Blind Spot 54: ‘Wolf Children’ Review

In the world of anime fans it’s actually kind of a scandal that I haven’t seen Mamoru Hosoda’s masterpiece Wolf Children. I love Hosoda so I’m not sure why I put off seeing it but now that I have I’m delighted to tell you all that it lives up to the hype. It’s not a loud movie but it is one of the most beautiful depictions of motherhood I’ve seen.

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Wolf Children tells the story of a woman named Hana who falls in love with a mysterious man while in attending college. Eventually she finds out the man is a wolfman, but not the man-eating variety we see in horror movies. Hanna and the man end up having 2 children, Yuki and Ame who share the wolfman traits of their father.

When the man dies Hana must figure out how to not only be a young single Mother of 2 but also raise 2 children that are of a different species from her own- one that she and everyone around her is entirely unfamiliar with. She ends up moving to the country to keep them safe and learning how to farm and teach her children how to manage both sides of themselves.

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What’s also interesting is the different trajectories of the children. Yuki wants to live as a human being. She goes to school, makes friends, and is able to hold her wolf side in with the help of a little song her Mom made up. On the other hand, Ame is drawn to the wolf side especially after he becomes friends with a wolf named Sohei.

If you are watching Wolf Children looking for a big narrative or strong action you will be disappointed. It’s a simple film about the every day life of our 3 lead characters. We get to know them and become invested in their journeys. The animation is absolutely stunning- right up there with the best of Studio Ghibli. The sound design is also very impressive with the lushness of nature coming to life before our eyes. It really helps us become immersed in the story.

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But mostly Wolf Children is a beautiful story about the power of a Mother’s love to save her children. Even if they are of different species that love is powerful and that says a lot. I don’t think you have to be a big anime fan to enjoy this film. If you have a mother, are a mother or long to be a mother you will be moved by this touching story. I highly recommend it.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Blind Spot 53: ‘Lethal Weapon’ Review

I try to have a variety when I am setting up this blind spot series every year and since I did a trilogy of arthouse films in April with the 3 Colors Trilogy I decided to check off a blockbuster classic off of my list for May. This month I finally saw the 80s buddy cop film Lethal Weapon.

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Lethal Weapon was directed by Richard Donner of Superman: the Movie fame and is written by Shane Black who would go on to write and/or direct many popular films such as Predator, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3. It stars Danny Glover as the world-weary cop who is paired with the mostly insane young cop played by Mel Gibson.

Obviously there are strengths to Lethal Weapon. It would not have made such an impact on its genre of films if it didn’t do some things right. Its biggest asset is the chemistry between Glover and Gibson. Their relationship isn’t easy but you believe their evolution as friends or at least trustworthy partners.

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I also enjoyed all the Christmas themes as it created a nice contrast between the darkness of the investigation and the brightness of the holidays. Shane Black also sets Iron Man 3 at Christmas so perhaps it’s a thing of his?

Unfortunately, my problem with Lethal Weapon is I did not love the script or the action. I haven’t enjoyed any of Shane Black’s scripts so maybe he is just not for me? The machismo in his writing is a turn-off and there’s a cynicism with how his characters treat each-other, which I do not connect with or find appealing. Other people seem to think it’s hilarious but again it’s not for me.

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As for the action I found it often dark, with strange lighting making it hard to see who was fighting who and what they were doing. Also the violence didn’t seem to do anything for the story, which made it feel gratuitous. In particular, an extended sequence where Murtaugh and Riggs are tortured didn’t help the narrative much and was mostly only there for shock value.

You also have to put on your 80s cap when watching Lethal Weapon because we have such a different attitude about police brutality and violence in 2020. Riggs spends most of the movie trying to convince Murtaugh that his method of killing the bad guys is the way to go. Today we’d certainly take a step back from that line of thinking!

