown throbbing, pulsating with life, through its seedy discos, run-down alleys, and dark spots where one can watch the entire city's lights. This is a movie first and foremost about athmosphere.

But oh yeah, this was supposed to be a thriller, right? It's about a ruthless hired gun (Tom Cruise) that hijacks a taxi and makes the timid driver (Jamie Foxx) run his errands. These two actors, who I don't normally like, do splendid work against their normal types. Cruise in particular should've done more of these villain roles, as his cold eyes are damn scary. Wouldn't want to cross him. Unlike usually with these sort of villain roles played by a huge star, Cruise's character is quite irredeemable. By the end he has become a Terminator-like vengeance machine. And even earlier, he's just humanesque at best, he really is unable to act humane. Also, even though this isn't another of Mann's L.A. Takedown remakes, his character is "able to get in and out of anywhere". As it is, Mann's ideas may replicate, butv the movie itself is unique.

Dead Man's Shoes
2004, dir. Shane Meadows

This very dark and cynical film intriduced me to the cinema of Shane Meadows. It's a revenge film that might happen in a small town near you. This countryside feeling is helped by long nature shots. Man is truly the most cruel animal and "civilization" means nothing when the chips fall down.

Like many good thrillers do, this saves the information of what is being revenged very late, which makes all the violence (verbal and physical) that happens before the exposition irrational and frightening. And people won't die as easily as in, say, Kill Bill. Paddy Considine in the main role is just bursting with hatred. The film isn't total grimness, but has a lot of black humour in it too. The only bad thing to say about the film is the too upbeat country-like music that doesn't seem to suit the athmosphere properly.

A History of Violence
2005, dir. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg really slipped this out from everyone's radar. I figured it would be a simple western-like story where a gunslinger's past comes to haunt him. And actually felt pretty much that way after seeing the movie, too. But there is more to the film than just the familiar plot structure. In a way, by setting it to the modern day, it emphasizes how the circle of violence carries on from decade to decade, and has no intention of stopping. And it isn't pretty Hollywood-violence, but raw, sickening, realistic violence. It gets to even the most virtuous-seeming of us. And the society may be shocked, but ultimately, it accepts this.

Now, the film isn't perfect, but Cronenberg excels in creating a creepy athmosphere where something is not quite right. It's also the first time that I realized how good an actor Viggo Mortensen is. Even though I loved him in the Lord of the Rings, it's based mostly on his charsima, not his acting chops.

2002, dir. Gaspar Noé

A very hard film to watch through, partly because the first 30 minutes have a quiet ominous noise, which causes nausea in many people. As if we would need this in addition to Noé's crazy camera swinging. And this is before the horrifying rape-scene that's even more terrible than anything Michael Haneke has ever put on screen. But it's perhaps not fair to compare Noés exceptional film to other narratives, as he makes cinema a physical medium, not just something to look at.

Like another film on this list, this too is a revenge tale told backwards. The chaotic first scenes show the payoff without the audience knowing the context. Thus, these are not in any way catharctic but just disgusting and terrifying. Noé emphasizes this chaos by letting his camera fly around wildly. At the centre is the bad scene. After that, things cool off and the film becomes like a perverse relationship movie. Hints of what is going to come are given, and characters are shown at the points where they are making choices, which affect the outcome. Of course, the characters can't recognize them and make the poor choices which lead to suffering. The audience watching this feels powerless.

At the core Noé seems to have pretty nihilistic ideas about sexuality's connection to violence, both of which he feels are essential to human beings. The highly sexual main character has been shown to be able to be coaxed to being the most cruelly, animalistically violent.

Time destroys everything.

Mad Detective
Sun taam
2007, dir. Johnnie To

The main thing to get out of Mad Detective after the first viewing is how gorgeous the movie is shot, plus one scene where the main character pees on the foot of a guy he's shadowing. And of course, a couple of other memorable scenes about the Detective being, well, mad. But it's his stark raving lunacy that gets results, and many cases solved. He actually has seven different personalities, which he can utilize to crack the cases.

The film isn't told very conventionally, which is why it may fly overhead of some viewers. One actually needs a little bit of madness to appreciate the strange storytelling method of the story. Nothing is told simply, and one must be able to translate what is shown into something coherent. This works well with a psychological film about mental illnesses.

2000, dir. Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan, like many big Hollywood directors, made his best film back when monetary limits only fed his creativity. This is a story about how obsession can come in the way of healing from a loss. Or is it? In a way, the only thing in the main character's life is the need for vengeance as he doesn't remember anything else. That is, even if there is anything to be avenged or to chase. This is shown how he's willing to even give his body to permanantely store some small notes, however mundane. And as the are not thorough enough, they lead him to astray in the beginning (or the end).

