Blind Spot 93: OUT OF SIGHT

In a way it’s kind of amazing it has taken me this long to check off Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight in this blind spot project. It’s a movie I have heard about for years and is a favorite of many of my friends but I just never got around to seeing it. A lot of my blind spots are rated R films from the 90s and earlier because growing up I didn’t watch mature films. It really wasn’t until around 2012 that I realized the rating system was dumb and began challenging myself with more adult content in my media.

It’s funny because this trailer for Out of Sight makes it seem like it’s practically a rom-com and it is a very sexy movie but the relationship is more of a side-story rather than the main focus of the film. I would think of it more as a sexy version of Oceans 11 than a rom-com  (Soderbergh also directed George Clooney in the Oceans films.)

It’s funny because Jennifer Lopez plays the least likely person to be named Karen ever in a film…but her role is as a US Marshall who is forced into a trunk with Clooney’s Jack Foley as he escapes from prison. They then end up in a tit-for-tat with each other over the course of several years. The two actors do have sizzling chemistry and the main sex scene is very spicy but it all works for the story.

One of the strongest aspects of this film is the atmosphere and tone Soderbergh along with his cinematographer Elliot Davis creates. It looks great and all the characters ooze with cool and a slick style that draws you into the story. It reminded me of Pulp Fiction without Tarantino’s more annoying qualities. These are people I am interested in that don’t seem concerned with crafting sound bites but instead making the next great deal and how good they look while doing it.

It’s interesting because Out of Sight was one of Lopez’s first roles and it showed a lot of potential she wouldn’t realize again (despite my enjoyment for her mostly terrible rom-coms) until Hustlers in 2019 (which I think was just an ok movie but she was good in it.) In this movie, however, she brings a strength to Karen that makes her a believable force alongside Clooney and the rest of the cast.

We also get memorable roles from Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Michael Keaton, Albert Brooks and more. Like I said, it’s a film that’s loaded with great atmosphere and panache which makes it a very engaging watch. I can see why it has gained a bit of a cult following and is a favorite of so many.

8 out of 10

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Blind Spot 92: ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (2013)

What people might not know about me is I love movies about work and work/life crisis. There is nothing I love more than an epic quit and a person who realizes their life is worth more than the misery of an unfulfilling job. Perhaps this is why I was attracted to the 2013 retelling (not really a remake) of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty– one of those films I had been interested in but had never gotten around to watching for some reason (what this blind spot project is for!) Well, not only did I see it over the last weekend, but I watched it and the Danny Kaye original with my good friends Jen and Stanford, and we had a wonderful time together.

I must admit was a bit distracted watching the 1947 original but from what I could gather it is quite different than the 2013 film and the only commonalities outside of the names are the daydreaming tendencies of the lead character. The new film is more of an existential crisis movie where the older movie is a screwball comedy meets mystery.

The new film gives us director and actor Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty who is unhappily working at Life Magazine where his only joy in life is his brief interactions with co-worker Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig. One day he loses a key negative for the magazine’s final print issue and he starts a journey through Greenland and Iceland to find the photographer played by Sean Penn.

The cinematography is a stand out (you’ll want to book your trip to Iceland after seeing the film) and like I said the themes of work and what motivates our lives always intrigues me and it was no different here. Walter is a character that is easy to relate with and there’s a voyeurism aspect to the film. We all wish we could find ourselves in Iceland in such a dramatic fashion don’t we?

The only thing I could have used more of in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is more insight into Walter himself. For a film about life and the human connection we don’t get in his head as much as I would like to. It’s funny the streaming service we watched the movie on suggested Stranger Than Fiction as a similar film, and I do think that film explores work in a more humorous and insightful way while getting more into the lead character, Harold Crick’s, inner-most thoughts and desires. We see the transition and growth of his character more than we do for Walter and so the experience is more moving.

Still, I’m glad I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Particularly with some changes going on in my career at the moment its themes hit home and it gave me some courage to be bolder, more willing to embrace change instead of wanting to hide from it. If you haven’t seen it I’d recommend it and maybe if you are lucky you’ll have good friends to watch it with just like I did. I’m certainly blessed beyond measure.

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Blind Spot 91: FACE/OFF

Each year when I make my Blind Spot selections I try to pick a variety to keep it fun for me and hopefully for my readers. There’s some international and arthouse favorites. Some critical darlings and box office successes I’ve missed and also some cult classics with a devoted following. This month’s pick, 1997’s Face/Off is the latter and I’m happy to finally check it off my list. It has some problems, mostly with pacing, but the premise is entertaining enough and the 2 lead performances are so good that it works.

Face/Off is directed by Hong Kong legend John Woo, and I must be honest it’s the first of his films I have seen. My friend said she would give me a list of Hong Kong action to watch so I hopefully will make up for that but you can definitely feel his action roots in this film. The action is guttural and brutal with no punches being pulled. Even children and teens are put in peril with shocking results.

We also have the  entertaining premise of Nic Cage and John Travolta switching faces in a new technology (the former is a ‘criminal mastermind’ Castor Troy, and the latter is the FBI agent, Sean Archer, who’s son was murdered by Troy. )Both actors are up for the camp factor of portraying the other’s personality traits and ticks and these antics are the best part of the movie.

Unfortunately it is also way too long and the premise starts to lose its novelty after a bit and things start to feel repetitive. This movie would be so much better at a 90-100 minute mark not 138. However, the supporting cast is also excellent with the likes of Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, James Denton (I’ve interviewed him!) and Margaret Cho.

All that said, Face/Off is a fun ride and when it works it really does work. I know there have been long talks of doing a sequel and I don’t know if that would be successful given the age of Cage and Travolta but a spinoff with them as “mentors” could be fun.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Blind Spot 90: TOKYO STORY

Last year as part of my Criterion Project I was introduced to the famed Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu and his film Late Spring. It was one of my favorite episodes of the podcast as we had Dave Fiore and Elise Moore from the There’s Sometimes a Buggy podcast. They are experts on classic film, Ozu, and actress Setsuko Hara who stars in Late Spring and other Ozu films. I enjoyed our discussion so much that it inspired me to pick another Ozu film for Blind Spot this month: Tokyo Story and it proves to be another winner.

There are some people who will find Tokyo Story to be boring and I can understand that as not much happens plot-wise. However, not all movies are about the plot. Some are about the characters and giving us a chance to walk in the shoes of other humans for a couple of hours. That’s what Ozu does here in Tokyo Story. I defy any viewer to not relate to these characters- even when they are being petty and frustrating (maybe especially when they are so?)

Tokyo Story tells the story of an elderly couple who come to Tokyo to see their grown up children including a daughter-in law Noriko who was married to a son killed in World War II. None of the couple’s children have time for their parents but their busyness is understandable and most of us have been annoyed by family even if we don’t want to admit it. At one point the Father says “losing your children is hard but living with them isn’t easy either.” I don’t have any children myself but isn’t that the case with family? We love them fiercely but also wish we could be alone away from them at the same time. Who can’t relate to such feelings?

The daughter-in-law played by Hara is the kindest and most welcoming to the couple and a lot of that comes from the natural warmth and kindness the actress embodies in all her roles. I also think every family has the person who keeps everyone together and happy (I am not that person…) just like Noriko does for her adopted family.

Ozu and his cinematographer Yūharu Atsuta have crafted a beautiful, intimate film with Tokyo Story that feels like it could have been made today instead of 1953. In fact, if it was remade today I don’t know if anything would be different with this family except there would be more ways to communicate and as a result more ways to forget each other. It’s a very sad story but oddly comforting to know that flawed families exist in every society, in every era, and maybe we can all be more like Noriko and be kinder to our loved ones?

9 out of 10

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Blind Spot 89: National Lampoon’s Vacation

I always try and have a variety in this blind spot series. Last month I had an aggressively artsy movie with Jeanne Dielmanthis month I have a classic comedy with National Lampoon’s Vacation and next month a foreign film Tokyo Story. This variety keeps the series interesting for me and hopefully for you the reader as well. As a Christmas movie fanatic I had of course seen the National Lampoons Christmas Vacation many times and enjoyed that but had never seen the original Vacation film. Now that I have seen it, I’d say it isn’t bad but it is aggressively average. Perhaps it was more cutting edge in 1983 when it was released but honestly these days I’d recommend watching A Goofy Movie over this. It has all the same tropes but funnier and more endearing.

In National Lampoon’s Vacation we follow the Griswold family as they travel across the country to try and visit Walley World (an obvious Disneyland copycat.) If family shenanigans are your jam then you will probably love this. There are all kinds of gags involving crazy hotel rooms, weird relatives and of course lots of problems with their poor beleaguered station-wagon.

I guess the one difference with this film in 1983 and now is it would almost certainly been rated pg13 these days instead of R. There are definitely some raunchy jokes, sexual situations and uncouth behavior as well as one family member flat out dying on the way to Wally World. We also have Chevy Chase holding John Candy up by a gun so they can go to the park. I don’t think you’d see that in our Dad character today.

Pretty much the whole cast is good in this with the likes of Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, a young Anthony Michael Hall and more. We also get loads of cameos from Eugene Levy, James Keach and more.

Where National Lampoon’s Vacation loses me is 2 very outdated scenes. The first is when the Griswold’s get lost on the ‘wrong side of town’ and they get harassed by the Black citizens, given bad directions and have all their hubcaps removed. This is in poor taste even in 1983. Also a scene where Keach pulls the Griswold’s over and proceeds to harass them as a police officer despite admitting they did nothing wrong. It’s inappropriate and frankly not funny.

Other than that, like I said, this movie is completely average. If you are dying for a dysfunctional family comedy it’s ok but nothing special. I think A Goofy Movie is much better and that you can watch on Disney Plus.

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Blind Spot 88: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

When I decide on the Blind Spot picks for each year I try to have a variety of favorites- critical darlings, arthouse films, cult classics, box office winners etc. This month’s pick, Jeanne Dielman, 23… is definitely of the arthouse variety but it became a point of conversation last year when it ended up at the top of the list in the recent Sight and Sound Great Movies poll. Because I never attended film school, I admit I had never heard of this film before the poll and was shocked to see it make number one. Now I have seen it, and I still don’t understand it! Let’s talk about it:

Jeanne Dielman, 23… is a slice of life type film that tells the story of a woman named Jeanne who is a bored and unhappy housewife who makes money on the side as a prostitute. Most of the movie is watching her perform basic household tasks like polishing shoes and peeling potatoes.  For a 3 hr 20 m movie very little happens although Delphine Seyrig does a very good job portraying Jeanne in some long and uncomfortable takes.

I happen to like watching people cook so I actually enjoyed those sections. You do start to see little differences between day 1 and day 2 of her daily activities. It all leads to some violence at the end but even that is treated by director Chantal Akerman with a sense of ordinariness.

When it came out in 1975, Jeanne Dielman, 23… might have seen more groundbreaking but I’m honestly tired of this disturbed/stifled housewife being one of the only ways Hollywood depicts contemporary women. Does it happen? Sure but there are also lots of women who chose to stay-at-home and raise their families and it would be nice to tell their stories as well. I wish we told more mature female stories in general but this miserable suburban woman is just real played out for me.

I suppose it’s a movie that’s a bit of a victim of its own hype. If I just saw it as an experimental indie I might be less critical but I still wouldn’t call it a favorite. That said, I didn’t go to film school so what do I know?! I guess I’m glad to have checked it off my list. If it is one of your favorites let me know why. I would love to learn.

I don’t know what rating to give this one tbh. It’s interesting more for the legacy than the actual movie, but I can’t deny that legacy.

6 out of 10

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Blind Spot 87: SLAP SHOT

One thing I have realized doing this Blind Spot series is comedies more than any other genre are creatures of their times. For every Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Airplane! there’s scores of comedies popular in their day that don’t hold up for modern audiences. Maybe I’m just a grump but I didn’t enjoy movies like Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon and more. Now we have 1977’s Slap Shot and I must own to being underwhelmed by this raunchy comedy classic.

On one hand I do get the appeal of Slap Shot with its raunchy humor and machismo characters. Paul Newman is super charismatic as the team leader Reggie. I also like the end lesson of such a violent movie is that violence is stupid and doesn’t work. That’s subversive and entertaining.

The problem is I just didn’t find the rest of the movie to be very funny or entertaining. A lot of the humor hasn’t aged well- especially anything to do with the gay characters; although, I suppose it was groundbreaking to have gay characters in a mainstream adult film at the time and have them talked about so frankly. Still, you would never have such homophobic jokes made today if they did a new Slap Shot.

Like I said, Paul Newman is very charming in his role and he carries the movie on his back. He is also a very good skater and the hockey scenes are all believable.

In the end Slap Shot is one of those movies I can see the appeal but it is just not for me. It’s too crass with so many unlikable characters and an uninteresting story, so there’s not much to recommend in the film. As I always say ‘funny forgives all’ so if I was laughing than I wouldn’t care about characters or story but I wasn’t so I did care. You may enjoy it more than I do for the shock value alone but it wasn’t for me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Blind Spot 86: IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER

Happy Valentines Day! Every year when I make my blind spot picks I try to have a variety- everything from cult classics, to popular popcorn flicks to beloved classics. In February I often try and find a romance I haven’t seen, which considering my extensive coverage of the genre is tough to do. Most of the big hits I’ve seen so I try to find hidden gems that might be worth checking out. Such is the case with today’s entry the 1937 screwball comedy It’s Love I’m After.

In many ways this film feels like a dry-run for the all-time classic All About Eve, which also stars Bette Davis, and has similar plot-points; although, this is more of an outright farce. In the film Olivia de Havilland plays a woman named Marcia who has an infatuation with an actor named Basil Underwood played by Leslie Howard. She isn’t as underhanded as Eve Harrington but she is equally persistent.

The main difference between the plots is in It’s Love I’m After Davis and Howard aren’t married. In fact, they keep delaying their wedding because of work and other disagreements they have. Eventually Marcia’s persistent overtures cause them to call off another wedding things get crazy as is want to be the case with screwball comedies.

The strength of this film is in 3 leads. They all play off each other well and have terrific chemistry. I’ve always found Howard to be quite annoying in Gone with the Wind so it was nice to see him here in a charming leading role (he also gets to show off lots of Shakespeare as our famous stage actor). Of course, he and de Haviland would work together again in Gone with the Wind but I prefer them in this, even if her role is somewhat one-note.

Davis is such a terrific actor and excels at playing manic characters with more than a hint of sarcasm and she does that here. Her and Howard are great together and it’s fun to see her first take on this kind of character she would perfect in All About Eve years later.

I wouldn’t say It’s Love I’m After is a masterpiece but it’s an enjoyable entry in the screwball comedy genre and one I’m glad I took time to watch this month. Have you seen it? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have and what are your favorite classic rom-coms?

7 out of 10

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Over the years as a film critic there are certain movies you hear about all the time but haven’t gotten around to seeing for whatever reason. 2011’s The Raid: Redemption is one of those films, which made it a perfect choice for this year’s Blind Spot series. Now I’ve seen it so let’s talk about it!

The Raid: Redemption is an Indonesian action film directed by Gareth Evans with a budget of under 1 million US dollars. Given how bloated and bland most action movies are with much larger budgets it’s impressive what they were able to accomplish.

There isn’t a ton of plot to the movie. Basically you have a squad that is ”raiding” an apartment complex run by local crime lord Tama Riyadi. As they go from level to level they experience different threats and the action moves forward.

If you are following me on twitter you know at first I was disappointed in the action (it had been hugely hyped up by friends over the years). The first act is mainly gun fighting not the martial arts masterwork I had heard so much about. In general I find gun fights to be rather boring because little strategy is involved just shoot and dead (this movie is insanely violent so know that going in.)

Part of the problem is the first part of the action is with snipers and a group of gunmen who attack the officers. However, as the movie goes it loses the guns and is more officers vs Tama’s men.

Probably one of the most effective scenes is when Rama (Iko Uwais) is fighting a machete gang through a hallway and into the main room (again violence warning in clip)

This film is not for someone who wants deep character development or plot. It’s merely to be enjoyed for the action- particularly the action in the last half of the movie. It’s easy to see why it created such a splash even if it does feel like a video game more than a movie at times.

Nevertheless, If you love action movies you’ve got to see The Raid: Redemption. 

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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