Helsinki Cine Asia 2018

Helsinki Cine Asia is a smallish festival concentrating on (surprise) Asian cinema. I’ve often seen one or two films here. This time I chose to attend for one full day and 4 films.

Missing Johnny [2017]

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The film is a mood piece set among three lonely people in Taipei. It tells of the estrangement that people can experience and the importance of human connection and love. At times the film proceeds a bit too slowly, even for the mood it is looking for, but the film remains strong in its love for the protagonists and their struggles. A slow and seemingly simple film that elegantly pieces together a touching story without anything big going on.

  • Director: Xi Huang
  • Watched on: 18th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 3.5/5

A Taxi Driver [2017]

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South Korea is considered a successful state, but after the Korean war ended, it’s future was far from certain. There was a progression of military dictatorships before democracy finally took root. In 1980 the current dictator, Chun Doo-hwan, had just risen to power through a military coup and the consolidation of his power was still ongoing. The students in the city of Gwangju rose up in protest against the martial laws enacted. Initially the protests were peaceful, but when the government troops started to violently suppress the protests, weapons stores were raided and the protesters turned violent as well. An estimated 600 people were killed with the vast majority being protesters. The uprising weakened the already precarious position of Chun and became a rallying point for further protests against him eventually leading to his regime’s collapse.

Internationally the events of Gwangju were known, because there was one German journalist, Jürgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann), who managed to enter the area, shoot pictures and video of the events, and escape with the negatives. The reason he managed to do this was his taxi driver, Kim (Song Kang-ho), who despite encountering road blocks, took it upon himself to get the journalist to Gwangju and then out.

This is the story the film tells – there’s a short setup with Peter finding hints about the events unraveling and with Kim being a down on his luck taxi driver. Then they go to Gwangju, participate in the events, get hunted by the government troops and escape through back roads and road blocks. Kim is the protagonist of the film – he starts out as pro-government not believing that they would do anything bad and preferring to stay out of other people’s business in any case, but once he witnesses the events in Gwangju, he turns around and through professional bride, greed (he won’t get any money from Jürgen, if Jürgen dies) and an awakening moral compass, he finishes his work with enthusiasm.

This is certainly an interesting piece of history to tell. Some scenes seem like they could be pretty close to the actual events, but others are dramatized to the point of ridiculousness. The tone changes wildly between touching moments and real anguish, before going to slapstick and ridiculous car chases. The result is a film that you can’t really trust for one moment.

  • Director: Hun Jang
  • Original Title: Taeksi woonjunsa
  • Watched on: 18th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 2/5

Angels Wear White [2017]

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The film tells the story of two children being molested by a government official, Liu, in a resort town hotel during the off season. After the initial events, the film follows the two victims and one young employee of the hotel trying to survive with the corrupt system and with the precarious position that both women and children occupy in China.

The hotel employee, Mia, is probably underage and doesn’t have a government ID, so she is basically without any protection. She shoots evidence of the situation with her cell phone. Her boss threatens to fire her and due to her illegitimate position, she has no protection against that, so instead of going to the authorities with the evidence, she plans to blackmail Liu and buy a fake ID with the money.

One of the victims, Wen, is blamed by her parents for the events. Xin, the second victim, on the other hand is pressured into silence by her parents, because Liu is her godfather and the parents figure that they can extort money from Liu to help the family. Nobody seems to trust the authorities and nobody seems to care for the children. Everyone is looking to find an angle to profit themselves.

The film is realized with elegance and a touching sympathy towards the under-aged girls. It raises an important social issue about the problems of corruption, inequality and children’s rights in China.

  • Director: Vivian Qu
  • Original Title: Jia nian hua
  • Watched on: 18th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 4/5

The Third Murder [2017]

the_third_murder

Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has apparently killed a factory manager and has confessed to the act. He is a repeat offender with a previous double murder conviction from 30 years ago, which would put him down for the death penalty, if convicted from this crime. He seems to calmly accept this faith. Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) is the attorney, who jumps on the case and questions the confession from the beginning. So a court drama with mysteries about a crime or even two and the nature of the confessed criminal. I won’t go into the revelations, but they are nothing too exceptional.

The film is pretty much a nifty genre exercise and nothing more. The parts are played well, the decoupage is decent, the pacing gives space for the characters to develop, but it never rises above being a nifty genre exercise.

  • Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • Original Title: Sandome no satsujin
  • Watched on: 18th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 3/5
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Random Films on TV

The Bourne Ultimatum [2007]

the_bourne_ultimatum

I would assume that most people know what these are about… It’s about agents and plots and secrets and cinematic agent work. There’s chases, gun fights, explosions and lots of anonymous locations. There’s people who know what’s going on, people being used and people trying to find out. It’s basically modernized James Bond – the agents work the real world instead of an alternate reality, where everything is glamorous, and the villains are cogs in bigger machines that are probably just maintaining the power of the wealthy elite instead of evil geniuses trying to bring down the whole world with an implausible plot or a super weapon. As such, they are by default better than the Bond films.

Now what to say about this film – it’s a Bourne film. Production values are impeccable. Acting is mostly irrelevant, since you see these for the action. The action is good. Imaginative enough to be entertaining, but not too imaginative to be completely unbelievable. A solid film where you get exactly what you would expect.

