Monthly recap: What have I been watching in July?

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
No spoilers review! Suspenseful, entertaining, good acting, and a surprising amount of emotion. Everyone's talking about Anne Hathaway, I actually thought Michael Caine's performance was the best of the bunch!
I recommend Rises, but I had some issues. For me, there are far too many characters. Tom Hardy did well with such a limitation of Bane's face, however Bane's voice I found implausible and not correct for a villain, and in a weird way sounded like an old man, maybe sort of Scottish, which annoyed me. The bad guys and their motivations I didn't quite believe either.
The action was praiseworthy, but I thought not really groundbreaking considering the reported 1/4 of a billion dollar budget...Several of the big scenes reminded me of Bruce Willis action movies and didn't seem all that original.
However the cave prison was really great stuff, and got my mind racing about Plato's Allegory of the Cave.
You have to judge a blockbuster on its merits, and indeed it succeeded in building tension, Hans Zimmer's soundtrack worked really well again. On a personal level, I was more into the Tim Burton Batman universe.
That said, I'm contemplating reviewing Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises later on. The Dark Knight Rises is worth a watch on the big screen. The story in Rises almost demands rewatching the whole trilogy.
Perhaps I'm stupid and missed it, why again does Bane wear a mask?
Could be among the best Batman films, not sure if it's among the most groundbreaking action films, though.
Perhaps Nolan's trilogy will grow on me in time, I have only seen Batman films once.
*Rating undecided

Earrings (2012) (short film)
Directed by blogger friend Alex Withrow, Earrings (2012) was released July 28th. Go check his 30 min short here if you haven't already. I thought it was a gripping and powerful experience!
It's difficult to rate the film when you know the guy. Once the Radiohead song was done, there were a couple of scenes afterwards I thought lost intensity, and maybe I would have shortened. But considering that it's a low budget independent project, he does remarkably well.
The choice of music made the scenes all the more memorable. Kieslowski's Blue (1993) apparently was an influence. Withrow decides not to explain what is causing the suffering, which is what has us glued to the screen. Interesting to see what Withrow could achieve with a bigger budget.
Rating 7.5

A Running Jump (2012)(short film)
A 34 minute short film written and directed by British director Mike Leigh. Basically the polar opposite to Earrings above; lots of characters and fast-paced dialogue, that at times is tough to keep up with. Sport is what binds the multiple storylines together. I'm not sure what Leigh was trying to achieve, besides showing a day in the life of a group of Londoners. The ending was a little predictable, and characters were introduced that didn't really have much to do. I did enjoy it quite a bit, however.
London 2012 Festival, Film 4 and BBC Films co-commissioned four UK directors, Mike Leigh, Lynne Ramsey, and others, to come up with short films to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Rating 7.4

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Impressive performance by Bette Davis, sadly I couldn't stand her creepy and unlikeable character for over two hours. I also felt I had seen the washed-up old actress drama played out before in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950). I doubted I would enjoy it from the trailer, and turns out my instincts were correct.
Did not finish

Some Like It Hot (1959)
Directed by Billy Wilder, I was a bit suspicious about a running time of two hours for a comedy. Thankfully there's a reason why it's placed in the IMDB top 250. I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time. Great performances by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. The dialogue is fast and furious. Marilyn Monroe is beautiful, the most attractive thing about Monroe to me is her sexy voice. Filming in black and white was partly a decision made in order to tone down the male make up. The American Film Institute named it the greatest comedy of all time.
Rating 7.8

On the Waterfront (1954)
Best film I saw in July. Powerful drama directed by Elia Kazan. I thought I might be put off by loud-mouthed gangsters and lowlifes hanging around the rough neighborhood by the harbour. I wasn't.
My favorite scene is when Marlon Brando sits on the park swing (above) and has a conversation with Joey's sister. Features the classic "I could have been a contender" speech. Pigeons on the roof reminded me of Ghost Dog (1999)
Favorite quotes: It isn't just brains, it's how you use them"
"That's what makes people mean and difficult, people don't care enough about them"
Rating 8.2