Basically with Lethal Weapon you probably already know if you like it. I enjoyed the chemistry between Glover and Gibson and the Christmas setting was fun; however, the action and script didn’t do it for me. Take that for what you will.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Blind Spot 52: ‘The Three Colors Trilogy’

When I was setting up this year’s blind spot picks I took what seemed like a big risk in my pick for April. Deciding to go with a trilogy of films called the Three Colors Trilogy seemed like a big ask. Little did I know we would have a pandemic and I’d be in quarantine for the entire month! It ended up being the ideal choice!

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The Three Colors Trilogy is a trio of films by polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The 3 films are loosely tied together stories that are named after the colors of the French flag and supposedly meant to be emblematic of the 3 political ideals associated with each color: blue=liberty, white=equality, red=fraternity. Some also feel the films are an anti-tragedy, anti-comedy, and anti-romance.

While I admire the boldness of the project, the trilogy is bookended by 2 great films with a real turkey stuck in the middle. That’s right. I enjoyed Blue and Red but found white to be a big misfire. However, as they aren’t very connected this isn’t a huge problem and I’d honestly suggest just skipping White all together.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on all 3:

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Blue

Blue stars Juliette Binoche as a widow who loses both her daughter and husband in a horrible car accident at the beginning of the film. She is a classical music composer, as was her husband, but he got most of the praise and glory. Now out of the hospital she has to try to put her life back together all the while discovering new revelations about her husband along the way.

This is a very ‘fly on the wall’ type of movie with us mostly following Binoche around as she makes choices. One minute she is reuniting with a former lover, another she is selling her house, then moving to Paris etc. Fortunately she’s a compelling enough character for this to work. Binoche does a terrific job playing this damaged woman and her responses felt real and honest- no melodrama here.

I also enjoyed the way Kieslowski brought in the color blue into the film through a blue chandelier and lots of time in or near swimming pools. It was more than a gimmick but a way to establish moods of grief and loss.

Blue is a definite great start to the trilogy!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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White

As I mentioned above White is the film in the trilogy that is the big miss. It stars Zbigniew Zamachowski as a sad sap of a man who at the start of the film is getting divorced by his wife. She is played by Julie Delpy and she wants a divorce because he has failed to consummate their relationship. He then spends the rest of the movie feeling sorry for himself and planning his elaborate revenge.

At one point he gets involved with the mafia and sends himself in a suitcase to Poland to finish a job for a shady friend. I guess such gestures are supposed to be the ‘anti-comedy’ of the trilogy, but I didn’t laugh. I found him selfish, rude and irritating. I think there is supposed to be satisfaction in his ending, but I found it pathetic.

I suppose the acting and filming of White is fine but the story and characters were too insufferable and annoying for me to care about. Let’s just say it’s a slice of life I can do without!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Red

The highlight of the trilogy is the concluding film, Red. Instead of an irritating useless male character as we saw in White, in Red you get a layered, interesting character and an ending that ties the trilogy together.

Red tells the story of a model named Valentine played by Irene Jacob. One day she has a car accident with a dog and she seeks out the dog owner. It turns out to be a former judge played by Jean-Louis Trintignant. Unfortunately the judge doesn’t care about the dog but he has a sophisticated technology for listening in on the conversations of his neighbors.

Like in Rear Window, as he listens he becomes more involved in their lives and starts to make assumptions about what is best for them. Valentine tries to help the judge but things become more complicated by the minute. She also has her own love problems to deal with along with some bad luck at work and in her social life.

Like Blue, Red works because it has a compelling main character we are interested in. The reason it is better than Blue is because the plot is more linear and engaging and Valentine is a more complex character (it was nominated for best screenplay). It’s also beautifully made from the lighting, music, direction, all the way to the cinematography. It’s a gem!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Have you seen The Three Colors Trilogy? Which one is your favorite? I would love to read your thoughts below in the comments

Blind Spot 51: ‘Goodfellas’

When I set up my 2020 Blind Spot list I knew immediately I wanted to include something from director Martin Scorsese. He not only caused a lot of ruckus with his ridiculous and out of touch comments about superhero movies not being ‘cinema’ last year but then he achieved great critical acclaim with his film The Irishman.  I famously did not care for this Oscar nominated film, and I also hated his film before that Silence, so I began to wonder if maybe the famous director and I simply don’t mix very well (I did like Hugo and The Aviator so there’s that)?

