Film Review: TOLKIEN (USA 2019)

Tolkien Poster
Trailer

Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school.

Director:

Dome Karukoski

J. R. R. Tolkien (pronounced tol-keen, as Tolkien’s professor’s pronunciation is corrected), the LORD OF THE RINGS / HOBBIT famous author whose books have been made even more famous by the Peter Jackson films is the subject of the new bio-pic of the same name.  The film traces the story of the author’s life and includes the influences on the books.  Those familiar with the books will find the film more fascinating than others, who might treat the exercise as another period piece bio-pic.  TOKIEN is a handsomely mounted period piece production though be it a dull one at that, the film often trudging through the narrative just Tolkien the soldier makes through the mud of the trenches on the western front during World War I.

The film’s core has Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) sick with trench fever fighting in World War I at the Battle the Somme.  Tolkien holds the rank of lieutenant.  With the aid of a faithful soldier, a diminutive Sam (Craig Roberts) who helps him search for a friend of his TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society)  club fellowship.  The film cuts to Tolkien’s life from childhood, living and playing the lush green English countryside (in the Midlands) to his schooling and friendship with four others fellow artists that they swear ‘to change the world through art’ together. Tolkien also falls in love with Edith Brett (Lily Collins), but is prevented from seeing her by his Guardian, Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney).  It is a choice of education over romance that the Father decides for Tolkien but the couple’s bond of romance remains strong.

While Tolkein’s life unfolds, director Karukowski constantly reminds the audiences of the influences on his writing.  These includes his war experiences, his brotherhood (hence ‘The Brotherhood of the Rings’), Sam, Tolkien’s friend in the trenches is like Grodo’s best buddy in the books and the beauty of the countryside akin to the beauty of the shire where the Hobbits live.  But the film is a slow march, the film often lingering at the landscape, scenery and sets tab on the emotions of the characters.  The film’s war segments which transforms into fire as breathed out from the mouth of dragons s in the Lord of the Rings stories look a desperate attempt at connecting the author’s experiences to his writing.  Tolkien’s aptness at the creation of his own unique language takes enables him to complete his Oxford studies under Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) is yet another influence,

Finnish director Dome Karukowski, one of the most famous directors of his country has been chosen to do this bio, as he has done bios before, most notably TOM OF FINLAND his previous film that was Finland’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award though it did not make the short list.  It was not a very good film, short of passion and inspiration which the director has ensured does not happen again in TOLKIEN.  Still, Karukoski fails to engage his audience, due primary from the uncomfortable intercutting of the world War scenes with the rest of his story.  Just when the audience is drawn into the story, the film shifts to the trenches.

Irish actor Colm Meaney (who usually plays comedy) delivers a solid and serious portrayal of Father Francis Morgan who restricts Tolkien’s freedom.  His character is reminiscent of one of directors Karukowski’s previous character in THE GRUMP, one of his other films that made North American distribution.

The film is ultimately properly concluded with titles that summarize what director Karukoski had been attempted to do with his film.  Too bad all that all these should have been made clear without the titles.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ1vn85iQRE

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Film Review: TOM OF FINLAND (Finland/Sweden/Denmark/Germany/USA 2016) ***

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Tom of Finland Poster
Trailer

Award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski brings to screen the life and work of artist Touko Valio Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland), one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture.

Director:

Dome Karukoski

Writers:

Aleksi Bardy (screenplay), Aleksi Bardy (story by) | 6 more credits »

 

Who is TOM OF FINLAND?  Straight people will likely have no clue who or what Tom is.  And with reason.  It is comic drawn gay pornography – weathermen drawn with their big dicks.  Gays are totally familiar with Tom of Finland.  They likely grew up with the drawings of Tom. TOM OF FINLAND popularized comic drawn porn as well as the look of leather men in dark glasses and big bulges in their tight trousers with a bit of S&M.  Even famous Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki had his cool characters in films like LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA and CALAMARI UNION sport that look.  And if that is not enough, there is a very popular gay dance bar in the heart of gay Berlin named Tom of Finland.  And finally the film.  TOM OF FINLAND the film is the biographical drama of  the man who invented (or drew) the character.

The plot involves Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland (Pekka Strang) returning home to Finland after serving in World War II.  In post-war Helsinki, he makes a name for himself with his homoerotic drawings of muscular men.  Before finding fame, Laaksonen finds challenges from his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky) and Finnish society due to his art.

One thing director Karukoski emphasizes in his film is the non-acceptance of the gay lifestyle or practices.  It is understandable as it is after World War II and unlike the present times, the world was not ready to accept homosexuality.  “We used to put scum like you into concentration camps and then gas them to death,” quips a German soldier.  That is the reason Touko kept his sexual orientation secret from his sister.  A lot of graphic violence is depicted in the film from police beating up gay cruisers in the park to gay bashing in the toilets.

