The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

Although The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki is not a really a biopic, it is the story of Finnish boxer Olli Mäki in 1962 as prepares to fight American champion Davey Moore for the World featherweight title. The film covers the few weeks of preparations and training before the match. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) has to travel from his home town of Kokkola to Helsinki. His girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), travels with him. From the start Olli has to deal with the considerable demands of his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff). Elis keeps shoving a series of promotional photo shoots and a documentary crew at Olli. Most of the time he pushes Raija aside so that Olli will take photos with models. There are other problems. Olli Mäki was a lightweight, and in order compete as a featherweight he has to lose some weight. In the two weeks before the fight, we see Olli going through lengthy sauna sessions with his clothes on. When he comes out, his clothes are drained with sweat and he’s barely able to walk. We also see him make himself vomit. Frustrated by the treatment she gets from Elis, Raija returns to Kokkola. But Olli loves her, and when he tries to phone her, Elis berates him and mocks his attachment to small town folks. Olli Mäki (who today is 80 years old) is a simple man in love with a girl. I was won over by the charm of this film. It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. Filmed in grainy black-and-white with a handheld camera as a way to announce its “no fuss“ approach to filmmaking. The acting is realistic and the dialogue seems to be improvised. The two leads are lovely. With his roughed up appearance, Lahti is perfectly cast. But we don’t foresee the emotional impact he carries with him. From the start we are rooting for Raija. That is because Oona Airola is really the heart of the film. That leaves Milonoff as Elis Ask. Well, he is so effectively detestable that I felt I wanted to kick him in the teeth. A simple, lovely little film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

 

Directed by:
Juho Kuosmanen

Screenplay by:
Juho Kuosmanen
Mikko Myllyalahti

Starring:
Jarkko Lahti
Oona Airola
Eero Milonoff
John Bosco Jr.

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Finnish and Swedish with English subtitles.

Dark horse: The incredible true story of Dream alliance

You can’t help yourself. You just fall in love with the people in Dark horse: The incredible true story of Dream alliance. Part of it is their South Wales accent. Usually, I’m not one to go crazy over accents. The documentary tells the story of Jan Vokes, a barmaid from Cefn fforest, a former mining village in Wales. In 2000, Jan had an idea that she would love to breed a racehorse. Why not? In the past she did breed pigeons and whippets dogs. With the help of her husband, Brian, Jan comes up with a plan to finance this costly project. They’re going to form Alliance partnership, a co-op made of interested villagers and friends. Each co-op member is to give £10 a week. The horse that is bred from a £1000 mare is named Dream alliance. Dream Alliance is then handed over to a trainer and subsequently entered in some races. Seems that there is a prejudice when it comes to racehorse. A horse is not considered a possible winner unless it is owned by a wealthy family. This kind of snobbish attitude is thrown out the window when Dream alliance proves a winner. It is with pride and teary eyes that the members of the partnership talk about those times. There was an accident at the Aintree racetrack, and Dream alliance was almost put down. But the co-op decided to keep him alive. An experimental costly recovery treatment was paid for by the partnership. They were told that Dream alliance could never race again. Well, he surprised them all by winning the Welsh National. This is a charming film. You are won over from the moment that Jan Vokes speaks. Her voice, her accent is music to my ear. The language is the same as mine, but the way they speak is poetry to me. And the horses, the love of horses. The way director Louise Osmond films them. I loved that film. I just can’t help myself.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Dark horse: The incredible true story of Dream alliance

Directed by:

Louise Osmond

Screenplay by:

Louise Osmond

85 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

Sunshine Superman

Before I saw Sunshine Superman, I had no idea what BASE jumping was. B.A.S.E. is an acronym for building, antenna, span and earth, the four categories you can jump from with a parachute (or nowadays a wingsuit). Carl Boenish is considered the father of BASE jumping. Sunshine Superman is a documentary about him. BASE jumping started in the 60s and Boenish starts jumping off from abandoned or under construction buildings and mountains filming the whole thing with a camera placed on his helmet. In 1969, director John Frankenheimer hires Boenish to film the skydiving scenes in the drama The gypsy moths Because BASE jumping was such a dangerous sport, authorities were wary about allowing jumpers on their sites and even made it illegal. Sunshine Superman is mostly about the love story between Carl and his wife Jean. An unusual couple, pint size Jean and tall Carl would jump off the tallest buildings and the most dangerous cliffs together. Both found BASE jumping to be an exhilarating, life affirming passion. Carl died while jumping from a mountain in Norway in 1984 at age 43. Apart from being about an interesting subject, Sunshine Superman also has beautiful aerial cinematography, both from Carl Boenish’s archives and Sunshine Superman‘s cinematographers.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sunshine Superman

Directed by:
Marah Strauch
Screenplay by:
Marah Strauch
101 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Red army

Red army is a new documentary about Russian hockey team HC CSKA Moscow (Central sport club of the army or the Red army club). But it is not only about hockey. Through the life and career of legendary player Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Fetisov, Red army also shows the changes that happened in Russian politics and society. Fetisov started his professional career in the mid 70s. He was very close to his first coach, Anatoly Tarasov. Tarasov used ballet and chess, and you can see, in archival footage, how flexible the players were asked to be, doing somersaults and pirouettes while skating. The least you can say is that CSKA was an unbeatable hockey team. The pride of Rusia. One of their biggest defeat came at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., when the American team beat the Soviets. That one still hurts Fetisov thirty-five years later. When the Brezhnev government replaced Tarasov by Viktor Tikhonov, practice camp started to be run like an army camp. Players practiced for 10 to 11 months a year, were confined to barracks with very little time allowed to visit their wives and children. Fetisov and the other players hated Tikhonov and his dictatorial coaching style. They were not allowed to go play in the NHL for the US or Canada until Glasnost in the late 1980s. Russian players in the NHL were not very popular at first. There is a clip of Coach’s corner where Don Cherry rails against them. Slava Fetisov first played for the New Jersey Devils in 1989 with not much success. Later on, five of the old teammates from CSKA Moscow were reunited by Scotty Bowman (interviewed for the film) to play for the Detroit Red Wings. They became known as ‘The Russian five’, and helped the Wings win two back-to-back Stanley Cups. Back in Russia, Fetisov was President Vladimir Putin’s Minister of sport from 2002 to 2008. This is a fascinating and fun documentary. Red army can be of interest to hockey fans, of course, but to non-fans as well.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Red army

 

Directed by: 
Gabe Polsky
 
Screenplay by: 
Gabe Polsky
 
88 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance
 
In English and Russian with English subtitles

Foxcatcher

Based on the 1996 murder of Olympic gold medalist wrestler Dave Schultz, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher has three of the most powerful male performances of 2014. The film’s main character is Mark Schulz (Channing Tatum), also an Olympic wrestler. Mark feels like a loser, living a miserable life in his miserable apartment, eating packaged noodles and in the shadow of older brother Dave. Coach Dave (Mark Ruffalo) is successful, happy and settled with a wife and young children. By contrast, Mark seems to be going through life walking like a zombie. When John Du Pont – an heir to the du Pont family fortune – offers Mark a chance to get away from his depressing life, he jumps at it. Du Pont (Steve Carell) wants Mark to come and train at the family’s estate, Foxcatcher Farm, as part of Du Pont’s Foxcatcher Team. Du Pont’s aim is to win Olympic gold for the U.S. Du Pont also offers Dave to be a coach for the team, and he looks hurt by the older brother’s refusal. John Du Pont buys guns and army tanks as if they are mere toys. The relationship between Mark and John is unhealthy, with nights of drinking, partying and cocaine consumption. The reason why Du Pont signed Mark, was to get Dave to come to the farm as a coach. That revelation and the arrival of Dave has a devastating effect on Mark. Channing Tatum’s performance is impressive in the juxtaposition of physical and emotional traumas. There is an economy of words in Foxcatcher, and that suits an actor like Ruffalo very well. With a few glances, a nod, a pat on the back or an encouraging smile, Ruffalo is perfect as the loving, caring big brother. Known for his comedic turns, Steve Carell is unrecognizable under what looks like tons of make up. But his acting here is more than that. Look inside Carell eyes and you see an obsessive, distraught and sick man. Scary. And there is also a (too) short performance by Vanessa Redgrave, as Du Pont’s mother. No matter how small the part, Redgrave always makes it compelling. Foxcatcher is an uncompromising look at sports and the American way of life. We have Bennett Miller to thank for that.

And the Oscar went to… Steve Carell’s first attempt at a dramatic film was rewarded by his first Oscar nomination for Actor in a leading role. Foxcatcher‘s four other nominations were: Mark Ruffalo for Actor in a supporting role, director Bennett Miller, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman in the Original screenplay category. Both Miller and Futterman were previously nominated in 2005 for Capote. The last nomination is Makeup and hairstyling for making Carell unrecognizable. But it lost in all the categories.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

  Foxcatcher

 

Directed by: 
Bennett Miller
 
Screenplay by: 
E. Max Frye
Dan Futterman
 
Starring: 
Steve Carell
Channing Tatum
Mark Ruffalo
Sienna Miller
Vanessa Redgrave
 
130 min.
 
Rated 14A

Force majeure (Turist)

Force majeure is the Swedish entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. We meet Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), taking a vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps, along with their two kids, Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren). One day the family lunch at an outdoors veranda, as they witness a controlled avalanche. Explosives are used to reduce the risk of real avalanches. At first the people on the veranda watch, thinking there is no danger. But then it gets closer and closer and everyone start to panic. Ebba grabs her children to flee. But Tomas has already left with his gloves and his cell, leaving his family to fend for themselves. With a white-out from the powdery snow, the children and Ebba scream out for Tomas in panic. As things get clearer and Tomas returns, and they resume their meal as if nothing had happened. But later Ebba mentions the incident to another couple. She does it very casually, as if she was teasing Tomas. He says that he does not remember it that way. When they sit for a meal with their friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanni (Fanni Metelius), Ebba mentions it again. But her tone is much more serious and accusatory. And again, Tomas denies it. But Ebba can prove it as Tomas filmed the avalanche with his cell. Mats tries to minimise the damage by saying that a person cannot predict how they will react to threats of eminent dangers. Back in their hotel room, Mats and Fanni are having an argument about how they would react if it happened to them. With his red hair and beard, Hivju looks like a viking, the nordic male sure of his masculinity. But Tomas is not so sure anymore, and then he cracks. His male ego has been hurt. There is good acting from everyone. Director Ruben Östlund uses an excerpt from the Summer movement from Vivaldi’s The four seasons several times during the film, as if to signal that a danger was forthcoming. And there might be. The film was shot at ski resort Les Arcs in Savoie, France, and it is beautiful. I think women and men are going have different reactions to Force majeure, and there will be a lot of discussions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Force majeure (Turist)

 

Directed by: 
Ruben Östlund
 
Screenplay by: 
Ruben Östlund
 
Starring: 
Johannes Kuhnke
Lisa Loven Kongsli
Clara Wettergren
Vincent Wettergren
Brady Corbet
Kristofer Hivju
 
118 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In Swedish and English
with English subtitles

La petite reine‏

Julie Arsenault, a star of cycling is two races away from the world cup. She loves her sport, the spotlight and all the hoopla that goes with it. Encouraged by her coach and doctor, she takes performance enhancers from age 14. Since she is a high-profile athlete, the  anti-doping agency keeps an eye on her. After a close call test in Phoenix Arizona where Julie trains, the agency zeroes in on her doctor who, in order to save his hide denounces her. A scandal ensues. A deeply troubled and upset Julie tries to mask the truth along with her unscrupulous coach. This film is based on the life of ex-cyclist Geneviève Jeanson who was implicated in a scandal involving EPO, a performance enhancer, illegal in cycling competitions. Jeanson collaborated as a consultant on the film. Laurence Leboeuf offers a strong performance as Julie, a.k.a. Geneviève who thrives and has to live with a lie in order to keep her place in the sun and the spotlights on her. Patrice Robitaille steals the show as the unscrupulous, manipulative coach who will stop at nothing to brainwash and control Julie just for the sake of winning. The film is an interesting reflection on how far athletes are willing to go to be the best. You can’t watch this film without thinking of Lance Armstrong or Ben Johnson. All athletes who wanted to be the best, who cheated  and who, in the end disgraced themselves. The higher they want to climb, the harder they will fall. A must see movie this summer for sports fans, although it might leave a  sour taste in their mouth. 
 
 
 André St-Jacques
 
 
La petite reine‏
 
 
Directed by: 
Alexis Durand-Brault
 
Screenplay by: 
Sophie Lorain
Catherine Léger
 
Starring:
Laurence Leboeuf 
Patrice Robitaille
Denis Bouchard
Josée Deschênes
Jeff Boudreault
Mélanie Pilon
 
108 Min.
 
In French