I agree that this would be somewhat run-of-the-mill without the backwards structure. But that's the whole point, isn't it? If the structure was just a gimmick, it would ruin this but it's actually serviceable to the story. It unwinds slowly, and often we only know what Leonard knows, that is to say, nothing. Actually, this film is about how one easily blames other people without having a clear idea why. Some self-searching would do some good. Leonard's condition may be self-inflicted.

Mystic River
2003, dir. Clint Eastwood

A class turn by Clint Eastwood in looking at darkness within the hearts of small town folk. I know, I know, again. And also it's being brought out by an unforgiving anger at a wrong that cost the life of an innocent person. I'm starting to see certain patterns in the movies on this list.

The cast is one of the strongest ensembles of the decade. Particularly Sean Penn does brilliant work as the grief-struck man who turns out to be a lot more than meets the eye. And jolly old Tim Robbins as a man riddled with guilt and ghosts from his past.
I also really like that Eastwood gave Eli Wallach a cameo. In the end the film isn't actually Eastwood's best as the film does contain some unnecessary dragging and clichés. The end twist isn't that strong, either as it's not properly grounded. With one rewrite of the script this could've been a true masterpiece. But, it is of course quite good as it is, too.

2003, dir. Park Chan-Wook

Park Chan-Wook's revenge trilogy's middle part is also his biggest masterpiece. I also think people don't consider Lady Vengeance to be that good as it couldn't possibly compete with this. Park is not bashful about his skills and thus, people are still talking about the hallway fight or the live octopus-eating scene in Oldboy. I'm having trouble remembering anything about Lady Vengeance, good though it is. The lesson is, save the best for last.

At first round, it just seems like a bleak revenge thriller, until the ending comes along. But I better not spell it out yet. Suffice to say, the film might be about the need of knowledge. And not like book-knowledge, the kind we would get from social interaction and such. The main character (Choi Min-sik) starts out being locked for 15 years in a room with only a TV. When he gets out, he starts to hunt down the man responsible. His tour-de-force revenge might give a number of people a hammerstrike to the skull, but actually he's worse off himself, as a crucial piece of knowledge has been forbidden from him.

But actually the one responsible for putting him there is not a whole person himself and has ruined his entire life by obsessing about Choi's character. The end result is just that they both want cruel revenge on each other. Whatever the perspective, this just seems so pointless. It's not only revenge where this may be applied. Humans in general may devote their lives to one passion or desire and come out the worst of it. Is this vicious circle always necessary?

One can have many different readings from the story. I've read a fascinating text about the left/right -wing setting of the film. It certainly rewards repeat viewings. A lot of revenge pictures are on this list. They are not all straight-forward about the revenge aspect. This is my personal favorite from them.

2008, dir. Götz Spielmann

This Austrian gem strats out as a bank robbery film, but develops into thriller area quite soon. I shouldn't talk too much about the film's plot as it's quite surprising, while being also simple enough and, crucially, leisurely moving. I can tell you that the main character does want the titular Revanche from another character. While thinking things over at his hideout in the country makes him get it in the most unexpected way. This film is by no means, larger than life. In fact, it's seemingly very ordinary, that trusts on more than just dialogue to tell its story. Nature and the activities the characters do tell the other side.

2007, dir. David Fincher

This doesn't play it safe once during its 2 1/2 hour running time nor rely on tired Hollywood thriller formulas. Instead, this is a movie about investigating murder cases. And not the end result but the process.The focus is on the details, no matter how minor. I've heard director Fincher became as obsessed with the true Zodiac as the characters in the film. As it is, the lives of the main characters start to crumble, but this is told subtly in the background, not by underlining anxious faces. The movie feels very truthful, even though surprisingly its world is mostly created with computer-generated backgrounds.

The movie has nothing that wouldn't need to be in the film. The film also has good deals of suspense and even comedy to smoothen the waves of facts it gives the viewers. The acting is top notch, especially Robert Downey, Jr. in a role he was born to play. It's a talkative movie that they used to know how to do. It seems only the most uncompromizing directors can do these kind of films any more and make them great. Too bad Fincher sold out with his next, way inferior film.

Bubbling Under: Brick, Phone Booth, The Pledge, Spider

Okay, I'm exhausted. I'll have to have a break from these leists because of the festival hurries. There will be reports on those, the next list will resume probably early october, perhaps late september, if you are nice.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I figured it would be a good choice to do my first proper review in this blog on a film which combines a lot of stuff I like - kickass over-the-top action, dry observational character-based comedy and a sweet and life-like romance.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a quite good movie, despite it being hard trying to juggle so much stuff. But if anyone could handle it it was Edgar Wright. Wright has proven himself to be able to direct with a fast, music video -like style, of pretty normal and mundane things. He is also able to make symphatetic comedy characters that are properly fleshed out.

