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

My 2021 Blind Spot Picks

Hi friends! It’s that time of year again! It is time for me to make my picks for my blind spot series for 2021. This series is designed as a way for me to check much heralded and praised films off of my to be watched list. This will be my 5th year of blind spot picks and I always try to make it a mixture of critically praised and audience favorites as well as some cult classics along the way.

So here goes. My 2021 Blind Spot Picks!:

January

Selena

This pick goes out to my friend Larry who was aghast to find out I have never seen this musical biopic. I’m not sure how it slipped under my radar but it needs to be seen!

February

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I have a lot of blind spots from 2004 as it was the year I served a full-time mission for my church. Eternal Sunshine is one of those films. I missed it when it came out and have never caught up with it. I’m told it is a tragic love story with Jim Carrey trying to forget Kate Winslet? Either way I always try to pick a romance for February so this should be good.

March

Highlander

March seems like as good a time as any to finally get caught up in the fantasy action-adventure from the 80s: Highlander. This battle between the immortal warriors looks like a lot of fun.

April

Two for the Road

I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan but haven’t seen this zany road trip movie she is in with Albert Finney. They play a married couple traveling to France and it looks like something right up my alley. It is also directed by Stanley Donen who did films like Singing in the Rain so it should be fun!

May

Bonnie and Clyde

A landmark film of its era Bonnie and Clyde has been on my bucket list for some time. I remember Roger Ebert particularly liked it and it was one of the movies that convinced him to become a critic. It should be really good!

June

Beverly Hills Cop

I always try to include a popular comedy I haven’t seen and Beverly Hills Cop fits that bill. Eddie Murphy scored a massive hit with this first film of the franchise but the screenplay was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay. A lot of comedies from the 80s don’t hold up well so it will be fun to see how this one does.

July

The Wild Bunch

I tend to not think of myself as much of a Western fan, but I’ve enjoyed most of the films of the genre I’ve watched for the blindspot series including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence which was fantastic. Now we have The Wild Bunch from 1969 about an ‘aging outlaw gang on the Mexican border in 1913. It stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and is a long 145 minutes. Perfect for blind spot!

August

Godzilla 1954

A definite blind spot of mine is I have only seen modern Godzilla films. The earliest I’ve seen is the terrible one from Roland Emmerich in 1998. From what I’ve read this version from 1954 is the best and it looks like a lot of fun. I enjoy creature scares and monster movies when they are done right so hopefully this one will be.

September

Her Blue Sky

I always try to include some anime in my blind spot list but I’m running out of most of the big names. Her Blue Sky is a film I’ve heard a lot of good things about. The story about a young girl and time travel sounds intriguing and I love the writer Mari Okada so it will hopefully be a win!

October

Frankenstein 1931

Another big gap in my film knowledge is the Universal Monster movies. I’ve seen hardly any of them, and that needs to change. First up will be Frankenstein from 1931 starring Boris Karloff and Colin Clive as Frankenstein’s monster and the man himself respectively. It should be a great choice for Halloween!

November

The Gold Rush

I’ve seen a lot of Charlie Chaplin but never seen The Gold Rush for some reason. In this film the Little Tramp heads north to join in the Klondike Gold Rush and all kinds of shenanigans ensue. It looks like a lot of fun and I look forward to watching it

December

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

I had never heard of this holiday film until this year while watching the TCM special they had on holiday films. Margaret O’Brien was talking about Meet Me in St Louis (which I adore) and she mentioned also appearing in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. I’ve seen most of the holiday classics so I immediately added it to my blind spot list!

So there you have it! My blind spot picks for 2021. What do you think of them? Have you seen any of them? Let me know what you think!

Happy movie watching 2021

BLIND SPOT 60: REMEMBER THE NIGHT

I’ve said many times on this blog the hardest reviews to writer are for ‘just ok’ films. Movies that inspire a strong feeling either of praise or repulsion are easy to write about. The words flow through the keyboard. It’s the movies that are passable entertainment but nothing special that are a challenge to critique. Or at least challenging for this critic. This ambivalence is how I felt about the holiday classic Remember the Night. It has its moments but I definitely didn’t love it.

