Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

An Idiocratic Thing Happened to Action Jackson on the Way to Hawaii

Idiocracy

(2006, dir. Mike Judge)

Plants crave electrolytes.

Plants crave electrolytes.

When Mike Judge delivered Idiocracy, 20th Century Fox executives scratched their heads trying to come up with a marketing angle. They failed, buried the movie for a year, then released it with no marketing at all. Thank Moloch for home video, the greatest invention of the 20th century.

Idiocracy doesn’t go to too much trouble trying to hide the subtext that the supposedly future setting is poking fun at modern-day society. The jokes are not exactly subtle, but on the other hand there’s plenty of them. Perhaps not a classic, but definitely worth more than one viewing.

Action Jackson

(1988, dir. Craig R. Baxley)

foo

There’s absolutely no homoerotic subtext in any of this, no sir.

Hot on the heels of the previous year’s Predator, action-hero-in-the-making Carl Weathers is upgraded from a sidekick to the man of the hour in this amalgam of 80s excess. The franchise the studio was obviously aiming at never happened, and if you’ve seen Action Jackson, you’ll know why. Gratuitous violence, even though it was the name of the game back then, just isn’t quite enough, even with Craig T. Nelson as the bad guy delivering seriously badass roundhouse kicks.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

(1966, dir. Richard Lester)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Rest your gaze upon this image and take in all the hilarity, provided you can handle it.

I’m a bit confused now. I was under the impression that AFTHotWttF is a legendary comedy with wall-to-wall funny moments. Instead, I walked away thinking that it just wasn’t that entertaining. There are a lot of jokes, true, but they’re all telegraphed so far ahead that by the time they finally arrive, there is no payoff – just a vague feeling of disappointment. I don’t know, maybe men dressed in drag was daring and outré in 1966. The original stage play (which the movie appears to follow religiously) may have worked better, I wouldn’t know. Buster Keaton, for all of the 2 minutes he’s in this, is endearing though.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii

(1987, dir. Andy Sidaris)

That snake's gunna git it.

That snake’s gunna git it.

This time I’ve saved the best for last. Directed by Andy Sidaris, the Visa Mäkinen of Uhmurica, Hard Ticket to Hawaii is the Citizen Kane of low-budget schlock. HTtH has it all: gratuitous nudity (courtesy of a bunch of Playboy models), awful acting (see above), a nonsense plot involving diamond smuggling and chasing a monster snake, a hilarious “sex” scene, cheezy special effects, etc. etc.

Still not sure whether this is down your alley? If a rubber anaconda being blown away with a rocket launcher inside a house and said rocket launcher being wielded by none other than Ronn Moss (as CIA agent Rowdy Abilene) doesn’t do it for you, then by all means, go and watch Titanic for the umpteenth time.

What’s conceivably even more amazing is that Ronn Moss, whom we all of course know and love as Ridge Forrester of The Bold & The Beautiful, is easily the best actor in the whole movie. This, of course, is more of a statement about the entire ensemble. YouTube has an abundance of choice moments – such as the infamous “beach frisbee” scene – but really, do yourself a favour and go to the trouble of viewing the whole thing. Your life will never be the same.

What I Did On My Vacation Strikes Back

Thief

(1981, dir. Michael Mann)

My name is Frank. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Used car salesman by day, master cat burglar at night, James Caan is on top of his game here as Frank the Thief. The plot is nothing to write home about, with holes big enough to drive a truck through – director Michael Mann would revisit many of the same themes later, with much greater success, in his seminal Heat. Still, if you enjoy a gritty tale of the underground with a neurotic relationship story pasted on top, you could do worse than watch this stylish (I am really trying to avoid saying “gritty” again, but it’s kind of hard to resist the temptation) anti-hero tale from way back.

Wake In Fright

(1971, dir. Ted Kotcheff)

Wake In Fright

Beer, the breakfast of champions.

