What have I been watching in July and August?

Another month, another collection of mini-reviews to read! I've also been watching a few horror movies over the summer, going to save those reviews for Halloween in October.
Considering putting a top 50 short films list together, maybe I'll post that gradually. As always, my ratings below are what I think the films should be rated on IMDb.

Stoker (2013)
Atmospheric mystery, which held my interest throughout. The first 40 minutes for me is the strongest part. The second half of the movie is intent to reveal most of the mysteries.
I agree with Eric from The Warning Sign, that the director’s use of color and flawless transition shots are a thing of beauty, even if at times they do distract from the film itself.
As Sati at Cinematic Corner wrote “the characters may seem cold but you still want to understand them and get to the bottom of all of this. (…) I don't believe that the child of someone who is evil will be evil too, but the way the movie presents the idea of "hunter gene" or whatever else to call it is fascinating. India's father knew she may want to kill in the future, so he tried to control her instincts by taking her hunting.”
Favorite quote from the intro:
[first lines]
India Stoker: “My ears hear what others cannot hear; small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I'm not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father's belt tied around my mother's blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free.”
Rating 8.0

Before Midnight (2013)
I couldn’t resist revisiting the characters. It took a while for me to reach a verdict on the film. The long takes in the car and walking outside are impressive in terms of acting. It’s one of the best films of 2013, but it breaks my heart to see my favorite screen couple so cynical. I like to remember the characters in love. I would prefer to have met them when they are young, than now.
Dialogue about technology and gender, and other issues, is interesting enough, and as said on LAMBcast, they are thoughts most of us have all had, and can relate to personally. I agree with LAMBcast, that the naked scenes are uncomfortable, because the couple are almost like our friends.
The arguing turned me off, yet the cute philosophical discussions they have I love.
It’s a brave move to make the characters unlikeable one moment, and likeable the next.
It might improve on rewatch, but my initial reaction is I prefer the first two installments in the trilogy.
I also listened to Across The Universe podcast, interesting how the hotel room could be perceived as a prison. And that Celine & Jessie accuse each other of things they did offscreen, so we can never know who is right.
Rating 8.0

A Hijacking (2012)
A gripping film from start to finish. Could have done without the goat slaughter scene.
Rating 7.7

Side Effects (2013)
It held my attention, and was never dull. But to me, the Catherine Zeta-Jones twist near the end wasn’t realistic. A pity, because I loved the film up to that point.
Rating 7.3

Blancanieves (2012)
Silent film in black and white. The characters are stereotypes, but it has a lot of atmosphere, and worth watching just for the stunning visuals.
Rating 7.9

Tron (1982)
The story basically is beware of technology becoming too powerful, which has been done countless times in fiction. There was never any doubt in my mind how it would end, but the special effects were groundbreaking for the time.
A fantasy of setting foot inside a video game is what it’s all about.
Rating 6.5

TRON: Legacy (2010)
Enjoyed it more than the original. Vast improvement in special effects and also soundtrack, and overall a bigger scale. Also a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the 1982 film.
Goes a bit Star wars-ish towards the end, but the sequel is better.
My favorite piece of the soundtrack was Derezzed during the club scene. The electronic and orchestral Daft Punk score fits perfectly with a futuristic movie. Usually, composers come in at the end when everything is done. Apparently, Tron: Legacy was cut to the music.
Favorite quote: “Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see”
Rating 7.5

Safety Last (1923)
Many great scenes: Hiding from the rent lady, late for work, going on the overfilled tramp and ambulance, the cloth sample, the prank with the cop, the sale at the store, kick me written with chalk, and of course the ending. In fact the whole movie is funny from start to finish.
Rating 8.5

Metropolis (1927)
The coupe fall in love a little too quickly, yet it is a masterpiece, the sets and visual effects are groundbreaking and way ahead of its time. The world that has been created looks massive, even though some of them are miniatures.
You could question why the mad inventor is given so much power by the leader, but then the guy in charge had no way of predicting what would transpire. A truly unmissable classic.
Rating 8.6

