Blind Spot 69: Perfect Blue

Originally my plan for this month’s blind spot pick was to cover the anime Her Blue Sky. It was done by writer and animator Mari Okada who created Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms and A Whisker Away. Both films I enjoyed a lot. Unfortunately Her Blue Sky is not available anywhere I could find both streaming or on US playable physical media. This forced me to find a different anime selection and after some discussions with friends I decided to finally watch the classic Perfect Blue by Satoshi Kon.

Satoshi Kon has been fresh on my mind lately because I just watched a documentary on his life as part of Fantasia Fest 2021. Back in 2016 I reviewed his masterpiece Millennium Actress for rotoscopers.  I also covered his film Tokyo Godfathers in 2019 as part of this blind spot project. And finally my friend Conrado and I recently covered Paprika as part of our Criterion Project podcast.  So, it is appropriate I would finish this Satoshi Kon immersion process with quite possibly his most famous film in Perfect Blue. Perfect Blue tells the story of a woman named Mima who gives up her career as a popstar in order to become a serious actress. Unfortunately she ends up getting a role in a show called Double Blind where she has to perform in a rape scene (this is the reason I had avoided this movie until now). At the same time she is asked to do this she is being stalked and threatened (even letter bombs).

Mima starts to have conversations with her old popstar self and the line between reality and dreams becomes more and more confusing (a theme of Satoshi Kon).

The animation for Perfect Blue is absolutely stunning. Satoshi Kon weaves layers of backgrounds so multiple things are happening in each frame. You also feel for Mima’s character and want her to be treated fairly.The movie also uses music very well, which allows the viewer to become fully immersed in the story.

Perfect Blue also takes on deep themes of celebrity, fandom, identity, dreams, mental health, suicide, sexual discrimination and more.

The downside to the film is with so much happening both in the animation and story it can be confusing and difficult to follow. This is especially true when you have Mima talking to her former self and another person who is delusional thinking herself to be the “real Mima”. Even with the dub it’s still felt overwhelming to watch and keep track of.

There are also disturbing elements but I wouldn’t say it is gratuitous. It’s all part of the story and important to Mima’s progression.

What do you think about Perfect Blue? Is it a favorite of yours or is it not for you? Let me know in the comments section. Also let me know what anime you’d like me to review that I haven’t? I would love to know.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 68: Godzilla (1954)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. Before starting this review I must own is for my August blind spot pick and as you know it is September. This is the first time in 68 months of this project I have been late. I just got back from a trip to visit friends in Texas and combined with a very busy month reviewing movies I let it slip away and not get done. Not that anyone cares but myself! I like being consistent in my posts but things like this happen to the best of us!

So here goes!

This month for Blind Spot we are talking about the classic monster movie, Godzilla, from 1954. I have seen the modern Godzilla movies like this year’s Godzilla vs Kong but have never seen any of the classics. I’m not sure why but it’s true!

Check out my friend Alexander Robinson’s channel for tons of great Godzilla content

So what did I think of the original Godzilla film from Toho Studios in 1954? I quite enjoyed it. More than I was expecting to be honest! Like King Kong, the film’s stop motion animation/suitmation has a charm to it that the hyper-realism of today’s CGI can’t match. I also love the black and white cinematography and the simple, clean message told throughout.

It definitely surprised me how little Godzilla appears in the film. A lot of people complained about that in the recent 2014 version of Godzilla (including myself) but if they were basing off of this original film I can see why they kept him rather sparse. The only difference between this and 2014 is the Godzilla action is more consistent throughout the film where in 2014 it all comes at the end.

The new films struggle to integrate the human characters with Godzilla (especially King of the Monsters, which was so stupid). They do a much better job with in that regard here. I particularly liked Momoko Kōchi as Emiko the female who is torn between the 2 scientists Ogata and Serizawa. She reminded me a lot of Sally Hawkin’s character in The Shape of Water and wouldn’t be surprised if Guillermo del Toro took some inspiration from her (he is a big Godzilla fan obviously by his own kaiju film Pacific Rim. I liked Emiko because she was a damsel in distress without being useless and annoying as the archetype often is. It shows characters can be archetypes without being morons.

If you think about the anti-nuclear warfare message of Godzilla (1954) it must have been especially poignant back in 1954 when World War II was so fresh in the Japanese consciousness. What might seem like dumb fun to us now was probably all too real a fear for moviegoers then. When Serizawa struggles to give the oxygen destroyer to the people because it might be used as a superweapon that is only too real for 1954 audiences.