  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Watched on: 17th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: TV5
  • 3/5

Annihilation [2018]

annihilation

Just a couple of notes on the weird publicity that the film gained. Apparently most major studios rejected the films as “too smart”, so Alex Garland ended up going to Netflix with it to get it funded. Yes, it’s smart – I’m tempted to say Inception smart, but it’s smarter than that. It doesn’t explain everything, which is apparently enough to be smart. I guess the all female (some males in some inconsequential roles) played into that appraisal. And a quick note on that too. It’s important to have films like these with female leads. It adds to the value of the film although not to the artistic value of the film, and it does not detract from said artistic value one bit.

There’s a zone and people going in there usually disappear or at least they return different, but it needs to be investigated, so in they go. The Stalker loans are obvious, but that’s not a problem – we don’t have too many films like this and there’s enough differences as well. The weird in the zone manifests in alien mutations of the biosphere. The deeper they go, the weirder it gets. I like this weird. The plot isn’t too strong – the weird claims some of the team and others go crazy, but the remaining people push on ahead to finally encounter something even weirder in the center of it all. It is well told though – the film doesn’t exhaust the weirdness by explaining it, things are revealed slow enough, the pacing works throughout. The very final shots of the film were a bit of a let down in its predictability.

The film doesn’t exactly shine in anything it does, but it does everything well enough and gains bonus points for an attempt at smartness and the all female cast.

  • Director: Alex Garland
  • Watched on: 19th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Netflix
  • 4/5

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three [1974]

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I’ve seen the 2009 remake headlined by John Travolta and Denzel Washington, so comparisons are inevitable. This one is realistic, low-key, plausible, while the 2009 iteration is melodramatic, over-the-top, made to entertain. This one is better paced and holds suspense better. There, done. This one wins the comparison by far.

It’s a story of a crew of mostly unlikely criminals hijacking a New York subway car and holding it and the passengers for ransom. This sounds like an implausible setup for a heist film, but the plan is solid and they almost pull it off. What makes the film fly, though, is the slow pacing of the film. The characters are allowed to grow and they become individuals instead of stereotypes that you often see in heist films. New York and it’s people provide some excellent atmosphere as well.

  • Director: Joseph Sargent
  • Watched on: 29th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Yle Teema
  • 3.5/5

Fading Gigolo [2013]

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Now I know it says John Turturro on the tin, but this could easily be directed by Woody Allen. Not surprisingly, those two are the leads of the film. Fioravante (Turturro) is a down on his luck florist, who becomes an escort for the rich women of Manhattan with the support and prodding of his publisher friend Murray (Allen).

Let’s start with the redeeming quality – the film has the Allen humanist touch. It’s just about people, who want to cope and wouldn’t hurt anyone. That’s it.

The rest is tired gags mostly based on old men talking about sexuality, which is supposed to be funny, because old men shouldn’t be open about their feelings or talk about sex frankly. There’s miles and miles of the usual Allen bantering with the familiar New York slur, which is entertaining for a while, but sadly Allen’s dialogue hasn’t been interesting in forever. Obviously the whole premise is ridiculous enough to actually detract from the film. Finally, the decoupage is non-existent – I guess it aims for an almost cinéma vérité quality in not bothering to set up anything interesting anywhere, but the result is just boring to watch.

  • Director: John Turturro
  • Watched on: 25th May 2018
  • Watched at: Yle Teema
  • 1.5/5

Jurassic World [2015]

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I had to go to Wikipedia, to find out, how many Jurassic something films there are by now. This is apparently the 4th and it starts a new Jurassic World trilogy. I didn’t expect anything other than a play-by-the-numbers sequel with everything bigger and badder than before and I was still disappointed.

The film was originally conceived during the shooting of Jurassic Park III, but then entered production hell. Several revisions and 14 years later, the hell was finally over and we got a new film to the franchise. Obviously, it’s not supposed to be an Oscar film, but this is sub par on almost every level. The overall production quality is what you’d expect from a Hollywood film with a budget like this and there’s a couple of nice set pieces featuring dinosaurs, but that’s about it.

There’s a new dino park built on top of the old one now with genetically engineered bigger and badder killer dinosaurs and unsurprisingly they get loose and the human characters attempt to survive and contain or escape the situation. This could be a sufficient premise for an interesting summer blockbuster, but the characters are paper thin and you could not care less about anything happening to them. The only value in the film is in seeing dinosaurs, which is always cool.

  • Director: Colin Trevorrow
  • Watched on: 26th May 2018
  • Watched at: TV5
  • 1/5

The Martian [2015]

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The film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Andy Weir. The premise of the novel was to build a plausible scenario of travel to Mars with currently available technology. The only thing to overcome would be a ton of engineering needed to actually build the things and get them to Mars. As far as I understand, that side of the novel works well – I’ve heard it mentioned that the only implausible thing is the storm that leaves Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded alone on the red planet. That brings us nicely to the rest of the novel – Weir needed to device a scenario that made for entertaining reading instead of just describing, how we could reach Mars. I haven’t read the novel, but at least in the film, that side also works.

The realist approach of the novel is carried over into the film – it doesn’t try to use the camera or anything in the setting to build any kind of interesting imagery, instead presenting everything in a very straightforward manner. Obviously, analytical editing is utilized, since that’s what the big audiences are used to, and they don’t see any problems with the departure from reality caused by that style. So you get what you expect – a big budget representation of how a man stranded on Mars might go about surviving there until he can be rescued presented without any surprises.

The plot continues on the unsurprising side of things. The first crisis is quickly overcome and Watney uses his wits to build something that could almost be described as a nice life on Mars. Obviously there are further crisis and further overcoming of those, but they build up and it starts to look bad until a bold rescue mission is enacted and all ends well.

