Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Blindspot - "Sans Soleil" & "Dog Star Man"

This could be my shortest Blind Spot post ever...Though I enjoy short form experimental films, appreciate the different aspects of filmmaking that get teased out and respect the filmmakers a great deal, it is not an area in which I'm overly well-versed. I've seen a few other films from the two directors responsible for this post's films (Chris Marker and Stan Brakhage) along with a few things from Maya Deren, James Benning, Cocteau, Bunuel, etc., but my knowledge of their techniques, goals and intentions is somewhat limited. Having said that, especially after viewing both Marker's Sans Soleil and Brakhage's Dog Star Man, you don't necessarily have to have any background at all since these films are the perfect art form onto which you can map your own feelings and perspectives. Neither of these films has a clearly laid out narrative or real characters, so it enables you to soak in its variety of images (many of which almost seem random at times) and attempt to put your own personal spin on them.

Marker's Sans Soleil, for example, feels like a freeform wander through the world's different cultures (pausing longer with some, glancing off others) with a fascination in the activities and ways of life of its people. All the while, Marker (and his sometimes overly serious and pretentious female narrator) riffs on the meaning of memory and how it forgets, changes and shapes history ("We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten" and "History only tastes bitter to those who expected it to be sugar coated"). The film also plays extensively with Japanese culture by tying into the memory aspects of the film and replaying Japan's war history ("Small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life"). It also covers cats, an extraordinary ceremony to lay the souls of dolls to rest, more cats, sexual fetishes and a couple of additional cats (not to mention cat dolls placed into sex positions). The horrors of war are explored in a variety of different fashions as well, but focusing more on the concept of horror itself (the graphic death of a giraffe is a tough watch - you can see the life drain right out of it). If this seems somewhat random, well, it did for me too.

Brakhage's Dog Star Man initially comes across as an almost perfect example of what most people might expect "experimental" film to look like: random scraps of film picked up and assembled, but all of them are out of focus, scratched, flickering, damaged and scrambled. The opening of the film goes from black to a murky dark red and cloudy kind of liquid environment and then flashes of light pop in, blurred faces can be deciphered, cityscapes crop up, etched film frames are inserted and colour flies about the screen all while there is absolutely no sound at all. The entire 79 minute film (which includes a prelude followed by four parts) is completely silent and it's all a bit off-putting for sure, but there's also an odd sense of order to it all...The overlapping images (which seem to happen more and more as the film goes on) return to several themes: the sun and its flares, a moonscape, faces, body parts, the inside of a womb, a forest. Images are repeated (sun, moon, womb; sun, moon, womb; sun, moon, womb; etc.) and it's terribly disconcerting as you suddenly find yourself staring at yet another image of, well, something. It forces you numerous times to think "what exactly am I looking at?" which is both tiring and fascinating at the same time. The random coloured patterns on film frames (my favourite bits of his work - his short films that consist only of scratched and painted film frames are simply gorgeous) are matched with sun flares while dots and splotches are compared with craters on the moon. You begin to constantly re-evaluate what you're seeing, shifting your viewpoint and occasionally wondering if the DVD or film has frozen. Is that a shot of snow covered with little twigs or is that a negative of a woman's privates? Was that a breast or a mountain on the moon? It merges nature both large and small with human form and function and though it reminds you occasionally of Bunuel/Dali surrealism, it's far closer to a hallucinogenic trip. Sometimes a very bad one.

The riffing continues in Sans Soleil, as an edit jumps from horns among some petrified bull remains to a parade with people wearing bull masks with horns. The horror aspect is further explored while images of the Khmer Rouge flash on TV while you hear Brando from Apocalypse Now ramble on about "the horror, the horror...". Film and TV are often used as jumping off points for the film to tie two concepts together or to bounce between ideas. As the camera shows sleeping Japanese people on a ferry, we flip between them and a variety of horror film clips to give you a sense of what their nightmares might be like (there's an assumption built by the film that these horrible dreams stem directly from WWII). Further horror, sci-fi and samurai films are referenced via still frames within the frame of an old TV set to tie into the narrator stating "The more you watch Japanese television, the more you feel it's watching you". But the longest sequence using old media to help juggle new ideas is when the theme of memory is brought back for another go-round and the voice says "...that only one film was capable of portraying impossible memory, insane memory - Hitchcock's Vertigo". We're not sure if it really is Marker who believes this or not (Marker doesn't take director credits for his films), but whoever owns that statement about Vertigo has seen the film 19 times and wonders how people can remember without putting things on film. From here, we walk through numerous locations in San Francisco that were used during that remarkable movie.

