Viewing recap for February

Her (2013)
A futuristic, raunchier Lost in Translation is a way to describe it. If you love computers, you should see it.
The Oscar worthy production design is really stylish, with a dash of red in almost every frame, and the acting is good. Although lacking in variety, maybe there are too many scenes of J Phoenix staring into space, some of those could easily have been discarded.
The strongest aspect of the film for me are the scenes when J Phoenix is running around with a smile on his face.
I thought it was cute, but I didn’t completely connect with it emotionally, which is why my rating is not as high as other bloggers. The raunchier moments I could have done without. Perhaps my mood wasn’t right, who knows.
I do want to see Her again in future. Has the potential to become an old-time favorite. The score is beautiful, I've been listening to that since I saw it.
Favorite quotes: “Since my break up, I haven’t really enjoyed my writing. Sometimes I’d write something and I’d be my favorite writer that day”
“Sometimes I feel I’ve felt everything I’m ever going to feel, and from here on out I’m not going to feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
Rating 7.7

Nebraska (2013)
Damn release dates, I've been waiting so long for this to reach Scandinavia. I’m a fan of the director's work(except 2011’s The Descendants which I disliked)
The performances are good in Nebraska, but the characters and scenes didn’t linger in my mind afterwards. I couldn’t laugh at it, as I did with his previous work, maybe because it aimed for realism and was bleaker.
So for me, despite 6 Academy Award nominations, it’s a minor film in Alexander Payne’s filmography. I probably need to rewatch it. The film does have something to say about the American dream, and the malaise of the finiancial crisis. Woody’s mentality is of the past. Now he is ridiculed and his gullible nature is exploited. Woody has a stubborn belief in the impossible, and that irritates his cynical son. His faith in the goodness in other people has cost Woody a lot of money over the years, yet it is his positive outlook on life that his old neighborhood needs.
Not bad, not great. Payne should go back to co-writing with Jim Taylor, without Taylor onboard, his films are weaker.
Rating 7.0

Enough Said (2013)
Again, another highly anticipated film from a director I usually like, Nicole Holofcener. Well-acted by James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, especially the dates they go on are cute. Sporadically well-written dialogue, yet a somewhat contrived and formulaic story prevents it from becoming a great film. So it ends up being just okay. Perhaps it will grow on me, who knows.
Favorite quote: -Very attractive. –You probably think all the women at this party here are attractive. –Yeah, pretty much.
-There’s not one man at this party that I’m attracted to.
Rating 6.5

August Osage County (2013)
Family ensemble drama with an all-star cast. I thought Meryl Streep character was funny to watch, I’m not sure if that was how it was meant to be viewed. Other scenes were really serious. It was a sad story, and most, if not all the characters suffer.
Rating 7.5

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Excellent performances, but Jared Leto’s character doesn’t have enough to do in the film to warrant all that awards buzz. An inspiring story, but not particularly memorable.
Rating 7.5

American Hustle (2013)
Not sure why there is quite a lot of hostility towards this movie, it's not that bad. I was bored during some moments in Silver Linings Playbook. Hustle I enjoyed all the way through.
Terrific soundtrack of 70s music. A Horse With No Name by America, played in the opening scene when he adjusts his hair. Other favorites are, I Feel Love by Donna Summer from the disco scene, and 10538 Ovature by the Electric Light Orchestra, when they walk out of the plane. Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin is good too.
Rating 7.7

12 Years a Slave (2013)
Superb performances, but the story was painful to sit through, so I can’t say I would recommend it.
I also don’t like that most of the blacks are angels, and most of the white slave owners are cruel.
It had its moments, especially powerful are the torture scenes. The structure of the story was too predictable, though.
The interesting thing is the slave owners behave irrationally, a dead slave is a lost investment. A badly wounded slave can't work as effectively. Yet the slave owners seem to not worry about that?
Memorable quotes: “You are an exceptional nigger Platt, but I fear no good will come of it”
“I don’t want to survive, I want to live”
Rating 7.5

Waterloo Bridge (1940)
WW1 romance starring Vivien Leigh. The story is gripping, and was quite romantic. I wanted to find out how things would end up. Avoid the synopsis on IMDb which spoils the twist. Was good, but I personally prefer the director's other film Random Harvest (1942)
Rating 7.5

The Bank Dick (1940)
Terrific one-liners. WC Fields (as usual) plays a drunk. One of Kubrick’s favorite films.
Rating 8.0

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Rewatch. Used to be my favorite of the Indy series, when I was a teenager. Darker than the first film. The story is very simplistic and has implausible moments. Especially unbelievable is the boy beating up grown men, and also the henchmen shoot bow and arrows at Indy and keep missing(why not just have a gun?)
A fun adventure, just wasn’t quite as good as I remembered, yet it does have entertaining and memorable sequences all the way to the end. Will rewatch Last Crusade soon.
Rating 7.7

