Jul 282013
 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo posterAs a card-carrying Fincher fanboy I was quite excited when he took on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

The original movie from 2009 was very good too, and I assumed that having higher production values would only improve things.

And that’s what happened. Version 2.0 of the novel looks great and the actors utilized are good across the board. The script is forced to omit elements, just like the original movie did. The choices are different, but here the flow of the film is a bit more natural.

One thing that surrealistically detracts from Fincher’s take is the language – for authenticity’s sake the lack of spoken swedish just stings.

Daniel Craig is good as Mikael Blomkvist, though on account of his pas I did expect him to whip out a nine millimeter gun and begin laying out the law on the wintry island.

Rooney Mara is good, but Noomi Rapace holds on to being the canonical Lisbeth Salander. Mainly on precedence, since Mara’s Salander is actually closer to the character in the books.

The movie’s score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, repeats their excellent performance from The Social Network. From the grindy rendition of Immigrant Song to the ambient sounds employed later the soundtrack just oozes quality.

The film brought in more than 100% over its budget, so the appearance of the two sequels should be a certainty. But so far nothing has been officially announced.

Feb 022013
 

X-Men: First Class posterAfter the quite disappointing Wolverine my hopes for First Class, a prequel to the original trilogy were rather tempered.

I turned out to be wrong, First Class turned out to be a good movie on its own and a return to the form in the franchise.

First Class is indeed a prequel – it is set in 1962, and it cover the inception of the superhero team known as X-Men.

Despite the era this is not a Mad Men / X-Men- mashup. Casual sex and smoking are not part of the plot.

And neither does the film have that much to do with the comic book origins of the group. This is a stealthy reboot, as most viewers (including me) had no real idea how the team got started.

But despite the rewritten plot strands, there’s plenty that’s familiar and expected: Magneto cannot be a good guy, Xavier needs to end up in a wheelchair and the seeds of distrust between mutants and humans need to be sowed.

First Class accomplishes those tasks, and plenty more. This is far more than Marvel history by the numbers.

A lot of the weight is borne by the leads in the cast, and both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender execute themselves well. But the cast is much larger – and a lot of characters barely have a blip on screen. One of those blips is the one of the greatest cameos ever – a totally unexpected visit by a short-tempered canadian mutant.

But it’s not perfect, far from it. The family relationship between Xavier and Mystique doesn’t work at all, and while Kevin Bacon puts on a nice display of villainship as Sebastian Shaw the character feels like a spare Bond supervillain.

But it’s a huge improvement over Wolverine’s solo movie, nonetheless.

Jan 202013
 

Trollhunter posterWhile I haven’t seen many movies since Elmo was born, the interval since the previous movie review is ridiculous.

So, let’s continue and hope for a tighter pacing in the future.

Like the preceding movie review, this is also of a norwegian film.

Though apart from a word in its title Trollhunter is quite far removed from Headhunters.

It’s yet another found footage film, firmly in the genre revived by Blair Witch Project a decade ago.

Though the movie is best seen without any knowledge of it, its name pretty much gives away the big plot device. Fortunately there’s significantly more to the script than just a reveal – there’s a real story that ties into the protagonists’ discovery of the hidden creatures.

The film is on the dour side, the story is definitely not played for laughs, and an undertone of a poorly hidden menace definitely colours the plot. But it’s not all serious either – there are a couple of great in-jokes (like the goat on the bridge) and the characters behave more or less rationally in the face of unknown and fear. In comparison to Rare Exports this is an adult film, not an elaborately jokey tale of heroics.

While the budget is nowhere near the biggest found footage films (like Cloverfield), the visuals are great. The trolls vary in shape, behaviour and especially size and are very impressively realized.

Heavily recommended – and I’ll certainly try to keep an eye out on whatever this crew tries next.

Jul 302012
 

HodejegerneJo Nesbø is a multi-talented man. In addition to his acclaimed Harry Hole series, he’s penned childrens’ books, recorded music and done some non-Harry thrillers.

Hidejegerne (headhunters) is one such book, and this film is a good version thereof.

The film concerns a top-level head-hunter who pads his income with meticulously planned art thefts. As expected, he’s soon embroiled in a complex case way over his head.

Aksel Hennie is very good as the napoleon complex-plagued protagonist, an eager beaver that ambles from one difficulty to another, before finally figuring out what is going on. He is overshadowed by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whose villain is creepily efficient (and, as a bonus, he manages to avoid the mannerisms of his most famous role, that of Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones).

