Of all the movies screening in TIFF's late-night Nicolas Cage series, the most purely entertaining one may well be showing this Saturday: John Woo's magnificent, ridiculous Face/Off. If you know the film, you don't need me to tell you of its boundless majesty; if you don't, where have you been for the last 15 years?
A top-flight action movie and a strangely persuasive comedy, Face/Off posits a cat-and-mouse chase between Sean Archer (John Travolta), America's most dedicated FBI agent, and Castor Troy (Cage), one of America's two most ruthless terrorists, the other being Castor's brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola).
The chase ends fairly quickly, with Archer winning and Castor landing in a coma ... but with the clock still ticking on a bomb already planted somewhere in Los Angeles, Archer's bosses hit on the semi-brilliant idea of literally turning Archer into Castor through an elaborate series of surgeries, and dropping him into prison with Pollux to get the location of the bomb.
Sounds simple, right? Except that a de-faced Castor wakes up and forces the plastic surgeon (Colm Feore!) to turn him into Archer.
The brilliance of Face/Off is that John Woo doesn't treat the sci-fi conceit of full-body surgery as anything other than a tiny inconvenience to be hand-waved away so we can get to the good stuff. And there is plenty of good stuff - Travolta having a ball as the swaggering Evil Archer; Joan Allen's grounded, utterly credible performance as Archer's suckered wife; a script that always stays on the right side of ludicrous and spectacular action sequences funded by an enthusiastic Paramount Pictures.
But the movie's greatest special effect is Nicolas Freakin' Cage. An over-the-top monster as Castor Troy, he's still charismatic and appealing; once he's playing Archer under Castor's face, he adds elements of panic, horror, sadness and misery, sometimes shuffling through them in the space of seconds. It's an expertly managed performance - one of his best - and the fact that its highest points play as an elaborate joke within the world of the film just make it even more accomplished.
Seriously, why haven't you seen this yet? 10 pm Saturday at the Lightbox. Go.
It's Doc Soup time again! Wednesday night, Hot Docs' monthly showcase returns to the TIFF Bell Lightbox with The Vanishing Spring Light. The doc's distributor has requested we keep reviews to a minimum until the film opens next month, so all I'll say is that director Yu Xun has crafted a gentle generational study centered on a 75-year-old woman in declining health and a changing neighbourhood in a small Sichuan town. It's a bit on the long side, maybe, but that's no reason not to see it.
Screenings at 6:30 pm and 9:15 pm; producer Daniel Cross will be in attendance for Q&As. Tickets are available online, or by phone at 416-637-5150.