The Irishman is Martin Scorsese closing books on his mob quadrology, which started with Mean Streets (1973), followed by Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and the 2013 spinoff The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which stuns with its’ tranquil pacing, subtle acting and a sad undertone of watching an old criminal rotting away in a retirement home, reminiscing his past life and crimes to nobody in particular. If this turns out to be also Scorsese’s last film, it’s a fine way to leave the field, saying: try topping this. We’ll never have stars like AlPacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro again, and we’ll never get another Scorsese.
2. Joker (Todd Philllips)
DC understood that in order to compete against Marvel, one has to come up with a bit of a different angle. They did it already with Christopher Nolan’s Batman, bringing a darker, grittier and harder-hitting version of their favorite superhero, and now they decided to do the same with a villain. Not to say they hadn’t tried, but Suicide Squad didn’t really work. And even more so, they tried two impossible things at the same time: to do a superhero film about mental illness and to challenge the greatness of Heath Ledger, who still is the best Joker out there. Somehow, they managed to do both, and while Joaquin Phoenix may not be better than Heath as Joker, he’s just as good.
3. Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (JJ Abrams)
What a way to end the saga! The film, which was plagued by production problems with directors and writers going in an out of it, delivered a perfect ending for the Skywalkers! JJ Abrams managed to run the story with such precision, pacing and scale that it felt constantly fresh and new, while never forgetting its’ roots. Daisy Ridley’s Rey grows from a pretty bland character into a proper hero, and Adam Driver’s sheer charisma makes the connection between the two characters feel natural and organic. It’s a huge film and knows its’ duty: to end the 40+ years of film history with dignity.
4. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)
Apollo 11 is a gripping documentary that keeps you on the edge of your seat, crunching the armrests, knuckles white, breathing short, shallow gasps as in to make sure your presence would in no way alter the course of the tender wheels of human history unfolding in front of your eyes. Every school should include Apollo 11 into their curriculum, for it is not only an accurate documentary of events that changed the history of our race forever but also a hugely inspiring film, too, one that pushes you to reach beyond the limits of possibility in order to achieve something great.
5. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)
In its’ core, Booksmart is very simply Superbad but with girls. It’s also every other teen comedy ever made; two girls who’ve spent their days getting straight As and missed all the high school parties decide to have one night of fun, for the first time, before moving away to different colleges across the country. The story has been told a thousand times, and we all can imagine what happens: they get drunk for the first time, they fall in love, they go crazy. It’s not really the story that works so well, but the whole execution of the film, the unhinged love which director Olivia Wilde, an actress herself, has managed to pull out of the shining duo Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Felster, both bound to hit big stardom in the ’20s.
6. Mestari Cheng (Mika Kaurismäki)
A charming story of a Chinese cook who comes to rural, northern Finland with his son to find a long-lost friend and ends up setting up a restaurant serving rare Chinese delicacies to the grumpy Finns who probably never even seen a foreigner in their lives, but on TV maybe. Master Cheng, as the English title is, charms with its’ beautiful cinematography, cinematic scale and awesome, strange Finnish characters, whom Cheng interacts with his own, bull-headed style. Kaurismäki manages to make the story more than its’ parts and the feel-good nature of the film makes it a lovely watch.
7. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Alex Gibney)
2019 was all about fake news, and the order our world was established on – that if anything, the news are true – was shaken. This happened also in the unbeatable field of business, and The Inventor is a great dive into the world where wealth and money is everything. We have grown to believe that the business decisions made by the multi-billionaires have been established on their genial understanding of the business and the products they build, but with clear, sharp slashes, Alex Gibney’s documentary goes to destroy that belief. The Inventor both an uncovering of a fraud and a documentary of the person behind the fraud, a self-proclaimed Silicon Valley med tech goddess who sets on a mission to change the world.
8. Leaving Neverland (Dan Reed)
Unearthing the old claims of Michael Jackson’s pedophilia relationships with kids who stayed at his mansion and toured with him wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard of. In Finland, we’ve had our own Michael Jackson -jokes (“väärä nappula”), as probably everywhere in the world and the fact that Wacko-Jacko, a revered musician, had this dark side was accepted as part of his myth, rather than the actual, life-destroying crime spree it actually was. While Leaving Neverland isn’t a tremendously built documentary, it fails to really build the characters of its’ subjects and tends to be scandalous and sometimes not that believable, but what it does it gives faces and history to the victims and shows the extent Jackson’s actions, and, interestingly, also challenges the families of the victims: why didn’t you do anything? We know the answer: they liked basking in Jackson’s starlight way too much to really stop what they for sure suspected was going on.
9. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)
Now this is the right way to do a rock biopic! Pushing the envelope much further than Rocketman’s predecessor Bohemian Rhapsody did, the film goes to town with sex and drugs and rocks and rolls. Taron Egerton crashes the Oscar party with an impeccable show of force as an actor and Dexter Fletcher manages to keep the film that keeps on bouncing all over the room in some kind of leash to deliver a story that actually tells a story of Elton John‘s crazy years. Drawing connections between BoRap and Rocketman is easy, as the films are essentially the same. Where BoRap is simply better rock film because of Queen’s amazing music, Rocketman is probably a better film.
10. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
The star-studded cast and crazy intriguing premise delivered Tarantino a huge hit with Once Upon A Time, and rightly so. The beautifully crafted film takes one of the big Hollywood tragedies and re-writes the history, but does so with childish dream to crush the bullies, and while we know the events didn’t go that way, it’s an alternative history take, done mostly with respect (yes, Bruce Lee‘s depiction was not fair, but hey, it’s a fantasy movie). It’s fun and powerful film that leaves you gasping for air by the time you roll out of the theatre. Might not be Tarantino’s best, but is definitely on the top five.
For over 40 years, Star Wars has ruled the box office. What started off as an insane dream by George Lucas, a young filmmaker from Modesto, California turned into anything but “modest”. Spanning at first through three movies, the first trilogy which begun from the fourth episode, followed by an extensive toy industry with animated series, a bunch of TV movies in the ’80s, finally petered out somewhere in turn of the ’90s. By that time, everyone knew Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, we knew what a lightsaber would be, how it sounded like and knew exactly what color saber they all had.
The story was kept alive through the ’90s by a bunch of very successful games – both tabletop roleplaying ones and a good selection of PC game titles, such as X-Wing and TIE Fighter, Rebel Assault and Jedi Knight – while, unbeknownst to anyone, Lucas was writing his prequels.
When Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) hit the cinemas in the late ’90s., it was a major cinematic event. Followed by two more Episodes, the much-beloved franchise got its’ first serious fan backlash, too. While the cinema tickets sold like hotcakes, fans were not that in love with new elements, such as the Midi-chlorians, an attempt to explain the force through weird physics, and while some of the new characters were welcomed, like Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), some were loathed: Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) soon became the most hated character of the series, and once Lucas let go of the franchise after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005), Jar-Jar (along with the Midi-chlorians) disappeared like fart in Sahara.
After Episode III, it took quite a while for Star Wars to come back – ten years, to be exact. Again, during that time the story was kept alive by the toys and gaming industry, but the savior came from a surprising new place: Lego started to produce Star Wars toys, introducing the franchise to a third new generation. The Lego sets were followed by Lego Star Wars -games, which became hugely popular and the first stepping stone to the generation who had missed the first two trilogies. Simultaneously, animated Star Wars series, first Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005) and later Star Wars: Rebels (2014-2018) kept filling in the gaps between the trilogies.
When Lucas finally sold his Star Wars empire to Disney, the third series was inevitable. J.J. Abrams, who had successfully rejuvenated Star Trek back in 2009, was hired to produce the first of the upcoming trilogy. When Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) hit the theatres, it crushed all the previous records and brought the story back to life with full power. Introducing a set of new characters, of which all managed to strike the right chords among the fanbase and the new viewers, Star Wars was again the biggest and the best in the cinema.
Fans did notice, though, that Abrams’ Star Wars was doing a disservice to itself by over-serving the fans: to some, it felt like a best-of of the original trilogy, bringing very little new to the scenario. The same elements were still there – The Empire, only now known as The First Order versus the Rebels, planet-size weapons capable of destroying other planets and the new Emperor/Darth Vader -characters – Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) with his apprentice, the troubled young Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – ruling over the galaxy. Still, it was clear that the Star Wars universe was welcomed warmly, and yet another generation was able to jump onboard the fun.
The Force Awakens was followed by a spinoff, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards), which served as a film to tie one of the open ends of the original trilogy, telling where did the Rebels learn about the weakness in the Death Star. The film was grittier than Star Wars had been before, and after its’ success, a whole universe of Star Wars Stories was planned.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2018, directed by Rian Johnson), the second part in the latest trilogy, was received with even more fan backlash. While the critics revered it, the fans were less enamored. The film was more ponderous than its’ predecessors, but the problems were more script-related: some of the timelines the film presented didn’t seem to make sense and it didn’t take seriously enough some of the rampant fan theories and some of the setups The Force Awakens had put in place. Still, the film was a big hit in box offices around the world, and people were attuned to wait for the final part of the trilogy.
