Thursday, 26 May 2011

Giallo, Krimi, Policier, pt. 1

I'm really into Italian horror movies that work more as hugely visual mood pieces than rational stories. The term Giallo is thrown often to describe this genre but actually it only covers half of the truth. Giallo, which means yellow in Italian, is originally used to describe cheap pulp novels one could get from his local piazza's newsagent. Because of the literature genre, giallo really covers also detective stories, crime and vigilantist thrillers and sexploitation besides horror. In Helsinki tehere was a brilliant retrospective of the genre in the National Film Archives. For this first post of this three-part series, I reflect on some of the thrillers and horror films I saw during the spring.

Death Laid an Egg
(a.k.a. Plucked / La morte ha fatto l'uovo, Italy/France 1968)
Director: Giulio Questi

I put the films to this post in chronological order and it seems that perhaps the most difficult and avant-garde of these films was the first to be produced. I had real trouble comprehending the plot and the content of this movie. I later found out that this was the so-called American cut of the film that is more based on the spiralling madness of a hen-house owner's husband. The Italian cut reportedly has more exposition, consumer critique and comedy. Either way, the film can hardly be said to be straight-forward. It is often psychedelic and scenes seem to have few connections to each other.

So the story seemingly is that the farm owner's husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has real jealousy issues towards his wife, Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). He manifests this by brutally murdering prostitutes in a hotel room. Anna, not knowing of this, starts to renovate her farm to become a more efficient meat-producing plant and hiring a beautiful new secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin). But they both are in grave danger when Marco begins to give more and more to his primal emotions.

All of the blood work is contrasted with the modern chicken-house where the life of feeling animals has little value anyway and the efficiency just adds up to the brutality of it all. The mutant chickens without a head or wings sadly predict pretty much where meat-processing has actually lead us to.

The stars for the film comes from me not knowing whether this is utter garbage or real art. It is not an entertaining trash-film, although it has plenty of really weird scenes. I will need to see the different cut of this film to make up my mind. It seems that it at least has a pretty humane message, which of course can balance it a bit more to the art side.

★ or ★★★★★

Double Face
(A doppia faccia, Germany/Italy 1969)
Director: Riccardo Freda

Klaus Kinski, that old bastard, plays the wealthy John Alexander in his first leading role. Alexander loathes his wife Helen (Margaret Lee). However, when Helen dies in a freak accident, John is devastated. It seems someone murdered her, and John isn't sure whether it was him or not. He comes across a seedy party in Soho, where LSD is consumed and finds out there is a lesbian porn film seemingly starring his late wife. And then it seems Helen also rises from the dead. Has someone decieved him or is he really losing his mind?

Double Face has all the ingredients of an awesome movie. I could watch Kinski even cutting his toenails for an hour and a half and he does very good work here. Us viewers are kept on the edge of our seats about whether he is the film's villain or not. Thus the confusing plot structure also works fine, and the drug-parties in swinging '60s London create a fine point-in-time athmosphere. Yet the plot unravels way too slowly and there are plenty of dragging parts and repetition. There are also problems with the film's limited budget, which results in pretty visible models being used in the car crash in the beginning and the end of the end. The overall plot is a little clumsy and the actors ham it up occasionally, but that's all part of the deal, of course.


Hatchet For the Honeymoon
(Il rosso segno della follia, Italy/Spain 1969)
Director: Mario Bava

Mario Bava's filmmaking is one of the cornerstones of giallo cinema. I'm sad I didn't get a chance to see Blood and Black Lace on the big screen. The other Bava film in the retrospective was a little more modest but still a lot of fun. Bava seems to have created a Patrick Bateman-like character moe than 20 years before the publishing of American Psycho. But Bava also guarentees his anti-hero won't get away with his actions as easily.

A sadistic and narcisstic bridal gown stylist John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) loathes his wife Mildred (Laura Batti) although she repeatedly tells him that she won't agree to file for a divorce. So, John brutally murders her as that is nothing new to him. He has made a habit of murdering brides-to-be because of a mysterious drama that keeps bugging him. But these traumas multiply by tenfold as Mildred herself still refuses to let John go and haunts him.  Harrington also has the trouble of the Colombo-like Inspector Russell (Jesús Puente) always returning to ask him one more question about the death of Mildred.

The film's story is not that special as we've all seen the guilt-bothered murderer crack up a billion times before. But Bava's skills as a filmmaker can't be denied. His way of flying the camera up and down and sometimes focusing on little details, is almost worthy of Kubrick. A well-realized '60s cinematography helps a lot, too. The main actors also pull their roles very well. If the film had more of a subtext beyond its conventional story, this could be a masterpiece. Now it's just a very entertaining giallo film, but that's really all we need.

★★★ 1/2

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Over Suspicion
(Le foto proibite di una signora per bene, Italy/Spain 1970)
Director: Luciano Ercoli

This film is like a sister-piece to both Double Face and Hatchet for the Honeymoon.  It stars the stylish young lady, Minou (Dagmar Lassander), who's just married the wealthy businessman Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi). She gets a blackmailing phone call that tells that Peter has killed a man and unless his demands are met, the info will leak to the police. Believing Peter to have done the deed because he was forced to, Minou tries to meet the demands and agrees to meet the caller. But the caller won't settle for a sum of money, and rapes Minou. He won't even stop calling after this, as his calls get ever more threatening and he blackmails Minou with photographs from the affair.  The growing terror of the stalker getting ever more aggressive drives her to the brink of madness. Will it consume her or can she pull herself together to fight her nemesis?

Besides a growing fear and blackmail, this film is all about sex. Even for a film made in the afterglow of the swingin' 60's, it's quite progressive filmmaking. For one, it features a bisexual femme fatale Dominique, who is hinted to having been (and maybe still being) the lover of both Peter and Minou. It's just sad that the film doesn't really do anything interesting about this info but rather keeps it as a mere possibility. The female point-of-view is refreshing, but the film itself threads on a bit too familiar paths for the genre. The villains have schemed a plot that's way too similar to other earlier giallo films. But the style and cinematography as well as the snappy storytelling at least keep this interesting.


Don't Look Now
(a.k.a. Decembre rosso shocking, Italy/UK 1973) 
Director: Nicholas Roeg

The most widely acclaimed film of the retrospective is without doubt Nicholas Roeg's magnum opus, which was recently selected as the best british film of all time by Time Out Magazine. Pretty good for a film half made in Italy. Personally, I love the film but don't even consider it to be Roeg's best, let alone the whole country's.

The sorrow of the death of their oldest daughter shadows the trip to Venice of John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie). John is in the city for business, as he's restoring a canvas in a church. Laura meets two sweet old ladies who claim to be psychic and tell her they can see their lost daughter. But they don't bring mere happy news from the afterlife, they also have a grave warning for the couple to leave the town. Can they be trusted or why can John also see a familiar-looking little girl running around the town? And who is the mysterious serial killer wreaking havock around the town?