Anyway, I knew I wanted to give his other mobster movie, Goodfellas, a shot this year to see what I thought. Now I have seen it, and I’m happy to say I liked it. It’s not a top-tier film for me but definitely entertaining and far better than The Irishman in every way. I still prefer the gravitas and messaging of The Godfather over this film but I can see why it has its ardent fans.

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Goodfellas tells the story of Henry Hill a real life mobster in 70s and 80s who works and serves the family despite not being a full-Italian ‘made’ member. We start out the film with Henry as a teenager dazzled by the lifestyle and family-connection of organized crime. He gets taken under the wing by a caporegime named Paulie played by Paul Servino. Joe Pesci plays a violent and erratic man named Tommy Devito and Robert De Niro plays a leader of the group named Jimmy Conway.

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The reason I liked this so much better than The Irishman is the characters are all more dynamic. My problem with Robert De Niro’s character in The Irishman is his come to Jesus moments come too late in the narrative. For 80% of the movie he is perfectly happy being a soldier for the mafia and someone who simply follows orders isn’t interesting for a film, especially a long film.

In contrast, Henry has many moments where he bucks against the system, especially in the 2nd half where it becomes more of a heist movie than a mafia film. He even challenges orders in his personal life with wife Karen and mistress Janice/Sandy. This makes him an interesting character. We want to root for him because he is our protagonist, but he’s such a sleazy guy that it becomes difficult. Such conflict is cinematic and entertaining. It also doesn’t hurt that Ray Liotta does a very good job playing Henry so you both want to hang out with and smack him at the same time.

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Unlike The Godfather, Goodfellas doesn’t attempt to teach us lessons through the insular society of the mob. It’s not an allegory to society at large or a treatise on group behavior and loyalty. It’s just Henry’s story- a biopic if you will, with all the highs and lows we expect from that genre. It is greatly aided by witty and engaging dialogue by screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi. It clips along and stays free from both exposition or over-narration.

As far as flaws it still feels self-indulgent at times. Scenes are stretched out longer than they need to be and certain sequences are repeated that provide no real addition to the plot. For example, we see multiple scenes with them laughing it up at the comedy club in the beginning of the film. One scene is fine and establishes the juvenile nature of these men; however, I didn’t need to see it again and again. Same with scenes with the drug-trade later in the movie. We get the idea the first time. We don’t need scene after scene of them getting blow. It’s almost like Scorsese lacks confidence in his scenes so he has to repeat them again. (Come to think of it one of the things I hated in Silence was the repeated torture. He would literally show a scene of torture and show that exact same scene again in case we didn’t get it the first time. No thank you!).

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Goodfellas is also very well edited and the production values are all top rate. It doesn’t feel dated in any way. It could be released now and hold up (honestly better than The Irishman with its distracting special effects). I also enjoyed the cinematography and music choices throughout.

If you can handle a hard R rated film for violence and language I recommend giving Goodfellas a watch. If you do, you will find a well-told story about a complex character in the form of Henry Hill. It’s got a sharp script and good performances all around, which makes it very entertaining. I can definitely see why it is a favorite of those who love the gangster genre.

What do you think of Goodfellas? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section

7.5 out of 10

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On another note I can see why so many compared Hustlers to Goodfellas. They have a very similar structure especially in the last half of the film and have the same type of repetition and character beats.

 

Blind Spot 50: ‘Born Yesterday’ (1950)

I had always heard of Born Yesterday not because of it being a great movie but because of its impact on the Oscars. One of my favorite movies of all time is All About Eve and the actresses Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were both nominated for Oscars for Best Actress.  Both of their performances are some of the best in the history of movies, so imagine my shock that neither of them won the big prize! No, Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday won!

