Viewing recap for July

Under The Skin (2013)
There’s a beauty and an ugliness to the film, if I had to sum up the movie in one sentence. Plenty to admire, the atmosphere, Johansson’s performance, tension in the storytelling, and the unique filmmaking style of walking among regular people who are not even actors. The cinematography is brilliant, I especially loved how the motorcycle scenes played out
But similar to the book, the story is for me too repetitive, in terms of the scenes in the vehicle and what takes place afterwards.
I feel the dialogues in the car are more interesting in the novel.  The scene with the deformed man is powerful and stayed with me, interesting the way she doesn't have prejudice about beauty and ugliness (as a normal person might have)
The adaptation lacks the thought-provoking meat industry elements, a lot is unexplained in the movie.
On Mica Levi’s soundtrack Ryan Pollard perceptively wrote: "cleverly concocts the feelings of seduction, foreboding and haunting creepiness. (...)  has these strange groaning, sound-fragments of what could be like an alien language"
Read my review of the book here

City of Lost Children (1994)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. A futuristic dystopia, where children are abducted for experiments by a mad scientist named Krank. Krank is unable to dream, so wants to steal the childrens dreams. Since the kids are scared of him, the only thing Krank obtains are their nightmares.
The set design is fantastic, and is really a character in its own right. It was the first film in France to be shot entirely in a studio for 40 years.
I like the ideas of the story, even though the way it plays out is a bit predictable. The relationship between the girl and Ron Perlman was intended as cute, yet at times was slightly creepy, which prevented the film from becoming a favorite. The brain with the eye voiced by Jean-Louis Trintignant reminded me of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Marianne Faithful sings the end credits song Who Will Take Your Dreams Away?

Four Lions (2010)
 For me, the scene in the garage with the guy who attempts different voices was the funniest part.
I hope the birds weren’t harmed in the making of! In the end credits it says "one sheep was blown up in the making of this film"
I didn’t understand what the filmmakers message was. Maybe to suggest that terrorists are just regular people.
Not as funny as I had hoped.

Persona (1966)
Rewatch. Bergman drama. I think I liked and understood the film better on second viewing. A woman is looked after by a nurse. The young woman has an unusual state of mind, she laughs at her own acting, cries at classical music, and then there are moments were her reactions are understandable, when she witnesses in horror a man on fire on TV.
Is it a performance, or how she really feels, or a bit of both? It could be a mid-life crisis, not wanting to pretend in her job, not wanting to pretend in her actual life.
The two women venture to an island, where they are free from societies obligations, reducing their needs, and only speaking when they want to, or in the case of the patient, she enjoys just listening to the nurse, who herself enjoys being listened to. The nurse behaves in a quite immature way, berating the patient, and not keeping an emotional distance.
Interesting how the nurse sort of transforms into a patient herself.
The second half of the film is possibly all a dream, after the picture breaks up.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Nicely paced, but as is often the case, a watered down version that lacks the nuances of the novel. Rooney Mara was seldom better than here. Shame about the Epsom printer and Apple product placement. 

Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Considered among the directors best. I like the visual style of the film, the colors, clocks, the miniature apartment block, and so on. To me, Pedro Almodovar stories are often messy and unmemorable, and this script I would once again describe with those words. 
Almodovar has such beautiful screenshots, that it’s almost a pity to read the subtitles. What sticks with me weeks later is that drink containing sleeping pills that puts you to sleep.

The Great Dictator (1940)
A talking Charlie Chaplin, in what was a parody of war, and especially Adolf Hitler.
Chaplin gives it his all, unfortunately the Hynkel character I had mixed feelings about, I don’t think Hitler is a laughing matter.
I’d admit the frying pan scene made me smile, the mustard on strawberries, and sawdust in the bread. The scenes with the Jewish tramp I prefer. The scene in the barber shop when the girl and the tramp talk about daydreaming and being absent-minded was quite sweet. The plane scene at the beginning was well-done. 
Favorite quote: -Strange, I always thought of you as an Arian. - I’m a vegetarian

The Circus (1928)
Written, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. He also produced, composed the soundtrack, and sung the title music. 
The opening chase is funny.
So are the circus sketches: barber shop and William Tell. 
The ending on the tight rope is impressive, and looked highly dangerous.