Dog Star Man plays with memory as well as it continues to juxtapose a man's journey across a snow covered mountain (with his dog) to what appears to be a baby's progress out of the womb. Part 3 plays out somewhat like a horror film as it quick cuts between human organs (both sexual and internal), the man's increasingly desperate attempts to continue his mountain crossing and the birth of the baby. Are these images that are flashing through the man's mind? Is the experience of birth such a traumatic event that it can be triggered as a memory later in life? Those are the kinds of thought processes you start experiencing as the film goes on. You become both curious as to what you'll see next and hopeful that it's almost over. The best moments are when Brakhage forces you to look at something in a different way through filters, light fading in and out, distortion, extreme close-ups, repeated frames or simply putting everything out of focus. Another of his tricks is to bring the lens of the camera through its full range of focus to change what image comes in clear. This is where, for me, experimental film becomes exciting - when it changes your perception as to what you've been viewing.

Both films have their moments of beauty and horror. While Sans Soleil mostly deals with presenting you natural scenes from around the world, Dog Star Man deals more in the beauty of chaos and randomness and the horror of unconscious associations. Marker's film specifically references film itself as a key to memory, but also touches on other aspects of its purpose (as he captures a wonderful look from an African woman in the marketplace, the narrator says "Frankly have you ever heard of anything stupider than to say to people - as they teach in film school - "not to look at the camera"?"). Brakhage does the same thing, but does it all via his images and splicing in every technique in the book. Both films have their ups and downs for me - moments of exasperation, boredom and admittedly confusion - but the fact that these films exist, and that they have attempted to push me to look at the world in a different way while also influencing countless other artists, is a great thing indeed.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

"Anita" - Hot Docs 2013

I'm a bit conflicted over my impressions of Freida Mock's newest documentary Anita, so let's see if I can work them out...

First of all, let me be clear about the subject of the film - Anita Hill is clearly an incredible person. Intelligent, funny, brave and interesting, 20 years ago she became a lightning rod around issues that few people enjoy discussing even today. And yet, there it was on the news back in 1991: an entire panel of old white men talking about sexual harassment, penis sizes and pubic hair during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. As women were finally breaking down some barriers by garnering greater positions within the U.S. government, Hill's grace under fire during her single 9 hour questioning session made her a role model for many women and brought more public attention and debate to the issues. Hill understood that harassment of any kind is primarily about control (perhaps being the youngest of 13 children helped her recognize this...) and she strongly felt that her prior experiences with Thomas' repeated sexual advances and inappropriate closed door insinuations was relevant to him being given a lifetime position on the Supreme Court bench. In other words, "Speak Truth To Power". The film documents a great deal of Hill's lengthy appearance at the hearings via old news footage and shows us the road she traveled afterwards up until her present day role as a speaker and professor of public and social policy. Though she never wanted to discuss her history specifically in the classroom, she's never shied away from it. "If I'm not public, it will be a sense of victory for them".

But the film let's both Anita and the audience down in the telling of all these events. There are fascinating sections of her story (the condescending questions of senators at the hearing, the 25000 letters of hate/support Hill has received, the effect she had on the rise of female politicians at the federal level, etc.), but it's told flatly, doesn't always provide as much context as it could have, and mostly sticks to archival footage and current talking head interviews. It's clear that Mock wanted to keep the focus on Hill, but as engaging as Hill is herself when speaking and discussing her family, career before/after the hearings and her hopes for the future, it sometimes feels similar to a 60 Minutes piece. That's not in and of itself bad, but it's disappointing. Particularly due to the excellent work Hill is currently doing with young women and the array of her peers that could have been pulled in for further positioning of her role in changing perceptions on harassment in the workplace. As I walked out, I mentioned to a friend that all the conversation I heard after the film was mostly about ideas Anita Hill had discussed in the extended Q&A (also attended by Mock) and not about the film.

But then again, people were talking. And isn't that what a good documentary should do? Get people to discuss the ideas and concepts that it covers and "start a conversation"? There are certainly numerous topics that could be launched from just about any point in the film - how her character became the issue when it was supposed to be about Thomas; how Hill's race was rarely raised, but Thomas' was; the fact that Democrats - though they weren't as aggressive towards Hill as the Arlen Specters and Alan Simpsons of the committee were - essentially fed her to the lions; how Oklahoma state politicians tried to get her fired from her law professor position and then attempted to get the entire law school at the University of Oklahoma closed; how she found very little support among black men who questioned why she would go after one of their own; etc. One of the strongest takeaways from the film is Hill's own statement about her approach to teaching law: it shouldn't be "just what law is, but what it can be". It speaks volumes about her.

But I can't help but return to Hill's own point about moving towards work environments that are free from any kind of harassment (and not simply dealing with it when it occurs). To do that, it means we need not only to teach the future leaders, but to teach our current ones and better understand current perceptions and ways of thinking. This is the biggest missed opportunity of the film - in its determination to make it only about Anita Hill (certainly a worthy endeavour), it doesn't dig into the reasons why men like Clarence Thomas think the way they do and why there are people to this day that don't believe a word of Hill's testimony (there were additional witnesses at the time who were ready to describe similar behaviour by Thomas). The landscape has changed in the last 20 years, but there is indeed still a ways to go. It's a shame that Mock's film won't really help get us there.

My opinion of Anita Hill has certainly grown though. Her continuing classy refusals to talk specifically about Thomas ("though I have my opinions") reinforce another of her statements that "Dignity and courage are much more effective tools". If only Justice Thomas understood this as well...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

"Rent A Family Inc." - Hot Docs 2013

Ryuichi Ichinokawa's wife doesn't know what he does for a living. And she doesn't really seem to care..."Without meaningful conversation, any relationship withers. I guess I just gave up on him. As long as we can pay the bills, I don't care what he's doing anymore." He is either out at work, uncommunicative on the computer at home (when she says the above quote to the filmmakers, he's right there in the same room on the computer and has no reaction) or sleeping. He thinks she has a negative attitude, stopped supporting him long ago and cares more about what her friends think than what he does. Short of his obsession with one day getting to Hawaii, they no longer have any ambition, hopes or dreams and assume the worst about each other. They are two very lonely people and Ryuichi wonders how much longer they will stay together after the kids have both gone off to school. So it may seem odd that the name of his company is "I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd".

Ryuichi's business provides the service of having himself or one of his extended team come and pose as a family member or friend for the client. Weddings tend to generate a lot of business as brides and grooms want to fill out their side of the aisle with additional people to show their worth (Ryuichi has even sat at an honoured guests table and even made a speech), but it seems like just about any situation might suddenly need a fake family member present. He's played the husband for a woman trying to get her Ex to provide for her kids and a father for a girl whose boyfriend wants to ensure he has the right blessings before they move in together (her real Dad would never approve) while also having a team of about 30 other people who can take on any role required. The need for all this fakery seems to stem from many people's concept of family honour and the need to represent a strong family and set of friends to others - which makes everything quite ironic when they use Ryuichi's service to create layers of new secrets and lies.

My initial interest in the film stemmed from it sounding like a real life version of the events in the Greek film ALPS (based around a team of people who take on the role of their clients' family members to re-enact scenes from their life). As interesting as that facet of the film is, it's actually a stronger match with Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata - the story of a man who can't bear to tell his family he lost his job. Ryuichi is still very much a follower of the patriarchal society and is searching for his validation and respect through his customers since he doesn't appear to get it at home (he talks about how they used to celebrate Father's Day, but don't anymore...). He claims that he simply wants to make his clients happy and help steer their lives in the right direction - mostly due to the fact that he is deeply unhappy himself and doesn't see a way out. A fascinating look at one man's broken dreams and the broader implications of a culture that places importance on what other people think of you.

Upcoming Screenings:

Sun, Apr 28 9:00 PM
Scotiabank 4

Tue, Apr 30 1:00 PM
The ROM Theatre

Sun, May 5 1:00 PM
Scotiabank 3

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

"We Cause Scenes" - Hot Docs 2013

Having seen numerous examples of their good-natured public pranks online, We Cause Scenes was pretty much exactly what I wanted in a documentary covering the history of Improv Everywhere. Aside from a few minor blips along the way, there's no backstabbing, terrible secrets or battles against demons to derail them. Just the uplifting story of one guy, a whole pile of his friends and how they wanted to bring a bit more happiness to people's everyday lives. They were also ahead of the curve in that they got on the web in the early days of blogging, had tons of video ready to go when YouTube started and jumped in with both feet to High Def. It's easy to see why they've built their following - mission by mission - from local friends to similar groups doing similar events around the world.

The first I heard about this merry band was the Best Buy gag: a sizable group of people all wearing blue shirts and pale khakis (the same look as the uniform of Best Buy employees) each entering a single Best Buy store and simply standing around and lingering...If asked a question or mistakenly considered to be an employee, they would just say they were waiting for someone. It's a funny concept and, as it played out in an edited YouTube video, an even funnier implementation. Granted, it perturbed several actual Best Buy employees and managers, but the overall impact was to put smiles on the faces of a pretty large chunk of random shoppers that day. And that was always the ultimate goal: do something that for people who saw it, turned into "their" story and experience which they could race back and tell their friends about.

Charlie Todd (the brains behind the operation) and some friends started doing things on the cheap - the no-pants subway rides, having a costumed Princess Leia suddenly encounter Darth Vader on the subway, having jockeys pretend to race on a carousel, etc. - and these were the perfect way to build the audience initially to get people invested in what they were doing. The film plays out somewhat like a DVD commentary on their gags - there's nothing wrong with that as it kept a smile on my face for most of it - but it also might have been more interesting to dig further into reactions to these events, issues when they backfire, how stores and authority figures react, etc. It's a minor complaint in that the film already touches on these subjects and its good will is in abundant supply. I initially had a few worries that the troupe might have been involved in more pranks involving the embarrassment of their victims, but fortunately they stay true to their maxims - bring some unexpected joy to random strangers.

Upcoming Screenings:

Fri, Apr 26 9:30 PM
The Royal Cinema

Sun, Apr 28 2:00 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre

Sat, May 4 5:30 PM
Hart House Theatre

"Quality Balls - The David Steinberg Story" - Hot Docs 2013

It's 1976 or 1977 and sitting at the table are John Candy, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas - Canadian comedy royalty if there ever was. And yet standing over them, presiding over the entire affair in this old TV clip, is David Steinberg. Already an influence to a generation of comedians due to his storytelling abilities and decision to keep his own name, it seems apropos that he help spawn even more careers from his own short-lived TV show (about a guy called David Steinberg who had his own TV talk show - the influence continues...). Yes, a Canadian could actually grow up to become a famous comedian and even do it on his own terms no less.

Quality Balls (a term provided by Jerry Seinfeld to denote not only what Steinberg possesses, but also what he was able to provide as a legacy to today's political humourists) is a conventional enough documentary about Steinberg's life, but is generous enough with old clips (in particular some gems with Johnny Carson) and new interview footage so as to give us a very full picture of the Winnipeg-born funny man's humour and approach to comedy. Through his early days in Chicago's Second City (with Fred Willard, Robert Klein and others), to his improvised sermons, to his 130 appearances on Carson's Tonight Show (second only to Bob Hope) and on to his current incarnation as a director (film and TV), we see the growth of his natural timing and charm as he perfects the art of slowly unveiling his tales.

You can see it in the eyes of Carson as he watches Steinberg from his desk (there's a wonderful rapport between the two of them - easy to see why he was brought back so often) and hear it in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld as he tries to coax him back to doing another stand-up - it's that sense of joy they have in watching the craft of comedy. It's a bit odd to think of that kind of reverence being given to such a friendly man who achieved great success for directing top TV hits like Newhart, Golden Girls and Mad About You, but when you hear about his years being on Nixon's enemies list, his sharp barbs ("critics are like eunuchs at a gang-bang") and how he is essentially the reason for the removal of The Smothers Brothers Show from the airwaves, it makes a whole lot more sense. Quality balls indeed.

