Category: Film

Movie Review: Fallen Leaves

Finland is a very dry country. Droll, if you will. This, at least, is the impression that writer-director Aki Kaurismäki (The Other Side of Hope) would like you to get from Fallen Leaves, the fourth film in his Proletariat trilogy. The last one was in 1990, and he claims to have retired in 2017, so you know he’s been cooking this up for a while. This is the sort of movie that you see if you enjoy two people coming together very slowly over a relatively short run time, filled with tiny delights and small victories.

Ansa (Alma Pöysti, Tove) is a supermarket worker reduced to eating expired food; Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is an industrial site worker who drinks on the job. A couple of chance encounters between the two sparks a mutual interest between the two, but between Ansa not leaving her name and Holappa instantly losing her number, will chase ever allow them to meet again?

Fallen Leaves is a tight 81 minutes. It almost completely lacks event, and when something happens it’s so understated that you almost have to ask if it actually did. This is all part of the charm, as the dialogue is delivered in complete deadpan, declarative statements with almost no emotion backing them up. 

Near equal time is given to Ansa and Holappa, but it’s easy to think that Pöysti is the star of the movie. She is a woman without much, but she knows exactly what she wants and how much she will tolerate. Her ambitions may be small, but you want a win for her; it’s hard not to respect a woman who knows her rights and won’t allow herself to be cowed by petty tyrants.

For Vatanen’s part, he gradually makes you care about Holappa’s quiet tragedy. What is initially played for laughs eventually becomes apparent as a legitimate problem. Most importantly, when all hope seems lost for the whatever number time, you still want things to work out for him, and you want Ansa to find him again if she can.

Fallen Leaves sounds like it should be depressing by any metric, but it is actually very gently funny. Holappa’s wingman Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen, The Other Side of Hope) has an entire sideline at karaoke where he argues with Ansa’s wingwoman Liisa (Nuppu Koivu, The Other Side of Hope) about how his face lies about his age. Holappa is accused of being four minutes late for the third time in a week by his boss, and the only retort, handily ignored, is “it’s Monday”. The way that Ansa and Holappa dance around each other is so otherworldly that you have to wonder if they’re aliens, but of course it’s not that sort of movie. It is the sort of movie that features deadly earnest karaoke delivered in multiple languages, and a repertory theatre playing the most sincerely random films.

Kaurismäki litters the film with rituals and signifiers that mean everything and nothing, and highlights the drudgery of piecemeal work that his characters subsist on. It’s a world devoid of dignity, but Ansa, at least, won’t surrender her self-respect. Any despair that it makes you feel is counterbalanced by the thought that maybe some light will shine into our fated pair’s lives, and you have to have faith in Kaurismäki that it will. It’s not a vocally political movie, but it definitely is a statement piece.

It’s difficult to say if a Kaurismäki film would be thought of as odd in his native country or if that’s just what Finland is like. To an international viewer, it’s the eternal question. Fallen Leaves is a delightful oddball, an unorthodox love story between two nice people barely scraping by on the economical underbelly of their country. Its quiet, lackadaisical pace won’t appeal to everyone, but Kaurismäki has cultivated such a specific feel to this movie that is intoxicating if you get swept into it. 

Fallen Leaves opened in Australian cinemas on February 14, 2024

Directed by: Aki Kaurismäki

Starring: Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen

Movie Review: Argylle

Henry Cavill has not had much luck as the face of franchises. Between non-starters like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., re-cast leads like The Witcher, and whatever trainwreck the DCEU has ended up with, there was a time when the man didn’t have a franchise to his name. This all changes in 2024, with Matthew Vaughn’s (The King’s Man) new flagship, Argylle. Cavill plays the titular hero, he’s front and centre on the poster, and … he’s barely in the movie. There’s a marginally different movie behind this artifice, but it’s one that you’ve already seen before. There’s barely a mind here, let alone a twisted one.

Movie Review: Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) is an acquired taste, to say the least. Even if he’s presenting a relatively mundane story, there’s a sense of unease hanging around proceedings. Poor Things, however,is not a mundane film. It is a nightmarish and outré work delivered under the dark cover of having a name cast. Whether audiences are suspecting or not is up to them, but they really should have learned their lesson by now: Lanthimos has made a hypnotising tour de force that demands you get with its rhythms or die. 

Choose life.