Morvern Callar (2002)
A good performance by Samantha Morton (Morvern Callar) About dealing with a loss, anomie, and not facing up to responsibility. Perhaps there wasn't quite enough meat to the story to warrant a feature length film. Tough one to call if filmmakers succeeded in what they set out to do, because the screenplays approach is purposelessness, and the main character is not particularly likeable. The atmosphere of youthful confusion was quite well-done.
My favorite scene is when the hotel boy keeps getting her name wrong over and over.
Not as interesting as Lynne Ramsay's next film We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Rating 7.0

We Bought a Zoo (2011)
Family movie directed by Cameron Crowe. I loved the message and warm-hearted characters, but a little bit sentimental in some moments. Loved the ending, Sigur Ros music was perfect choice.
Favorite quote: “…sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage.”
Rating 7.0

M. Butterfly (1993)
A little-known film based on a true story of a French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) stationed in China who falls for an opera singer. Understandable why Cronenberg's film is not more widely acclaimed, because it simply is quite dull in terms of characters. Too many boring moments, and soon forgotten.
Rating 6.0

Rare Birds (2001)
An obscure indie film hardly anyone has seen. The accents were tricky to understand.
The quote from the script: “if it’s too wacky, nobody will take it seriously” sums up what I feel about the movie.
The tone was a bit all over the place, one moment discussing rare birds in the library, the next snorting cocaine. Then suddenly turns into a restaurant movie. The comedy was weird, one second a woman dies in an accident, the next moment it’s a jokey mood, weird humour indeed. If I had to compare the mood to anything, would be Twin Peaks.
Rating 6.4

Putty Hill (2010)
Experimental and uneven independent film. Didn't really connect emotionally with any of the potheads, although the dialogue I admired at times (scripted or unscripted). Wasn't sure if was a mockumentary with actors, or actual real people's lives.
A few cute touches, similar to the loud disco scene in 'Twin Peaks Fire Walk with me' (1992), the tattoo scene in Putty Hill had subtitles due to the noise. Also explaining graffiti on the wall was a cool moment.
Favorite quote: Where do you go when you die? "Wherever God decides to put you, it's not really my question"
Rating 6.5

Margaret (2011)
Was actually filmed in late 2005, but a protracted release drama has since unfolded. A post-9/11 New York story about a messed up young woman (Anna Paquin) and her family.
The transition from scene to scene is like chapters in a novel. Impressed by Anna Paquin’s performance. The script contained intelligent, well-crafted dialogue, and I could see myself seeking out this film again in future. Better than expected. Surprised it was initially scraped! Going on my top 10 list of 2012 so far, out on dvd/bluray July 2012.
Rating 8.0

The Gold Rush (1925)
Charlie Chaplin classic. Funny and touching. Never has the wind blowing through a door been used to such great effect. My favorite Chaplin film so far. Modern Times (1936) next month.
Rating 8.2

Red Badge of Courage (1951)
I first heard about the film as being underrated here. Then I went here and Sydney Pollack told me why to watch.
At only 69 minutes, and available on youtube, I thought, what the heck, I'll give it a shot. Directed by John Huston, about courage during The American Civil War (1861–1865). The battle sequences were solid and I felt like I was there, but messy and unmemorable story with at times unintentionally laughable dialogue and narration. Then again, war is messy when you are in the middle of it. Not recommended.
Rating 6.0

The Blood of a Poet (1932)
First leg of a Jean Cocteau trilogy, part of the criterion collection. If you are newcomer to the world of Cocteau, he was a poet, he drew, wrote, made films. Jean Cocteau: "As I've always said that I have used films as a vehicle for poetry to show things that I cannot say"
Peculiar, experimental and poetic, The Blood of a Poet has the logic of a dream. Statues turning into people, strange events when looking through key holes, you name it.
The metaphor of a mouth coming to life on his hand was an interesting idea, but not too difficult to decipher, as the painter communicates through his brush strokes. I was wondering if this filmmaker might be gay, considering the half-naked man in his apartment.
According to a documentary I saw, Cocteau wanted to make a film which included characters that resembled his drawings. The boy in the snowball fight was based on gifted teenage writer Raymond Radiguet whom Cocteau thought of as his own son and was a mentor, as is explained in the criterion documentary.
Favorite (absurd) quote: "By breaking statues, one risks, turning into one, oneself"
Rating 8.1

