Tag Archives: Dome Karukoski

Forming the Fellowship


by George Wolf

Better confess right now: the whole Hobbit, Lord of the Rings thing just isn’t my bag. God bless you if you love the books, films and all, but the whole story just leaves me cold.

That’s not to say I can’t respect and admire the incredible imagination of author J.R.R. Tolkien, or the biopic about him that’s full of so much respect and admiration.

But what’s strangely missing in Tolkien is the wonder, the spark of endless creativity so abundant in the author’s expansive literary landscapes.

Writers Stephen Beresford and David Gleeson anchor Tolkien’s pre-Hobbit life in the trenches of WW1. As Officer Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) searches the battlefield for a boyhood friend, flashbacks fill us in on his upbringing as an orphan adopted into wealth.

With an eye on “changing the world through the power of art,” Tolkien forms a “Dead Poets” – type secret society with his mates at Oxford, where he impresses esteemed language professor Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi in a wonderful cameo) as well as the lovely Edith Bratt (Lily Collins).

Both Hoult and Collins are committed and pleasing, but the courtship becomes just another informative but less-than-engrossing leg the film stands on.

Though director Dome Karukoski keeps things well-assembled and plenty reverent toward his subject, this film never quite conveys the spirit of inspiration it seeks to celebrate. With a frustrating lean toward safety over enlightenment, Tolkien turns an ambitious quest into a rather pedestrian journey.

An Artist’s Life

Tom of Finland

by Hope Madden

Leathermen, homoeroticism, beefcake—three things you should not expect from the film Tom of Finland.

This biopic, often gorgeously shot with a painterly eye that mirrors the talent of the protagonist, examines the repression and fighting spirit that mark the life of artist Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang).

Still, there is something lacking: the energy, the bravery and the daring sexuality of the art of Laaksonen—later known as Tom of Finland.

The hushed restraint of director Dome Karukoski’s film suits its opening act as Laaksonen, a WWII lieutenant in the Finnish army, struggles against the dangers of his homosexuality. Beginning early in the film, Strang portrays a self-defined, quietly defiant figure—never reckless, but unafraid to take chances.

A strong ensemble surrounds Strang. Jessica Grabowsky and Lauri Tilkanen are particularly memorable as the artist’s sister and lover, respectively.

He finds peace and some degree of identity through his drawings—sketches of hyper-masculine men. This treatment—this particular art as a lifeline into Laaksonen’s bleak, solitary existence inside a violently repressive Finnish culture—is echoed later in the film as the art finds a grateful and receptive audience around the globe.

Unfortunately, this is where Karukoski’s presentation loses footing. There are moments where you almost feel the joy and power in this leather-clad image of defiance that Tom of Finland’s characters became, but that tonal shift gets the better of Karukoski.

Though the film touches on powerful themes of identity, art as salvation, even porn as politics, Karukoski’s reserved approach robs the film of the very vibrancy—not to mention subversive vision—of the artist’s work.

Tom of Finland is a solid, finely acted tribute to an man whose bold artistry—self-preserving though it may have been—made him a cultural icon. It just could have used a little more of his fire.