Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Film year 2013

Here we are again, another movie year is at an end, blah blah blah. It was a rather good year for film, (less so to writing about them) with plenty of quality stuff. In this post I shall look at the best of film year from various aspects and conclude with my Top 13 (since the year in question is -13). My criteria isn't based on the year a film was released but simply that it was a new film I saw during 2013. Only one post this year, since I didn't bother doing another one for festival films and such last year. I'll try to be brief.

Top 10 outside distribution

Finland isn't the most prolific country in the world when it comes to movie distribution. Many of the best films of the year are only shown at festivals or go straight to DVD. Thus any list of the truly best films of the year is somewhat of a lame duck without acknowledging that plenty of good things pass through mostly unseen. My top 10 of these films is as follows:

10. Cheap Thrills

The second-funniest movie of the year, this blackhearted indie comedy is also a somewhat blunt parallel of the relationship between the rich and the poor in modern societies.

9. Simon Killer

The hipster Taxi Driver, or rather just a psychological look inside a total scumbag's mind. The title perhaps gives away a tad too much. This isn't a horror movie - or really even a thriller. It's an unique look at modern loneliness and isolation.

8. The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad)

Jodorowsky's latest is true to form to the auteur - it is his own childhood story, after all. Pity the seams of the budget are a bit too visible and the director perhaps couldn't fully realize his wildest ideas. Still, we have to be greatful such an unique greatness as Jodorowsky is still with us and still creative.

7. The Act Of Killing

One of the most talked-about movies of the year. It is something that awakens a variety of emotions, all right. From disgust, to disbelief and to even odd bittersweetness. How should we try to approach or even understand people who have done despicable things in their time? For starters we should realize they are not monsters but people, which this film manages to present vividly. I have watched two versions of various length of the film. While the shorter TV version might lack in presenting the everyday life of the self-named gangsters, it's pace is a lot more easily digestible and it doesn't repeat itself as much.

6. Maniac

Very rarely do horror movie remakes attempt to do anything fresh with their concept, but usually just blandly redo every major scene. How refreshing, then to see the seedy Grindhouse shocker updated into a genuinely unnerving POV film, that allows perhaps a bit more insight into the mind of a madman. Rather than going through motions, this one dares to surprise and take the story into unexpected territories.

5. Moebius

Kim Ki-duk goes all-out crazy with his new film, which features no dialogue whatsoever, but even more various profane, disgusting and oddball moments. When Pieta was about a twisted motherhood, then this is about a fatherhood hat's very messed up. Also attempting to keep a dysfunctional family together, but just how dysfunctional, you just have to go and see.

4. Nebraska

Alexander Payne returns with a rather melancholy piece about the death of the American countryside. It's pulled by the great performances of its leads, who still don't hog the spotlight too much. It's better for the director when he's not working with A-list movie stars. The script is not half-bad, either.

3. Borgman

What's this? I've no idea. Every time I come up with an explanation, another scene renders it invalid. It may be about a lot of things. Or nothing at all. However, it is the kind of film that will leave you pondering, picking up clues, constructing, connecting, improvising and creating. Surreal, unnerving, odd, goes under you skin. That's what a really good movie can do. I can't wait to see this again, and perhaps show to some friends as well.

2. Jodorowsky's Dune

In a sense, this is a horribly sad movie about a masterpiece that was never completed, only planned thoroughly. On the other hand, this is a model piece of great storytelling. In the end, the best Dune is just the one creted in the viewer's imagination, while Uncle Alejandro yaps. It is also very comforting to see how genuine class of skill and creativity will always find some way to funnel through.

1. The Selfish Giant

Once again, a film that hit me hard to the stomach. The title is taken from a fairy tale, the concept and style from British kitchen sink realism. The end result is not a mixture of these ingredients, but a quirk that could (in a way) be either. That is a good movie, in that it successfully imitates the unpredictability and yet familiar patterns we see all the time in our human lives. Sometimes you just want to pound your fists to the boarded bottom of your bed.


The greatest directors in my mind don't come from Hollywood and even from the States, but from all over the globe. The best American studio cinema could do this year were the technical mastery of Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity, and  Kathryn Bigelow who perhaps channelled her own ambitions and experiences of a woman to an intense revenge flick Zero Dark Thirty. In the outskirts the vivid, colorful Harmony Korine who created a trippy, dippy, oddball party of a movie in Spring Breakers.

In Europe, arthouse darlings Christian Mungiu and Asghar Farhadi (Beyond the Hills and The Past) delivered strong new films that gripped me perhaps even tighter than the films that respectively raised both of them to fame. Also in Finland the famed documentarist Pirjo Honkasalo returned to fictional films after 20 years with a very good film, Concrete Night. A bigger comeback was from the Swedish Lukas Moodysson, who battled long with depression and made grinding, dismal feel-bad films for years. His return to youth film, Vi är bäst! is a lot happier affair and it's for the better. Another, similar feel-bad return was from Thomas Vinterberg, whose grip on the terrifying athmosphere on The Hunt was a lot tighter than on his last few, rather bland films.

As far as directors go, there's no doubt in my mind that the strongest work of the year was done by Abdellatif Kechiche on Blue is the Warmest Color. To get such overwhelmingly emotional, vunerable performances from his lead actresses is one thing, crafting a three-hour relationship film that never feels dull is another. Plus, his sex scenes are steamy and hot without losing the emotional side or feeling too voyeuristic.

To Be Seen

I haven't seen every interesting-seeming film of the year. Here's a list of Top 10 of critical darlings I have missed this year. I'm not saying each of them should necessarily be on a best-of-the-year -list, I'm saying I should check them out as soon as I can.

Eat Sleep Die (Äta, sova, dö)
Finnish Blood, Swedish Heart (Laulu koti-ikävästä)
In the House (Dans la maison)
A Late Quartet
Open Up To Me (Kerron sinulle kaiken)
The Princess of Egypt (Silmäterä)
Something in the Air (Aprés Mai)
What Maisie Knew

Top 5 bubbling under

I just can't let go of some films, so here's 5 movie that just missed a slot on the main list.

Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace - Finns got this in theatres and while I'm usually not that into Stephen Soderbergh, I got to admit in this his cold directing style, plus the warm performances of Matt Damon and Michael Douglas created an aching portrait of romance among empty luxury.
Blue Jasmine - I also don't usually care for Woody Allen much, but his trademark neuroticism is kept at bay once he's got a lead actress as talented as Cate Blanchett. This is a sort of modern retelling of A Streetcar Named Desire and is just as harrowing, sad, comic and ponderous as that.
Captain Phillips - Paul Greengrass does what he does best and crafts another strong docudrama that feels like its what actually happened.
Mud - A deep southern coming-of-age tale with just enough of a mean and dark edge to it. It's a misfit that escapes categorization.
Silver Linings Playbook - Starts out a bit bland, but once the great cast gets comfortable with their unbalanced characters, this turns out to be a worthy feel-good movie.

Top 13 of 2013

13. The Master

Upon first viewing Paul Thomas Anderson's latest movie felt a little hollow and unsatisfying. Pondering on it a bit I realized that the film pulled the right strings, since that's precisely what the main character Freddie Quell is feeling. It's not as deep a film as many would have you imagine, most of its subtext seems to be easy enough to spot. But it is a film that strengthens up in time. And of course the least compromising American film in perhaps years. At the start of the year I wouldn'tve believed this would be on this list. A couple of years later it could possibly raise to the top slots.

12. Concrete Night (Betoniyö)

Pirjo Honkasalo adapts Pirkko Saisio's dark novel that, at first seems like a coming-of-age tale. Then you realize that the worldview fed to the young Simo (Johannes Brotherus) is cold and nihilistic. Then the film turns as bleak and unforgiving. It's a very dark film for demanding audiences. It does have its patches, but the final impression is strong enough to warrant it the best Finnish film I saw this year.

11. Gravity

It's a rather silly film, once you sit down and think about it. But undeniably well-crafted. So well, in fact, that you will grip the armrests of your seats and gasp and awe while it's running. At least when watched on the biggest possible screen. One of the funnest films this year to see in cinemas. It could've offered some more, which would've improved its ranking, but this is fine, too.

10. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

We had to await for ages for the big-screen debut of one of the most hilarious British comedy characters of the past few decades. But us fans were rewarded in spades. For mass audiences, the assholism of Partridge is a bit streamlined and doesn't delve too much on the more tragic aspects of the character. But who cares, when his misadventures are so rip-roaringly hilarious. Stomach-achingly funny.

9. Only God Forgives

This certainly wasn't for everybodys taste. While Drive was much beloved, it was more or less a minor work in Nicolas Winding Refn's filmography and with his latest he returned to the kind of divisive work he is better known for. Stylized study on the affects of violence and the grim consequences thereof. People expecting for a narrative as straight as in Drive were horrified. But films aren't necessarily stories, they can be vessels for emulating emotions. The sense of dead and impending judgement here is just intense. It has a religious aspect to it as the title suggests. And while actors (like Ryan Gosling) are mere vessels for the larger canvas here, Kristin Scott Thomas manages to deliver a truly memorable villain role.

8. Zero Dark Thirty

Another film that was judged by audiences that didn't bother looking beneath the surface. Precisely the fact that this was not a black-and-white morality tale makes it intriguing. Without the modern setting set on the very familiar newspaper headlines, what do you get? A manhunt-turned revenge film that proves ultimately unsatisfying to everyone but the viewer. That, and the invasion of the bin Laden house was the most intense action scene of the whole year.

7. Before Midnight

The world took Jesse and Celine's third outing with surprisingly open arms, considering that the young idealists have turned into a dreary middle-aged couple. Watching them argue makes for a truly cringe-worthy experience, but precisely the fact that even their love isn't all silver linings and steamy passion makes it so much more relatable. The naturalism is not as much on the foreground any more, but the discussions are still very well-written and life-like.

6. We Are Best! (Vi är bäst!)

Another sharp-eyed portrayal, this time about the lives of pre-teen girls. But it's a lot more rocking than that. It's a film where misfits find each other and have the times of their lives. It's a film where the dumbness of adults and how their rules are silly and pointless. And it's even a feminist piece on how girls are treated differently just because. But all in all, it's a film that gives hope and happy feelings to anyone who sees it. Punk is not dead!

5. The Past (Le passé)

It's a testament to Asghar Farhadi's skills on how he can pick up a seemingly-similar topic to the next film following the Oscar- and Berlinale-winning A Separation, but still deliver a completely different kind of a film. What starts out as a sort of mystery on why Marie and Samir separated years ago, becomes a study on the problems of almost every member of their (extended) family. And the revealed skeletons in their closets are truly heart-breaking. Another very humane film, one that finds reason in every mood swing and case of mistreatment.

4. Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri)

Cristian Mungiu was supposed to make a straight-forward retelling of a news item where a young woman was exorcised to death in a remote monastery. But he fictionalized the ordeal to be a comment on the situation on sexual minorities in remote areas, the relationship between the church and the state and the position of traditions in even the modern Romanian society. So Beyond the Hills are we that it's even hard to figure what decade (or century) the film is set before the final scene. Instead of exploiting the situation, Mungiu delivers a quiet, dignified and leisurely proceeding mood piece. Absolutely stunningly brilliant.

3. Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adele, chapitre 1 & 2)

It is just such a damn good movie. I'm tempted to use the stereotypical critic-words, such as "sensual" or "powerhouse" but in the case of such a high quality film, I can barely come up with more to say than the sentence above. Three hours fly by as a closely inspected lesbian relationship blooms and then turns sour. It's not "just" a LBGT film either, but anyone can find connections to their own love life from the rollercoaster of emotions this film presents.

2. Spring Breakers


Harmony Korine succeeds in both creating an absurd parody of MTV-like idle party culture, and yet avoiding moralizing or talking down to the young partiers. He must remember his own time when he toured the world getting wasted and hanged out with batshit crazy rappers like ODB. Anyway, much as his colorful party statement is morbid fun, he also posits that partying doesn't necessarily have to lead to a downer, but can be an empowering experience. Thus he also has feminist aspects to a film where the female cast wears revealing neon-colored bikini almost for the whole rundown. It's a cult classic in the making.

1. The Hunt (Jagten)

I like movies in which someone gets into a troublesome situation which there just isn't any way out of. What would I do in a similar situation? Probably I would go into a dark room and sob, which is what one would like to do after watching this particular film as well. The tensions are gripping, as an innocent man is condemned from paedophilia, which wrecks his closest friendships, losts him his job and even costs dearly to his family life. Mads Mikkelsen is perfect as the lead, since he does look a bit suspicious, but can believably play a run-down, emotional wreck of a man that earns our symphaties as well. Kudos also for the ending to be dark, but not succumbing to the feel-bad punches to the gut Vinterberg has made his trademark.

So, I'd like to know what are your favorite films for 2013? Don't be shy, tell me in the comments, or just give me a holler on Twitter (@LastMB in english, @pmihal if you speak Finnish).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Worst of the Worst II: The Worsening

Let's do this.

LIVE - from the beautiful Villa Ihalainen in Eastern Helsinki. It is a Dark and Stormy Night and celebrities flock to the huge gala celebrating the 200th blog post of The Last Movieblog. I've already spotted David Hasselhoff on a T-shirt and Marilyn Monroe on a painting. And isn't that a cartoon image of Michael Caine? Oh - and this just in: There's double the reason to celebrate tonight, since the blog's visitor number has just passed 150,000! Over to blogkeeper Paavo Ihalainen for comments:

"Well, it's been a patchy year and I haven't been able to update as much as I've liked to. Oh, I've written plenty about movies to other places, but this live blogging is a means to show the world that this blog is still alive and kicking."

So, what's going to be the programme tonight?

"I wrote a rather popular text for my 100th blog post, that celebrated some silly and cheesy exploitation movies that had found newfound fame in YouTube and other media streaming sites. Since then I myself have subscribed to Netflix and get an incresingly big number of bad movies from there. The site has an impressive arsenal of famously terrible movies - many of which I have wanted to see but haven't dared to actually sit down and watch. So, as making fun of these universally loathed films is something akin to shooting fish in a barrel, and what better way to celebrate than to make me miserable, why not do both - and live."

What are we going to watch today?

"Well, I figured we could start out with the notorious Catwoman, and go on there to some other atrocities. Some possibilities include Rollerball, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and Green Lantern. You can also suggest your own pieces of cinematic shit on Twitter (handle @LastMB or hashtag #TheWorsening ) and if it makes me fear and shudder, I might get into it. This will go on until I pass out or die."

That sounds like quite an evening. I've just gotten word that we are ready to go live on to Netflix and start to view Catwoman, so get your popcorn ready and Tweets fired up and we'll go.

Catwoman (USA, 2004)
Director: Pitof

I'm guessing the Catwoman in this one isn't the first one. At least judging by the opening credits. There's been Catwomen before. And thus the one in this isn't that special.

Halle Berry starts out narrating dead in a pool. A Sunset Blvd. reference? Bad movies shouldn't acknowledge classics.

Sharon Stone had something of a comeback at this point. She did this and Basic Instinct 2, so it didn't go as well as it could've.

Eugh, I have to go through Halle Berry trying to act mousy and timid. Why can't superheroes ever start the movies already powerful?

Halle got saved by falling off a roof by a police officer. She went there to get a cat. That's this movie's strong female role model for you.

I think they picked the actor playng the love interest cop because he looks a little like Michael Keaton. He can't act worth shit.

Oh, the actor is called Benjamin Bratt and his character is, get this, Tom Lone. Han Solo's more boring cousin?

These aerial CGI shots look horrible. Like a cutscene from a PS1 game. Then again, this film IS 9 years old. Makes you think about your life.

Yeah, make the female protagonist have an opponent her own caliber. An evil cosmetics manufacturer. That's not sexist at all!

Halle died, then a group of cats wagged their tails at her and then her own cat (with serious halitosis issues) burped green radioactive gas on her. Thus, the iris in her eye changed and Catwoman was reborn! This is a terrible movie, in case you didn't know.

Was this Warner Brothers' first attempt of getting into the new wave of superheros (started by Fox & Sony's Marvel movies)? This became before Batman Begins, but after X-Men 2 and Spider-Man. It does not compare well to any of them.

Oh. Halle's still timid. Step up your game, girl!

Now she's showing her mad basketball kids to Lone Starr and a group of freaky chanting kids. They chant the "One of us" thing from Freaks, which is baffling.