Dressed To Kill (1980)
Directed by Brian De Palma. Really liked it. The scene in the art gallery was the highlight, suspenseful and well-done. The split screen scene on this occasion kind of annoyed me, as there was so much being said all at once. A film that could dissuade you from taking the tube train. You could argue it has too many endings, though the conclusion is still thrilling and unexpected.
Rating 7.7

Body Double (1984)
Directed by Brian De Palma. It takes a lot to wow me, and this film achieved that. Loved it. Underrated 80s movie. Probably has my favorite sequence I’ve watched this month, when the guy follows the woman to the mall and to the beach. You become hypnotized by the woman he’s following, as if you are in the same shoes as the main character. Pays homage to the Alfred Hitchcock movies Vertigo and Rear Window.
I especially loved the first hour of the movie, and the climax. Maybe the best ending of all the De Palma films.
Rating 8.2

Casualties of War (1989)
A very powerful war drama, which stayed with me long after the credits rolled. A pity there was so much swearing. Amazing performance by a young Sean Penn.
Brian De Palma said on Scene By Scene with Mark Cousins (1998) that the situation is: “Kind of a metaphor for the whole experience of Vietnam, we throw these kids over there, and it’s very important to show how young they were”
Rating 8.0

Carlito's Way (1993)
A gangster drama, considered to be Brian De Palma’s last great movie. Good, without quite achieving greatness. An almost unrecognizable Sean Penn steals the movie, while Al Pacino seems stuck in his Scent of a Woman performance. Doesn’t feel as iconic as Scarface (1983), but there is some nice cinematography. The best scenes are towards the end, especially the chase.
Perhaps what prevents me from scoring it higher is that I feel Brian De Palma is repeating himself a bit, the tube station scene (Dressed To Kill), the staircase at the station(The Untouchables), Al Pacino in the lead role in a gangster drama, and his monologue before he walks out in the early shooting scene (Scarface). A good movie, just feels a bit familiar.
Rating 7.5

Femme Fatale (2002)
Directed by Brian De Palma. The complex storyline is impressive, but it’s tough to care who lives or dies. Pretty good, and worth a watch.
Rating 7.5

Obsession (1976)
Underappreciated Brian De Palma film. I liked it a lot, though a couple of things annoyed me. The story relied on stupidity from several characters, the guy didn’t check the briefcase at the dock, and the woman in Rome doesn’t seek out the truth, and believes what she is told. I don’t think she would behave in that way in real life. I won’t say any more, as there are twists.
While you are watching, the whole movie feels pretty implausible, but it makes sense in the end. It captivated me, especially the scenes in Italy.
The title is not really understood until the conclusion.
Rating 7.7

Toy Story (1995)
The animation is still impressive, and the characters are really cute too.
The story is a bit childish, so I’m guessing kids would love it, while I liked it.
Rating 7.8

Spirited Away (2001)
Imaginative characters and otherworldly, but the story was a bit underwhelming and predictable. For me, cleaning the mud creature was the stand out scene. Not one of my favorite anime films. Maybe if I was younger, I would have liked it more.
Rating 7.2

Perfect Blue (1997)
Anime directed by Satoshi Kon, which is not really for kids. At first, the internet parts feel a bit dated, but really they are still relevant, as stalking still goes on now.
Does a fine job of blurring the reality, of what is real, and what is imagined.
The scene that you remember is the filmed rape for the tv-show, in the club, which is uncomfortable viewing. But I didn’t see anything that original that hasn’t already been done in other movies.
This anime was probably fresher in 97, when the internet was still fairly new.
Worth watching to the end, as it goes in an unexpected direction. It was decent, but it didn't wow me.
Rating 7.2

Only Yesterday (1991)
Anime by same director of Grave of the fireflies. The story sounded intriguing, about a 27-year-old remembering childhood. Quite slow-paced, the two hour running time tested my patience, and it didn’t engage me emotionally.
I’m feeling the story perhaps is better suited for a Japanese audience, or a female audience, as the story concerns girl’s having periods and flower-picking holiday. I skimmed over the last hour, because I was bored with it. It reminded me of Ozu.
Rating 6.0

