This is Halloween

Ah, Halloween, that festive occasion at the end of October when it’s definitely best to stay inside, not so much to steer clear of the monsters and ghouls but to avoid the less than clement weather. Here then are the voyages of your humble and intrepid explorer of the cinematic (under)world, charted below for your reading pleasure.

Event Horizon

(1997, dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)

eventhorizon

OK crew, let’s do the Kobayashi Maru scenario again from the top.

I’m guessing the elevator pitch was “Alien… IN SPACE!” Add a generous helping of Solaris, The Thing and Hellraiser, and you get what sounds like it should be the most awesomest sci-fi horror movie ever. Sadly, in practice the movie doesn’t quite deliver. Compared with the movies just mentioned (with maybe the exception of Hellraiser, which is hardly a masterpiece) I’d say the blame lies with the director, and if not, let’s blame him anyway.

From Beyond

(1986, dir. Stuart Gordon)

frombeyond

Can you feel my pineal gland engorging?

Another Lovecraftian crazy scientist romp from the wonderful people who brought you Re-Animator. Over-the-top campy horror complete with Barbara Crampton in a leather dominatrix outfit – they definitely had me at hello.

The Howling

(1981, dir. Joe Dante)

howling

Ewww! Don’t you ever floss?

What would Halloween be without a single werewolf movie? Full of cheap scares and cheezy special effects, The Howling does the trick, even if the acting is really woody (but then, who watches werewolf movies for the acting?)

Elisabeth Brooks as Marsha Quist might just be the sexiest B-movie she-devil ever. What a Vampirella she would have made… (sigh)

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

(1954, dir. Kenneth Anger)

pleasuredome

Smell at all those colours.

I’m led to believe Inauguration… is some sort of an experimental movie landmark. The 38 minute movie contains no dialogue; the soundtrack is Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass“. Art for art’s sake? There certainly are lots of pretty pictures to look at. Probably best appreciated while in an altered state.

We’re Going to Eat You

(1980, dir. Tsui Hark)

wearegoing

This isn’t quite what I had in mind when I said “Do you need a hand?”

“A secret agent investigates a village that is populated by crazed, inbred cannibals.” The summary from IMDb says it all really. Some nicely choreographed action, including a fight scene suspended by ropes. Very cartoony, but that’s par for the course. Bonus points for the somewhat rare mix of cannibal slapstick and martial arts action.

In Bruges

(2008, dir. Martin McDonagh)

In Bruges

What happens in Bruges, stays in Bruges.

Dark comedy with allegory galore and clever dialogue that takes forever to get started. Is Bruges Hell, or just Purgatory? Or is it simply worth a visit before you kick the bucket? Great soundtrack by Carter Burwell, brilliant use of incidental music.

Kelly’s Heroes

(1970, dir. Brian G. Hutton)

kellysheroes

Intel reports say they have lollipops in that town down there.

Mix equal parts of heist movie and war movie, and you’ve got Kelly’s Heroes. The heist in the center of the action is a traditional MacGuffin chase, although there’s no shortage of mortar shells flying and tanks attacking, if that’s the sort of thing that bloats your goat. Telly Savalas, Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland ham it up as the Three Musketeers, whose ingenuity is only surpassed by their greed.

Taxidermia

(2006, dir. György Pálfi)

taxidermia

Just a tiny wafer-thin mint is all I need right now.

Surreal imagery and incredible cinematography are the strong points of this Hungarian art house movie. The final scene is definitely a shout-out to Peter Greenaway, and why not. Not recommended for the squeamish, but if vomit and bestiality do it for you, give it a go – what could possibly go wrong?

Sweet Movie

(1974, dir. Dusan Makavejev)

sweetmovie

Hold on, I think I left my watch somewhere here.

Now, I’ve seen some weird movies in my time, but Sweet Movie is definitely getting somewhat close to redlining the weird-o-meter. Makes a great double feature with Taxidermia – there might be less vomit (I would have to review both to be sure, which I’m in no hurry to do right now) but on the other hand, there’s way more urine and feces. Fun for the whole family!

For a more detailed (and spoiler-laden) take, check out Roger Ebert’s 1975 review of Sweet Movie.

Inseminoid

(1981, dir. Norman J. Warren)

INSEMINOID [BR 1981] JUDY GEESON

It’s funny how this planet in outer space looks absolutely nothing like a quarry somewhere in England.