The film also contains touching moments as in the scene Kaija tells his brother that he needs someone to settle down.  It is in moments like these, that gay audience realize how fortunate that times have improved so much for the better in terms of acceptance of gay life in the wold today.

Warning:  Due to the subject matter of the film – gay sex drawings – objectionable scenes need be included, though tastefully done.

The film also deals with other issues urgent in those times.  The emergence of AIDs and coming out into the open in public are also examined.   

TOM OF FINLAND premiered in Toronto at the LGBT Gay ad Lesbian film and video festival last year.  The film was also Finland’s entry last year for the Best Foreign language Film for the Oscars.  Though it did not win a nomination, probably the film not being good enough,  TOM OF FINLAND is still worthwhile viewing if not an eye-opener providing some insight of a prohibited lifestyle in Finland after WWII.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKFA4WrPlfo

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THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Finland 2017) ****

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The Other Side of Hope Poster
A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.

Director:

Aki Kaurismäki

Master writer/director Aki Kaurismaki questions the other side of hope in his bleak new comedy.  Is it disappointment or success?  Whatever the answer, Kaurismaki provides the interesting journey of two men that get there.  Both have hope, each looking for a better life.

At one point in the movie, Haji, a recent Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland asks the bathroom attendant at the station directions to the police station.  “Where is the nearest police station?”  “You sure? Comes the reply.” “Not really,” is Haji’s answer.  The attendant replies: “I will show you anyway.  You can decide later.”  Funny?  Maybe to some but not to all.   Deadpan  comedy is an acquired taste.  The humour can be so subtle, it is not laughable.

The latest film by Master of deadpan comedy Aki Kaurismaki (DRIFTING CLOUDS, LE HAVRE, LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA) tackles a current pressing world issue in his latest film – the issue of the refugee crisis in Europe.  

As the film opens, the audience sees a Syrian refugee, Haji pull himself out of a coal dumpster in ship docked at a port in Finland.  Khaled (Sherwan Haji)  seeks refugee status but is ironically refused on the basis of peace in his region, just as news on the TV report multiple bombings in his town with dozens of casualties.  At the same time, a Finnish middle-aged man, Wiktrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is seeking a new life for himself as he leaves his wife, wins money at poker and buys a restaurant business.  The two meet after a fight and Haji is aided by the restaurant owner.  This is Kaurismaki’s most serious film to date and it sends an urgent message of the refugee status.  Kaurismaki has still not lost his sense of humour as illustrated in an important scene in the film when Khaled says: “I love Finland like nothing you can imagine, but please get me out of here!”  For those familiar with Kaurismaki, there are familiar segments in this film that are found in his other films like the gambling, starting up a new restaurant business, the cute pet dog and the LENINGRAD COWBOYS type music.

Kaurismaki spends 10 minutes or so on the stud poker game Wikstrom gambles with his money with the aim of winning in order to open his restaurant.  This is the element of suspense that is seldom present in his films.  It works!

Those familiar with Kaurismaki (he has directed 34 film as of date) will be pleased to catch a cameo from his favourite actress Kati Outenin.  She plays a shirt shop proprietress hoping to retire in Mexico City so she can drink saki and dance the hula-hula.

In THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, Kaurismaki demonstrates once again masterly filmmaking that appears so effortless.  His outwardly looking simple films are more than a pleasure to watch.  This one ranks as one of his best.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtiFG6utst8

 

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TIFF 2017 Movie Review: THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Finland 2017) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

The Other Side of Hope Poster
A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.

Director:

Aki Kaurismäki

Stars:

Dome KarukoskiVille VirtanenTommi Korpela

 
The latest film by Master of deadpan comedy Aki Kuarismaki tackles the issue of the refugee crisis in Europe. As the film opens, the audience sees a Syrian refugee, Haji pull himself out of a coal dumpster in ship docked at a port in Finland. Khaled (Sherwan Haji) seeks refugee status but is ironically refused on the basis of peace in his region, just as news on the TV report multiple bombings in his town with dozens of casualties.

At the same time, a Finnish middle-aged man is seeking a new life for himself as he leaves his wife, wins money at poker and buys a restaurant business. The two meet after a fight and Haji is aided by the restaurant owner.

This is Kaurismaki’s most serious film to date and it sends an urgent message of the refugee status. Kaurismaki has still not lost his sense of humour as illustrated in an important scene in the film when Khaled says: “I love Finland like nothing you can imagine, but please get me out of here!”

For those familiar with Kaurismaki, there are familiar segments in this film that are found in his other films like the gambling, starting up a new restaurant business, the cute pet dog and the folk music.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtiFG6utst8

THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE