Random Films on TV

The Bourne Ultimatum [2007]

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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]

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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

 

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Blade Runner x 4

Blade Runner has been my favorite film since forever. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, but it still reveals something worthwhile every time I see it.

Blade Runner 2049 [2017]

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Of course I had to see this. It takes the franchise 30 years forward into 2049 and tells of a limited life replicant K (Ryan Gosling), who works as a Blade Runner, hunting down replicants without life limits from an earlier generation. He finds hints that replicants have been procreating by themselves. This is a revelation that his boss, Joshi (Robin Wright) does not want to get out, so K is sent to shut it down. K himself wants to be the baby of replicants, because it would mean he has a soul. Then there’s Niander Wallace (Jared Leto – basically Dr. Eldon Tyrell from the original film), who sends his proxy after the same finding in order to recover the secret for his own purposes of building ever more replicants.

There is the usual sequel syndrome – everything has to be bigger and prettier. It certainly is, but it is so much bigger, that the claustrophobic noir of the original could not be repeated in this setting. More of the world is revealed, more of the unspoken laws governing the world are revealed, and this is all interesting, but what is most important is that the film does not betray the original. This is a lesser film, but the universe isn’t ruined, and the value of the original is unchanged.

Instead of a small, personal drama, with social issues functioning as a background of the story, this reverses the situation and plays the social issues up front while leaving the personal side into a smaller role. There’s less layers. There’s less ideas. There’s a more upfront detective story with multiple stake holders that takes center stage, where the detective parts in the original were just a setup for everything else.

  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Watched on: 28th Oct 2017
  • Watched at: Tennispalatsi 9
  • 3.5/5

Blade Runner [1982]

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So couple of months after I saw the fresh installment, I saw the original film for the first time in a theater. Nothing much to add at this point – I probably have raised the film onto such a high pedestal on my mind, that I couldn’t be objective about it, if I tried. The rain, the personas, the origamis, the hints and clues, the smoke and water, the drama, the vistas, the world… It just keeps working and it was better than ever on the silver screen.

There is an issue that is starting to tick me – the way Deckard (Harrison Ford) approaches the romance between him and Rachael (Sean Young). There are a couple of scenes that would constitute sexual assault and the “funny” thing is, Harrison Ford repeats those same scenes the exact same way in at least one Indiana Jones film.

Nevertheless, the best film ever made.

  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Watched on: 25th Jan 2018
  • Watched at: Riviera Kallio
  • 6/5

…And the Repeats

About a month ago I saw Blade Runner 2049 again. This time suffering from engine noise and a small screen as I was watching it from an airplane entertainment system. I have to say, that the film suffers from this. It is a piece of work heavily dependent on things looking and sounding good. Once rid of that, the thin story reveals itself. It is still not a bad film, but it certainly needs the appropriate surroundings for watching it.

Finally, a couple of days ago I saw one of the Blade Runner versions that has Harrison Ford explaining things in voice over. Not sure, exactly which version this was. I’ve seen a similar version at some point probably around 25 years ago, so I had forgotten most of it. Oh boy, does the voice over do bad things for the film. The director’s cut is ambiguous in pretty everything that happens in the film and has layers upon layers of discoveries to be made. The voice over strips everything away and pares it down to simple and straightforward story that goes from point A to point B without anything to ponder about. Everything loses its power. Do not, I repeat, do not watch the versions of the film containing the voice over.

The Alien Prequels

So Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Both of them are part of the same prequel story for the older Alien films. Prometheus came out five years ago and is the butt of many jokes about bad films these days. It deserves every bit of bile directed at it. It is that bad. Everybody thought that that branch of the Alien universe was dead, but then came out Alien: Covenant.

The main events of Alien: Covenant happen after the events of Prometheus, but there’s a short opening sequence that happens before the events of Prometheus. That is, you need to see Prometheus in order to understand the events of Alien: Covenant, but then again, the opening sequence of Alien: Covenant makes Prometheus more understandable. The exchange is not equal though. Alien: Covenant is a film set in a universe and you have to be aware of other works in the same universe to understand it fully. Once you do, Alien: Covenant is a decent film. Prometheus is kind of the same, except for two things – a film that came out 5 years after Prometheus, is necessary watching to understand even a bit of Prometheus; and even if you watch every other film in the Alien franchise, Prometheus is still an utterly crappy film.

I went to see Alien: Covenant, because it was the only film I had not seen that was still playing in Kino Sheryl, when I heard Kino Sheryl was closing down. At that point my memory of Prometheus was fragmentary at best, but sufficient to place Alien: Covenant in its correct place. Nevertheless, I had to re-watch Prometheus in order to figure out the whole plot so far.

Anyway, now for the reviews…

Alien: Covenant [2017]

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This is traditional Alien film in that there’s a space ship flying through space, when it suddenly encounters an extraordinary situation and then the actual film is about resolving said situation. It is not traditional in that it doesn’t hold much suspense, and the iconic monster doesn’t really make an appearance – well, some proto-version does, so I guess it counts.

Here, the space ship is a colony ship built by a religious order to (I presume) escape persecution and find more peaceful life somewhere else. The extraordinary situation is a storm in space that damages their ship, and a distress signal from a nearby planet that doesn’t appear on any star maps, but seems to be perfectly habitable. The plot is simple, let’s investigate and then try to survive whatever alienesque horror is unleashed.

That’s the plot of the individual film. As a part of the Alien franchise, this tells of David, the first android, and of birth of the alien menace. I assume there’ll still be more films in this vein, since although this answers more questions than it asks (it covers a bit for Prometheus), it still leaves a bunch things open. But we finally get answers about David. He was the first android and he revealed flaws that caused design changes to later androids. He has more freedom of thought, although creation is still denied to him. His freedom of thought brings him to despise humanity, and the denial of creation brings him to hate humanity. David spends his time trying to circumvent the prohibition to create, and attempts to create the perfect predator to kill all of humanity – that is, it seems he created the eponymous aliens of the film franchise.

In Prometheus we had a David that was seemingly played like a traditional badly design bad guy – he does evil things, because he is inherently evil. Now we finally have background for David – why is he like he is. Too bad the reason came 5 years after Prometheus, as David in Prometheus is an entirely different beast as in Alien: Covenant. I bet Fassbender needed to know the origins of his character to play it believably. In Alien: Covenant Fassbender is chillingly excellent. Besides David, he plays Walter, that is a later model that has more restrictions. Usually CGI trickery to get two character played by one actor on screen at one time is an excellent way to ruin scenes and even whole films, but here the opposite is achieved – Fassbender is absolutely on fire playing against himself.

Anyways, after 5 years of waiting, we get a few answers to the questions posed by Prometheus, and we get an altogether decent film with a major performance by Michael Fassbender. More than enough reasons right there to go see this.

  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Watched on: 9th Jun 2017
  • Watched at: Kino Sheryl
  • 3/5

Prometheus [2012]

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One of the more inscrutable bits of Prometheus for me originally was David – why was he played like that, why did he act like that, did someone actually program malice into him, or what’s going on? The problem with that version of David was that Fassbender clearly had no idea about any of the reasons either. The malice of David in Prometheus is flat and boring. It still is, although we finally have an explanation to where it comes from.

Unfortunately, that does little to save the rest of the film. This is still 2 hours of compressed stupidity. I usually try to avoid taking note of consistency errors in films, as that’s boring – it usually does not make or break a film, but here there’s errors that are so blatantly stupid, that they alone would be enough to break the film. Luckily, they are buried under a bunch of other impeccably awful stuff. Performances, the precursor aliens, dialogue, plot… It was difficult to even pick a screenshot from the film, as it does not contain a single memorable sequence.

Before Alien: Covenant, there was no reason whatsoever for anyone to see this film. Now, almost unfortunately, we have a decent film in the Alien prequel film sequence. This is necessary viewing, in order to get everything out of Alien: Covenant, and that’s the only reason for anyone to watch this ever. If you are not a fan of the franchise, avoid this at all cost.

  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Watched on: 28th Jun 2017
  • Watched at: Riviera Kallio
  • 1/5