The plot is quite far from the realistic world of Harry Hole. This story is a futuristic techno thriller, with occasional allowances for death-defying stunts and toilet humour.

Headhunters is an impressive movie. It is on the short side, very well edited and altogether a pleasant film. As expected, a Hollywood remake is on its way.

Jul 242012
 

Lola Rennt posterTom Tykwer’s Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run in english) is a gimmicky thriller.

The gimmick becomes apparent pretty quickly – the film is not a direct line from A to B, but covers multiple rounds through the same plot. Rounds with subtle differences in them. But unlike, say, Groundhog Day, where the protagonist learns to optimize his way through the day, Lola appears to have no clue what has gone on before. Lola runs into plenty of people in her twenty minutes, and the encounters fruits are shown in quick flash-forwards embedded in the film.

Franka Potente plays Lola with gusto. As it is a very physical role, there isn’t much to convey about who Lola is and what she is all about. In this film the protagonist runs and has encounters, that’s pretty much it.

For a debut movie, Lola Rennt gets a huge thumbs-up. The pace is relentless, the editing spot-on, and altogether the film has been distilled to its essence.

Berlin, the city the film happens in, is now in somewhat different shape than back in 1998. But it strays away from the biggest tourist attractions and changed areas, and thus provides a pretty good view into what the city is like just a corner or four away from Unter den Linden.

It’s not for everybody, but recommended for all. After all, it’s a short one and has two pretty natural spots where to abandon ship if the action gets incomprehensible.

Apr 102012
 

Drive posterDrive, which I saw way too late, stole the best movie of 2011 mantle from Super 8.

Drive had gone from strength to strength, from a rave review to award after award.

And it was worth the accolades.

Drive is a very good film, and heavily recommended.

Ryan Gosling’s take on the nameless protagonist is as cool as a film character has the right to be. A silent outsider who gets in too deep on account of common courtesy (and slightly deficient self-control). A recipe that never failed in westerns, and certainly works well in Nicolas Winding Refn’s movie as well.

The hero of the film is a doubly professional driver – a stuntdriver by day, a getaway driver by night. Suddenly the twin lives collide, and push a detached take on life out of the window.

Escalating crime leads to ultraviolence, and that, as we all know, leads to an endless spiral of vengeance and bloodshed.

The violence is indeed ugly – Drive doesn’t skimp on details, but neither is it an example of torture porn. In this film violence is sudden, harmful and with permanent consequences.

This is a very worthy update of William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. The city itself is ubiquitous, though seen in uncommon angles in addition to the expected concrete and glass. And the music, the music feels like a tribute to the eighties: dark, moody synthesizer steps in heavy on the soundtrack.

Acting is top-notch across the board. Ryan Gosling is indeed Shane-cool in his role, distributing violence without emotion when necessary. Carey Mulligan is fragile and vulnerable, whereas Ron Perlman’s mafioso oozes menace from his very first appearance on screen.

Why not the five stars?

On account of three reasons.

First, for a film named “Drive”, there isn’t that much driving – but the few scenes are beautiful indeed. I was expecting city-spanning chases in Bullitt-style and other more or less realistic car acrobatics.

Second, Drive failed to engage me fully. Even as a neo-noir movie, I somehow failed to care enough towards the end.

Third, the amount of coincidence in the plot is on the lavish side.

Small potatoes. Small enough to be possibly eradicated on a second round. But meaningful enough to nibble away half a star from the film.

Apr 032012
 

Pussikaljaelokuva posterI loved Mikko Rimminen’s Pussikaljaromaani, a novel that combined utter slackery with industrial strength verbal acrobatics. My expectations of Pussikaljaelokuva, the movie of the book were on the mild side, and the result was indeed lukewarm. Not exactly disappointing, but nowhere near the lofty heights of the original.

Though the original plot is retained (where a trio of aimless young men spend a lazy day in Kallio, the slackeringest neighborhood in Helsinki), the story is muddled by additions. Neither a series of comical encounters with policemen nor a budding romance is worthwhile, and both sap the energy generated by the leading men. Indeed, the delightful streamofconsciousness of the original has been toned down, in favour of a more conventional approach.

The story takes place on a single summer day in Helsinki. And the environs are shown in their beauty, ugliness and eccentricity. A full bonus point on account of the imagery – claimed by anybody for whom the streets, bars and passersby in Kallio are more than just scenery.