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
My first Agnes Varda film, nominated for the Palme d'Or. Not as memorable as My Life to Live by Jean-Luc Godard, which it has a few things in common with, the female main character, and title cards.
I expected more from Cleo from 5 to 7, than what I got. The opening with the tarot cards was promising, but overall feels plotless and directionless-maybe on purpose?
I guess it’s a character study of the young woman, yet her walking around aimlessly in the streets, to me becomes tiresome to watch. I like the way they converse, which flows nicely. The scene when Cleo meets the man in the park was my favorite part, which reminded me of Linklater's Before Trilogy(during the last 20 minutes)
Favorite quote: “Ugliness is a kind of death. As long as I’m beautiful, I’m more alive than the others”
Rating 7.2

Vagabond (1985)
Considered among Agnes Varda’s best films. You could call it a French Wendy & Lucy (2008). It also reminded me of Linklater’s Bernie (2011), in that people interviewed each had an opinion about the main character.
As the film goes forward, you begin wondering why the vagabond puts herself through this harsh life on the road. She meets some interesting characters on her journey, especially the philosophy major guy, and the professor of trees.
Interesting how the film suggests that a person with nothing can experience more in life than a person with wealth, but also that without a home, family or education, she is very vulnerable.
Favorite quote: “Maybe you are freer than I am. Good for you. (...) You chose total freedom, but you got total loneliness. The time comes when if you go on, you destroy yourself.”
Rating 7.5

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
A road movie of sorts. The rape scene is controversial, because she appears to encourage it.
I didn’t think there was enough story for the running time of 112 minutes.
Rating 7.0

Bus Stop (1956)
A light-hearted comedy with Marilyn Monroe. It’s hard to believe that she would not run away sooner, and that the cowboy can’t tell the difference between red and green traffic light, but it does make for some very funny and awkward scenes, my favorite is when he reads out loud the Gettysburg address. I didn’t quite buy the ending. The movie is best when it goes for comedy.
Rating 7.0

Shell (2012)
Superb performances, and does a good job of capturing the cold, lonely Scottish Highlands, and how the isolated setting seemingly effects the characters. Has a few powerful moments, when patrons stop by for petrol, or there is an accident. There is also a bond going on between father and daughter, which makes for uncomfortable viewing.
The story doesn’t ever venture out of the petrol station setting, which limits what can happen. A pity the ending is almost identical to an old movie(if you see it you will recognize which film I refer to).
Rating 7.0

Good Vibrations (2012)
I’m not into punk music, if I was, this Irish movie might have had a bigger impact on me. Did introduce me to Teenage Kicks by Undertones, in the famous moment when John Peel played it twice on the radio.
Rating 6.2

Paradise: Faith (2012)
2nd leg of Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy. The theme has universal appeal, yet to me not as powerful or thought-provoking a film as Paradise: Love (2012).
Paradise: Faith has a few memorable scenes of the religious woman dealing with a drunk, and encountering an orgy in the woods. It’s difficult to know where the director stood with Paradise Love and therefore that film was open-ended. The director is more obvious with his message in Paradise: Faith, a critique of religious fanaticism in Austria. The religious woman means well and you kind of understand where she’s coming from. It is frustrating to watch that she is so unemotional and stubborn with her husband, which takes the joy out of both of their lives. I was siding with the husband. Also frustrating for her that the people she is trying to help are not really listening, yet understandable that they reject a door-to-door person. You can take everything too far, even goodness. The cat that is featured in several scenes perhaps was to show the woman’s inability to show affection, who knows.
Rating 7.0

Paradise: Hope (2013)
I don’t know why it’s called hope. The performances are good, but probably the weakest of the trilogy. A teenage girl falls in love with the doctor at a diet camp.
Rating 5.5

Seen anything great this month? Have you watched any of the above films? Agree or disagree?

