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It's a perfectly acceptable conclusion to the trilogy
And thereby unacceptable. Unbreakable and Split are so good that they deserved something better than this cramped up try-too-hard. Glass is still an endlessly intriguing, different kind of movie, but MNS can't quite make it all work. Had he followed the wisdom of "less is more", Glass might have been the great movie that hides within it.
Unbreakable was an inspired, beautiful, deeply felt take on the comic book phenomena. Split was a suspenseful, tight little thriller. Glass aspires to be a magnum opus, but often MNS forgets that he's not writing a novel, but directing a movie. So, Glass becomes too talky and expository. Same points are repeated too often. When it is an actual movie and not radio with faces, it's often very good. However, the third act feels like a let down by refusing to spread out. I get what MNS was trying to do and say, but as drama, it doesn't work.
Glass, rightly, focuses on the actors. McAvoy is, again, very good, although his ability to manouver between Kevin's different personalities has lost something of its freshness. (By comparison, Tatiana Maslany's work on Orphan Black feels deeper.) Paulson isn't quite convincing, but Willis is fine and charismatic. But, for me, the movie belongs to Mr. Jackson who's the only one really able to convey his character's past. And he does it beautifully with a lot of restrain.
Glass is an ambitious but uneven and less than surefooted work by an exceptionally talented filmmaker.
There are now 11 films in the Halloween franchise; this one is the first sequel directed by someone whose skills equal John Carpenter's. The result is the second best in the canon. The new "Halloween" is very, very well directed with a great cinematic vocabulary, so to speak. Green is extremely talented, and the movie comes close to being very good indeed.
The problem is the script. This is conjecture, but I suspect the weakest lines are mostly penned by the comedian Danny McBride: they sound too much like him. But there are problems with the structure as well, the movie takes its time to really get going. Although, the intro is dynamite.
It's worth noting that thematically, there is a subtle but poignant criticism towards masculine violence (represented by Michael Myers). This "Halloween" is very much a female story - like the original was. Having said that, I'm still not sure if Jamie going all Linda Hamilton was the right choice. She's great, regardless.
Finally, the stylish "Green Halloween" just doesn't feel scary enough. The ending lacks punch. And that is all.
The Happytime Murders (2018)
Not "Meet the Feebles 2"
Firstly, it's not as good. Also, it has real actors. I was expecting "The Happytime Murders" to either be abysmal or brilliant, but as it turns out, it falls somewhere in between.
It's perfectly competently made. And it's short: just over 80 minutes plus the end credits. The main puppet character, P.I. Phil Philips, is very good and carries the movie through its more unsuccessful parts. The first part of the story - provided that you enjoy raunchy humour - is surprisingly entertaining (and good looking). Another surprise is the amount of improv: the puppeteers are so good at what they do, that they can ad-lib, which is impressive.
Unfortunately, the story lacks punch and freshness. The last 15 minutes really drops the rating. That, and the fact, that the movie is never as funny as you'd want it to be. So, there you have it. I still enjoyed it more than I expected.
What about Melissa McCarthy? Well, personally I find her to be very talented. In "The Happytime Murders" she's ok, she has great technique and a great sense of timing, but she relies too much on familiar tricks, and only shines on a couple of occasions.
The real scene stealer therefore is Maya Rudolph, who is very sweet and brings the movie a lot of heart all while being very funny. Maya and Phil the Puppet actually have chemistry. The other puppets are fine, a mixed bag of jokes that land and others that don't. "Meet the Feebles" is way better in this respect, as well.
Some musings on the origins of "The Happytime Murders". The humour in the movie is very crude. It feels like Brian Henson and co. threw up all the R-rated behind the scenes jokes of Sesame Street of the last 50 years into this 80-minute comedy. The roots of this type of comedy can be traced into mid-70's. Mel Brooks ("Blazing Saddles", 1974) was among the pioneers, soon followed by Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker ("Kentucky Fried Movie", 1977) and especially by the National Lampoon magazine, who inspired a slew of movies like "Animal House" (1978) and "Vacation" (1983). (Not to forget Steve Martin's unbelievable "The Jerk" (1979), still the greatest comedy of the sub-genre.)
