Jul 292007

“Dude, you just gave a Michael Bay movie four stars!”

Sue me, I did.

The Transformers movie continues the surprisingly successful series of pleasant summer movies (of which the less than optimal third installments of the Spiderman and Pirates franchises have no piece).

Indeed, I’m pretty much the least optimal customer of the movie. I have no fond recollections of the toys and original cartoon-series at all (being from a satellite-dish-free home), and thus immune to the nostalgia-factor.

The film succeeds on many fronts. Of which the plot is not among the top, that must be stated immediately. But the plot is not really the main thing in a movie that concentrates on gigantic robots that can pretend to be cars, is it?

The actors are surprisingly good. And consist pretty much of unknowns. And the most familiar faces, Jon Voight and John Turturro execute their parts as members of the government well. But it’s the new crowd that kicks down the fences and refuses to go quietly. Shia LeBeouf isn’t exactly the second coming of Tom Hanks that the industry hopes, but he’s likable as the loser that ends up with a transformer in his garage. Megan Fox emulates a young Jennifer Connelly effectively, but doesn’t have that much to do in the limited role. The second string is filled with actors familiar from decent television shows (Anthony Anderson from the Shield, Tom Lenk from Buffy, Josh Duhamel from Las Vegas), none of whom vomits on the carpet in their big Hollywood debut.

The human actors actually end up being head and shoulders above their mechanical equivalents. Though a credible explanation is given for their upgraded personalities, the autobots end up on the grating side. And surprisingly the nasty variants of the transformer are left empty-handed in the personality department – the chief badass Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is the only one who has been given any dialogue. And even that is not particularly good.

The pace is quick, very quick – the two and half hours pass by painlessly, though without the speed seeming artificial. Could it indeed be that Mr. Bay has found the golden gear inbetween hectic and slack?

The plot ranges from youthful suburbian angst to military-industrial conspiracies to big robots pummeling each other to bits. And while the last element is the main attraction for viewers, the rest are not just mandatory bits inbetween the fight scenes. No, the humorous bits of dialogue are actually pretty decently written, the military set pieces in Qatar showcase hardware very well and altogether the film successfully covers a surprisingly number of spots. And the CGI on the robots doesn’t really leave anything to be desired – a lot of rendering CPU-years clearly went into constructing the frames.

Especially considering how unevent Bay’s previous work has been, I’d actually consider this to be the suprise hit of the summer. I ended up linking Transformers a lot more than I anticipated (prejudiced, definitely).

For old-skool Bay fanatics there’s still plenty of slow motion shots of people disembarking airplanes to dramatic music. And I’m sure that a lot of scenes ended up on cutting room floor, and as such at least a three-hour-plus edit will be pushed on dvd for christmas.

Jul 282007

Lego Star Wars was one of the sleeper hits of last year – a licensed game that actually captured something of the original.

And now the pact between LucasArts and Lego has been renewed. Actually twice. The first fruit is a game that covers both trilogies. But the far more interesting and important piece of news is the inception of Lego Indiana Jones. The game will debut next summer – likely to coincide with the release of the fourth Indy movie.

Jul 282007

August is knocking just around the corner, and the deep summer season has begun, symptoms:

  • Raspberry season has begun.
  • The annual Viivi ja Wagner compendium is out.
  • An oppressive knowledge of the vacation trailing off after next week creeps in.
  • It actually gets a bit dark after midnight.
  • Unlike last summer, the scenery remains pleasantly green all around – the irregular rains have taken care of that.
Jul 282007

Missed Pixar’s latest movie, Cars in the theatres last year, and had to resort to watching it on dvd.

It continues on the well-worn but pleasant trail blazed by previous movies: interesting cast of characters with quality voice acting, main storyline that concentrates on finding yourself and becoming true to friends, lots of intertextuality for adults and altogether excellent visuals.

Cars covers all these bases and remains a pleasant movie to watch – after all, anthropomorphized vehicles are not a subject that gets covered very often (and no, Transformers doesn’t really count).

But it’s not perfect, or even close. The issue of Providing Important Lessons seems a lot more prevalent than in previous Pixar productions, and that occasionally threatens to cross the borderline of annoyance.

That, obviously, is hardly criticism worth deduction of multiple stars. While the movie does not fire on all cylinders as previous Pixar fare has, it’s nonetheless a very enjoyable two hours.

Jul 272007

Photo Friday 2007-07-27:  LoudThis week’s photo friday challenge is loud.

My take on the subject is the attached image, from this year’s Tuska-festival in Helsinki. Where a second generation headbanger gets an early indoctrination into the loud world of metal, with appropriately powerful protection.

The image in full resolution is available by clicking the attached one, but do take note that this one is taken with a phone camera, and the image quality at 100% size is not that great.

Jul 272007

Watched Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together in Kino Engel’s outdoor cinema.

Nothing wrong with the place, apart from uncomfortable chairs. Screen’s not up to the full THX standard, but the lack of modern bells and whistles is part of the charm – especially when watching films that are in as bad shape as this one.

The movie itself was far more experimental than I thought. Both in theme and execution. And way too long-winded, several scenes just drag on and on without mercy on the poor viewer.

