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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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Hot

Red Cliff 2 continues straight from where part 1 ended (Check the post on that one first). After a quick summary of what happened in the first part its more of the same elements that were present in the first movie: The over the top military tactics, Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju competing, slapstick humour and of course more action.

Red Cliff 2 doesn’t go in its own direction but more builds on what was established in part 1. After the beginning montage has reminded what took place, the movie continues from where part  1 left off. Preparing for the big battle is the name of the game. I found I enjoyed the waiting towards the big battle more than the finale itself. The friendship between Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju, the two tacticians and commanders of the good guys, was enjoying to follow this time around as well. The chemistry between the two works well and them competing was one of the funniest (if at points dumbest) parts in the film.

A Chinese orc

The action is once more the meat of the movie and the ending battle is, I have to admit, rather epic. It should be, seeing as how most of the film consists of preparing for that battle. The fire effects especially were rather slendid.  I found the ending battle at points very similar to Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings. Apart from the naval fleet the setting is rather similar: There’s a wall that the army opposing Cao Cao has to get past. They finally manage it when one of Zhou Ju’s underlings attacks the wall with three bombs sacrifing himself while doing so. Anyone else reminded of that orc at Helm’s Deep? Besides the wall and the bombs they aren’t all that similar though.

It’s hard to write about Red Cliff 1 and 2 as separate movies because they are really the same movie. Red Cliff is more a mini-series with two parts than a series of two films. In my opinion to be called a continuation Red Cliff 2 should work as a movie in itself. Star Wars IV-VI for example did that. All the movies in that trilogy would work even without seeing the rest of the films in it. Of course you get more out of it if you watch all of them in chronological order. Red Cliff 2 on the other hand wouldn’t really work without seeing part 1 first. Somehow I find this a problem. As a movie in itself Red Cliff two would fail I think, but when you look at it as a straight continuation to part 1 it works rather well. If you liked the first part you will most likely enjoy the second one as well. If you do want more Red Cliff, this movie gives an extra helping of it.

Zhou Ju practising

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I read a review about Red Cliff on Japan Cinema and decided to watch the movie myself. Mostly I got interested because in the trailer there was a lot of armies, formations and generally stuff that little boy’s tend to like and being the little boy by heart that I am also am interested in. Partly because of this I like the Total War-series of games as well. Red Cliff reminded me at points about that game. Mostly because of the formations. There’s a lot of talk on tactics in the movie, but I wouldn’t call it historically accurate in any way. The movie loosely follows the historical battle of Red Cliffs. Reading the Wikipedia article probably takes most of the suspension away so watch the movie before the article. I’ve watched hardly any chinese films so this is entirely new territory for me but do read on.

Herd them in tactic is use

The enemy in the movie is prime minister Cao Cao who attacks the province of Wu for political reasons. Warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan unite against him and battles follow. The main characters of the movie though aren’t the warlords themselves but Liu Bei’s tactical advisor Zhuge Liang and Sun Quan’s brother Zhou Ju (hope I got it right). Zhuge Liang is tasked with getting Sun Quan to join the battle and befriends Zhou Ju while at it.

During the movie what I payed special attention to was the music, how the dialogue played out and also the humor. The music was a bit melodramatic in my opinion. There is a great scene in the movie though where a little kid is playing a flute and Zhou Ju’s army stops it’s drilling practice and listens to the flute while the commander himself goes and fixes couple of the blowholes on the flute so the music rings clear. Probably explains what I mean by melodramatic as well.

The two tacticians

The dialogue was interesting as well. Metaphors were used a lot and very rarely did any of the characters say what they wanted straight. So analyzing what the other guy is thinking played a big part in the movie. In one scene Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju play music together and then later both know what the other one wants based on the music. That was one of my favorite scenes as well. Perhaps this has something to do with the Chinese way of doing business which differs from the western way in many ways. Also during the talks about tactics quessing what the enemy general Cao Cao is planning was essential. There is also a lot of humor in the movie that reminded me a lot about Jackie Chan. Sun Quan’s sister provided a lot of the comical relief with her tricks with acupuncture points, like stunning a horse so it fell down.

Of course the meat of the movie are the action scenes (as I understand is the case in John Woo’s movies). These mostly had a lot of grunts and then one of the heroes who beat them quite easily but rather entertainingly. The ordinary soldier’s don’t play a very big part in the movie. None of them have any dialogue lines of interest. Because of this the movie offers a rather small spectrum of war. On a sidenote the HBO series Rome succeeded as well as it did because of the grunt characters Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. But I’m asking too much of Red Cliff now. In no way does it even try to offer a realistic approach to war. This is perhaps best showed in the movie’s second big battle scene in which the Liu Bei’s and Sun Quan’s forces form a sort of shield encampment with walkways in the middle. With use of dust they manage to cheat the enemy into entering it and the close the shields so the enemies are locked in. The tactic makes sense but I doubt it would’ve worked. Anyway at one point they let the heroes of the movie enter one of the walkways one at a time and beat a lot of the enemies grunts showing their moves at the same time. Picking a tactic based on how easy it is to show of the heroes’ special moves shows just how big a hold entertainment has over realism in this movie.

At least there's refugees

I had some qualms with the special effects in the movie. The big groups of soldiers look rather like digitally created groups of soldiers as does Cao Cao’s huge navy. They serve their purpose though. Also showing how little the movie has to do with actual war is how easy moving huge armies around appears. Cao Cao takes it very easy and doesn’t seem to worry about the biggest problem’s about armies 800’000 strong: getting them fed. According to the Wikipedia arcticle his army was closer to 200’000 which is still quite a lot compared to the opposing 50’000.

Still I was entertained, enjoyed the dialogue, found some of the jokes amusing and thought action scenes worked. I had a good time watching and enjoyed my chinese movie. Will probably get to know more of John Woo’s work I think based on this movie. Haven’t watched number two yet, so that’s next in line.

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