Another entrant in the “Alien… IN SPACE!” games, in the shoestring budget category. Is it so bad it’s good, or so bad it’s bad? Either way, there are some cringeworthy moments, and I’m not talking about the overacting.

MacGruber

(2010, dir. Jorma Taccone)

MacGruber

The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

There is no shortage of puerile jokes in this 80s action movie parody. Spoiler alert: if you think seeing a grown man hopping around naked clutching a stalk of celery between his buttocks is funny, and who doesn’t, you just might enjoy MacGruber.

And that, my friends, brings us to the end of the 2014 Halloween movie extravaganza. Pleasant screams.

Kallio Travel Guide

Somewhere over the rainbow: Alppila to the left, Kallio to the right.

Somewhere over the rainbow: Alppila to the left, Kallio to the right.

Joanne O’Connor’s Travel Tips column in Sunday’s The Observer about Helsinki and in particular the suburb of Kallio rang a bell somewhere in the sub-cockle area of my heart. Now, I don’t claim to be a fixie-riding true Kallio boy, but I do live next door, so perhaps I can offer a bit of a local’s perspective on Ms O’Connor’s views.

Why go?

Helsinki (is) a breezy Baltic port with a strong tradition of design, an alternative nightlife and an edgier feel than some of its Scandinavian cousins. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Kallio, just north of the city centre. Once a no-go area for tourists, it’s now home to cool bars, cafés and boutiques.

“No-go area for tourists” sounds indeed edgy, if a bit hyperbolic. Suffice it to say Kallio is no favela, and never was. There are, however, a number of bars, some cooler than others. Read on.

What to do

At the heart of the area is the Hakaniemi market, where you can pick up everything from artisan cheese to local handicrafts (Hameentie 1a).

Agreed. The market square is open for business sporadically, but the charming red brick market hall is open daily. Inside you’ll find quality butchers and fishmongers, which is great if you’re preparing your own food, maybe less so if you’re in town for a weekend getaway. Anyway, it’s the place to go to for horse steaks, which apparently aren’t a hot item where The Guardian is published, and local delicacies such as false morel (please ask for cooking instructions or you’ll die – not a joke), lamprey, reindeer, cloudberries and so on (depending on season).

By the way, you know how all strange animals (such as crocodile) taste like chicken? Reindeer doesn’t; it tastes like kangaroo. Mm-mm.

Continue the spree in the secondhand shops and chichi boutiques of Fleminginkatu Street (…) and the attractive Torkkelinmäki district before stopping for coffee and cake at the charming Villipuutarha Café (Karlsgaten 13).

Coffee and cake? Did I hear you right? You came to Kallio, and want to have coffee and cake? Well, if you insist. Villipuutarha may well be charming, I’ve never been there. (Karlsgaten = Kaarlenkatu, by the way.) Only a block or so away, however, you’ll find the definitely charming (bordering on quaint) Taikalamppu (Torkkelinkatu 21).

If you’re already on Kaarlenkatu and can’t be bothered to venture further, there’s always Roskapankki (corner of Kaarlenkatu and Helsinginkatu) – not so much known for its great coffee as for its cheap beer. Plus, you’re guaranteed to meet interesting natives.

Helsinginkatu, by the way, is the place to go if you want to see professional beer drinkers doing what they do best. The north side of the street is littered with bars competing for the attention of price-conscious patrons and their (welfare) money.

No trip to Helsinki is complete without a visit to a sauna. The city’s hippest place to sweat it out is the Japanese-inspired Kulttuurisauna, which opened last year in a slick white building on the waterfront near Kallio (kulttuurisauna.fi). Cool off afterwards with a dip in the Baltic if you’re feeling brave – or Finnish.

Again, I haven’t been to Kulttuurisauna – but just take a look at that description. “Japanese-inspired”? “Slick white building”? And most importantly, “near Kallio” – in other words, not in Kallio at all.

