The Raging Moon (1971) – Review

A calm, steady observation on how people transition from one state of normalcy to another; what happens after the everyday life is fractured by trauma? My greatest praise for The Raging Moon is that the handicap isn’t overwhelmingly important. Still, the subject of disability isn’t passed without commentary; there’s a great deal to be said about the public’s notions on how we treat the disabled and how we assume they must feel. Rather, the essence of The Raging Moon is our journey of understanding; how we access the story of Bruce and Jill through their mutual situation.

An essential moment for understanding The Raging Moon is the church fundraising scene; occurring near the halfway mark between the duo’s story. The scene is: a bunch of rich snobs give pitying charity to the disabled as the wheelchair bound residents are paraded around for sympathy. Our couple, Bruce and Jill, decide to flip the script: what a freakshow it must be to walk on legs, what other tricks can they do? It’s a heartwarming moment that bonds the two, they comfort one another with their unity; meanwhile, the script doesn’t go heavy handed on the commentary, the first and foremost priority of the scene is to show that after the trauma, and the sadness, there comes normalcy again, life slowly resets to equilibrium and you can have it your way (maybe you can have more than you had before; who can be sure what to expect from the unexpected).

Now, the film isn’t a masterpiece, not even by the farthest stretch of the imagination, mostly because it’s fairly simplistic in its cinematic technique: the film starts, and continues, to feel like an English kitchen sink drama, except when it detours and reaches a little higher, but ultimately never surpasses their cinematic quality. Bruce and Jill’s character development is borderline cliche; he’s a little rugged, she’s a bit pristine: they compliment each other by learning self completion through the opposite’s best qualities. And sure you’ve probably seen it before, but the script is so well paced that you’d probably overlook these conventional tricks by praising McDowell’s performance and his endearing portrayal of what emotional recovery really is.

An unexpected joy. Sorrowful, semi cathartic, semi melancholic and an all round brilliant sleeper drama.

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Onibaba (1964) – Review

This is how people are unknowingly their own horror stories.

Onibaba starts ominous, we look into the deep empty hole, wondering what dark entity exists far beneath the surface. The title smash cuts onto the screen; as though to create an association between Onibaba, ‘Devil Woman’, and the hole. And that’s the closest Onibaba gets to the horror genre; mostly everything else is just drama, perhaps the most thickly veiled sinister drama of all time, ripe with a unique, difficult dilemma and a harsh, stark character study. I discovered that when I grappled with the central plot I realised that the plot concerning the hole (and the samurai) is a reflection of their struggles; the whole story about the old lady betraying her daughter in law in order to live is not just a heart-twisting tale of tragedy and internal conflict as she fights to survive, it’s a fable about the greed of a woman so determined to live that she will force her closest companion (and only dependable source of help) to mercilessly kill as many passing strangers as it takes to keep going; by keeping her daughter in law from moving on, she’s condemning her to a life of sin, murder and a soulless existence. It goes without saying that the old woman is eventually punished.

From the start, I thought they we’re feeding a monster inside the hole; I wasn’t wrong, but not in the way I expected. Instead of feeding the literal, the film feeds on the interpretive: the monster being fed is the woman’s greediness to survive. I loved how her power dynamic changed as she played each hand throughout the whole movie; my focus was mainly drawn to her make-up and appearance. Her desperate need to eat feels like her version of the hole: constantly consuming; and like the hole’s infinite blackness, the make-up on her eyes creates an identical symbol of emptiness. When she puts on the mask, the night overwhelms her, darkness engulfs her as the light highlights her mask: the symbol of fear (and of the protection that offers final punishment). This attention to storytelling excites me, the layers of meaning given in every aspect of the story offers something so truthful to the characters that in their weakest moments they remain honest and true to the audience. Onibaba changes the way light works in movies; instead of light being a symbol of safety, it becomes a symbol of weakness, an expression of the true face of horror: that horror is fear to itself.

I could go on forever about how intricately every detail is painted in tightly wrapped layers, but I’d rather you go see it for yourself. Trust me; it’s gorgeous in every regard.

Always Shine (2016) – Review

There’s a difference between subverting a trope and creating something interesting by using one. From about twenty minutes forward, Always Shine fits solidly into the former statement. For about 60 minutes we get a flurry of endless anti-climaxing scenes; one after the other after the other. And by the end, I was so done with anti climaxes that I felt entirely anti-interested. And because it all feels so intentional, I can imagine that when people are defending the subversion gimmick’s price of boredom a fair few of their excuses would trickle down to: “it’s supposed to be like that” “that’s the message”… well then, I can’t argue with that, but I will argue that the message is written on the most unimaginative A4 bland piece of paper. I have no more inclination to watch this film than I do to read the back catalogue of ‘subverted tropes monthly’ (if such a magazine were to exist).

For a fair chunk of the film, Mackenzie Davis and Wilting Flower sit around doing random shit discussing lame horror movies; meanwhile nauseating flash cuts hint at a real horror showdown between the two characters in the cold dark woods. Immediately I think, ‘could all this meta talk be the red herring: could it get more meta than that?’ Tune in next week to find out.