The film uses a lot of little, subtle things to bring out a crushingly bleak athmosphere. John and Laura don't see the beauty of the city, they only see dirt, dark tiles and evidence of death surrounding them. Laura is eager to cling on to any sort of shred of hope as John tries to maintain a rational facade. The couple is drifting apart by this even though they themselves may not realize it. It is also evident in the famous sex scene, which is cross-cut with the couple already dressing up. It is a film that has inspired countless filmmakers from its striking visual world to the thematics (Von Trier's Antichrist reheats many of the themes). Plus, it has a whopper of an ending. a true classic.


The House With The Laughing Windows
(La casa dalle finestre che ridono, Italy 1976)
Director: Pupi Avati

The most perfect giallo experiment from the films of the retrospective was this masterpiece by the Italian director Giuseppe "Pupi" Avati, who is most known for his teen films and screenwriting work. In fact, Avati contributed to the script of the all-round outrageous film Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The same kind of blasphemy and turning conventional and familiar customs to twisted obscenities. The Catholic imagery and ethos in particular is on line to be demolished by Avati's film.

The young art expert Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is summoned to a small Italian town to restore an old fresco of Saint Sebastian. He is told that the original fresco was the work of a raging lunatic. He most often liked to paint mages of peope in agony or about to die, yet is long dead by this point. Stefano stays at the house of the artist's two sisters. This legend seems to come to life as more and more villagers are brutally killed. Stefano and his girlfriend Francesca (Francesca Marino) must find out the truth before they're next in line.

The film is one of those delirious films that have an imagery that seemingly mixes truth and reality. The athmosphere creeps in slowly and slowly yet keeps the viewer interested enough to be on the edge of his seat for the whole duration of the film. It achieves quite a lot with very little bloody effects or such that other Italian directors spur excessive amounts in their films. The cinematography of House also utilizes the violence in old icons depicting the violent deaths of various saints. However, the film keeps its best surprises to the final moments where the madness really overcomes. Some imagery won't leave the viewer for weeks.


(Italy 1982)
Director: Dario Argento

The works of Dario Argento are of course essential to giallo. This retrospective focused on two pieces from his silver age in the early- to mid-80's. I will look at some of his earlier works in other parts of this series. Tenebre, however should be put in its place at the point in Argento's career, where he's becoming self-conscious about his direction. It is a story about a brutal serial killer running loose in Rome, in which Argento has placed a lot of self-observed viewpoints to his own life and perhaps an alter-ego as well. The killer seemingly bases all of his murders on the works of a popular horror novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa). When Neal arrives in Rome for the publicity tour for his latest novel, the killer begins to taunt him and to pull him into the investigation.

As is appropriate for many of Argento's film, Tenebre is absolutely brutal, yet at the same time gorgeously beatifully shot. The fine film print also emphasizes all the stark color schemes and the terrible imagery. Tenebre is not one of Argento's haunting masterpieces, and doesn't play with mood or expectation as much as it could. Anyway, it is a very good slasher that has a neat enough twist.

★★★ 1/2

The New York Ripper
(Lo squartatore di New York, Italy 1982)
Director: Lucio Fulci

Every good retrospective should have one film by Lucio Fulci, but not one more. His films are not consistent or in any way rational, but unlike Argento or Bava, he really can't create a threat-filled athmosphere but rather likes to play with excessive amounts of gore. New York Ripper is one of his most notorious films. 

The film follows Lt. Fred Williams, a burnt-out cop who likes prostitutes. He's facing the challenge of a lifetime as a weird murderer starts offing young girls in New York and making phone calls talking with a Donald Duck voice.

The film's New York is clearly the same as in Taxi Driver, so it's filled with filth and scum. Even the police aren't above this, but are still a million times better than the twisted maniacs that stalk the streets. Fulci does have one or two fine-looking scenes but mostly the film is just dire guessing of who the serial killer might be or nastily violent kills. Only for gorehounds.


(Italy 1985)
Director: Dario Argento

I've had a soft spot in my heart for Phenomena ever since I first saw it on TV years ago. As those were the early days of digital broadcasting, the subtitles didn't work, but I watched the whole thing in Italian anyway. And as many know, in Argento's films the plot or dialogue is often insignificant. And none more than in this, an operatic sendoff to his most prolific and masterful giallo era.

If the plot does interest someone, it involves the young Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly), a new student in a ballet school in Switzerland. Jennifer doesn't get along with her classmates very well and feels more akin to the insect kingdom. She also befriends the wheelchari-bound professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance) living nearby. McGregor has been assisting the police investigating a series of murders that have happened nearby with his knowledge of the insect larvae. He encourages Jennifer to also look into the mystery as she seems to have a supernatural power of controlling the insects by her will. But will even that be enough to protect her from the murderer?

Phenomena is one of the most dividing films in Argento's career. Most arguments against the film pick up the film's score as a complain. For such an athmospheric mood-piece that even begins with a sole image of the wind gushing in the countryside treetops, Phenomena uses a lot of heavy metal in its soundtrack. Personally, I think it is kind of kick ass, and more often strenghtens the delirious athmosphere, rather than wrecks it. In addition to Iron Maiden and Motörhead, the film also has probably the best theme of all time, by Goblin and Claudio Simonetti:

Nothing makes much sense in Phenomena, but it is a sort of stream of consciousness film. Thus it has such memorable imagery as a chimp wielding a razor blade, a bath with rotting corpses full of maggots, and of course the murderer himself, which I won't spoil here. Suffice to say, some good ideas seem to go round in the giallo circle and come back even more twisted and weird as before. This is a good place to stop and start waiting for the next installment. Pleasant dreams!


Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Arnold Project Part II: Arnold the Barbarian

The recent news have implied that Arnold may not be returning to our screens any time soon. As much of a downer this is, it at least may have spared us from a pensioner Terminator. Robots can't age, and at 64, Arnold really couldn't pretend to be the same killing machine from 1984. His real-life sex scandal that produced an illegitimate son also proves that he's more of a loving machine. And no other of Arnold's characters is such a stud as Conan the Cimmerian, a fortune-seeking barbarian in the Hyborian era.

Now, Arnold certainly brought a lot of his own image to the character and thus may not be the perfect incarnation of Robert E. Howard's legendary pulp fiction character. But at least he's the right size and charismatic and intimidating enough to convince us, which is a lot more than you can say about the first impression of Baywatch actor Jason Momoa. The more I see about the upcoming 2011 remake, the less interested I am, but at least we have this bunch of films from the good old '80s.

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Director: John Milius

A pillaging gang of thugs led by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) storm a Cimerrian village and brutally murder the parents of young Conan. He grows up in slavery, but as he starts developing huge muscles, he is sold into being a gladiator. When he eventually gets his freedom he sets off to various adventures to gain his revenge on Doom, who has since become the leader of a snake-worshipping occultist cult.

The film, produced by Dino DeLaurentiis himself, is a huge epic that might go amiss when being viewed from a home DVD. This is a film where the material really demands a cinematic athmosphere. Everything, starting from the score by Basil Poledouris, is meant to be as big as possible. My viewing experience of the film as one of last year's final screenings of the movie theater Bristol, was one of the most magnificent of my life. A theatre filled wth Arnold fans cheered and cherised every frame of the film with all their passion. It really raised the film's quality in my eyes too.