My Top 5

1.) Metropolis (1927) (8.6)
2.) Safety Last (1923) (8.5)
3.) Body Double (1984) (8.2)
4.) Casualties of War (1989) (8.0)
5.) Before Midnight (2013) (8.0)

6.) Stoker (2013) (8.0)
7.) Blancanieves (2012) (7.9)
8.) Toy Story (1995) (7.8)
9.) Obsession (1976) (7.7)
10.) A Hijacking (2012) (7.7)
11.) Dressed To Kill (1980) (7.7)
12.) Vagabond (1985) (7.5)
13.) TRON: Legacy (2010) (7.5)
14.) Carlito's Way (1993) (7.5)
15.) Femme Fatale (2002) (7.5)


  1. I wish I saw Metropolis back in Europe on Screen. My best viewing in August involve Before Midnight, but I haven't seen the rest in your top 5.

    You loved Stoker more than me. It's an interesting film, too much blood for me I guess.

    I also saw Side Effects. Loved it, but I guess Catherin Zeta Jones twist in the end was a little too easy? But it kind of worked for me.

    Saw Spirited Away a long time ago, I loved it but I don't know if I still now.

    1. @Andina: If you have another opportunity to see Metropolis, you should do so. It really is breathtaking.

      Happy you enjoyed Before Midnight. A very good movie, which happens to be my least favorite of the trilogy.

      I loved the atmosphere of Stoker. Agree it was a bit bloody in places.

      I loved the first 75 minutes of Side Effects. It had good pacing. Glad the ending worked ok for you.

      A lot of people love Spirited Away, so maybe I'm just fussy :)

  2. I'm glad you liked Safety Last. Harold Lloyd is sometimes forgotten among the big three of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. He was actually the most popular of the three when their movies were contemporary.

    I liked Tron more than Tron:Legacy. Bridges basically played The Dude in Legacy and it was very distracting.

    Agreed on Metropolis. Like you, I liked Body Double more than Dressed to Kill, but you liked both a little more than I did. Carlito's Way and Femme Fatale didn't do much for me.

    I liked both Toy Story and Spirited Away a little more than you did. I lost interest in both Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond after a while. I agree Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was lacking.

    1. @Chip: Good call on Safety Last, thanks for recommending, loved it! Didn’t know Harold Lloyd was that popular back in the 1920s.

      Tron (1982) was just too predictable for me, prefer Legacy. I’ll admit his CGI younger self was a bit of a distraction in the 2010 film, looking at Bridges’ CGI face, rather than what he was saying.

      Those Agnes Varda films are considered her best, so I guess her style just wasn’t for you. I liked Vagabond (1985), and was impressed by the last 20 minutes of Cleo from 9 to 5 (1962).

  3. Nice list of films. I've only seen four of the six films from de Palma that you mentioned as I really want to see Obsession and Dressed to Kill while I have The Fury in my DVR queue. Vagabond is so far, the only Agnes Varda film I've seen so far. Tron Legacy is OK though I think Tron is still the better film. I haven't seen anything by Miyazaki except for Howl's Moving Castle which I liked while the best film in that list is Metropolis as I own the Complete Restoration DVD.

    1. @thevoid99: You are the 2nd person to say they prefer Tron(1982)-maybe it was better than the score I gave it.

      Obsession and Dressed To Kill are must-sees, especially if you like Brian De Palma. Haven’t seen The Fury(1978) -I honestly got dissuaded by the silly trailer, and that only 46% liked it at rotten tomatoes.

      Howls Moving Castle is among the 20 or so titles from IMDB Top 250 that I still haven’t watched.

      Agree about Metropolis, and yep, I saw the complete version too.

  4. I really want to see Safety Last. Not a massive Brian de Palma fan but Casualties of War was brutal. Can't wait to get round to Before Midnight.

  5. @Pete Turner: Safety Last is amazing, a must-see! Casualties of War is quite brutal, but also unforgettable.

  6. "Body Double" sounds great, I really need to check out De Palma's older stuff, Carrie is on of my all time favorite movies. Glad you enjoyed Stoker!

    1. @Sati: I hope you like Body Double, which is my second favorite De Palma film. Carrie would be in my top 10 of films he directed.
      Yep, really liked Stoker!

  7. Stoker - It's always interesting to see how Asian directors fare with the transition to working in The West. Because most of the time, they fail, or at least fall short of their previous work. The one notable exception being Ang Lee. Anyhow, I thought Park Chan-wook did a very good job here, still not as good as his Korean films, but I believe that his style and vision came through intact, and I see the potential for a lasting future for him over here. That scene in the playground was fantastic, one of the best sequences I've seen all year.

    Before Midnight - It was good, but the magic is starting to fade. On that note I found it somewhat depressing watching this, more than I ever felt watching Amour. I guess the fact I'm roughly the same age as Hawke and Delpy, makes it hit home much more.

    A Hijacking - You've already read my review. Another strong Danish film.

    Blancanieves - Agree, great visuals. Same old story though.

    Tron (1982) - I found this boring as a kid, and I found it boring as an adult.

    Tron (2010) - Haven't seen it for the above reasons.

    Metropolis - I wonder if Fritz Lang would be disappointed if he were alive today to see that the future was not as stylish as he imagined. I know I am.

    Dressed to Kill - I also love that scene. Brilliant direction there.

    Body Double - Yeah another excellent sequence. It's been a long time since I saw this, but I remember that part very well. This is one of those stylishly offensive cult films that everyone hates at first but loves 30 years later. I need to track it down for another watch.

    1. @Bonjour Tristesse:

      Stoker - If Park Chan-wook's earlier films are as good as Stoker, or even better, then I'm in for a treat! I haven't seen any of his Korean films yet.

      Before Midnight - The scenario is not as fresh as it once once, I agree. I too was a bit sad what has happened to Jesse and Celine. I think I read on a blog that they have become like that grumbling older couple on the train at beginning of Before Sunrise. In fact the conversion C and J have just before they get off the train is weirdly about their own future.

      Tron (1982) - I was a bit bored by it too. There was enough going on to distract me from boredom in the sequel, though.

      Metropolis - interesting question. Fritz Lang dreamed big, but there are cities in our contemporary world which have amazing architecture. I'm interested in watching some docs on Metropolis.

      Body Double - I've noticed De Palma often has one great scene in each of his movies. He's very good at directing these brilliant sequences, where a person is following/chasing someone. Maybe he has it from Hitchcock.

  8. I've been looking forward to A Hijacking for months, looking very much forward to that one. Stoker has received lukewarm reviews, which somehow put me off. But your rather positive comments will push it up my priority list again.
    Your de Palma marathon is a treat, I love all these films, with Dressed to Kill not as provocative as it was when I was 15, but I saw it again some months ago and it's just brilliantly atmospheric. Early de Palma films are as good as cinema gets!

    1. @thomas4cinema: I really liked A Hijacking, I hope you manage to see it soon.
      It’s strange how Stoker has received praise from the blogs I follow, while the critics at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes have not been so enthusiastic. You’ll just have to watch it and make up your own mind :)
      Happy you liked my De Palma marathon, I really enjoy it, I actually watched most of his work the last couple of years-had a lot of catching up to do. Having now seen most of his best films, I would certainly rank De Palma alongside the other 70s greats: Spielberg, Scorsese, G Lucas, Friedkin.

  9. Great blog! From these movies I enjoyed Before Midnight, The Place Beyond the Pines, Stoker and the animated ones, Toy Story, Spirited Away, Perfect Blue and Only Yesterday. Spirited Away is one of my favorite films ever. Too bad you didn't enjoy it that much.
    Body Double is an old memory from my childhood. I saw some scenes on TV. It was very late. I still remember the B-movie atmosphere.
    Been meaning to watch Metropolis for some time.
    Also, you have a great selection of music.

    1. @Cristi B: Thanks, glad you like the blog! You should watch Metropolis, you won’t regret it :)
      I’m difficult to please, when it comes to animated films. Granted they are made by adults, and we have all been children, but unfortunately Spirited Away, Perfect Blue, and Only Yesterday, I failed to fall in love with, as others have. I did enjoy Toy Story, though. You can read about animated films I love here:

  10. Great stuff Chris! Glad you like Stoker and yeah, I wasn't fond of the twist in Side Effects either. Hey, I was just about to do a Music Break with TRON Legacy, interesting to see that on your list here. I LOVE Daft Punk's work in it, though the movie is just ok.