Before that, though, Star Wars experienced probably the biggest slap in the face of the franchise in decades, when they ventured in the history of the most beloved character of the series, Han Solo. Solo: A Star Wars Story (directed by Ron Howard), which came out in 2018, wasn’t loved by the critics, the fans or the box office. It technically killed the Star Wars Stories -spinoff-series, trashing the plans of a Boba Fett -movie that was rumored to follow. It showed that the fans are willing to watch Star Wars movies, as long as the films take themselves serious enough, don’t tamper with old characters, and give us the adventure we are looking for, the good versus evil -battle in its’ true, pure form. Solo went against the grain, being maybe a bit too self-aware, too cocky and – unfortunately – too general to find a proper place in Star Wars universe.
Meanwhile, the games and toys industry grew bigger and bigger. EA brought Star Wars: Battlefront -franchise back to life and served two greatly loved Star Wars games to the gamers, while selling Lego sets, plushies, helmets… you name it, they had it. They did, though, find out the unfortunate fact of the Star Wars series – the most beloved characters, events, and elements were still the ones from the original trilogy. Nothing the follow-ups had brought up – save maybe Darth Maul (played by Ray Park) – could ever rival Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) or Boba Fett (first played by Jeremy Bulloch) or Jabba The Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward) or Han Solo (Harrison Ford), not to mention Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones).
Finally, as the second decade of the 2000s was about to wrap up and the world was about to step in the Cyberpunk era of the 2020s, the last and final episode of the Skywalker saga hit the theatres. Not before The Mandalorian (2019-, created by Jon Favreau), a TV-series set in the Star Wars universe, another spinoff patching up some of the blank holes in the backstory, would premiere at the newly-established Disney+ streaming service.
The Mandalorian brought in rave reviews. Suddenly, the whole Internet was going crazy over a character named Baby Yoda (who, of course, can’t be Yoda since, well, Yoda is dead Jedi ghost these days). One would think that such a great response would pave the way for the grand finale of the film series, but again, the fan backlash was waiting just around the corner.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019, directed by J.J. Abrams) was received with an extremely divided audience and critical response – the worst one in the series since the days of Lucas. To some, the fast pace J.J. Abrams, who returned to the helm after Rian Johnson’s previous “disaster” (as so many fans put it), was too much. To some, important characters were played in and out quickly, and the plot felt rushed and incoherent. Probably many just didn’t want the Skywalker saga to end, and had already chosen their side: this can not, should not, and will not be the end of it.
Simultaneously, The Mandalorianwas continuing the story. It was beloved by the fans, and it had the first new, greatly beloved character in it – the mysterious Yoda-like child, whom we know very little of as of now. In some way, The Mandalorian‘s success could’ve even turned against The Rise of Skywalker. It was the Star Wars the fans wanted, not the film that tried to end it all.
The biggest problem with Star Wars, from the very beginning on, has been the fact that it’s not really built to follow an arc. Each of the trilogies is written independently and even each film within the trilogy is written independently, often directed by different directors, each with a strong need to bring a new angle to the ages-old Star Wars franchise. All this while Disney, the new owner of the franchise, is trying to keep the fans happy and buying the toys, paying the tickets to the films and the theme park rides. But still, for over 40 years, the series has leaned on characters and events devised by George Lucas in the ’70s, and nothing any of the new installments have brought on has stuck as hard as the stories and characters of the original trilogy.
And boy, they have tried. There was Darth Maul and the Pod Race in the second trilogy, loaded with huge galactic plotting schemes and backstabbings, but all of that was too confusing to really fall in love with. Then, there was Kylo Ren and Snoke, both of whom were just too much like Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader to really kick in hard. There was BB-8, the new robot – practically, a new R2-D2, and even bigger battles, none of which were able to outdo what Battle of Hoth did in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, directed by Irvin Kershner). Now, we have Baby Yoda, while most of the characters of the original series are either dead or ghosts floating around in Jediversum.
The whole Skywalker saga said what it had to say in its’ first three outings, and nothing that was added to it, later on, was really needed to make the already epic story any stronger. Still, I’m really happy Star Wars has always been there, all through my life, in different forms, shapes, and formats. And now, as I watch the excellent The Rise of Skywalker ending the whole saga, I do feel sad and nostalgic. It’s not necessarily an end of an era – Star Wars, if you ask from Disney, is just gettings started – but it’s an end of a set of beloved characters whom I’ve known nearly better than any other characters from any other franchises, save The Lord of the Rings.
Looking back, I think the biggest mistake the series did was that it kept Lucas on for as long as it did in the director’s seat. I think he should’ve been kept as a guardian of the storyline, one through whom all the scripts would pass, one who would give guidance and direction to where the story would go – more like a showrunner – while leaving directing to others. This way, Episodes I-III could have stood the test of time better, and the whole series would feel more together. Also, I don’t think the Star Wars Stories were necessary additions since while I did like Rogue One, Solo did show the fact that Star Wars just isn’t for every director, and not every character needs to have a carefully laid backstory that’s force-fed to the audience; we like to make up the untold histories ourselves.
But all in all, Star Wars – The Skywalker Saga is an important franchise that deserves the acknowledgment in the annals of great sagas of modern times. It’s may not be the Lord of the Rings, but it’s the about the second best thing from that.
There’s a lot of directions the series can go from here, but I do hope they first focus on creating a big story arc and finding a franchise runner who can carry it through a series of upcoming trilogies/TV-shows/whatever it is they have in mind. Maybe it’s worthwhile to consult George Lucas once more since it’s from him where the most valuable assets the series has have sprung from. I’m excitedly waiting for the future, and will definitely be coming back to the 12+ movies and TV-series Skywalker Saga has to offer.
Thank you, George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and others. You’ve given a lot to us.
Stars? Should I give a star rating to these 40+ years of Star Wars? How could I, even? It’s such a mixed bag… But it is a review, and I like giving stars, so here we go:
In short: A convoluted and mixed franchise, which relies heavily on the original trilogy, but manages to keep us entertained and grow and involve new viewers, generation after generation.
And here’s the film-by-film order:
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977, George Lucas)
The beginning of the most epic adventure we’ll see, possibly ever, Episode V is a stunning work of art and adventure. To think, one film brought us characters like Darth Vader, C3-PO, R2-D2, Luke Skywalker, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca… Again, all in just one film. This was a momentous movie, like The Beatles coming together for the first time, which changed the whole film industry forever.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)
Darker in the tone, and grander in the scale, The Empire Strikes Back nailed Star Wars into history, making it more than a one-hit-wonder, but a franchise to look out for. Introducing special effect techniques never seen before, even more unforgettable characters like Yoda, and continuing the adventures of the original heroes in such ease, the film is what every sequel should be.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)
Maybe just a bit too childish with the lovely, furry Ewoks, Return of the Jedi manages to bring in even more intriguing characters and making this grand adventure feel not just a story, but mythology, to which one just simply can’t stop falling in love with. The new set pieces – this time, jungle – give it a fresh breath of air, and the ending of the first trilogy is pure magic.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas)
George Lucas couldn’t keep his hands off the Star Wars and returned 15 years later to his creation, only this time, unfortunately, the magic was lost. The film has some amazing set pieces like the Pod Race, and a wealth of new characters, but the script stumbles trying to get us interested in the birth of the Empire and the internal struggles of the Senate. Not only that, but it also ages terribly – the VFX are nowadays sub-par, but they must’ve been that already back then – Terminator 2 had come out in 1992, that’s seven years earlier, and first Lord of the Rings was already in the making.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas)
Casting Hayden Christensen asAnakin Skywalker was a mistake. While probably not a terrible actor, when he jumped onboard Star Wars franchise, he was way overshadowed by everyone else. He could not muster enough interest in the character, which, in its’ inner struggle would’ve needed a much stronger actor (luckily they did choose Adam Driver to play Kylo Ren to patch this up). The story itself introduces interesting concepts, like the Clones, but the film, while managing to rekindle some of the original Star Wars flame, was still too crappy to really have a character of its’ own.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005, George Lucas)
While definitely the best of the second trilogy, not even the big space battles and the huge set pieces in the arena, or terrific Count Dooku (played by Christopher Lee) can save us from the mopy glances of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker, or such plot twists like “I have the high ground”. The visuals are better than in two earlier ones, but there’s way too much of everything for the film to look like anything but a mess.
Star Wars: Clone Wars (2008, Dave Filoni)
The Clone Wars is the first animated feature film of the Star Wars series, based on the popular and liked TV series, which maps the time between episodes I and II. The film has a strong, unique visual style and has some very likable characters, but ultimately, it doesn’t feel like it really belongs in the saga instrumentally.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015, J.J. Abrams)
Just like he did with Star Trek, J.J. Abrams managed to walk into Star Wars franchise and blow some fresh air into it, without ruining it. The Force Awakens is a really strong, new start which brings back old legends and introduces new, interesting characters. It looks amazing, sounds amazing and rolls on with a fast but never rushed pace – just like the original trilogy did. The film does succumb to a lot of fan service and finds itself playing the best-of of the original trilogy, but hey, that’s what we came in here for, right?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)
Darker than its’ predecessors, and the first of the Story -spinoffs, Rogue One manages to feel like a grittier version of the Star Wars saga, bleaker and more grown-up story which, firstly, doesn’t have a happy ending, and secondly, tells a story that’s not really part of the trilogies. The film goes to tell the backstory of the Death Star and introduces several quite dark set pieces, and while it does feel like it doesn’t belong really anywhere, it’s a great watch and a strong movie all in all.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)
The Last Jedi is more ponderous and talky than its predecessors, with beautiful concept artwork sequences, but it’s a script that’s lacking: the story is incoherent, the timeline seems to be off and the film feels too serious in a wrong sense, too. We stay way too long with Luke in a forlorn island, while the Rebels are running away – quite boringly – from the New Order fleet. The story feels like a mashup of the new Battlestar Galactica and some weird Samurai movie of the 80’s. In addition to this, for some reason the visual effects seem more glowy and smooth compared to Abrams’ takes, and while the vistas are beautiful, they do feel like someone drew a beautiful concept art of a sequence which was then attempted to bring to life.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Ron Howard)
Solo was doomed to fail from the beginning: nobody can replace Harrison Ford, just like you can’t replace Arnold Schwarzenegger. He created possibly one of the most iconic characters of film history with Han Solo, and while Alden Ehrenreich does his best, he’s nowhere near the same ballpark as Ford is. In addition to this, the story feels like it’s not taking itself seriously enough; the film stumbles on as a gangster movie and a space opera, without being able to decide which one it actually is. Also, the backstory it gives to Solo is a pretty lame one.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (201, J.J. Abrams)
What a way to end the saga! The film, which was plagued by production problems with directors and writers going in an out of it, delivered a perfect ending for the Skywalkers! J. J. Abrams managed to run the story with such precision, pacing and scale that it felt constantly fresh and new, while never forgetting its’ roots. Daisy Ridley’s Rey grows from a pretty bland character into a proper hero, and Adam Driver’s sheer charisma makes the connection between the two characters feel natural and organic. It’s a huge film and knows its’ duty: to end the 40+ years of film history with dignity.
What a crazy decade it has been indeed. We’ve seen a nearly complete overhaul of a whole business in the last ten years. There’s been ups and downs, but the film as a way of storytelling has survived: the rise of mobile hasn’t killed it. Videogames haven’t killed it. Netflix hasn’t killed it – actually, it only made it stronger. The only thing that’s gotten close was the ever-strengthening TV industry, but even that is still but a shadow in comparison to the best films out there.
Below, I’ve tried listing my top films of the last 20 years. Not too easy, and many films I’ve loved were left out of the list, unfortunately, but if anything, this list serves as a cross-cut through the film industry, all of these being films that one way or another have left a mark at least in me as a filmmaker from the last decade.
20. Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011)
What Killer Joe did to me was it re-introduced me to Matthew McConaughey, an actor who I had thought did a handful of romcoms back in the 90’s and then disappeared (not true at all, but memory works in a funny way). With Killer Joe, William Friedkin, at 75 when the film was released, managed to pull off a snarky, snappy and vibrant little movie full of violent and sexual tensions. Killer Joe which might very well be his last fiction film, a nice little reminder of the momentous career the director has had.
19. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
“Not quite my tempo”, says Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the abusive drum teacher to his young pupil, at the doorsteps of the greatest events in film history that were to take place: the #metoo movement. Whiplash tells a strong, relentless story about power abuse. Yeah, not sexual, but the abuse of a position where one gets and is willing to push others to the brink of insanity by using the powers vested upon themselves to elevate their own excellency. I’ve been a student of such a person a long time ago, and I could feel old traumas creep back in.
18. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
The Holiday season is a great time to stop and look around the family you have and appreciate it in its’ full strange, complicated weirdness. Toni Erdmann manages to capture the disconnection and the complexity of families in this strange but awesome German comedy. Toni Erdmann follows a pretty eccentric father trying to reconnect with his daughter, a go-getter who’s trying to run away from herself in order to become something better. During the course of the story, she learns that an apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
17. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
Oh, the blissful boredom of having nothing to do on a beautiful summer day, under a scorching sun. Our kids will never experience that again: they can always dig out their cellphones and drift away in the always-connected world of the Internet, but hopefully one day they’ll accidentally click on Call Me By Your Name on Netflix or whatever the streaming giant on their phones will be and watch this peek into the times before every minute of your potentially free brain-time was sold in micro-moments to companies trying to get you to consume more of their products.
16. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, 2019)
Apollo 11 is a gripping documentary that keeps you on the edge of your seat, crunching the armrests, knuckles white, breathing short, shallow gasps as in to make sure your presence would in no way alter the course of the tender wheels of human history unfolding in front of your eyes. Every school should include Apollo 11 into their curriculum, for it is not only an accurate documentary of events that changed the history of our race forever but also a hugely inspiring film, too, one that pushes you to reach beyond the limits of possibility in order to achieve something great.
15. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The best in the Toy Story quadrology, Toy Story 3 talks to kids about things that really matter – about friendship and about losing your loved ones – in such a way I as a father could only hope to achieve. The clarity of the language is important, and yes, it’s wrapped in the clothes of an action-comedy, but unlike others in the business, Pixar never forgets the big, important and heartfelt story that’s needed to make a movie into something more than just a bunch of beautifully animated scenes. Toy Story 3 is Pixar at its’ best, most touching and also, most fun.
14. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011)
In yet another outburst of Lars Von Trier’s self-loathing depression depiction, Melancholia manages to be simultaneously hauntingly beautiful, extremely funny and sharp and clear in its’ description of what I imagine depression actually being like, feeling like, looking like. It may not be Lars Von Trier’s greatest work – one can argue whether that would be either Dancer in the Dark, Dogville or Europa (of which I haven’t seen the last one) – it’s still a great and honest film.
13. Intouchables (Olivie Nakache, Eric Toledano, 2011)
A feel-good film of the decade, Intouchables, a French film about a paraplegic multi-millionaire and his streetwise personal assistant became a huge hit, and was even remade into an American picture The Upside (2017) with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston (which I haven’t seen). No idea whether or not the remake made any sense, but I can tell that Intouchables is pretty close to a perfect movie: the writing is impeccable, the film runs on full steam right from the start and the stars – Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy – and their chemistry together – make the film a pure bliss to enjoy.
12. Five Broken Cameras (Emad Burant and Guy Davidi, 2011)
A conflict of the century, the Palestinian struggle of independence, is a narrative that’s easily shifted depending on the point of view of the teller. Five Broken Cameras brings the argument on a new level, telling the story from the point of view of a person right in the middle of it all, a Palestinian observing the Israeli settlers making their way into their small strip of land. Not only is the strength of the film in the circumstances and unique vantage point of the filmmakers Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, it’s also an excellent work of art.
11. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
Things we know about Iranian culture: fuck all. A Separation is both a slap in the faces of western film audience, showing that shit, it’s not just people walking around in burqas and bomb vests, but actually a highly complex culture which has its’ own pitfalls and bureaucracies and that yes, religion is important part of that culture, but so it is in ours. We are actually pretty much the same. But that aside, it’s a terrifically acted and directed film about a very complicated breakup, a film that A Marriage Story should’ve been.
10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)
After the success of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit attempted to repeat the impossible, turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic into films that can proudly stand next to their literary versions. The Lord of the Rings were a slam dunk; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was just as great. Unfortunately, the following two movies fell off the tracks and ruined the second trilogy but nevertheless, An Unexpected Journey is a beautiful, perfect fantasy movie.
9. Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
Huge, sweeping landscapes, a story that runs back in history millions of years with religious thematics and aliens that gave birth to mankind but realized they had created a beast too dangerous to exist and created an antidote, but failed to deliver it. It’s a big story, one which does have some holes in it, I bet, but I never understood the Reddit backlash the film suffered from. To me, it’s one of the best SciFi films ever, and a great inspiration of how to take a franchise to a completely new level.
8. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn, 2012)
A documentary about Indonesian mass killings in the mid-’60s, or actually, the people behind those killings goes off the rails quite quickly. The film sets the actual killers to recount the murders on-camera, turning them into films made in style of their favorite film genres – western, crime, musical. It’s quite a mind-bender, to see the real people recounting their actual crimes and not really understanding how fucked-up it has been – until someone actually does. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping documentaries ever made and leaves you disgusted and in disbelief for a long time.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
The sheer energy and unhinged power of The Wolf of Wall Street alone make it hard to believe it’s directed by a 70-something-years old. The film moves on like a coke-snorting Wall Street dealer, playing the Scorsese top hits, power-crazy men and their just-crazy women, big-spending, mob-flirting assholes shouldering their way on the top while waving the big middle finger to the law enforcement, finally stumbling and spending the rest of their lives in comfortable obscurity, outside of the limelight, reminiscing their past lives with affection.
6. Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)
Crafting a documentary is storytelling at its’ most complicated level since you are forced to stick with the truth at least in some capacity. Asking a documentarian to do a story about you – or your daughter, as it was the case with Amy – is like Russian roulette: one of you will die. In this case, it was Amy’s father (and immediate family) who got the bullet, who turned out to be a nasty hog riding on his daughter’s money and fame, pushing her deeper into her alcohol-fueled life. She died a sad, skeletal shadow of her former self, but most importantly, she died so that her father could fulfill his dreams of living large and important. Sad shit, great doc.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
What must’ve been one of the shitties productions to pull off, given all the delays, the almost-starting-but-calling-it-off-two-weeks-before-the-first-shooting-day -things and all, Mad Max: Fury Road managed to pull out of the development hell stronger, grittier, nastier and dirtier than ever. Crazy star-studded cast with Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy riding the carriage, and post-apocalypse veteran George Miller running the whole show, it’s a perfect action film: simple-enough plot, high production values and a killer soundtrack to go with it.
4. Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018)
Talking about a tricky production, director getting fired weeks before finishing the shoot must be pretty high on the list of hardships a production has to endure. Still, Bohemian Rhapsody pulled it off and did that with style. The film became one of the highest-grossing films of the year, rivaling even the superhero flicks. Now, it’s not a flawless movie – not by a long shot – but neither are some of my favorite films of all time. What it is, is a pure joy: a film that’s so full of great moments and scenes that even if it does come off a bit shaky as a whole in the end, it’s such a pleasure to watch. And yeah, I’ve been a huge Queen fan all my life, so there’s that, too.
3. Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019)
DC understood that in order to compete against Marvel, one has to come up with a bit of a different angle. They did it already with Nolan’s Batman, bringing a darker, grittier and harder-hitting version of their favorite superhero, and now they decided to do the same with a villain. Not to say they hadn’t tried, but Suicide Squad didn’t really work. And even more so, they tried two impossible things at the same time: to do a superhero film about mental illness and to challenge the greatness of Heath Ledger, who still is the best Joker out there. Somehow, they managed to do both, and while Joaquin Phoenix may not be better than Heath Ledger’s Joker, he’s just as good.
2. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
The Irishman is Martin Scorsese closing books on his mob quadrology, which started with Mean Streets (1973), followed by Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and the 2013 spinoff The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which stuns with its’ tranquil pacing, subtle acting and a sad undertone of watching an old criminal rotting away in a retirement home, reminiscing his past life and crimes to nobody in particular. If this turns out to be also Scorsese’s last film, it’s a fine way to leave the field, saying: try topping this. We’ll never have stars like Pacino, Pesci, and DeNiro again, and we’ll never get another Scorsese.
1. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)
Funny thing, when Interstellar came out in 2014, I wasn’t that smitten by it. It took me another viewing to really start appreciating it, but it needed a full IMAX experience to truly fall in love with it. A film that captures what movies are supposed to be, at least in my mind, Interstellar is defining science fiction film of the decade. Stepping into the hall of fame, populated by the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator 2, Moon and maybe a handful of others, Interstellar brings what only a science fiction greatness can: a cinematic masterpiece, a visual behemoth of a story that simply doesn’t fit into the screen of any size, really, and a soundtrack and soundscapes that truly take you to a different vantage point to observe our current reality.
Turning 40 today, I feel like taking a quick peek back at how my life was back 20 years ago.
The year was 1999 and the biggest topic was y2k. Everyone was sure that when we turn the digits from 99 to 00, systems reset, data gets screwed up and everything will be shut down. Spoiler alert: didn’t happen. But the world was quite a different back then. 9/11 hadn’t happened and Leonardo DiCaprio was still the annoying brat from Titanic. That’s about as much as I can remember from those times from the top of my head, but let’s do a quick Google 20 years back, at the year 1999.
Not one but two of the most influential presidents of the time were going through the impeachment process in their countries – Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Bill Clinton of USA both had their troubles, but neither of the impeachment processes was successful. The war in Kosovo had started – and recently ended, with war criminals either on the loose or getting caught and dragged to trials. Columbine mass shooting sparked the first big gun debate across the USA that I can remember personally.
So the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In my own life, I had recently moved in with my then-girlfriend, the to-be-mother-of-my-child, and I was working on a film I didn’t know would end up changing my whole life. Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, the sixth installment of a long series of scifi comedies created by Samuli Torssonen, had recently released its’ first teaser, which claimed the film would come out in the year 2000 (or with some luck, even a bit earlier!), and I was signed up as the director. Little did we know, it would take another 6 years before the film would be finished, and almost none of the footage we had shot by then would end up in the movie (if I’m not mistaken, there’s one clip, the bit where Info calculates the probability of the losses, which made it to the final film).
I didn’t have personally any dreams or hopes of becoming a filmmaker back then – as you can see from the teaser above, Star Wreck became much more serious only after the release of the teaser, which prompted us to revisit the VFX and the material we had shot.
Having said that, prying back into my head 20 years ago is much harder than one would think. What was important to me back then? I loved metal music, I had just recently discovered David Bowie, I enjoyed roleplaying games back then. My operating system was Windows NT, phone Nokia 3310 and I loved Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. I was working at a telemarketeering company, I think I was still in high school. My brother was still alive.
Nowadays, well, he’s dead. I miss him. I know I would have invited him over for my birthday bash, we would have talked about things 20 years ago. He would’ve remembered how I was a dumb kid back then. I would have said the same of him. He would’ve commented I’ve gained some weight. He probably would still be the skinny old him. We would have laughed, he had a very infectious laugh. I can hear it now in the back of my head.
Since twenty years, I’ve made a bunch of movies which I’m proud of – I’ve made some use of my time, I guess. I’m still working at marketing – when not making movies, or marketing them to either financiers or the end users, I’m working at an advertisement company, doing ads for other products. I enjoy it, it’s fun and creative enough to keep my mind busy.
Health is one thing that takes a hit. Twenty years ago, I wasn’t in a great shape, but I wasn’t hurting. Now, my left knee and ankle both hurt and I need to take three different kind of pill every morning to keep my blood pressure in check. I try to do sports few times a week, but it’s not always possible.
Nowadays, I’m running a Macbook Pro with Catalina operating system. My phone is Huawei, I play God of War, I’ve sold all my CDs I was so proud back then after Spotify came onboard, but find myself collecting LPs today instead. I have a wife now and I love her. She’s the funniest dumbass I know, and I can’t spend one day with her without her making me laugh out uncontrollably. And I have a son, he’s 14 years old, turning out to be a charming little champion.
And just like 20 years ago, the vibe of the upcoming decade change is anxious. Twenty years ago, I used to play roleplaying games, a hobby I sadly have forgotten since then. One of my favorite games was R. Talsorian Games’ Cyberpunk 2020 (released originally in 1990). It painted a picture of the future in my head, one which has stayed etched there clearly.
In Cyberpunk 2020, cars were flying, supercorporations running the world and everything was grimy, dark, sexy and dangerous. People had mini cellphones, everyone was toting an arsenal of guns with them, the techies were jacking on to the Net and mechanical chrome additions made bodies better, stronger – and prone to cyber psychosis.
They didn’t hit that far off the mark; guns are a huge problem in the US, Internet is everywhere, cars are not flying but Tesla (with their new Cybertruck – remains to be seen if it actually sticks or not) is definitely headed that direction and the supercorporations are getting more and more powerful, extending their grasp into governments like never before. Cellphones rule our world, our eyes are glued to their screens day and night, the real-life cyber psychosis is going on all around.
I’m looking forward for my next 20 years with the same anxiety as 20 years ago. I have no idea what’s coming up next. Will I make more films in the future? I bet I will; I was down that road 20 years ago, although I wasn’t that serious about it back then. But me, looking back at me 20 years from now will probably have just as hard time getting really into my mindset as I have when remembering myself 20 years ago.
Today, I’m 40. It’s been quite a ride so far, looking forward for the next 20 years!
Elokuvajulkaisujen rytmi ja niistä raportoiminen on alkanut todella tekemään hallaa niin elokuville kuin niistä nauttiville katsojillekin. Sitä mukaan kun nettijournalismin julkaisu- ja käsittelytahti kiihtyy, myös niistä kirjoittavien toimittajien paineet saada ulos ensimmäisenä kattavimmat arvostelut, laajimmat analyysit ja rajuimmat paljastukset kovenevat.
Kun vihdoin pitkään odottamasi elokuva laskeutuu teattereihin tai Netflixiin, on se jo mediassa ehditty ruotia niin puhki että teatteriin meneminenkin on jo statement. Meillä tavallisilla katsojilla kun ei ole mahdollisuutta nähdä puoli vuotta ennakkoon festivaaleilla näytettyjä elokuvia silloin, eikä journoilla tunnu pysyvän housut jalassa että he osaisivat pitää mölyt mahassaan edes enskariviikkoon asti.
Eikä leffajutuilta nykyään voi välttyäkään. Kyllä, olen yrittänyt väistellä esim. Jokeria käsitteleviä juttuja ennen sen julkaisua – mahdotonta. Elokuvan jokainen potentiaalinen skandaalin aihe raahattiin kansainvälisissä medioissa framille pitkään ennen kuin elokuva pääsi teattereihin missään päin maailmaa. Ja skandaalejahan riittää! Jokainen vähääkään kiinnostavampi elokuva luetaan nykyään kannanotoksi mielenterveydesta, tai #metoosta tai aselaeista tai mistä hyvänsä mistä otsikoita saadaan veisteltyä. Istu siinä sitten jouralistien ristitulessa jotka riitelevät siitä innostaako joku elokuva massamurhiin tai mihin hyvänsä kun itsellä ei ole mitään mahdollisuutta nähdä koko rainaa vielä pitkään aikaan.
Sitten tuli El Camino. Elokuva ehdittiin ylistää ja sitten lytätä ja hakata kappaleiksi mediassa Netflixin julkaisusekunnilla ja seuraavalla ylistää toisten kriitikoiden toimesta taivaisiin ja sitten alkoikin jo riita siitä, saako pitääkö voiko jne jne jne. Itse en ehtinyt perjantai-iltana tuijottamaan ruudun äärellä elokuvaa, halusin katsoa sen lauantaina – silloin se alkoikin jo olla vanha juttu.
Nyt jännitetäänkin Scorsesen seuraavaa, mutta johan sekin on ehditty nähdä jossain maailman kolkassa. Viiden, kuuden, seitsemän tähden arvosteluja satelee mutta itselläni ei ole vieläkään kunnon ymmärrystä koska tämän kohutun elokuvan pääsisi kukaan näkemään. Nyt jo journalistit kirjoittavat syväanalyysejaan elokuvasta ja sen julkaisumenetelmästä ja plip plap plop. Itse vaan pyörittelen päätäni että missä tämä elokuva on, kuinka sen voi nähdä, teatterissa vai kotisohvalta.
Etenkin skandaalinhakuinen leffajournalismi kaipaisi hieman jarrua höyryjyräänsä. Ymmärrän, väsyneitä näyttelijähaastatteluja ei kukaan jaksa enää lukea. Starakulttuuri on väljähtämään päin ja se ei ole yksinomaan huono asia ja jotain jutun juurta pitää pystyä elokuvista kaivamaan että niistä puhuttaisiin. Tämän päivän nettiskandaali on toki huomioarvoltaan mitä parahinta bensaa tähän, mutta aika orvoksi sitä jää kun leffa keritään repimään kappaleiksi ja kursimaan kasaan ennen kuin sitä kukaan muu kuin alan omistautunein toimittaja ehtii näkemään.
Myös Netflixin (ja muiden streaming-palveluiden) epämääräiset julkaisuaikataulut tekevät leffanörtin elämästä entistä kaoottisempaa: tuleeko leffa teatteriin Suomessa, jos niin koska ja kuinka lyhyt ikkuna se on, pitääkö mennä sivuteatteriin katsomaan kohtalaisilla vermeillä vai olisiko IMAX tai edes Scape (vai mikäköhän Isense se olikaan nykyään) mahdollista?
Tiedän, sekavaa ja hieman turhautunutta rämbläystä mutta mutta. Arvon leffajournalisti. Blogaaja. Kolumnisti. Kulttuuritoimittaja: antakaa vähän armoa. Antakaa meidän katsoa leffa, puhutaan sitten. Säästäkää tulikivenkatkuisimmat analyysinne vaikka enskariviikkoa seuraavalle viikolle. Niin että ehditään vähän itsekin mutustelemaan, tehtävänänne ei ole ajatella ja jauhaa meidän puolestamme näitä kulttuurituotteita puhki ennen niiden julkaisua. Ettekä ole huonompia journoja jos ette ole heti ensimmäisten Buzzfeed-artikkeleiden seassa jakamassa korvaamattoman arvokkaita näkemyksiänne – tarjotkaa näkökulmaa elokuvan sen potentiaalisesti nähneille ihmisille. Väitän, että toimisi muuten paremmin pitkäjänteisemmän lukijakunnan kehittämisessä.
PS. Mainittakoon muuten etten erityisesti puhu suomalaisille journalisteille vaikka juttu onkin Suomeksi kirjoitettu. En vaan yksinkertaisesti jaksanut nakuttaa tätä enkuksi kun paukutan samaan aikaan kässäriä englanniksi toisella välilehdellä.
PPS. Enkä muuten vieläkään tiedä tai muista kirjoitetaanko Suomeksi vai suomeksi vai Englanniksi vai englanniksi. Ei vaan jää päähän. Vähän sama juttu > ja < -merkkien välillä. En ikinä opi kumpi meinaa kumpaa ja yksikään nokka sinne nokka tänne -ohje ei ole auttanut.
I saw Joker last week and enjoyed the movie immensely. I think it was both entertaining, cinematic and interestingly written; unique and modern movie in the superhero franchise, the closest relative to it being Wolverine movie back a few years ago, but Todd Phillip’s Joker was on a whole different level. I’m not good at putting words to what I love, so you can read for example Mark Kermode’s review on Joker, which I think is pretty spot on.
But one thing I thought was apparent and clear in the film, but I haven’t come across mentioned, was the fact that it states that the whole DC Universe superhero universe is merely a figment of Arthur Fleck’s insanity. Apparently, here come the spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, do that first before reading this.
The movie itself is a tangled mess of fantasies and reality, told from the perspective of a schizophrenic mental patient. Sometimes, he sees things that are real, sometimes his narcissistic mental issues take the driver’s seat: he finds himself getting called in front after speaking out loud in a talk show audience; the girl in his apartment building who once smiled at him at an elevator becomes his girlfriend. The film itself doesn’t take too much screen time explaining which one is a reality, which is happening in his mind. It’s a very popular storytelling method in films about mental ill subjects – see A Beautiful Mind as a grand example of this.
At the end of the movie, after Fleck has killed Robert DeNiro’s talkshow host character, they take him to a police car and drive him away. On the way, he watches as riots sparked by his murder spree rage all over the city. Suddenly, we even leave his perspective and follow Bruce Wayne’s parents walking away from a theatre to a dark alley, getting whacked as it happens in the Batman lore. We go back to the car where Arthur is detained, and suddenly an ambulance crashes on the side of the car. A clown-masked person comes out and helps him on the hood of a car. There, slowly, he rises up, watching as the masses of masked freaks surround him and greet him as the messiah of them all.
Then we’re back at the hospital. The woman asks: “What are you laughing about”. He says he was just thinking of one thing. Obviously, none of that happened – the ambulance never crashed the car and Arthur never was rescued from the car and made the wicked messiah he fantasizes himself to be. But that’s not all. We cut now to a single shot of Bruce Wayne as a kid, surrounded by his dead parents. The implication is that this is where he becomes Batman; then, we cut back to Arthur. Again, this was part of his fantasy. This never happened. Since we’ve stayed with Arthur all the time, cutting to another point of view, and especially at this point in the movie only implies this is his fantasy again. He creates Batman, right there, to fight the insanity in his brain, a counter-part to his cracking personality, but in reality, Bruce Wayne never becomes Batman. Probably his parents never even die.
It’s all a figment of Arthur Fleck’s imagination, and so are all the following insane characters, whether it’s the Penguin or Riddler or Catwoman. He fantasizes about this whole universe, but in reality, he’s just a nutcase who’s stuck in an asylum for the rest of his life.
Not only that, the film seems to be making a gesture towards the rest of the equally-insane superhero movies out there. I mean, look at us. We used to watch western movies, or science fiction movies, or gangster movies… But suddenly, we’re just watching, and taking very seriously, caped guys running around with fucking huge hammers, flying faster than light, snapping fingers to kill half of humanity. It’s fucking insane what we nowadays take as a regular cinema. It’s all just a weird brew spewing from some insane person’s head. And this is what Joker the movie is telling us.
Space, the final frontier. Every year, mankind gathers together in small, darkened rooms around the world, staring at the abyss, fantasizing what might there be – or not to be. That is the ultimate question. Is there intelligent life out there, or not. These darkened rooms serve as projection chambers to realize our wildest dreams, to answer our worst fears. This year, the projection they are showing is Ad Astra, a film about Brad Pitt in space, in search for his father, and ultimately, the answer to the question of whether there is intelligent life out there, ’cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth, as Monty Python sings.
Making a science fiction film is a hard job. I can tell you because I’ve made a bunch of them. There’s a selection of very common mistakes, problems and challenges each scifi filmmaker faces, ones they end up solving in many different ways. In this post I’ve listed the six most common challenges scifi stories encounter, and how they are being solved – or then, not. I’m going to be viewing them through the lense of my top-10 scifi movies, which are, in no particular order, Children of Men (2006), Alien (1979), Interstellar (2014), Solaris (1972), Moon (2009), Twelve Monkeys (1995), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982) and Blade Runner (1982).
Oh, and obviously, spoilers ahead!
1. PLOT RULES OVER CHARACTERS
Scifi is a sandbox of concepts, not of characters. Ever since sci-fi writers have started publishing the science fiction novels, they’ve started with an interesting setting, concept, theory or scientific improbability, which they’ve then started to solve, introduce further or write about. The characters, nearly always, come second. When facing the most complicated sci-fi setting we need the main character who, more often than not, is just a plain observer, someone who goes through the events and witnesses them – and eventually, solves them not through personality, but brawn, wits and the deeply imprinted need to save humanity.
This means that the characters area easily forgettable. In Interstellar, Solaris, Moon or 2001, the characters are nearly interchangeable; none of them are in any way characteristic, we can barely remember their names – what happens in the movie is more important than to who it happens.
But there are great examples of well-written and memorable characters. While the main character in Children of Men may not be remembered by his name, the devotion he shows to the mission to save humankind and leave everything else is so vigorous it becomes a characteristic trait. Who could forget Ripley from Alien or Luke from Star Wars, and when the movie’s name is the main character – Deckard from Blade Runner, or the extra-terrestrial creature from E.T. – without them, the films would have been completely different.
Each sci-fi film walks on a tightrope when trying to figure which is more important, the characters or the setting. The best ones manage to find a neat balance between these two worlds and deliver an amazing science fiction setting, added with characters we cherish for a long time. But still, I’m yet to see a scifi film which is built around such an interesting main character than it overshadows the scifi setting totally.
2. UNSOLVABLE CONUNDRUMS
One of the most typical pitfalls of a scifi film is when the writers end up writing their characters in such an impossible-to-solve conundrum that the only way to get their asses out of the situation is to stretch the laws of film physics, the agreement between the viewer and the filmmaker on what’s possible in this world and what’s not, the suspension of disbelief. These issues are usually solved either through going completely abstract, like Interstellar or Solaris, or just bringing a well-timed deus ex machina to play – like in Blade Runner. Usually, these solutions are the most divisive elements of the movie – I mean, who hasn’t had that conversation about Solaris or Interstellar, where one claims to have loved the movie, but didn’t “get” the ending. Still, when crafted masterfully, like in these two movies, it can be artistically fulfilling, even though it may not be the strongest written plot ever seen.
When the writers brute force their characters out of the unsolvable conundrums, it usually becomes slightly awkward. Ad Astra sends the main character flying through Neptunus rings using a thin metal plate as a shield to block the oncoming meteors, while hitting a bulls-eye some 40-50 kilometers away with his body. In Gravity, the main character skips from orbit to another like they were changing lanes on a freeway. These solutions break the suspension of disbelief -effect and the audience becomes aware of the brutal force the writer is using in forcing the otherwise solid script through a loophole that’s just too tight to fit.
Great scifi films have this taken in consideration already when setting up the plot. Either the solution is rather simple and understandable, like in Alien – just kick the creature out of the airlock and be done with it. There, the solution doesn’t feel too alienated, pun intended, or forced, but follows a logic the film has drawn from the beginning.
The question is not how improbable the solution is, but does it fit into the general agreement the audience and the filmmaker have created. Either we follow physics down to the smallest decimal, or we skip physics altogether. Whatever it is, everything needs to circle around that decision or the audience feels betrayed.
3. THE SCALE IS OFF … BY SEVERAL BILLION UNITS
“Space… is huge, Margaret. Where do you recommend we go? Second star to the left and then straight on ’till the sunset?“, Udo Kier says in Iron Sky The Coming Race. I know, quoting my own film is kinda lame, but since we are talking about scale, it fits here. One thing the science fiction filmmakers tend to drop pretty quick is the sense of scale. We forget that everything in space is so far apart from each other than it takes several lifetimes to connect the dots. We humans are so infinitestimally tiny creatures in this infinite universe that writing stories that center around us and the limits of our feeble minds and the sacks of mostly water we call our bodies usually becomes the biggest challenge.
Distance between objects has been easily the biggest problem each writer needs to tackle at first. Einstein, the great party-pooper of science fiction, says we can’t travel faster than light and that’s a fact. Interstellar shows us wormholes which bend space and time; Star Wars introduces hyperspace and Alien introduces stasis, or hypersleep (but also features faster-than-light travel, only doesn’t really talk about it).
Another thing are the forces in space. When colliding with an asteroid, whatever size of the object, it travels with such an immense speed it will tear through the hull and destroy everything. One of the few films that really take this in consideration is Aniara, a beautiful swedish poetic film which introduces a particle that hits a spaceship on its’ way to Mars, and sends it off course.
Aniara does other things right as well. It reminds us that when adrift in space, we will remain so, and the probability of us ever reaching any target is immeasurably small. Thus, after being set off course, the next time they reach another planet is six million years later, long after all human life has perished onboard the ship. And even that is, if I’m not wrong with my assumption, quite a stretch.
4. SCHRÖDINGER’S ALIENS
Is there anyone out there?
Yeah, there is. And no, there isn’t. Both are true, at least for now.
The thing is, we know absolutely nothing even about the possibilities of life, let alone intelligent one, existing in other planets or other celestial bodies. Ever since we started serious space exploration, we have found absolutely zero evidence that there are any other living creatures out there – save predictions and probability calculations, which indeed suggest there should be something else out there, but just as possibly, we are the wacky misstep of nature and remain so until we either kill ourselves or our Sun scorches us to smithereens.
Still, in science fiction we usually predict the aliens being quite similar creatures than us, sharing similar feelings, physical features and even translatable language. We assume they have somehow heightened versions of us – either more hostile, or more intelligent, or more technologically advanced. We interpret them as creatures that have similar goals, wishes, and needs as humans.
In reality, if we were ever to meet an alien race, we would need to spend decades in just understanding what it might want or need. Their whole conceptual world would most likely be totally different from us, they might see the world using totally different senses than us – hell, we might not even know they are aliens, actual sentient beings, if we ever were to meet them.
Again, there are few approaches to aliens in science fiction: films like Alien introduce them as purely evil, hostile creatures we can’t negotiate with – or E.T., where the alien is friendly. Interstellar and Solaris, again, take a more abstract approach, where the aliens communicate with us on a whole different conceptual level.
One of the few interesting representations of aliens in recent years was Arrival, which focused mostly around just trying to find a similar conceptual drawing board to understand even the basic concepts of the aliens. It was a linguistic science fiction film, where the biggest challenge was not what the creature wanted, but how to communicate with it. Much earlier, this issue was presented in Solaris, even more strongly in Stanislaw Lem‘s original novel, where most of the film was mostly about trying to find a way to communicate with the creature – the Solaris planet – or even more so, to try to figure out if the creature even tries to communicate. If it actually was sentient at all.
Solaris’ approach to aliens is the most believable. While we can’t know until we know, after which everything will change, I’m putting my money on the fact that whatever we might encounter out there will be so different than us that we don’t even know if it is sentient.
5. WE ARE THE ROBOTS
While much of science fiction takes place in space, the more grounded stories happen on Earth, where the science fiction element is a human-made, sentient creature, a robot. These films usually fall into two categories: either the robot evolves out of control and tries to overtake mankind or the robot tries longs to be human. Rarely we see stories of robots actually doing what robots are supposed to do, which is, to assist humans. Artificial intelligence is seen as a threat that can any second go rampant and erase humans, where, in reality such outcome would be highly improbable. Mostly, we are talking of our own fears when we speak of artificial intelligencies becoming a threat to mankind: we see what humans do to this planet, we see the only solution being the one where we get rid of this pest, the humans. In many ways, films, where robots overtake mankind, are environmental statements. They may not be built as one, but the ultimate claim is: if an intelligence far more logical than us was to view our behavior on this planet, they would want to get rid of us because we are not worth saving.
6. TIME OUT OF JOINT
Time is a harsh mistress. The issue with it is that it’s all bullshit, there is no such thing as time – not in the sense we like to think of it. We think of it as history, things that have happened, and future, things that might happen. So often we say: “next week I will do this” or “last week I did that” and consider them being elements on the same line, a railroad that one can travel back and forth, when in fact, neither next week or last week exists anywhere. They are mere memories and speculation.
Thus, in order to write a typical time travel story – think of Twelve Monkeys or Terminator – the writer needs to take the main scifi topic of their movie – time – and completely break the whole concept of time and introduce a completely new universe where there *is* a railroad called time, and then place us travel along it.
Somehow, though, and much of that has to do with the fact that our brains are capable of storing vivid memories and speculating the results of our actions before we actually do them, this is one of the most easily acceptable concepts of science fiction, one that people rarely challenge. Still, it’s bullshit.
Time exists, but it works in completely different terms than the time travel concept usually suggests. Interstellar was one of the few films that actually try to tackle time in film format.
Olen saanut työskennellä urallani monien upeiden ihmisten kanssa. Joukkoon mahtuu kuitenkin aina myös liuta ihmisperseitä, jollaisten kanssa työskentely musertaa uskon koko elokuva-alaan, mutta ongelma on toki olemassa myös muilla taide- ja kulttuurialoilla. Kiinnostava artikkeli muotialalta – tai siis, muotialalle tähtäävistä opinnoista – julkaistiin juuri Long Play -palvelussa, otsikolla “Muodin huipulla”, jossa käsitellään melko kattavasti Aalto-yliopiston professorin käytöstä oppilaitaan kohtaan – kuten myös oppilaitoksen suhtautumista valituksiin.
Leffapuolella vastaavanlaista pokkurointia ja kiukuttelua saa kokea monilta eri tahoilta. Näyttelijät ovat yleensä ammattilaisia ja ammattimaisia, mutta äänekkäitä poikkeuksiakin on. Ohjaajalle asti ongelmat kantautuvat usein vasta myöhemmin, mutta meikki- ja pukuosasto tuntuvat olevan hyvin usein tulilinjalla kun näyttelijällä on paha päivä, itsetunto mudassa tai repliikit hukassa. Iron Sky The Coming Racea tehtäessä erään näyttelijän kohdalla ongelmat kärjistyivät melkoisesti. Olimme keskellä kuvauksia kun näyttelijä saapui, tapansa mukaan, naama happamana maskista harjoituksiin. Harjoitukset vedettiin kireissä tunnelmissa ja näyttelijän poistuttua maskeeraaja tuli itkuisena kertomaan saamastaan huonosta kohtelusta. Ilmeisesti kyseinen näyttelijä oli jo pitkään purkanut omaa pahaa oloaan maskissa ja käyttäytynyt karmealla tavalla ammattiaan harjoittavia maskeeraajia kohtaan – ja useammin kuin kerran hänen lähdettyään tekijät olivat purskahtaneet itkuun.
Minulla napsahti sillä olin osaltani katsellut näyttelijän diivailua ja jatkuvaa huomion kerjäystä jo pitkään mutta ohjaajana ottanut sen vastaan osana ammattia. Näyttelijät harvemmin käyttäytyvät ohjaajalle suoraan erityisen paskamaisesti mutta jo jatkuva huomion kinuaminen, suoranainen lepertely ja muu outoilu ovat merkkejä siitä, että kulisseissa asiat ovat todennäköisesti huomattavasti pahemmalla tolalla. Puhuin näyttelijälle suoraan maskiosaston terveisistä ja kuten tyypillistä, näyttelijä kielsi kaiken ja suorastaan kertoi tunnelman olevan jatkuvasti ihana kaikkien välillä. Tämä jo itsessään kertoo usein siitä kuinka syvälle omaan perseeseensä henkilö on päänsä työntänyt. Otin sittemmin asian tuottajien kanssa puheeksi ja teimme toimintasuunnitelman asian korjaamiseksi. Näyttelijän vaihto oli tässä vakavasti harkinnassa sillä kuvauksia oli mennyt vain pari päivää hänen osaltaan.
Ongelma kuitenkin ratkesi ennen sen suurempia muutoksia, muiden näyttelijöiden toimesta. Nämä olivat katselleet sivusta mainitun näyttelijän diivailua ja lopulta kaksi näyttelijöistä, erittäin kokenut pitkän linjan näyttelijä ja ensimmäistä rooliaan tekevä näyttelijä, kumpikin avautuivat illallisella suoraan huonosti käyttäytyvälle näyttelijälle. He kertoivat totuuden melko konstailematta: “kukaan ei pidä sinusta – maskeeraushuoneessa sinua vihataan, kuljettajat vihaavat sinua, puvustuksessa sinua vihataan – kaikki johtuu siitä, miten käyttäydyt ihmisiä kohtaan”. Näyttelijä oli aluksi kauhuissaan ja kielsi kaiken, mutta lopulta totuus alkoi imeytyä.
Tarinalla oli onnellinen loppu: seuraavana päivänä mainittu näyttelijä oli täysin muuttunut henkilö. Kuvaukset sujuivat hänen osaltaan upeasti loppuun – ei pelkästään työyhteisöllisesti vaan sain myös parhaat näyttelijäsuoritukset hänestä irti. Tuntui, kuin asennemuutos olisi myös höllännyt näyttelijän itsetietoisuutta ja vapauttanut jotain hänen sisällään. Kaikkiaan tulkintani oli, että kyse ei ole sisäsyntyisesti paskamaisesta tyypistä, mutta ison tuotannon roolin paineet olivat hänestä sellaista muovaamassa.
Kurjempiakin lopputuloksia koettiin. Erään HoD:in (Head of Department – elokuvatuotannoissa tuotannon osa-aluetta johtava taiteellinen päävastuullinen, näitä ovat esim. kuvausosasto, maskeerausosasto, puvustusosasto, lavastusosasto, jne.) kohdalla asiat olivat olleet jo pitkään huonolla tolalla. Tuottajat olivat puuttuneet osaston työoloihin mutta mikään ei ottanut vaikuttaaksen. Mainittu HoD oli polttanut osastonsa rahat kaikenlaiseen uskomattoman turhaan pitkään ennen kuvausten alkua ja tämän tajuttuaan rähjännyt viikkotolkulla alaisilleen, pakottaen heidät vääntämään mahdottomia työsuoritteita puutteellisilla tai olemattomilla resursseilla. Lopulta tilanne kärjistyi siihen, että osaston työntekijät, erään kuvauspäivän aamuna, kävelivät linjatuottajan puheille ja ilmoittivat että joko he lähtevät tai HoD lähtee.
Kesken kuvausten vaihtoehtoja ei juuri ollut ja tuottajat tekivät oikean päätöksen – HoD joutui jättämään työpaikkansa jo saman aamupäivän aikana ja poistumaan tarkkaan vartioituna (ettei veisi mukanaan mitään tuotannolle kuuluvaa). Lopputuloksena oli erinäistä kränää ja kädenvääntöä. Itse sain ko. henkilöltä muutaman yhteydenoton myöhemmin jossa hän halusi tarjota “oman näkökantansa” tapahtuneeseen, mutta tuskin siitä olisi hullua hurskaammaksi tullut. Raivo- ja itkukohtaukset, työntekijöiden nimittely ja henkinen pahoinpitely – ja budjetin melko karkea väärinkäyttö – eivät kuulu työympäristöön jossa haluan tehdä omaa työtäni.
Palatakseni alkuperäiseen artikkeliin, jossa Aallon professoriksi nimitetty muotisuunnittelija käyttäytyy kaksivuotiaan pikkulapsen tavoin, hämmästyttävää ei kuitenkaan ole se, että joku itsestään tärkeästi ajatteleva reppana käyttäytyy huonosti vaan opiston päävastuullisen vähättelevä suhtautuminen tähän. Valituksia on jutun mukaan riittänyt oppilailta jo pitkään, työtä on tehty yötä myöten omalla budjetilla itku kurkussa, stressitasot ovat katossa ja oppilaiden masennus syvää. Kun toimittaja ottaa asian esille, ensin ollaan hämmästyneitä, sitten lyödään luuri korvaan ja kysymyksiin kieltäydytään vastaamasta tai kommentoimasta mitään. Ja huom! Kyse ei ole edes mistään lyhyestä tuotannosta joka alkaa ja loppuu aikanaan vaan jatkuvasti vallalla olevasta tilasta Suomen arvostetuimmassa muotialan oppilaitoksessa.
On toki selvää että taitavista ja luovista tekijöistä ei haluta päästä eroon. Elokuvissa näyttelijät muovaavat roolin usein niin lähtemättömästi että vaihtaminen on mahdotonta ja tämä näkyy siinä, miten paljon sontaa vastaanotetaan. Ohjaajien asema on myös usein liki vaihtamaton, mutta onneksi viime aikoina ollaan alettu näkemään enemmän tapauksia joissa huonosti käyttäytyvä saa kenkää, oli kyse millaisesta starasta hyvänsä. Bohemian Rhapsodyn ohjaaja Bryan Singer sai fudut, tosin vain paria viikkoa ennen kuvausten loppua, mutta kenkää tuli joka tapauksessa. On myös hyvä nähdä että huono käytös itsessään riittää syyksi irtisanomiseen – aikaisemmin vaadittiin vähintään raiskaussyytöksiä. Kaikenlainen pahoinpitely työ- ja opiskeluyhteisössä on oltava tuomittavaa ja siihen on kyettävä reagoimaan pian, aggressiivisesti ja periksiantamattomasti.