Awkward things happen, to an appropriate soundtrack.

Not a movie for everybody, but an impressive debut for Ville Jankeri, and good clean fun for two hours.

Apr 022012
 

Princess Bride posterRob Reiner’s Princess Bride did not make much of a splash in Finland back in 1987. I failed to notice it utterly.

Thus, in the early nineties, upon reaching the wilderlands of Usenet, references to Dread Pirate Roberts or Inigo Montoya’s quest were more or less incomprehensible. Without the current tools of ignorance-dispelling (IMDB, wikipedia and google) I was at a loss.

And it took a while before I managed to see the film. Way too long. Up until the dvd arrived as format of choice, the film continued to elude me.

But what a discovery it was, when I finally got a hold of the movie and sat down to watch.

A splendidly distilled fairytale-y story that contains almost all of the quintessentials of the genre. But one that decidedly remains low on the magic and supernatural, though they are both present.

A buddy movie of epic proportions. Where, obviously, the characters are initially sworn enemies when they meet.

A bunch of villains so treacherous they could Edmund Blackadder a semester’s worth of lessons in evil.

A cast packed with familiar faces and introduction of new ones. Mel Smith! Peter Cook! Christopher Guest! Peter Falk! An Billy Crystal masked almost beyond recognition.

And as a bonus, Wallace Shawn as the leader of the henchmen, permanently exasperated, never short of plans, occasionally vocabularly challenged.

A framing device that feels natural and unforced.

Excellent dialogue. With lines that occasionally crosses the border with our reality. And with lines that point towards Monty Python as well.

Many directors would be happy with a single five star movie – Rob Reiner cooked up two (this and Spinal Tap) and hovered close on a few others.

Princess Bride is heavy on the whimsy, heavy on the satire, and comes heavily recommended, especially to other finns who might have been entirely deprived of the experience on account of the film’s low profile domestically.

Mar 132012
 

Bridesmaids posterWatched Bridesmaids on the christmas break and was occasionally pleased by the movie. It is a pure chick flick, but contains enough comedy to be universally bearable.

The plot only occasionally rises above low expectations, so the movie rests firmly on the actresses’ shoulders. Kirsten Wiig (who also wrote the script) almost loses her top spot to the pleasantly unhinged Melissa McCarthy. Her take on an unconventional bridesmaid is worth watching the film. Sadly, most of the other characters are either frightfully one-dimensional or so seriously under-utilized that most of their scenes probably ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Not bad, and probably a good score for a sequel in a couple of years.

Mar 112012
 

Super 8 posterI liked J.J. Abrams Super 8 a lot. So much that until I finally saw Drive off a disc, I held Super 8 to be the finest movie of 2011.

Super 8 is a shamelessly nostalgic piece of film. It combines Goonies and E.T. to a coherent whole, with a bit of Cloverfield added for extra spice. And wraps the story with a well-thought out framing device: the protagonists are filming a horror movie, and accidentally capture things on film that they never should have seen.

Despite Super 8 mainly populated by kids, the actors never cross the annoyance-threshold. And the plot indeed revolves around the kids being kids, not as conventional exposition devices. Elle Fanning executes her part well, and I’m sure the rest of the crew will not be strangers on the big screen in the next decade either.

The heritage of the film is very much apparent, but it’s an homage, never a rip-off. The plot has a few holes and a few cliches, but nothing that would snap the suspenders of disbelief too harshly.

The 1979 setting is not rubbed in very strong. While the scenery and dialogue seem genuine, the soundtrack is not filled to the brim with the hits of the summer.

Bonus half a star for the most explosive scene of the year (the derailment, which gets the entire plot rolling).

Mar 062012
 

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows poster Guy Richie’s original take on Sherlock Holmes was quite a decent movie. The sequel, subtitled A Game of Shadows is not a bad one, either, but doesn’t reach the same heights.

The story is not based on Conan Doyle’s originals, but it does come with a lot of canonical baggage.

The ultimate items are the presence of Professor Moriarty and the inevitable showdown between the him and Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach.

The duo of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law could probably sleepwalk through their roles as Holmes and Watson, respectively. They were good in the first movie, and in the sequel their presence feels even more natural. Jared Harris plays out the devious angle in his take on Moriarty, and Stephen Fry is again excellent as Mycroft Holmes. Noomi Rapace, on the other hand, is sadly little more than obligatory window dressing as Simza, a gypsy woman who knows a little too much.