Orpheus (1950)
Second leg of a Jean Cocteau trilogy, part of the criterion collection.
May have been an inspiration for the death character in Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957)? and probably The Matrix (1999) drew inspiration from Cocteau too. Very dreamlike and enigmatic.
Technically some of the shots were great for the 1950s.
I was confused by the motivations of the main character, I didn't believe Orpheus was in love with the dark-haired woman considering he's known her for such a short amount of time, and if he loved his wife as well? The only solution I could come up with is that death is linked to immortality as a writer. Opens by telling us we are free to interpret the film however we please.
Rating 7.5

The Iron Giant (1999)
Family animation with a touching robot-kid friendship. Started out promisingly and there were a few laughs. What it doesn't have going for it is that it's essentially a remake of Spielberg's ET (1982). If I didn't know ET, The Iron Giant would have been rated higher.
Rating 6.7

Fish Tank (2009)
Points for realism and acting, and very powerful and memorable, though I didn't like any of the characters.
Rating 7.6

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Creepy tale of Henry. The story makes the audience empathize with the killer, and see the events from his point-of-view, which is quite an accomplishment. About lack of parental guidance, and being capable of losing control at any moment. The worst advertisement ever for visiting Chicago. I sure hope this wasn't based on fact.
Rating 7.8

The Devil's Backbone (2001)
An excellent early film from Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan's Labyrinth (2006). I loved the cinematography and art direction of the film. The child actors don't always speak as kids do, though you feel like you are among them. The ghosts didn't really scare, special effects were better than expected.
Rating 7.5

The Fearless Freaks (2005)
A documentary about the band The Flaming Lips. You really get close to the band members, their strengths and weaknesses as human beings. I could have done with more interviews about the acclaimed albums The Soft Bulletin (1999) and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002). The main focus is about getting to know the people behind the music and the journey they have been on, analyzing the albums is not the priority.
Rating 7.4

Scenes from a marriage (1973)
Why is this not in the IMDB top 250? Well-written Ingmar Bergman drama. My only complaint is several dialogue scenes felt scripted and not how people talk.
I liked it, but the non-stop dialogue for 2 hours and 40 minutes is a draining experience and I took some breaks here and there.
Most of the characters are psychologically interesting, yet quite unlikeable (except Liv Ullmann). Shows how you can simultaneously love and hate someone at the same time, the awkwardness of wanting closure, being confused, and not knowing what you really want. My favorite moments are when the grey-haired woman is at Ullmann's lawyer office, and when Ullmann reads from her book. I admire the script, there were moments when I thought it ought to have been a book instead. Maybe it is?
Rating 7.8

My top 5 of July:

1.) On the Waterfront (1954)
2.) The Gold Rush (1925)
3.) The Blood of a Poet (1932)
4.) Margaret (2011)
5.) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

6.) Some Like It Hot (1959)
7.) Scenes from a marriage (1973)
8.) Fish Tank (2009)
9.) Orpheus (1950)
10.) The Devil's Backbone (2001)

*(Undecided rating) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Top short films watched this month:
1.) Earrings (2012)
2.) A Running Jump (2012)

Readers, any thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of July?

ps On a sidenote, I've made small design changes to the sidebar on the blog, and have cleaned up the music lists. Added are my top 25 albums of 2010, 2011, and 2012, including links when the albums are available(on youtube, bandcamp or soundcloud)


  1. I too love that WBAZ quote, Chris. Yeah, it felt a little sentimental.

    Always wanted to see Billy Wilder, especially after I know that he was Cameron Crowe's favorite.

    I agree that TDKR kind of influenced you to watch the whole trilogy. Perhaps it did have too many characters, I find the story was too complex at one point.