Scott Pilgrim is based on a comic-book by Bryan Lee O'Malley. It deals with young hearts clashing while the colorful imagery references video games and manga comics. I see that the OTT style of the comic represents on how the characters feel their (love) life is larger than life. It's how it is with under-25 young people. In this universe characters can do basically anything: crash the moon with the earth, turn people into quarters or make sonic blasts with guitars. Usually this sort of magic requires either love or music, the two biggest mysteries and the hardest to properly explain of all the things humans have created.

The titular character is a slacker in his early twenties. He's just met a new girlfriend, the 17-year-old Knives (Ellen Wong). He introduces her to punk music with his band, Sex Bob-Omb. But as their relationship progresses Scott grows anxious as he's dreaming about a mysterious woman on rollerskates, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). When he finally meets her, he decides that she is the woman of his dreams and gives everything to be with her. But besides having to break up with his prior girlfriend, this means he has to battle seven bitter old flames of Ramona.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Wright is a perfect director for this source material. It's hard trying to come up with a word for his visual style that doesn't refer to comic books. After all, comics can have vastly different visual styles. But the movie Scott Pilgrim uses a lot of styles usually attributed to the comics media, so there's that. Sound effects are displayed by text, split-screens resemble comic panels, the color scheme is bright and colorful etc. It's worth noting that not everything is copied from the comic book's visuals (like in say, Sin City). Rather, Wright creates his own visual that utilizes much but not everything from O'Malley's original black-and-white drawings. It owes also much to various video games (such as Street Fighter, Devil May Cry and Mortal Kombat) and to anime movies. All in all, this style works better for film than the straight copying of the comic book's style and dynamic would. But there are still a couple of cues straight from O'Malley's book that work just as good on the big screen. I loved the awkward meet of Scott's two girlfriends and the gratitious zooming in the film as much as in the comic.

As I've stated, the editing is fast and furious, even more so than in Wright's previous movies. It is fitting that the soundtrack consists of fast and furious punk rock music as well. I really, really love the film's Sex Bob-Omb songs, composed by the alternative-wonderboy Beck. Another great one is the song played by The Clash At Demonhead, the in-movie band of Scott's and Ramona's evil exes. I can't wait to get the soundtrack. Luckily, there are currently places on the internet where one can listen to it for free! And I'm doing just that. This music rocks, and hard!

O'Malley's story's strength is his large cast of characters, all of whch are well-written and believable in that universe and many of them multi-dimensional. The characters have been formed by their histories, which Wright only has time to subtly reference. Sometimes he uses O'Malley's illustrations to do this.
Wright has chosen his supporting cast well, as even with few lines, they bring out the same characters I fell in love with in the comic book. There are a lot of favorites from the wise-and-goofy-at-the-same-time gay roommate Wallace, the angry redheaded Kim or Scott's ditzy little sister. Or, of course any of the evil exes, with which especially part-time superheroes Brandon Routh and Chris Evans seem to have a blast with. Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are both good, but overshadowed by the frankly brilliant supporting cast. However, their relationship works in the film too, and one can reflect one's own heartbreaks and loves on the screen. This is a feat only films that have characters one can truly identify with, can have.

We in Finland are not that familiar with O'Malley's comic book. Most of my co-workers had not heard of it. I myself ordered the three first books from the web to prepare for this movie. The movie seems to work well for people who don't know the story beforehand too. I myself am still glad I read some of the book, as it fleshes out some relationships and drama as I had a better idea of the character's motivations. The film is aimed for an audience from teens to mid-twenties (more if they are really childish). Many people older from that probably won't understand anything from the kinetic style, or have forgotten what it feels like to have heartache at this age. For us that do, and geek out over the stuff this references, this is warmly recommended. It has a quite tight competition from Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love, but like Scott himself, his film might prove out to be quite the fighter.


USA, UK, Canada, 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Michael Bacall, based on the comic book by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

New classics

I figured it wouldn't do too well to just list every movie I ever saw in this here blog. For a while the idea was to do deeper articles over some theme, but as I'm busy doing those 21st century lists (it would be nice if someone read them), I'm a little too busy at the moment.

So I'll try something a little different. I'll do flat-out reviews of some films I get to see on press screenings, and if I see a great older movie, I'll write something about it too. No use saving these for a later article (well, most of 'em). As I'm working for the Helsinki International Film Festival at the moment, the new reviews are a bit of a taboo, as I could use them to market my festival. So I'll mostly do just these.

