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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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mereneläviä

Hayao Miyazaki’s films often feature the sea. Porco Rosso’s aerial battles took place above the sea and his hiding place was a sandy beach hidden away in a cove. But never has the sea been such an important part of Miyazaki’s films as in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Most of the movie is spent either underwater or then sailing.

The sea as a setting is in many ways a good fit for Miyazaki. It gives him a chance to show his drawing skills and the viewer is treated to some stunning underwater vistas and sea-creatures. It also gives the chance for a few opinions concerning pollution of the seas on our planet, a very important topic. Especially one of the side-characters, who left humanity for a life underwater precisely because of pollution and the carelesness with which many treat nature and especially the sea.

The story of Ponyo, a magical sea-creature who wants to turn into a human, can be seen as reflecting human nature, especially our selfishness. Ponyo casts a spell that allows her to turn into a little girl, but the spell has bad consequences and the balance of the world is put in danger. A selfish act results in terrible consequences. Isn’t that the biggest problem with us and nature? Reaping the bounties of mother nature with a concern only for short-term gain.

Juokse

I may of course be adding too much thought into the movie, as it is at its basis a children’s film. I can safely say that kids are going to love this movie, younger kids at least. But there is a lot to like for a more adult viewer as well. The beauty and life coming from Miyazakis pen is something amazing and proves that handiwork beats digital animation in many ways. Pixar’s Finding Nemo perhaps looks more realistic but the more artistic and occasionally painterly approach of Miyazaki does not look dated at all in comparison.

Ponyo by the Cliffs by the Sea is Miyazaki at his best. The plot is not too complicated, which is a problem with many of his films. The animation is some of the best I’ve seen from Miyazaki. With Ponyo he combines the childishness of My Neigbor Totoro with a message against pollution. Definitely a must-see for anyone who is in touch with their inner child, failing that at least take your kids to see it.

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District 9

Alus

Were used to movies where aliens attack our planet and chaos ensues. Us humans are technologically behind and don’t stand a chance against alien weaponry. Most of the time though there’s fighting and annihilation.

District 9 mixes the tables. In this movie the aliens aren’t attacking earth. Instead they somehow manage to get their ship hovering over Johannesburg without means of leaving. The aliens, referred to as “Prawns” because of their appearance, are also weird in that they are docile and meek, for the most part, letting humans move them around as they please. Soon the aliens are harbored into a gigantic slum camp, called District 9, where they are being used by every greedy human around, including a bunch of criminal Nigerians and a goverment office called MNU, which was formed to take care of the the aliens but is more concerned with alien weaponry and genetics, which of course means money.

hökkelikylä

The plot of the movie centers around an MNU official, Wikus van De Merwe, who is set in charge of an operation to move the aliens out of District 9 and into a camp further away from Johannesburg. In the beginning the movie follows De Merwe in a documentary fashion, with interviews of him, his family and co-workers. Towards the middle and end parts District 9 turns into an action flick. It’s very entertaining but doesn’t get close to the strength present in the beginning, when you’re slowly told more about the Prawns and how the good intentions of us humans slowly turn into greed and very evil deeds.

Make no mistake there are some horrendous happenings going on in this movie. Most humans treat the Prawns as if they were an especially dumb breed of talking rats. This and the fact that the film is set in South-Africa instatly brings to mind racial segregation and the apartheid. There’s strong social commentary in District 9 and it’s not hidden all that well. Occasionally the movie goes for the dark joke, especially in one of the more despicable deeds De Merwe and other MNU people do. At the beginning of the movie I almost expected a Schindler’s list type of approach, only with aliens instead of jews. Then District 9 goes down the road of cliche with a typical escape and shoot a lot action sci-fi film, which Terminator made popular. I feel it weakened the strong message present in the beginning.

Paving the way to unity

Still, if you like action movies you won’t be disappointed by what District 9 has to offer. With some of the meanest characters I’ve seen in a movie for some time, gruesome violence (including some executions of the Prawns) and also some great special effects, you won’t walk out disappointed. The action was given a lot of depth due to the atmosphere and believability build-up in the beginning, but I felt that the movie had potential for a deep and thought provoking sci-fi movie. As it is District 9 is mere entertainment with an attempt at some social commentary. I liked it a lot, but from the hype it received I expected a lot more.

(I’d post a trailer but in the case of District 9 they put most of the plot into it and also humongous spoilers)

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Movie premiere Natzi style

Forget everything you knew about World War 2. In going to watch Inglourious Basterds you must leave all knowledge of history behind before entering a theater. Tarantino’s newest, revenge detailing epic, has nothing to do with what actually happened. This is one factor in favor of the movie from the start, unlike with most war movies from WW2, you haven’t got the barest inkling of what will happen.

Inglorious Basterds follows two distinct storylines: One half of the movie follows lieutenant Aldo Rayne, in command of a bunch of Jew American soldiers, calling themselves the Inglourious Basterds, sent to Nazi occupied France before the actual invasion with a mission: killing Nazis and scalping them. Make no mistake, lieutenant Aldo Rayne wants those scalps. 100 from each of his basterd to be exact, as you may have gathered from a trailer to the movie. The other half follows Jew girl Shosanna, who, after having her family brutally disposed of by the Natzis, starts taking care of a movie theater. Later in the movie these two storylines intertwine.

Donny, this might be my masterpiece

The movie’s beginning words: “Once upon a time … in Nazi Occupied France” point out two important points about the movie. Its based in World War 2 and loans a lot from Sergio Leone’s westerns. The beginning of Inglourious Basterds had me instantly thinking of Leone. A lone house in French countryside, a man with three daughters looks towards an incoming Nazi patrol, whose leader, colonel Landa, has a long talk with the Frenchman, LaPadite. Soon we find out that he is hiding Jews under his house. Now this whole sequence reminded me of the scene in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly where Angeleyes(The Bad) goes to a farm and gets the farmer to tell him a secret by merely being menacing. The filmography in Tarantino’s film was also reminiscent of Leone, at least in that first sequence, with a close up of LaPadite’s face. More strongly the music and just a general feeling of suspense create the feeling of watching a Leone western.

Inglorious Basterds is, in many ways, a spagetti western set in World War 2, only with a fair taste of Tarantino mixed in, and that taste sets this film apart. Unlike Leone’s westerns, with their quiet main characters, Basterds has an astounding amount of dialogue. All the talking is paced out with outbreaks of violence and some magnificent filmography. What also sets the movie apart is how much humour it contains. Nazis have never been funnier and most people will walk out of the movie with a huge grin on their faces. Even the more brutal scenes cause laughter because of the way they’re filmed. I never thought I’d laugh at someone carving a swastika on a Nazi soldiers forehead or when one of the basterds hacks away at another one’s head.

We've got a homerun!

You can expect a lot of Tarantinoisms, as one could call his traditional trademarks. Feet get into a close-up, there’s a Mexican standoff, it doesn’t seem like one at first but one character carefully explains that this is the case. The movie even contains some critical discussion on German movies from the 1920s and one British commando, a film critic, is chosen for his knowledge on German movies.

All of the actors capture their characters, with Bradd Pitt doing an especially delicious role as Aldo Rayne, well worth the five bottles of wine he needed in order to agree to play it. But rising above all others is Cristoph Waltz, playing Hans Landa. A charming Nazi officer and one of the best villains in Hollywood since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Waltz had only acted in German movies earlier.

If Tarantino being Tarantino doesn’t bother you, he does like to leave his handprints all over a movie, you are in for the most entertaining movie of the year. I doubt anything can top of the pure entertainment value of Inglorious Basterds. My opinion might be colored by the fact that the movie seems especially tailored for my tastes. I love Sergio Leone, Tarantino as a director and witty dialogue so I can’t help but love this movie.

The trailer doesn’t capture the mood of the movie but does contain a speech by Aldo Rayne.

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