A Woman of Paris (1923)
Silent drama directed by Chaplin, in which he doesn’t star. Predictable, and not one of his best.

Christiane F (1981)
Powerful German drama. A simple authentic story about teenagers getting lured into drugs. The film is famous for use of David Bowie music, especially Heroes, and also memorable is the Warszawa (instrumental) when she takes the pills.
Heck there’s even a mid movie concert with Bowie, watching the concert gives us the same live experience as the characters. There will be those who say the movie is too long at over 2 hours, yet you do get to see Christiane’s gradual descent into the abyss, which wouldn’t have worked if too rushed. A warning about the consequences of drugs and lack of parental presence. 

Ipcress File (1965)
British spy thriller with Michael Caine in his star making role. Based on the bestseller by Len Deighton. Harry Palmer was a new kind of agent that appealed to audiences, an antihero with a domestic life, down to earth personality, and capable of making mistakes. . He was someone closer to real life, and not a superhero. Instead of jail time, Palmer is given a job by the defense ministry, and we follow him in that line of work. The film probably had a bigger impact in 1960s. Decent, but nothing remarkable.
Caine would reprise the role of Harry Palmer in several other films.

Gertrud (1964) 
The acting is stiff and unnatural. 2-3 good scenes, but the story lacks the power of Carl Th. Dreyer’s best work. About a woman split between duty and desire, and how she demands unreasonable devotion from her husband, while he is too concerned with his job to give her enough attention. The story calls out men who don’t love their wives enough. 

Cloverfield (2008)
Found footage horror. Bland, forgettable characters. Tough to care who lives or dies. I fast-forwarded most of the movie. 

Zodiac (2007)
Rewatch. Well-made, although there really is only one legitimate bad guy, do I don’t think it’s as big a mystery as some people claim. Suspenseful, just not quite as amazing as first viewing.

Mistaken For Strangers (2013)
Documentary about The National. Or is it? I took it at face value as fact, but have read it could be partly staged. Once I had finished, I was undecided if this was great or just bad. An uneven, messy film, by a first time filmmaker. In some ways, it’s most about his unknown brother Tom Berninger, who is the director of the film, he turns the camera towards himself. He’s not even a member of the band.
This unexpected approach could piss off fans, who probably expected to watch a documentary about the band and the music. If you look at it as a character study about brothers and living in the shadows of fame, then it is quite revealing.
Especially the last 15 minutes were moving to me, even though it was done in a manipulative way, when Tom cries, and Matt gives Tom advice:
“Tom, you focus on the wrong stuff. It’s true you are terrible at a lot of things, but there are a couple of things nobody else does as a well as you do. Drives me bananas that you will throw yourself away completely because of one or two things that you think are wrong about you. That breaks my heart. You’ve got to ignore those, and lean towards the things that you like about yourself. Forget everything else. Fake your way upwards”
“Having Matt as my older brother kind of sucks, because he is a rock star, and I am not, and it has always been that way”

Army of Shadows (1969)
Often talked of as a masterpiece. For me, an overlong and uneven WW2 drama, that lacks emotion. Has its moments, unfortunately the rest is a slow moving snoozefest. Perhaps I need to give it a second chance, it certainly feels authentic.
There are 6-7 scenes that I found memorable:
Running and escaping into the barber shop.
The execution of a traitor by French resistance members which they have to improvise as they cannot use a gun.
Jumping out of a plane with a parachute.
Picking up the kid at the station and pretending to be the father in order to hide from the police.
The attempted rescue of a captured resistance member from the Gestapo.
The Gestapo playing a game with their captives and a machine gun.
The powerful ending where a decision has to be reached.