So recently, I've seen the following great films:

12 Angry Men
Director: Sidney Lumet
USA, 1957

An American classic I've waited long to see. The film takes place in a single room, as 12 anonymous characters argue over one subject. This doesn't sound that promising at first, but things are kept very interesting throughout. The fact that they are a jury deciding on whether to send a man to the electric chair or not, helps of course. The film is a plea for humanism, as it condemns capital punishment as there might be a risk that innocent people get executed. It unravels this fact by letting the 11 jurors slowly come to realize that the case isn't as clear as they previously had thought. It is also a great psychological piece of the human nature and the different motivations people might have on doing a big decision. Most of them are not clean by any means. The movie is also carried by fantastic performances and I start to see what Sergio Leone saw in Henry Fonda, the original Last Boy Scout.

This used to be the highest-ranking film on the IMDb top 250 I hadn't seen. Now it's Toy Story 3.

The Big Risk (Classe Tous Risques)
Director: Claude Sautet
France, 1960

The French crime classics are cool as cucumbers, but sometimes they get a bit dull for being too similar. This rings true to most Jean-Pierre Melville's films. Yet this film, by Claude Sautet, preceeds most of them and still finds a twist or two to keep things interesting. The film follows two criminals, on the run from the law from a somewhat petty robbery. They make things harder for them by shooting police and getting the other one's family involved. Yet, they never see the error of their ways and plan to make one last heist, the big one. The problem, as usually is in these sort of tales, is the question on who to trust. The honour among thieves is flimsier among some than pothers. Even though the main characters are not too personal, the film is quite exciting as one of them has childern with him and the other falls in love. An the police won't save their bullets, as neither will rival gangsters. An edge-of-your seat stuff, here. I also like how the story takes place in various places in Europe I've recently visited, including Milan and Paris.

Forbidden Planet
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
USA, 1956
Another classic I hadn't previously seen, but this time it was my own fault. I had this on a VHS for years and years and never bothered to watch it (I still have a VHS player but as you can imagine, I watch tapes kind of rarely).

It's a kind of a rare feat, a science fiction movie made in the 50's, that's actually worth its salt. This film doesn't rely on just otherworldly special effects to tell a simple story for children. No, the story is mostly exposition, and requires the viewer to understand some concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis to make sense. But exposition in a sci-fi/fantasy environment is not a bad thing per se, as it allows the viewer to fill in the rest of the imaginary world with his/her own imagination. It works quite well here.

It is also a story on how one individual's dreams gone astray can bring death and destruction. It is a common theme in fiction, as the popular Inception also has dreams overcome their master. But Forbidden Planet has absolutely stunning sets and matte paintings for its claim, not to mention an over-serious robot as a comic relief. Inception didn't have a robot. Robbie went on to become a big star and to make a long and lasting career after this film. I remember him from Gremlins. But also the visual world of this film has inspired countless later films.

The Young One
Director: Luis Bunuel
Mexico, USA 1960
Bunuel is a brilliant director and it's always a treat to see something new from him. This drama is progressive for its time in that it concerns pretty deep racial and sexual issues. Bunuel was again, as he was more often than not, way ahead of his time. The film is a story of a young girl, and alcogholic middle-aged man and a young black man on one island.

The film's almost like an early blaxploitation movie with its characterizations, with a strong black hero, who narrow-minded white people hate, persecute and chase even without a flimsy reason. The problem is that this guy is no Dolemite and the punches and shots actually hurt him. He is seen as a sexual threat to the young girl, although the paedophilic older white man actually proves to be much more hungry for her flesh. Even the bad guy isn't one-sided, there are three-dimensional dilemmas he faces as well as a tragic history, which has made him somewhat of a people-hating hermit. Like 12 Angry Men, this one also condemns making judgements based on emotions, rather than reason and facts.

In the end the tensions are resolved, but not too cathartic. Everyone gets what one desreves even if traditional judgemet is not dealt out. Yet the film leaves an uneasy feeling. As the world hasn't changed anywhere, the characters might still have some rough times ahead. Nevertheless, a great film.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Just a short item of interest. Many finns know the ruthless critic Tapani Maskula, from Turku. He has a reputation of not liking anything, and as I've been to the same press screenings with him, a couple of times I've heard him complaining about the film he's about to see before the film has started rolling. Well, I still respect the man for maintaining a sort of a class. Now someone has collected a list of films he has deemed 5-star worthy.

I'll have to say, it's a pretty good list, except for one thing.

Alien 3, WTF? It's clearly the worst of the Alien bunch and its themes (borrowed largely from the first one) are probably the most obvious in this one. The studio interference of everything interesting they were pitching at the movie is painfully obvious. And they killed Hicks! Maybe Maskula confused that piece of garbage with the more superior Aliens?


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