Matt Damon occupies the screen for the majority of the film and since most of the stuff happening on Mars is realistic, it is mostly low-key, and thus he actually needs to carry the film, which he does. He is charming, he is desperate, his increasingly tired and desperate wittiness is amusing and touching.

Altogether, the film delivers what it promises in a perhaps unsurprising, but on all levels highly professional manner.

  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Watched on: 25th Aug 2018
  • Watched at: Sub
  • 4/5

Mad Max: Fury Road [2015]

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Holy fuck! This is my second time seeing the film. This time I saw it on our home’s 40″ TV screen, which is very sub-optimal for this specific film (find the biggest screen with the best sound possible, if you haven’t seen this before), and still the only possible reaction after this film is: holy fuck!

Now where do I start? Let’s go with the humanism and feminism. It’s a struggle to survive and in the end that happens by overthrowing the old harsh regime in order to free the masses. That’s the humanism – then the feminism. The titular character, Mad Max (Tom Hardy), is not the star of the film. That role is given to the second titular character, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). The regime that is overthrown is male and the role it assigns to the women is literally as breeding machines meant to bring forth healthy male children, and that’s the women it appreciates the most. When the new female regime is settling in and the previously enslaved masses are freed, Max leaves – it’s a women’s world now. The early parts of the film feature Max heavily, but it doesn’t take long for Furiosa to take over as the baddest ass in the wholly bad-ass film – there’s scene that makes this very much literal.

The plot of the film is that Imperator Furiosa is tired of Immortan Joe’s regime, hijacks the priced breeding machines and escapes towards a fabled green land behind the desert. There’s a bunch of action at 60mph, but the green land is gone. They then decide to go back to free the water reserves from Immortan Joe’s fortress. More action follows and finally a triumphant return. Now obviously that isn’t much of a plot, but wait until you hear about the action.

Most of the things you see on screen are actually there. The cars are there, the explosions, the stunts, the desert and the speed. CGI has been used to improve the backgrounds, recolor things, make the explosions bigger, and for a couple of the more extreme stunts, stitch the scenes together. And it shows in a big way. Everything is gut wrenching and visceral, everything has a feeling of danger to it, that has been missing from many high-octane films since the CGI takeover.

And the action itself – there’s at best dozens of vehicles racing across the desert with people jumping from car to car, explosions, fighting on top of the cars, inside the cockpits, there’s people on top of long poles that swing from side to side strung to cars racing through the desert, and there’s a what can only be described as chaotic noise demon, who is strung in front of a set of speakers that would make any stadium concert envious playing his guitar accompanied by endless pyrotechnics.

Finally, what makes all of this work, is the impossibly smooth editing. The film employs analytical editing – obviously, despite the mad skills evident in pretty much every frame of the film, the skills are not enough to present the events we see with long shots – but it takes that art to an extreme. Despite the endless and mostly non-stop chaos on screen, the film is easy and relaxing to watch due to the extreme rigor employed in framing and editing the shots – every cut in the film strings shots together so that your eyes are already focused on the bit of screen, where the important things happen in the next shot. This is an insane achievement from a film that employs this much chaos and doesn’t do it with CGI. This is an incredible evolution of the analytical editing style. This would’ve been an extremely welcome and simple to achieve evolution in the multitude of CGI action films produced in recent years, but the evolutionary step was taken in this film, where all of the action is live, where you have to design the shot progressions of chaotic live shooting at 60mph for extremely complex action scenes.

I did not think I could be this enthusiastic about an action film ever again, but holy fuck!

  • Director: George Miller
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2019
  • Watched at: Youtube film rental
  • 6/5

Arrival [2016]

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Another sci-fi attempting to be smart in a somewhat similar vein to Annihilation. Here the sci-fi is more straightforward and less weird and the smart is less mysterious and more scientific. A story of first contact, where a bunch of alien ships land. The film follows one of the crews (mostly a linguist Louise Adams played by Amy Adams and a theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner) attempting to communicate or otherwise unravel the mystery presented by the ships. Increasing tensions at other landing sites and with other nations handling the crisis provide a deadline for solving the puzzle peacefully.

The smart sort of flops here. Whereas Annihilation provides the smart through a genuinely alien and weird mystery that doesn’t even pretend to be solvable by our logic with science providing only attempts to guess at the meaning of everything, here Amy and Ian rigorously apply what plays at being valid science to solve a riddle that has a definite answer. This approach falls a bit flat, since the science isn’t applied scientifically and since the answer to the riddle (as pretty much always) is much less interesting than the riddle.

The film bears a resemblance to The Martian as well, as a lot of screen time is dedicated to the solving of a puzzle – The Martian has many puzzles, they are varied and they are approachable (how to cultivate potatoes, how to find drinking water), whereas here there is only one puzzle and it feels distant, since it is not tangible to most viewers. Solving the puzzle is mostly not interesting to watch.

The second problem with the film is the paper thin characters. The film is interested in them only as far as it needs to provide a second layer to the riddle – the flashbacks of Amy that are revealed to be… well, let’s not go there, that’s an actually interesting and surprising revelation.

The third problem is that the film is not cinematic in the least. We have one nice set piece in the alien vessel. Entering that for the first time, seeing the aliens for the first time and seeing their language for the first time, all are interesting moments that are worth seeing. The problem is that otherwise the film mostly consists of staring at computer screens and revisiting the vessel and the aliens. This makes for boring watching.

Despite the problems of the cinematography, the characters and the first mystery, the film is not a failure. The aforementioned second mystery genuinely managed to surprise me and its allusion to certain theories of language is interesting. Denis also manages to build an atmosphere of a calm rush that manages to compensate for much of the otherwise boring middle part of the film. The resulting film is worth seeing, but just barely.