Remember the Night has a lot going for it. It’s written (but not directed) by the great Preston Sturges. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray who’ve I liked in other things including teamed together again in movies like Double Indemnity. From what I’m reading the the production of Remember the Night was messy and Sturges had his script hacked up and “was one of the main reasons fueling his determination to direct his own scripts thereafter, which he did beginning with his next project The Great McGinty

Learning about these problems with the film doesn’t surprise me and it is perhaps incredible it is as coherent and enjoyable as it is. In the film Stanwyck plays a woman who is arrested for stealing an expensive bracelet. She then goes on trial and MacMurray’s character is assigned to prosecute her. This would all be fine but there’s a lot of pieces which don’t fit. For instance, a long speech by her defense attorney claiming she was hypnotized and it is an example of the injustice against the poor for her to even be prosecuted. It’s full of theatrics and moral gravitas and then the script does nothing with it. We don’t get to know this man and the themes he mentions are rarely brought up again.

Another out of place scene is when she visits her Mother in Indiana. It feels cold and out of place given the witty banter and road trip shenanigans we’ve been experiencing for most of the picture. There’s lots of scenes like that and it leaves the viewer (or at least this viewer) feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

All that said, Remember the Night does have positives. The long segments of banter are entertaining and MacMurray and Stanwyck have a spark in those scenes. The script from Sturges has brilliant moments which had me laughing. I particularly enjoyed the buttoned up MacMurray getting frustrated by the brazen rebel in Stanwyck.

Instead of Remember the Night I recommend a very similar movie also from 1940 His Girl Friday. Both movies are enemies to lovers stories with 2 people forced to work together with snappy banter as they of course fall for each other. I also recommend Bring Up Baby from 1938 which has a similar energy although Kathryn Heburn is more innocent in that role than either Stanwyck or Rosalind Russell are in their films. Or instead you could watch other better films by Sturges like The Palm Beach Story or The Lady Eve (also starring Stanwyck).

In the end, Remember the Night is too uneven to recommend. I liked some of the banter and performances but all involved would go on to do better things and so I would just check out those projects instead.

4.5 out of 10

Blind Spot 59: THE LAST UNICORN

When I included The Last Unicorn on my blind spot list for 2020 a lot of people were surprised I have never seen this classic animated film. This is probably especially surprising since I did an entire series on the creators Rankin Bass back in 2015. Well, the truth is I never saw this film because it never really interested me. I’m in general not that into fantasy stories and a story with unicorns, wizards and beasts didn’t look like my jam; however, the entire point of blind spots is to get me out of my comfort zone so I decided to go for it this year and watch it. Now I have seen it and my feeling is… it’s fine but not really my thing.

The first thing I will say is that the animation in The Last Unicorn is gorgeous. This is without a doubt the most beautiful film I have seen from Rankin Bass and I particularly loved the way it used color. We recently reviewed the hungarian film Son of the White Mare for Obscure Animation and that came out the year before The Last Unicorn and they struck me as very similar in style and feel (although I prefer White Mare personally).

It must have been a trend in the 80s because The Secret of Nimh also uses colors beautifully. And even the much maligned animated Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bakshi from 1978 has some bold color choices. I could use more of that in contemporary animation. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is one of the only recent animated films to use color in an interesting way (maybe Klaus as well).

Anyway, all those technical achievements are fantastic in The Last Unicorn, and I enjoyed watching it as an animation fan. On the other hand, the story wasn’t very compelling. It’s about a unicorn on a quest to find the rest of her kind who have disappeared. Along the way she meets an evil witch, an incompetent magician and briefly gets turned into a human and falls in love.The voice work is all good with the likes of Ala Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Mia Farrow but I didn’t connect with any of the characters or feel much for what was happening.

