1997 Movie Review: FACE/OFF, 1997

FACE/OFF, 1997
Movie Reviews

Director: John Woo

Stars: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Colm Feore, Colm Feore, John Carroll Lynch

Review by Matthew Toffolo


A revolutionary medical technique allows an undercover agent to take the physical appearance of a major criminal and infiltrate his organization.


There is a creepy feeling when watching Face/Off. The main theme of this action packed drama is about dealing with loss and death as Travolta’s character is having an extremely difficult time getting over the murder of his son. Of course fiction became truth later on as Travolta lost a son in real life. So when you’re watching these scenes you can’t help but feel for the real life actor who is crying on screen for his son’s loss, even though it hadn’t happened yet.

I remember when this film came out in 1997 and how much I enjoyed it as a 20 year old kid. My friend Wes Berger and I were what you call teenage idealistic film buffs as we used to go to the movies weekly and see as many foreign and independent movies as we could living in the Niagara Region. To some we were also film snobs, looking down on all of the shoot em up blockbusters that were beginning to hit its peak. But we weren’t ashamed to admit that we both liked Face/Off enormously because it seemed to have a nice psychological edge to it while filled with incredibly unrealistic but exciting action moments.

This was also the time when both Travolta and Cage were at their peaks professionally. Cage in particular was coming off his Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas as was considered one of the best actors on the planet. That comment seems kind of silly in present day, as Cage is considered kind of a hack, as he continues to do about 3-4 poor films a year. In 1997 Cage had his whole career ahead of him and was in considerable demand in Hollywood. So having Travolta and Cage in this action romp in 1997 caused a lot of attention for me and my friendly film snobs. Perhaps John Woo’s film was more than just blow em up!

There are some interesting moments in Face/Off as Woo sure is a fine director who makes a lot of unique choices to heighten the excitement and emotions in the film. The only thing I remember talking about with people afterwards was the key question – Was Cage better at playing Travolta? Or was Travolta better at playing Cage?

Questions like this is what 20 year olds growing up in the Tarantino generation discuss. Even though in hindsight these are wasted conversations, at the time I do remember having fun with it. My friend Wes was on team Cage as I was on team Travolta. And the circle talk of meaninglessness began for hours on end. Both actors really chew up the scene as they seem to be acting in a strange land of over-the-top-ness while the other actors around them are grounded in reality. The performance of Travolta’s wife (who became Cage’s wife but was actually Travolta – it was confusing!) in particular stands out. Joan Allen pulls off a fantastic performance in the film without anyone really realising it. I remember even at age 20 how pulled in I was by her character. Perhaps today that role would of went to some 30s supermodel who would only be capable of just playing the beats in the script and nothing more.

Face/Off is a fun film even today as I really was impressed how much it stands up. That same year Cage acted in another action film, Con Air, that really doesn’t stand up at all and is almost laughable in its action executions to today’s 21st century world.That says a lot about John Woo. In Face/Off, Woo directs all of the action sequences with the emotions of the character’s angst and inner conflicts. So when Travolta for example is involved in a boat chase with Cage, we as the audience are hooked in because we just previously saw a scene of his struggles to survive the pains of his son’s death. So there is context in the action without just having the action. So his films hold up generation after generation because we feel while the guns are a blazing across the screen.
face off


1977 Movie Review: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, 1977

Movie Reviews

Directed by John Badham
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Paul Pape and Donna Pescow
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya


Tony Manero, a tough kid from Brooklyn lives for Saturday nights when he can indulge in his favourite things: drugs, women and disco. But when he meets a woman who challenges his moves on the dance floor and in life, Tony is forced to face the consequences of his choices, his relationships and whether dancing is his future.


“Fuck the Future!”

That strut. That hair. That tight, white suit. It’s pop culture, it’s iconic, it’s Saturday night at the disco. John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever was released in 1977 when large masses were screaming: “death to disco!” The success of the film prevented that from happening.