  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Watched on: 2nd Mar 2019
  • Watched at: Netflix
  • 2.5/5

 

Kauppakadun elokuvafestivaalit VII – Kauhujen yö

This was my first invitation to a semi-regular privately held one day film festival in Jyväskylä. The subject matter was horror.

The Iron Rose [1973]

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The festival started of with this cult classic by Jean Rollin. A boy and a girl meet, spend time, go to a cemetery, end up making love in an open mausoleum and find themselves locked in the cemetery.

The plot is largely inconsequential. Mostly the film is about mood. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful outside the cemetery and especially inside it. Originally the girl is afraid, but at some point the roles start to turn around as it seems the girl is starting to be overcome by something residing in the cemetery.

There is some campy elements, but quite low level – a creepy clown and a dracula make an appearance just to disappear again and the girl’s shirt becomes more and more torn as the film progresses making sure to reveal bouncy breasts.

Not a masterpiece of cinema, but worth it for the beauty and atmosphere alone.

  • Director: Jean Rollin
  • Original Title: La rose de fer
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 3.5/5

The Old Dark House [1932]

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This is probably the prototype for all later creepy house horror films. It’s a part of the Universal Studios pre-Hays code era horror films.

There’s a couple arriving at a house seeking shelter from a storm. The door is opened by a wolfish butler and the rest of the family is equally peculiar. There’s another couple that end up seeking shelter as well. Initially all seems well regardless of the hosts, but obviously things slowly degrade.

The acting is quite melodramatic, but otherwise the piece has aged well and proves to be truly prophetical in creating the tropes of the genre.

  • Director: James Whale
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 4/5

The Fall of the House of Usher [1928]

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The first of two films from 1928 based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. Epstein’s film is the more realistic of the two, although still quite far from realistic film. The poem tells the story of the house of Usher, that seems to be cursed. There’s a man obsessively painting a picture of a woman, who is slowly wasting away and the house itself seems haunted by the death that is coming.

The film loans heavily from the German expressionist film making tradition and Epstein’s surrealist tendencies are clearly visible. The settings are built for atmosphere and shadows are almost as important a part of the mise-en-scene as are the sparse objects in the great hall of the manor. There is an obsession in the inhabitants of the manor, and the outsider invited there is barely a co-witness of the events with the audience.

The atmosphere and pull of the film are amazingly strong and the barely hour long film flew by despite having no sound or music.

  • Director: Jean Epstein
  • Original Title: La chute de la maison Usher
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 4.5/5

The Fall of the House of Usher [1928]

the_fall_of_the_house_of_usher_watson

The second film adaptation of the same poem from 1928. Apparently James Sibley Watson made just a couple of films in his life and they were more of a hobby than a profession for him… which is sad, since the I can only imagine at the results, if he’d put more of himself into the profession of film making based on this result.

The film is strongly surrealist and experimental. I probably would’ve had great difficulty in following the events, if I had not just seen a more tangible rendering of the same poem on film. The famous experimental film makers were still decades away and Sibley produced this as a hobby – truly amazing.

  • Director: James Sibley Watson, Melville Webber
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 4.5/5

Pulse [2001]

pulse

One of the first films of the Japanese horror film boom of the early millennium predating films like Ring. Instead of going for plain scares, the film builds an atmosphere of loneliness. Whatever is affecting the victims of the ghost in the Internet, or whatever it is, seems to actually be releasing them from their loneliness and leaving people left behind even more alone. The Tokyo rendered in the film is not your usual Tokyo – there’s no endless crowds and cramped spaces, but instead there’s almost no people anywhere and the whole place seems to be slowly decaying. The film alternates between great scenes and the almost aimlessly progressing plot.

  • Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • Original Title: Kairo
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 3/5

Dead of Night – The Ventriloquist’s Dummy [1945]

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Dead of Night is an anthology film containing several short film segments and a framing setup that binds the individual segments together. We watched only the segment called The Ventriloquist’s Dummy by Alberto Cavalcanti. This seems to be yet another prototypical piece of horror film making. The dummies of ventriloquists have since become a horror staple, but this was the first one. I have to believe our host’s word on it, but apparently the other pieces of the anthology are quite unoriginal and bad. On his word about this piece being very much worth the time, I agree.

  • Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 3.5/5

Viy [1967]

viy

Yet another film worth seeing if for nothing else, then for its unique place in film history. The film is said to be the only horror film to come out of the Soviet Union. The film was produced and, it is commonly believed, also directed by Aleksandr Ptushko, who was famous for his special effects already before this. The film is based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story of the same name.

The plot follows a couple of seminarians. A witch tries to kill one of them and ends up being killed instead. The seminarian is afterwards forced to say prayers next to the dead witch (now turned into a beautiful woman) inside a locked up barn for three nights. Not much to the story and the film itself is not too scary, but the effects are quite amazing. They’ve been described as infantile and clumsy elsewhere, but I would rank them higher than anything the western world was producing at the time.

Not the strongest film of the festival but surely the biggest jaw dropper.

  • Director: Konstantin Ershov, Georgiy Kropachyov
  • Original Title: La rose de fer
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 4/5

The House That Screamed [1969]

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And finally the festival closes with another cult classic. The film tells the story of a girl’s boarding school in early 20th century Spain. The setting has obvious camp potential, but it is kept in check. Instead, the film goes for suffocating repression in everything. The sexual tension is there as is the seeds of rebellion and some voyeurs, but nothing seems to ever resolve into a traditional payoff… except that the girls do keep dying. A masterful exercise. It’s said to have had a big influence on Dario Argento’s Suspiria and I can readily buy into that, but whereas Suspiria holds nothing back, this reels everything in.

  • Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
  • Original Title: La residencia
  • Watched on: 24th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: private festival
  • 3.5/5

DocPoint 2018

docpoint_2018

The 2018 edition of DocPoint. I haven’t visited the festival that often. This time around I planned on one day of attendance, but ended up seeing two extra films on two extra days due to unplanned extra time. My understanding of the documentary film is so weak that it is difficult to pick films from a festival catalog and that’s reflected in the overall average quality of the films I ended up seeing.

The Goddesses of Food [2016]

the_goddesses_of_food

A documentary about female top chefs and the reasons, why they are underappreciated compared to their male colleagues. The documentary does not have any ambitions as to artistic vision. Even as a strictly informative documentary, it is lacking – the information provided seems quite random. It does convey the single fact that there are females working on the highest level of the profession and it does convey some mouth watering images of food, but that’s unfortunately about it.

  • Director: Vérane Frédiani
  • Original Title: Á la recherche des femmes chefs
  • Watched on: 31st Jan 2018
  • Watched at: Andorra
  • 2.5/5

Let There Be Light [2017]

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A documentary about the building of the ITER fusion reactor in France and several other projects to research and build fusion reactors. Besides a few wonderful images about the reactors, the film is a series of talking heads or cameras placed in conference rooms and labs.

The documentary side is a bit here and there. There’s quite a bit of information about the building of ITER and about the competing designs being built with smaller funding around the world. What the film lacks is information about, why ITER hasn’t progressed as expected and why fusion reactors have been 50 years away for almost the past 50 years. The film also steers into questionable science territory with a couple of the alternative fusion projects without questioning that alternative science one bit. Then again, at least one of those alternative projects is obviously ridiculous to anyone with a bit of scientific understanding, but that project receives quite a bit of questionable screen time. The film did fill me with a hope for a technocratic wet dream of fusion energy, which would solve the current energy and climate crisis.

  • Director: Mila Aung-Thwin, Van Royko
  • Watched on: 1st Feb 2018
  • Watched at: Andorra
  • 3/5

Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made [1994]

tigrero

A documentary about a film that Samuel Fuller was planning to film in the Brazilian rain forests among the Karajá indians. The production had acquired John Wayne, Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power for the main roles, but was finally scrapped due to prohibitively high insurance costs for the stars.

The documentary is not really a traditional documentary and more a dream like road trip into memories. Jim Jarmusch joins Fuller for their return to the jungle and to the Karajás 40 years after Fuller’s first trip. The stars and the crew spent 7 days in the jungle interviewing the Karajás and each other, and following the life of the Karajás.

On one level of the documentary, is the failed film production. It provides an interesting glimpse into the golden era of Hollywood albeit through an unreliable conduit in Fuller – he has always been a bit too much in love with himself for me to trust the stories that put him in a prettier light than anyone else appearing in those stories. They are entertaining though.

On one level there’s the change that the Karajás have seen around them. Modernity has reached the tribe and their traditional living space is diminishing by the year. This is sad, but it’s a miracle that the village and some of their traditions have survived at all, as Fuller astutely notes.

On a final level, there’s Jarmusch and Fuller talking about film making, Jarmusch mostly asking questions and Fuller rambling on. At this point Fuller is an old man, who has pretty much given up on everything and doesn’t bother trying to make sense most of the time and his ramblings turn incomprehensible a bit too often. It is, however, a very interesting look into Fuller during his final years. A couple of years later he was dead. Here he got what might’ve been his last shot at openly and without anyone questioning his choices, to paint a picture of himself. As mentioned, he is a bit too much in love with himself. Besides that, there’s bitterness in the industry and the audiences not recognizing his genius. As a final note, regardless of these problems, he is a big humanist and a kind person, when he is not railing against the film industry.

The documentary as a whole is far from a series of talking heads. The film takes on a dream like quality and seems like a road trip into memories and into concrete changes in the world. As such, it is an interesting piece of film making as a film as well, and not just as a documentary.

  • Director: Mika Kaurismäki
  • Watched on: 1st Feb 2018
  • Watched at: Andorra
  • 4/5

The Final Year [2017]

the_final_year

A documentary about the final year of presidency of Barrack Obama. The director, Greg Barker, followed Obama almost everywhere during Obama’s last year as the POTUS. This is an obviously interesting premise, but the result is problematic. Barker wasn’t allowed access everywhere, but the final cut of the film glosses over this completely – we have no idea, when the access was limited and what was left out. Also, despite the film’s focus being on Obama’s foreign policy and his foreign policy team, the film doesn’t cover the difficult questions. We get a few bits of Obama feeling sorry for himself for misjudging the audacity of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, and we get a couple of sound bites about Iran, but that’s pretty much it. Nothing about the increase in assassinations and drone use under Obama. Nothing about the failures of the Arab spring that happened under Obama’s watch. Also, the film is lacking all artistic ambitions, so we get a series of talking heads that do shine a light on an interesting thing, but completely fail to inform us, what the light is avoiding or where it is blocked.