Jul 262007

Not scorchio, but warmThe warmest season is back again, after a few worrisomely lukewarm/rainy/cloudy days.

And what would be better use of the sunshine than to escape the raging roof replacement din to a grassy knoll to continue reading the last Harry Potter-installment, eat vast quantities of fresh raspberries and just lazily while away a more than decent summer vacation day.

Jul 262007

Batboy cover from weekly world newsWeekly World News, the sole source of truth / a joke long grown stale (overstrike as appropriate) is going to call it quits after 28 years of service.

I had no idea what the magazine was about when I first encountered it on the counter of 7-11 back in 1993. It was obvious that the stories were fake (Hubble had photographed heaven, a Challenger crewmember was picked up in Bermudas), but it wasn’t immediately apparent how deep the tongue was in the cheek.

Turned out that the answer was “very”, and I and a couple of Norwegian friends quickly developed an addiction to the magazine. After all, it’s not often that you see the suppressed news from such events as polar bears ruling the streets of Trondheim or unlucky skijumpers flying into the blades of a passing helicopter.

On first glance the tabloid seemed to hit all the bases with its weekly selection of made-up news, but after a couple of months our interest waned. Not to a point of completely dismissing the best headlines, but to the point where it was no longer mandatory to pick it up on a late night snack run every week.

I thought the magazine’s run had ended on the southern side of the millennium, and was pleasantly surprised to find it available at the Newark airport back in 2003. The content was still worth a chuckle or two, but hardly anything as groundbreaking as the first encounters. But ain’t it always so.

The magazine’s editors published an anthology of the best stories back in 2005, and there isn’t really any reason to expect an update after the tabloid finishes its run in august.

Jul 252007

Haagan Hakkapeliitat are ready for yet another year in the violent world of virtual NFL, and hungry for success after the lowly 7th spot last year.

The game’s not the same – the scoring (to which I seem to have lost the link momentarily) has been significantly altered: thrown touchdowns have been downgraded to four points from six, not so subtly pushing the message that non-quarterbacks ought to be drafted first. I’ll keep LaDainian Tomlinson on the 1st spot in the draft list, obviously, but am not so sure that Peyton Manning deserves the massive downgrading he’s been subjected to…

Jul 252007

Nope, still haven’t categorized all entries in the blog, but spent a rainy wednesday morning putting together a thingy that collects movie reviews on a single page, while at the same time providing access to a couple of useful sites per movie.

Yes, it’s heavily inspired by Jason Kottke’s similar page.

And no, obviously it’s not yet complete, the data’s been tagged up to december 2004. The rest is just another rainy day away.

Jul 242007

In the never-ending saga of making the blog better, a tiny slice at a time (this time a requested feature, thanks Juha): Reworked (pretty much rewrote) the RSS-creator-thingy to show the ten last entries whole (as opposed to just showing the first paragraphs of all entries).

Reports of gross misbehaviour taken at the usual address.

Also changed the favorite icon of the pages. In the utter absence of any idea for a proper logo, this collection of colored squared will have to suffice for a while.

Jul 242007

Richard Linklater‘s Fast Food Nation never made it to the big screen in Finland. As a non-practicing fanboy of the director, had to pick this one up on dvd.

It’s an odd movie – lots of disjoint plot threads that are executed side by side, without a satisfactory finale that ties the strings together in a neat knot. While based on Eric Schlosser’s book of the same name, it’s nowhere near as scary as the source. The new plot devices do add some drama to the movie, but they also violently dilute the main message: meat industry’s questionable practices. But without the Greg Kinnear-starring arc that ties the story together, this would have been without a guiding light at all.

The book beats the movie by sheer imagery – descriptions of spoiled meat-induced misery trumps Avril Lavigne as a budding eco-terrorist any day of the week. The cast is wide – but apart from a few actors the characters are seen just once or twice.

It’s not a bad film by any means, just one that tries to cover too many bases at once, and ends up uncomfortably spreadeagled inbetween.

Read the book – it’s far better than this mediocrity.

Jul 242007

Bought the seventh (and apparently last) Harry Potter book.

Purchase went unceremoniously, and there were absolutely no kids dressed up as Hogwarts’ finest on the premises.

Now – a spell for nice weather would be very much appreciated. I’d much prefer reading this baby outdoors.

Jul 242007

Dusk, just before the sun starts climbing up againSpent an extended weekend at my cousin’s place in Nivala.
Chilled out appropriately – with proper wood-stoved sauna every night and meals whose meat-index crosses ten. Altogether a pleasant visit, and it’s always a bonus to be able to catch up on family affairs in one go.

Took the train up north, and was once again impressed by the paperless web-ticketing offered by VR. A quiet car (as provided by Amtrak) would be a welcome invention in Finland as well, most travelers seem less than willing to cut down on their quality time on mobile phone (or to use the per-compartment sound-proofed booth). Train back to Helsinki was split into two parts, just like back in 2005. This time had a seat on the first batch of cars, luckily.