As the director John Milius is well-known for being one of the most right-wing directors in Hollywood, it is no surprise that the film is positively Nietzschean in its portrayal of an übermensch. Now, this may not be as racist as it can seem, but neverthelss Conan is shown to have a superior will-power and adaptility to anyone else to rise up to become the toughest there is. But he won't have it easy as even as an infant he's forced to push a gigantic wheel and later on he survives a crucifiction and kills a hungry vulture by biting its neck off. As in Howard's books, the times were tough, and to adapt a man should keep his pleasures positively Spartan:
"Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women"

This macho attitude, so common in the '80s, is well served by Milius's and Oliver Stone's script. The conciderably left-wing Stone probably keeps the film's supremacy-bullshit at a tolerable level. Conan is something of a freedom-fighter and a liberator from oppression from religious cults (that act a lot like Soviet communism), too. Unlike many other action-adventures, Barbarian is also economical with its special effects. Conan doesn't need to be attacked by a monster or a wizard's fireball every five minutes, as well-armed swordsmen are enough of a challenge to him, too. The special effect scenes that are used, feel all the more special. One of the main reasons the film still feels so fresh today is so few effects. If one seeks to find flaws in this performance, one really don't need the scene where Doom changes into a giant snake. It doesn't have a purpose in the story and only creates confusion on why he doesn't change into one in the climatic battle.

The ending would promise us a whole franchise, but really we only got one official sequel. I would've loved if Conan became a character like James Bond, with a new installment every couple of years, as the possibilities for his adventures are really grand. Sadly, the character is also easy to get wrong, which just adds to the kudos for Milius and Stone for nailing it.

In theatre: ★★★★★
From DVD: ★★★★

Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Director: Richard Fleischer

Fleischer's sequel feels to suffer from a budget-loss from its predecessor. It feels more of a product of its time, as is evident from the amounts of bad special-effect creatures here. It's also clear that the script isn't as good. Conan might have been a brutal and ruthless man driven by a will of revenge in the first, but he was no foll and had a certain philosophy of his own as well as a moral code. The second film maintains the moral code, and some nuggets of character-building from the first film (Conan still mourns for his lost love), but mostly he's just a big dumb oaf. The film suffers also from having too many sidekicks joining Conan's quest. As awesome as characters like Grace Jones's amazon woman or the more prominent Mako as the Wizard are, they eat screen time from each other and as a result, none of the supporting cast really gets time to shine.

Conan's quest this time is to obtain a magic crystal that can revive the dead. On the way, Conan and his team get tangled up to various wizards planning world domination by awakening an ancient god (that is not Cthulhu). Actually, the film's script uses more elements from Howard's stories than its predecessor. That might be because it was co-written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway from Marvel's Conan comic book. The film does have a more loose, comic-booky tone with more humor. I would prefer to have these films completely serious, but I can't deny that the film isn't still a lot of fun.The stand-out scene is the completely ridiculous fight against an ape-man in a hall of mirrors where Conan is being spiralled round and round from his leg.


Red Sonja (1985)
Director: Richard Fleischer

Red Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen) is the female equivalent of Conan, a treasure-hunter and a thief seeking revenge for the death of her family and the destruction of her home village. The person responsible is the evil queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman), who attempts to conquer the world using a notorious magic talisman (again). Sonja is joined by Prince Kalidor, the former keeper of the talisman, who attempts to find it before it is destroyed and all evil gets loose in the Hyborian world. Reportedly, Arnold himself has thought of this as being a quite bad one. Said Arnold:

“It’s the worst film I have ever made. Now, when my kids get out of line, they’re sent to their room and forced to watch Red Sonja 10 times. I never have too much trouble with them."

Personally, I wouldn't be that hard on the film. Fleischer is an OK director with a good eye for what works on screen. Thus the sets are huge and vivid, and remind me a little of this year's film Thor. The film also has another good score this time by Ennio Morricone himself.

But the film does have big problems and the biggest one is the casting. Brigitte Nielsen is no lead actress unless we are referring to the heavy metallic element. Her accent is probably even worse than Arnold's, and it's hard to understand anything she's saying. I don't consider her to be that good-looking, either, but at least she can swing a sword. Arnold himself doesn't play Conan anymore, he's King Kalidor, a thinly veiled stand-in for the real one. This is probably done to avoid copyright payments, although the tale of Red Sonja is based on the Conan comic books. Kalidor is a good-hearted pussy compared to the strength, power and few words of Conan. Crom!

But the worst offense is to break the #1 rule of adventure films: don't have an annoying kid sidekick who whines all the time. A lot of screentime that could be featuring Arnold kicking ass is spared for an annoying little moppet named Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.). He's contantly ordering people around, demanding stuff, bragging how great a fighter he is (he isn't) and generally being an annoying little asshole. I wish Arnold could've thrown him into boiling-hot mud when he had the chance.

One has to wonder why the producers thought they needed someone for the kids to relate to as the film is too violent for them anyway. Presumably they figured kids would watch the film anyway as He-Man and The Masters of the Universe was the hottest thing back then. And as everyone loving film- and toy-based trivia knows, that toy line was created when the original Conan was deemed too violent for the kids, only after ordering a huge batch of action figures based on it. The solution was to give Conan a fruity blonde Beatle-wig, and to switch Thulse Doom's head with a skull. Thus, He-man and Skeletor were born. But that's another story.

★★ 1/2

These were the films that first made Arnold a star. But that might have been a dead-end to his career by itself. As his wife Maria Shiver said after seeing Red Sonja:
"If that doesn't kill your career, nothing will"
Arnold as Conan is after all equally iconic as Christopher Reeve as Superman. He would need another iconic character in his stable to become a bona-fied superstar.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Directors: Joel Coen (Part 1/2)

Joel Coen - not pictured: Ethan
Read Part 2 Here.

It may be a cliché to say this, but the Coen brothers more than any other living American filmmaker know how to perfect every single field in their filmmaking. I'd rank them among the best living directors from any country. To me, they've never made a bad film, just some that don't quite live up to their expectations. So having them as a part of the ongoing Directors-series was a no-brainer and a long time coming.

As some posts in this series have been way too long, from now on I'll divide the filmography of directors with more than 10 films into two. This also allows me to dedicate a post to each of the Coen brothers. It's good to start with Joel, as their earlier films are usually credited by being directed by just him. In reality, this was a requirement for Hollywood's Screenwriters Guild. The Coens solved the problem by having Ethan have a sole Producer credit, although as well as in directing, both are done as a collaboration between the brothers.

Joel Daniel Coen (1954-) is the elder brother. He is also the one married to their favorite actress Frances McDormand. The pair have been married since even the opening of the Coen's debute film Blood Simple. From this first film on, the Coens have figured how to update classic American genres into modern settings. Although they hop genres, their trademark black humour stays intact from film to film. A lot of the power of the Coen's image is thanks to their cinematographer Roger Deakins, who hasn't got nearly enough praise for his iconic work.