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It is for this reason I have long wanted to check out Born Yesterday and see if Holliday deserved the win or if it was a case of 2 actresses from the same movie cancelling themselves out. Now for Blind Spot I finally got to check this romcom off my list!

In Born Yesterday Holliday plays a woman named Billie who is a ditzy mistress for a mob-like millionaire named Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford). At first I was struggling with her character. Her squeaky voice was irritating and the way she is walked all over is uncomfortable to a modern viewer. However, as she began to learn more from William Holden’s Paul Verrall I started to warm up to her.

Holden and Holliday have such an authentic chemistry that I found myself rooting for them as a pair more than either character by themselves. They both teach each other and become better people based on the discussions they have. It’s not just the suave man teaching the silly woman how to be more genteel but a woman coming to understand her fundamental value as a human and a man realizing some principles and people are worth fighting for.

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It’s easy to be cynical these days, and I know that’s why many don’t enjoy romantic comedies. However, Born Yesterday is kind of a cynical movie. The world surrounding our 2 leads is decidedly broken and there’s no sign of any of it changing outside of the cocoon of their discussions. I got the feeling if Frank Capra had made this film there would be grand speeches and big moments of gravitas but that is not the case here. It’s just about 2 people who make it out of the cynicism kicking and screaming.

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I watched the 1993 remake of Born Yesterday and boy was that a dud. It has most of the same ingredients but without the sense of personal connection and growth we see with Holliday and Holden. There’s nobody to root for and no depth to any of the performances so it all feels quite lazy and mean-spirited. Definitely skip it!!

Now do I think Judy Holliday is better in Born Yesterday than Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve? No I do not but it’s a good performance so I’m not angry about it. She brings a humanity to a character that is easy to dismiss and has fantastic chemistry with her costar so she’s a worthy winner even if she’d still get 3rd place in my book. Also if you have never seen Judy in Bells Are Ringing it’s a very underrated musical that I highly recommend.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Blind Spot 49: ‘Spartacus’

Happy January! I am so excited to be starting my 5th year doing the Blind Spot project. I can hardly believe I have been keeping it up that long, month by month. So, it seemed appropriate to celebrate this accomplishment by looking at an epic film and few films are more epic than the 1960 historical drama Spartacus.

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The biggest thing Spartacus has going for it is how big it is. Particularly the war scenes are truly epic. In a world where we are used to battles populated by cgi soldiers it is refreshing to see so many extras that it looks like ants moving on the hillsides towards each other rather than humans. The scope of every scene and attention to detail really is tremendous and worthy of praise.

Also the acting is top rate. I particularly enjoyed Peter Ustinov as a cold yet jolly Roman leader named Batiatus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ustinov in a role that he didn’t shine and bring whatever funny he could to the part. All the other acting is great including Sir Laurence Olivier as Marcus Licnius Crassus and Tony Curtis as Antoninus.

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However, that’s where my praise of Spartacus must end. This film is a really long movie to not connect with any of the characters. While the acting is great, the writing and story is pretty bland. I was not drawn into the journey of Spartacus played by Kirk Douglas and found his performance the one miss of the film. I didn’t feel like I got to know him very well, and I wasn’t rooting for him the way that I should for this kind of narrative. Unfortunately, he felt miscast in the role.

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The only female of note in the film is Varinia played by Jean Simmons, and I didn’t think she and Douglas had any chemistry. Her story is as bland as Spartacus and despite some daring scenes she just wasn’t interesting to me (the film as a whole is pretty R rated both in violence and sensuality).

It’s hard to completely skunk a movie as handsomely mounted as Spartacus but when I compare it to other epics of its time like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia or The 10 Commandments it doesn’t hold a candle to those films. Those films had compelling characters, terrific action and epic set pieces. I love those films. Spartacus? Not so much.

