Category Archives: Blind Spots

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Blind Spots 2014: Days of Heaven

Terrence Malick has a way of making the most ordinary things seem positively monumental, even Biblical. That tendency has hit an apex, perhaps, with The Tree of Life (and To the Wonder, probably, which I haven’t seen, but the priest character isn’t in there by accident), but even as far back as Badlands and Days of Heaven, it’s there. It’s there in the cinematography, the pacing, the voiceovers…everything that makes a Malick film a Malick film.

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Days of Heaven follows a trio of migrant workers in 1916 America – a man, his young sister, and his lover,who pretends to be his sister as well, because he thinks it’ll require less explanation. If you’re Biblically minded, this pretense may already suggest a portion of the story of Abraham, when his entourage is traveling around and he pretends Sarah is his sister instead of his wife, for even less explicable reasons. In the Bible story, the king of the land takes a shine to Sarah and intends to marry her, but Abraham ponies up that she’s his wife, and the king is like “whoa, sorry dude” and everything’s cool. In Days of Heaven, the plantation owner takes a shine to the woman, Abby, and the man, Bill, comes up with a plan for her to marry the owner, who he overhears is terminally ill, so she (and by extension, Bill) can inherit the plantation.

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Blind Spots 2014: Predator

I picked this for the Blind Spot poll this year because it’s one of a number of “classic” ’80s action flicks that I haven’t seen (the whole era is a blind spot for me), and it was one that came up more often than the others in conversations of actually pretty good ones. I knew a little bit about the premise from my husband, but went in pretty blind aside from that.

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In a way, this is two movies in one. The first movie follows a bunch of commandos led by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers going into the jungle to rescue some hostages or something. It’s not really that important, even though it takes up a good chunk of the movie and ends in a pretty wild gunfight. The fact that this section is pretty long and leisurely paced should probably bother me, but it didn’t – it doesn’t feel like rote backstory or character set-up, but like a decent premise for an action movie that just gets cut off half way through because a killer alien shows up and starts picking off our commandos for no apparent reason.

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Blindspot: Sanjuro (1962)

My difficulty getting into Japanese film is no big secret, but I’m chipping away at it, film by film. I enjoyed Yojimbo a couple of years ago (even though I was in a too-tired frame of mind and really need to rewatch it), so I had hopes that Sanjuro would follow in its footsteps.

I won’t deny that the opening had me fearful – it drops us right into the middle of a somewhat heated discussion, with one man telling a bunch of other men that his uncle wouldn’t agree to help them take down some corruption, which is seen as a great betrayal, but that the superintendent would. It’s all a bit abrupt and you’re left wondering exactly who the uncle is, how this government is formed, what place a “superintendent” has in it, what the power relationship between the uncle and superintendent is, who exactly the men think is corrupt and why, how that corruption is affecting them, who they owe their allegiance to, what their status is (are they samurai, or just regular guys who happen to carry swords around – other reviewers are calling them noblemen, which makes sense), etc. Most of this is never really answered, so either it’s just a total McGuffin, or it’s assumed that the viewer has a knowledge of Japanese social and government structure that I lack. You do learn that the uncle is a chamberlain, which is presumably a higher position than superintendent, but with the chamberlain and the superintendent the only officials really mentioned, it’s unclear where the noblemen originally thought the corruption was coming from.

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The good news is, Sanjuro (an apparently assumed name, played to perfection by Toshiro Mifune) pops out of the next room pretty quickly and takes the situation in hand. He’s a ronin, which I DO know what is – a Samurai who has lost his master, so he’s roaming around without clear allegiance. It’s not really an honorable position to be in, but it does leave Sanjuro free to do whatever the hell he wants, which, thankfully for our hapless noblemen, is help them out of their predicament. He immediately clues into the fact that it’s probably the superintendent that’s corrupt rather than the chamberlain, and he carries out a series of plans (most of which are screwed up by the impatient and highly unstrategic noblemen) to catch out the superintendent and rescue the uncle, whom the superintendent has had arrested and framed for corruption.

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Blindspot: The Goonies (1985)

When I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was currently watching The Goonies for the first time, the incredulity was palpable. I’m not particularly well-versed in the ’80s films that my generation considers essential, but for some reason, this one has been coming up more and more often lately, so I bit the bullet even though I didn’t expect to get a lot out of it. For some reason ’80s movies often rub me the wrong way, or at least I have trouble buying into their particular brand of goofiness. The fact that several people I know who didn’t watch it until they were adults reported not really caring for the film didn’t help.

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Well, I don’t know if it was those low expectations, or my overall positive frame of mind this year, or if I just have a huge soft spot for adventure films, but I pretty much loved this. The set-up of the kids’ families about to be kicked out of their homes had me a little confused at first (who’s moving? why? how will money help?), but once I realized that it’s basically a McGuffin, I was fine. The rest of the plot, following a group of kids following an old treasure map to try to find pirate treasure is right up my alley (and the backstory was just enough to give the story stakes – if they don’t find the treasure, they lose their homes; it’s more than just fun and games, though of course it is that as well). It’s like Indiana Jones meets Home Alone, what with the bumbling criminals always one step behind the kids.

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Blindspot / He Says, She Says: Full Metal Jacket

This Blind Spot entry will be done as a He Says, She Says post, because Full Metal Jacket was on the list of twelve films that Jonathan selected from his favorites that he wanted me to watch, which was the original genesis for this series. We never got around to it the year we made those lists for each other, but I’m glad we did now. These Blind Spots lists really are good for getting around to stuff we want to watch. :)

The Movie

full_metal_jacket-posterDirector: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford
Cast: Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Ermey
Info: 1987 USA/UK, Warner Bros.
Chooser: Both (Jon’s choice for me to watch, my choice to watch this week)
Date and Method Watched: 2 February 2014, Blu-ray

She Says…

Jandy-avatarGoing into this film, I’d heard that it breaks cleanly into two parts, and that most people vastly prefer the first part. Coming out of it, the first statement is self-evident, but I ended up liking both parts quite a lot. The first part is set at Marine boot camp, with a hard-nosed drill sergeant putting a group of raw recruits through the wringer. The second part is set in Vietnam, following Joker, one of the more accomplished recruits, now a correspondent for a military newspaper.

I can see why people like the first half more – it’s tightly focused and basically flawless. As a microcosm of the boot camp world and how it either makes or breaks you, it’s self-contained, intense, and brilliant. On its own, it would work just as well as an extended short film. Vincent D’Onofrio (who I didn’t even recognize) goes from adorable to terrifying, and I believed every second of it.

The second half is much more sprawling, but that’s what war is. Boot camp is controlled, tight, and regimented. It’s supposed to prepare you for war, but war, especially a war like Vietnam, is unpredictable. There’s no way to prepare for the situations the men find themselves in once they get there, and that’s the point. The first half makes you think the drill sergeant is putting them through hell. But he’s not. War is hell.

There are lots of other things I could say about the film – most of the music seems incongruous and yet is utterly fitting, which I love. There are a ton of great shots, from the tracking shot leading the sergeant around the barracks in the beginning to the silhouettes against a blood-red sky in Vietnam. I didn’t expect to like this movie all that much, let alone enjoy the experience of watching it, but I did. A lot. I should’ve known to trust Kubrick.

My Souvenir: There are so many I could take from this. The sergeant’s opening monologue, Pyle’s success (albeit short-lived) with the Joker’s encouragement, the look in Pyle’s eyes in the bathroom, the intensity of the whole sniper showdown, etc. But I think I’ll take a thematic moment. After the sniper goes down, Joker’s face is half lit, half in shadow – his face showing that duality that he previously indicated somewhat facetiously with the “Born to Kill” slogan and the peace sign button. The whole movie kind of comes together at that moment, purely through visuals and symbolic means. That’s what filmmaking is all about.

He Says…

Jon-avatarI saw Full Metal Jacket fairly early on, either at the end of high school or the beginning of college. A bunch of us knew this guy who would quote R. Lee Ermey’s lines repeatedly and I wanted to see what kind of film would match such aggressive dialog and what would – in a roundabout way – make said guy want to join the Marines.

I dug the film well enough on first viewing but it took awhile for it to become the favorite that it is now. At the time I didn’t really understand the connection between the two parts and couldn’t figure out why Kubrick didn’t just jettison the meandering last half for the pristine filmmaking that was the first. With time and repeat viewing I came to realize that both parts were vital together and that Joker’s duality wouldn’t have played nearly as strong without everything that came before. This most recent viewing really hammered that home and in turn made this even more of a favorite.

And the music! I completely forgot how mismatched the soundtrack was from the content of the film. In lesser hands this sort of thing wouldn’t have had nearly the punch that it did. Case in point: the soldiers singing the theme song to the Mickey Mouse Club as they march triumphantly through wreckage and debris. Pretty much my new favorite scene from that film.