Blood Simple (1984)
The State: Texas

The debut of the Coens has since somewhat defined their career. It's a dark neo noir-film, in fact one of their darkest films. In the film's world, anyone can double-cross anyone and cost them their lives at the process. All anyone seems to be after is money, and even the one central relationship seems to be on shaky grounds at best.

Abby (Frances McDormand), a bar owner's wife wants to leave her husband and run off with the bartender Ray (John Getz). However, the wealthy barowner husband Marty starts to suspect a relationship and as he can't break it off, hires a sleazy private detective Visser (M. Emmet Wash) to murder the couple. But Visser is not one to be trusted and his deception for a few dollars more begins a larger game of stalking and murdering.

Blood Simple was a return to the dark thrillers of the '40s before the term 'neo-noir' was even coined. The Director of Photography at this point was Barry Sonnenfield, who keeps the image as dark as the story. Sonnenfield later became a noted Hollywood director himself with films like The Addams Family and MIB - Men in Black.  The Texan landscape of the film seems well-researched, but it doesn't do any favors for the locals. I think the reason is rather to highpoint the dark barrenness of the nightly desert to the blackness in some character's hearts. The Coens are pretty ruthless and use slasher-film rules here. Only the most virtuous can be spared. Yet the script is a lot better than that with surprising twists and turns and great characterizations as always. So much so that Zhang Yimou could transfer them to ancient China in his recent re-imagining A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop. The result didn't get anywhere near the lofty heights of this, but then, what does?


Raising Arizona (1987)
State: Arizona

After reviving the suspense film genre, the Coens went on to do the same for screwball comedies. The fast-moving story begins as the habitual criminal "Hi" McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) starts wooing the police photographer Edwina (Holly Hunter). After each of his arrests, he gets to change a few more words with her, and eventually she agrees to marry him. But Ed wants a child, which they can't concieve. They decide to kidnap one of the babies in furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona's quintuplets, figuring no one would miss the baby or even notice it missing. Keeping the crime secret becomes Things complicated when Hi's friends (that have a way of blackmailing people) come for a suprise visit and Arizona sends a bounty hunter to find the missing baby.

Surprisingly, Joel Coen hasn't been satisfied with the film. It seems the brothers had some beef with Nicolas Cage's antics on the set of the film, as he has never worked with them since. Reprtedly Cage had too many suggestions for his performance and the film itself, while the Coens wished to keep their own, autocratic vision like the true auteurs they are. Nevertheless, Cage does a terrific performance here as a pretty despicable person who is still pretty lovable. It might be that Hi is just too dumb to be condemned for his actions. Yet there is something sinister in Holly Hunter's Ed as she goes from being a policewoman to sharing Hi's total disregard for law and ethics. She also gets Hi to do the things she wants. Other characters in this film are memorable, and the over-the-top villain in Leonard Smalls (Randall "Tex" Cobb) almost steals the whole show. Seriously, he's the kind of biker so bad he throws grenades at cuddly rabbits just for the hell of it. The film is still hilarious, yet perhaps the Coens prefer the more subtle approach of their later films. The camerawork, the symbolism, the jokes and the characteristics, they all work as well here.


Miller's Crossing (1990)
The State: Illinois? (Not revealed)

Another 180 turn from the optimistic nature of Raising Arizona landed the Coens to do a darker, prohibition-era story of rivalling gangsters. Life is cheap again and the distrust toward friends and fellow men still intact. The film opens with a clear pastiche for The Godfather as a merchant has come to a mob boss to ask for a favour. The Coens throw genre-included baits a lot in the first act of the film, and the brown-scale photography in the beginning resembles 70's films very closely. Yet the film slowly turns into something else altogether and when the story starts flowing even more rapidly, the photography takes a more 90's approach of close-ups and camera tricks. The complex plot of twists and turns is of the patented Coen style, there's no doubt about that.

Two gangs get ever more hostile towards each other over the fate of Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro), a bookie. The Italian gangsters blame him from spreding rumours about their fixed boxing matches and want his head for it. But Bernbaum is in the protection of Irish gangsters led by Leo (Albert Finney), whose right hand Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) is caught in the middle of the conflict. Things are complicated by the fact that Reagan is in love with Bernie's sister Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), who Leo is also courting. Reagan begs Leo to hand over Bernie to the Italians to ensure peace, but as the truth about him and Verna leaks, Leo eventually turns his back on him.

The smooth storytelling style of the Coens takes the story though twists and turns like a train. The brothers have toned down the cartoonishness of their characters, but made an effort to write as snappy a dialogue as you would see in old gangster flicks starring Bogart or Cagney. Also Barry Sonnenfield's cinematography is at a peak here, as highly symbolic images such as a flying hat or treetops waving in the wind have never looked more beautiful. I'd say this is their first masterpiece if it wasn't for a little too much runtime and a little underwhelming ending.

★★★★ 1/2

Barton Fink (1991)
The State: California

The last of the big American genres the Coens hadn't yet touched would be the Western. That's time would come almost two decades later. Instead of that they decided to make their fourth feature film a story about their shared writer's block while writing Miller's Crossing. Barton Fink really doesn't resemble that many other movies. The most obvious comparison would of course be the films of David Lynch, which reveal the dark centre around Hollywood glitz with a very cinematic but surrealistic style, where nothing really is as it seems.

Barton Fink (John Turturro) is an acclaimed playwright, who is called to Hollywood to work on a wrestling picture's screenplay. The New York intellectual Fink doesn't know a whole lot about wrestling, but takes the job and sets himself in the Hotel Earle. Yet he doesn't really know where to start the work. He makes friends with his neighbour Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) who tries to help him but to no avail. With some twists and turns Fink will get more story than he bargained for.

The film got the Coens a Palm d'Or for their trouble and rightly so. It was also the first time the brothers worked with DoP Roger Deakins, as Sonnenfield went on to build his own career as a director. Both cinematographers are great, but Deakins really nails the spooky images representing Fink's own barren mind. The central of these is the Hotel Earle itself, filled with a dead and hot athmosphere of dread. By the end, it becomes ever more unclear whether the things on screen are happening in real world, or just in Fink's mind. Nevertheless, the film is surprisingly easy to follow. The Coens build the movie so you need to understand the mood and the character of the film, rather than the narrative and it works like a charm. The usual comedy stylings are best served by John Goodman, who really has only been at his own element in Coen pictures.


The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The State: New York

The Hudsucker Proxy is the first Coen film which fell a little short from its aspiration. The Coens worked this time in collaboration with their friend Sam Raimi, who co-scripted the film and worked as a second unit director. Problem is, the verbal, dry humour of the Coens doesn't work that well with the more slapstick- and silliness inclined Raimi. Yet all of them can still write great dialogue. Like Raising Arizona, the film is a old-timey screwball comedy, but instead of lovable hicks, it concentrates on the corporate world of old time New York, circa 1958.