The plot is a tad on the weak side. Scenes are occasionally disjointedly connected, and Holmes’ penchant for disguises and combat is a little over the top as well. Occasionally too flashy camerawork and the sudden inclusion of steampunky elements don’t help much.

A sequel is on its way, that much is certain.

Mar 052012
 

Napapiirin Sankarit posterNapapiirin Sankarit (a Lapland Odyssey) turned out to be a fun movie, and much better than expected.

It is a movie of one dark night in Lapland, a quest for a DVR to heal an ailing relationship.

The film is packed with characters teetering on the edge of credibility. While no such people probably exist, everybody knows a close approximation of at least a few of the people in the script.

After hours of driving in the snow and darkness, encounters with horny swedes, the world’s least impressive bar fight and plenty of domestic issues, the film cuts to a close with a genuine deus ex machina ending.

Napapiirin Sankarit is not a very intelligent film, it is definitely not an arty film at all, but it fills a niche of eccentric yet believable domestic comedydrama.

Mar 042012
 

Black Swan posterI’ve found every one of Darren Aronofsky’s movies disturbing. Black Swan is no exception. It contains profoundly strange elements in a seemingly normal setting – a juxtaposition that makes the movie an effective vessel of imagination and cements the director’s position as one of the most interesting of his generation.

Black Swan has nothing to do with the unrationalizable events, it’s a film about a fragile ballerina, and the inability to cope with success.

Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a ballet dancer mostly shielded from reality by an over-protective mother. The shell begins to crack under pressure, and the resulting journey into madness is a rollercoaster ride that alternates between awe and revulsion. Portman won an Oscar for her portrayal, and it is indeed a powerful display of acting, proving her chops beyond Padme Amidala and the child actor days.

To offset Portman’s good girl the script employs Mila Kunis as the dark half. The actress famous from That 70s Show executes her part with gusto. Winona Ryder completes the trio as the old swan – the one whose time is already past.

The male parts are of minor importance. Vincent Cassel is an appropriately smarmy director, but clearly of little consequence in this film dominated by the actresses.

Black Swan is a long movie, but it doesn’t drag on. The momentum is variable, but so are the characters, so it only feels natural.

Awesome indeed, and one of the best movies to crop up in a long while.

Feb 152012
 

Cars 2 posterMy expectations for Cars 2 were on the low side. Despite Pixar’s repeated conquest of sequelitis with the two Toy Story followups, the original had been the least interesting piece of the company’s output, and the first reviews were far from favourable.

Happily enough, I turned out to be wrong on many counts.

Cars 2 was an enjoyable movie, and nowhere near the merchandise-o-rama I initially thought it would stoop to.

For a film so clearly billed at pre-teen boys Cars 2 is unexpectedly complex and cruel. The happy technicolour world of the Radiator Springs collides with that of spies, with stakes high enough to warrant multiple instances of attempted vehicular homicide. The multiple plotlines converge and split up, and there’s more to this than just driving on an oval track.

Which is exactly what was needed – another dose of friendship-boosting schmaltz from Laguna Seca would have definitely doomed the film.

Owen Wilson could have cruised through the vocals on autopilot, and Lightning McQueen’s once again the least interesting character in the cast. Michael Caine’s turn as the aging spy is the finest addition, though there’s plenty of local color in both the japanese and european scenes.

Indeed, better than I expected, but just not up to the conventional Pixar standards. Just like the original.

(Been a while since the last movie reviews, there’s quite a backlog remaining.)

Jan 012012
 

I watched far too few movies this year. Even the permanent new year’s resolution of “seeing at least one movie in a theatre per month” only works out on averages (on account of seeing quite a few movies at R&A).

Anyway, a top 5 was requested:

Super 8 poster#1: Super 8 effortlessly combines Stand by Me with E.T. in a nostalgically 1979 setting. A big monster, military conspiracy, small town secrets, aspiring moviemakers (with homebrew special effects and explosives), seriously un-annoying children as actors. All this combined with the most explosive train wreck I’ve seen in movies in a long time makes Super 8 my best movie of the year. Yeah, it is massively derivative but very enjoyable nonetheless.

Not reviewed yet (watched it just a couple of days ago).

13 Assassins poster#2: 13 Assassins is probably Takashi Miike’s finest work. And that’s a genuine “fine”, not the “most cringe-inducing” or otherwise compromised compliment. The film consists of two halves, and it is the second – a 30+ minute battle scene that raises the film way above the norm and expectations. Especially when the crew employs MacGyveresque methods to take on the far larger enemy group. As noted in the original review, 13 Assassins has a strong Wild Bunch-feel to it. A group of men whose time is already past gathers once more to go out in a blaze of glory.

Review.

King's Speech poster#3: King’s Speech had a lot of giveaways for an Oscar contender: a damaged but persistent protagonist, actors reaching out of their comfort zones, historical context. The most unexpected bout of swearing provides amusement in an otherwise mostly serious film.

Review.

Scott Pilgrim poster#4: Scott Pilgrim wallows in pop culture. The references are piled high and deep – often going far beyond what was offered in the original graphic novel. This is very much a love-or-hate movie, there’s no middle ground in the ultimate geekfest of 2011.

Review.

Tintin poster#5: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn updates the original graphic novel with a lot of new scenes – of which some fit in seamlessly, on others the effect is a lot more grating. My original assumption of this dealing with both volumes of the Unicorn saga proved false – the diving for treasure is skipped altogether. The motion-capture effect is far less uncanny than dreaded.

Review.

Oh yeah, the absence of Drive. Still haven’t seen it, but will pick it up on Blu-Ray as soon as it lands at the end of the month. Others missing in action: On Strange Tides (on the must-list on account of the Tim Powers-connection), The Thing (allegedly decent prequel to the spookiest 80s movie), Le Havre, Pussikaljaelokuva and Fincher’s remake of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

All in all 2011 wasn’t a bad movie year, just a bad movie-watching year. I hope to do better in 2012.

Movie Monday #29: Top 5.

Nov 162011
 

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets posterRe-watched both of the National Treasure movies recently, and noted that I’d missed reviewing the sequel back in the day.

The first installment is even better on a second round – easily upgraded to full four stars. Pleasantly non-violent romp through the history and monuments of America (east coast only).

The sequel was put together quickly when the original exceeded all expectations in the box office. And while it’s not a bad movie at all, it fails to reach the lofty heights of National Treasure.

The story begins rather well, but gets stuck in a quick rinse-repeat cycle that takes us through a vaster array of sights in a wider area. Paris and London don’t get much love in this one. At least the plot stays away from the most well-visited of sights in the former.

The central trio of the cast remains the same. Nicholas Cage is in mostly tranquil mode again. They are joined by Helen Mirren and Ed Harris. Mirren is excellent as a tightly wound professor, but the plot doesn’t really do justice to Harris’ villain as his motives are very much on the vague side. Diane Kruger’s Abigail is relegated to a pure wallflower role (her presence in aforementioned London is pretty much unexplainable but very convenient). Harvey Keitel-led federal agents are under-utilized, and he could have been replaced by pretty much anybody else, continuity is in very short supply.

And that multitude of issues, and the improbability of the goal ultimately doom the movie.

It tries hard. It tries really hard. But rarely gets even close to the original. And almost immediately those good moments are rendered unsavourable when the suspenders of disbelief strain under yet another assault on logic and common sense.

And a moral minus also for showing the titular book of secrets for just half a minute on screen.

A third installment is allegedly on its way, I just hope the team spends a little more time polishing the script. No idea what is the object of the quest – my idea of a cross-over between this and the Pirates-franchise over the Fountain of Youth got already derailed by the unsynchronized arrival of the films.

Nov 142011
 

Tintin posterAfter seeing the first of the Spielberg/Jackson alliance’s Tintin movies I was of two minds: either this was a horrible abuse of a long-beloved duo of graphic novels, or an inspired adventure movie that ranks among the finest of the year. In the end my opinion of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn landed on the latter choice.

The Secret of the Unicorn is a curious movie in many ways.

First of all it is motion-captured, with results that exceed the previous by a mile. The texture-wrapped characters seem a lot more alive than their counterparts in the likes of Polar Express. And with mo-cap veteran Andy Serkis amongst the actors, they indeed do not feel as artificial as I feared them to be.

Second of all, the plot has seen severe revisions from the original album. While the over-arching structure remains, the characters and plotlines have been rewritten thoroughly. The story includes a long segment from an unrelated album, the Crab with the Golden Claws. It also omits the sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure, entirely – thus depriving us of the character and inventions of Theophilus Tournesol. Bianca Castafiore, on the other hand, puts in a gratuitous approach (within the frame of the plot).