Rather mystifying is the fact that the ubiquitous info-screens in the trains are not put into much use at all, especially on the IC-trains they basically serve as placeholders for signs – considering the odd stops between stations and related deviations from schedule it would be good to know how late the vehicles actually are.

Ostrobothnian flatlands
Again forgot to use the camera much – the traditional midnight dusk is attached.

Jul 202007

Lazy cat #1

  • Cats sat: two.
  • Pages of Bone read: all 1344.
  • Conviction that Monocle is a worthy magazine: Yes.
  • Harry Potter books read: 0 (and my recollection of the Half-blood Prince‘s events are not exactly clear)
  • Old friends sighted in the ‘hood: 0.
  • Thoughts about work: fortunately very few and very far inbetween.
  • Television watched: Not at all (half of Catch-22 off a dvd doesn’t count).
  • Post-sauna chillouts: just 1 (tuesday was too nippy).

Lazy cat #2

Jul 162007

Two independently operating cats without much need of supervision, pleasant weather, stacks of books and magazines to read, opportunity for a sauna when I want, backyard to lounge around in.

Yeah, that fits the description of holiday pretty well.

Jul 162007

Metallica on stage

45000 fans can't all be wrongSaw Metallica yesterday in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium on their Sick of the Studio ’07 tour.

The concert was oddly devoid of any real surprises, the band catered for the fans by providing a greatest hits set. Without any new songs off the forthcoming album, nor any from the 2003 St. Anger.

All in all the song selection was very conservative – surprises confined to what was omitted rather than what was included. No Leaf Clover off S&M was a peculiar choice, as was the title track from … And Justice For All.

This was the first concert ever that had a dedicated shirt, a nice red/black-design with the herald of Helsinki on the front. A shirt which was sold out pretty much immediately at the stands inside.

Trash strewn on the path to the stadiumWhile the entry into the stadium was far less painful than back in 2004, the lines stretched long. This time I avoided cutting the line, and joined it pretty much where the tail end was, three years back. According to reliable reports, this was about as good as it got, since both before and afterwards the line had been snaking much longer, way much longer.

A bunch of anxious fans had camped out on the path, and the results of a three-day stay showed – garbage was everywhere, rained on and trampled into the ground.

Missed Diablo, the first warm-up act completely. HIM was plagued with less than optimal sound (at least near the stage), and an indifferent audience. Didn’t recognize any songs as being from the forthcoming Venus Doom album, but wasn’t really paying that much attention either.

Metalllica took the stage some ten minutes behind schedule, and played for good two and a half hours. As stated, the set list was very much on the predictable side, with a surprise or two thrown in for good measure (Four Horsemen, especially, was a good choice – but omission of For Whom the Bell Tolls really wasn’t).

Creeping Death
Four Horsemen
Ride the Lightning
Disposable Heroes
... And Justice for All
Memory Remains
No Leaf Clover
Fade to Black
Master of Puppets
Sad But True
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman
Am I Evil?
Seek & Destroy

A nostalgic selection indeed, without any indication of the style of the next album. But as long as the band keeps playing the likes of Orion and Creeping Death, I certainly will be back for more. And that’s probably what Rolling Stones’ fans are saying about Paint it Black and Satisfaction. Though Metallica is not yet on the same bandwagon as messieurs Jagger and Richards, they have been skirting the edge of being not much more than a classics-jukebox for the last three tours.

The raps between songs seemed pretty much routine, but the thanks given by all band members following the show were on the genuine side (and devoid of any “Heavy Metal Capital”-expressions so loved by the likes of Bruce Dickinson).

Jul 152007

The troubled Ayn Rand-movie is definitely Darren Aronofsky’s weirdest hour. And considering his earlier Pi, that’s saying quite a lot.

Didn’t catch this in the big screen, where a single copy spent something like a week of two in Finland, bought a dvd from Virgin in New York to ensure a timely viewing.

I’m not at all familiar with the original, and cannot thus comment on how the novel is captured on screen. As a movie the three-fold story is not that great – rambling, confusing and obscure to the point where pretty much the entire story needs to be tied together in the watcher’s head. Not your typical Hollywood-fare, that’s for sure – and the difficulty of the film wasn’t really rewarded neither in the box office where it bombed nor by the vast majority of critics.

It’s not a bad movie by any means, I just found it boring and even more worrisomely: completely detached emotionally – the characters plain did not work for me. But indeed, it’s not a bad movie at all, the underlying message of hope is understated and the chronologically disparate storylines are crafted with great visuals. Altogether it’s an experience so much on the odd side that it’s worth a shot.

Jul 142007
A small slice of Hannu Vallas air photo of Patvinsuo

Patvinsuo by Hannu Vallas

Noted that this summer’s outdoors photo exhibition at the old bus station was shut down earlier than scheduled.

Indeed, Hannu Vallas, the finnish equivalent of Yann Arthus-Bertrand (whose show I raved about back in 2004 and 2005), had two dozen or so images displayed, a lot of the selection taken from the archipelago.

Walked through the exhibition a couple of weeks back, and was impressed enough to consider buying Vallas’ book, after all, Arthus-Bertrand’s doesn’t have a single image from Finland in his sizable tome.