Monthly recap: What have I been watching in August?
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, which features in 22nd place on IMDB's top 250. Contines the filmmaking tradition of the 'Dollars trilogy', but with a bigger budget due to the success of aforementioned films. The opening scene is stunning to look at (see screenshots above)
A very good western, but I had a few issues. There were scenes when I felt the director was showing off his sets rather than getting on with the story.
Slower than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), and with fewer memorable scenes. Lacked the urgency, and character motivation of that 1966 classic.
The score was amazing and so was the cinematography. I have to admit it was the harmonica character (Charles Bronson) that maintained my interest, and took over the 'man with no name' role Clint Eastwood had carried. I would have preferred to have seen Once Upon a Time in the West on the big screen. I like it more for the technical achievements, than from a storytelling standpoint.
The director Sergio Leone commissioned Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento—both of whom were film critics before becoming directors—to help him develop the film in late 1966. The men spent much of the following year watching and discussing numerous classic Westerns such as High Noon, The Iron Horse, The Comancheros, and The Searchers at Leone's house, and constructed a story made up almost entirely of "references" to American Westerns.
Minor spoiler: Did filmmakers cross the mark by gunning down an innocent boy near the beginning of the film? I thought so.
Favorite quote, Frank: "How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants!"
A Simple Life (Tao jie) (2011)
Contemporary drama by Hongkong director Ann Hui. A story about an elderly female servant, who has watched over a family for years. Be prepared for a tonal shift, in that the first 45 minutes play out as a drama. From 50 minutes and onwards there are moments of comedy, not laugh out loud jokes, still endearing and warm-hearted scenes that won me over, particularly between the son and the retired housekeeper. A little too overlong and slow for me to really fall in love with this film. At times I was a little bored, looking at my watch. Good, but not great, in my opinion. I wondered if the story could have been told in half the time. I didn't get much out of it, and don't think I was the key audience.
Me Myself I (1999)
Comedy/drama about a 30-year-old struggling to settle down. I didn't care much for movie Bridget Jones's Diary, and this is more of the same.
Did not finish
Sans Soleil (Sunless) (1983)
The director Chris Marker died in July 2012, so I decided to check out one of his key accomplishments. Sans Soleil is a unique and overwhelming globetrotting journey, consisting of a continuous, stream of consciousness blend of images and narration. Has aged very well, bearing in mind was made in 1980s.
A personal philosophical cinematic essay about among other things Tokyo, Iceland, Guinea-Bissau and San Francisco. Chris Marker visits the filming locations of Hitchcock's Vertigo, which was interesting for about 5-10 minutes. The animal hunting scenes I could have done without. A fair amount of the complex and poetic voice-over didn't make a lot of sense and went over my head.
According to Tylers review at Southern Vision: "Sans Soleil is apparently acceptable to watch without sound and with visuals, or without visuals and with sound."
Check this quote out for starters, brilliant, yet very complex:
"I'm writing you this from another world, a world of appearances, in a way the two worlds communicate with each other, memory is to one what history is to another, an impossibility. Legends are born out of the need to decipher the indecipherable. Memories must make do with their delirium, with their drift, a moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector. Madness protects, as fever does. I envy him and his zone, he plays with the signs of his memory. He pins them down and decorates them like insects that would have flown beyond time, and which he could contemplate from a point outside time, the only eternity we have left. I look at his machines, I think of a world where each memory could create its own memory."
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Beautiful score, cinematography, and performances. I would recommend this more to girls than boys I think.
I liked that there was room for the audience to interpret, if it was a good idea for the youngsters to be told, or not told, about their future. The term 'complete' possibly had connotations to the term 'retire' in Blade Runner. The poetry Kathy reads at the 1 hour 15 min mark reminded me of Laura Marling - Night After Night, and the donation of body parts of 21 Grams (2003).
For me, Never Let Me Go is a story better suited for a book format than a film, the voice-overs were very book-ish. Innocent children being brainwashed is a scary thought. Maybe this knowledge of having a purpose is comforting to some degree?
The theme of Ishiguro's novel - that we all construct delicate fictions to mask the fact we are all going to die in the end, makes the story universal.
Your life is ending, one minute at a time...We may value our freedom even more when we see dystopian examples.
The author said in the making of: "essentially I structured the whole thing as a metaphor for how we face mortality, and the fact that we by our very natures we are we get older and then start to lose control of bits of ourselves, and then we die, we can't get away from that, we can work within that framework, and we can try and make the best of what we have, knowing that (...) and that's why these people don't run away from their fate, there is nowhere to run away to"
I can see why some name it a classic. Visually stylish, decent story, but I didn't find it scary at all. I did think it was good for a one time watch. Would appeal more to a teenage female audience I guess.
Batman Unmasked - The Psychology of the Dark Knight(2008) (documentary)
Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman (2005) (documentary)
Camera Buff (1979)
A political spoof on the limits of the artist's role in Communist Poland. The main character seems older than 30?
Worth a look for diehard Kieslowski enthusiasts, or film students. The setting is a bit dated, quite interesting as a historical piece.
The theme of balancing your family life and artistic endeavours is timeless. Arguably the best pre-Decalogue Kieslowski film.