Third of all, there’s plenty of action in the movie. While they are varied and definitely not boring, they do occasionally feel tacked-on – ready-made scenes for the video games licensed of the movie. Then again, Herge used physical comedy and action aplenty, so the scenes do not feel entirely alien. And pleasantly enough, Tintin is almost MacGyveresque in his treatment of guns – most of the time he’s running away from a hail of bullets instead of shooting.

In addition to Serkis, there’s plenty of decent acting on screen. Daniel Craig plays the villain of the piece. Jamie Bell is Tintin, almost a blank personality – with few definitive characteristics. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s take on the hapless Thompsons is surprisingly lifeless – the hassle-prone policemen begin to grate almost immediately when they appear on screen.

The film is expectedly done in three dimensions. The Z-axis doesn’t add that much. The most beautiful scenes are rendered with gloriously expressive lighting, not by layering objects.

There are homages to other albums as well. I hope the inclusion of the zero-gravity-alcohol gag doesn’t mean that the production team is dismissing the prospect of doing the Moon-albums as movies. Originally the sequel to this movie was going to be the Seven Crystal Balls / Temple of the Sun-duo, but that has recently been disclaimed as a fact.

I’m sure I missed something obvious on the first viewing, and do expect to pick the film up when it arrives on disc.

Oct 022011
 

Source Code poster

I had quite high expectations for Duncan Jones sophomore film, and Source Code didn’t disappoint. It was by no means as great as Moon, but definitely a worthwhile movie nonetheless.

Source Code is like an unholy union between Groundhog Day and 24. A story that keeps on repeating itself. But only for a while, before the big picture intervenes. And subsequently intervenes again. Anything more would be spoiling the enjoyment.

The film begins well – Jake Gyllenhaal’s protagonist is caught completely out in the cold. The mindtwisting elements are piled upon each other, but the film sadly has a somewhat serious sag in the middle. Fortunately it picks up speed and interest towards the end. I’m of two minds about the actual finale – daring to keep it ambiguous would have earned at least one half a star extra.

Never mind the sub-optimal coda – Source Code is a pleasantly unpredictable film, and whatever the director attempts next will be interesting.

And yeah, the titular abuse is never resolved during the course of the film.

Sep 262011
 

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom FlameMy last movie of the 2011 R&A festival was Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Tsui Hark’s return to wuxia movies.

The film is uses the character created by Robert van Gulik, but the originally rather cerebral traveling judge is equipped with world-class martial arts chops in the movie.

The movie has lots of awesome scenery. The building of the huge Buddha statue gives an insider view on what the construction of a wonder looks like in Civilization games, the underground city of Phantom Bazaar is a brilliant creation as well. There’s plenty of CGI work, and most of the time it blends in well.

Sadly, the script doesn’t match perfectly. Despite the strength of the main plotline, there’s quite a lot of chaff around the edges. In addition to the plentiful (and appreciated) red herrings, there are a couple of fantasy elements that do not sit well in the story as a whole. And the martial arts combats (as masterfully directed by Sammo Hung) do get a bit boring towards the end, especially when most of the early ones end up providing no additional clues despite the hardships.

Casting-wise Tsui Hark has succeeded well. Andy Lau owns the screen as the eponymous detective, and Carina Lau excels as the cold, calculating empress-to-be.

Detective Dee is a good film, but remains a notch or two below the finest the director has to offer, and hence it misses out on a full star.

Sep 252011
 

The Unjust posterThe Unjust is a south korean thriller that expands a lot beyond the initial case of serial killing.

Unlike most Hollywood fare the characters in the movie are flawed – corrupt, incompetent or just plain criminal. There is no clear hero, just a couple of protagonists trying to make do in a legal bureaucracy that expects too much of them.

The plot weaves in plenty of characters and plots – this is not a film to idly follow while reading alongside. Sadly, even though the web of plots traps the characters well, the finale feels very much tacked-on and sudden, with a couple of threads left unpleasantly dangling.

Sep 252011
 

Red Nights posterRed Nights begins without much explanations, and ends without proper closure.

Just another couple of days in the Hong Kong underworld.

A couple of days filled with cold people doing cold deeds. Amongst which the belt-strangulation murder and a protracted torture scene take top honors in “nastiest of 2011″.