Now for some faint praise. I think visually, the film isn't too shabby. It's bright, colorful and staged like comic book panels. I see they attempt the same unreal style that worked in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Too bad the script is horrendous and the actors either bad or poorly directed.

So Halle becomes Catwoman only by night, steals jewelry and can't remember anything in the morning. Then she's back to being timid. The Mask was done already! Give us a good female character that can stand on her own and has no regrets!

Catwoman's powers are explained to us in detail. Silly me to think she was just an expert burglar and jewel thief without any supernatural powers. Goes to shows how wrong everything is that comics teach you.

Man, that bondage gear is a horrible superhero costume. Sexy only to S&M freaks, a pain to look at for others.

Catwoman's beau is dumber than a sack of bricks, if he can't tell the woman he took out earlier and the half-nude woman in a dumb cat mask are the same person.

Have I complained about the dreadful R&B soundtrack already? Cheap and as lazy as this movie's script.

What's this movie's theme? You shouldn't attempt to stop aging and rather go through life acting like a cat? You shouldn't be mousy, but rather go and hit and hit on your boyfriend at nighttime masked? Being schizophrenic makes you more attractive? This is all over the place.

Sharon Stone has a superpower of her own! She's had so many botox shots, she's impervious to any pain. She's unconvincingly pounding Catsy around in an ad studio.

Final thoughts: The movie had potential to be an emancipating female action movie, but they saw fit to overcomplicate Catwoman's character, had a terrible script and no style whatsoever. The film is mostly by-the-numbers boring rather than truly atrocious, thus resembling the similarly forgettable Elektra. Ugh.

★ 1/2

Dungeons & Dragons (USA/Czech Republic, 2000)
Director: Courtney Solomon

The film seems to have a Dune -like quality in that I didn't understand the strange concepts in the prologue text, and have a feeling you should know the source material to get anything out of this.

Jeremy Irons, what have you wrought? He plays a wizard that obtained a cheap-looking toy wand with an odd machine.

Now here's a (bad CGI) dragon. He obeys Irons' orders since he has a green-glowing candy cane.

Already this presents a more entertaining brand of bad moviemaking. Irons chews the scenery here and the horrible effects seem to be borrowed from Hercules: the Legendary Journeys.

Oh great, here's some Star Wars: Episode I -inspired political "intrigue", where a child queen is concerned about the well-being of her subjects, while politicians play their own hand. How interesting.

There certainly are also a lot of scenes of Marlon Wayans screeching. He's the Jar Jar of this picture.

Some thieves, the princess and a dwarf who likes to break the 4th wall and address the camera directly have formed a band. They met some brightly colored aliens and now the protagonist fought for his life inside various death traps for like 20 minutes. He then found a big red ruby.

They are pursued by Jeremy Irons' blue-lipped henchman and his guards. If he doesn't succeed, Irons will take out the tentacle monster he enchanted there before.

If the acting was bad in Catwoman, it was at least uniformly bad. All the characters in this one act as if they are in different movies. Sometimes that, and the horrible dialogue produce interesting results. The guild leader shouting "I never joke, when mages invade MY GUILD!" is pronounced in an odd mixture of Christopher Walken's extra punctuations, Nicolas Cage's mania and John Malkovich's disdain (plus baldness).

The director has an odd fixation on ears. Now, a girl is interrogated by a baddie growing tentacles from his ears that connect to her ears. Ears!

A lot of fantasy cliches in this one (duh). Dwarves hate elves, fear horses, and are generally a pain in the ass. Still, better than The Hobbit II.

Although the soundtrack sounds ripped straight from The Mummy, there's a surprising lack of Avatar-chanting.

The make up budget of this movie must've been smaller than most Halloween parties. The beards and other facial hair all look clearly glued on, the ears and whatnot plastic.

Jeremy Irons needed another plastic toy sword all along. This film isn't that clear about its MacGuffins. With that he can summon some evil dragons.

Of course the CGI effects are really bad, but with this epic battle raging around and dragons flying all around, one does not get the impression of that, you know, really happening. It seems all the actors just sort of pretend they're there.

Fantasy is a genre where phallic objects come to the spotlight, and they make good use of various wands and swords banging against each other here.

Final thoughts: They went for too much epic here. Since they hadn't the budget, it's foolish to attempt to do epic dragon battles, skeletal monsters and such. With a more low key approach, this could have been a Princess Bride -style modern swashbuckler or at the very least a Hercules: The Series: The Movie. But this was ruined by casting Marlon Wayans to scream around. I'm glad he's only around for half of the movie.


Highlander II: The Quickening (USA/France, 1991)
Director: Russel Mulcahy

Topical troubles: The Earth's Ozone layer is collapsing. The one Connor McLeod (Christopher Lambert and his impressive hair) helps around the main scientists to build a shield to protect the Earth.

In a surprising twist, we jump forward 25 years, where an elderly McLeod is still worried about shields and ozone.

He also watches a lot of Opera.

Here we go. He's not an ancient Highlander, but... an alien from planet Zeist! Sean Connery reminds this (entirely contradictory) "fact" to us in voiceover. He was also a zeistian, fighting against the evil General Katana (ha!).

The orchestral music makes this all seem like a Popeye cartoon.

Michael Ironside plays General Katana. Maybe he can bring an ounce of class to this.

I can't stand these references to Queen songs, when they are not playing on the soundtrack. The replacements are uniformly pretty terrible.

So these aliens were exiled on earth where they were immortal and apparently lost their memory, but now the elder McLeod remembers he could go back to space since he won "The Prize" of being the last Highlander left standing. What a load of gibberish.