There was a "slump" for these type of comedies in the late 80's and early 90's - excluding Peter Jackson with "Meet the Feebles" (1989) and "Braindead" (1992). Then came the Farrellys and their "Dumb and Dumber" (1994), which really made crude, scatological comedy mainstream in the U.S. and globally.
"The Happytime Murders" belongs to the most recent wave of outrageous comedy, which has the distinction of being female-driven: Kristen Wiig's "Bridesmaids" (2011) is a milestone, and it featured two women appearing in "The Happytime Murders", Rudolph and McCarthy. Their co-star, Elizabeth Banks, made a similar bad-taste-comedy in 2008, "Zack And Miri Make a Porno". The movies may not always be very successful as such, but the skills of these actresses are undeniable and bring a freshness to the proceedings.
Apart from the mentioned, "The Happytime Murders" is explained, apparently, by Brian Henson's side project, "Puppet Up!", an R-rated live show he's had going on for the past few years.
Summa summarum, I think - to my surprise - I'd like to see a sequel to THM. A sequel that improves on this one and fulfills the potential of the concept. The makers have the means and the talent to pull it off.
One hell of a movie
Spike Lee has created an almost unimaginably uneven career in films, but it has never been in doubt, that he is one of the most talented American filmmakers of his generation. And should you have forgotten that, now you can remind yourself by watching the amazing "BlacKkKlansman", which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in May.
"BlacKkKlansman" tells the true story of a rookie African American police officer who in the 70's infiltrated in the KKK, but that's certainly not what the movie is about. Lee tackles head-on the contemporary hot topics of racism, the police killing black Americans, and white supremacy to create an overwhelming pamphlet about the American identity - which has been hurled into a state of great confusion after the last presidential election.
Movies don't come much more political as this one. In a way, "BlacKkKlansman" is a companion piece to "The Post" - a movie that similarly discussed the current political climate in a 70's setting - but with loads more of blackness, humour, anger and attitude. It's a better movie, too.
Though not perfect. Form-wise, "BlacKkKlansman" is sometimes paced oddly and feels needlessly long: not overlong, exactly, because you're not going to be bored for a minute. Visually it could have used a little more of the delicious textures typical of those 70's blacksploitations it makes references to.
But Lee is such a virile storyteller, that you can't help but get sucked in it all. And he has SO much to say. "BlacKkKlansman" is at its savage best when putting in perspective the official holier-than-thou image of the white Americans: Harry Belafonte cameos as an eye-witness of the beastly lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916.
Actors in "BlacKkKlansman" are great. John David Washington excels in the lead role. Adam Driver signs what is arguably his best role to date. Ryan Eggold is terrific as the local boss of the KKK, and the Finnish Jasper Pääkkönen impresses as his right hand man. The biggest surprise of all is Topher Grace, who is near-ingenious as David Duke, a well-mannered bag of sleaze in a three-piece.
"BlacKkKlansman" is an incredibly rich and stirring piece of contemporary cinema with enough stuff to fuel a conversation for hours. Or days. You can get a lot less with a price of a movie ticket these days.
Planet Earth II (2016)
Not without its flaws
PE2 is a first rate production, as professional and polished as they come. Logical, well structured and visually wonderful.
It's also not as good as its predecessor, and the gap between the two series is quite clear. This is because of certain narrative decisions in the Part II. Most noticeably, the thunderously illustrative music gets in the way. This was a small concern with the brilliant first series, but here the music is, well, just bad, to put it bluntly. The sound design is also distractive: the foley work is easily noticeable, and the sound is irritatingly dramatic during the many slow-motion sequences.
Another problem is the narration itself, which is written in a story-telling style, wherein the animals are anthropomorphized; binge watching the series, this strikes as infantilism. It doesn't help, that the "jokes" are often really poor.
There are a surprising number of sequences revisited from the first series. These could have, mostly, been omitted. Like the wolves chasing the baby caribou.
The camera work is quite a marvel - still, personally I prefer the more classical compositions of the first series. But to each his own.
All in all, PE2 is still great, but the bar has been somewhat lowered. Compared to PE1, it's lighter and more pompous in tone - and more eager to entertain for entertainment's sake.