For some reason, I was under the impression that WIF is a horror movie set in the Australian Outback. Well, I got the Outback part right, but really, WIF is closer to a promotional film by the Woop Woop Tourism Board (especially with the alternate title Outback) than a horror flick. I suppose some tender souls might be horrified by the almost non-stop beer skulling (& associated blatant product placement) and general debauchery, all of which was probably quite outrageous back in 1971 when the movie came out. That, and the kangaroo slaughter – even if the movie makers went out of their way to point out that the roos were slaughtered by professionals who had been tasked with keeping the numbers down, and really, these particular roos were kind of asking for it anyway. Worth a watch for a great performance by Donald Pleasence as an alcoholic bush doctor.

Hobo With A Shotgun

(2011, dir. Jason Eisener)

Hobo With A Shotgun

All right, you primitive screw-heads, listen up! See this? This… is my boomstick!

Hobo is a hodgepodge of wink-wink-nudge-nudge over-the-top cliché and hammy acting, with a title doubling as the script (see Snakes on a Plane). It would be a stretch to say that Rutger Hauer puts in a career-defining performance, in fact far from it, but I guess there are a few bits here and there where he’s actually kind of sympathetic as the underdog who rises to the occasion and kicks some serious arse.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

(2001, dir. Karan Johar)

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

Waiter! There’s a fly on my nose!

K3G is a veritable cinematic smörgåsbord in that there’s a little bit of everything, except there’s not just a little bit but so much to gorge on (and quite a lot of it cloyingly saccharine) that gastric lavage might be required to restore a modicum of sanity. This is, of course, par for the course for a Bollywood spectacle. Much has been said about the on-screen chemistry of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, and it’s all true – they do work very well together. One can’t help though but think that the running time of 210 minutes (3 1/2 hours!) could be whittled down just a touch, especially seeing as the plot is pretty paper-thin and, frankly, ridiculous.

What I Did On My Vacation, Episode I

I apologise to those who expected a review of Ian Gillan’s 1986 compilation album; the title is in reference to how I spent most of November. Thanks again to my mate Marius for letting me take over his hammock so I could listen to cockatoos and lorikeets making an awful racket in the mango tree next door all day long.

After sunset, however, an onslaught of bloodthirsty mozzies made the hammock less than ideal. Not to worry: Netflix to the rescue. Also, thanks to Etihad for providing some of the movies below as in-flight entertainment. Speaking of Etihad, I wouldn’t really recommend their Abu Dhabi to Brisbane flight, not that there was anything wrong with the flight per se, it’s just that 14 hours is a fair bit longer than I would prefer to spend on a plane in one sitting.

Zoolander

(2001, dir. Ben Stiller)

There's more to live than just being really, really ridiculously good-looking. I think.

There’s more to life than just being really, really ridiculously good looking. Or so they say.

2oolander aka Zoolander 2 is about to be inflicted upon us, so it was time to revisit the “classic” first installment. A New Hope this is not – but for lovers of slapstick, there’s an abundance of comedic moments that still hold their own after repeated viewings. Apparently there are those who didn’t find Zoolander that funny, and that’s OK – if that’s you, just keep watching those Merchant Ivory movies.

Monty Python: The Meaning of Live

(2014, dir. Roger Graef & James Rogan)

The Pythons have their game face on.

An endearing, at times almost heartbreaking – it’s painfully obvious that Terry Jones has dementia – look at what went on behind the scenes for Monty Python’s last stand. The Pythons have no qualms about coming out with the real reason for the shows (money, what else), and that’s just fine by me.

Critics and fans alike have tried to dissect the allure of the Pythons for decades, and here it is once again laid out in front of us: a hodgepodge of vastly different personalities and talents combined with hard work (and of course they try to play it down) and a splash of incredible luck in timing. There will never be another Monty Python.

Despicable Me & Minions

(2010, dir. Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud; 2015, dir. Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin)

The Cheetos are alive! Run to the hills!

The Cheetos are alive! Run to the hills!