I do think I enjoy King Kong more than Godzilla because we get more invested in Kong’s story compared to Godzilla. When Kong is chained up and put on display it’s so devastating and I didn’t feel that kind of connection to Godzilla.

Still I can understand why they have been constantly trying to remake Godzilla 1954. It’s a great film and manages to combine spectacle with message extremely well- not an easy task to do. If you haven’t seen it I recommend watching it on HBO Max or as part of the Godzilla collection from Criterion.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 67: The Wild Bunch

The whole point of this blind spot series is a chance to push me out of my comfort zone and finally watch classic films I’ve never seen before. Each year I try to select a variety of films just to keep things interesting for myself and you wonderful readers. One genre I have many blind spots in is Westerns and I’ve enjoyed a fair number of the classics like The Magnificent 7, Stagecoach, High Noon and last year’s blind spot pick The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

This year I picked the 1969 classic The Wild Bunch and I must own I did not enjoy this one much at all. It was incredibly violent, which would have been fine, but I didn’t like the story or any of the characters. It felt really long and I will definitely never watch it again.

The Wild Bunch is directed by Sam Peckinpah and stars William Holden, Ernest Borgine, Robert Ryan and Edmond O’Brien. It was highly praised upon its release and was nominated for best screenplay and best score at the Oscars.It tells the story of a gang of outlaws in the Old West along the Mexican border. They want to make a big last score so they can retire but their attempt leads to one stand-off after another.

I think the reason this movie didn’t work for me is it has no heroes. I was craving a John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart to come and fight for truth and justice. These men are all so decrepit and terrible I grew weary of their antics and surly ways. The violence is strong and unending with even women getting shot at point blank and innocent civilians getting caught in a outlaw shout-out.

It’s weird because I always think of these Westerns as being wholesome but they really are not. Even one’s I like such as Liberty Valance are very violent. The women are also treated terribly here and often shown topless for no reason. It was too much especially at a long 145 minute run time!

I know this movie is highly praised for its editing, music and cinematography and I can see why. They are very well done. I just didn’t care about the story or any of the characters. I think I will stick with the Westerns I have enjoyed like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or even The Cowboys. Those films have charismatic performances and are about people I understand or enjoy spending time with. The guys of The Wild Bunch are pigs and the warfare in the Old West gets old fast. Not for me!

 

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

What about you? Do you like The Wild Bunch? I know it is a classic for many so please share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks! Yeehaw!

For a children’s western I had a lot of fun reviewing An American Tail: Fievel Goes West for Family Movie Night

Blind Spot 66: Beverly Hills Cop

Recently I watched Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy Coming to America and really enjoyed it. It was genuinely funny and had a sweet romance to it. Naturally when looking at another one of his classics, Beverly Hills Cop, I wasn’t expecting a romance but I did expect it to be funny. Now I have seen it and…I didn’t laugh. Maybe I’m missing something but it seemed like an ordinary police procedural?

The film definitely earns its R rating with language and some strong violence for a comedy but the story is pretty bland. Murphy plays a Axel Foley a Detroit cop who travels to Beverly Hills to try and look into the murder of his friend shown at the beginning of the film. While there he meets various local cops including detectives Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Aston).

The case involves a drug ring led by villain Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). It was all extremely obvious and by the numbers. What surprised me was how serious the movie took itself? I was expecting to laugh more and the jokes were hardly there. I guess something like Foley putting bananas in the officers car tailpipe is funny? I’m not sure why but they referred to that incident several times as a sign of Foley’s wild ways. Huh?

I guess you can enjoy it as a cop procedural and there is some chemistry between Murphy, Reinhold and Ashton but if that’s the strength of the movie I wish they’d given them a more interesting case. Maybe they do in the sequels?

A lot of 80s comedies fall flat but this one didn’t even seem to be making jokes so I evidently am missing something? It felt long and was under 2 hours. It just did nothing for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Blind Spot 65: Bonnie and Clyde

Part of the purpose of the Blind Spot series is to challenge myself to watch classic films outside of my comfort zone. These are usually films I’ve heard great things about but have been hesitant to watch for one reason or another. 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde definitely fall into that description. A landmark of its time Bonnie and Clyde is a film that changed cinema with its grounded feel and shocking violence and sensuality.

Of course, Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of the outlaw couple in Depression Era America. Bonnie is played by Faye Dunaway and Clyde by Warren Beatty. Gene Hackman and Estelle Parson also play notable supporting roles (Parson won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). Burnett Guffey also won an Oscar for the incredible cinematography.