No Country For Old Men (2007)
A well-told thriller. Has an exciting chase story, a memorable villain, and oozes of Texas.
To me, the last 20 minutes or so feels superfluous, and maybe could have been cut out. The ending scene is a bit undramatic, as if the directors didn’t know how to end the story, even though I've read the book also ends in the same way.
I checked the IMDb board, because I was confused what the writer was trying to convey, and found this interpretation:
"The film is about the vanity of youth, and how it fades as you get older.
The main character thinks he can take on overwhelming odds, but the older wiser sheriff who knows better tries to protect him and fails.
You see the longer you survive and the older you get, you begin to realize after seeing all the horrible things that there's no order to the world, no deliberating force that favors good over evil.
There's just trouble if you go looking for it"

Fanny and Alexander (1982)
I watched the 3 hour version. There is also a 5 hour tv edit. The story is a worthy time capsule. I can admire the acting, candle lit sets, and so on.
This most personal of Ingmar Bergman’s feature films was to some extent based on his and his sister Margareta's unhappy childhood under their extremely strict father, a Lutheran priest.
Set around 1900, and told from the perspective of children. There are dated elements, but also timeless themes of growing up, struggling financially, adultery, and getting married without first getting to know the new family.
Seldom have I been so uninvolved by a film at first, and then was completely captivated by the brilliant second half. I was willing to give the film a 6/10 halfway, but the second half is much stronger and lifted my rating significantly.
The ghost elements are ambiguous, and add to the mystery. Perhaps Bergman is saying don’t we all have ghosts from our past that haunt us. The sequence when Uncle Isak visits the Bishop's House is extremely ambiguous(you can find answers at FAQ on IMDb).

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
The acting and authenticity are all fine, it feels like WW2, but I don’t see what the big deal is. Not that memorable to me besides 2-3 great scenes, when they go into the forest, the Chaplin cinema showing, and of course the powerful ending. The rest of the film didn’t really captivate me on an emotional level.

Day for Night (1973)
Won Best Foreign Language Film. Directed by François Truffaut. A story about the making of a film. The sequence where the actress repeatedly opens the wrong door while they are shooting a scene illustrates how difficult the collaboration of filmmaking can be. There’s also a starved cat which refuses to cooperate, and there are other unforeseen complications later on which force the script to be altered. What I also took away from the film is how so many non-related issues go on behind the scenes, relationships, visitors, parties, conversations, and so on. Often, I wasn’t even sure which is fiction, and which is real life, because in this case it really is all acting. You could say we are putting on a performance in our normal lives, trying to be the best we can be.
They jokingly say next film should be called “a lovely mess”, so the messy structure of Day for Night could well be intentional, to show how movies are shot in non-sequential order, with lots of  improvisation. If I'm being tough on Truffaut, then I could say the film just confirms what I already know, yet it is told in an entertaining way.

Mystery Train (1989)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch, I definitely prefer this over Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).
Deadpan humor in Memphis, the town celebrated as Elvis Presley's home. Three stories that take place at the same time but are told sequentially (end-to-end) rather than through intercutting, which is Hollywood's prevalent norm.

The Conformist (1970)
Italian drama by acclaimed director Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant. The politics went a bit beyond my comprehension. The cinematography is majestic, and almost a distraction while following the story. The film was an influence on such directors as Scorsese and Coppola. Each frame is like a painting, the camera work is impressive in how it zooms in and out, and moves around. There’s even handheld camera in several scenes. Another highlight is the brilliant use of light and shadow.

The Art of Negative Thinking (2006)
Norwegian black comedy, where a group of handicapped people run wild. Shows compassion towards the suffering of the characters, but has implausible moments, particularly the Deer Hunter reenactment. The simple message is in the title, about facing the darkness, and not just being concerned with the bright side of life.

Involuntary/De ofrivilliga (2008)
Has been described as a sarcastic dissection of Swedish society. The characters have difficulty navigating in their own lives. Directed by Ruben Östlund, he has been compared to Roy Anderson, but to me is not quite as funny.

Seen anything great this month you want to recommend? Have you watched any of the above films? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome


  1. Wow, that's a fucking good slate of movies.

  2. I really enjoyed the experience from Under the Skin, too. I may have to give the book a read at some point.

    I haven't seen Cloverfield since it's release, but I remember really liking it back then. Wonder if it will still hold up for me.

    Your writeup of Mistaken for Strangers has me even more interested in checking it out. I had heard about the focus being mostly on Matt's brother, but the banter between them sounds really interesting.

    No Country for Old Men is pretty much spot-on with the book, right down to the ending. I appreciated the film even more after reading the book, both of which are quite excellent.

    1. Eric @ The Warning Sign: Glad we agree on Under The Skin. A very unique experience. The book is not that long actually, so a fairly quick read.
      Cloverfield The characters I thought were unmemorable, and the story a bit by-the-numbers

      Mistaken for Strangers: I know you are fan of The National, so I look forward to what you make of the doc! Yes, it's really a film about family and brothers, more so than music actually. That approach surprised me.

