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!"
Rating 7.5

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.
Rating 7.2

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."
Rating 7.5

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"
Rating 7.4

Carrie (1976)
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.
Rating 7.6

Batman Unmasked - The Psychology of the Dark Knight(2008) (documentary)
Rating 7.8

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman (2005) (documentary)
Rating 7.0

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"
Rating 7.1

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.
Rating 7.4

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.
Rating 7.7

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.
Rating 7.7

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!
Rating 7.5

Inferno (1980)
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.
Rating 7.6

Opera (1987)
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.
Rating 7.3

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?
Rating 8.0

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.
Rating 6.2

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.
Rating 6.0

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.
Rating 6.8

Warrior (2011)
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.
Rating 7.5

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?


  1. Some great films, Chris. I especially love Modern Times, Once Upon a Time in the West, Carrie, Warrior, and Never Let Me Go.

    1. @Josh: I did see some good stuff, you're right. Modern Times sure is a masterpiece, I can't believe I've waited this long to look into Chaplin's work.

  2. OUaTitW - Really deserves to be seen on the big screen. Like most Italian productions from this era, style is greater than substance, but sometimes that's what you need from a movie. As for the child killing, what an effective way to show just how evil Frank is.

    A Simple Life - I think I see it differently because I know people just like these characters. The story is something that I and I guess anyone with relatives from Hong Kong can totally relate to. That, and it's rare for HK films to portray such a genuine story. The vast majority of them follow the Hollywood mold of being either cheap knockoffs, or sappy soaps.

    Sans Soleil - It's not my favorite of his, I prefer his short La Jetee, but it really is a unique piece, and I think its one that lends itself to multiple viewings.

    Never Let Me Go - I think I prefered the first half over the last. It's so damn depressing. That scene when they show Tommy's drawings and realize that SPOILER SPOILER. I get a bit teary just thinking about it.

    Carrie - I didn't find this one scary either. It is pretty memorable though.

    Phenomena - It's hokey and the plot is all over the place, but it still has enough of that pure Argento flair to make it worthwhile. Love the soundtrack even if the heavy metal doesn't always fit.

    Assault on P13 - Did you see this one before or after Once upon a time? I think the scene in this one is more shocking.

    Deep Red - It's not really horror, thre are lots of classic suspense elements but it's more of a giallo/mystery. What makes it stand out is it's got his most overall logical and coherent story.

    Inferno - Color wise, the most impressive out of all his films, and that basement/underwater scene is truly a masterpiece, but yeah the story is lacking, and the switch in protagonists doesn't work for me.

    Opera - I think this one is his last great movie. It has perhaps the best camerawork, that scene in the apartment is plenty suspensful, and those needles make me queasy.

    Modern Times - I'm not a huge Chaplin fan, but this was one I really enjoyed too. Though it's been awhile.

    Le Havre - I guess if you aren't entirely charmed by Aki's sense of humor then it will seem overlong.

    1. @Bonjour Tristesse: Thanks for your generous comments!

      OUaTitW - Maybe a re-release for cinemas will happen, who knows. Style is greater than substance, I'd agree with that.

      A Simple Life - I felt bad giving it that 7.2 rating knowing how much you loved it. I guess I didn't find it as remarkable as you did, and sadly I couldn't relate as much as I had hoped I would. The acting was good, and there were sporadic moments I liked. Points for realism.

      Sans Soleil - Took me to another place, very original concept, yet difficult to follow. similar to reading a difficult, beautiful poem. I prefer 12 Monekeys over La Jetee, though I realize who deserves the credit for the idea.

      Never Let Me Go - I'm with you, the last part was rather bleak.

      Carrie - I remember you find real life more scary than imaginary horror :) Memorable also for the amazing oscar nominated performance by Sissy Spacek.

      Phenomena - I really felt I was there in Switzerland. I did find the acting by Donald Pleasence a bit questionable, Jennifer Connelly out-acted him!

      Assault on P13 - Good observation. I watched P13 after Once upon a time, so maybe that explains why I didn't find child killing as shocking. Usually I don't enjoy movies with a high death count, but Assault on P13 was incredibly suspenseful.