Eurotrash aliens! They are Katana's thugs, of course.

Since new zeistians have arrived on Earth, McLeod is no longer "the One". They, of course attempt to behead him while giggling annoyingly.

But then one dies in the battle and McLeod gets stronger again.

I haven't liked any of Mulcahy's feature films, but I got to say, he's got a unique style in staging action scenes. It's an 80's music video type of style, which is one of the reasons his career went down the toilet. This movie is another.

It's funny to hear Sean Connery say "shithead". It's the word he was born to say!

Not limited to just flashbacks, Connery's gotten better from his beheading in the first film. He has to adjust to a brave new world and you know what that means: a montage of him trying on modern clothes with a bad synthesizer version of the Wilhelm Tell Overture in the background.

This is really idiotic: An airline video demonstrating safety procedures has a plane going down and the passengers screaming in terror. I'd like to see them try to put such a film to be shown in any real air travels. That's some Fight Club shit right there.

I've got to be honest, I haven't paid much attention on what's happening. They are attempting to destroy Katana's shield or something. There's little interest in any of he characters and their thrives on doing something or other. I like the bleak dystopian athmosphere, though, so it's not all a waste.

Mulcahy does get some extra mileage out of the fact that only beheading can kill these characters. So they're able to go through gruesome ordeals ans bounce right back.

Final thoughts: This was clearly a lot more carefully constructed film than the two previous ones. In fact, I think it's bad reputation is caused mostly by it shitting down its predecessor in a way very few sequels do. It's a shame, really, because all that stupid alien crap wouldn't be that hard to write around. Except of course, then you'd have to explain how all of a sudden McLeod isn't the only "One" out there. Plenty of Highlander sequels have since done just that.

Other than that, it has plenty of good old fashioned high concept action and a nice dystopian angle on it all. It's just sad thare aren't any stakes going on the viewer would care about.


Ghosts of Mars (USA, 2001)
Director: John Carpenter

Carpenter's idea of a future dystopia is a matriarchy? Or why is it so much emphasized?

This has a flashback structure too, we are solving what happened to a freight train on Mars that returned empty.

This is probably the only movie out there that has both Pam Grier and Jason Statham.

The blue-collar drones on a strange planet gives a definite Alien vibe. Carpenter has already stooped low since he has to copy oter people's ideas instead of making his own.

Mars doesn't look otherwordly and there really isn't a sense of presence. All the sets look like sound stages. Must be the lighting...

Also Carpenters use of special effects hasn't improved much since Escape from New York.

And also he can't use music like he used to. The cheap soundtrack that sounds it's from public domain is far fetched from JC's own athmosphere heavy synthesizer tracks from his classics.

They've wondered whether Ice Cube has gone around killing them, but they now found out there are a lot of Martian cultists that look like Marilyn Manson fans out there who like to behead their enemies.

Oh, okay, they are actually possessed people. Possessed by the Slipknot virus.

This wasn't really like Alien at all. In fact this is actually a pretty nifty twist on a basic trope, with the berserker virus carriers and all. Too bad so much on how it is presented has failed so badly.

With deputizing ordinary citizens, the movie's turning into a western, fast. Figures, this is the guy who did Assault on Precinct 13. Still, I kind of wish Carpenter would have managed to do a better space-western than Avatar. Also, couldn't Carpenter try to do a real western? With Kurt Russell?

They just went out guns blazing. It doesn't look that exciting, more like a company's weekend retreat at a paintball range. Odd that Carpenter didn't even direct the actors on how to hold the guns.

In the end it actually seems that this was a remake of Assault on Precinct 13. Wow. Loses to Carpenter's previous effort with considerable numbers.

Final thoughts: I may be a sentimental fool, but I've seen the potential in all of the films I've watched today. None of the other movies' failures pains me as much as this one's. It just appears that Carpenter hasn't been trying, from every which angle you try to look at it. It is a shame, I don't know what burned him out but it took a long while to get him to direct again and even then the result was the ho-hum The Ward.


Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (USA/Canada 2004)
Director: Raja Gosnell

They wiped he soundtrack from Beetlejuice, I hear.

Written by James Gunn. WHY?!?

This begins as the Mystery Machine twerps being super-popular, walking on a red carpet. Speaking of carpet, the fact that Velma has enthusiastic fan girls (shown right after Daphne's over-enthusiastic fan boys) does little to repel the lesbian undertones associated with the character. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Matthew Lillard is creepily similar to the cartoon Shaggy, right down to the voice.

Velma has spotted and immediately fallen for Seth Green. He'd be a beard if he could grow one.

Wow, after Dungeons & Dragons I didn't think there would be as terrible CGI effects on a big-budget movie. I was mistaken.

So a pterodactyl monster spooked everyone in a museum, and everyone blames the Mystery Inc. for that. We've got ourselves a mystery. Enh.

What would be a modern children's movie without "Baby Got Back" on the soundtrack? I shudder to think.

Another Dungeons & Dragons flashback: The black knight ghost is banging his sword at Daphne's crotch.

Scooby fakes he has rabies in oder to get out for "fresh air". Dog, if you really got rabies, you would be put down.

Peter Boyle! Why oh why does every bad movie includes someone genuinely awesome?

You know, I like Joe Dante -like cartoon buffoonery. The scene where Shaggy and Scooby try out various colorful science formulas is reminiscent of Gremlins 2 or Looney Tunes: Back In Action. Perhaps James Gunn's influence does shine through.

Then again, Scooby Doo rapping was not something I ever needed to hear.