The best thing about Bonnie and Clyde is its realism. Even though I know it plays fast and loose with the real story of the couple, when you are watching it feels real. It feels like what it might actually have been like stealing and scrounging for food and lodging- learning to dodge bullets along the way. Nothing feels clean or glossed up for the movies.

As you are watching you feel the exhaustion from the actors as if they were actually experiencing the events of the film. And by the time you get to its very graphic ending it is a relief for the chase is finally be over. I can see why critics like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert were so drawn to such a visceral piece of work.

All that said, the film could do a better job in helping us to get to know Bonnie and Clyde as characters better. They are always kept at a distance and that’s a weakness in the script. Also, this type of violence just isn’t my cup of tea so I don’t picture myself ever watching Bonnie and Clyde ever again.

Still, I’m glad I saw it once to see a turning point in film and to broaden the scope of the films I have seen.

Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde? What did you think of this classic?

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 64: Two for the Road

I always like to have a variety in this blind spot series, so for April I decided to watch the 1967 romantic comedy Two for the Road. As a huge Audrey Hepburn fan this is one I had heard about but never seen and was excited to check off my list.

It’s interesting because this film was made 2 years after Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou which we just reviewed for The Criterion Project (my podcast with my friend Conrado about films on The Criterion Channel. We had guest artist Esther Ko on and it’s a fun listen!). I mention it because both films feel very similar. They are both about couples going on road trips in France and their relative tumultuous relationships. I don’t know which one I like better but they are both unusual romances to say the least.

Two for the Road is about a couple (Hepburn and Albert Finney) and their relationship over 12 years all told with their road trips in France over the years. It’s an experimental film like Pierrot le Fou and goes in and out of non-linear storytelling without any notice of a changing time (you have to tell by what car they are suddenly driving). It’s all very creative and the script is well done.

All that said, this is one of those movies I admire more than I like. I found both of them to be very unlikable and cynical takes on romance just aren’t my thing. I can see it is well done and understand why it was given an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

However, I like my romances more on the fluffy-side (big shocker coming from the Queen of Hallmark movies). Even when they were supposed to be young and in love it still felt cynical and I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Hepburn and Finney.

Two for the Road is directed by Stanley Donen with style and I can see why Roger Ebert said it was a ‘romance for grown ups’. Like I said, it’s well done but just not for me. This makes giving it a grade difficult (these are the hardest reviews to write) but I will go with…

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy barely

Blind Spot 63: Highlander

When I added Highlander to this year’s Blind Spot picks I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not the biggest fantasy fan and it being R rated made me skeptical it would be for me. However, for the sake of variety in the series I decided to give it a try.

And the verdict?…

I quite enjoyed it! Honestly the first 30 minutes or so were a little confusing with the narrative switching from 1985 to 1536. I could have used a little more exposition to lay out the world and rules of the magic. However, the action was so good and the film so well made it was still fun to watch. Then as the story progressed I picked up on what was happening.

Highlander tells the story of Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) who is an immortal starting in 1536 (think Braveheart with magic) and an immortal bounty hunter in 1986. At the start he takes out a man named Iman Fasil and when he cuts off his head there is an event called the Quickening which is like an electrical shock throughout the parking garage. This is a really fantastic sequence.

Then things move on as we switch from his life in 1536 getting trained by Egyptian from Spain Sean Connery to tracing down the evil Kurgan Clancy Brown in 1985. The women are a little bland for my taste here but other than that all the characters are a lot of fun and well cast.

One of the most impressive parts of this film is how well it is directed and made. The camera is nearly constantly moving and the the director Russell Mulcahy makes interesting choices in the angles he uses and the way the action is staged. This helps draw us in and makes the ever changing world feel consistent even when it isn’t.

I also appreciate how unpredictable and unique Highlander is. I guess the sequel and rest of the franchise tarnished its image but I legitimately didn’t know what was going to happen. It can feel a little random at times but I was still overall very entertained.

There has been some talk of a Highlander reboot happening and I find that prospect to be very interesting. I think it’s a property that has a ton of potential to improve and make even better than this original. If it was up to me I would ask Taika Waititi to direct it. His energy seems tailor-made for this film!

As I said the female characters are bland and sometimes the narrative can be confusing but I wish more fantasy films took such risks and didn’t take themselves so seriously. Highlander ends up being a good time whether in 1986, 1536 or 2021.

What do you think of Highlander? Is it a nostalgic favorite of yours? Let me know in the comments section

7 out of 10

Blind Spot 62: ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

Hello friends! It’s time for my monthly entry in my Blind Spot Project.  This is the series where I take a look at a critically lauded or fan favorite film I have not seen and see what I think about it. This month being valentines month, I decided to finally watch a film I’ve long heard is a complex romantic story: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This film is directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman and has the surreal elements one might expect from both individuals.

