Monthly recap: What have I been watching in October?

Note: Posting a shorter monthly viewing list now, because I have a horror special lined up for the end of October.


Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Doesn't have much depth, if any. Not every film has to have that. A cute, sweet and beautifully framed story that I think achieves what it set out to do. Every screenshot is meticulously thought-out.
In the past, I think Wes Anderson's quirkiness was too forced and didn't quite fit the material, this time I think he got it right.
My expectations were probably considerably lower than others. As a cinephile who disliked most of Wes Anderson's prior films, and who perceives him as an overrated filmmaker, I think Moonrise Kingdom is the director's best film to date. Put a smile on my face, and for adults is a nostalgic trip back to that time in your life.
Favorite quote: "Dear Sam, I do think you should think of their faces every day, even if it makes you sad, it is too bad they did not leave you more pictures of themselves"
Rating 7.8



Another Earth (2011)
Even with handheld camera for certain scenes, the film looks beautiful, particularly the panoramic sky screenshots, impressive for a low budget indie drama. Keeping Earth 2 an enigma maintains a sense of uncertainty and tension, we are in the dark together with the main character (Brit Marling) about the new planet.
Would have preferred more sci-fi and less guilt trip(the latter has been done countless times previously)
What does she say to the old man in the hospital with her fingers on the palm of his hand? I'd like to know. Maybe I'm not supposed to know. Might want to rewatch that scene later.
I liked how the film raises thought-provoking questions, but frustrates by never quite following through with its teasing, lofty ideas.
Favorite quote: "if you met yourself, what would you say? "Hey, are you up for a videogame..."
Rating 7.4



On The Road (2012)
Exquisite cinematography can't hide the fact that the screenplay feels hollow, and to me there are not enough memorable scenes. I didn't think it was as powerful as it should have been, particularly the ending felt flat, and this could partly be down to the lead performance by Sam Riley, which was rather anonymous.
I have not read Jack Kerouac's beloved American novel, but watching this adaptation sadly doesn't put me in the mood to do so. The characters just go from smoking marijuana, listening to jazz, having sex, driving to a new destination, smoking marijuana, and having sex again. The story goes in circles, and a pity the filmmakers didn't bring out more of the depth from the novel. The soundtrack was quite unmemorable too.
Several famous actors and actresses make cameo-like performances for 10 minutes, but they don't really add anything vital and don't have a lot to do, so Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams seemed wasted here. Garrett Hedlund as Dean could be a star in the making, to me his performance stood out as the best of the bunch.
The director Walter Salles can’t quite repeat The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), which is a pity, because people have been waiting for an adaptation of On The Road for years.
Other reviews have criticized that On the Road (2012) doesn't capture why these characters are rebelling against society, and I agree with that assessment, it could just as easily have been set today.
To sum up: See it on the big screen for the soothing cinematography, which really is praiseworthy and gorgeous on the eye. Cinematographer Eric Gautier deserves an Oscar nomination for his work here in my opinion. Garrett Hedlund delivers a stand-out performance as Dean, but don't have high expectations of the screenwriting. The film feels like a wasted opportunity, which should have been better considering the source material is a classic.
Rating 6.4


2 Days In New York (2012)
Woody Allen-ish culture clash comedy. I never found Chris Rock to be that funny, so that wasn't a very good start. For large parts of the film I felt as if I was intruding on Julie Delpy's family gathering, and that was a little unsettling. The humour was a little too vulgar for my taste. To me, the pizza dream was the funniest scene. Too bad these characters were more whiny than cute.
Favorite quote: Child: "I thought brothers and sisters should love one another? Mother: It is love, honey, it's...crazy love..."
Rating 6.0


Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
Good acting. Without giving too much away about plot, the message is a positive one about loving children the right way, and how strict school rules have become, and thus not allowing affection. But I think most people had already thought about that, and I really didn't need to be banged on the head with that truth. Perhaps the film can start a discussion among teachers, so the rules can be looked at.
Favorite quote: "I imagine them grown up, but still speaking like children. And it's my fault, because I've forgotten to put some color in their lives" (...) "Even the ones we are not able to reach, we don't abandon"
Rating 7.3


Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011)
Review is based on the longer 192 min American Masters tv edit. A shorter 113 min version is also available.
A bit uneven, not having a clear focus if it wanted to be about the man or his films. For me it was best when discussing Woody Allen's early years up to about 1980. The last half was a bit shallow in my opinion, glossing over the later films, for example Match Point, and no mention of Another Woman (1988) was disappointing.
Even so, the documentary made me interested in Allen's films, particularly the better reviewed ones I haven't seen: Interiors (1978), Zelig (1983), Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Actually, I'm not a huge admirer of his movies, but he is an auteur, a persona that has entered the culture. I feel for every 5 films, he only makes one good one.
If you've read Woody Allen's biography(which I hadn't), there probably isn't much new material here. However an advantage of film is how random scenes from his movies can be intersected with anecdotes about his childhood, youth, relationships with co-stars, and so on. I wasn't aware he grew up in a madhouse, wrote 50 jokes a day for a newspaper, dated Diane Keaton.
I especially enjoyed what the doc had to say about Manhattan (1979), that is a love letter to New York, black & white colors creates a nostalgia for the present, and was Woody's idea, because both he and the cinematography perceived NY as a b/w city with its stone and concrete. Woody says himself he wanted to show NY in a very beautiful way, the way he sees it, his romanticised view of it. The iconic bridge scene is talked about, and the way people remember that scene, because that is how they want to fall in love, or had fallen in love, it either plays to your memory or plays to your hope.
Despite how uneven the documentary is, I still recommend you give it a look. The problem is it has to cover so much ground. I'm in favour of concentrating on one particular film rather than a whole career.
Rating 7.5



Starman (1984)
I saw this John Carpenter sci-fi film 20 years ago as a kid, I had completely forgotten the storyline. Essentially a chase scenario involving an alien. The US military is the bad guy and clearly is being critiqued.
You've got to wonder why the woman wasn't more curious about where the starman came from, she hardly asks him any questions, which is a little odd. Heart-warming, and a way for us to look at ourselves as humans from the outside. The atmosphere is closer to Spielberg than Carpenter.
Rating 7.5


The Swell Season (2011) (documentary)
Currently only available on region 1 dvd. I didn't know a lot about the band except the movie Once (2007), and while I thought the age difference was a little jarring, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova seemed to match up well as musicians. The film is very personal and honest, plenty of backstage conversations will interest fans. About the relationship of the duo, and Glen's relationship to his parents. While there are songs here and there, it doesn't get bogged down with endless tunes as some concert films I've seen, which was refreshing. About the struggles of fame. I liked the documentary a good deal more than I thought I would, the emotions are very raw and intense, I wasn't expecting that at all.
Rating 7.8



Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
All the $30 million dollar budget is up there on the screen. A sight to behold how the streets of that era were recreated. The film has gained appreciation over the years, but was a box office flop in the 80s.
Very long and probably could have been cut in half for a sequel. Even with 3 hour 40 minutes running time, there are loose ends, the Joe Pesci character, or the baby swapping for example. Apparently the directors original cut was even longer and over 4 hours!
The scenes with the old De Niro could have been shortened in my opinion.
It does have an epic feel of a classic novel, but also there is a sense that it is too similar to The Godfather trilogy at times, and while the screenplay has many memorable scenes, the writing is pretty shallow if you think about it.
Despite the issues I had, I did enjoy it, though.
Favorite quote: "You can always tell the winner at the starting gate. You can always tell the winners and tell the losers. Who would have put a penny on you?"
Rating 7.8

Secretary (2002)
About a newly hired secretary, as the poster suggests, it is kinky and provocative, you never know what's going to happen next. Good performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. Could have done without Lesley Ann Warren as the mother, she annoys the hell out of me with her smiling.
Rating 7.4

London River (2009)
Brilliant acting, story so so. A mother searches for her lost daughter in the aftermath of the 2005 London terrorist attacks. What's with the title?
Rating 6.7

Dark Horse (2011)
I love the dark, subtle humour.
Favorite quotes: "I really like the way you named your dog, "dog", so ironic"
"You always ruin things for me, and you always act like it was my fault somehow. You're so superior, you're not really sorry, because it's not possible for you to be wrong, no, because you are so f**king moral"
Rating 7.5


Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
Beautiful 25 min animated short film. Though it is set in the future(or a parallel reality?) I didn't think it was plausible that youngsters would text message poetically about nature and such.
A precursor to Makoto Shinkai's feature length anime The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004).
Rating 7.3



The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)
Perhaps an auteur director in the making, Makoto Shinkai has a distinctive directing style. 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) was a breath of fresh air to me, and while this earlier anime is good, it didn't have that wow factor on me in terms of animation technique that 5 Centimeters Per Second did.
His 2004 film features heavy dialogue which is not suitable for children, and a lot of it should have been cut out if you ask me, it's difficult to admire the visual splendor and read constant subtitles, all at the same time. A good amount of the subtitles don't really add much anyway. Something tells me this story would work better as a graphic novel, when you can linger on the words and images. Also, a little too cloying for my taste.
Makoto Shinkai is a director who I feel has a firmer grasp on animation than narrative storytelling. So much care to every screenshot.
The filmmakers create tranquil, exaggerated scenery, which is always beautiful to look at.
Should have been great, but due to the draining, non-stop subtitles, turned into an experience which was not as enjoyable as I had expected.
Rating 6.7




A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Only flaw I could find was during the machine-gun shoot-out, when the guy miraculously misses all the horses.
Contrary to popular belief, the Clint Eastwood character did have a name in all three of the films, 'the man with no name' was actually a marketing concept somebody at United Artist came up with.
Favorite quote: "When a man with a 45 meets a man with a rifle, you said the man with a pistol is a dead man, let’s see if that's true. (...) Go ahead, load up and shoot"
Rating 8.0






For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Enjoyable, except the odd casting decision to have the same actor Gian Maria Volonté from A Fistful of Dollars (1964) play a villain again (El Indio) in this film, that was confusing to me, and a bit repetitive.
The dubbing for the trilogy is very good, something that could have been a big distraction, but isn't.
Overall, for me, The Dollars Trilogy is deserving of the classic tag, and has got me interested in Westerns again, which I never thought would happen.
Rating 8.0


The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
Not to be confused with Deep Blue Sea (1999)! The sadness, confusion and self-destruction is boiling under the surface, but I never got to know the characters well enough to find it truly moving. The pain was somehow too rushed. Based on a theatre play. The look of the film is old school. British drama that takes place around 1950. The performances are good, Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, etc. Small production, big on emotions. The characters are suddenly in love, suddenly want to die, or suddenly we hear they are married, but we don't know why, there is no build-up. This is a stylistic choice it would seem. Even with things left unsaid to create tension, to me the film needed more characterization and more running time so I could care. I think it‘s normal for one person in a relationship to love more than the other, such is life, we can’t help it, and that was quite powerful. Overall, good, but in my opinion not great. A film that will divide audiences, tough to give a rating.
Rating 7.3



Out of the Past (1947)
Loved it, the highlight of my viewing in October so far. A film you could watch again and again. Film noir starring Robert Mitchum. I like how unpredictable the story is. If you enjoy plenty of one-liners and snappy retorts, this is for you. The dialogue is some of the best I've heard in a while. The conversations between Mitchum and Kirk Douglas were especially memorable I thought. Also, the framing of shots and lighting was very well done. (see above screenshot)
I liked the first half of the movie in South America the most, midway it kind of became a second story about tax documents, which I found a little less intriguing.
I wish I had watched it with subtitles, because there are so many great quotes, this is one of my favorites:
"Why me?" "I know a lot of smart guys, and a few honest ones, and you're both"
Rating 8.5



My top 5 of October (and late September)

1.) Out of the Past (1947)
2.) A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
3.) For a Few Dollars More (1965)
4.) Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
5.) The Swell Season (2011) (documentary)

6.) Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
7.) Dark Horse (2011)
8.) Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011)
9.) Starman (1984)
10.) Another Earth (2011)
11.) Secretary (2002)


Have you seen any of the above films? Agree? Disagree?

24 comments:

  1. These mini reviews are excellent, Chris. From this list, I've only seen Secretary. I agree -- excellent performances. I don't even remember the mother. :-)

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    1. @Stephanie Ward: Thanks, Secretary was pretty good, not something you see every day.
      Performance reminded me of James Spader's character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), which was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay.

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  2. Great list of films. I really loved Moonrise Kingdom, I think I might nab it on DVD soon.

    Starman is a fantastic film. I have a big nostalgic connection to it. It may not have aged perfectly but I absolutely love it. It might be one of my favorite romances of all time. I love your comment that it's closer to Spielberg than Carpenter. Carpenter never really did anything else like Starman in my opinion (although I love his horror films).

    "You are at your very best when things are worst."

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    1. @Robert: Moonrise Kingdom won me over with its charm, love the title.
      Starman is one of those 80s childhood nostalgia movies, I could easily rewatch it in a few years. Maybe Spielberg inspired Carpenter with ET and Close Encounters. Great quote from the film!

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  3. Moonrise Kingdom is cute, but yeah it doesn't stick in mind after a while.

    Want to see On The Road, but people seem to hate it.

    Sorry you didn't like 2 Days in New York. I never thought that it was Woody Allen-like movie. But I thought it was less annoying though.

    Nice to hear good review for Swell Season, some people thought it's average.

    Good choices as always!

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    1. @Andina: I agree, Moonrise Kingdom is cute, simple, and that's alright with me.