Waring Hudsucker, president of Hudsucker industries commits suicide by jumping off the window of his own scyscraper. His board of directors, led by Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman) decide to earn big money on the accident, by getting a naive new president to run the comapany's stock to the ground and then acquire the stock and restore the company's business. The business graduate Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), having just started as a mail deliverer in the company, gets to the right place at the right time and earns the job. But he has some ideas of his own that people might not appreciate as much as they should.

For such a light film, Hudsucker's cinematography sure is dark. In fact, Deakin's work reminds of the photography in Barton Fink. Although this might be to reminiscence the black and white era, it doesn't fit the film too well. The film lacks the surreal storytelling and as a result struggles on the line between a light-hearted comedy and a dark satire. Unlike most Coen films, Hudsucker also feels too crammed with characters that really aren't among the most memorable Coen creations. For instance, it's nice to see Bruce Campbell in a Coen film but he really hasn't that much to do in the film. The dialogue is still snappy and there are a couple of good enough gags to keep the thing afloat. Y'know, for kids. But both Coens and Raimi could do better by themselves.


Fargo (1996)
The State: Minnesota

After Hudsucker bombed (and it's quite clear to see why) the Coens returned to form with a new thriller set to their native Minnesota. And they earned an Oscar for screenwriting to boot. Deakins' cinematography switched to the lightness of wintery sunshine to contrast the darkness within the story. Some night scenes also are reminiscent of Blood Simple. But it seems that unlike Texas, the Coens feel that despite all the bloodshed, greed and crime, not to mention chilly exterior, Minnesota has real warmth in its core.

That warmth is personified by Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a pregnant police officer set to investigate a series of murders in the Brainerd area. We viewers know exactly what has been going on. The sleazy but neurotic car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) has hired two hoodlums (Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi) to kidnap his wife in order to blackmail his father-in-law for money. Yet the thugs have bothed the operation, accidentally killing Lundegaard's wife and murdering witnesses as they happen to see them in their dirty deeds. The whole setting becomes a game of cat and mouse.

The result is one of the most finely balanced and perfected works in the Coen filmography. The brothers seem to have captured the essance of the nature, climate and people in their native state and built the film around that. The silly accents and the down-to-earth nature of (most of) the inhabitants creates a nice mood and a perfect contrast to the criminals from the outside. The quiet Stormare and the constantly-yapping Buscemi don't really understand their environment and respond with violence and other anti-social behaviour. The Coens use their black humour to take this to the extreme point, too, and create the film's famous climax which is almost too good to be true.


The Big Lebowski (1998)
The State: California

Next up was an even more perfect film than its predecessor and one of the few films I could never tire of seeing. The Big Lebowski is another crime film, yet with a wholly unique point of view. The kind of films that put slackers in the spotlight of their stories were not uncommon in the '90s, yet usually this just ended up with them just talking and occasionally doing drugs or having sex with each other. Plus more often than not these so-called protagonists were aimless teenagers. So one could think of the Coens' masterpiece about a modern hippie during the days of Gulf war as a parody of mumblecore, but I figure it was probably more of an answer of the times. The Coens wanted to make a Raymond Chandleresque mystery film, which is evident in the film's title. The mixture of slacking and mystery is probably the best idea they ever had.

Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski is the kind of guy who walks into a grocery store noon in a morning robe to buy milk to make himself a couple of White Russians. One night he gets visitors in his home. Too bad they are angry german nihilists who demand him money and when refused, pee all over his carpet. As the rug really tied the room together, he decides to ask for a new one from the Lebowski the germans mistook him for, millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston). This gets him involved in the eventual kidnapping of billionaire Lebowski's wife, Bunny. Things get further complicated as he asks for advice from his shell-shocked Vietnam vet buddy, Walter Sobchack (John Goodman).

Yes, The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite films of all time. I found the film as a teenager, just looking for a goofy comedy to rent from a video store, not knowing how big a cult film it is. Watching it, I was instantly sold. The Coens reportedly went to write caricatures of their friend circle when creating the unforgettable cast of characters in this film. Shows once again that they are the strongest when mixing something that they know by heart into something a bit more unexpected. While the film works as a pure, broad comedy as well, the central mystery really is kind of tricky as one has to focus to get every character's motivation and interest up. And of course if you invest in that sort of thing, you are going to get a slap to the end by the end.

One toe-length and a marmot above most other films. The Coens were on a high. But early 2000s were not too gentle for them. But that's a story for another time.


On to Part 2.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

6. Haapsalu Õudus- ja Fantaasiafilmide Festival

To widen my yearly film festival experiences, I should look out for foreign festivals. Now, I can say that this first time I visited a festival in Estonia, was by no means the last time. Estonia, and its capital Tallin, is merely a 1,5 hour ferry trip away from Helsinki. The town of Haapsalu in turn is about a 2 hour bus drive away from the harbor city of Tallinn. So it's easy as pie to visit. I had a swell packet trip to the 6th Haapsalu's Festival for Horror- ja Fantasiafilms (hereon referred as HÕFF) with a group of fellow film aficionados. The quiet country town of Haapsalu, which is built around a medieval castle, is also a suitable scene for a horror film festival. The only downside was that the culture centre which held the screenings wasn't entirely finished and thus for example the sound quality of the films was poor. Unlike in Night Visions, the films at HÕFF didn't run through all night, but left some time to party out in the city's sole night club.

Off to Leipzig (Leipzigisse)
Director: Hardi Keerutaja (Estonia 2011)

I always try to see at least one of the native country's films in each foreign festival I attend to. This time it only included this short film. It's a historical story about a student looking to be a doctor. He goes to a remote farm to treat a patient who acts violent and has a supernatural aura around her. He turns to protect her from her family to take her to the University city of Leipzig.

The film looks and feels like a student film and the twists are pretty obvious for anyone who knows their horror films. Yet the director Hardi Kaarutaja manages to create an athmosphere of threat throughout the film. He utilizes the Estonian forest as a transitional scene to a supernatural world pretty well. Also the scenes of violence are pretty inventive and fun. It was nice enough to see this film from an inflatable screen on the castle courtyard, yet the creeping coldness and hunger sadly prevented me from seeing Brian Yuzna's latest horror-comedy Amphibious, which seemed silly enough and an apt parody judging from the first couple of minutes. Here's hoping someone brings it to a finnish horror film festival.

Red, White & Blue
Director: Simon Rumley (USA/UK 2010)

The theme series of Midnight America was kicked off by my account very well with this pitch-black tragedy. The film follows three people whose paths are about to get tangled to each other. First, we have the young Erica (Amanda Fuller) who feels her life is hollow and meaningless. She spends most her nights picking up strangers in bars and having wild sex with them. Yet nothing seems enough for her. One of her multiple partners is Franki (Marc Senter) who learns that he has gotten the HI-virus from her. As Franki's life has been crumbling around him anyway, he seeks revenge. But meanwhile Erica has met Nate (Noah Taylor), an ominous-seeming character who is probably the only person who's not interested in Erica purely for the sexual pleasure. But Nate surely doesn't have everything home, either and he starts to develop a very a strong feeling of possession over Erica.

Red White & Blue is a character piece more than it is a horror film, and it takes its time to delve into its the main character's minds, emotions and the baggage they carry. At the outside most of them just seem emotionless and cold but beyond the surface might lurk a disturbing truth. As one can deduct from the title, the film also carries a subtext about the whole American culture, which is after all based on violence. The film does look cheap and the camerawork leaves something to improve. But nevertheless if Rumley gets a little better resouces for his next film, I believe it is well worth waiting for.

★★★ 1/2
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Director: Panos Cosmatos (Canada 2011)

Those that think that Moon was a ponderous and arty sci-fi movie should try this on for size. BtBR moves at a glacier pace with barely a plot at all. It relies more on the images and the athmosphere. The film involves a young girl (Eva Allan) who seems to have some PSI-abilities. She is being held in a mental hospital where a sadistic doctor (Michael Rogers) keeps taunting and experimenting on her. Eventually, she sets off to escape, the doctor in her tail. Reportedly the director Cosmatos based this film on old VHS covers of Canadian horror and exploitation films such as the works of David Cronenberg.

I honestly have difficulties reviewing this film properly as I was tired as this was shown and it requires almost hypnotic concentration. Comparing this to Tarkovsky isn't too far off, at least in the field of flow, athmosphere and storytelling styles. But the result is even more surprising, and is not afraid to drop the style used to make a scene with something completely different. The images are striking and memorable. I would say I'd need to see this again. I think it is an exceptional piece by all means and thus ample material for finnish festivals too.


House of the Devil
Director: Ti West (USA 2009)

I had heard good rumblings about Ti West's tribute to the moodier horror films of yesteryear, yet had wondered why the film hadn't been brought to Night Visions or other festivals. Well, HÕFF's guest of honor, Twitch Film's Todd Brown hailed this to be one of the best films of the last five years, so I was willing to give it a benefit of a doubt. And indeed, in some ways this was the best film of the festival. At least in the "horror" category.

House of the Devil is about the college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), about to move to her first own apartement. Yet she lacks the monetary funds and thus opts to become a babysitter to an odd family living in the middle of nowhere. She and her feisty friend Greta Gerwig (Megan) are no fools and the girls take off to the house together to avoid any psychopath shenanigans. Yet as it turns out, there is foul play going on and the girls are soon separated and scared. The film is based on the wide-spred scare of the 80's that Satanic cults thirsting on innocent blood may hide in any neighbourhood without a trace to the outside.

West's film works great as a tribute. Unlike many other nostalgic horror directors, he hasn't chosen the campiest and silliest aspects of the 70's and 80's to replicate. The setting, the music and clothing do bring back those times, but not in an in-you-face or over-the-top style. Instead, the film is a welcome return of the kind of horror films that play on having a disturbing mood to them and are constantly one-upping the feeling of paranoia shared by the main characters as well as the audience. The film is created with seemingly small resources, as you don't really need more than a small scratch or a moving shadow to scare the audience if played right. So good is the first part of the film that the ending is a clear let-down of panicky running around. It's not that bad per se, as the most obvious clichés are avoided, yet still feels too conventional for a movie that started this good. I'll have to reflect this on the film's score, but for a really chilling old-school horror film, it's certainly one of the best of the last decade.

★★★ 1/2

Stake Land
Director: Jim Mickle (USA 2010)

Stake Land is a modern survivalist story set in a postapocalyptic world. That means gloom and doom in the same vein as The Road or I Am Legend. This time (again) the world is plagued by vampires, who are zombie-like lunatic running corpses in this one.  Trying to survive on their way from town to town are the tough-as-nails Mister (Nick Damici, the film's co-writer) and the young, inexperienced Martin (Connor Paolo). The world they live in is divided to armed fortresses, where life goes on pretty normally, and to the dangerous wasteland. Yet nowhere is the pair safe so they must keep on travelling. On their way a group of other misfits join their group and start to form a new, blended family.

Essentially this plays like Zombieland without the jokes. It's not entirely a good thing, as the film is pretty dark yet at the same time a bit ridiculous. A couple of times some pitch-black humour shines through, yet I still don't appreciate the film's seriousness. For the film also attempts to bring a subtext of the state of the American Bible-belt. As is often the case, dangerous uninfected people are much more of a threat than the lurking monsters. In this film they include the fundementalists trying to run their own show in a world gone to hell. If this is meant to satirize, then the edge of the parody is far too blunt, because the religious types here actually seem a lot more reasonable and rational than the actual tele-evangelists that plague intelligent Americans to this day. The film's villains are also annoyingly gloating and indestructible.

The best (and the most ridiculous) scene of the movie shows fundementalists drop vampires from a helicopter to a carnival. If only the same kind of bright gallows-humour  ideas were used in the film more often. Or even if the scene was a little more clearly edited.


Hobo with a Shotgun
Director: Jason Eisener (Canada 2011)

Ah, my most awaited film of the festival and it didn't let me down.  Hobo is based on a fake trailer by Jason Eisener that won a competition to be included in prints of Grindhouse in the US. Eisener's fake trailer had such an outstanding and off-the-wall idea that it actually surpassed in quality the professional trailers of Eli Roth, Edgar Wright et al. It was a godsent gift that Eisener was able to create his vision into a full-length movie and starring Rutger Hauer himself, no less.

Hauer is just as perfect for the lead of this sleaze-fest as they come. He plays a poor hobo that comes to Scum City (formerly Hope City) on a freight train. He starts to look for a job but soon finds out the town is being terrorized by a family of gangsters who don't hold any particular appreciation for the integrity of human life. In particular he starts to protect the hooker Abby (Molly Dunsworth) but this leads him at odds with the bad guys and the corrupt police force of the City. Ultimately he has no option but to not buy his desired lawnmover and rather opt for an equally cheap shotgun. The hobo stops begging and demands for change!

Hobo is a trash film through and through. There are excessive amounts of gore, the film is shot in cartoony coloured lights and it has a wild punk rock feel where anything can happen. Thus children get torched by a flamethrower, people get kicked in the back with ice skates and someone gets their gentitals blown away. It's certainly not for everyone, and that includes anyone who doesn't find poor taste and showers of gore hilarious. Of course that certainly doesn't include me. The closest comparison for the film might be the best Troma films from back at the VHS era. They had the same air of mixing totally bonkers ideas with parodying clichéd conventions. This does so too and goes along the same rails as your regular vigilantist story or even western where a stranger shows up to bring order to a chaotic small town. But how many westerns have you seen where the main character suddenly fights indestructible biker robots that have an octopus in their cellar prison? Thought so. Highly recommended for gore-hounds. Oh, and I love the synth-score of the film!


Karate-Robo Zabogar (Denjin Zaborgar: Gekjio-ban)
Director: Noboru Iguchi (Japan 2011)

The Japanese production company Sushi Typhoon is known for genre films that usually are heavy in gore but light in sense. Now they've extended their filmmaking to superhero films as well, with an adaptation of a popular TV-series from the '70s. It concerns the heroic duo of Yutaka Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara / Itsuji Itao) and his trusty transforming motorcycle/robot companion Zaborgar taking on the evil organization Sigma. The leader of Sigma, Dr. Akunomiya (Akira Emoto) had killed his father years ago while collecting DNA from the world's leading scientists and politicians to create an ultimate super-cyborg. Things get complicated when Daimon falls for Akunomiya's hench-woman Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki), much to the distaste of Zaborgar.

Sushi Typhoon's films tend to often be hit-and-miss and Zaborgar only enhanches this view. The opening of the film has plenty of goofy villains, trampoline jumps, monsters with diarrhea and best of all, American football-playing schoolgirl cyborgs who have dinosaurs come out of their boobs. (This prompts one person to hilariously shout out "DINOSAUR ARMY!?") But the problem with all this is the flimsy plot which can't be covered by any number of surreal jokes. In the middle the film does a big twist, which is a joke in the expense of the viewer that has watched the original series. Sadly, western audiences who don't know the series are left cold by this change and the rest of the film doesn't stand up to the standards of the beginning. The end credits also reveal that many of the films greatest bits were actually reproduced shot-by-shot from the original series. So if it weren't for the dinosaur-tits, this would've been a complete waste of time.


Norwegian Ninja (Kommandør Treholt & ninjatroppen)
Director: Thomas Cappelen Malling (Norway 2010)

Norway has recently built a reputation for its film industry, that has made an impressive amount of fun genre-films. I hope Rare Exports isn't a fluke and us Finns can manage the same in the upcoming years. Norwegian Ninja completes the festival's set of films that are a tribute to the genre cinema of yesteryears. But instead of treading on the same paths as already ridiculous Mats Helge's scandinavian ninja flicks, director Malling builds a sort of GI Joe universe for his ninjas.

It's 1984 and the Norwegian government has a top secret island where they train ninjas to carry on missions concerning the state security. The ninjas live peacefully, feeding cute animals among their training and looking for enlightenment. But at the same time another secret organization has more sinister plans. A rival intelligence agency plans to do terrorist attacks in Norway and blame the Soviet Union from them, in order to get Norway's foreign politics closer to the USA. Only Commender Arne Treholt and his group of ninjas can stop this diabloical plan. But which ninjas can he trust and which not?

The film has a big amount of fun ideas and the feeling of 80's after-school action shows and Thunderbirds is accurately recreated. Particularly the underwater espionage scenes are cool. Sadly, the film's editing looks for an ultra-slick style (seen, for example, in Edgar Wright's films), but ends up being sloppy. It doesn't help that the plot is utterly confusing. The film doesn't concentrate enough on its main characters and thus some of their actions seem odd and unexplained. But since this is the filmic equivelent of a director playing with his action figures, I suppose one can forgive this.


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Summer Preview

It will be quite the summer of big blockbusters yet again. I love brainless entertainment, but alas, way too many big-budgeted brainmelters tend to, well, suck. Here's my own, unaligned, view on whether this summer's films will be any good or whether they will make any money. They are arranged by the US opening date, so you should check just when are they actually released in your own home country.

May 6th

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Studio: Marvel, Paramount (distribution)

Verily, prepare for battle! Thor is probably my favorite Marvel character that hasn't been featured in a film yet. Although the character and his universe are brilliant, I can understand why it might be a hard sell for the reality- and technology-based superhero film industry.

Thor is the God of Thunder who fights wrongs with his enchanted Uru hammer Mjolnir at both his magical home world Asgard as well as in our home world Midgard. Thor also speaks in strange Shakespearean dialect, which probably sold the concept to world's biggest W.S. fanboy Kenneth Branagh. But alas, ye ol' trash talk has been considerably toned down for the movie. Initially I was also disappointed on the design of the film, as it looks nothing like the viking architecture. But I've since come to terms that it is more representative of Jack Kirby's art, so let's hope the story is also representative of the craziness of his battle scenes as well as the dialogue would be representative of Stan Lee's soap opera storytelling. The trailer looks pretty good, with kickass action and a suitable amount of humour for a film this crazy. The awesomeness extends to the casting as well, as we have Anthony Hopkins playing Odin (essentially the Jewish idea of God - vengeful, petty and easily enraged) and most deliciously Idris Elba playing the Norse warrior Heimdall.  The film will be worth seeing at least because that part of the casting will bug the hell out of some batshit insane neo nazis. Have at thee! Can we have Matt Damon, Danny Trejo and Steven Seagal as the Warriors Three in the sequel?

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

May 20th

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Director: Rob Marshall
Studio: Disney

I didn't hate the PotC sequels as much as the rest of the world, yet I still don't carry much enthusiasm for another installment. At least this time around they aren't out to make the world's most expensive epic, which is a good start. The continuing misadventures of Jack Sparrow should allow for all sorts of adventures, and it's good that the franchise has gotten a fresh director to bring out a new vision. It's just a pity that that director of Rob Marshall, maker of... not really anything worth mentioning. Some crappy musicals and a racist melodrama, basically. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio keep on scriptin'. I would and will only watch this for Ian McShane's performance as Blackbeard.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: Kids may still like the series, but I'll still go for Mildly Disappointing, here. 

May 27th

The Hangover: Part II
Director: Todd Phillips
Studio: Warner Bros.

Comedy sequels are usually not as funny as the first ones. As the first Hangover was based on various extremities, this can (and probably will) top it in that category and find some even more extreme antics for a boys night out. The setting in Bangkok strongly promises this. Let's hope it is still funny. The first one also had the advantage of being a sleeper hit, as this one is being advertized as a big hit from scratch. So it has that against it. Also, Zach Galifianakis has proved that he can be really, really irritating as well as funny and cuddly, so it's a fine line we're balancing here. Oh, and the celebrity cameos? They've really been done to death as a comedy form all ready. It doesn't work for New Simpsons episodes, I doubt it will work here.

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

Kung Fu Panda 2
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Studio: DreamWorks Animation

I liked the first one, but milking the franchise for too long is what ruined Shrek and it's initial film was better. Oh, DreamWorks. Will you ever learn?

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win. Folks like CGI critters.

June 3rd

X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Studio: 20th Century Fox

The X-Men movies have had a patchy history with movie executives, and the biggest fear concerning the latest installment is the fact that it was produced super-fast in a single year. Well, that and the series' weird continuity.  Nevertheless, Matthew Vaughn seems like a good bet to helm a superhero film, even though and because his last film was Kick-Ass, which took a hearty laugh at them. This also has a groovy premise, as it's the first Marvel film which takes place at the same time the original comic was published - in the swinging '60s.

The Hellfire Club is also a fascinating team of villains to have and they seem to be perfectly cast. Also Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy should have the right amount of charisma to pull off portraying the young Professor X and Magneto. But another problem is the series' odd fixation to throw as many mutants as possible to any given film. Now, it may give the film an epic quality, but the viewer can't really emotionally invest in too many heroes. And Havok, Banshee et al always seemed to be real C-list teammembers to me. I wonder why only Beast and Mystique are around from this "First Class" in the original X-trilogy. Could this film end with a surprising massacre?