OK, I get it – it’s all about the merchandising, especially with Christmas coming and all that jazz. I can’t help it though, these yellow critters are quite cute and funny – I’d love to say “in spite of” but I guess I’ll have to admit to “largely thanks to” their Chipmunk-like yabbering.

The first installment (Despicable Me) has the edge here, seeing as Minions is pretty much based on the same story as The Penguins of Madagascar. Which came first, the chicken (penguin) or the egg (Minion)?

Gravity

(2013, dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

Gravity

My God, it’s full of stars! Well, at least two of them.

CGI is definitely not like pizza – when it’s bad, it can be really bad. Gravity, however, showcases what can be done with computers with a little (OK, a lot of) effort. Too bad the story comes second; I get the need for dramatic twists and turns, but quite a few – if not most – of the plot points ask a bit much of the viewer in terms of suspension of disbelief. Still, infinitely more enjoyable on all levels than Avatar.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

(2010, dir. Oliver Stone)

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

What a wasted opportunity. One of the most iconic silver screen villains of all time, Gordon Gekko, is reduced to a cardboard cut-out of a father trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter, while his son-in-law can’t decide whether he’s in it for the money or some pie-in-the-sky green energy MacGuffin.

It’s as if everyone is phoning it in, not the least director Oliver Stone, who should know better. They even screwed up Gekko’s reunion with Bud Fox, which was such an anticlimax that I guess I’d better stop here before I get a brain aneurysm out of sheer frustration.

To be continued…

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

Nostalghia

(dir. Andrey Tarkovsky, 1983)

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

There are few directors as universally revered as Soviet Union’s grand master of cinematic impenetrability, Mr. Andrey Tarkovsky. While I pretend to enjoy selected parts of his œuvre to appear more intelligent than I really am, the more advanced epics are, sadly, beyond my stamina. Hence, the acid test is easily administered: did I fall asleep during the movie? Solaris, Stalker, and even Zerkalo get a pass, while Andrey Rublev and now Nostalghia do not.

Whiplash

(dir. Damien Chazelle, 2014)

Whiplash

The Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer. Now am I right or wrong?

A fairytale of New York, wherein a young and ambitious drummer tries to make it in the topsy-turvy world of jazz as practiced in the fictitional “Shaffer” Institute of Advanced Jazz and Cymbal Throwing.  J.K. Simmons won the “best supporting actor” Oscar for his portrayal of the sadistic band leader Clarence Fletcher, and quite rightly so – he’s easily the best movie villain since Colonel Hans Landa and his milk-drinking antics. The pace is pretty intense, which makes up for the cartoonish characters and lack of logical plot.

Check out also DJ Wh1pla$h, where “a young DJ struggles to make it at Skrillex Academy.” And while you’re at it, although it has nothing to do with Whiplash, shiver with anticipation as James Bruschetta and Adam van Busen are about to drop the bass in 2MNYBTNS.

Me Rosvolat

(dir. Marjut Komulainen, 2015)

Me Rosvolat

We are the very models of a modern Major-General.

It’s easy to make a movie for children, right? Just dress up a bunch of actors in funny clothes – extra points for a cool theme, like dinosaurs or pirates – and get them to overact even more than usual, throw in a couple of kids the target audience can relate to, crib a script from a book (helps if the book is popular, but it’s not a requirement) and make sure it’s full of plot holes, and viola! A summer blockbuster is born, or at least something that can be used to show the Finnish Movie Foundation that their generous grants bought more than just gummy bears for the wrap party.

By the way, the pirate van is clearly influenced by the plane flown by Truman Sparks in Fandango.

Valkoinen peura

(aka The White Reindeer, dir. Erik Blomberg, 1952)

Valkoinen peura

The hills are alive with the sound of vampire reindeer succubi.