      Deep Red - Perhaps on rewatch it wil grow on me. Didn't help that longer version I saw contained lots of extended scenes of only Italian speaking. Oh well. giallo, I'll look up that word...

      Inferno - Couldn't agree more, the colour, and lighting was outstanding. I liked this sequel more than I thought I would.

      Opera - I reckon I need to see it again in a few years. My rating could have been influenced by watching Opera as the last film in a 4 film Argento marathon this month, so maybe that's why it wasn't as powerful as it should have been. As a stand-alone film, I'm sure it's fine.

      Modern Times - I wasn't really interested in Chaplin 5 years ago, now that I know more about cinema, I feel I can appreciate what he does more.

      Le Havre - Aki Kaurismäki gets a lot of praise, I've never been won over by his style, I don't think his films are for me.

  3. Many, many movies I haven't seen here.

    Glad that you finally seen Never Let Me Go. I love this sentence : "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." That's very true and just realized that.

    About Warrior, I guess in boxing they pick the winner if they major in winning from 3 fights. Perhaps yeah, they didn't have insurance or the medicine/treatment costs high.

    Nice round-up, Chris!

    1. @Andina: I alway post movies you haven't seen, a good thing I suppose :)

      Never Let Me Go - I love that sentence too(actually I found quote online, can't remember where). I agree with the quote.

      Warrior - If I ever rewatch, I 'll look more closely to each round of combat. I didn't quite love it as much as you did, the film did stay with me.
      Did you notice the audio book Paddy Conlon(Nick Nolte) is listening to? Herman Mellville's Moby Dick. I think that was significant, and comparable to Paddy Conlon's character flaws.

    2. I didn't notice. Is that the tape he always listen to? I thought it was a bible related tape

    3. @Andina: Yes, the tape he is always listening to. Nick Nolte can it explain it better than I can in this video interview:

  4. You have a large, eclectic list of movies here! I haven't seen most of them. I did like Never Let Me Go, and I love the quote Andina shared. I think that is spot on. I agree that Carrie isn't all that scary. I think it's more psychologically disturbing.

    1. @Stephanie Ward: Thanks for the comment!
      That quote sums up the message of Never Let Me Go quite well.
      Carrie - I'm sure teenagers who have been in vulnerable situations could relate, in fact there is part of me that wonders if the prom night was simply imagined in her head...or other parts of the story maybe...Perhaps an unreliable narrator as with We Need to Talk About Kevin ?

  5. Lot of movies I haven't seen but most of what I have, I think is quite good.

    Warrior - worked really well for me, especially because of Hardy, Nolte and Edgarton. Yes, he has 3 jobs but none of them is really paying him much, also why he is DOING 3 jobs.

    Carrie - I am with BT. Not scary but still memorable.

    Never Let Me Go - To tell you the truth, I actually saw it on a plane and I had no idea about it. I never really understood that they are clones and was confused. I realised it later but haven't seen it since then. Still, I think it works well on psycic level and all 3 leads are good as well.

    Modern Times - I usually tend towards City Lights but it does have some iconic sequences and works well as well.

    Once Upon a Time - Love it. Definitely not as great as Dollar trilogy but still good. I actually think the story works well as well and Henry Fonda as villain isn't easy to sell but it works. Great cinematography, Great Soundtrack.

    You know, I have never seen an Argento movie. Soon enough.

    1. @SDG: I had a good month of viewing!
      Warrior - Yep, the 3 main actors BECAME those characters, superb acting all round.

      Carrie - memorable, the visuals and Spacek perfomance impressed me. I agree, not really scary, I wonder if it was in the 70s, or for girls same age as Carrie.

      Never Let Me Go - If you missed the beginning, probably could have been tough to understand what was going on. Agree,all 3 leads are good.

      Modern Times - automated feeding machine might be the funniest scene during entire month of August for me :)

      Once Upon a Time - I'm still working my way through Dollar trilogy, plan to see 1 & 2 soon.
      Henry Fonda was not the greatest villian in my opinion, especially his motivations during the ending didn't ring true for me.

      Never seen an Argento? You can also read my thoughts here on his other films:

  6. Thanks for the link to that Batman Unmasked doc! I'm listening to it as I write. It's good stuff! I don't get the appeal of Argento films but I seem to be on my own there. I tried Suspiria and a couple of others but I think I'm going to give the rest a miss.

    Assault on Precint 13 is awesome! Once Upon a Time in the West and Sans Soleil are both on my to-do list.

    1. @Pete: You're welcome, happy to pass on link to Batman Unmasked. Indeed an interesting doc!

      I know, there are some directors that just don't click for us for whatever reason. I feel that way about Aki Kaurismäki.

      Assault on Precint 13 is awesome, I'm going to steer clear of the supposedly inferior remake.

      Sans Soleil is definitely for an acquired taste. Once Upon a Time in the West is 3 hours...

  7. The only one I've seen of these is Never Let Me Go. Somehow, and somewhat surprisingly, I really like the film.
    I saw it right after I had read the novel which is still one of my favourite works of literature I've ever read, and expected a mediocre filmatization... but I just ended up loving it.
    Well, there are things one can't explain.

    1. @Mette: I haven't read Never Let Me Go, I keep hearing praise, so maybe I should!

  8. I agree with bonjour on A Simple Life and Deep Red,which I would defend in the same way.

    My favorite quotes from Once Upon A Time in the West- "you brought two too many" and "Inside the three dustcoats there are three men,inside the three men there are three bullets"

    1. @David: I think we'll have to agree to disagree on A Simple Life and Deep Red. They are both pretty good, I just didn't find either to be exceptional.

      There are some great quotes from Dollars trilogy and Once Upon A Time in the West, thanks for sharing those :)

  9. Haha, that is a great quote from Once Upon a Time in the West. I had a similar reaction on my initial viewing, but the more I think about it, the more I loved the film. It is certainly one of the most visually stunning westerns I have ever seen.

    Never Let Me Go didn't do much for me. I wanted to like it, especially considering its strong cast, but I just couldn't get into it. My girlfriend loved it, though.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed Assault on Precinct 13. Saw it earlier this year and had a blast with it. One of my favorites from Carpenter.

    Thanks for the Damsels in Distress shoutout. Sounds like we had similar reactions. For a counter viewpoint, I know Dan at Public Transportation Snob loved the movie.

    1. @Eric: I agree, "Once Upon a Time in the West" is also one of the most visually stunning westerns I have ever seen.

      girlfriend loved Never Let Me Go. I could imagibe, because many of the girls in the blogosphere love it too :)

      Assault on Precinct 13 could be among my favorites by John Carpenter, though Big Trouble in Little China (1986) ranks highly for me as well. Strangely, about a year ago I was disappointed by The Thing (1982).

      No problem on the shoutout! Thanks for telling me about Dan at Public Transportation Snob.

  10. Once Upon a Time in the West - the filmmakers didn't go too far because they had to completely establish that Fonda was playing a bad guy. For decades he had always played the honorable man, and his casting was intended to strongly go against type.

    Sans Soleil - I can't agree here. I felt like I was trapped at a friend's, stuck watching their vacation footage, all while they are trying to engage me in "high faluting" dialogue. Like other commenters, La Jetee remains his best for me.

    Never Let Me Go - I thought this was an interesting concept, and I liked the three leads, but ultimately I just couldn't buy that the basic human instinct for self-preservation could be overridden by the upbringing they had.

    Modern Times - This is my favorite Chaplin film. It has a good combination of humor and point to it.

    Warrior - I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this film.

    1. @Chip Lary: Thanks for the comment!

      Once Upon a Time in the West - It's interesting why they went with that strongly against type casting, I'm going to read up on that Fonda issue.

      Sans Soleil - Totally understandable reaction, I admit it lost me on several occasions. As Bonjour Tristesse said,its one that lends itself to multiple viewings.

      Never Let Me Go - I think it divided audiences.

      Modern Times - Loved it also

      Warrior - Me too!


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