      No Country for Old Men: It's a great story, though I do feel the ending is not as strong as the rest.

  3. I agree on Four Lions. It didn't do much for me.

    If you haven't seen the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film then definitely search it out. It doesn't have the ending problems that the remake did.

    1. @Chip Lary: Four Lions was an interesting idea. Comedy is so subjective, I know others thought it funnier than I did.

      I have actually seen the the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I don't remember exactly how it ended though.


      Both the book and the remake destroy the title character at the end. The story spends so much time showing how tough she is, how she's survived horrible things and fought back, and how she's not beaten down by anything. Then they have her going all gooey inside after having sex with the lead and getting her heart broken when she sees he figured it was just a situational thing and it's over. Way to take one of the strongest female characters around and turn her into a feminine cliche.

      The original film removed that piece at the end. She triumphs and goes on her way, leaving him figuring out that she was one step ahead of everyone, even him. It keeps all the strong characterization that had been shown the entire rest of the film.

    3. @Chip Lary: That's quite a significant difference. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that.

  4. Great recap and mini reviews, Chris! Man I really need to see Under The Skin soon, very curious about that one. Lots of stuff I haven't seen here but I have no interest in seeing Cloverfield, I don't really care for the found footage genre.

    Btw, I'm intrigued by the book you had on the sidebar, The BIG SCREEN, is it worth buying? That lips of the man on the cover looks so much like Gregory Peck's, maybe that's why I noticed it ;-)

    1. Thanks Ruth! Look forward to your review of Under The Skin. Haha, I’m not 100% sure, I believe the book cover is from Sunset Blvd (1950), and the two people could be William Holden and Gloria Swanson. If you are interested in film history, and particularly old movies, I would say give the book a shot. You don’t have to read every page, and can skip to the parts that interest you.
      The author David Thomsen published his own "alternative" 1001 movies to see before you die list, that's in another book called "Have you seen....? - A Personal Guide to 1,000 Films. The list is on letterboxd:

    2. Very cool Chris! I've been hearing about Letterboxd but I haven't signed up to use it, perhaps I should at some point. Yeah I might see if my local Barnes & Noble carry 'The Big Screen,' sounds like something I'd enjoy!

  5. I thought the American remake of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' was a really well made film, actually a better film than the original in its contemporary look (at least for me), however I think Mara didn't live up to the brilliance of Rapace though. Comparing to the book, I think it is actually better paced. Some really good scenes/plot points were cut out but I didn't think it hurt the big story.

    1. @Shala: Nice to hear from you again! Agree Fincher did a fine job with remake. I prefer Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist. I’m not really partial to either Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara, I thought both were convincing.
      The novel was indeed a bit long-winded. I remember everyone was reading the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy over here in Scandinavia a few years ago. Despite the grim story, a zeitgeist kind of thing.

  6. What a great month you had!
    Glad you liked Under The Skin. You're not the only one who says the book is much better. I've read four chapters in preparation for the film some months ago but have yet to finish it. I should finish that.

    I also watched Persona this month but for the first time. It was an interesting watch and I thought the two actresses were brilliant. The camera work is also worth noting. I'm not sure what to think of the overall message of the movie but right after seeing it I settled on the theme of motherhood. It's probably deeper than that.

    I quite liked Cloverfield. But I remember having a headache from the hand held camera work.

    Zodiac fascinated and scared me. I think he's one of the most terrifying serial killers, mostly because we don't know who he was for real. The lake scene murder still scares me. I think they played it as a big mystery like you said because he was never found, that they were probably close enough to catch him and he was such a feared person and a shocking case. I might be wrong, I haven't seen the film in a while.

    I like both No Country for Old Men and Au Revoir Les Enfants quite a lot. At least that was my response when I watched them, which was about 2-3 years ago. I still have strong feelings about the Coen film but I don't remember much from the other one, except some scenes at the beginning and the heartbreaking ending.

    I plan on seeing The Conformist soon. I've heard of its beauty and I've seen some pictures on the Internet. Gorgeous. Powerful colors.

    1. @Cristi B: Yes, was a pretty active month for me in terms of watching movies.

      Under The Skin: If you read my book review, you’ll see I gave both the novel and the movie same rating 8/10. The film did a lot of things right(visuals, performance, soundtrack) and that deserves praise, while the book had other qualities in terms of social commentary and dialogue.

      Persona: I was not sure what I felt after the first viewing some years ago, took me a rewatch to really understand what was going on. Motherhood is not something I considered, but it’s so open to interpretation so each person takes something different away.

      Cloverfield: The handheld camera was what made it unique and sort of realistic, unfortunately the movie failed to hold my attention.

      Zodiac: Indeed, there is still doubt. After a second viewing, and seeing the evidence again, I’m convinced the prime suspect was the killer. Perhaps other killers pretended to be him, or zodiac took the blame for murders he didn't commit. It may not be so straightforward. Yeah, the lake scene is tense and scary, especially because we don’t see his face. It's almost like we are lying on the ground together with the victims.

      No Country for Old Men: I enjoyed the movie taken as a thriller. As a thought-provoking movie about violence, for me, there's not a lot of substance.

      Au Revoir Les Enfants: Granted it is loved by many. In my case the film is good, I don't perceive it as great

      The Conformist: Look forward to your review! The cinematography is stunning

  7. Interesting that you weren't a massive fan of Cloverfield. Definitely agree that some of the characters are not exactly people you'd be wanting to support, BUT I liked the movie as a whole, and maybe the marketing really did the trick. With the whole secretive nature of it all. Was a pretty cool experience in the cinema, from what I remember of it.

    1. @Jaina: Perhaps I should give Cloverfield a second chance for Halloween. Could be it works better on the big screen. I missed the secretive marketing you mention.

    2. Come to think of it, I have actually seen Cloverfield, too. I wasn't a fan either . . .

  8. While I admire certain aspects of Under The Skin, the film just didn't do it for me. The book does sound better, though.

    On another note, I loved Mistaken For Strangers. I'm a huge fan of The National, but I liked how it was much more than a typical rock doc.

    1. @Zach Murphy: I wouldn’t go so far and say Under The Skin (the book) is better, just very different. I liked both for different reasons.

      Happy you loved Mistaken For Strangers, was certainly atypical. I ended up giving the doc a recommendation (7/10). I read on pitchfork today that there are over 55 minutes of bonus material. They shared a few clips:

  9. I haven't seen a lot of these, but I mostly agree with those I have. Zodiac, I agree, is good but not great. I have always wondered how closely they hew to the real case, because the film definitely suggests a guilty killer. I suppose the actual investigators probably suspected this same person, but couldn't prove it. I just wonder if it was that obvious in reality.

    Under the Skin is brilliant. As a person who hasn't read the book, I will say I didn't think any additional explanation necessary. I got what the film was going for and loved almost every second of it.

    Chaplin's Hynkel movie is a touch disturbing to watch these days. A part of me wishes I could go back to 1940 and experience it in the midst of the war, when slapstick satire of Hitler would have been more appreciated.

    And No Country for Old Men . . . The last twenty minutes, I agree, are superfluous. And that's a darn interesting summation of the picture's themes.

    1. @jjamesreviews: Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I remembered Zodiac as complex from first viewing in cinema. Really was quite easy to get to grips with on second viewing. I agree the film suggests a guilty killer.

      Glad you loved Under The Skin, nearly everyone in blogosphere I've talked to seems to have liked Glazer's film.

      The Hynkel character in Th Great Dictator I had mixed feelings about, on the one hand Chaplin plays it well, on the other hand I don't think it's a laughing matter. At least the other characters were enjoyable to watch.

      Indeed, the dialogue scene which ends No Country For Old Men is so undramatic compared to the thriller/chase aspects which came before, and to me feels anticlimactic. I found that interpretation on IMDb board, and I agree with that understanding of the story.

  10. Awesome month of films! Oh, I love that you enjoyed The Circus so much. That's a very underrated Chaplin film. It's great to a high rating for Persona as well.

    1. @Josh: Thank you! The Circus was great fun, I'm surprised that it isn't talked about in the same breathe as Modern Times, The Gold Rush, and City Lights. Persona was better on rewatch, perhaps on third viewing it will approach my top 100 :)


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