Tuesday, April 25, 2017

the happiest day in the life of olli mäki

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is a slice-of-life slighter than a featherweight (I'm sure the filmmaker would bristle at this bad boxing analogy). In this particular sliver of time, Finnish amateur boxer Mäki, "the baker of Kokkola," is training for the 1962 World Featherweight Title against American Davey Moore (John Bosco, Jr.). Mäki, is a muscled, tiny knot of a man (portrayed plainly with efficiency by Jarkko Lahti) with a quiet personality and dissonant desires--a hardened discipline of his craft but also a tendency to wander within his tender relationship with Raija (Oona Airola). Neither him nor Raija seem fond of or interested in the consumerist, bulb-flashing pizzazz his sport, managed by a hovering Elis (Eero Milonoff, in the movie's most interesting performance), brings.

Almost an anti-sports movie in the way it eschews sports movie cliches and de-glamorizes athleticism, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is coolly presented and heavy on ho-hum ironies (the buildup to the match is both predictable and somewhat of a chore). It's a fairly boring picture that derives its most tense moment with a weigh-in. While the direction from Juho Kuosmanen is smooth, seemingly effortless and despite being framed in elegant black & white photography by Jani-Petteri Passi, for some reason the movie never sticks. **1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

one percent more humid

Director Liz W. Garcia creates an evocative slice of life with One Percent More Humid, now screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s a small scale character study, mainly of Juno Temple’s Iris, a young woman working in her New England hometown on summer break from college. She’s been reunited with her pal Catherine (Julia Garner), although they were formerly two thirds of a trio—their friend Mae died in an accident we learn more about as the film goes on. Both girls are struggling with grief and their feelings of guilt regarding the incident, which might be what leads Iris to embark on a passionate affair with her thesis adviser Gerald (a sexily down to earth Alessandro Nivola) while Catherine tries to smooth things over with Mae’s resentful brother (Phil Ettinger).

Garcia, who also wrote the film, gets a lot right. The cinematography is gorgeous and evocative of the small town setting. The dialogue sounds true to life and evokes the complexities of life and emotion.  At first I wanted the movie to avoid involving Iris and Gerald romantically, figuring it would feel exploitative and male-gaze-y. But the screenplay and performances ensure that the affair never feels gross or cliché and allows both characters to act like real people. Garcia stages explicit sex scenes that feel organic and earned, not trashy or overly choreographed.

The entire cast is solid—I liked seeing Garner, who was memorable as Lily Tomlin’s granddaughter in Grandma, in a more somber role here—but the film belongs to Temple. She makes Iris likeable, strong, and compelling, and manages to convey her emotions and desires without much dialogue. I’d never seen her before this, save for her tiny part in The Dark Knight Rises, but now I understand why she has a following.

One Percent More Humid is a story that emphasizes character and emotion, and its events unfold quietly and without forced climaxes or resolutions. That’s something to celebrate.

-Justin Lockwood

Tribeca Film Festival screening schedule for One Percent More Humid is here.