Life

Terve!


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When Finns greet each others, they say “terve!”. It means – “healthy”, and it’s an ages-old tradition, coming probably from “terveeksi” and “terveydeksi” – to your health! These days it means mostly “hi”, although “terve” has a bit more formal ring to it – it’s the most appropriate way to greet the older people – to wish them good health.

I think it’s quite a nice tradition, and hope that during the Corona epidemics, it would find its’ way to youth vocabulary as well, but in a statement telling your approximate health to the person you meet. So, in the future when we see each others, we say “terve” – “healthy”, claiming that we are good for approaching, shaking hand or whatever it is in the future we do when we meet each other.

Well, that’s the deepest thought I have had the entire day. Mostly, I’ve been trying to figure out my home studio setup for podcasts. Now, my son’s room is full of random video gear and I did manage to do one YouTube stream but I had no idea what it was actually doing. Luckily, some friends online told it seemed pretty fine, so my dreams of becoming the next Joe Rogan are one step closer to reality. Many more steps to follow, though.

Anyway, I’ve been healthy, been going outdoors (not among people but by myself) for walks, runs and training, which is good as it keeps the mind active and body healthy. I find myself enjoying sauna more, watching more TV, eating (and drinking) a bit more unhealthy and watching my overall state of health a bit more intensively.

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It’s interesting to see how the politics work these days. The opposition, who is in no kind of charge of things that are going on in the country at the moment try to seize the moment by pressing hard-line restrictions. We all know those restrictions might very well be coming, but those losers like Petteri Orpo and the True Finns party try tagging them first, and when they get implemented (after health professionals, scientists and politicians who actually make the call), they say “I’m happy they followed *my* predictions”, and after this all blows over, they’ll keep tooting their horn how they were right all along. It’s like calling “first” on comments field, and just as admirable.

 

Life

All Together Now


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Truth is, world is changing dramatically as we speak, and decades later we who lived through this time will be scrutinized by the actions we took during the time of the crisis – and right now, best we can do is do as little as possible outside your house, preferably nothing.

After about one week in lockdown, the dullening starts to set in. The plan to work out, eat well, watch interesting movies, catch up with things I’ve missed on TV and read, read a lot, is a rather fat joke, very remotely attached to reality. Also, everything you see around you is kinda crazier than what the entertainment factory can offer – and, simultaneously, way less dramatic. Outside, the world seems like after a nuclear disaster or zombie holocaust – there’s nearly nobody anywhere, and there’s something in the air, a virus that has halted the whole world for the first time in history in this level.

I’m taking some comfort reading about the Soviet revolution in Russia. The end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the world was in turmoil. Things changed, from the perspective of someone reading it 100 years later, very fast, but probably from the point of view of those living the daily life, they – well, those who realized something was going on in the first place – probably felt the same. It’s not panic or anything spontaneous and aggressive, it’s this underlying, nauseating feeling that things are going to be pretty damn bad. I felt it first time in my life when 9/11 happened, the second time when Trump got elected, and now, even stronger.

But I’m trying to keep a level-headed approach to things. Right now, mostly everyone is. We’ll see how long they are willing to play along. But for now, my four rules are:

  1. Listen to Sanna Marin.
  2. Wash Your Hands.
  3. Go nowhere.
  4. Figure out how to make a living.

My friend Tiia even made an illustration on this:

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On the last part, I’m starting to crunch out a bunch of scripts that have been lying around and figuring out a way to fund that process. I’ve also been thinking about setting up a podcast of some kind, now that I have time. I’m not yet 100% set on what actually it should be about, but I’ve already hoarded some gear up from Verkkokauppa and Iron Sky Universe’s storage. Let’s see what’ll come out of it. Oh, and we’re putting out a pretty cool Iron Sky documentary in few weeks time, more about that later.

 

Life

What of the Children?


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Oh boy, the longer we go into the quarantine, the more the fact unfolds that we are very, very unprepared as a country, or as a society, to face the pandemic conditions. While the at-risk group, the elder folk, are the ones taking the physical brunt of the virus, the mental brunt goes to the children, who are torn off from the schools and expected to follow their curriculum at home, at their own time, guided by either the parents, or teachers over the Skype, or classmates – nobody really knows who, and as there’s no general guidelines that the schools follow. Each teacher has their own method of teaching, some share the homework at Wilma or similar school systems, some through Whatsapp, some using Teams; some prefer distance learning, some have video sessions… It’s all a big mess, and no wonder – the whole school system has had to reinvent itself in less than a week, but one thing is already clear: those who suffer, are the kids. Too much is expected of them and their parents, who are by no means teachers or have any pedagocic skills, leading to even deeper mess – and conflicts at home, too. This generation will be remembered from the fact that our kids come half a year behind everyone else, if even more.

The quarantine requirements are slowly sitting down in my head, too. While few days ago I was still defiant, ready to challenge the guidelines and thinking they really apply to the big masses, not individuals, I’m starting to realize it really means each individual. This also means, my son won’t be traveling to see me to Helsinki from Tampere any time soon most likely, which sucks big time. We do keep contact over Skype but well, it’s like I’m in China and he’s in Finland, like it used to be few years back when I was shooting The Ark.

At work, we’ve been working hard trying to find digital solutions to physical plans we have, and have succeeded with some cases. President’s words – when we distance socially, we need mental proximity more than ever – work in many levels. We humans can’t be expected to stay away from others for too long, and while we Finns are pretty well known for our preference of isolation, there’s only so long we can really practice that. Thus, we need encounters, and while we can’t have them physically, luckily we do have the Internet.

Many others have noticed this, too. All kinds of co-working space software – Teams, Skype Pro and many others – are barely holding up the traffic. Just a few months ago I hadn’t even heard of Teams, and look at it now, how important it is not just for companies doing work from home, but also to kids studying, and more.

And boy, streaming services must have their servers overloaded these days. When there’s nothing else to do, that’s where we turn to and yeah, I’ve been catching up with loads of horror films I’ve missed and TV shows I’ve neglected. Not sure what kind of world we crawl back into in a few month’s time when this all starts to (hopefully) blow over, but I’m sure we’re going to really want to meet others.

While the response to everything is pretty rigid, and some instructions from higher up are conflicting (I still don’t know can we go to gym or film theater or not, have a birthday party or not, etc.), so far I think the current government has done the right moves. Having said that, we also know that this is most likely just the beginning of the lockdown – some suggest this all is gonna take at least another 188 days before things start to ease up.

Luckily, we are living in these times, not say 25 years earlier – nowadays, we have Netflix, Internet and multiple online communication methods, 25 years ago it was nothing but MTV3 and puzzles.

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Better cut it now while they are still open; next up, YouTube how-to videos on hairdressing on the menu…
Life

The Winners of Corona


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The purpose of a company is to generate profit, year after year. But when the crisis hits, all that profit seems to evaporate in thin air – the idea, that the company would produce negative profit for a couple of months *because* the workers have done such a great job for the past years, paying back for their contribution, seems to be a completely unimaginable situation. Looking at how many companies are doing major layoffs two *days* after the prime minister called in for crisis maneuvers is ridiculous. This I understand in small companies who struggle day-by-day to get by, but sizeable airlines, state-owned railway companies, and the likes – where is that profit when it’s actually needed for the good of the workers? What Corona-virus does it exposes the ugly side of capitalism for us all to see and observe and experience.

But there are those who are winning, thanks to the virus. The obvious ones – streaming services, the company that eventually comes up with the vaccine and online gaming companies rake in the profits, but again, capitalism reels its ugly head as the bottom-feeders march to the front line.

Take quickie loan companies, for example; now, that people are getting laid off, or want to stack up, or small businesses who struggle to stay in business, – nothing easier than selling a quickie for a bunch of panicking, desperate people who’ll pay whatever interest to get by.

Or what about telemarketers? They’re in seventh heaven: working from the confines of their quarantine, one thing they can be sure of: they’ll never catch anyone at a bad time, as nobody is doing anything, nor do they ever have a lack of common topics to start off their sales pitch – the virus and the social distancing unite us. But even worse, the people are thirsty for communication, especially the elder folk, who are locked in their homes – and as we know, the elder folk are easy prey for magazine salesmen. All the old and lonely, and possibly even scared want is to talk with somebody, and boy the telemarketers take advantage of that. And after talking a couple of minutes with someone, saying “no” to a very nice offer is very hard.

But there’s also something good in it. Finland has been struggling for low birth rates, but now that the people are at home – and bored – this side of things should be fixed in say 9 month time.

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Greetings from the Quarantine.
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Iron Sky meetings look these days like this. Work from home, stay healthy, lower the curve, #socialdistancing and all that.

 

Life

[Lockdown Sequence Initiated]


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Well, things got serious really fast here in Finland. From “well, let’s just not go to China for a while” to “close the borders” in just one month – but starting Wednesday, Finland is in full lockdown mode. The borders are closed, most of the government establishments are down, recreational spaces are closed, all sports are out and any gathering of 10 or more people is forbidden. Yeah, these are very peculiar times, every time I open the newspaper website, it’s like history is being written in front of my eyes. Yet, it’s strange how human mind works: instead of people panicking and going crazy – yeah, some do, but they are still a very small percentage amongst us all – we keep it calm and carry on.

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The Rust of March in Lauttasaari

The prolonged lockdown, including social distancing and all the other measures that are being taken by the Finnish government do create a unique situation: instead of us being able to go bascially anywhere, we need to stay put, in our homes, go outside as little as possible and try to cope with ourselves – with our immediate family and all the demons inside our heads. Suddenly, the parents stay in, instead of heading out to work every morning; the kids stay at home, instead of going to the school, or even play with friends. Suddenly, we have to face our family, day in, day out, with nowhere to run. While hopefully for the most people, this is good news, it’s also bound to unearth some pretty nasty things, too.

For sure, each country copes differently in the face of the crisis – interestingly, Finland seems to cope by hoarding wine boxes and toilet paper. Not really sure what to think of that… But what the full lockdown means for me is more home-time, more movies (I’ve started my Horror Quarantine month, more of that later) and a lot more walking in the Lauttasaari nature, now that there’s really nowhere to go. I’m pretty lucky for living in such a beautiful plot of land – there’s a lot to explore here. Also, my gym started to post home WODs (Workout Of the Day) online, so we can keep fit without risking spreading the disease all over.

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Working from home, the most important thing is to choose a good outfit. I go with full-on onesie and woolen socks. Comfy, warm and you can even run to the store in it, if the need arises.
Life

To Neptunus And Back


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While the coronavirus is and will remain to be a huge, worldwide health and economics challenge, I’m also sensing a slight bit of relief from many of us churning the daily treadmill – wake up, take the kid to school, go to work, get back from the work, make dinner, take the kid to practice, go to gym, get back from the gym, make evening snack, watch Netflix, go to bed. Coronavirus breaks this rhythm up and offers a much-needed relief from all this. While we all hope this will soon blow over, I bet a lot are happy to have a chance to spend few weeks at home, with the family, without the constant pressure of the modern world that demands you to do something, whether professionally or recreationally.

I find myself suddenly taking long walks in the nature, watching a long list of films I’ve missed and writing scripts I’ve forgotten about now that there’s no office to go to, film theaters are a bit out of question, too, bars and restaurants are either closed or empty. There’s nothing anywhere, but your own circles and somehow it feels like I’ve suddenly sat down after a long walk to catch a breather.

Today we went for a long walk around Lauttasaari and the rest of the islands outside Espoo with my friend, long-time collaborator and partner-in-crime Pekka Ollula. He’s one of a kind of a guy, man who has gone through quite a lot and came back out alive. His point of view to things is always valuable to me, and I’m super happy that he now lives also close by so even during quarantine time, it’s easy to reconnect.

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While traveling out of the country has been strongly advised against, you can do a tour of the solar system without leaving Helsinki. We found Neptunus, quite by accident.

With Pekka, we’ve been doing quite a lot of projects together. We hired him originally to work as an intern at Energia Productions, after meeting him in Berlin when we were promoting the first Iron Sky (long before it was done, maybe in 2008), and he sort of stuck around in Iron Sky universe, working as a marketing manager, community manager and event planner throughout the years. He also created few businesses of his own, and even a film festival to Huhtamo, his home town (Huhtamo International Film Festival). We’ve been even thinking about setting up a film theater here in Lauttasaari, if only we were to find a good place, but wouldn’t that be fun! We even have a name for it – Lautta-Kino, according to the classical old cinema now long forgotten in Huittinen.

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Huhtamo International Film Festival is held once every two years in Huhtamo, showing films at Huhtamo church, Huhtamo Youth House and several other venues around the village.

I’m currently working on four different scripts I’m hoping to produce into a movie, in addition for finishing The Ark for the Chinese release. There’s two interesting franchises I’ve been working on, both of which would turn into a great film if the stars were to align right, a script I’m developing with my wife, and two TV-shows, a sketch show and one for my German producer Oliver Damian. All this, plus I’m also reading shitload about Communism, because of the subject matter of the next Iron Sky. Still hard to predict what will move forward, and when, but now is the perfect time to push these productions forward, as there’s nothing else much to do.

Anyway, I’ll keep on blogging since I have nothing better to do, and it’s a good way to re-organize my thoughts – and probably worth something, coming back to these strange times years from now.

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Huhtamo International Film Festival gathers together the folk from the village and visitors from much further away – actually, all the way from New Zealand!

 

 

Life

Going Viral


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So, the all-out pandemic is true. Just a few weeks ago, it all felt so far away, but today, it’s quite tangible and real. Everyone takes in the situation differently, I find myself bearing this constant feeling of impending looming somewhere above me, not really scared but observing everything with a bit of a worry in my mind, probably because I’ve seen way too many zombie/pandemia scifi movies in my time.

I’m also starting to feel the impact of things to come and things that are happening around us. Personally, the company I work for now has sent everyone home to work out of office for the next two weeks. I’m doing experiential event production gig currently, and you can imagine it’s not a business that’s really taking the whole Corona too well. Many of the events we’ve been building for the last few months are cancelled, many more will be.

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At least the weather is nice.

At home, my son’s school is also shutting the doors down – not completely, but enough so that the kids get to choose whether they study from home or show up at the school. One can imagine what the most choose – at least at this point. Few weeks at home, I think they’ll be happy getting back to civilization, though.

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Lauttasaari, where I live in, offers some pretty beautiful sights on this pre-spring time.

In my film work, the impact is quite strong. My film, the Chinese one “The Ark” has been delayed due to our VFX company not being able to work. Nowadays, they are slowly getting back to work, but it’s still far from really moving along, all the films in China have been postponed, so to even start finding a release date at this point is impossible – there’s quite a long backlog of things to release before “new” ones come out.

Another film I’m pushing to get off the ground has also been halted, the reason being that it’s impossible to get insurances to film crews and films at this point, so no films are really being shot. Netflix and Disney just shut down all their productions (hats off to Netflix for paying the crew nevertheless), and I assume quite a many films get pushed, rescheduled – and quite probably some even cancelled due to scheduling problems.

So, I’m staying home for the next two weeks. It’s great time to focus on writing something new, which I’m *planning* to do – although truth be told, most likely I’ll just watch Netflix shows instead, emerging out of the quarantine time like a troll with long hair and beard and completely alienated from the society.

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Blue skies ahead!
Oscars

This is how I would hand out the Oscars 2020


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This year’s Oscar race is yet again at the doorsteps of us mere mortals, who only can dream of one day holding the golden statue in our hands and dreaming who we’d be telling to suck it now that we made it this far. Instead of hanging around in LA, I’m currently in Lauttasaari, winter storm whistling outside, rain pattering against the window. It’s fine here, though, and I’m not even thinking really staying up for the show, but nevertheless, here’s my predictions for 2020!

LEADING ROLE / ACTRESS

Renée Zellweger (JUDY)

I mean, she was quite friggin’ perfect in the role, right?

LEADING ROLE / ACTOR

Joaquin Phoenix (JOKER)

There’s was no real competition here, was there?

SUPPORTING ROLE / ACTRESS

Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

I didn’t think too much of the movie, but I could’ve watched a whole spinoff TV series, full seven seasons big budget and whatnot about Laura Dern and Ray Liotta’s characters!

SUPPORTING ROLE / ACTOR

Joe Pesci (THE IRISHMAN)

Sometimes, doing nothing and looking slightly sad about it is the best thing to do.

ANIMATED FEATURE

I LOST MY BODY (Jérémy Clapin, Marc du Pontavice)

Such a beautiful and melancholic piece, amidst all the crashing, banging, wailing and fuzzing about the other nominees are all about.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE LIGHTHOUSE (Jarin Blaschke)

I mean, it’s black and white. Of course it gets the Oscar. Also, it’s really beautiful.

COSTUME DESIGN

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (Arianne Phillips)

Every character has a jacket so amazing it’s just pure pleasure to watch.

DIRECTING

Martin Scorsese (THE IRISHMAN)

It was the best film of the year, and I’m one of those who tend to think director has a bit to do with that, so…

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

FOR SAMA (Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts)

The only real reason for Oscars to exist is to list a bunch of docs everyone else has missed, which actually talk about stuff that matters. Both The Cave and For Sama did this, both broke my heart and I wish I could give Oscar to both. And fuck you Putin and Al-Assad, too.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN (Smriti Mundhra, Sami Khan)

Didn’t watch any, so this one goes out random.

EDITING

THE IRISHMAN (Thelma Schoonmaker)

It’s a monster of a movie, but the pacing never gets boring. Other than that, you rarely notice the editing, which is the best compliment an edit can have.

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

PARASITE (Bong Joon Ho)

It’s really nice to see fresh films that go borderline genre actually make their mark internationally. 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten, David White)

Just the sheer amount of work they’ve done for this one is … mind-blowing.

ORIGINAL SCORE

1917 (Thomas Newman)

I know everybody says this should go to The Joker, but frankly, I can’t remember anything from Joker’s score, maybe that’s a good sign since I thought the film was terrific, but for me, 1917’s music perfectly fit the picture and really kept the film flowing.

ORIGINAL SONG

(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again (Elton John, Bernie Taupin)

It’s Elton John. Of course he wins..

BEST PICTURE

THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff)

I’m pretty split between Irishman, Joker and Parasite, but chose The Irishman as I thought it was such a strong, long-lasting and well-crafted, beautiful movie with so much appeal and rewatchability that it just deserves to be the best picture of 2019.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh)

Recreating the old-time Hollywood charm is something many have tried, but Once Upon A Time… did it so well I feel like I had visited there.

ANIMATED SHORT

HAIR LOVE (Matthew A. Cherry, Karen Rupert Toliver)

Again, no idea. Just a random pick.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

A SISTER (Delphine Girard)

Another random pick.

SOUND EDITING

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

It’s so. Much. Work. And it never, ever felt artificial, every sound was in its’ rightful place. 

SOUND MIXING

AD ASTRA (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano)

I remember not liking the movie that much, but walking out and saying out I thought the sound mixing was spectacular. I can’t remember anymore exactly why, but I trust my then-me.

VISUAL EFFECTS

LION KING (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman)

Irishman’s de-aging was revolutionary, but not remarkably well made. We’ll see much better takes on the same gimmick in the future. But Lion King was flawless, and that’s a big one. Turning an animated, beloved legend into “reality” and making it work. 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

THE IRISHMAN (Steven Zaillian)

Best picture kinda demands best screenplay, dontchathink?

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

PARASITE (Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won)

Just the fact that a gory home-invasion film from South Korea even made it to the list itself is worth the award, but it’s also really, really well, written. And director’s original story, too.

China Diary

Best Films of 2019


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1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

irishmanThe 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 Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro again, and we’ll never get another Scorsese.

 

2. Joker (Todd Philllips)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

 

Opinions, Reviews, Scifi

Review: Star Wars – The Skywalker Saga


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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.

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Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones), probably the most iconic character of the whole saga, strangling an officer in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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.

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Young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) appearing in front of the Jedi Council in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Meance

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.

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) became the torch-bearer of the Jedi legacy in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

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.

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The epic lightsabre battle of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2018) took place between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

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).

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Star Wars: Battlefront (2015, Electronic Arts)

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.

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) is about to find out the truth about her past in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

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.

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Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian has captured the hearts of the Star Wars fans.

Simultaneously, The Mandalorian was 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.

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AT-ATs of the Empire attacking the Rebel forces during the Battle of Hoth in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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)

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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)

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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)

Star_Wars_Episode_VI_Return_of_the_Jedi-351307626-largeMaybe 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)

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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)

715aZ-gZP1L._SY679_Casting Hayden Christensen as Anakin 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)

61nAp2cNlbL._SY741_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)

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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)

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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)

MV5BMjEwMzMxODIzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzg3OTAzMDI@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_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)

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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)

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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)

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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.