After watching it, I can see why many love it but I did not enjoy it. I find that to be the case with most of Kaufman’s movies. I get why others love them but they rarely work for me. Eternal Sunshine has the intriguing premise of a procedure where you can erase a person from your memory.

I’ve enjoyed similar movies involving memory. For example, Afterlife by Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of my favorite films. It is all about a way station that asks you to determine your favorite memory. I also enjoy Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep where they have to defend his memories in a trial at the afterlife. Recently Nine Days came out about a way-station between life and death and memories and I enjoyed that.

My problem with Eternal Sunshine is I found it very surface-level compared to those films. I especially did not enjoy anything that had to do with Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst. They felt so distracting from our main couple and made it harder to get to the core of what Kaufman is trying to get at with memories. I felt like 60% of the movie was watching them hang out in a dingy apartment with Jim Carrey sitting their under the machine.

When it gets to Carrey’s character Joel and his relationship with Kate Winslet’s Clementine it is better but the movie fails to show why the memories are so devastating. It feels like checking off boxes in the memory department (and manic pixie dream girl trope) more than true devastating memories. Maybe this could have been more impactful if we weren’t’ constantly interrupting the flow of the narrative with Ruffalo flirting with Dunst.

Image result for eternal sunshine of the spotless mind cinematography

Eternal Sunshine does look beautiful and I admire the creative abstract camerawork by cinematographer Ellen Kuras. I’m surprised she wasn’t nominated for Best Cinematography that year but that’s the Oscars for you.

It actually took me several sittings to finish this film because I was not engaged. Perhaps part of it is I’m more of a fan of relationships starting rather than exploring breakups, (I recently liked the break-up abstract film Wander Darkly but that had way more focus on the couple than this) but I was open to it. Unfortunately it just felt really fractured and distracted from its main premise and something that might have been more interesting as a short (think World of Tomorrow…) than a feature film.

What do you think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Is it a favorite of yours? Let me know in the comments section

 

 

Blind Spot 61: SELENA (1997)

As a film critic I watch at least a movie almost every single day. And yet somehow there are films that still slip through the cracks and I haven’t seen despite them being quite popular and even iconic. This is the whole purpose behind this blind spot series. Well, a couple of months ago I was talking to my friend Larry and he was shocked I haven’t seen the musical biopic Selena. This is a favorite film of his (see his review above) so I knew I must put it on my blind spot picks for 2021.

Selena tells the story of Tejano singing star Selena Quintanilla-Perez who shot up into fame on the Mexican charts (even winning a grammy in the category) before being tragically killed by an employee at the age of 23.

Jennifer Lopez shines playing Selena. First of all, she looks so much like her that there really was nobody else who could have played the role. Also the film lives and dies in the staging of the musical sequences. Some of the more dramatic sequences feel a little weak in the acting departments but the film knows this and gets quickly back to the music. We get to see Selena’s charisma on the stage and how she could truly captivate an entire stadium.

Director Gregory Nava smartly frames the film around her final breakthrough show at the Houston Astrodome. With a story with such a sad ending it gives her a moment of triumph which helps it feel rewarding while also of course being still sad. We at least know she got her moment.

The script also gives most of the meatier dialogue to veterans like Edward James Olmos who plays Selena’s father Abraham Quintanilla. I particularly liked a speech he gives about the Catch-22 of being a Mexican American:

“We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting”

Some may complain that Selena doesn’t drift far away from the music bio-pic formula. However, perhaps because Selena is so young we are spared many of the scenes of rebellion with drugs and partying we typically get in these kind of films. About the worst we get is her wearing revealing clothing, wanting to get married and her band-mates messing up a hotel room. Pretty tame in the musical bio-pic world.

Mostly we get to know a sweet young woman with a beautiful voice who’s life was cut far too short. The film decides to leave the shooting off screen, which perhaps was best since it was all so fresh (she died in 1995 and the film was released in 1997). Still, I wish we could have gotten one more scene with Yolanda to try and understand why she did what she did. It all feels a little rushed at the end.

Nevertheless, I am glad I finally saw Selena. I can understand why it is a favorite of Larry and many others. It captures the appeal of Selena singing and Lopez is fantastic in those scenes. Olmos backs her up with a great performance as her father and the whole experience is respectful and uplifting. If you haven’t seen it I’d say it is worth checking out.

I’ve heard from all of my friends that the new Netflix series is not good. Here is my friend Kristen’s review:

I give the 1997 film Selena

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy