Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Everyone who has been in a romantic relationship will feel instantly familiar with the plot of (500) Days of Summer. The movie follows young adult Tom who falls in love with young adult woman Summer, thus the title. As a voiceover informs in the beginning this is a story of boy meets girl. But even though the story has been read, watched and listened to since the beginning of time the movie is separated from other tellings in many delighting ways.

Also clear from the very beginning is the tongue in cheek mentality of the film, when it plays a trick on the disclaimer ensuring a movie is a work of fiction. This small taste of humor sets the tone for the rest of the film. It could be that the screenwriter has tried to do opposite to what the generic romantic comedy does. It’s clear from the first that the relationship between Tom and Summer has ended. While the movie jumps between different days on a timeline of 500 the viewer begins to piece together why the two end up separated.

Tom’s work involves coming up with sentimental messages for postcards, for Valentines Day, birthdays, funerals etc., but his true calling is to become an architect. While his relationship with Summer is in the center of the movie, the rest of Tom’s life is shaped by it in so many ways that how it changes him is ultimately what the film is about. Following Tom definitely made my day. Recently dumped will be glad to hear that life continues after a breakup, at least for a couple of a hundred days.

The film does not differ from generic romantic comedy #53 only when it comes to the plot though.  The film fully exploits some modern film tricks. A non-linear order of events for one. Well, Casablanca had that… Perhaps a scrambled order describes the movie better. Days of Summer also gives a great many twists on the jokes usually found in romantic comedies. But although the movie is very funny at points, like every decent comedy it has serious undertones. A friend who recommended the movie said that Summer and Tom are very real as characters and their relationship and the dialogue between them is close to what might actually happen.

I agree completely. It might only seem real to the two of us though. Here-in lies a bit of a gripe I had with the film. When the movie becomes so realistic some of the dialogue and events becomes perhaps overly familiar. I’m not sure if this is a valid complaint because it doesn’t affect liking the film. Before this turns into me describing how I am similar to Tom let’s wrap things up. (I am dark-haired, cute, believe in love and only want a wonderful relationship. Single too.) Sorry about that.

Where was I? Conclusion: Ultimately (500) Days of Summer is a fresh take on romantic comedies and a great film. The same friend I mentioned earlier also said (he says a lot of things) that the film is a film for girls that guys can watch too. Here I have to disagree. The movie is not aimed at a particular gender at all. Entertainment with a lot of deep thoughts on love and relationships, with excellent dialogue and music, enjoyable to any movie fan, regardless of their sex.

Abre los Oyos

Have you ever had a dream where you do all your usual morning stuff? Eat breakfast, brush your teeth and leave for work. Only then you wake up and have to repeat what you just dreamed about. That happens to César, the main character of the movie Open Your Eyes. With the exception that he continues out the door and drives off to work with his car, only to find he is alone in the world. No cars, no people, just César and an abandoned city. Then he wakes up and finds a woman laying next to him.

The difference between sleep and reality is a question awakened constantly in Open Your Eyes as the main characters life slowly turns into a nightmare. The woman who awakens César is one of his frequent one-night-stands. The rich inheritor’s best friend tells us that César having sex with the same woman twice never happens. He seems to be acting his part when he seduces his best friend’s girlfriend. Unexpectedly for a man who denounces love as stupidity he falls in love with Sofía. After their first night together César misfigures his face in a car accident and turns into a monster. For a man who values his looks above all and concentrates on pleasure this is a catastrophe. Being a millionaire he hires the best plastic surgeons to fix his ruined face but the necessary technology does not exist yet. The best they can do is offer César a mask.

Fakeness and masks repeat constantly in the film. We first encounter masks at Sofía’s flat. To top it off the girl occasionally works as a living statue. Another important element appearing from time to time in the film are tv-commercials about cryonization. Escaping a nightmare into a possible future where plastic surgery can fix his face of course appeals to César.

Soon after the beginning you realize that César is locked up in a mental asylum, where he tells his story to a psychiatrist. The main character insists upon wearing his mask to cover terrible face. As he recollects his past memories and dreams mix. As the title suggests viewers should keep their eyes open from the beginning. The movie steadily turns weirder and shocks the viewer out of the story into considering what the movie exactly is trying to do. This causes you to consider the story in a different light and through that, nothing less than the medium of film itself.

Admittedly Open Your Eyes is at times demanding to watch. Its rich symbolism and film trickery might baffle viewers who have a passing relationship with films. However, for any good friend of cinema with open eyes the film is a rewarding thrillride with a great ending. It might even change the way you watch films. It definitely made me think how the reality of a film is carefully constructed. Ultimately the quickly changing images we love to watch are a created illusion, of which the film’s ending effectively reminds us. “Open your eyes.”

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces is a film about fighting the shadows of the past. The protagonist must overcome his demons and save a film made by him fourteen years ago. Pardon the stupidity, no, it is not an action film.

The film tells the story of blind scriptwriter Mateo Blanco, who now goes under his pseudonym Harry Caine. This fact and his blindness work as a mystery the viewer expects to be answered sooner or later. The circumstances surrounding these two enigmas is bound up with elderly businessman Ernesto Martel. His death sparks an interest to past events in Harry Caine. Many more questions are raised and answered until the film is over. Besides Caine and Martel the story of a woman named Lena is important as well.

The present of the film is interlaced by flashbacks from fourteen years ago when Mateo Blanco was filming a movie and still introduced himself by his real name. As the story the movie is at times tragic, provoking laughter right afterwards, then perhaps ending up with a disgusted shout. The main characters are lovable from the beginning, well, except for Martel, but he is a necessary evil in the movie. What are films without bad guys after all?

Besides the characters I also was stricken by the rich filmography. The color red is especially used for a strong effect. Mateo for example wears bright red clothes in flashbacks from the past while in the present he wears less luminous colors (matte?). Besides this Lena and Ernesto are differentiated by colors as well. Especially in a scene where the camera concentrates on Lena’s high heeled red shoes then switching to Ernesto’s black leather the symbolic value is strong. Red likely standing for youth while poor old Ernesto represents age, or evil perhaps?

The use of bright red is only one film trick employed by Almodovar. There are some truly beautiful scenes in this film. A bit towards the end where a recently blinded Mateo is at a beach with a small child especially. Also some deliciously funny dialogue, most of which was missed as a non-native speaker. One conversation where Mateo and a friend of his are discussing a vampire script they plan to write worked nontheless. Probably because of the vividness of the images they were making up. The writer’s of Twilight might want to take a look at this film.

Rich in irony, loaded with strong feelings and vivid imagery Broken Embraces is a treat even for a non-native speaker. Perhaps partly because of it. With less focus on the language I perhaps focused more on the shots and images. But with or without relying on subtitles, a great film.

Friends

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is my all time favorite movie. For some reason I am very atracted to Sergio Leone’s western fantasy. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it on DVD or TV. What I lacked, until a couple of days ago, was the experience of seeing it in it’s full glory in a movie theater. This was fixed last Wednesday when the local student movie club, Elokuvakerho X, finished the Fall’s movies in the company of Blondie, Tuco and Angel-Eyes. Each time I’ve seen the movie I’ve payed attention to different things, this time I mostly looked at how this great movie is built and mostly three aspects of that: Firstly the way excitement is built up and then suddenly erupts into action, second a sort of duality in the characters and dialogue, and finally the allusions towards Christianity.

The first scene already shows how Leone builds tension. The scene begins with the face of a bounty hunter. Then we see two bounty hunters facing him some distance away. The three men are walking towards an abandoned building. From close-ups of the mens’ faces we can tell they are very tense. Then for what seems a very long time the camera shoots the men nearing the building, one from the left and two from the right. There is no music, only sounds of the environment: Like the wind blowing or a horse moving. The tension just keeps building up, the men finally reach the building and after getting their weapons ready, rush in. Gunshots follow and the man the three bounty hunters were chasing, The Ugly or Tuco, jumps out of the window. A buildup and then a violent outbreak of tension. Tarantino’s films work much in the same way as is evident from Inglourious Basterds, where the beginning scene is very similar to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. But instead of silence Tarantino uses dialogue.

Hanging

Then on to the duality. A lot of the dialogue in the film uses the phrase “In this world there are two kinds of men…” What follows can be, for example: “those with loaded guns, and those who dig”. Similar phrases are used so often in the film that one can’t help but notice and wonder how it affects the story. When you look at the plot of this movie you realize that in the center are two men: Tuco and Blondie. Almost the entire movie revolves around these two, who contrast each other extremely well. Blondie is a quiet wall, speaking only rarely, while Tuco talks almost constantly and shows his feelings very openly. The relationship of these two kinds of men develops in very interesting directions in the movie and it’s rather open to discussion how one might analyze their relationship.

One way of looking at it is a religious approach. Tuco is very straightforwardly compared to Jesus in the movie. At a scene in the missionary Tuco stands next to a painting of Jesus very noticeably. Blondie is also compared to a golden haired guardian angel and Tuco compares him to Judas frequently. The way blondie saves from hanging by shooting the rope could be interpreted as a symbolic death. Especially the ending where Tuco stands precariously atop a cross marking a grave is rich with symbolic meaning. I won’t be so brave as to draw any conclusions, I was just wondering about these aspects while watching the movie. Comment is free: Draw, aim and fire.

Hipshot

garden growing

Amanita Design‘s latest is the adventure game Machinarium. Like their earlier games it is also a point-and-click adventure with a lot of puzzles thrown in. Unlike, say, Samorost 2, the action revolves more strongly around the game’s hero, the little robot Josef, who possesses many qualities useful in an action game protagonist: He has telescopic hands and a body that can be adjusted either higher or lower, a lot of storage space and most importantly has a mission.

Josef’s adventure begins at a waste deposit outside an aged robot town. As the game progresses you find out that the city is being terrorised by a group of evil robots, who refer to themselves as the Black Hat Society. They plan to blow up a tower in the city and have taken Josef’s girlfriend as a prisoner and are using her as a cook. The plot may sound like the archetypal videogame tale of princesses with men trying to save them, but there are many details that set Machinarium apart from any other video games you might have played.

the cafe

First off the setting. All the game surroundings are handdrawn and look stunningly beautiful. Screenshots of the game, mind you, do not do the game justice: There are so many small details hidden within every area you stumble into. Instead of just static backgrounds there can be a small waterfall, or some funny character animations.

There is a surprising amount of depth to Machinarium’s robotic characters as you find out throughout the story. Instead of dialogue or text, all communication between Josef and the other robots is relayed with a bubble that plays a simple animation, which can tell the player what is needed to solve a puzzle or appease a certain character and sometimes simply tells us more of them. The animations detailing Josef’s relations to the evil robots especially come to mind.

jailcell

Another thing I was taken aback by in the game was how emotional and engaging the story was. There is something very cute and moving about Machinarium’s robots. It is the heartrending imagery of the Black Hat Society committing increasingly evil deeds and also the animation and subtle sound effects that help in this. Also every new area, especially towards the end, began to create a feeling of awe.

And awe is the word best describing Machinarium.  Everyone who has played a point-and-click adventure at some time or who likes puzzles will love this game. People not fitting the earlier description should try the demo out, but keep in mind that the three first levels don’t give a good picture of the sweetness toward the mid and end-parts of the game. An instant classic. Go play it already.

band

At the church

Over on Offworld, a great blog on videogames, there was a feature some time ago on Machinarium. I finished the game last week and have to say that it is definitely something different. Anyone who likes their adventure games should definitely try it out. Also in the post on Offworld there are links to most of the projects of Amanita Design, the Czech indie-studio behind Machinarium. The skecthes are also interesting. I will see if I get around to posting a review here of Machinarium, but while you wait for that go check the feature out. You can also try out the first couple of levels here.

Run! I mean swim!

The newest episode of Tales of Monkey Island brings a much needed change of scenery to the series. The two first episodes repeated each other with an island setting and both even had a forest maze. Compared to them a giant manatee’s stomach is very original.

In the end of Siege of Spinner Cay Guybrush, his sole crewmate and pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay got swallowed by a giant manatee. In its mouth our heroes find treasure hunter Coronado DeCava who is also after the Lesponga Grande, which will fix the voodoo pox infecting Guybrush himself and other pirates . The problem Guybrush faces this time is the ear of the manatee. A part controlling its sense of direction has been stolen and is being held by DeCava’s mutinous crew of four. They have formed a brotherhood which Guybrush must join if he wishes to heal the manatee and get the sponge.

Piratehunter

The game world being essentially a stomach the area in which to walk and interact is a lot smaller, solving a lot of the problems with the control scheme, a big problem in the earlier episodes. Walking up and down the same staircase because of a wronglytimed press of the mouse, as often happened in Siege of Spinner Cay, is gone. Also gone is the time consuming running around. There is even a possibility to use tubes  in the manatee’s stomach (don’t ask me) for speedier travel.

With the control problems all but gone the player is free to concentrate on what makes Monkey Island so good: The dialogue and humor. When it comes to these two Telltale ups the ante considerably. Lair of the Leviathan presents four new characters and they’re all very funny, my personal favorite being Moose, sort of a surfer-type hippie pirate. A friend from older Monkey Islands also makes an appearance.

Coronado DeCava

Different from the earlier episodes is that the characters have a lot more facial animation and many of the jokes involve more facial expressions, instead of only leaning on dialogue. Piratehunter Morgan LeFlay for example grows very disappointed in Guybrush as the episode progresses and makes faces to Guyrush each time he walks past her. The episode even includes a competition of making scary pirate faces, or just downright dumb expressions.

AHOY, SPOILERS AHEAD

Many of the puzzles deserve an honorary mention. Guybrush playing the part of a wingman to the giant manatee with the help of a manatee speaking horn was my personal favorite. As it happens the horn is a tourist edition and the player needs to figure out which available answer fits best with a female manatee’s comments. With choices varying from “I have nothing to declare” to “I want to go to the theater” this is not necessarily an easy task. In a way the puzzle is a reinvention of insult swordfighting, without the grind. While many of the puzzles were amusing, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’s puzzle in LeSinge’s lab remains my favorite in the series.

END OF SPOILERS

An old friend

Lair of the Leviathan, with very little to complain about, is the funniest episode so far. At some points I actually paused and thought something on the lines of: “Damn, that was amusing”. Perhaps because I was not stuck in the puzzles for as long as in the earlier episodes I also thought the pacing of the game was a lot better. If you have doubts about Tales of Monkey Island on the whole at least play Lair of the Leviathan.

(Here’s a link to the walkthrough I used, from Roger Davies.)

The official trailer:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.