So often in fantasy I enjoy the world-building more than the actual story and that’s definitely the case here. It’s not the dullest of the genre but I was tempted to fast forward on a number of occasions especially when she turns into a human. That love story was really treacly and plodding.

Still, I’d recommend watching The Last Unicorn especially if you are an animation fan. The story isn’t the best but it’s not awful either. It’s just a little slow but the music is beautiful,voice acting well done and the again the animation is stunning.

6 out of 10

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Blind Spot 58: ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Part of the reason why I do this blind spot series is to push me out of my comfort zone. As a film critic I want to be able to review any film, with the exception of outright pornography, that an outlet assigns me. That said I’m still a human being with preferences that come into play when watching films. However, by reviewing classics outside of my preferred genres for blind spots it helps me get out of my comfort zone with hopefully well made classic films. This is an effective way of pushing myself rather than watching a new film, which may or may not be a good example of the genre.

Horror, particularly slasher movies, is a genre I especially struggle with. Ever since I was a little girl I never liked the feeling of being scared and it’s still not my favorite; although I have grown a lot over the last few years. This year trying to push myself even further I decided to watch the classic slasher film Halloween from 1978 for this month’s blind spot.

Halloween is directed by John Carpenter who wrote the film with producer Debra Hill and the entire thing was made on a shoestring budget of only $300k. Carpenter also wrote the very memorable score that does a lot of the heavy lifting to bring tension into simple scenes.

Even though Halloween is outside of my comfort zone, I can totally see why it’s a classic and a favorite of horror fans. It is very well directed by Carpenter with leering cinematography by Dean Cundey. Even when characters are doing mundane things like talking on the phone or watching television there is a sense they are being watched and they should be more careful than they are being. We as an audience know the deranged Michael Myers is out there but the characters don’t. This makes us anxious for them and the violence, when it does happen, very effective.

Surprisingly, Halloween is not a very bloody film. It’s violent and there is carnage but most of the movie is about anticipating the kills rather than luxuriating in them. I also appreciate the film doesn’t try to explain away Michael Myers or give him some complicated backstory. We see from the opening that he is the personification of evil and that’s all we need to know. Sometimes evil exists and the devil is a real force so I appreciated that approach.

There is also an ambiguity to Michael Myers as a character that makes him scary. I am sure they elaborate on his nature in the sequels but I like here how he might be human or an alien or something else. We don’t know. Dr Loomis (played very well by Donald Pleasence) tells us he is evil from the start of the picture and we see him as a child murderer and that’s all we need to know to be scared.

Jamie Lee Curtis is definitely the best of the 3 young actresses in Halloween. She’s skeptical when you need her to be and smart when faced with a threat. So many of these ‘final girls’ in horror movies are needlessly stupid (including the 2 other girls) that it’s refreshing to see Laurie as played by Curtis as a character who uses her head.

Halloween is not a movie I am likely to watch again. It’s just not my thing, but I can recognize good filmmaking and that’s what we have here. It’s very well done and I’m glad I finally checked it off my list.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 57: ‘Apocalypse Now’

 

I’ll be honest when I put Apocalypse Now on my blind spot for 2020 I did so with hesitation. I knew it was a hard R rating and a long war film so it didn’t sound like something I would love. As we got closer to the watch in September my hesitancy increased as it seemed like a big downer to watch in quarantine.

Well yesterday I had terrible insomnia so decided to finally watch it and to my surprise I found it quite exhilarating.  To be sure it is long (I watched the theatrical cut) and brutal but the characters are so well realized and the story so surprising that it really worked well. I see why it is considered one of the great films of the 1970s.

If you didn’t know Apocalypse Now is directed by Francis Ford Coppola and stars Martin Sheen as an army captain given a secret mission in the Vietnam War to go into Cambodia and kill a rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). He is given assistance along the way by a PBR or river patrol boat which includes an assortment of characters such as Chef (Frederic Forrest), The Chief (Albert Hall), and Lance B Johnson (Sam Bottoms. He is a professional surfer in the movie).