Favorite quote: "If you want something badly, you'll get it"
The Meetings of Anna (Les rendez-vous d'Anna) (1978)
French drama by acclaimed female director Chantal Akerman. A chance meeting between a woman and a man in a hotel. He tells her his life story. He clearly needs her more than she needs him. People Anna encounters on her journey want to reach out, yet Anna is pretty distant, not wanting to get deeply involved. The conversations were interesting, and there is a reason for her distance. The mostly unlikeable main character (Anna) and slow pace means The Meetings of Anna is not for everyone. I enjoyed it mainly for the conversations, or in a lot of cases, monologues. For Anna, comes down to a choice between a career and a family.
Another critic notes: The film is a travelogue almost devoid of any sight-seeing features.
Phenomena (Creepers) (1985)
Directed by Italian horror master Dario Argento. Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is capable of communicating with insects on an instinctive level, often while sleepwalking. The premise of a girl arriving in a foreign country to attend a new school is a little overly familiar to Suspiria (1977), but it does have the director's trademark creepy atmosphere, suspense, and pulsating soundtrack. A minor problem I had was that the chance meeting between the insect expert (Donald Pleasence) and the lover of insects (Jennifer Connelly) was too contrived. Seems more Americanized than his early films. I would rank it among Argento's best. For pure escapist fairy tale fantasy, it does the job, and it has aged well too.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
John Carpenter directed action movie. Violent, yet lots of edge-of-your-seat suspense. Considering a budget estimated at $150,000, Assault on Precinct 13 works as an action movie, which is mainly due to the claustrophobic atmosphere achieved by the director. A fairly unknown cast, and the death count is high. The 2005 remake got mixed reviews.
Deep Red (1975)
Probably Argento's most intricate script, but I respectfully disagree that it's his horror masterpiece. I don't know if a slow-paced horror film is the right way to go...I admire it, more than love it. Great soundtrack!
I agree with reviewer Bonjour Tristesse, that the opening scenes are exceptional and very memorable. The trouble with it being a sequel to Suspiria (1977) is that the villain is not so surprising or shocking anymore. Even so, the visuals and suspense are top-notch. Could put you off buying a cat for good! Excellent sequel, the only problem I had was with the costume of the villain in the final moments, which didn't match the quality of the special effects in the rest of the film.
I'm not a fan of opera, so that didn't help. I didn't think it was quite as suspenseful as previous Argento horror movies. Not bad. Worth a watch.
Modern Times (1936)
Classic Charlie Chaplin. Satire of the machine age. I've read it was the last film in which the beloved tramp would star, a character that first appeared in 1914. Eating corn on the cobb at the automated feeding machine, carrying the roast duck in the crowd, and antics at the factory assembly line, were my favorite moments, and the biggest laughs this month!
Accused of being a communist was an interesting parallel to Chaplin's own life. The roller-skating close to the edge of floor in the store was spectacular, was that really Chaplin, or a stuntman?
Under African Skies (2012) (documentary)
About the tension between creative freedom and political responsibility.
The doc is about Paul Simon's acclaimed and popular album Graceland (1986), which grew out of a trip he made to South Africa.
I found the doc entertaining, but overrated, unnecessarily overlong, and quite shallow.
I'm glad Paul Simon shared the royalties with the African musicians, and so he should.
I didn't realize the musicians were banned to play outside South Africa.
Chances are if you know your Paul Simon trivia, this won't offer new revelations. The only reason for watching is a sense of reunion of band members, but I don't see the interest in that. Not recommended. I'm surprised at all the praise being thrown at this new documentary. You're better off just listening to the record, or reading the wikipedia article about the album in my opinion.
Damsels in Distress (2011)
I like Whit Stillman dialogue, I find it really unique. If you are into film history, a nice salute with the Max Ophüls and Jean Renoir posters. Despite the script was played for laughs, I found the depiction of college men alarmingly condescending. I mean, come on, nobody goes to college who doesn't know what colour their eyes are? Two guys in the same room are colour blind? Really? It did border on unrealistic at times, even though the boys are perceived through the eyes of the girls.
Gradually began to irritate me how dumbed down the characters were. I wasn't sure what the director was saying about college, was he mocking the students? Or celebrating the time spent there?
I agree with Eric's verdict at The Warning Sign, the opening was promising, but most of movie was all over the place and never really seemed like it knew what to be.
I'm Still Here (2010)
A lot of swearing, and the ambiguity was not there, because he has subsequently spoken out, if it was fake or not. Almost unwatchable because Joaquin Phoenix behaves like a jerk.
Did not finish
Le Havre (2011)
Good, but not great. I didn't really find characters interesting enough to care what would happen to them. Heart-warming, yet unremarkable. The simple story seemed more appropriate for a 30 minute short film. A little overrated I think.
I'm not the biggest fan of combat movies or boxing, so I went into this with trepidation. The story held my interest throughout, even with a running time of over 2 hours.
I was confused by the rules of the combat, because during one of the early fights, you lose the first round and win the second round, surely that's a draw? Another issue I had was why Brendan's family couldn't afford to live in their house with three jobs?His daughter was sick, so maybe a critique of the American health insurance policy.
My top 5 of May:
1.) Modern Times (1936)
2.) Batman Unmasked - The Psychology of the Dark Knight (2008) (documentary)
3.) Phenomena (1985)
4.) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
5.) Inferno (1980)
6.) Carrie (1976)
7.) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
8.) Sans Soleil (1983)
9.) Deep Red (1975)
10.) Warrior (2011)
11.) Never Let Me Go (2010)
12.) The Meetings of Anna (1978)
Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of August?