Instead, head to Kotiharjun sauna (Harjutorinkatu 1), take off your kit, head to the sauna (it will be hotter than +100C inside) and sit stark naked next to a sweating naked Finn. If you’re lucky, he may offer to beat you with a bunch of birch twigs. This actually happened to an Australian friend of mine. We were already getting dressed when Some Dude heard us talking in English, then proceeded to ask whether my friend had ever done this thing called vihtominen. He hadn’t (in fact it was his first sauna experience all up) – long story short, they disrobed, went back to the sauna and my friend got to enjoy yet another facet of famous Finnish hospitality. According to him, this sort of thing would have been unlikely to take place in Brisbane.

Don’t be surprised if there are people dressed in nothing but a towel chilling out outside when you get there – it’s is the done thing, even in January when there is snow on the ground.

Where to eat

The bouillabaisse served at Soppakeittiö, a no-frills soup kitchen in the Hakaniemi market, is a big hit with the locals. New kid on the block Bar Sandro is the current top spot for Sunday brunch: a Moroccan-inspired feast with a side order of live music (sandro.fi).

The bouillabaisse is indeed very popular, and not a bad choice at lunchtime. Nearby you’ll also find Line Café – the lunch buffet has an abundance of vegetarian, meat and fish dishes. Edit 29.9.2014: Looks like Line Café has gone the way of the dodo. The nearby Sävel (Hämeentie 2) does buffet lunch, sadly not as varied as Line Café used to.

I’ve never done Sandro’s brunch (in part because I can never be bothered to book a table). Lately it seems that most bars in the area are getting on the brunch bandwagon, so there are several options. Pretty much the only one I can vouch for is Pacifico (Helsinginkatu 15), although a friend lamented the lack of fried bacon.

If you’d rather have pizza instead, your wish can be fulfilled at Salpimienta (Fleminginkatu 7) – the reviews are a mixed lot, but I’ve never been disappointed. Then again, my expectations are quite low when it comes to pizza. Another joint always good for a pizza is the aforementioned Juttutupa, but you might be waiting for a long time if the place is busy (it will be on weekend nights).

For something a bit more upscale (ie. food), there’s the local institution Cella (Fleminginkatu 15), which has been serving locals since 1969. Mash and fried liver with lingonberry sauce, how can you go wrong?

What to Really do

I’d skip the vintage shops for starters.

The answer is Beer

No trip to Kallio is complete without a beer at Pub Sirdie (Kolmas linja 21). Put a coin in the jukebox and pick a record – any record.

If you’re particularly thirsty, go for a false start (since it’s not in Kallio, strictly speaking) at Juttutupa (Säästöpankinranta 6). Try to get a seat at the Revolutionary Table, where according to legend Lenin and his homies sat and drank while planning the Russian Revolution (Lenin was a regular when he was in exile in Finland, the legend part is they’re not sure which table it was).

Other bars always good for a beer – including but not limited to local craft beers – are (in no particular order) Sivukirjasto (Fleminginkatu 5), Kuikka (Helsinginkatu 32), and Hilpeä hauki (Vaasankatu 7) – these won’t be the cheapest bars around, but who comes to Finland for cheap beer anyway?

April 2014 Movies

Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

First out of the gate, an oldie but goodie, which may just be the understatement of the year. Forget Citizen Kane and Vertigo, Alien is where it’s at. Maybe not, but if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour ASAP. I watched Alien with someone who hadn’t, and even more implausibly had no idea about That One Scene. Ah, to be young and impressionable again, but the fact is, Alien never fails to deliver, even on the umpteenth viewing.

Shamus (dir. Buzz Kulik, 1973)

Foo bar

Shamus McCoy looking for The Illustrated Kama Sutra.

Burt Reynolds was, at one point in time during the 70s, a major movie star if there ever was one. Shamus presents him as a fashionably low-rent playboy slash private eye, who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em on the pool table to go hunting for McGuffins. Don’t watch it for the plot, watch it for the groovy time capsule popcorn flick it always was.

Magneettimies (dir. Arto Halonen, 2009)

magneettimies

Pekka Streng was the Nick Drake of Finland, releasing two obscure and idiosyncratic solo albums in the 70s before passing away at the tender age of 26. Arto Halonen has directed a charming documentary about Streng’s life, interviewing lots of people for whom his music meant and still means the world. Would this movie exist if Streng was still around? Hard to say.

Alcan Highway (aka Alaska Highway, dir. Aleksi Salmenperä, 2013)

alcanhway

When there’s a will, there’s a highway.

Who among us hasn’t dreamed of getting away from it all, buying an old truck that hasn’t been running since the Eisenhower administration, fixing it up and driving thousands of miles around Alaska and Canada just to get from nowhere to somewhere that’s also nowhere? Luckily for us procrastinators, we can now watch a documentary about that particular dream from the comfort of our own armchairs. Suggested tagline: Everyone needs a hobby. Or, how about this one: In Alaska, nobody can hear you curse. And of course Buckaroo Banzai‘s famous adage fits like a glove: No matter where you go, there you are.

Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey (dir. Ramona S. Diaz, 2012)

dontstopbelievin

Rags-to-riches stories don’t come much more endearing than this: A totally unknown Filipino singer is spotted on YouTube by a famous American band desperately in need of a new vocalist. Singer auditions, everyone loves him, he gets the job, tours the world and injects new life to the dinosaur band. There, I just saved you from two hours of watching Arnel Pineda’s journey (sic), but if you’re a fan of the band, watch the movie by all means.

Once Me Twice (dir. Mikko Edelman, 2012)

No, I don’t get the title either. As an aside, the director and I went to high school together, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. There is a lot to like about the movie – the cutting is excellent, for one – but in the end what we’re dealing with is an amateur effort that does not quite succeed in presenting a coherent story. It goes without saying that there’s no shortage of professional efforts that fail in the same way, so take a look and judge for yourself – the whole movie is available on the Internets for your viewing pleasure, see below.

Kirikou ja paha noita (Kirikou et la sorcière, dir. Michel Ocelot, 1998)

Kirikou

The success of this, the first Kirikou movie, must have come as a surprise to the makers, seeing as the sequel most definitely does not pick up things from where its precedessor leaves them. Maybe not viewing them in order was for the better. Anyway, both installments are charming (and feature lots of gratuitous cartoon nudity, see above), so thumbs up it is once again.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Dude, you were amazing in Ray! Pull my finger!

Dude, you were amazing in Ray! Pull my finger!

Saw this in 3D at BFI Imax in London. The previous 3D movie I saw was Avatar, so it didn’t take much to be more impressed than that. My expectations weren’t sky high either, which is probably why I walked away entertained. The visuals were top-notch, the writing predictably less so. (If you have an hour or three to spare, see Film Crit Hulk’s detailed tear-down of ASM2.)

So much of this movie does not make any sort of sense that it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride. (Did I just describe Suspiria?) I wouldn’t recommend watching ASM2 on a plane though, not that they’re going to feature it as an in-flight movie anyway without cutting most of the first 10 minutes. And what was Paul Giamatti doing in this? I guess his children must be getting to college age.

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.

The Moomins and the Great Flood of Moomin Mugs

Investopedia defines “speculative bubble” as “usually caused by exaggerated expectations of future growth, price appreciation, or other events that could cause an increase in asset values” and notes that this “drives trading volumes higher, and as more investors rally around the heightened expectation, buyers outnumber sellers, pushing prices beyond what an objective analysis of intrinsic value would suggest.”

Moomintroll mug.

Moomin mug. The author of this blog emphatically denies having modeled for the illustration.

Helsingin Sanomat has recently decided to blow up one special asset bubble, namely that of Moomin mugs. In case you’re not familiar with this particular investment vehicle, Moomin mugs are coffee mugs adorned with pictures of Moomins. You’ll find one or two (dozen) in almost every Finnish home, right next to the Mariskooli bowls and Savoy (aka Aalto) vases.

On 20 January, Helsingin Sanomat featured an article titled “The Moomin Mug Is Now An Investment Asset – Prices Have Risen By Several Factors Of Ten” in which the author says that “many consider Moomin mugs investment assets that can be bought with small change and sold later at a higher price.” Since HS is not Wikipedia, “many” is not adorned with a “[weasel word]” tag. The article then goes on to cherry pick a few prices from Huuto.net (see below) as indicative of Moomin mug valuations.

For some reason, Helsingin Sanomat hasn’t seen fit to mention that Huuto.net, the Finnish equivalent of eBay and the home of the Moomintroll mug trading frenzy, is part of the same group of companies as HS.

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to state that I do not personally own any Moomin mugs, even though I sip coffee out of one most mornings. If I were sitting on a huge collection, however, right about now would be the time when I would consider shifting the majority of my position to a different asset class.