      I think you're better off with reading the novel 'On The Road' The film was only good for the cinematography, and screenplay felt empty.

      2 Days in New York, a couple of scenes I liked, sadly didn't quite work for me overall.

      Check out Swell Season documentary, when you get the chance! (Always find someone who loved or hated a movie) The doc has a 77% fresh rating on rotten tomatoes.

      Thanks!

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  4. I agree completely about On the Road - the film looked beautiful, but it was so hallow and empty, the script was a disaster - we didn't find out enough about those people we were watching for two hours and interesting characters didn't have enough screen time.

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    1. @Sati: It's a pity, especially for fans of the book, who have been waiting for decades for a movie adaptation of On The Road.

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  5. Wow, busy month so far. Out of the Past is one of my favorite films ever. Glad to see you enjoyed it!

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    1. @Alex Withrow: Indeed a busy month of viewing, currently knocking off horror films like flies!

      Out of the Past could now move into my top 100, curious how it holds up for a rewatch.

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  6. I really liked Another Earth. The biggest disappointment most people mention with it is what you did - they were expecting more science fiction in it.

    Secretary is one of those little films that I will find a category for some day so I can recommend it to others.

    Out of the Past is one of my favorite noirs and it has the single most believable "femme fatale" I've seen. You can completely believe the guy would do whatever he had to to get her and keep her.

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    1. @Chip Lary: Another Earth was great for ideas, I just question if they knew what to do with them, or had the budget to follow through.

      Secretary is a film that is tough to categorize

      Out of the Past, yes, the characters are so well-written and unpredictable.
      I'm gonna have to track down other film noir classics, I've heard good things about Nightmare Alley (1947)

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  7. Good list of films, Chris. Glad you enjoyed Out of the Past, and I also liked The Swell Season.

    I recommend Interiors and The Purple Rose of Cairo if you get a chance to see them.

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    1. @Josh: Once the Halloween fever has ended, I'll consider Interiors and The Purple Rose of Cairo, thanks for recommending!

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  8. That's a nice list of movies! Some of them I have not seen yet, will check some of them out.

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  9. I'm very curious to catch Moonrise Kingdom. I haven't really liked Wes Anderson's films very much so far but wondering if this is the one to turn me. Intrigued to hear what's in store for Halloween.

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    1. @Pete Turner: In the past, Wes Anderson never quite convinced me either. Moonrise Kingdom is his best so far I think, out on dvd. I hope you enjoy my Halloween mini-reviews!

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  10. Wow, you've seen a lot of movies already this month! A few thoughts:

    Moonrise Kingdom - Completely agree with you on this. Went into it not expecting much, but was very pleased afterward.

    On the Road - Your review has expressed my concerns with seeing this film. I'm apprehensive to do so simply because On the Road is one of my favorite books of all-time, and it just sounds like the movie doesn't do it justice.

    Secretary - I love this movie. One of the more underrated ones from the past decade, I think.

    Out of the Past - Glad you enjoyed this one! That dialogue is razor sharp, no doubt. Watching with subtitles is a good idea. :)

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    1. @Eric: On the Road, hmm, I think you should be careful the movie doesn't ruin your fond memories of the novel.

      Thanks for recommending Moonrise Kingdom and Out of the Past, both of them worked out for me. Great when that happens.

      See you later for horror mini-reviews at the end of October!

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  11. Glad you liked Moonrise Kingdom. One of my favourite films from this year.

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    1. @Lights Camera Reaction: Moonrise Kingdom, I'm curious if it'll hold up for a rewatch. Thanks for stopping by.

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  12. Moonrise Kingdom - On the contrary,I think it's WA's second worst.

    Woody Allen: A Documentary - Want to see it badly,there ain't too many special features in those Woody Allen film dvds,so this doc should be quite precious.

    Once Upon a Time in America - What?? Only 7.8,for me,it's equally great as Godfather.

    Out of the Past - A noir I always wanted to see.

    BTW,my review of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is up here: http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2012/classic-gems-once-upon-a-time-in-anatolia-2011-dir-nuri-bilge-ceylan/ .

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    1. @David: Moonrise Kingdom - second worst? I'm the wrong person to rank Wes Anderson's films, because I generally don't like his style.

      Woody Allen: A Documentary - Worth a watch, even for casual Woody Allen fans.

      Once Upon a Time in America - 7.8 is generous for me, considering my highest rating this year I believe was 8.6. I don't give 10s, hardly ever, because I seldom think a film is 100% perfect.

      Out of the Past - Don't miss it !

      Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - Good review! I commented on your site today.

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