Full of “Wait, what?” moments, Valkoinen peura remains to this day as the only Finnish movie to ever win a Golden Globe. It’s also – as far as I know (spoiler alert!) – the only movie made anywhere to feature a leading lady who is not only a vampire, but also a reindeer. Oh, and a succubus, but that’s sort of implied by the vampire bit, isn’t it? Lots of reindeer action and beautifully photographed snowy vistas.

Kovasikajuttu

(aka The Punk Syndrome, 2011, dir. Jukka Kärkkäinen & J-P Passi)

Foo

Punk is not dead, it’s just sitting very still.

Finland’s entry in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest was Aina mun pitää by Pertti Kurikan nimipäivät, a punk four-piece from Helsinki. Much has been made of the fact that all the band members have learning disabilities. Four years earlier their unlikely story was made into a documentary, in places funny, in others insightful. Well, mostly funny, because life is.

Tapsa

(1980, dir. Peter von Bagh)

Huh?

Rumour has it that Tapio Rautavaara was seriously considered for the role of Mr. Spock.

Tapio Rautavaara, the Elvis of Finland. Wait, that didn’t come out quite right. Elvis could have been the Tapsa of America, if only Elvis had been a world-class athlete in addition to being a rock slash movie star. The late, great Peter von Bagh got the camera rolling on the man of the hour and probably went down the pub to wait out the rambling. You’d be well advised to stick around for the stories though. Where else are you going to hear an Olympic champion in the javelin recount how he won the gold for his archery team at the World Championships, and what the team did to celebrate afterwards?

Moving Pictures

2014 is done and dusted and 2015 is well under way, which means it’s time for another “I watched these so you don’t have to” update from your intrepid author and humble servant, serving time here at Fiori e Baci HQ. In a twist that should surprise very few, I didn’t actually watch any of the movies I was going to in 2014, which means I get to keep the same New Year’s Resolution.

Penguins of Madagascar

(2014, dir. Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith)

Boy, is this movie cheezy.

Boy, is this movie cheezy.

Now in glorious 3-D! Penguins of Madagascar is full of style and devoid of substance. Is this really what the target audience wants and expects? “Style” refers here to the quality of animation, which I must say is very good. There’s an abundance of breathtaking action sequences shot in a way that would be very difficult if not impossible to achieve in a live action movie. I’m using “substance” as shorthand for things like interesting storyline, characters one can relate to, plausible plot – all of which are sadly missing here. A quickly forgettable ride, if a fast and colourful one.

Uuno Turhapuro, Suomen tasavallan herra presidentti

(1992, dir. Ere Kokkonen)

Fan service is not a recent invention.

Fan service is not a recent invention.

Another installment in the epic saga of Uuno Turhapuro, Esq. (Previously.) Whoever said that “familiarity breeds contempt” got it horribly wrong. Familiarity breeds endearment, at least when it comes to anti-heroes of the silver screen. Anyone voluntarily watching this would already know what to expect: a barrage of lame jokes, a few genuinely funny ones thrown in, actors fully embracing the caricature-ness of their characters, Vesa-Matti Loiri as Uuno improvising his way through, an implausible setting & storyline – everything one would expect from a sitcom, here milked for 84 minutes straight.

Ripa ruostuu

(aka Ripa Hits the Skids, 1993, dir. Christian Lindblad)

It takes two to tango.

Ripa channels his inner Fred Astaire.

Speaking of familiarity and endearment, this must have been the umpteenth viewing for me, and I’m not quite sure why. There are more than a few parallels between Ripa and Uuno, and the brief but glorious appearance of V-M Loiri as Ripa’s father only works to underline these.

Ripa is a struggling movie auteur wannabe, whose movies (apparently full of sex & violence, although we never get to see any actual footage) have failed to make a dent in the annals of cinematic history. As a result, Ripa is struggling to make ends meet, which is kind of ironic in light of the fact that Sam Huber – who was rightfully awarded a Jussi (Finnish equivalent of Oscar) for his portrayal of Ripa – is a genuine real-life millionaire. Although it’s never spelled out as such, Ripa must be a big fan of Charles Bukowski, such is his womanizing laissez faire approach to everything in life, even if he does draw a line in the sand at a critical pivot point in the movie.

