IN THEATERS (SF) – “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki”

rsz_thumb_1492_film_film_big-h_2016The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (2017; Dir.: Juho Kuosmanen)


By Daniel Barnes

*Opening Friday, May 5, at the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

Shot in a hazy and washed-out black-and-white, and so slight and unassuming that it barely qualifies as a movie, this true story about the titular Finnish boxer training for the fight of his life is mostly notable for what it’s not.  It’s NOT a sports movie; it’s NOT a love story; it’s NOT interested in biopic beats; it’s NOT even that interested in its own protagonist, an introverted pugilist distracted from his upcoming 1962 title bout with American pugliist Davey Moore by the loves of a blonde.  The Happiest Day in the Life…is NOT a lot of things, and is seemingly more influenced by wispy, shoe-gazing indies like Tu Dors Nicole and Baden Baden than by traditional demands for conflict, context, emotional catharsis, and all the other elements of drama that were good enough for Hawks and Ford but are somehow offensive to the contemporary sensibilities of  disaffected hacks.  Instead, The Happiest Day in the Life… is more of a dithering hangout movie – warm and enveloping like the afternoon sun, luxuriating in gliding bike rides and long walks through the woods, easily digestible and easily forgettable.

ESFS FESTIVAL #5 PREVIEW – Rohmer’s Moral Tales



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Curated by Mike Dub and Daniel Barnes

* Festival introduction by Mike Dub [Monday, June 2]

* Festival prologue w/ reviews of The Bakery Girl of Monceau (by Mike Dub) and Suzanne’s Career (by Daniel Barnes) [Tuesday, June 3]

Film #1: My Night at Maud’s (1969) [Mike Dub review on Wednesday, June 4]

* Film #2La Collectionneuse (1967) [Daniel Barnes review on Monday, June 9]

Film #3Claire’s Knee (1970) [Mike Dub review on Monday, June 16]

Film #4Love in the Afternoon (1972) [Daniel Barnes review on Monday, June 23]


download (3)How I Live Now (2013; Dir.: Kevin MacDonald)


By Daniel Barnes

This barely released drama from The Last King of Scotland director Kevin MacDonald is an odd-duck hybrid of a teenage summer romance and an apocalyptic nightmare.  How I Live Now has some interesting ambitions, but mostly it comes off like a Nicolas Sparks rewrite of Red Dawn.

The extremely talented Welsh actress Saorise Ronan does a fine American accent as Daisy, a petulant New York teen shipped off by her neglectful father to live with cousins in England.  Daisy is a stereotypically narcissistic adolescent, so distracted by her own angst that she barely notices World War III erupting all around her. Early in the film, we see stricken tourists watching Paris burn on an airport TV, which Daisy barely glances at before turning back to her phone.

Daisy’s aunt is an “expert in loony extremists,” with some pretty ominous-looking bar graphs on her desktop screen, and weak assurances for Daisy that everything will be OK.  For the first third of How I Live Now, Daisy is pouty and rude to her free-spirited cousins, and the script has to rush through an entire emerging-from-her-shell-and-finding-first-love story arc before the bomb drops at the end of act one.  MacDonald tries to accelerate the character development by occasionally letting us hear Daisy’s thoughts, presenting them as an anxious sonic blur, but it feels like a cheap trick.

Eddie (Tom Holland) is Daisy’s dreamy first cousin, and the catalyst for her emergence, a Tiger Beat fantasy boy lit in shades of shirtless bronze.  Eddie is Edward Cullen from Twilight in human form – he tames falcons, speaks to animals, can seemingly read Daisy’s mind, and even impetuously sucks her blood when she cuts her finger on a fence.  How I Live Now has a script credited to four writers, and a silly fabrication like Eddie is where you sense an excess of fingerprints.

Soon enough, an assemblage of global terrorists strike London, detonating a nuclear bomb first felt in the English countryside as a rush of wind, followed by a deafening crack and a drizzle of white ash.  Separated from the aunt, Daisy and the cousins initially live in a state of unsupervised bliss, and she even consummates her love with Eddie, which leads to my favorite exchange:

-Daisy (shivering): “We can’t.”

-Eddie (condescending): “More rules?”

Against incest, you mean?  Anyway, soldiers arrive to separate the girls from the boys, and the film becomes one long slog to get the young lovers back together.  Unfortunately, the film’s early scenes don’t earn it the right to get as gruesome as it does (including a scene where Daisy picks through a pile of child corpses) without feeling like rank exploitation.

It’s not a worthless movie, and there are some interesting but largely underdeveloped ideas, including a militarized “safe zone” located in a bucolic suburb.  Still, tying the developing maturity of a privileged teen to her role dodging rapists in a war zone requires a remarkable sense of nuance as yet unavailable to MacDonald.  If there is a message in How I Live Now, it’s that what these punk kids today need is a good old-fashioned war, preferably thermonuclear.