5 out of 10

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My 2020 Blind Spot Picks

One of my favorite parts of this blog is a special series called Blind Spots I have been doing each month since 2016. The idea behind the series is every month I review a classic or well-regarded film I have not seen- my movie blind spots.

Each year in January I declare what my 12 choices will be. I try to make it a variety of films, genres and styles. For instance, last year I did comedies like Garden State, to anime like Tokyo Godfathers to war dramas like Son of Saul.

So, now is the time to declare my blind spot picks for 2020! Please let me know in the comments which of these films you have seen and what you think of my list in general! I would also love if you have a blog or youtuber to participate along with me in the project. It’s really fun!

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January

Spartacus (1960)

I think the coziness of a Winter month makes for the perfect time to finally check the sprawling epic of Spartacus off of my list. This film is directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Kirk Douglas, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov and more. I love Lawrence of Arabia which came along 2 years later so we will have to see how Spartacus shakes out!

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February

Born Yesterday (1950)

It’s always fun to pick a romantic comedy for February, and I have never seen the 1950 classic Born Yesterday. I love Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing and William Holden is super charming. The film is directed by the great George Cukor and it appears to be a political take on the Pygmalion story with Holden being hired to teach the uncouth Holliday social manners. I’m excited to watch it!

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March

Goodfellas

Created by the king of cinema Martin Scorsese I finally need to check his most heralded classic Goodfellas off of my list. I’m honestly not that big a fan of mob movies, which is why I’ve never seen this film. However, I am open to the genre if it is a good film. The story of Henry Hill eventually becoming an informant of the mob certainly has a lot of potential to be interesting and one cannot deny the acting talent. I hope I like it better than The Irishman, which was not my cup of tea (shocking I know).

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April

The Three Colors Trilogy

For April I am going to be extra ambitious and watch the Color Trilogy by famed director Krzysztof Kieslowski. These 3 films are named after the colors of the French flag: Blue, White, Red and they each follow ordinary people as they face challenges to the 3 morals the flag represents: liberty, equality, fraternity. Evidently the characters from all 3 films come together in Red to make for a beautiful treatise on human behavior. One article I read said this trilogy was the big hipster status symbol of the 90s and that it ‘still holds up today,’ so I will be the judge of that!

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May

Lethal Weapon

I figure after such a heady April I deserve some fun so for May I am watching the first Lethal Weapon movie (yes I’ve never seen any of the series). In this iconic buddy cop action series Mel Gibson plays the young hothead Riggs and Danny Glover plays the old tired detective Murtaugh. They are forced to work together with some classic 80s hair from Gibson. This film is written by writer/director Shane Black who I am not the biggest fan of but we’ll see if he can win me over or maybe I’m too old for this…

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June

Wolf Children

As a huge fan of director Mamoru Hosoda I’m almost ashamed to admit I have never seen Wolf Children. I know many friends who consider this his best film and I’m excited to finally watch it. The story is about a young woman who raises her half-human half-wolf children after their werewolf father dies. My friend Ron said it is his favorite movie of the decade so I definitely have to check this one out!

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July

Private Benjamin

I figure by the time July comes around I will be in the mood for a comedy and one classic I have never seen is the Goldie Hawn film Private Benjamin. So far on Goldie Hawn 80s comedies I liked Overboard and didn’t like Foul Play so we will see how this film lands. It was written by a young Nancy Meyers and is about a wealthy heiress who joins the army after her husband dies only for a very rude awakening in boot camp. I hope it will be a lot of laughs!

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August

House of the Flying Daggers

After really enjoying director Zhang Yimou’s film Shadow this year and admiring his film Hero from 2002 I thought it would be fun to watch another one of his famed works House of Flying Daggers. Evidently this is a love story and a martial arts film so that should be right up my ally and from what I’ve seen the production design, fight choreography and cinematography look stunning. I’m excited to watch it!