Movie Review: Mean Girls (2024)

The circle of life now is book to movie to musical to movie. Tina Fey’s beloved 2004 comedy Mean Girls, loosely inspired by a non-fiction book about high school hierarchy, has had a long and charmed life, with a veritable empire built from it. Now it’s back, twenty years later, and on the big screen instead of the originally planned Paramount+ launch (where, charitably, no one would have watched it).

Of course, Paramount has forgotten to promote the movie as a musical, even if there’s a note in the A. Trailers didn’t have any songs in it and tried to cut around choreography. The movie itself is missing 14 songs, approximately half of the show. And the story itself has almost all of the same problems as the original movie did. In many ways, while not a straight (ha) remake, Mean Girls is almost the original movie with a couple of songs slapped into it; whether that works depends on if you liked the movie in the first place and if you’re not so wedded to it that you can’t stand to see it in different hands. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Movie Review: The Beekeeper

The One Man Army has been a respected, and well trod, genre for many years. In recent times there’s been an influx of flair and personality into what can tend to be somber and bloody affairs. The Beekeeper looks like it might just be another run and gun, but there are times when it rises above itself to become heightened cinema. Adam Clay might not have personality, but The Beekeeper does.

Movie Review: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

The DC Extended Universe never had much good will, and it is well and truly past the time that it has squandered it all. Its best movie was a forbidden one that was never supposed to exist, the misunderstood subject of unconstructive memes. Most everything else has tarnished with time, and the project spawned several underwhelming or plain bad movies that underperformed at the box office. From a higher level, Warner Bros Discovery made mystifying calls, like cancelling the well-cast Batgirl while retooling and releasing the troubled and terrible The Flash to an indifferent audience.

2018’s Aquaman was amusing and satisfying, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom retains a good deal of its creative team, so you would expect it to be good. However, this movie was doomed almost from the start, as the DCEU became micromanaged to the point that any individual would not have been able to shift the needle on it. That Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is even okayish is a minor miracle, but that’s really not good enough with the amount of money involved. At least now we know this chapter in film history is over (yet a new one struggles to be born).

Movie Review: M3GAN

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the mainstreaming of new horror cinema in the last twenty years is at least partially driven by Australians, with James Wan (Malignant) and Leigh Whannell (The Invisible Man) throwing everything on the bathroom floor in 2004 and building from there.

Wan’s fascinating career continues with a story credit on M3GAN, an Antipodean collaboration with New Zealand born director Gerard Johnstone (TV’s The New Legends of Monkey) and American writer Akela Cooper (TV’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds). For the low, low, price of $12 million, you can get a dancing robo girl with a lust for blood – but not too much blood, because you can clearly see the seams where her punches were pulled.

Movie Review: Bullet Train

Japan has its fair share of bombastic action films and novels, but it also has many mannered and cleverly compartmentalised stories that unfold like so many origami cranes. Director David Leitch (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) is not one for subtlety and never has been. In Bullet Train, Leitch has taken the puzzle box of author Kotaro Isaka’s superbly titled Maria Beetle and shot it, smashed it, poisoned it, and ran over it with a train. It’s quite a different experience to the book, but it’s not the worse off for it: Bullet Train is a literal high speed breakneck action comedy that keeps the audience engaged right up to the largely superfluous third and a half act.

Movie Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

With over 12 million copies sold, Where The Crawdads Sing is considered one of the best-selling novels of all time, written by a naturalist who is wanted for questioning in Zambia for her connection to the murder of an elephant poacher. One of the breakout titles of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club, Where The Crawdads Sing is a borderline racist mid-twentieth century adventure that can be read in the space of one day. As a film it’s come out as more Nicholas Sparks than its own movie, and cut-rate Nicholas Sparks at that, no matter how good the cast or scenery may be.

Movie Review: The Black Phone

If you know anything from horror, you’d know that Stephen King has two sons, both of whom are also authors. One of them, Joe Hill, made his name in shorts and comics before revealing his identity. Hill’s 2005 collection 20th Century Ghosts featured a twenty page story called The Black Phone that was, among other things, about a haunted telephone. Twenty pages can fit a lot of detail but, as a film, The Black Phone is proof positive of the power of converting short stories rather than full novels into movies – there’s a lot more room to breathe. Apart from the basic concept, The Black Phone is made up from near whole cloth. There’s so much going for it that it’s difficult to feel bad for Scott Derrickson’s (Doctor Strange) unceremonious ouster from the Marvel Cinematic Universe: some men were meant to not only play, but thrive, in the world of small budget horror.