    1. @Andina: A great quote ( :
      I certainly thought Some Like it Hot was a lot of fun, I liked it more than his other classic, The Apartment (1960), you should try both!

      I agree The Dark Knight Rises had a lot going on, with so many characters, so rewatching should help.

  2. Ah, I absolutely love The Devil's Backbone. So glad you liked it, but in my world, you underrated it by a ton! It's my favorite del Toro, and one of my favorite movies in general.

    Some great films this month--and some that we'll agree to disagree on (I really disliked Fish Tank).

    1. @SJHoneywell: I know, thanks for the recommendation! I did enjoy The Devil's Backbone, I just have a tough time dealing with the children's movie and violence mix, which I also found odd in Pans Labyrinth, its his style as a director I guess.
      Did you hear Guillermo del Toro has a new film out next summer? Pacific Rim (2013)
      Fish Tank I actually turned off a year ago after 15 minutes, I gave it 2nd chance, and though I didn't like the people in it, it was powerful and memorable

  3. Ouch, sorry you didn't like Baby Jane. In comics Bane wears the mask because it pumps some sort of drug inside him that makes him stronger and more powerful. In the movie he was beaten so badly that when doctor tries to fix it he only made more mess and it caused Bane to be in perpetual pain so he wears a mask which has gas that numbs the pain in it.

    1. @Sati: its okay, we can't expect to love all the classics anyway ( :
      Thanks so much for your comments on Bane's mask, appreciate it!

  4. Wow man, you watched some great stuff last month. Like Sati, I completely love Baby Jane, but I can definitely see how it could be TOO MUCH for someone to take in one sitting.

    Scenes From a Marriage, Fish Tank, Henry - great stuff there.

    And thanks so much for the mention and kind words about Earrings. Really very nice of you to do that.

    1. @Alex Withrow: It was a good month for film! Baby Jane simply depressed the hell out of me, so that, as they say, was that...I see its getting support in comments, so maybe its just me who can't handle that movie ( :

      You're welcome, and thanks for sharing Earrings with all us bloggers!

  5. Agree to disagree on Baby Jane. And I'm glad you liked Margaret.

    Some really great choices here - On the Waterfront, Fish Tank, Scenes form a Marriage…solid month of films for sure.

    1. @Josh: That's 3 supporters of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)... IT IS a classic, so sorry gor dissing it here!
      I agree about the rest, during 'blockbuster' season I tend to catch up on classics

  6. I enjoyed Batman too - I felt like a kid again and loved it. I was on a high all day after that film. I don't think its a "great" etc etc, but for light hearted fun I didn't feel like I lost brain cells and that's always a plus for me. I adored Scenes from a Marriage too. My only problem with that film was I had already seen Husbands and Wives (my favourite Woody Allen film) and it is almost a carbon copy of "Scenes" so I was twisted up in knots about the whole thing.
    Thanks for the heads up on the shorts.
    You had a super month - great viewing all round.

    1. @Lisa: There are many light-hearted blockbusters which are mindless, escapist nonsense, that I might use to unwind and relax. I happen to think Nolan's Batman trilogy is not in that category, and has a surprising amount of depth if you look closely. Whether it is "great" I suppose is a matter of opinion, and you have to judge it on its own merits as an action movie.

      I haven't seen Husbands and Wives in years, so I didn't have that problem of similar scripts!
      Those two short films are well worth watching ( :

      A pity you closed comments on your site there, I do fully understand the reasoning. I'll just e-mail my thoughts on your short stories in future ( :

    2. Thanks for the understanding. Im not great at the people thing.

    3. @Lisa: I'm not a group person either, so I can relate

  7. For once I actually haven't seen very many of these, or saw them too long ago to still intelligently comment on, so no detailed comment from me this month.

    But I agree with you about M. Butterfly. Cronenberg's weakest films are his costume dramas.

    1. @Bonjour Tristesse: Don't worry about commenting. Enjoy the good weather while it lasts!

