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

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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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Blind Spot 83: THE LOST BOYS

I’m not sure what inspired me to put the 1987 vampire flick The Lost Boys on my Blind Spot list this year. I think I have just been trying to go out of my comfort zone lately and it seemed like an approachable horror film I could try out. Now that I have seen it…I’m so glad I selected it! What an entertaining, enjoyable film, and really not that scary at all.

The Lost Boys is about a teen named Michael (Jason Patric who is so dreamy in this role!) who moves with his brother and mother to a beach town called Santa Clara. While there they become involved with a group of teen hoodlums that turn out to be a vampire gang. In this version of vampires you can be kind of a vampire, and a full fledged immortal vampire.

Kiefer Sutherland plays David the leader of the vampires and he and his friends know how to rock an 80s mullet. Director Joel Schumacher imbeds just enough camp to keep things engaging without going into the full-fledged silliness of his Batman movies of the 90s. These are definitely vampires that belong in an 80s hair metal band but again not complete caricatures.

I really enjoyed Corey Haim as Michael’s brother Sam and Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as the Frog brothers who’s special skill is hunting down vampires.

You’d have to be very sensitive to be scared by The Lost Boys. They literally have scenes with bathtubs full of holy water (how did they make so much!) and they certainly got all the local grocery stores garlic supply especially for the ending. Again Schumacher keeps control of all of these details so it made me smile throughout.

If you are like me and need a break from the Christmas movies and awards films give this fun, 80s, teen horror movie a shot. I’m glad I did!

8.5 out of 10

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Blind Spot 80: In the Heat of the Night

As a movie fan there are always those films you hear about, and know the big quotes from that you haven’t actually seen. The Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night is one of those films. Of course, I have seen the iconic scene where Sidney Poitier’s character says “They call me Mr Tibbs” to Rod Steiger’s Sheriff Gillespie. With such memorable moments it really is an ideal film to pick for this Blind Spot series.

It’s funny this trailer makes In the Heat of the Night look like an action film, which it really isn’t. It has some police procedural moments but it is mostly characters sitting around a hot police station arguing. I know it is based off of a popular novel but it feels more like something from a play. It has that all set in one room quality of films like 12 Angry Men and Fences for long segments.

The story centers around Poitier’s Tibbs who is in Sparta, Mississippi when he is stopped by police to help with a murder investigation. Tibbs is a homicide investigator and the local police led by Steiger’s Gillespie aren’t trained in how to investigate such crimes. Of course being a powerful Black man in Mississippi in the 1960s is fraught with peril for Tibbs and he knows it (obviously, he’s a smart man so he knows to be afraid).

One of the most powerful and shocking scenes is when Tibbs is slapped by a man they are questioning named Endicott and he slaps him right back. Evidently Poitier insisted this be a part of the scene to director Norman Jewison and I’m glad they kept it in. It’s such an intense moment and when Endicott says “I could have had you shot for that” we all know he is right. It’s chilling.

My only real qualm with the film is the fighting back and forth between Gillespie and Tibbs starts to feel repetitive after a while. It could have benefited from a slightly tighter edit because some of those scenes aren’t teaching us anything new about the characters and start to lose their efficacy because we’ve seen them several times already.

Other than that, In the Heat of the Night is an extremely well directed and acted film. I appreciate it doesn’t try to have inspirational moments and keeps characters messy and complex. There are many scenes that still feel relevant today as we still struggle with police treatment of Black men and women. Poitier and Steiger are fantastic as well as all the supporting work. I can see why it won 5 Oscars. A classic.

8 out of 10

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Blind Spot 78: Mystic Pizza

I like to have a good variety on this blind spot series. After all only watching prestige films would get boring. It is for that reason I decided to pick 1988’s romantic comedy-drama Mystic Pizza for my June blind spot selection. It’s a classic of the genre perhaps best remembered for introducing us all to Julia Roberts but for some reason I had never seen it until today.

I’m also really excited about the new musical version of the film just introduced last year at the Ogunquit Playhouse. I wonder if it will end up on Broadway eventually?

As for the movie I enjoyed the friendship between the 3 young women (Roberts, Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish) working at Mystic Pizza (where the pizza has a magic combination of ingredients only known by owner Leona played by Conchata Ferrell). Each of the girls has different dreams with Kat (Gish) being the boldest wanting to get out of town and become an astrophysicist.

Where the movie was less interesting was in the various romances. They were all fine but very generic and I would have preferred it just be a movie about 3 friends. Jojo (Taylor) is struggling to commit with her fiancé Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio). Kat is falling for her married employer Tim (William Moses) and Daisy (Kat’s sister) is seeing rich kid with a Porsche Charles (Adam Storke).

Mystic Pizza streaming: where to watch movie online?

One odd aspect of the film I found distracting is Bill and Charles looked a lot alike to the point where I thought Jojo and Kat were dating the same person early on in the script. They even dressed the same with similar beige colored coats.

There is also a subplot with the pizza parlor struggling and a food critic coming to judge the pizza that was cute. All the women have nice chemistry and there are nice performances particularly from Gish.

In the end, Mystic Pizza is a pleasant watch, but I enjoyed it more when it was focused on the girls and less on the romance. I think it has the ingredients to make a good musical so it will be interesting to see where that goes.

What do you think of this film? Is it one you have nostalgia for? Would love to hear in the comments section

6 out of 10

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