Because, what starts with an amazing strong opening devolves into a sloppy soap opera farce. Take the first shot: an unbroken performance of Wilting Flower auditioning straight into the camera for a horror film, already the performance element is checked, it’s an unusual way to open the film, the scene is interesting and they take it to a dangerous place: when she’s unsure if she’s going to fully demonstrate the nude scene. We question the ethics, our emotions are a little muddy; we try to decide if the horror movie performance is drawing a line between her unwillingness to unclothe or if it’s the sleazy nature of film and the studio environment that makes this feel uncomfortable. It’s a dizzying pool of fourth wall breaking, self-reflective cinema combined with a Hitchcockian-DePalma-esque introduction that promises us a gripping unrelenting observation into the proceeding scenes, leading up to the horrors foretold in the whoppingly amazing title sequence. Full disclosure: I would give an extra half star for the film poster font alone. No spoilers, just skip most of the film and check these credits out; pure insane intensity.

Then we get Mackenzie Davis’ direct-to-camera performance; which was, in my opinion, much better than Wilting Flower’s; this scene played off the previous scene perfectly. Spoiler: she’s not performing, it’s her character who’s saying all these things to a real garage mechanic. I loved it’s interesting way of throwing the audience off, getting us to mistake her real character for a performance – this idea will become a major part of the plot twists; a great example of excellent non overt theme building. What sucks is that this theme is completely wasted on soap opera levels of melodrama. The whole film devolves into teenage girls bickering about shit, weak as fuck side characters and lazy, forgetful film-making.

As great a feminist as Always Shine tries to be, it can’t help but hit the nail’s head a little too hard, and a little too often. I think the partial-mumblecore scenes with Wilting and Davies (I have truly forgotten their characters’ names) chatting the shit were a great way to demonstrate how women have just as frank and as casual a conversation as men do; even as droll as their conversations were. But having your character say “they wouldn’t have said that if I were a guy” makes me think: “WHOA! WE! GOT! SOME! COMMENTARY! GOING! ON! RIGHT! NOW!” “CHECK! OUT! THIS! SISTER! TELLING! ‘THE! MAN!’!!!! HOW! IT!! IS!”. Other moments were just as obvious and palm-face inducing. All of this is without mentioning that every male plot device was just as big a wet blanket as the others. They shallowly serve to either: be talked about; offer convenience to the plot; distract the characters or ignite bickering. Once again, I honestly couldn’t tell you their names or what they wanted to do or even give you a decent description of their character (physical, personality or otherwise).

There’s a scene where a stranger in a car, male, is offering one of the lead women home; she’s stranded. This is where the film’s conflicting agendas create a problem. The film seemingly wants a small snip-bit of commentary about how a guy in a car should be able to give a girl a lift home without us immediately suspecting he’s a rapist or pervert; he literally addresses the suspicion himself, it’s clearly intentional that this is the problem at hand. Regardless, the scene subverts the trope, because that’s the gimmick: cut to her getting out the car at the cabin (no thank you, not even a fuck you. Nothing) and the anti-climax is that she’s fine, he gave her a lift and no one was a rapist. Which is fine, except that then it becomes about us feeling bad for the man. She suspects him of raping her, uses him to get a life, doesn’t say thank you and by the end it begins to feel like she’s the one in the wrong – for suspecting that a stranger might rape her – what kind of message is that?! I understand: in a utopia there would be no need to suspect him, and everyone would be kind and polite; please and thank yous and all that good stuff. But this isn’t a reality, and you can’t subvert the trope, make commentary and expect there to be no conflicting message in the offspring.

I’m not saying this is a terrible movie. I’m saying that it’s not fully thought out, is often underdeveloped and is quite frankly boring if not borderline aggravating. Wicked opening credits though.

Father and Daughter (2000) (short film) – Review

A return to a traditional animation style leaves Father and Daughter feeling timelessly classic despite how empty it is. The film fares better with an inspection of its mechanics than on its artistic purpose or quality (not to presume what “true art” is). Plenty of raised questions are disappointingly left kinda-half-answered. Their mysterious story is told without a word of dialogue, leaving us to question and anticipate a meaning from each proceeding event that unravels before the camera, but the subtext and truth of the story is as shallow as the ocean in the story’s final minutes – borderline non existent. Yet for all that is bare on deconstruction, the aesthetic remains a strong working cog that compensates for the film’s other shortcomings. It’s apparent how much the animator wanted this to be received as art; the painted parchment overtly sells you this classic 60s traditional animation and the film constantly feels like a rediscovered relic, and for what it’s worth, one day it just might be.

Shame (2011) – Review

Should we judge Brandon? Steve McQueen doesn’t want to say so. I’m not going to say so either. And whether you do or don’t judge anything or anyone in Shame, the film is never an active agent in who you side with. McQueen’s uncompromising truthfulness offers his scope into the life of sex addict Brandon. He constantly lingers the camera on simple moments, not only asking his actors to deliver an amazing unbroken performance for the various yet always lengthy sets of time he gives them, he offers the audience the whole picture of Brandon’s life and everyone around him.

Whenever McQueen lingers on these close-ups he reminds us that the moments we’re watching are more important than his or her history together. We know what his problems is; if we understand the root of a problem we can begin to solve it: like a therapy session – but this isn’t Brandon’s therapy session, this is his life unfolding before the camera. If we’d had the two siblings explain their history to the audience, we would begin to problem solve for Brandon, but we can’t, Brandon can’t solve these problems by the narrative of the film or by the want of the audience. The film doesn’t allow that. This is a heartbreaking film about a man’s pain when dealing with addiction: the addiction to sex and to loneliness.

We are in the midst of a true artist

Steve McQueen