I've always wondered, what age are these characters supposed to be? They say they haven't visited their high school clubhouse "in years".

The diver's ghost is a great visual. One of the most memorable creatures from the original cartoon.

Far be it from me to speak against fart jokes, but the ones in this are just shameful.

I laughed unironically at the cotton candy glob.

And of course the unmasking scene is always fun. How long did the villain have to wait in two rubber masks for the police to see who was under all that?

The pop music in this movie is kind of godawful.

Final thoughts: Y'know. For kids. It's a children's film, even though fussy, noisy and running all over the place. But it all doesn't have to appeal to adults anyway. There are a few genuinely funny cartoonish moments, which is more than I expected from this. But James Gunn's script would need a better director, that would keep the tone consistent (and perhaps the monsters a little more creepy). Raja Gosnell isn't perhaps the best choice for this, but certainly not the worst, either.

★★ 1/2

P.S. There's an additional scene after the credits with a secret code to a Gameboy game. Huh. Multimedia advertising.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (USA/Germany, 2002)
Director: Wych Kaosayananda

This was still surfing on the tidal waves of The Matrix when long leather trenchcoats were considered cool.

I'm not keeping up with the plot. Antonio Banderas is a secret agent, whose wife has been misplaced. And he has amnesia? Something like that.

So far there hasn't been a single new idea in the film. I think this is so badly rated because it's so generic to the point of tears. It's hard to believe anyone remembering anything about the movie after a week.

Surprising technical troubles: The voice sync stopped working at about 20 minutes in. I'd say we call it a day. I'll try to finish watching this another time.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Your Sister was a Werewolf and your Father Smelled of Elderberries!

Don't ask why, but I felt like writing about something and that something happened to be a variety of werewolf movie sequels from the 80's. And why not, it's not as if this blog's format wouldn't allow for me to fulfill such urges.

The Howling 2: Stirba the Werewold Bitch (USA/UK, 1985)
Director: Philippe Mora

There are several names for the sequel for Joe Dante's tongue-in-cheek cult film, and I of course use the one which I prefer. This film is also known as The Howling II: Return and The Howling II: Your sister is a Werewolf, which, while an actual quote from the film, doesn't quite have the same catchiness to it.

This is one of those cheapo films where they somehow had tricked Christopher Lee himself to act in, of which the legendary actor has felt nothing but regret since. Lee is one of my very favorite actors of all time, since there isn't a title so lowly that he couldn't liven it up with his undeniable charisma, grace and style. The film returns the favor by having him go to a punk rock club incognito and dressing him up in silly new wave sunglasses. The film is perhaps even a bit more clearer a comedy than its predecessor.

The film begins with the funeral of Karen White, the main character from Dante's film. Karen's brother Ben (Reb Brown) hears the truth from an attending werewolf hunter, Stefan Crosscoe (Lee). He convinces Ben to travel to Transylvania, along with his new girlfriend Jenny (Annie McEnroe) to kill the werewolf pack alpha bitch, the 10,000-year-old Stirba. She (in the form of Sybil Danning) hosts occult bisexual orgies at her castle and spreads werewolfism around the globe. Unless she's destroyed, she'll take over the world!

There's no denying this film's cheesiness, but there's a lot of an endearing quality to it. The film views all of the Balkans as a backwater area, where people still live like in Mediaval times and have an ethnic festival going all year. There's a good Euro-sleaze athmosphere going on in the scenes taking place in Stirba's castle.

There's lesbian undertones, dwarves, spanking, a horrible giant bat effect and other craziness going on all around. It's all in good fun and one can't help being entertained by all these horror tropes done suitably well and rolling along in a fast enough pace. The actors (sans Lee) are of course atrocious. Just as you think the film has ended and ran out of ideas, they have a final one in their bag: As the post-punk band Babel reprises their song The Howling during the end credits, footage of Sybil Danning revealing her massive breasts, cut next to various characters in the film reacting in humorous ways. Incredible.

★ or ★★★★★

The Howling III: The Marsupials (Australia, 1987)
Director: Philippe Mora

It seems Philippe Mora still had plenty of more ideas on where to take his werewolf franchise. It also seems he may have had too many ideas about the matter. The third Howling is shot entirely in good ole Australia, and in the patented ozploitation style.

While the werewolf population of Earth suffered a massive blow in the previous installment, some still survive. Case in point is Australia, which has evolved a wholly seperate population of werewolves that have pouches. The anthropologist Professor Harry Breckmeyer (Barry Otto) sees odd wolf-like creatures in old-time footage of aborigine rituals. So he naturally goes to The President Of United States to tell his suspicions of a weird, wolf-like tribe living in the bush.

Meanwhile, among the real wolf tribe, a young girl named Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) flees to Sydney. She catches the eye of a movie producer Donny (Lee Biolos) and is soon picked as a lead for a cheap horror movie. Jerboa and Donny fall in love. But she has to flee again as he realizes she's a bit hairier than he originally saw.

All sorts of crazy bullshit goes on. The film has poor grasp of a central story and there's ever-more left-wing twists to take the film to unsuspected territories. It gives an expression of a formless blob of a movie rather than a quirky comedy with surprises. While there are many fun parts early on (like the movie shoot and wrap-up party), sadly the film's additional scenes are often boring, such as the extended time jump of a werewolves raising a family in the woods. The final scenes bring the film full circle, but it's a bit too little, too late.

The film is admirably crazy, though and at least it's closer to Dante's original than either the first or second sequel in the same series.


The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (USA, 1988)
Director: John Hough

Let's not even go there. Attempts to be a more serious werewolf affair, fails in almost every aspect. Save for a puddle-based transformation scene, a total waste of time.