Labyrinth (1986)
Rewatch. Brilliant set design, which looks so vast and massive, still impressive today, I would give that aspect 10/10.
The puppet outfits are very 80s and a bit dated now. Really is aimed at kids. The plot idea of travelling into a fantasy book and going on an adventure has been done before in 1984’s The Never Ending Story, but Labyrinth does have its own world. Although, you could sum up the paper thin story in 1-2 sentences.
Musical numbers are unmemorable. The only decent song is Underground, which is the title track sung by David Bowie. He actually has top billing as the villain.
Rating 7.3

Ashes of Time (1994)
A samurai movie directed by Wong Kar Wei. Not his best work, the story is quite disjointed and difficult to follow. Cinematography by Christopher Doyle is praiseworthy. Comparable to The Grandmaster, in that the director struggles with big epic stories.
Rating 6.2

Barcelona (1994)
Finally watched the only Whit Stillman film I hadn’t seen. As expected the talky screenplay is rich, and the dialogue always fun to listen to. But the continuous pursuit of girls, who are already in relationships, somehow prevented me from caring about the two male leads. Perhaps open relationships are common in Barcelona?
Favorite quote: -"Why did you tell her?" -"You're in this conversation, it has this momentum, you want to tell the other person interesting or funny things, that on reflection, maybe you shouldn't, I would take it back if I could"
Rating 7.0

Insomnia (2002)
Understandable why C Nolan wanted to direct, what could have been an average thriller, is elevated by a surprise twist in the first half of the film. The opening by plane approaching the isolated town in Alaska is beautiful. Scenes that stayed with me, the shooting in the fog, and the chase with the tree logs.
Favorite quote: ”I am a pack rat, I keep everything”
Rating 8.0

Saraband (2003)
Bergman sequel to his 1973 film Scenes From A Marriage. surprisingly good for a tv movie.
Similar to Linklater’s Before trilogy, we meet the couple who are now older.
Things about the film I disliked, looking at the camera face on, and for example counting down when she goes in to see him was annoying. That is mainly during the first 30 minutes, so I tolerated it. The best aspect is the writing.
Rating 7.6

The Hedgehog (2009) aka Le hérisson
Based on a novel by Muriel Barbery, a warm-hearted French film, which in some ways is a companion piece to Amelie (2001), with the whimsical story elements, only in this casw told from the perspective of a child. The janitor going to the Japanese bathroom was my favorite scene.
Rating 6.7

Have you seen any of these films? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome


  1. Totally with you on Leto - he was good but his character wasn't in the movie enough and he really didn't have much to do, comparing to McConaughey's work his performance really doesn't seem awards worthy to me.

    1. @Sati: I agree Leto was good, but he really didn't have much to do, and was only in a few scenes. He was just there to aid McConaughey's journey, and doesn't have his own life outside of that.

  2. Seems like you focused on catching up with 2013 films this past month. I noticed you don't give grades over 8 that easily which I admire. We didn't exactly click on these movies. I loved Enough Said, Nebraska and of course Her. You were more positive on August: Osage County and Dallas Buyers Club. About 12 Years a Slave, I really don't want that film to win. It's most likely to be the big winner on Sunday night, but I feel some contempt towards it. I think I unconsciously hate it. It's a good film, but I don't want it to win. Hopefully it won't.

    I agree that Ashes of Time is confusing, I felt that too, but it was very beautiful and a very different samurai/ warrior film. It looked great and the actors were excellent.

    Looks like Insomnia is pretty great. I should check that after finishing with the 2013 films. Also, I should watch more Bergman.

    1. @Cristi B: Many of those award season films got a release in Jan+Feb here. I was a bit harsh on Enough Said and Her with my ratings, I'm just being honest about my initial reaction.
      Her I need to see again. I didn't love Lost in Tr on 1st viewing, it took a bit of time to settle in the bones. Perhaps will be the case with a few of these new films :)

      Yes, Ashes of Time was a different type of samurai, I liked the writing in patches, but it never came together as a cohesive experience for me.
      Insomnia is among my favorites this month, hope you like that Nolan film!

  3. Um... Christopher Doyle did the cinematography for Ashes of Time, not Anthony Dodd Mantle. Yeah, it's a messy film but still an enjoyable one.

    1. @thevoid99: oops, thanks for telling, I’ll correct that. Agree Ashes of Time is a messy film.

  4. Ooh, I'm glad you liked Insomnia so much. That's probably Nolan's most underrated film.

    I watched Ashes of Time recently, and I enjoyed it. I'd rate it higher, but the film does have its problems.

    1. @Josh: Can’t believe I missed Insomnia all these years! Really solid thriller, and Al Pacino is so good in that.

      I had the same problems with The Grandmaster and Ashes of Time, in that both looked beautiful, but the overall stories I feel were poorly told, and unnecessarily confusing.

  5. Hi ya Chris! Glad that you saw a bunch of the Oscar nominees as well as some old faves of mine. I LOVE Her and that's one I don't mind seeing again in a heartbeat. Glad to see Jonze winning Best Original Screenplay!

    I like Insomnia too, that's one of Nolan's most underrated I think but I thought it was brilliant.