If you’re familiar with (and perhaps even a fan of) Aki Kaurismäki‘s brand of dry Finnish wit, you’ll be right at home with Ripa ruostuu. Recommended for all nihilists at heart.

Leprechaun

(1993, dir. Mark Jones)

Here's Johnny!

Here’s Johnny!

Leprechaun is famous for, among other things, featuring the big screen debut of one Jennifer Aniston. A horror comedy that does not (and could not) take itself very seriously, Leprechaun provides surprising amounts of light entertainment and silly scares even after 20 years.

Loputon Gehennan liekki

(aka Eternal Flame of Gehenna, 2011, dir. Sami Kettunen)

And an apple pie, and a strawberry milkshake, to go, please.

And an apple pie, and a strawberry milkshake, to go, please.

Now here’s a real labour of love: a documentary about the Finnish black metal underground scene that consists mainly of interviews with scene doyens with names like Lord Satanachia (pictured above), Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance and Satanic Tyrant Werewolf. Probably best appreciated with a jug of something vile and strong in alcohol content in hand.

Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins

(1985, dir. Guy Hamilton)

remo

See this finger? You don’t want to know where it’s been.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was, as the name implies, intended to start a franchise based on the (in)famous The Destroyer pulp fiction series. Sadly, this half-baked attempt marks (so far, one adds with a heart full of hope) the only silver-screen appearance of Remo and his mentor Chiun. What went wrong? Well, not the casting, that’s for sure – Fred Ward is the perfect choice for Remo, and Joel Grey is just the right amount of funny as the always hypercritical Master of Sinanju. There are rumours of a reboot, but I’m not holding my breath.

Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom

(2013, dir. Christer Lindström)

Note to self: remember to buy toothpicks. And maybe some floss.

Note to self: remember to buy toothpicks. And maybe some floss.

A movie about a Finnish 80s flashback synth trio, reimagined as a 70s Italian sci-fi genre flick, with generous helpings of Jodorowsky-like surrealism (spoiler: one of the main characters is an egg-laying transvestite) – dubbed in Italian?!?!? The end result is just as ridiculous as it sounds, which should be enough for anyone to figure out whether they’ll enjoy it (as I did) or not. It’s also only 24 minutes long, which in this case is quite enough.

Hellraiser

(1987, dir. Clive Barker)

Didn't I meet you on a summer cruise?

Didn’t I meet you on a summer cruise?

There was a considerable amount of buzz when Hellraiser came out in the days of VHS. I must have viewed it at some point but promptly forgot doing so; nothing like a bit of déja-viewing to jog the old brain cells though. I doubt there’ll be a 3rd viewing – it’s not that good, to be honest. It’s a straight horror story made in a time when most horror was tongue-in-cheek, so kudos to Mr. Barker for that. However, there’s way too much promise (the Cenobites, who look like a washed-out punk band, to give you an example) compared with what is delivered. Apparently this started a franchise (unlike Remo) – I don’t think I’m in a hurry to look for the follow-ups, though.

Delta Force

(1986, dir. Menahem Golan)

Chuck Norris doesn't often use binoculars, but when he does, he makes them shrink just by squeezing on the sides.

Chuck Norris doesn’t often use binoculars, but when he does, he makes them shrink just by holding them in his bare hands.

Produced by The Cannon Group, directed by Menahem Golan, starring Lee Marvin (in his final role) and Chuck Norris as Special Forces operatives. That pretty much says it all, and frankly I doubt the script was much longer. The years have not been kind to The Delta Force, but I guess that was never the intention. Vincent Canby, writing for the New York Times, considered this the “film all others will have to beat for sheer, unashamed, hilariously vulgar vaingloriousness.” I think he may have meant to imply that vulgar vaingloriousness is a bad thing. Is it? Answers on a postcard please.