The film follows Tony Manero (John Travolta), a foul-mouthed, 20-year old from Brooklyn who finds joy on the dance floor every Saturday night. His days are spent stirring up trouble with his friends, working at a paint store and fighting with his family. At the 2001 Odyssey, a club in Brooklyn, Tony commands attention and admiration. He’s liquid sex on the dance floor, spinning, thrusting and sliding. The ladies love Tony and Tony loves who he becomes under the disco ball. But when he meets Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) she refuses to talk or dance with him, challenging his worth. “You’re a cliché,” she tells him. “You’re nowhere, on your way to no place.” See, she has dreams. Dreams that involve life on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. And what does Tony have? He has disco, man. And when he finally gets Stephanie to agree to enter a dance competition with him, Tony is ready to achieve his dream. But as he begins to examine the people and choices around him, Tony is forced to question whether his dream will get him anywhere.

The film can be categorized as a musical, but utilizes music in an interesting way. While characters do not burst into song, the music that plays over a scene is incredibly significant, underscoring important emotions and feelings. Songs are played in their entirety while Tony showcases his stellar dance moves in visually fascinating shots. Amazing choreography, angles and editing display some of the most electric dancing seen in a musical. The Bee Gees’ thumping baseline and falsetto cries are heard all over the soundtrack, stamping their mark on the era of disco. The lyrics to their songs not only emphasize the boiling hot emotions of Tony and his friends, but also the desperation, disillusionment and unfulfilling lifestyle of the Bay Bridge youth:

“Music loud and women warm.
I’ve been kicked around since I was born.
Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me.”

As the song screams, “we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,” Tony, in a moment of clarity muses, “There are ways of killin’ yourself without killin’ yourself.”

America in the late 70s was experiencing the effects of the Vietnam War, Watergate and a recession. American citizens were starting to focus on the consequences of their choices as well as the choices that were available to them. While Saturday Night Fever was about fun, escapism and hedonism it was also about the choices one can make in order to grow or accept the status quo. As Tony starts to examine the choices of his parents, his older brother who leaves the priesthood and his friends who repeat the mistakes of the past, he realizes the quiet acceptance present in his life. Tony doesn’t win because he earns it; he gets the prize because he’s popular. And for Tony, he wants to earn his place on the top like he earned his four dollar raise. Because for him, the only time “someone told me I was good in my life [was] this raise today, and dancing at the disco!”

The film alternates from the busy streets of New York to the flashing, coloured lights of the underground disco clubs. Clothes are bright, bold and flashy. Tony lovingly tends to his hair, standing up for it’s right to look fresh against the constant thumping of his father’s hand. The women are sexy, hair feathered à la Ms. Fawcett in her nipple-centric famous photo (which hangs on Tony’s wall). If one chose to enter the doors of the 2001 Odyssey, they had better look good. The high steel pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge at night where the boys challenge their mortality are contrasted with the strobe lights and disco balls where the boys challenge their longevity. And during the week, on days that aren’t Saturday, life goes on; simple, boring and repetitive.

The plot isn’t incredibly original with most characters displaying little self-awareness. But John Travolta manages to give a racist, sexist, cocky character a sense of vulnerability, which ultimately carries the film. The character of Tony isn’t heroic, or even likable, but he questions his world, and that requires some courage. Winning the dance competition is supposed to validate his dreams, but instead Tony is forced to accept his superficial status, the rape of a girl he could’ve have protected and the loss of a friend who needed him. Disillusioned, angry and frustrated he rides a subway into the night, ending up at Stephanie’s apartment. And finally, he brings himself to do what he failed to before: sincerely ask for forgiveness, friendship and help.

Sometimes cheesy, but thoroughly entertaining, Saturday Night Fever is a film that can hold up even more than thirty years after it’s original release. Through the marriage of music and cinema, this film takes a journey into adulthood from the eyes of a brash, passionate kid searching for purpose. It successfully captures the energy, joy and electricity of the underground disco era and the youth that lived for the music.

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