Teen Wolf Too (USA, 1987)
Director: Christopher Leitch

Rather, let's talk about the sequel to Michael J. Fox's on-the-nose puberty metaphor movie, shall we? It is considered to be one of the worst sequels of all time, and it's not hard to see why. For a comedy, it sure is an unfunny affair, and often doesn't seem to be trying that much.

The movie follows the cousin of Fox's Scott, Todd Howard (Jason Bateman). Everyone is aware that the Howards are werewolves, his uncle Harold (James Hampton) for instance being rather open about it. Rather than fearing the undead, unholy bloodthirsty beasts, this awakens curiosity and enthusiasm in normal people. Todd has gotten a college scholarship in order to bring the Hamilton University's boxing team some fame and glory. But Todd would rather just focus on his studies to become a veterinarian.

Yeah, the puberty undertones aren't that under in this one, either.

For one, the film forgot to add any jokes into its supposedly funny set-up. Scenes have incredibly poor comic timing. Often times it seems that the set up is going towards a punchline, but since the writers couldn't come up with anything humorous, the cast members just react a while and the scene moves on to the next one. It is a bit silly seeing Jason Bateman as a teen heart-throb and a lot of space is given shooting his cute smile spreading to his face. Less funny are the rubberfaced antics of his buddy Chubby (Mark Holton) that soon grow tiresome. John Astin as the cruddy old dean comes across as creepy as he can for no proper reason.

Boxing is an odd choice for the sport to be featured in a college comedy. Here it functions basically the same as in the Rocky movies: all punches, little moving around or blocking. The matches themselves feel like re-hashes of Karate Kid movies with their snooty rivals and whatnot, and not even the good ones. The most memorable thing about the movie is the godawful female mullett on Kim Darby, playing Todd's professor.


Friday, 6 December 2013

Finnish Cult Movies IV: Working Class Heroes (and Zeroes)

Happy First of May Independence Day! This day marks one of the biggest festivities of the year in Finland. It used to mark the day for the worker's, unions and students veterans, and while they have their share of partying, nowadays Mayday Independence Day is just a basic binge-drinking go-nuts hand-shakes and watch a war movie first day of Spring Christmas. So much so that it usually starts out way ahead of time. I'm actually a bit hung-over myself now so you'll excuse me as to why this post runs so late. Anyway, here are several films that celebrate the finnish working-class citizens by their own rights.

The Classic (Klassikko, 2001)
Director: Kari Väänänen

This classic by name already got a reputation back when it first came out and only grew in respect when it was broadcast on TV a while later. As such, I have fond memories of reciting lines with friends in my teens. But does the film hold up even today? Well, yes and no.

The movie is based on the cult novel by Kari Hotakainen, itself a comedic, exaggerated vision of the author's own bohemian life. A newspaper editor hints at Hotakainen (Martti Suosalo) that he should write autobiographical texts about real-world subjects. The lonely and quiet writer is confused since he has little life of which to write about. So he decides to buy a used car and write about the experience. But he has to meet some strange people such as the nihilistic salesman Kartio (Matti Onnismaa) and the jobless layabout Pera (Janne Hyytiäinen), in order to do so. Pera in particular will stop at nothing to get his hands on the same car Hotakainen has been viewing, which sparks up a huge rivalry. These flabby machos drive the disgruntled small guy over the edge.

Today, some aspects, such as the increasingly important role given to the (now retired) news anchor Arvi Lind are a bit old-fashioned. Likewise the ending isn't as sharp nor farcical as it attempts to be. Yet the film does uncover some universal truths from the behavior of Finnish men, particularly when automobiles are concerned. The men are all alcoholic sad sacks, failures in every aspect, yet they wish to have one field in which they shine and that is with cars.

The film has good characterization of its male leads, they are well-acted and spout on-the-nose dialogue straight from the pen of Hotakainen. The film is a bit more down-to-earth approach of the depressing rural Finland of yesteryear than that from the films of the Kaurismäki brothers. But there are clear similarities, since the cinematographer, editor and sound mixer are veterans of Kaurismäki productions. And of course the director Kari Väänänen is remembered from sleazy roles from many of the brothers' classic films.


The Diary of a Worker (Työmiehen päiväkirja, 1967)
Director: Risto Jarva

From back when the division between the political Left and Right was the most important aspect in the Finnish culture, comes the classic Risto Jarva film, which takes three viewpoints into the subject; a worker, his middle-class wife and the bourgeoise father of the bride.

Juhani (Pauli Osipow) marries Ritva (Elina Salo), considered to be above his class. He works as a welder in a factory, while she is an office worker. The film follows the pair as they attempt to start their life anew and come to terms of the differences between their daily lives and all the aspects that come along with it. The relationship is strained by various problems, monetary, political and sexual alike. At one point infidelity also comes to the picture.

It's a rather realistic (and more than a bit depressing) image of a time when it was so hard to connect to anyone, even those closest to you. The passing of time is both deteministic and heartbreaking, as old ambitions and values slowly die out. Jarva's bleak black-and-white photography is sidelined by the inner monologues of its central characters.


The Last Gig (Viimeinen keikka, 1984)
Director: Matti Ijäs

Matti Ijäs is another bleak humorist who has insight on how the melancholic Finnish male mind works. As anothe rof his TV films, The Last Gig isn't quite on par with Katsastus, but rather good anyway. It concerns a group of older gentlemen, who, much like The Blues Brothers (or rather, Blues Brothers 2000, but don't hold that against this film), plan to put their old band together. The last gig is to play at the funeral of one among their ranks.

