Archive for March, 2014

2014 in Movies, First Quarter

The title is a bit of a cheat, since none of the movies I’m about to mention were released in 2014.

laitakaupunginvalotLaitakaupungin valot (Lights in the Dusk, Aki Kaurismäki, 2006)

If you’re familiar with Mr. Kaurismäki’s output, you’ll be right at home with the conclusion of his “Helsinki Trilogy” – the two previous parts being Kauas pilvet karkaavat (Drifting Clouds, 1996) and Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without a Past, 2002). A Kaurismäki virgin would do well by starting somewhere (anywhere?) else, as Laitakaupungin valot almost feels like self-parody at times. Kaurismäki is no stranger (sic) to existentialist themes, but here he has basically re-imagined Camus’s “L’étranger” in Helsinki. Janne Hyytiäinen does a decent job as Koistinen, although it is quite evident he is no Matti Pellonpää, who no doubt would have been cast as Koistinen back in the day.

Helsinki aficionados will no doubt enjoy identifying some of the more curious location choices, such as the apartments of both Koistinen and his archnemesis. Hint: most of the movie was shot (beautifully, I might add, by Timo Salminen, who has been working with Kaurismäki since 1981) in the Ruoholahti area.

kirikou

Kirikou ja viidakon eläimet (Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages, and , 2005)

Kirikou is proof that not all animated movies made for the pre-school demographic have to be cloyingly saccharine. Apparently Kirikou’s US release was delayed by years because the director didn’t think covering up all the breasts (see illustration) would do justice to the film. Good onya, mr. French animated film director!

Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages is the sequel to Kirikou et la sorcière (1998); not having seen the first movie is not a major impediment to enjoying the second installment, but it would probably help to know a bit of the backstory, since otherwise (spoiler alert!) a newborn outrunning a hyena can be a bit of a stretch.

The story runs in four parts, each being an episode in which Kirikou saves the day in various contexts while dodging the “fetishes” (wooden idols controlled by the evil witch Karaba) and trying his hand at farming, pharmacy, camouflage and what have you. I was amused by the not-infrequent parallels with the legend of The Smurfs, but that might just be because I’m easily amused.

uuno

Uuno Turhapuro (1973); Häpy Endkö? Eli kuinka Uuno Turhapuro sai niin kauniin ja rikkaan vaimon (1977);
Uuno Turhapuro menettää muistinsa (1982); Uuno Turhapuron muisti palailee pätkittäin (1983)

Four down – fourteen to go. Forget Homer Simpson, Uuno Turhapuro was Homer when Matt Groening was still in diapers. Well, maybe not, considering Mr. Groening was 19 when the first Uuno movie came out, but you get my drift. The success of the first movie took the movie makers by surprise, but they didn’t let themselves be awed for too long – after all, they had movie history to make. The longest running franchise in the history of Finnish cinema, 18 installments of the Uuno Turhapuro saga (the final one was released in 2006, 33 years after the first one) guarantee Uuno’s place as one of if not the most recognized hero (or anti-hero, as the case may be) in Finnish popular culture.

Uuno is extremely resourceful in coming up with ways to get others to do his bidding, so that he can concentrate on the good things in life – eating and sleeping, mainly. Indeed, the first scene of the first movie is set in a church, where Uuno is getting married to Elisabeth, who comes from a wealthy family, and the dialogue goes like this: “I now pronounce you man and wife”, says the priest. “Is it… is it all done now?” says Uuno. “Yes”, says the priest, upon which Uuno turns to the congregation and says: “See Dad, I did get to marry rich!” Cue opening credits.

Even if Uuno is married, he’s definitely not dead, as evidenced by his incessant flirting with members of the fairer sex. Strangely, even though women seem to agree that he is by far the most charming man ever to walk the Earth, his flirting doesn’t amount to much in the end, and he ends up staying with Elisabeth – much to the chagrin of Elisabeth’s wealthy dad.

All the Uuno movies (the early black&white ones, at any rate) have their funny moments, but there is a lot of filler as well. The comedy is mainly in the performance of the actors, who are for the most part incredibly well cast; Vesa-Matti Loiri is of course brilliant as Uuno (and apparently improvised most of his lines), but the rest of the cast, once they found the perfect actors (Elisabeth’s parents were played by different actors in the first few movies) have also really internalized their roles. Best watched with a 7 year old, which is what I did.

The BirdsThe Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

As far as I remember, I had not actually seen The Birds before. (I also haven’t seen Rear Window yet.) First impression: beautiful cinematography juxtaposed with a silly, almost non-existent plot. Is The Birds really the masterpiece of modern cinema it is made out to be? After all, lots of people seem to really like it. Maybe I need to reserve my judgement until a repeat viewing. The special effects are nothing to write home about (not really a problem), but some of the scenes with the birds gathering are indeed quite creepy, even when nothing actually happens.