Koulukiusauksen ongelmat lähtevät usein opettajien välinpitämättömyydestä. Olenkin seurannut oman 14-vuotiaan koulunkäyntiä ja useaan otteeseen ollut yhteydessä poikani ala-asteeseen kiusaamistapausten vuoksi. Näihin suhtauduttiin kuitenkin vähätellen vaikka poika oli tullut kotiin useaan otteeseen itkien. Onneksi asiat muuttuivat koulun vaihduttua yläasteeseen, jossa poikani kertoo olevan nollatoleranssi kiusaamisen suhteen. Se toki tiedetään, että koulukiusaaminen ei suinkaan rajoitu koulun pihoihin ja etenkin somessa kiusaaminen on noussut otsikoihinkin viime aikoina, mutta ainakaan oman lapseni kohdalla tämä ei käsittääkseni ole ongelma.
Itse olin kouluvuosinani erikoistapaus joka sain osaltani kiusausta osakseni koulun pihalla. Opettajanamme oli muuan nykyään kirkon parissa vaikuttava mies, joka saikin lopulta (huhujen mukaan) oppilaan pahoinpitelystä johtuen kenkää koulusta. Omina kouluvuosinani tämä opettaja kannusti luokan pahimpia rehvastelijoita heidän häiriökäyttäytymisessään, lähenteli kuvottavalla tavalla luokan tyttöjä ja meitä “erikoisia” pilkkasi julkisesti, puhetavan matkimisesta virheiden erotteluun ja muuhun piristävään. Opettajasta tehtiin valituksia rehtorille kymmeniä, mutta rehtori ei näihin uskonut, vanhempainillat olivat yhtä sotaa koulun puolustaessa mainittua, narsistista raivoalkoholisti-opettajaa, mutta mitään ei asian eteen tehty ennen kuin oli täysin pakko.
Vähän vastaavia kaikuja soi Aalto-yliopiston tapauksessa. Johtavilta virkahenkilöiltä toivoisinkin etenkin opintopuolella tiukempaa puuttumista tapauksiin. Emme halua työelämään valmistuvien raahustavan välittömästi työkyvyttömyyseläkkeelle kun pelkkä opiskelu on ollut yhtä helvettiä. Taiteellisesti lahjakkailla on oikeus huonoon käytökseen, mutta tehköön sitä omassa studiossaan omalle peilikuvalleen. Yhdenkään työntekijän tai oppilaan ei pidä joutua sellaista kokemaan.
He logged on to our Playstation, opened a game and deliberately went into the store section of the game, and bought something called 600 R6 Credits for a game called Rainbow Six Siege. By doing that, he used credit on my PS4 account, which he was not allowed to do, and thought he could get away with it.
Well, of course, I get an email notification whenever somebody uses my credit, and he was caught, red-handed. I got really pissed off, not because of what he had bought – it really cost only 5€ – but it’s more about the trust, and so forth and so forth – you know the drill. He promised not to do it again, I took away his gaming rights for two weeks and he’ll have to get the money back, and now that’s settled.
He’s a good kid, I’m actually pretty convinced he’ll never do that again.
And in the end, it’s my mistake. The game is rated for 18 years old plus, and my son should have no business playing the thing in the first place. I’m a too lenient father, I know that.
But that does bring me to the wider issue of games these days. The truth is, games these days, they are all just big fucking ruses, meticulously created to fool kids way too young to understand anything about money into spending hundreds of euros to absolute nothing: skins, game credit, special guns, in-game clothes and all that. Every game has some kind of a sneaky scheme going on and parents are either too uninterested or technically debile to really be able to look after where the kid actually uses money, why and what he/she gets out of it.
Back when I was young, I used what little money I had to toy soldiers, action figures and later on, to RPG books and figures and so forth. Stuff I was able to bring home, which my parents saw, they might have disagreed with (my dad’s a notorious pacifist so he wasn’t too crazy about the soldiers, and banned all toy guns in the house) but at least they were pretty much aware of what I was buying. But with the games, the parents have absolutely no grasp of how the kids use their money. All they do is buy prepaid PS4 cards to their kids, completely harmless-looking plastic things, but they have no idea, or even control on how the actual credit is spent – and how much of it! It might be that in addition for purchasing a videogame of 70€, your kid sends additional 250€ of your money to the company, and absolutely nothing of any real value has been gained.
One way to look at it, of course, is that instead of spending money on plastic that ends up into a dumpster sooner than later, none of that is created, and that’s a big, good, green thing, which I support wholeheartedly. But the issue is more in consumer culture. The earlier our kids are hooked to the reckless consuming online, where assets exchange ownership and value is gained only by the ones who run the big picture, the deeper in capitalist hell we all end up.
Instead, we need to start teaching kids consuming in schools. I’m not saying we are any better ourselves at consuming, but we come from the world where we experienced at least a bit of the transition from physical to digital, but the next generation, our kids, will spend more and more time shopping online, putting value on entirely digital elements, elements which worth is harder and harder to determine, which leaves a huge, gaping opening for cons, schemes and consumer control by outside entities. Our whole culture is completely hooked up to consuming and it’s gotten badly out of hands and the ever-hungry money-munching machine wants our kids’ souls as soon as they can type in their login-ID.
Having said all that, there’s really nothing wrong with the game industry making money with their products; as an independent filmmaker, I only wish our industry had some of that business thinking at our disposal. The problem is, games are by definition made to hook you on to them: one more round, one more mission… you know how it goes. Your brain feeds on the dopamine bursts the micro successes result in, which in turn creates an ideal environment for very invasive and near-addiction-based business models.
Casinos and gas stations with slot machines come with very strict regulations, one being, you need to be at least 18 to play them. I don’t see why the same approach wouldn’t apply with video games? Why not make it illegal to put in-game purchase mechanisms for games that are available for kids under 18, how about that?
What began seven years ago with nothing but a crazy pitch and few written words on the paper, is officially now done. My third feature film Iron Sky The Coming Race has been released in many main territories, and while there are still many places left for the film to come out, my job is more or less done with it. I mean, yeah, if there’s a premiere or a festival screening somewhere, I’ll go, but the main chunk of the work – the preproduction, production, postproduction, and PR related to the release is mostly done.
The film itself will live on for many years to come, mind you. After the initial release, comes the DVD and BluRay release followed by TV and streaming services and – who knows – maybe one day even a Director’s Cut version.
But much of that is in other people’s hands. My contribution has been given.
I guess now it’s time to move on. Finish The Ark, of course, and write. I have a good heap of scripts in different stages I want to finish, one of them being, obviously, the last installment in the Iron Sky saga, but also a big pile of other stuff I want to get started or jump on board with.
I just came back from the latest festival where Iron Sky The Coming Race was screened, the amazing Grossmann Wine And Film Festival in Ljutomer, Slovenia. There, in a crowded main square, we played our film in an open-air cinema and enjoyed a great reception, preceding the cinematic release in Slovenia. I haven’t really counted how many countries the film has been released or will be released, but it’s pretty much traveling all over the world.
So, what next?
I really want to continue down the science fiction rabbit hole, further and deeper. There are few scripts I still dream to be able to make one day, Jeremiah Harm and I Killed Adolf Hitler, but those are out of my hands. Maybe one day I’ll come back to them if an opportunity rises but the big part of filmmaking – searching for the right project – is ongoing.
I don’t trust in films falling into my lap from the skies, although I’ve seen that happen – basically, that’s how The Ark got started – but I don’t want to cling on to the first weak script that’s thrown my way, because knowing it might be that in another 7 years I’m writing this again, having finished a movie – and if it’s one I’m not happy with, I’ve just wasted a lot of my life for basically nothing. I’ve been lucky so far, having had a chance to work with films I can believe in and be proud of, and I intend not to change that.
Films – or TV. That’s another thing I’m interested in. I’d loved to get onboard a TV show and see how a production like that works. I find myself spending about as much time watching TV shows (I mean, Netflix, HBO, you know…) as films these days, and both work well for me. (Not surprisingly, we are actually plotting the last part of the Iron Sky “Moon Nazi Trilogy” in the form of a TV show.)
But yeah, rest of the year I expect spending my time mostly either writing new stuff and post-producing The Ark. Less traveling, more creating, that is. A different gear in life, that is, on the eve of me turning forty.
Luckily, we just moved to a beautiful new home in Lauttasaari, where it’s a bliss to work, just by the beach in a nice, peaceful area, so the need to get out of the house is also a bit less pressing.
Anyway, I’ll keep y’all updated on what’s going on next. Whatever it is, won’t be boring.