  8. @Anonymous: Thanks for the info, I'll look at the trailer and decide if it's for me.

  9. Wow, you've had a prolific month of movie reviewing. There is so much here to comment on. A few things, in no particular order:

    1. I am one of about 5 people in the free world who hasn't seen TDKR yet. :-) Interesting observation about Plato's allegory of the cave. When I do see it -- I'll probably wait for the DVD -- I'll be looking for that.

    2. I really liked Earrings too -- and I'm with you on being eager to see what Withrow can accomplish with a bigger budget.

    3. I really need to see On the Waterfront.

    4. I liked Fish Tank, largely for the reasons you mentioned: the realism and the acting. I did connect with the characters, but I can really see where you're coming from with the likeability issue.

    1. @Stephanie Ward: Thanks for droppng by again

      1. ) ha ha, maybe, If you have enjoyed Batman on screen in the past, I think you'd like TDKR. It really is an adrenaline rush. Plato's allegory of the cave is a wild guess, not sure on that point ( :

      2.) Alex can be proud of Earrings. The support from the blogosphere has been mindblowing, and must be encouraging to keep at it.

      3.) On the Waterfront, I wish I has seen it sooner!

      4.) Fish Tank, I guess when the teenage girl slaps someone in the first 10 minutes, it sets the tone and can't really be undone in my head, but I suppose her lack of guidance and love is partly to blame as well.

  10. Wow, you watched a lot of movies this month, I envy you. I could only fit in a dozen. My faves are a tie between The Dark Knight Rises and Ruby Sparks which I saw at an advanced screening. Two very different films, I always like to mix things up. 'On the Waterfront' is one of the 10 classic films I'm hoping to catch by end of the year, or at least by next Spring :)

    1. @Ruth: I did watch a fair amount this month, I have no interest in counting, though.

      I'm curious about Ruby Sparks, I added it to my recent anticipated films of 2012 list, hopefully I'll get to see it eventually!

      You should definitely seek out 'On the Waterfront' I think it deserves the classic label. Better than most : )

  11. A lot of good films there. There are some that I have yet to see, so I skipped over some of your descriptions.

    1. @Chip Lary: Thanks. Yep, I still keep watching, even when the sun is shining ( :

  12. Sorry it took me a while to get round to reading this, but love what you said about both Orpheus and The Blood of a Poet. Personally would have had a different ranking in the films you listed there out of the ones I've seen - but a great selection nonetheless!

    1. @Cherokee: Thanks for reading, and recommending those two great Jean Cocteau films! I would never have found them if you hadn't shared them on your awesome 100 favorite films list. Orpheus (1950) does seem to receive more praise/acclaim, I just happen to prefer The Blood of a Poet.

  13. Very interesting group of films Chris. A lot of them I haven't even heard of but you're always a good source to find smaller independent pieces that are worth checking out.
    As a resident of Chicago I think I ought to check Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
    I don't quite agree with the rating you gave Iron Giant as I was very much moved by the relationship between the giant and the boy, one of the simplest and most touching animated films I have seen. Sure, there are similarities to E.T. which is a perfectly acceptable criticism, but that didn't take away from the experience for me.
    I'm also taking note of "Margaret", "The Gold Rush" and "The Devil's Backbone" as I've heard great things from all three and I still haven't managed to see them.
    I made a compendium of films as well, feel free to check them out.

    1. @niels85: Thanks for the kind words. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a dark, yet effective character study. Only thing is might make you scared to venture out onto the streets of Chicago, so you've been warned!
      The buzz is generally that Iron Giant is underrated, I found it to be just okay.
      Compendium of films, I'll take a look

  14. That's quite a diverse batch of films, Chris. I have On the Waterfront, Morvern Callar and Fish Tank queued up via Netflix, so I hope to catch them soon. I am also quite curious about Margaret. Good to see a positive review from you for that one.

    1. @Eric: Of those you mention, On the Waterfront is the one to watch first in my opinion.

      Margaret (2011) is very long, I found it rewarding! From what I've heard, the shorter cut Scorsese edited is the version to go for.


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