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 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 84: Tangerine

Tangerine 2015 Review | Vanity Fair

Part of my goal with this blind spot project is to push me out of my comfort zone. To watch acclaimed movies I haven’t seen for some reason. This includes movies with content I have otherwise avoided that I will broaden my horizons and give a chance. Such is the case with my December pick: 2015’s Tangerine.

Directed and co-written by Simon Baker, Tangerine, tells the story of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. Obviously this is a mature topic and won’t be for everyone. I do appreciate the characters are treated with respect and nothing is sensationalized or tawdry.

When this first came out in 2015 it was revolutionary at Sundance because it was filmed entirely on an iphone. Now that has been done several times so it has lost some of its sticker appeal but however it was filmed I found the shot selection to be distracting. We are usually seeing Los Angeles from the characters POV so this limits are views at their faces/seeing their emotions. If we see them it is in a 2 shot or wider shots and I felt like this prevented me from really getting to know them and feeling a connection with them.

I also don’t really understand it being billed as a comedy. Some of the banter between the girls is amusing but for the most part I felt sad at the lonely lives of the women. I particularly felt bad for Alexandra who tries to get everyone to come out to her performance, which we find out she paid to do and barely anyone comes. That was just sad.

The ending of Tangerine is very chaotic with a crying baby and people fighting, which is the last thing I think of when I envision a comedy. I guess we can chop this one up to something that’s just not for me. However, I am glad I gave it a chance and tried something new.

What do you think of Tangerine? Is it a favorite of yours? What’s one of your favorite off-the-beaten-path Christmas movies?

6 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 82: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Part of the point of this blind spot series is to get me out of my comfort zone and watch  movies I may have been avoiding or putting off. Horror or scary movies definitely fall into that category as I’ve always been a bit of a scary movie wimp. However, I am trying to expand my palate and as part of this series I’ve watched Scream, Halloween, Frankenstein and now A Nightmare on Elm Street.

In watching these scary movies I’ve realized something about myself. I’m actually not that scared by supernatural horror. If I can put some distance between my reality and the horror movie plot I do pretty well. What seems to scare me the most is a scary movie that could actually happen to me. A good example is a film called The Gift from 2015. This is a well done film but it gave me legit nightmares for weeks. The idea of Rebecca Hall’s character being stalked by an old acquaintance of her husband and then what he does to her was terrifying.

So I give this long introduction to explain why I actually had more fun with A Nightmare on Elm Street than I would have guessed. It is gory and graphic. There’s no question about that but it’s all in dreams and over-the-top so it doesn’t feel like something that could actually happen to me. This makes it easier to have fun with the story.

A Nightmare on Elm Street tells the story of a girl named Nancy who lives on a street where a ghost named Freddy Kruger is haunting teens in their dreams and killing them. He is doing this out of revenge for the parents who killed him for being a child murderer.

The production design is the greatest strength of this film and director Wes Craven has a lot of fun with the horror dream kill sequences. Of course, Freddy has the knives as hands but most of the kills are more elaborate than that might imply. One teen is swung around in circles, another is nearly pulled through the tub and a young man is killed in a tornado of blood from his bed. These are all so over-the-top that they weren’t scary but more fun and inventive.

There is something chilling about being haunted through your dreams- a space you have no control of and can only put off for so long. However, I think some of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies are a little scarier in that concept because not only do you die but you become this horrible creature that can hurt other people. It’s one thing to die but another to become a monster that hurts the people you love.

Evidently Robert Englund gets into more camp as Freddy in future installments, but he is good in this first film and all the teens are excellent including a young Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp as Nancy.

In the end, I’m glad I finally watched A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I can see why it is considered to be a horror classic. I’ve heard the 3rd film is the best of the sequels, but let me know what you think. And what scares you the most in movies? I’d love to know.

9 out of 10

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Blind Spot 81: Purple Rain

One of the fun things about doing this blind spot series is it forces me to sit down and watch movies I’ve heard about but just have never gotten around to seeing. 1984’s Purple Rain is such a film. Of course I know about its existence as one of the iconic rock feature films, and I knew about Prince’s music, but I had never seen the movie. Now I have seen the film and I can see why it was such a touchstone for both 80s music and music in film.

There isn’t a ton of plot to Purple Rain but what they do have is interwoven nicely into the music. The story is about a singer named The Kid played by Prince who comes from a troubled and abusive home and he is trying to make a name for himself playing at a club called The First Avenue Nightclub. The Kid has a huge ego and spars with the female members of his band and a rival band called The Time led by Morris Day. We also get a lot of relationship drama between The Kid and his girlfriend Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero). This film definitely earns its R rating with some pretty steamy scenes so not for the squeamish in that department.

There are long sequences of Prince singing along with Morris and the other bands. If you don’t like their music than this movie isn’t for you. The highlight is the “Purple Rain” number which is a song the girls in the band wrote showing The Kid is finally working with his band, not fighting against them.

There are some scenes in the film of domestic abuse both from The Kid’s father and from he towards Apollonia. It can be tough to watch and I don’t know if the redemption is enough to forgive such violent behavior, but they try to show the arc for both within the film. There is also a lot of cheesy scenes and over-the-top 80s fashion but that’s mostly part of the fun of it all. cor

If you haven’t seen Purple Rain I recommend it as a piece of 80s pop culture with some great music and corny romance. At the very least check out the soundtrack. It’s legendary!

7 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 79: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

When it comes to director Wes Anderson’s work I’m a bit of an agnostic. Some of his films I really enjoy like his animated films, with The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom being my favorites. Then there are others which I am more lukewarm on like Rushmore and The French Dispatch. This month’s Blind Spot entry belongs in the latter with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It has some of Anderson’s quirky style but I mostly found it dull without an engaging story.

This film centers on Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) of the title who leads his eccentric group of explorers under the sea to film nature documentaries like a Jacques Cousteau type of character.

Included in the crew is Zissou’s estranged wife Eleanor (Anjelica Houston), his son Ned (Owen Wilson)  and a pregnant reporter covering the shoot named Jane (Cate Blanchett), among many other characters (Willem Dafoe, Jeff Golblum, Michael Gambon and more all have small roles on the ship).

For his latest documentary, Zissou is trying to hunt down a “jaguar shark” that killed his friend Esteban. Unfortunately, Anderson’s script meanders away from this central plot too often making it hard to stay invested. To be frank, I tried watching the film 3 times and each time found myself fighting sleep and I wasn’t that tired. The story just didn’t do it for me.

The production design of the ship is impressive and the cinematography by Robert Yeoman is full of whimsy but none of that matters if the story isn’t interesting. Same goes for the performances which are all well done.

I would recommend one of Anderson’s other films over this one like Moonrise Kingdom or Fantastic Mr Fox. Those have far better stories than this underwater tale.

4 out of 10

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