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September

Apocalypse Now

War movies are a great choice for blind spot because they are the kind of thing I don’t usually watch without a push. So for September I think it is finally time for me to watch the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now. Released in 1979 this film has an incredible cast including Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper and more. It is about a battalion during the Vietnam War who are sent on a secret mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade officer. I learned a lot about the making of the movie in the documentary I saw last year called Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

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October

Halloween (1978)

One of my goals for next year is to try and get over some of my reservations when it comes to horror films. If I want to be a full time film critic I know I will need to watch more horror movies and I have been told by several good friends that the original Halloween film by director John Carpenter isn’t very scary. I’ve seen some scary movies like Scream, Psycho, and others so let’s hope I make it through this one! Ahhhh!

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November

The Last Unicorn

Honestly the number of classic animated films I haven’t seen is narrowing but there are still some and one of them is The Last Unicorn. This anime released in 1982 tells the story of a unicorn that goes on a journey with a wizard to defeat an evil King that wants to kill all the unicorns. It evidently has some scary and bonkers scenes that were quite shocking for 1980s audiences so I’m anxious to see what I think! The animation looks beautiful and it is a musical with voices of Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Angela Lansbury and more on the dub. We will see what I think!

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December

Remember the Night

My December pick is a Christmas classic I just learned about this year: Remember the Night. I don’t know how it flew under my Christmas-movie-loving radar but it is from 1940 and stars Barbara Stanwyck (who is one of my favorite Christmas movies Christmas in Connecticut) and Fred MacMurray (who is a scoundrel in the Christmas film The Apartment!). It is written by the great Preston Sturgess who was the king of romantic comedy writing in the 40s. Evidently it is about an attorney (MacMurray) who ends up going on a road trip of some kind with a petty shoplifter (Stanwyck) while heading home for Christmas. Sign me up!

So there you have it! That’s my 12 films for the 2020 Blind Spot Series. If you have a blog or youtube channel I encourage you to participate in the project. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding at the same time.

What do you think of my choices? Have you seen any of them? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy New Year!

Blind Spot 48: ‘Tokyo Godfathers’

Anyone who follows my content knows I watch a lot of Christmas movies. This can make it difficult to find a good Blind Spot pick for December. However, I have long wanted to see the anime classic Tokyo Godfathers, so it became an easy pick for this month’s selection. Tokyo Godfathers is directed by master animator Satoshi Kon based on the novel by Peter B Kyne entitled Three Godfathers.

There are a lot of reasons why this film works, but I think at the heart is an emotional resonance we connect with. I’d wager to say the 3 main characters Gin, Hana and Miyuki are living wildly different lives than most of us; however, their responses to pain, joy, fear etc come from a truthful place we can all relate with.

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The story begins when our homeless trio finds a baby thrown into the trash on Christmas Eve. Ex-drag queen Hana is particularly excited to help the baby who they name Kiyoko. I loved Hana’s energy, which is always tinged with a bit of melancholy. She reminds me a little bit of Agrado in Pedro Almodóvar’s film All About My Mother. They both are transgender and homeless, yet full of life and energy.

Tough talking Gin helps ground the group and young teen Miyuki is a more of a nurturing presence. They are an unlikely group but one who’s story I was always invested in. The 3 friends set out to find Kiyoko’s parents and face all kinds of resistance along the way. Sometimes the shenanigans are a little too much but for the most part I was very engaged.

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Aside from the day it is set on, Tokyo Godfathers might not seem like much of a Christmas movie. There are no presents, Christmas trees, Santa etc. However, it absolutely gets to the core of Christmas. Each of our 3 characters is sacrificing to help Kiyoko who would have certainly died in the trash without them. Is this not the heart of what pure Christianity aka Christmas teaches?

There’s also a sense of wish fulfillment with this journey. Hana gets to live a day as a mother. Gin gets to be the hero he isn’t to his own children. Miyuki gets to be a part of a loving family unit. These are people who aren’t valued by society but to this baby they are invaluable. It reminded me a lot of both Parasite and last year’s Shoplifters in many ways.

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Tokyo Godfathers, however, is not a morose film. It actually can be quite hopeful and even funny. Like I said, especially Hana is a bright light in a difficult world. I loved the way Satoshi animated her big smile and exuberant responses to everything. It made me smile.

I loved all of the animation. Satoshi does such a good job of developing a sense of place with rich colors of brown, red and green. At one point a character is at her breaking point and there is such a piercing quality to her eyes that anyone who has had a mental health crisis will understand. It’s quite devastating (especially when compared with Hana’s bright energy).

I did struggle a little bit in Tokyo Godfathers to keep up with the subtitles but that is probably my own flaw more than the movie. There are some pretty fast-paced scenes of dialogue! But if you are looking for something different to watch at Christmas or just a unique animated film any time of the year I recommend it for anyone middle school and up. I really enjoyed it (rated pg13)!

In August I got to review Satoshi Kon’s other masterpiece Millennium  Actress over at rotoscopers.com. Check the review out here

 

Blind Spot 47: ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

As you all know I have been heavily ensconced in the Christmas movie watching season in the month of November. Believe it or not I have watched 60 new Christmas movies from 2019 alone! This is why I almost didn’t get my Blind Spot pick in this month. There’s only so much time!

Fortunately I found time to watch the classic western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and not only was it a welcome change of pace but an excellent film. I can see why it is heralded as one of the great films of the Western genre.

From my admittedly limited experience it seems like there are 2 brands of Western films:

1. There are the sprawling films with cowboys on horses fighting Indians and claiming territory like The Searchers or Dances with Wolves.

2. Or there are the films that show off the isolated, lawless nature of the West. Usually these are set in town rather than on the open prairie. Examples include The Magnificent 7 or High Noon.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is definitely of the latter variety. I was actually shocked at how violent it is. I can sometimes be guilty of putting movies from the 50s in a squeaky clean box when that is certainly not always the case. Evidently they are going to be making a remake soon, which without question will be rated R if it is accurate to the original film at all. I didn’t mind the violence. It just surprised me.

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The thrust of the violence comes from the outlaw listed in the title: Liberty Valance played by Lee Marvin in a really cold and calculated performance. This is a true outlaw with no feeling for anyone who comes in his way. Marvin does not play Liberty as an outlaw with a heart of gold like Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not at all. He is a man who will kill you over a steak dinner and not give it a second thought.

Naturally everyone is terrified of Liberty including the useless Marshall named Link Appleyard (Andy Devine). The only exception is cowboy Tom Doniphon played with huge charisma by John Wayne. He picks his battles with Liberty but is not afraid to challenge him especially when he gets in his way (or messes with his steak!).

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Into all this mess comes an idealistic lawyer named Ransom Stoddard played by Jimmy Stewart. Talk about perfect casting! Director John Ford uses the innocence and every-man appeal of Stewart to his full advantage. There is never a moment where we aren’t rooting for him or wanting him to defeat Liberty or his  gang. And to the movies credit it is not an easy path for Ransom. The people are so afraid of Liberty he is often left standing against him alone.

The problem is Ransom believes he can solve things peacefully with Liberty and not resort to violence. This creates the central conflict of the film: Is the law abiding attorney going to give into the wild ways of the west or will his pure ideals prevail? It’s an interesting question and it plays out with a compelling script and excellent filmmaking.

You might be saying to yourself ‘I hate Westerns and have no interest in seeing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. And I’d reply I am also not a big fan of the genre but the whole point of the blind spot project is to get out of my niches and try new things. I honestly think if you give this film a shot you will be impressed by the interesting characters, story, messaging and pacing. It is a classic for a reason and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Have you seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence? What did you think and who would you cast in the remake? Who can fill the shoes of John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart? It’s a tall order!

9 out of 10

smile worthy