    1. @Ruth: Thank you. I see I wasn’t the only one who had mixed feelings about ending of Side Effects.
      I like that Tron Legacy soundtrack too, especially the track Derezzed.

    2. Yeah, I think people are just so in love w/ Soderbergh they'd eat up everything he does. It was just meh for me overall.

      I actually listened to Derezzed track after I read your post! That scene w/ Michael Sheen is just so over the top but the music is one of the highlights for me.

    3. @Ruth: is quite over the top, but I think Derezzed works well in that context. Also, fun with cameo appearance by Daft Punk in the club :)

  11. Blancanieves: You know I loved it too.

    TRON:Legacy: I haven't seen the original but I just stumbled onto this one and thought this was pretty decent. I didn't even know it had a prequel then.

    Metropolis: One of the Best movies I saw last year. I am still amazed by the scope and vision of that film, especially given that it was made in 1927 and on top of that, he never scarifies story for that visual grandeur. Would be in my 'Sight and Sound' ballot.

    Perfect Blue: You know that Arofonsky bought the rights for this one for Black Swan, right? Given that it's an animation, I was shocked to see the extent to which Satoshi Kon goes.

    I don't like De Palma much. I think he goes too far too often in stylistic terms in his films. It kinda turns me off. But I have been meaning to watch some of his earlier work. Carrie worked much better for me. Hope to see Dressed to Kill, Body Double and Obsession sometime.

    1. @SDG:
      TRON Legacy: I liked it in terms of special effects, scope, and sountrack. Looks like it cost a lot to make, and allegedly there is a 3rd Tron movie on the way.

      Metropolis: One of my best loved of 2013. It must have been extraordinary to see it in 1920s, because it took my breath away in 2013. I'll be seeking out Fritz Lang's other acclaimed works. I already saw M (1931)-which is brilliant too.

      Perfect Blue: It did surprise me as well, how adult it is for an animation. Thanks for the info, of the two films, I think I prefer Black Swan. I’ve also been told Perfect Blue has similarities to Lynch’s Inland Empire.

      Well I hope you like those De Palma films you mention, even though you are not his biggest fan. Blow Out (1981) is arguably the best of the non-gangster De Palma films.

      Thanks for the comment :)

  12. I've seen most of the movies on this list. I do really want to see 'Stoker.' That one didn't get a wide release, but it looks like a good thriller.

    1. @msmariah:
      Hope you enjoy Stoker, I was hooked as soon as I saw the intro. If you like Hitchcock, you'll likely like Stoker.

  13. Awesome months of films, Chris! Glad you liked Tron: Legacy, which I also prefer to the original. That "Derezzed" scene is a lot of fun. Love that you have Metropolis at #1. It's such an ambitious film. It's also nice to see you liked Sean Penn's performance in Casualties of War, as I nominate him for it. :)

    1. @Josh: Yes it sure was! The club scene with Derezzed is my favorite scene from TRON: Legacy. Agree that Metropolis deserves the praise it receives.
      I saw Casualties of War and Carlito’s Way within the same month, and I was amazed how different those two Sean Penn performances are :)

  14. Thanks for the Stoker shoutout! Glad to hear you enjoyed the film as much as I did.

    Agreed about Before Midnight. It was hard to watch such a great on screen couple bicker back and forth, but I was just happy to spend more time with them all the same. Really hope it gets some consideration during awards season.

    I wasn't a fan of the TRON movies, though I did like Daft Punk's soundtrack in the sequel.

    Nice De Palma marathon. He is someone I need to see more of. I think the only ones I have seen are Scarface, Blow Out and Carlito's Way.

    Seems like a great month overall!

    1. Eric @ the Warning Sign: You’re welcome!
      I had mixed feelings about Before Midnight, it’s one of the best films of 2013, but it’s also heartbreaking to watch my favorite screen couple argue. Having disagreements is normal, though, especially if you are together for years.

      Brian de Palma I mostly overlooked when I was younger, so it was cool to delve into his work the last couple of years. I think I’ve now seen the top 10 films directed by De Palma, according to flickchart, anyway :) Only one I passed on from that list is Phantom of the Paradise, which I'm not interested in.


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