    1. @Ruth: I remember you wrote a glowing review for Her, good to see it win for screenplay. Though would have been nice with a nomination for J Phoenix, who I feel was overlooked for Best Actor.
      Glad you are a fan of Insomnia as well!

  6. Were you refering to the phone sex scenes in "Her" as being raunchy. I laughed out loud during the first one(without Samantha) but when they have their moment. I felt like I was intruding on someone's privacy. It was a beleviable moment. I liked the acting in American Hustle just not the story Halfway through I could no longer understand the con anymore, and by then I could not care. Agree that 12 Years a Slave is good albeit predictable. WIll have to seek out The Bank DIck and The Hedgehog based on your recommendations

    1. @TheVern: Yes, in Her, I disliked the phone sex scene, and the anal reference on the beach. I realize they were jokes/comments on society, but they took me out of the movie. Of course sex and love go hand-in-hand, so it would be odd without any sexual references. Maybe won’t put me off on 2nd viewing, because I know what’s ahead.
      American Hustle, I can see that the con is a little confusing(I read about it afterwards to make sure I got it)
      The Hedgehog is ok, but no masterpiece. The Bank Dick is a fun movie, WC Field’s is funny(in moderation).

  7. Glad you were able to catch up on so many 2013 films.

    "Raunchier Lost in Translation" is a good way to put it. I thought a few scenes (like the dead cat sex and the video game character) were tonally out of place but I still got a kick out of them. Can definitely see where you're coming from though.

    I really enjoyed Nebraska partly because it nailed the rural America small town setting so well. Loved the performances from everyone as well, even Will Forte who I'm not used to seeing in dramatic roles.

    Enough Said is fairly formulaic, as you say, but I think the cast gives it a huge boost. Loved Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus in this.

    12 Years a Slave is definitely a difficult watch. I think the logic behind the slave owners is that they were likely wealthy enough to get a replacement fairly easily. It's just unimaginable that people could (and still can) act like that.

    1. Eric @ The Warning Sign: I loved most of what "Her" had to offer, but yeah, the sexual bits were quite unexpected and dirty, and for me didn't quite fit with the romantic tone.
      I can see how Nebraska is about an envirobment, though I've never been to Nebraska, so I can't say if it nails it or not. Agree about strong performances.

      Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus' acting was certainly a highlight of Enough Said, and it had its moments.

      I remember you gave 12 Years a Slave 10/10 on your site. It certainly is powerful, disturbing and well-acted, yet somehow I felt it was not thought-provoking enough, because everyone agrees on slavery and torture is wrong. Though Steve McQueen is correct to say in his oscar speech that slavery still happens in the world today,and it is an important issue that should not be neglected.
      I suppose you are right, that the slave owners were likely wealthy enough to get a replacement.

  8. So glad you loved Her too! Music score was splendid. Loved Nebraska more than you do, in fact I felt relate to it. I love the black and white as well. Laughed a couple of times.

    1. @Andina: indeed, Her soundtrack is beautiful. Nebraska I didn't fully connect with, I prefer Alexander Payne's earlier work(Sideways, About Schmidt, Paris, je t'aime, Election)

  9. I haven't seen most of these. I truly need to catch up with some of the nominees to this year's Academy Awards. I'm not totally surprised by your ratings on some of these though.
    American Hustle was indeed better than Silver Linings Playbook, mostly because the writing is tighter and funnier. I believe David O. Russell has just gotten better with each film he makes.
    I suspect that a lot of the love for Dallas Buyers Club comes due to its subject matter, which is a sensitive topic that Hollywood tends to really pay attention to and awash with accolades even if it's not entirely meritorious (Philadelphia is an example).

    The more time passes since I watched Her, the more it seems to grow on me and the more I want to revisit it. I will probably end up buying it as soon as it comes out. With Adaptation. , Where the Wild Things Are and now with Her, Spike Jonze has quickly become one of my favorite directors working today and I really can't wait to see what he does next. There's just something depressingly alienating about the characters in his films that I find extremely appealing, if not relatable. I'm certainly the kind of person who's never quite fit in with any click or group, and this is kind of an unifying theme all of his films explore.

    Nice round-up with some really interesting films Chris.

    1. @niels85: Nice that can agree American Hustle was better than Silver Linings Playbook, I thought I was out on my own having that opinion :)
      You are rgiht, Academy do give "gay themed" movies quite a lot of recognition, either nominations, or wins. I can think of a couple of others, Brokeback Mountain and Milk.
      I need to catch up on Spike Jonze's other work, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are. "Being John Malkovich" was so original. I'm glad you have found a director you can connect with emotionally, great when that happens.

    2. Oh. You have to watch "Adaptation." and "Where the Wild Things Are". They are both great films, especially the latter, which quickly became one of my personal favorites. Neither of them are perfect, but like I said before, there's something about Spike Jonze's films that really grabs me. It may have helped that I've watched them all on my own.

    3. @niels85: True enough, there are certain films that are better experienced by yourself, so you can fully immerse yourself in that universe, without distractions. Spike Jonze's "Her" is one of those for me.
      I will give "Adaptation." and "Where the Wild Things Are" a watch, when I can, he is an interesting director.


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