The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen, 2016)

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When considering the standard cultural landmarks of the peculiar but plentiful subgenre of the boxing movie – Raging Bull, Rocky, Ali – a pattern seems to emerge. The genre seems to invite, by dint of the sport’s popularity, prominence, and propulsive energy, either big emotions or big narratives, whether it be emotional self-flagellation, the archetypal underdog, or a sense of the central figure influencing the national zeitgeist. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, surprisingly, deals with all of these ideas to one extent or another, but this entry into the subgenre eschews virtually all sense of grandeur in favor of an intensely lowkey and somewhat light character study.

Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki follows the true story of the eponymous Finnish boxer (Jarkko Lahti) as he trains to fight for the World Featherweight Title, the first world championship bout held in Finland. His training is followed with intense interest by his fellow countrymen, who hold his title challenge as a major source of national pride. Olli is essentially besieged as he attempts to focus on the match – and lose enough weight to become a lightweight – by many, including coach/manager/slightly antagonistic friend Elis (Eero Milonoff), who invites a documentary film crew to film Olli’s progress and continually forces him to attend dinners to accrue sponsors. All the while, he is bolstered by his growing love for his friend Raija (Oona Airola), something frowned upon by Elis.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)

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It is mostly accurate to say, without hyperbole, that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is simultaneously the most overpraised and the most unfairly maligned blockbuster franchise of modern times. Rarely has any strictly commercial film or series of films inspired such reams of glorification or barbs of hatred, as both sides seem to hail the MCU as alternatively the lifeblood and the death knell of cinema. Both of these extremist positions are, of course, ridiculous; the idea that one series, even the most profitable, could make or break American blockbuster cinema, let alone world cinema, is intensely narrow-minded. Perhaps a more rewarding and certainly more revealing approach is considering each incarnation, pros and cons, as its own discrete unit, despite Marvel’s insistence on making them blend together in a maze of references and character continuities.

Such dueling intentions typify, for better or worse, the latest such entry in the series: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The rather fascinating sequel to the 2014 film follows its eponymous protagonists a few months after the events of its predecessor, as they experience all of the camaraderie and squabbling that befits a team that has stayed together that long. It is a surprisingly non-narratively focused film, though, in the MCU tradition, it ends up being just as high-stakes as normal. Functionally speaking, it is split into two plotlines. One follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista) as they explore the planet that comprises Peter’s father who abandoned him as a child, a cosmic being known as Ego (represented in a humanoid form by Kurt Russell). The other follows Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) as they are separately captured by a faction of the Reavers, headed by Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s adopted father who seeks to regain his standing within the Reavers as a whole.

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