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail: Win at least in the toy merchandize business markets.

June 10th

Super 8
Director: J.J. Abrams
Studio: Paramount, Amblin

Abrams is a master in keeping the details of his blockbusters under wraps. It's true with this one as well. What is know is that the film is supposedly a throwback to the kid-friendly Amblin Entertainment films (produced and/or directed by Steven Spielberg). That's not a bad thing per se. But the title and the trailer reveal that this is another one in the line of mystery konster movies that don't interest me any more after Lost and Cloverfield. Abrams is a good director, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but I'm still not holding too high hopes on this.

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail: I think this might be a surprise Fail. Other, bigger films, with which people know exactly what they're getting, might steal Super 8's thunder. Recent years have seen plenty of kid's adventure films fail anyway.

June 17th

Green Lantern
Director: Martin Campbell
Studio: Warner Bros.

DC has finally started to catch up on Marvel in bringing its characters on the big screen. After Batman and Superman, it is a good call to make a film about a character that has a small universe onto itself. Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds) is a superhero that's part of an intergalactic Corps that fight evil with rings that can project anything. The problem with DC (compared to Marvel at least) is that most of its flagpole characters don't really have any personalities beyond their superpowers. Nothing could be more boring than their civilian identities. The same rings true with Green Lantern, who's just another big boyscout character. Thus, it seems they have had to steal the characteristics of Tony Stark to make GL a little more appealing for the movie. I'm not really sold on this one. But I like Ryan Reynolds as much as is allowed for a straight man, Martin Campbell can be a heck of a action director, and the idea of Space Interpol seems cool enough. It will be fun to see weird aliens dressed in Halloween costumes, at least. Let's hope for the best.

Predicted Stars: ***
Box Office Win/Fail?: The crazy alien worlds and merciless Iron Man copying might affect the film, and its marketing hasn't been up to task on the Marvel films, so I'm going to say it's going to go with Lukewarm.

June 24th

Cars 2
Directors: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Studio: Disney, Pixar

The least possible excitement I could probably get from an upcoming Pixar movie would be if they made a sequel to their single most (and only) unoriginal, obnoxious and boring film. Which is exactly what they did. I hate Cars and as much as I try to think about it, I can't really see how the sequel could one-up the predecessor Toy Story style. The franchise is ultimately flawed: the world is creepy, and supports excessive consumption and the characters as annoying and racist as the worst comic sidekicks George Lucas and Michael Bay ever imagined. I won't see myself watching this ever. The whole film also reeks of having been made while thinking about all the merchandizing money. I blame Disney executives, not Pixar. At least they'll deliver something genuinely interesting next year.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: Are you kidding me? It's probably the most profitable film of the year.

July 1st

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Director: Michael Bay
Studio: Di Bonanventura Pictures, Paramount

Bwa ha ha ha! The robots will have mullets this time!

Predicted stars: *
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win. People will go on paying for Michael Bay movies, no matter what he does that should keep them away.

July 15th

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Director: David Yates
Studio: Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros.

I haven't really followed the films from Part 4 on. I feel the film versions only diminish the joy I got from reading them (once, I might add). So this is the last one in the slavishly faithful series so it probably should be the finale that the series deserves. The trailer looks fine and I heard Part I was decent too. Good for the people that have the patience for these movies. It's probably one of the biggest hits of the summer.

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

July 22nd

The First Avenger: Captain America
Director: Joe Johnston
Studio: Marvel, Paramount (distributor)

One has to wonder why this wasn't put out on the 4th of July? Did they think Transformers was too much of a threat. As I'm not American, Cap certainly isn't among my favorite Marvel heroes. He's too goody two-shoes when he should have the same flaws as America has - rudeness, nosiness, seriously right-wing by his philosophy, being overweight and fighting before thinking. Nevertheless, I became intrigued of this when it was revealed that his adventure takes place during WWII, when the character was first concieved. But then again, the film isn't allowed to use Nazis as villains as a visible Swastika would terminate the toy merchandize. The choice to put the blandest of bland directors Joe Johnston to direct this also doesn't fare well. At least the film has Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail?: Win in the US, Fail Internationally.

July 29th

Cowboys & Aliens
Director: Jon Favreau
Studio: Universal, DreamWorks

Besides Thor, my money for the most entertaining film of the summer is are on this film.  I love westerns and having Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford do one seems like a dream come true. To have some aliens thrown to the mix seems like the frosting on the cake. It really is just another one of those ridiculously awsome internet-spurned pairings, but hell if that doesn't seem like a good match. Harrison Ford hasn't been in a kick-ass movie since Air Force One, so he needs this (I'd say he did kick ass in the latest Indy, but the movie as a whole wasn't too hot). Daniel Craig isn't sure whether he'll play James Bond ever again so he needs this. Director Jon Favreau has fallen from the favour of Marvel so he needs this. If everyone involved will want this to be good, then it should bloody well be good, then.

Predicted Stars: ****
Box Office Win/Fail: This has a danger of not being based on any previous property, so it might be a hard sell. I do hope this has a quality that will sell the film, but I fear people will rather flock to see Transformers 3.

The Smurfs
Director: Raja Gosnell
Studio: Sony Pictures

Yawn. Another Alvin and the Chipmunks -style CGI- and live action mixture. Y'know. For kids. Everyone in Hollywood (and probably in America) seems to have forgotten the Smurfs lived in medieval times in the original comics, not modern. At least Hank Azaria seems oddly adapt for playing Gargamel. Expect a lot of jokes about farting (called "smurfing" this time) and blue pieces of shit.

Predicted Stars: *
Box Office Win/Fail: Win, as much as it pains me. I really don't trust audiences to go for quality, do I?

August 5th

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Having the world come to an end and go on gritty and all rebooted led to good box office scores on The Terminator franchise. So naturally the Hollywood suits figured that they'd do the same to the Planet of the Apes. It's a reboot and gritty origin story. I would've rather had the musical version. I also myself believe that the Apes should've been left in the 60's and 70's. I really can't be bothered with this one. I have a feeling a lot of moviegoers think the same way about this.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail: I really don't think this has too much going for it. Fail.

August 19th

Conan the Barbarian
Director: Marcus Nispel
Studio: Lionsgate, Nu Image, Millennium Films, Paradox Entertainment

"Conan the Barbarian 2011" is actually the #1 searchword with which people come across this blog. So I promise here and now to do a review of the film when it opens. That being said, I still haven't gotten my hopes up. It's not a bad choice to close the summer period, at least if you're like me and enjoy brutal barbarians steal precious diamonds, attract skimpy-dressed ladies and fight monsters.

Predicted Stars: **
Box Office Win/Fail?: As it has no big stars, no big sale, and it has alienated the fanbase with its wussy PG-13 rating, I'm going to think the box office will only be good if the film is very good. And I have my doubts.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...