They also meet people like a hippy journalist played by Dennis Hopper and an insane war-hungry Lieutenant Kilgore (Robert Duvall). His character is a morally repugnant man who cares more for surfing and the wins of war than human life but it’s such a big performance I found myself transfixed by it. Of course, he has the iconic line of the film ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’. And the crazy thing is he actually does love it. That’s nuts but also compelling.

The movie takes a long time to get to Colonel Kurtz but the wait is worthwhile. Brando was evidently quite the diva by this time in the 70s but somehow that aloofness and pride works well for the character. The final scene with the butchering of the water buffalo and the assault on Kurtz is riveting and tense.

It probably goes without saying but the production values of Apocalypse Now are absolutely outstanding. The sound design alone by Walter Murch was a game changer. The editing is great. The spectacle of the battles and use of color throughout the cinematography is incredible. All the acting is top notch.

As far as flaws there is a moral ambiguity about war which some might question. These days we want everything to make a statement but Apocalypse Now could easily be criticized as being both pro and anti war. This no doubt reflected the divided nature of the country in 1979 (what it must have been like to watch the film in 1979 is incredible to think about). I kind of like that it is open to interpretation but some may see it as a cop-out.

This might be a weird comparison but Apocalypse Now reminded me of another epic Lawrence of Arabia. Different time periods obviously but they both have large scale spectacle filmmaking mixed with unique characters that transfixed me. I love Lawrence of Arabia more but still both movies lived up to their respective hypes in my opinion.

What do you think about Apocalypse Now? Please put your thoughts in the comment section.

The horror! The horror!

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 56: ‘The House of Flying Daggers’ Review

I’ll be honest with the glut of films to watch this week I almost forgot about the blind spot for August. Last year I loved Shadow by director Yimou Zhang and it made me curious to see more of his films. This is why I selected his film The House of Flying Daggers when making this year’s blind spot list. I like more grounded martial arts films such as Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee or Rumble in the Bronx and Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. However, I do not like more fanciful films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I know everyone else loves it but it was not for me. I particularly disliked the flying as it took me out of the movie and interrupted the action every time.

Watching Flying Daggers made me realize I don’t think I am a fan of the wuxia style of martial arts films. These are films that involve fantasy and supernatural elements including flying and magic. They are pretty but I find it hard to get into the movies when the problems can be solved with magic or simply flying away. Flying Daggers is in that style (where Shadow was more grounded) and I really did not enjoy watching it.

First of all I will concede Flying Daggers is a beautiful film with stunning cinematography and production design. I also enjoyed some fight sequences like one where they are bouncing off of trees almost like Tarzan swings through trees.

houseofflyingdaggers2

The problem was this horrible love story where two men Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) over the love of a blind woman named Xiao Mei (Ziyi Zhang). I found all 3 of these people to be extremely unlikable especially Leo who we are supposed to be rooting for. There was no chemistry between Mei and either men and at one point Leo tries to rape her and is only stopped by her superior Nia who throws a magical dagger into his back. There are so many scenes of Mei and Leo awkwardly kissing or finally making love, and I hated every one of them. As a confirmed romantic it did not work for me at all.

Like I said, the action can be quite good but the magic of the daggers wasn’t interesting and the sequences feel repetitive and dull. It reminded me of a Chinese version of Twilight to be honest with this horrible love triangle. I was thoroughly bored by it, which I know might be shocking to some but it’s true. It wasn’t interesting, charming or exciting just lots of meaningful staring and then fighting with magical daggers. No thanks.

It’s hard to know what score to give The House of Flying Daggers because this style of movie doesn’t seem made for me but I know many enjoy them. If it seems like your kind of thing than give it a watch but I certainly won’t be revisiting it any time soon.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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