"It's only a movie." If only.
Oh, man. I like intelligent movies, but I also believe in the concept of "suspension of disbelief". "Skyscraper" is definitely not smart, but it doesn't create suspension of disbelief, either.
It's okay to take certain licenses in order to create excitement, but this much dumbness is an insult to the audience's intellect. Look, you can't stand 20 feet above a 150 foot bonfire and not become a pot roast. You simply can't. And because "Skyscraper" is a survival adventure, this haphazard attitude towards the laws of physics makes the whole point of surviving moot.
"Skyscraper" is so childish and so clichéd and so unimaginative, that in the end it's not that much fun, although it is fast-paced (at least). It's seriously lacking in humour. The best moments are those with Dwayne Johnson alone in the heights battling against the towering inferno trying to kill him. But even those scenes are inexplicably interrupted by cringeworthy shots of an audience following his exploits via media screens. A really bad call.
Happily, though, "Skyscraper" is also racist. It's a Chinese-American co-production taking place in Hong Kong, and every single European character is evil. In fact, Neve Campbell - as The Wife - is the only good caucasian. All Chinese characters are good, except for one psychopatic, female killing machine, who is supposed to be "bad-ass" and "kinda cool".
Two things - in addition to those Dwayne Johnson scenes mentioned - save this from a one-star-rating: Neve Campbell and the cinematography by Robert Elswit.
"Skyscaper" won't burn into your brain. Ba dum tss.
Difficult, perplexing and often cinematically beautiful movie. One is warmly recommended to see it at least twice - although having seen it two times I still don't understand all of it.
This is either because I'm stupid or because Pasolini doesn't quite manage to translate his complex ideas into an accessible piece of cinema. The jury's out on that one. Nevertheless, "Porcile" is a rich and satisfying art film.
It is - and this is not mentioned often enough - a surreal film. The two intertwining stories (one taking place in Germany 1967 and the other in 16th or 17th century Italy at the base of Mount Etna) have only one concrete thing in common, a secondary actor appearing in both stories. Also, the older story may or may not be imagined by the central figure, Julian (played by the legendary Jean-Pierre Leaud), the son of a rich industrialist (who looks like a satirized Hitler). Julian has some issues. It is hinted, or more than just hinted, that this boy surrounded by wealth and disconnected from the real world, cocooned in his intellectual abstractions, is so incapable of creating a rapport with the girl she loves, that he gets his sexual release in the confines of a pigstine. Similarly, the protagonist in the other story, coming from absolute poverty, resorts to cannibalism and professes himself to have killed his father and feeling exstatic about it.
Almost certainly every line and scene has a meaning to it, but the pieces don't seem to always fit the puzzle. One consequence of this is the lack of bite in the darkly ironic humour in the scenes with Julian's father and his adversery, a former nazi, who uses Julian's scandalous habits to wrangle the father into business with him.
The potent ideas are there, anyway, and stay in your mind for a long time after. As does the work of the master cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli: the scenes by Mount Etna are especially striking.
Although it might at first seem like "Porcile" belittles the wonderful species of the pig, they might in the end come out as the winners of this condemnation of the state of humanity.
Noteworthy: another great Italian director and iconoclast, Marco Ferreri, makes an appearance.
The Greenaway Alphabet (2017)
Peter Greenaway from A to Z
"Cinema is a much too sophisticated medium to be left to storytellers", says Peter Greenaway in this first-rate portrait by his wife, Saskia. That statement couldn't summarise better neither Greenaway's films but also the documentary. Saskia Boddeke creates a compelling, irreverent, beautiful, funny, almost kubistic picture of the great British original.
Greenaway is much more than a filmmaker. First and foremost he is a painter. He's also as much a writer as a filmmaker. The documentary is based on running through the alphabet, letter by letter, and finding out what words Greenaway associates to the letters of the alphabet. It's also a study of the relationship between him and his 16-year-old daughter who take this trip together. One reason being Greenaway's plan to end his life own life when he turns 80. How serious he is about this is anyone's guess, but it would be a shame to lose such a creative person.
The Greenaway Alphabet is an intriguing, rewarding and revealing work, warmly recommended.
Harry should have won
It's not a great film as such, but, then again, it doesn't really try to be. It's a simple movie about complicated people, told sincerely and with an air of ease. The result is a wonderfully enjoyable hour and a half at the cinema. We get to wander around a desolate place nobody really cares for and meet people one would very much like to share a cuppa coffee with.
At the center of this free-wheeling stands Lucky. He is played by the great Harry Dean Stanton. Now, what Harry gives us here is the most honest and deeply felt acting of 2017. Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman are brilliant virtuosos, but this right here is what connecting with an audience (an audience you as an actor don't even see) is all about. We are not watching a brilliant actor performing for us - we are there with Lucky/Harry. This is screen acting on a different level. "Lucky" serves as further proof that no matter how good you are, you don't get award recognition if nobody sees your work. Practically no one outside the festival circuit saw this film, even though it got great reviews and Harry was deservedly praised. Hence, no awards glory for Harry. Instead, he won our hearts. And I will forever hold Harry in my heart, The Actor's Actor, who couldn't have given a bad performance had he tried. And Lucky was his final masterpiece.
Na srebrnym globie (1988)
They can't all be winners
In the introduction, the director declares that his movie was "murdered" back in '77. On this rare occasion, I find myself on the side of the producing party. "On the Silver Globe" is as ambitious as it is insufferable. The majority of the first act is shown as a collection of recordings by a group of astronauts getting to know their new habitation. This is all done in hand-held close-up, and it takes over an hour. Most of what is shown to us is manic and deranged behaviour as the characters stumble into madness. (It has to be said, that these astronauts are a shame to their community. They should be men of science capable of analytical thinking, but instead they become mystics within five minutes from landing.) Very little of the dialogue is sensible in any way. That's a bit too much to ask of the audience. In my case, I could take about 80 minutes of it, then decided to try and spend my time better elsewhere. Zulawski is not without talent, by all means, but this project was misguided. I hope "On the Silver Globe" doesn't become a cult film - a classic it most definitively is not.
Incredible forgotten gem
In "It would be good if one man died for the people", Hugo Niebeling films The Passion John's Gospel by J. S. Bach staging it all exclusively in a church. Within these limits, Niebeling creates a breathtaking movie full of masterful images and lively cinema. Bach's sublime music - heard in full - is accompanied by brief scenes of dialog represented as a play by a theater company. In the beginning the actor playing Jesus refuses to wear a wig and plays the character as himself, which feels absolutely right. He is extraordinary in the part, matching Niebeling's direction. A great masterpiece in need of rediscovery.
A Quiet Place (2018)
The horror of conservative values
In his third film as a director, John Krasinski shows real talent as a helmer. He has a good eye for visuals, deft handling of pace and timing and a writer's understanding of structure (JK has a degree in writing). This results in often pleasingly beautiful imagery - never a bad thing in the horror genre - and a handful of very good thriller scenes, indeed. A Quiet Place could have been made by Shyamalan or Mel Gibson - whom the bearded Krasinski eerily resembles.
But, it's not necessarily a good thing that your work can be mistaken for someone else's. Worse still is if your movie doesn't make sense and breaks its own rules.
The premise: creatures appear, who are indestructible, ruthless, blind and are attracted by sound. Even New York is in lockdown. Horror. Krasinski's country family literally lives the quiet life on a farm somewhere, meticulously avoiding making noise. Infuriatingly, this hasn't stopped Krasinski from knocking up his wife (played by JK's real wife, Emily Blunt, in the best performance of the film). It makes for a great horror premise, but very little sense. To be mean: apparently abortion - or contraception - is a big no-no for this Christian family (who prays together) even under this unimaginable threat.
A Quiet Place speaks (...) for conservative, family-centered values, which is fine. Whatever. But it really shows its true colors during the final moments, where the real redemption is once again achieved via guns. Which is contradictory to the basic premise of the movie. It feels like a rug pulled from under your feet.
In the end, A Quiet Place is conservative also in execution. Krasinski opts for tear-jerking sentimentalism, when he had in his hands the ingredients for a really scary horror movie. And, isn't it a bit contradictory that a movie about the importance of silence has a blasting soundtrack? One can only imagine what this movie could have been without any soundtrack at all.
And yet, I can't with good conscience not recommend A Quiet Place. For what it is, it provides really good moments of excitement, and it doesn't take too long.
For what it is.
Ready Player One (2018)
Ready Player Wonder
It's clearly overlong. The cute characters tend towards one-dimensional, some of the soundtrack choices are dull and the dialogue could have been sharper. In the end, however, all aspects mentioned are good enough and get the job done making it possible to let loose the mightiest cinematic imagination known to man: Steven Spielberg.
This 71 year old multi-billionaire is the bees knees. While the movie adaptation may disappoint some of the fans of Mr. Cline's book (understandably), those interested in pure cinema will find a genius working at the height of his powers creating an entire believable fantasy world on the canvas. Spielberg's unparallelled technique always guides the eye in the right place even in the film's most frenzied moments. Raoul Walsh once stated that there is only one correct place for the camera, and Spielberg understands this - even when he is orchestrating one of his jaw-dropping tracking shots.
RP1 is a ride. It's the most fun you can have at the movies right now. The whole movie is such a tidal wave of cinematic wonder that the actors will not get much attention. But it is a nice cast. Tye Sheridan is a talented actor and shines with sweet sincerity. Ben Mendelsohn makes for a decent villain. And Mark Rylance once again steals the picture with another relatable characterization.
Bunny the Killer Thing (2015)
Easily one of the five worst movies ever made
And not in a good Ed Wood kind of way. It's basically an insult to all senses and particularly one's intelligence. It's supposed to be a comedy, a parody/satire of the genre, but the best jokes here are still worse than the worst jokes in the Scary Movie franchise. Therefore the concept that tries to make rape funny doesn't quite land. It doesn't help that the director doesn't know a thing about timing. Or - and I cannot stress this enough - about directing actors. The best of them are struggling with the amateurish dialogue, the rest merely exist. In the loosest sense of the word "exist".
I was incredibly embarrased and uncomfortable watching this garbage in the company of other people. This should only be seen in one of those private rooms of your local, as shady as possible X-rated shops, where you can really embrace the bottom feeder in you. "Bunny the Killer Thing" is not weird in any way. It's just bad. Peter Jackson's early films are weird. They also don't have much of a script. They are way gorier and ruder, too. But, unlike "Bunny", they are actually directed, and they have things like timing, jokes and fun. And actual actors. Jackson had enough good taste to make "Bad Taste". These guys just have a bad taste.
120 battements par minute (2017)
120 BPM takes us convincingly into the world of Parisien HIV activists in the early 1990's. The people feel authentic, so does their everyday life with the deadly disease and the way they talk about it. The many sessions of ACT UP PARIS are vibrant and makes an outsider understand the many sides of this particular battle.
But where was this movie 20 years ago when it was really needed? Or even ten years ago? And why is it half an hour longer than it needs to be? Even though the movie is intelligent and the cast is excellent, it really overstays its welcome. In a roundabout way, this is highlighted by the fact that this very talky movie is at its best when there is no dialogue. Images of raves and lights and dust are beautiful and more cinematic than the rest of it all.
120 BPM is an easy movie to recommend for its ideas, but as a piece of cinema, I don't understand its critiqueless reception. This movie about desire (for life, for sex, for justice, for attention) leaves a lot to be desired.
Treat your pets as you would yourself
A small, confined and precisely executed movie about an emotionally scarred middle-aged man, who euthanizes pets - and judges their owners while doing it. It's sort of missing the point to call Armomurhaaja a thriller; at its core Armomurhaaja is a comedy, a very, very dark comedy about moral relativism and purism. Topics that are visited in movies way too rarely. Armomurhaaja is the bluntest examination on morality seen on the silver screen in ages. And a successful one at that. Actor Onnismaa's cantankerous, unrelenting, uncompromising, stubborn and anachronistic character demands to be taken seriously, because he will not sell out his values, and makes a convincing argument that his values - while not his methods - should be universal values.
The experienced Teemu Nikki is an original thinker, and knows how to make movies. Armomurhaaja looks about five times its budget (the IMDb estimated production cost is, if anything, an over-estimation) and is told in a sure-footed manner. It is also the best friend an animal, a pet, can have in the cinemaverse.
Toni Erdmann (2016)
Whatever the opposite of "compelling" is
Let me tell you about the screening I attended. It was a special preview with about 20 attendants. We were all there to see the biggest sensation from that year's Cannes festival; we were there to see what was publicized as "the most original COMEDY of the year". For the first hour and a half there wasn't even a chuckle anywhere in the audience. During the last 45 minutes there emerged a handful of laughs, with me joining in once. Well, not bad, but not nearly enough for a 2½+ hour movie.
It has to be said, that this movie, which opens without any credits, has the ugliest opening shot in memory. It's a naturalistic, haphazardly framed and badly-lit shot of a mundane suburban house front door. The cinematography isn't great at any point of the movie. But this is a character piece, so that's not TOO important. Well, the characters are nice, but hardly memorable. "Toni Erdmann" is a story of an aloof father whose big on practical jokes and his uptight corporate daughter. The practical jokes have been called ingenious, but I beg to differ. "Harold and Maude", now, there is a movie with ingenious practical jokes. And originality, which "Toni Erdmann" only aspires to.
The director does manage to weave a believable world, which makes watching the movie pleasant enough, but it is telling, that the movie reaches levity only when nudity is presented. It's an old trick, but "Toni Erdmann" makes it work by putting its own spin on it. The last 30 minutes are markedly better and more substantial than the rest of the movie.
Other than that I do not understand the supposed charm of this quite familiar movie.
En man som heter Ove (2015)
A story well enough told, but there is no originality. Guess that's why this is so easy to take in: everything seems nicely familiar, and well within one's comfort zone. Problem is, this is not funny enough for a comedy. See, comedy relies on the element of surprise, which this one doesn't offer. The story, lifted from the pages of a popular novel, recycles the age-old theme of a cantankerous old dude who hates the ways of the modern world. While the resourceful Rolf Lassgård is in fine form in the lead, his character is too familiar to begin with. Director carefully follows the path well-travelled, which makes the whole movie seem more like a product than an actual work of art or self-expression. Cinematography, especially, is way too generically "well-balanced".
The few merits of the movie include the cast - and the ending, which is - finally - a little bit touching. Too little, too late.
Rizzoli & Isles (2010)
A rare feminist crime show
(Seasons 1 through 4)
A terrifically entertaining show based, or rather, inspired by the series of novels by Tess Gerritsen. R&I mixes often gruesome cases with sitcom-y dialogue and downright soap opera level plot twists. So, what's not to like?
It's pretty light-weight stuff, but well produced and acted, often resembling a female version of "Castle" (better show by a couple of notches). The focal point of the series is Jane Rizzoli, and Angie Harmon playing her. Harmon showcases terrific comedic sensitivities, but pulls off playing tough as well. Sasha Alexander's Maura Isles is a great "straight man" to the lively Harmon.
R&I is a crime show made by women for women. Its feminist undertones show in the way the two gorgeous leads aren't visually objectified, and in the tendency of solving dilemmas through other than aggressive ways. On the other hand, it's hard to find positive father figures in this female-centered show, contrasted by the central mother figure played by the charismatic Lorraine Bracco in a lovely, warmth-filled performance. This, too, gives food for thought: Maura's father, a mob boss responsible for dozens of murders, is shown in a multi-dimensional way with sympathetic undertones; but a sex trafficker is simply shot to death execution style.
The latter is linked to the main weakness of the show: often the resolution to the cases come through lazy writing. The writers get markedly better (as does the show) season by season, but even in a 4th season episode there is a baffling scene where R&I break into an evidence room, but in the end Isles simply pulls all the answers (in the said room) from her computer and previous investigation. Quite clumsy, that.
Nevermind, R&I was never meant to be "The Cracker", it's just a wonderfully engaging show, where the beef is in the banter between the delightful characters. With, again, Angie Harmon being absolutely hilarious. All in all, this is the stuff binge-watching is made of.