  • Director: Greg Barker
  • Watched on: 1st Feb 2018
  • Watched at: Kinopalatsi 2
  • 3/5

Dreaming Murakami [2017]

dreaming_murakami

A documentary about Mette Holm, the Danish translator of Haruki Murakami’s novels. I went to see the film, since I am a fan of Murakami. The documentary follows Holm pondering about words, the feelings of sentences and how those are difficult to carry over, the vague interpretations possible in the original text and impossible to carry over into the translated text. I’m not enough of a language nerd to fully appreciate this, but it does provide an interesting glimpse into a world that I was mostly unaware of before the film. The film aims for a decidedly Murakamian pacing and atmosphere and achieves that pretty nicely, which is probably the film’s biggest merit. I’m not sure, how I feel about the giant frog that has been inserted probably in order to point towards the fantastic elements of Murakami’s novels – I get the reference and that alone provides some strength to the element, but it feels more distracting and out of place than anything else.

  • Director: Nitesh Anjaan
  • Watched on: 4th Feb 2018
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 3/5

 

 

Multimodality

I’ve been consuming surprisingly many pieces work in the original and an adapted format recently. Here’s the reviews.

Lucifer – the Comic

lucifer_comic

The comic picks up the character of Lucifer from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and tells his story. The story plots his course rebelling against God in modern times. It starts by Lucifer leaving hell, since he doesn’t care about being his father’s puppet anymore.

I picked up the comic, because of Neil Gaiman and Sandman. There are definitely influences here, but Lucifer never flies in the same league. The ideas are not as surprising, the plots are not as devious, the characters are not as juicy.

The one point, where Lucifer can stand tall next to Sandman, is the art. Sandman suffered from slightly lackluster art for the first few trade paperback collection, but Lucifer has high quality on that front from the start.

This is a nice comic regardless. Again the flaws seem prominent only, because the point of comparison is so high. If you are interested in plays on the pop culture Christian mythology, this one certainly offers something new.

  • Title: Lucifer
  • Author: Mike Carey
  • Year: 2000-2006
  • Finished in: 25th Dec 2017
  • 3/5

Lucifer seasons 1 & 2 – the Series

lucifer_series

I picked up on the series, because some people, who were high on the comic, kept recommending it to me. It is supposedly based on the comic, the premise is certainly the same – Lucifer is done with being God’s puppet and leaves hell to strike out on his own in Los Angeles. There the similarities end. In the series we follow Lucifer through a path of self discovery as he fights crime as a consultant for the police. The fighting against God bit is restricted to occasional outbursts against his controlling dad.

The series could be interesting from this starting point, but execution lacks. Lucifer is a narcissistic and egoistic caricature built for cheap gags and nothing more. The individual episodes never offer anything interesting and the overall story arcs are inane and boring.

I should’ve quit after a couple of episodes, but it took me a couple of episodes into season 3, before I finally gave up. It’s like Buffy without the charisma and serious topics – what you have left is the case of the week.

  • Finished on: 17th Feb 2019
  • 1/5

Gone Girl [2014]  – the Film

gone_girl

The story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). They are a seemingly perfect couple – stylish, witty, beautiful, smart – but that is only a carefully constructed surface. Nick is out of a job and living on Amy’s trust fund money and he is having an affair, and Amy has just gone missing. The film follows the investigation into Amy’s disappearance. The story slowly reveals various secrets – the marriage hasn’t been happy in a long time, Nick is having an affair, Amy staged her own disappearance to look like Nick murdered her, she did it as revenge for the affair…

David Fincher is not at his best, but this is still guaranteed Fincher quality. The film is, if nothing else, rigorous. It reveals everything bit by bit, always grabbing the viewer’s interest back just, when it looks like the plot is not going anywhere. There are two major twists – one was revealed above, that Amy is still alive and hasn’t actually been kidnapped, and a second one in the end. Neither is being hidden too much and especially the latter one is clear long before it actually happens, but the interesting bit with the twists is not themselves, but the reasons behind them and what happens next.

There’s nothing wrong here, but there is nothing exceptionally right either. Fincher goes into Michael Haneke territory here, with the calculated control, but he lags far behind with the uninteresting mise-en-scéne. He used to be one of the more interesting directors coming out of the US, but it seems that Hollywood has gotten to him and although parts of his style is still visible, his ideas have been replaced by Hollywood design by committee scripts.

  • Director: David Fincher
  • Watched on: 8th Sep 2018
  • Watched at: Home (Sub)
  • 2.5/5

Gone Girl – the Novel

gone_girl_novel

The film seemed like there was unrealized potential just below the surface, so I picked up the novel to see, if that potential was lost in translation. Long story short: it wasn’t.

The novel reads like a film script from the start, and it reads like a script written for David Fincher. Maybe the goal was Michael Haneke, but it falls short. Nevertheless, reading the novel or seeing the film is enough, no need to do both, since the film is an almost exact replica of the novel. Towards the ends a few details have been moved around and changed a bit, but anything essential is neither lost nor gained. My rating for the novel is slightly less than for the film, since the novel attempts to be a film script and loses something of the possibilities of the novel format due to that.

  • Title: Gone Girl
  • Author: Gillian Flynn
  • Year: 2012
  • Finished in: 19th Oct 2018
  • 2/5

Under the Skin – the Novel

under_the_skin_novel

The film was one of the most pleasant and surprising experiences I’ve ever had with films. I knew practically nothing about it going to the screening, and it completely blew me away. Definitely one of the best films of the millennium, maybe even the best. It horrified me to no end, without being a horror film, and it told of something essential in the human nature, that I hadn’t realized or experienced in quite this way ever before.

I didn’t realize, at the time, that it was a novel adaptation. When I did, I had to pick up the novel to see, if I could find another similar experience. Nope, nothing of the sort found here. The film takes only the premise from the novel, but heavily adapts pretty much everything. Not sure, if from necessity, since the budget was practically non-existent, or if it just sparked some ideas that were better than what the novel contains.

In the novel, we follow some… thing, that appears close to human at first. She goes around in her near broken down car picking up hitchhiking men for some sinister purpose. This is as far as the similarities between the film and the novel go. I’m not going to reveal more about the film, since it is an exceptional piece of work that heavily relies on not knowing anything about it beforehand. The novel goes on to slowly reveal, that the protagonist is not actually human and that the men she picks up, end up as fodder for the aliens. The aliens are a species that lives mostly underground, but the elite of that species have developed a taste for human meat, so some of the species have to go above-ground and hunt for this valuable food stuff. The protagonist has gone through extensive surgical procedures to appear more human. The novel proceed to delve into this alien culture and the ethical justification for the hunting of humans.

Unfortunately after the first third of the novel, it loses any tension. Too much is revealed and the alien culture and the characters drawing from it are just not interesting. Their differences are too big that the presumable tense ethical dilemmas seem like badly drawn caricatures and fail to touch on the reader’s emotions.

  • Title: Under the Skin
  • Author: Michel Faber
  • Year: 2000
  • Finished in: 16th Sep 2018
  • 1.5/5

Altered Carbon season 1 – the Series

altered_carbon_series

There’s never too much high quality cyberpunk / post human sci-fi in the world. This is a pretty run of the mill neo noir story of a detective going after a complicated case. We get all the trappings of both noir detective stories and cyberpunk sci-fi – it is the execution, where this excels.

Sci-fi these days tends to be self indulgent presentation of mind-tickling ideas, but no emotional connection – a tour of “hey, look how neat the future could be” moments, where the characters and story are just an excuse to go on the tour. That’s interesting in itself, but without interesting characters and plot, the whole falls quite flat.

Film noir on the other hand, has always been about strong characters and sort of fantasy – the viewer needs to buy into the characters acting the way they do, but after that one required step taken by the audience, the fantasy pretty much automatically provides emotionally gripping stories.

The combination seems like a match made in heaven. This is by far not the first time the combination has been made, so no points for originality. This also does not rise above the combination to produce singularly spectacular art, so no points for that either. It is just a really well executed version of this with good characters, good plot, nice ideas, and good enough production team to execute all of it well down to the last detail. The result is an excellent piece of entertainment.

  • Finished on: 24th Aug 2018
  • 3.5/5

Altered Carbon – the Novel

altered_carbon_novel

Similarly to the Gone Girl novel and film, the novel and adapted TV series are very close to each other. Differently from the Gone Girl case, the novel doesn’t attempt to be a script, and here both the novel and series are actually entertaining in themselves instead of being slightly interesting film school exercises in plot control.

Not much new to say, except that Morgan has a way with words that pulls you in, like a good novel should. Despite having seen the series before reading the novel, the novel evokes new images and atmospheres. Not high art, but very good execution.

  • Title: Altered Carbon
  • Author: Richard K. Morgan
  • Year: 2002
  • Finished in: 17th Mar 2019
  • 3.5/5

A Couple of Star Wars

As a kid Star Wars was my absolute favorite film franchise. I liked even the ewoks. Then the prequel trilogy came out. I spent a night camping in a queue in front of the cinema in order to secure tickets for the opening night of Episode I, which was actually a really good and fun experience – the camping, not the film. The film was so bad that it started my journey towards critical thinking about films and to expand my viewing experience beyond Hollywood blockbuster films. I was already a fan of film, but the films I was seeing consisted of the biggest productions the local multiplex was screening, that is, Hollywood blockbusters, but after Episode I, I was starting to take a more critical look at them. It took a further 5 years, before I attended my first Rakkautta & Anarkiaa film festival in Helsinki, which was the point, when my journey was complete – well, in the sense that the world of cinema had finally opened up to me and that Hollywood occasionally produces something of worth, but is mostly an industry that produces money instead of art. The journey has only strengthened my love of films and I expect it will continue to do so until the day I die. Luckily, my childhood love of the Star Wars wasn’t completely ruined – Episode V is still one of the best adventure films ever made.

The world and the memories of seeing the films for the first time as a child keep me coming back, so here’s a couple of recent Star Wars experiences.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi [2017]

star_wars_8

The middle installment of the sequel trilogy that sees the First Order, that has risen out of the ashes of the Empire, continue their pursuit of the Resistance forces in order to stamp them out of existence and assume control of the galaxy.

This time around the First Order finds the Resistance and tracks them through various hyper space jumps whittling away the Resistance forces slowly. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) end up killing supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). They try to tempt each other to join the other side and fail. Kylo assumes leadership of the First Order. Rey also visits Luke (Mark Hamill) to entice him back to the Resistance. Luke joins remotely for the confrontation that is meant to be Kylo Ren stamping out the rest of the Resistance and buys enough time for the last handful of rebels to escape. Luke is now spent and joins the Force.

There was a lot of praise about the film – about going against the traditions of the universe and of the films. I don’t see it. Big pieces fall, others rise to step in their place. Some of the good guys think that everything about the Force is bad, but eventually there needs to be good guys with the Force to balance out the bad guys with Force powers. The galaxy continues to feel like a one star system at best – there are situations, where minutes count, and people leave for the other side of the galaxy to find help. It’s not as prominent as in Episode VII, most likely due to J. J. Abrams not being at the helm, but the feeling is still there.