Carrie Ng is great as the sadistic collector behind it all, the rest of the cast seem to be just filling character shaped holes in the plot.

Not great, not bad – par for the course in R&A.

Sep 192011
 

13 Assassins poster13 Assassins was an unexpectedly great movie.

For a Takashi Miike movie the plot actually made sense most of the time and there was no prolonged episodes of cringe-inducing ultra-violence on screen.

But there’s plenty of violence. After all, the assassination of the entire Shogun’s brother’s entourage is not lightly accomplished.

Indeed, 13 Assassins is neatly divided into two. Gathering the crew (after assessing the gravity of the situation) took the first half, and the last forty-five minutes of the film consists of one of the most epic battles ever. The ambush in a rural town is well-crafted, intense and rarely boring (katana-fu does get a bit samey after a while).

The film is actually a remake, the original was done back in the sixties. Probably with not so impressive amounts of explosions and gore.

13 Assassins feels a homage to many films – seven samurai and dirty dozen are natural comparisons. But an even more apt one is Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch – a group of men whose time is already long gone. In this tale it’s again sense of duty that draws them to a violent end.

13 Assassins is a rarity, a Takashi Miike film I enjoyed to watch. And heartily recommend it to any fans of good melees or classic Kurosawa combat films. And I certainly wasn’t alone in my high opinion – this was one of the very few films where the audience burst into applause as the credits rolled onto the screen.

Sep 182011
 

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold posterPOM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is Morgan Spurlock’s latest film, and the only documentary that I signed up for in this year’s R&A.

The film cuts an impressive swath through the world of product placement, the act of funding films by introducing products and brands on screen.

Spurlock walks through the process of getting a rough dozen of brave companies to fund a film that describes the act of funding films. In effect the company executives and spokesmen on screen are effectively playing themselves.

The film is far more interesting than it initially appears. It is cut to a rapid whole. Some interviews are almost painfully brief, and some of the subjects would have been nice to listen to for more than a few precision-cut sentences.

The best film in the festival thus far, but there’s plenty still to come.

And it would have been a perfect opportunity to launch Pom Wonderful as a brand in Finland, but it seems that the real pomegranate juice isn’t sold outside the US.

Sep 182011
 

Cold Fish posterThe second movie of R&A-festival was another piece by Sion Sono, Cold Fish, from 2010.

The film begins as a troubled family movie, evolves into a wrong man in a wrong place-styled thriller and ends as one of the goriest splatter movies I’ve seen in a long while. Quite an achievement in a little less over two hours running tally.

Indeed, the plot – consisting of a serial killer camouflaging as a high profile aquarium shop owner casually befriending a colleague and then trapping him in the schemes – is by any means bad. It just operates on the thin line between hysterical and truly improbable, and as a result, turns regularly into comedy. Not exactly the intended effect, I presume.

The lead actress is the same as in Guilty of Romance, Megumi Kagurazaka, but didn’t realize that. Her character is annoyingly meek, but that’s nothing compared to the protagonist, her husband in the film. Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s character spends most of the film simpering and twitching, the inevitable roughening up is both late and improbable. Denden as the villain of the piece is exuberant to the point of bursting, annoyingly ingratiating at first, but soon revealed as a far from jovial monster.

Cold Fish is a very graphic film. There’s Miike-esque amounts of blood and gore, and plenty of rough sex as well. It’s an uncomfortable film to watch, and probably quite safe from a Hollywood remake.

Plotting-wise the film is extremely hollow. The motives and backgrounds of the variously damaged characters are not covered at all. One mysterious flashback doesn’t help figure out the whole.

Pleasantly extreme, but ultimately on the boring side.

Sep 182011
 

Guilty of Romance posterThe first film of Rakkautta & Anarkiaa 2011 was Guilty of Romance, a Japanese semi-thriller.

It begins well. All rain and gloom surrounding a spectacularly nasty crime scene.

But unfortunately the pace slackens, and the plot begins to wallow in the empty life of a trophy wife.

The film begins to feel more and more hollow as it clicks towards the ending. The sole redeeming features were the full frontal nudity uncommonly displayed for a Japanese film and the ever-popular filthy grandma-style character. Big minuses for pretentious (and painfully repetitive) use of Kafka, way too much high-pitched yelling and the overarching feeling that the script and plot logic were the weakest links in the chain.