Phantasmagorical! Movies Reviewed: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale; The Tourist; The Tempest; plus Movie phone-in Contest!

This time of year, when the nights grow longer and the days grow darker, when the icy winds whistle through bare branches of the trees, when Christmas is coming, and New Year’s not far behind, thoughts turn to things fantastical, impossible and even supernatural. So today I’m going to talk about three, very different movies, but all of them far outside of the grip of what people call realism. Also, keep listening, because I’m having a real ticket giveaway at the end of my reviews

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Dir: Jalmari Helander

In the extreme north of Finland, where the Sami people hunt reindeer, something’s wrong. A big multinational mining company has come in to the area, and they’re digging something up, under an ancient mountain – or is it a burial ground? But the reindeer are disappearing, and so is the main source of income. Children are also disappearing, with creepy, sewn cloth dolls left in their beds. And so are the burlap sacks in a potato warehouse. What’s going on?

Then they discover a mass slaughter. All the local reindeer herdsman, bearded and wearing toques, think it must be the Russians‘ fault, just over the fence, across the border. Or maybe it’s the wolves? Or that multi national headed by the weird Englishman who keeps warning them “Shhh.. don’t say bad words… don’t do anything naughty…!”

And a great horned beast has been dug up by the miners what is it? What does it all mean?

But little Pietari has done some reading. All those old fairytales? They’re true! It’s Coca-cola that played the con-job in the 19th century and painted a new picture. You know that jolly laughing bearded man in red? Ho, ho, ho… Pietari has discovered the truth about Santa:

He sees you when you’re sleeping,
he knows when you’re awake,
he knows if you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake!

Santa’s actually… the boogie man! He grabs little kids and spanks them to death…

It’s up to little Pietari to save all the kids, get rid of the sinister creature, and restore the ruined local economy. Will he do it? Can he do it?

This fast-paced film from Finland is one of the strangest Christmas movies I’ve ever seen. It’s cute, and surreal, and spooky, all at once, like a lot of Finnish movies. Although there are some scary scenes and a little bit of gore, I think most kids (and adults) who are struggling with their own parents’ Santa myths might find this just the thing to clear away the saccharine, commercial images we get bombarded with every year, right about now…

The Tourist
Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
(Starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp)

Elise is a mysterious glamorous woman, who sits in open-air cafes and reads cryptic notes delivered to her on the sly. She’s trying to find her boy-friend who robbed a gangster of billions of dollars and then disappeared. And she’s being tracked by countless European men from Italy, France, Germany, and the UK who whisper into hidden microphones and observe her every step. She’s told to meet someone and pretend he’s her boyfriend. She gets on a train, and chooses a man at random, a hapless math teacher from Wisconson – Frank (played by Johnny Depp). He is soon trapped in her machinations as she tries to escape all these men pursuing her as they chase her (and him!) through the canals of Venice. Can he help her escape? And will she ever find her real boyfriend? Will he show up at the ball? (Yes she goes to a ball). And what about all the money he stole?

This movie was a total disappointment. Athough it sounds like fun, it barely makes sense, and as the plot turns, it makes even less sense. And does Angelina Jolie hate other women? It’s like the thought of another woman competing with her for screen space is so anathema to her that she’s banned any and all potential rivals from her films. The cast of 40 has 39 men, including Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, and Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff (as the villain) – along with a legion of Euro-spies and gangsters with carefully groomed, three-day cheek-stubble, designer suits, and Zoolander poses.

What’s with her? I liked Wanted, (even though it was dumb), thought Salt, last summer was even dumber, and now there’s this one. It’s starting to grate. Johnny Depp was totally wasted as a a puffy-faced, ineffectual milquetoast.

Angelina’s accent was atrocious, and the two of them looked ridiculous posturing in evening wear in the admittedly beautiful European scenery. It looked like a Hollywood movie from the early sixties, but without real glamour – it felt out of synch. The whole movie was embarrassing, and the story, though it started out good, had so many twists it no longer made any sense.

It’s especially disappointing because the director was the one who made that really great movie the Lives of Others, about the Stasi spy in East Germany. This spy fantasy is only his second film, and it’s a real clunker.

The Tempest
Dir: Julie Taymor

Many of you already know the story, it’s about Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda who are exiled to an island, inhabited only by the local creature Caliban, he uses his magic powers (and that of his spirit Ariel) to cause a shipwreck, wand strand his enemies and allies on the island, cast a spells to bring back justice and regain his power in Northern Italy. It’s also Miranda’s first time seeing other humans, so she falls in love with a handsome prince, the good King’s son. Meanwhile the bad guys try out their plots along with Caliban.

So this version, directed by the very talented and original stage director Julie Taymor, tries a few changes, but keeps largely to Shakespeare’s original story. She keeps it in the period – doesn’t modernize it, but she fools around a bit with sex and gender. She casts Helen Mirren as Prospero (Prospera), Miranda’s mother now, and a witch not a sorcerer. That works fine. And she has the sprite Ariel (expertly played by Ben Whishall) do some shape-shifting, turning from man to woman and back again.

The cast is quite amazing – with Alfred Molina, Tom Conti, Chris Cooper, Allan Cumming – and others, who can handle Shakespeare without trouble. It’s shot in Hawai’i so you get these fantastical moonscapes, and volcanic cliffs and weird jungles for characters to wander around in.

It just didn’t seem movie-like to me, there was a disconnect. It was more of a play captured on film, so it was harder to connect with the characters, to really feel their emotions. It felt like a virtual proscenium arch between you and the screen, so it was doubly removed (or distanced) from the viewer. So there were stage sets in the movie – that say: look at the beautiful sets! And stage costumes that shout out look at these fancy costumes. And some of the acting, like Russel Brand (as Trinculo) was saying, Looooook! I’m a comeeeeedian! (yeah, you’re really funny).

So it’s an interesting movie, with some neat effects. And things like Ariel doing butoh dance poses, chalked in white, were quite arresting (but why?). I found the background sound and music was terrible, and too overpowering at times, it smothered a lot of the lines, and dragged the pace. Made it lethargic. Shakespeare didn’t write throw-away dialogue – it’s kind of important to be able to hear exactly what they’re saying. So it didn’t all hold together for me, but hey, Shakespeare on the big screen? Another movie Tempest? I say, keep ‘em coming!

Finally, here’s a contest: I’m giving away length of run movie tickets to the first five correct who can answer this question:

Which one of these four Scandinavian directors is from Finland?:

Lars Von Trier
Aki Kaurismaki
Lasse Halstrom
Joachim Rønning

The first 5 correct emails will win a length of engagement ticket for two persons for:
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

(CONTEST NOW CLOSED)

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