Terrific documentary on entrepreneurship
Smart, fine-honed and visually beautiful documentary on two sets of entrepreneurs in Finland. Name of the movie translates to "entrepreneur", but etymologically "yrittäjä" stems from the verb "try". There are two stories here: in the first one two women are establishing a business around their food invention, pulled oats; in the other we follow a family business that runs a small carnival and a meats stand. Both are tough jobs, but in very different ways, and require a lot of "trying".
The director, Virpi Suutari, is in absolute control of her near-geometrical, idiosyncratic style. Reportedly, "Yrittäjä" was in production for four years, and it shows. This is not just a report but a full-blown movie, carefully directed. You sense this already from the outstanding opening shot beginning in darkness; and the closing shot bookends the movie in a thought-out way. Regarding the tech aspects, "Yrittäjä" is a first-class project with Sanna Salmenkallio's music a particular stand-out. The result is a multi-layered examination on the main topic, but also on family, recession, hardships and victories, at least small ones.
Animal House (1978)
A perfect movie
Animal House is not just funny, it's fun. John Landis didn't just do technically accomplished work, but he was able to translate the air of fun from the shoot to the screen. Every single actor is completely relaxed here, not so much acting as just being.
Animal House didn't just comment on the zeitgeist, it influenced it. In real life the actions of its protagonists would be shameful, but on the silver screen, they become a manifesto of the counter-culture. Those who obey the rules are always shown as uptight, thinly veiled nazis, while their adversaries (our heros) celebrate life by having fun in every which way they can.
It requires a high intelligence to create something this stupid. The jokes and actions in the film are idiotic, but they are so well put together and so layered that they feel authentic. Kinda like Laurel & Hardy comedies, but much, much ruder.
Animal House still feels fresh. Must be its anti-establishment ethos, which just never gets old. Or, it's just fun. And fun is never "over". I mean, was it "over" when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
The Rich Communist dilemma
This is a well-meaning, entertaining enough movie which informs, but doesn't really stir one's emotions - and it should. Really, really should for we are talking about The Hollywood Ten here: therefore we are also talking about suppression of civil rights in the era of McCarthyism.
Who would have ever guessed all those years ago, when laughing at the hysterical silliness of an Austin Powers movie, that its director afterwards would turn his interest in the recent political history of the U.S.? For the sixty-year-old Jay Roach, Trumbo is the fourth political movie, and the first made for the silver screen. Trumbo is quite obviously meant to be Roach's magnum opus, and while he is very adept at keeping things moving on, Trumbo fails to deliver.
It is a movie worth seeing, and the reason is the crystal clear way it presents (or digests) history. It's good to know these things. Even better would be to actually feel them, like The Front and Good Night, And Good Luck. did. But Roach, in his quest to inform and entertain, shys away from the uncomfortable. Case in point: Trumbo is shown sentenced to prison, which feels almost like a vacation. And death - the result of the atrocities of HUAAC for many - is never shown, only mentioned. Roach keeps a tidy distance.
Even the entertainment value is lowered with some of the casting choices. David Elliott is the most ludicrous John Wayne ever put on film, not looking or sounding like the man. Michael Stuhlbarg's Ed G. Robinson also doesn't sound at all like the real deal, so how can one relate? On the other hand, Dean O'Gorman fares pretty well as Kirk Douglas just by demonstrating a singular determination. Helen Mirren is very good as the despisable Hedda Hopper.
But of the supporting players, it's John Goodman as the trash producer Frank King who really gives the film some spark. Trumbo is at its best when telling about the unique relationship with the King Brothers and the blacklisted writers. These are the most energetic scenes of the movie, and the amazing King's are clearly worthy of a movie of their own.
Bryan Cranston makes a fine Dalton Trumbo (although even he doesn't grasp the real McCoy's voice), but the Oscar nomination was a bit much.
Austin Powers and the Fockers made Jay Roach a rich man. Like Dalton Trumbo, Roach is now trying to make something substantial with his fortune. Considering his fine tv movies, he hasn't fared half-badly, but the dilemma stands as it stood in front of Trumbo: can you really live the life of the entitled and at the same time criticize the system that enables entitlement?
Bringing Out The Barely Living
Aritmiya is a story of a Russian husband and wife working as doctors told in realistic style. Katya is a surgeon, Oleg an ambulance doctor. They live in a small apartment, struggling with money and even more with their work: the health department is all but broken. As is their marriage. For Oleg, a sensitive soul passionate about his job, it is a well of endless angst, that he and his collegues are not given a chance to perform their job adequately.
This is a captivating, deeply humane movie, very true to life. It lacks a certain finesse in execution, but it makes up for that with its dedicated depiction of the people and their surroundings. The ambulance cases are so well made, that they are always the highlights of film. The movie is carried by the excellent actors playing the parts of Oleg and Katya.
In the end, nothing has changed, and therein lies the message of the movie.
Kostior na vetru (2016)
The Bonfire: a Yakutian tragedy
Despite the seemingly low rating, this is a movie well worth seeing. It's just that compared to really great movies, this falls somewhere around the middle point of the scoring system.
For this is a teeny tiny movie made with a big heart. It suffers from budget restrictions, having obvious problems with the sound mixing and an image quality that seems to have a "filter" over it. But the director shows real talent in choosing less than ordinary angles (well-framed in Scope) and excelling in storytelling.
Two reasons why this is an important movie. First, its setting allows us a peek into a corner of the world seldomly visited. Movie takes place in The Republic of Saha in Siberia, mostly populated by Yakuts. The dialogue is also in Yakut (not Russian). The characters live in a small village in the middle of nowhere, where living conditions are harsh. It's the middle of the long winter, and the son of the protagonist Ignat drunkenly runs a tractor over their neighbour's son. A simple, straigh-forward story follows, including Ignat saving a school kid from an alcoholistic mother in an attempt to fill the void left by the imprisoned son.
You might think that this is depressing stuff, but the tone of the film is very naturalistic and lived-in, true to life. That's the second reason: The Bonfire is sincere. Often it's almost documentary-like. Sure, the story is very sad, but the director avoids melodrama and has a very natural approach to the characters played by actors of the local (amateur?) theatre with great conviction.
The Bonfire deserves its place alongside "bigger" movies, and it and the people it shows us deserve recognition.
I, Tonya (2017)
Judged by the media and for being famous
All in all, this film is about 7/10. But uneven as it is, it has aspects worthy of a 10 and others worthy of about 3. It just tries a bit too hard to be entertaining resulting in a loss of credibility. It's hard to really relate to.
The most engaging thing about I, Tonya is its energy. Craig Gillespie is a talented film maker (wonderful Lars and the Real Girl) working really hard to keep things always on the move. He is helped greatly by editor Tatiana S. Riegel, nominated for an Oscar. On the other hand, Gillespie kind of shoots himself in the leg by rolling a never-ending collection of pop songs, some of which are way over-used already. Case in point: Gillespie doesn' realize/care that Supertramp's Goodbye, Stranger is, in a way, "owned" by Magnolia. It seems a dull choice here. Note, also, that the film is largely modeled after The Big Short's irreverent style.
Actors in this film written, surprisingly enough, by Captain America are uniformly great, but Margot Robbie really deserves to be up for an Oscar. She has scale, fury, presence and great technique to pull of playing the real Tonya she resembles in almost no way (really, the height difference, the face etc.). Robbie is the real show here. But they are all great, from Sebastian Stan to Paul Walter Hauser.
Then there's the hugely entertaining Allison Janney. It's a great performance, but also troublesome. Tonya's mom is a "real piece of work". A truly horrible mother. But, Janney makes her fiercely unapologetic character so charismatic and funny, that the true monstrousness doesn't surface. It's a sleazy choice, if you think about it, trivializing abuse. Same criticism goes for the marital abuse Tonya has to suffer. It's played here as entertainment.
And entertainment this movie is. That is why almost no time is spent with Tonya's grueling training, the greatest power that shaped her adolescence. Thus, we don't really get a grasp of the quantity of sacrifice she made as child and a youth. And the movie is still overlong.
Among the things I, Tonya does really well is putting things in perspective and revealing the falsehoods we've accepted in a different light. As the film's passionate claim goes, Tonya was responsible for next to nothing relating to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan. Yet, she suffered the biggest punishment and is still the main "bad guy" in the public eye. I, Tonya drives this point forcefully to home, and kudos for that.