Of course it is never that simple and the crew runs into hijinks and trouble. They also come to terms with their age and mortality and wrap up issues, relationships and loves, started decades ago. The melancholic film does have healthy amounts of gallows humour, but it also preaches about taking the most out of life while it still lasts. Plenty of good actors all around, and good funny dialogue.


The Painting Sellers (Taulukauppiaat)
Director: Juho Kuosmanen

Can this 58-minute film from 2010 be said to be a cult film? Well, since almost nobody saw it at the time, but everyone who did, raved about it, it certainly fringes on the limit. In this one, the small-town salesmen come from one family, where the mother paints the pictures, the son drives the family around and the dad works as a manager, screwing everything up as best he can.

The film is set on Christmastime, which is the darkest and bleakest time of the year in all of Finland, particularly the more north you go. The sells of the paintings have been low, and in order to survive, the family needs money and fast. Not only the landscape is freezing, also the resentment met by the family and harbor towards each other comes through from time to time. The desperation seethes through every frame of the movie. There's a big amount of humor, but it is as pitch black as winter nights.

The film won first price at the Cannes Cinéfoundation young filmmakes's series. The major gripe with is is actually that it's so short and the characters would seem interesting enough to carry 30 more minutes of film easily. Kuosmanen's style is very naturalistic and at times one could almost mistake the film for a documentary. In fact there have been several work documents made through the years that are similar to this film on several levels. I will look into them next.


"The Faces of Finland" Trilogy:
These three trilogies following up workers searching for their lost fortunes aren't connected per se, but since critic Antti Tohka reviewed them together in a legendary text 10 years ago, they have been labeled together. All of them are tragi-comedic stories of bubbly personalities who appear surprisingly honest and earnest in front of the cameras are filming them. Just because they aren't the sort that can or will put on an act, it all adds up to the shared sense of shame.

Suckers (a.k.a. Vacuum-Cleaner Salesmen, Pölynimurikauppiaat, 1993)
Director: John Webster

During the miserable days of the Finnish Recession of 1991-93 a lot of people were left without a job and had to take on new careers. And since work was scarce, many took on any opportunities they found. I find it hard to believe anyone would choose to be a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman otherwise. It's one of the sleaziest jobs there is, next to tax auditors, meter maids and petty bureaucrats.

So, we follow three new salesmen (and -women) who try to come to terms with their jobs and rise back to success. One is a hapless, uneducated chump, the woman a slimy neoliberal rogue, and the last one a countryside bachelor that's all about cheery moods and backstabbing. The whole trio consists of quite miserable people, but they are still not quite sympathetic, since they are willing to cheat and lie their way to profit. The items they are selling are inferior in quality, but their company feeds them bullshit to pass on to unsuspecting customers. The most horrible of all is their red-faced boss who will want better profits at any costs, shouting like a police chief in a buddy cop movie if enough cleaners aren't sold.


Bussikavaljeeri (1996)
Director: Eeva Vuorenpää

A documentary about a cheerful bus driver from Savo is master-class in making the viewer cringe. The curly-haired Pentti Hartikainen wants to make his passengers to feel welcome and happy. He does so by using the intercom to chat about current affairs and singing songs. The unease of the passengers is well-earned, since people who take the bus in Finland generally don't want to socialize but to be left alone.

The film follows Hartikainen around and he's clowning around even when doing the most mundane, ordinary things. That's not to say that director can't find a more tragic side of the man, his separation from his past wife and leaving his child Matti clearly pains him. Pentti has met a nice woman while out on a cheap cruise, but since he forgot to get her contact info, he has to resort to futile newspaper advertisements. This film has a very Finnish message of no matter how much you try to appear positive and happy, life will screw you in the end anyway. This is a bit comforting thought to those of us who can't be bothered to fake.

Pentti tries to keep a close relationship to his son Matti, while at times it would seem to the viewer that even a little less closeness would suffice. Pentti doesn't seem to leave his son alone in a room once with his weekends with him. Amazingly, Matti does seem to like his father, as much of a clown he is. In the film's climax, the father and son get to visit Paris together. Of course, Pentti sees fit to sing out a traditional Finnish song out loud so that other tourists can glance at him disapprovingly.


Car Bonus (Autobonus, 2001)
Director: Mika Ronkainen

If vacuum cleaner salesmen and passenger-bothering annoying servicemen are horrible people, they have nothing on pyramid schemers, particularly when their scheme revolves around selling useless vitamins and health products for children.

To be fair, the people the movie follows, Viljo and Kaisu Mikkonen, do live in desperate times. At the time of the Great Finnish Recession, plenty of people lost their jobs, and it's only natural for a middle class couple to try to think outside the box to try to keep up with their cost of living. They used to own an electric company, but lost it when banks came crashing down. Now the Mikkonens try to sell as much bullshit products to earn a "car bonus" from their employer, a new car as a thanks for spreading their products around.

Of coruse, this ambition makes them ruin every friendship and connections to family members they have left. If they are invited to a summer cottage, the first thing Viljo and Kaisu do is get out their box of vitamins and start preaching about their usefulness. They also attend a sleazy conference when predatory salesmen and slimy frauds teach their pyramid ideas to gullible people.

Thus there's sympathy for Kaisu and Viljo as well, since they have been cheated at the time where they have been the most vunerable. The film does have some insight on what makes bad people in the world. The world of marketing in general doesn't seem too good after viewing this film. Director Ronkainen uses the cheesy music from informercials well on the soundtrack, giving everything a bit more farcical nature.



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