Despite all the failings, the new Disney era of Star Wars is much brighter than the prequel era was on average is even better than the original trilogy. Getting rid of George Lucas’ singular vision has enabled other people to contribute and things seem slightly more varied. There’s again beautifully staged fights. People have enough experience with excessive CGI that they actually know how to shoot CGI scenes in an interesting way. There so much money and skilled people working on the films and Disney in the background making sure that they don’t end up failures, that they actually succeed in being good swashbuckling entertainment with even the occasional touching or dramatically tense moment. Significant films in any way they are not.

  • Director: Rian Johnson
  • Watched on: 18th Dec 2017
  • Watched at: Kinopalatsi 1
  • 3/5

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace [1999]

star_wars_1

The Finnish TV broadcasts most of the films starting at 9PM. These days, it takes me special effort to stay awake until the end of those films. The thing that puzzles me most, now that I’m writing this review about a year and a half after watching this film, is, why oh why did I stay up for this?

This is by pretty much any definition one of the worst films ever made. The technological advances are undeniable and with the amount of money poured into the film, the overall production quality can’t be bad, but nothing else works.

The story is infantile, the character direction destroys a cadre of actors, who’ve proven to be excellent, the dialogue is beyond bad, the pacing of the film is just awful, the characters built with CGI are completely useless, the camera use, shot setup, scene composition are some of the most boring I’ve ever seen, and finally, the thing that bugs me maybe the most, is that since in most scenes the actors have no idea what there is supposed to be around them and since George Lucas can’t direct to save his life, the actors seem to be completely lost – they either look at the wrong place, their reactions don’t match with the CGI elements, or they very carefully avoid looking at anything else than the other actors in the scene.

Star Wars was made great by daring adventure, pop culture philosophy and visually stunning action scenes. What we have now is eye popping CGI used to build the most visually boring scenes, action that is mostly shot from a distance or with the camera rigidly at character eye level, action, where there is absolutely no tension, since the opposition is mostly brainless robots that are killed by the dozen every second, philosophy explained into technology and biology and stripped of any evocative power, and adventure replaced by boring politics, where decor holds the day and no one has any character to speak of.

Oh god.

  • Director: George Lucas
  • Watched on: 27th Jan 2018
  • Watched at: Home (Nelonen)
  • 0/5

Trilogy of the Dead Minus One

Another happy accident – I’d never seen the films of the Trilogy of the Dead by George A. Romero, but then I had the opportunity to see all of them in quick succession. Unfortunately I missed the second installment due to daddy syndrome – a private film festival ran by my friend was running into the wee hours and I just couldn’t stay up, so I only saw the last and then the first piece.

Day of the Dead [1985]

day_of_the_dead

The film starts the usual way – the world has been overrun and we are introduced to a bunch of survivors. They are living in an underground bunker trying to stay alive, study the undead to control or to cure them, and even occasionally plot a break out to some probably non-existent safe haven.

The film already has all the tropes of the later zombie films and series. People are more dangerous than the zombies, military is down right stupid most of the time, zombies are there just to make mistakes costly, only the righteous ones survive, there’s always one human, who is bitten, and kept alive for sentimental reasons, until the turning happens and there’s a short lived chaos, where some more people lose their lives and the people keeping that one person alive are later blamed and maybe even executed.

The films isn’t good – all the living humans are caricatures (a butcher of scientist completely removed from reality, a nazi of a military commander threatening all of the other people and especially the scientists, because military never understand science) and plot plods through its twists and turns as a farce.

There’s an occasional laugh, but overall there is no drama, there is no connection to the people and their plight, there’s no social commentary, there’s basically nothing, but brainless zombie picking the even more stupid survivors of one by one. Basically the only interesting bit was seeing that this, a very early zombie film, already has all the tropes that have defined the later efforts.

  • Director: George A. Romero
  • Watched on: 22nd Nov 2017
  • Watched at: Kinopalatsi 9 – Night Visions
  • 1.5/5

Night of the Living Dead [1968]

night_of_the_living_dead

The films starts the usual way – nothing is wrong, when suddenly we see our first zombie amble out and in a few moments there seem to be endless amounts of them. The film tracks a couple of people, who run for safety into the same building, where the people’s personalities and their various ideas about survival cause conflict. One plan is finally enacted, which obviously goes wrong and gets people killed. There’s one bitten child, who turns and kills one of the survivors, another goes into a rage and is put down. We are finally all the way down to one guy and the next morning it seems that he has survived and the audience can have something to cheer about, before he is accidentally shot as a zombie by a member of a mop up crew that is going through the area killing the zombies.

The difference between this and the later Day of the Dead, is that this film has idea. The budget is much smaller and the zombies much less zombie like relying mostly on being in the shadows and the audience imagination filling in the gaps. But you barely notice that, since this is so much better as a film.

There’s a couple of assholes, but even they feel human and all the rest you care about. There’s a hero, whose death is actually tragic. You care even about the couple, who are stupidly keeping their bitten child around and end up dead, because of that.

Caring about the people makes the situation seem actually tense. Caring about the people gives a few of the deaths genuine shock value. Caring about the people makes you sit on the edge of your seat and hope for the best and scream in frustration, when things don’t go their way.

I saw this only after Day of the Dead and most of the tropes I was delighted to see in Day of the Dead are already present here. It tells you something about the ingenuity of the film, when it seems that the whole genre that was defined by this film, has been completely unable to evolve anywhere ever since.

  • Director: George A. Romero
  • Watched on: 15th Mar 2018
  • Watched at: Orion
  • 4.5/5