Upcoming Screenings:

Thu, May 2 9:30 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Fri, May 3 4:15 PM
Scotiabank 4

Sun, May 5 4:15 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre

Monday, 22 April 2013

"Shooting Bigfoot" - Hot Docs 2013

Director Morgan Matthews states right up front that he used to be keenly interested in Bigfoot in his younger days. Years later, that interest has now flipped and turned into a deep curiosity of the people that continue to search, track and believe in the hairy Sasquatch. He follows along with three separate teams - the deluded but honest believers, the opportunist business man and the liar - while they go through their paces to gain any evidence of the long-elusive beast. Early on it looks like the film might be just like any other let's-go-talk-to-crazy-people doc (filled with energy, but not shedding any interesting light on anything), but shortly after all three expeditions are arranged and we've jumped between each team's early preparations with Matthews, we cut to the director lying in a hospital bed. Suddenly we have a different movie on our hands...

Though Dallas and Wayne seem a bit unsteady, they appear to honestly think they have the largest amount of compelling evidence anyone could come across. Sure it's mostly blurry photos, recordings of sounds and anecdotes, but they've devoted their lives to it. They truly seem kindhearted, but a little bit lost and possibly even desperate. Tom and his professional team, on the other hand, have trucks filled with equipment and have made numerous videos of their exploits. They feel they are "this close" to finally nabbing one of the pesky critters. He is easily angered by any kind of intimation that perhaps he may have previously exaggerated some of their findings (actually, many things easily anger him) and he's wary of the camera always being on. The third team is a solo hunter named Rick and his part-time vegetarian intern named Briana. He happens to have some history with Tom: a widely reported hoax by Rick and a friend was initially supported by Tom until proof of the fraud was made public. Rick has now reinvented himself as a professional tracker of Bigfoot and Matthews joins him on a several days-long jaunt through the deep woods.

The film becomes more and more engaging as we learn more about these people, their techniques, self-delusions and possible deceptions. It's all the more intriguing since you know that Matthews is going to face an ordeal of some variety, but with which team? None of them escape looking silly - Rick tripping in the woods while he wears cowboy boots, Tom's admission after a particularly stressful moment that he's had 7 stints in his heart, Dallas calling for Bigfoot using a "shamen language" - but there's also a more serious tone that slides under the entire film as the teams come across numerous other people living in rather desperate and terribly sad ways. Guns seem to be easily acquired, the economy hasn't rebounded for any of these folks and basic needs are a struggle to acquire. It's a clever mix of myth debunking, suspense, silly fun and state-of-a-decaying-nation profile. So how does it end? Well, like Bigfoot itself, you'll just have to see it to believe it.

Upcoming Screenings:

Tue, Apr 30 8:29 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Wed, May 1 11:59 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Fri, May 3 9:30 PM
The Royal Cinema

"The Expedition To The End Of The World" - Hot Docs 2013

One of the old adages of filmmaking is that you need to start with the story, focus on that narrative and build from there. Documentary film isn't overly different, except that in some cases it can find its narrative as it goes along (or is found in the editing process). Typically, though, the film will still be crafted in the end to create a full story arc. Daniel Dencik's The Expedition To The End Of The World chooses another route. By assembling a rather diverse crew of scientists, artists and adventurers on a single ship diving into the inlets of Greenland, Dencik has meshed together their different reasons for making the trip, their different tasks and experiments, and their very varied philosophies into a large tapestry of perspective on the results (and potential results) of global warming.

Though there is essentially a beginning and an end - as the gorgeous ship enters and exits these inlets that have rarely, if ever, been explored - the rest of the film flips and flits between the ship's passengers to see how they are spending their time. It varies...Some perform experiments that include hooking up hang gliders to motorized rafts, drilling down to the permafrost and even discovering new lifeforms while others paint, draw, write or get into long discussions about the nature of man. The conversations are oddly unemotional and free of politics: some of the scientists admit they are more interested in the process of global warming than they are in what it does to humanity, while one of the artists (the film's most entertaining character) simply states he doesn't care since we will just adapt.

It's an interesting point of view, though probably better expressed by one of the scientists - he states that whenever a life form has just about evolved to meet its surroundings, it starts to have enough of an impact on them so that they need to restart the evolution process to fit the new surroundings. In his view, that's exactly where humanity is right now. The constant impending doom of the film - its soundtrack, the massive icebergs (some crumbling right in front of the camera), the ideas being debated - might make those statements seem ominous, but the humour of these men and women, the occasional blasts of Metallica emanating from the ship's deck and the absolutely stunning scenery and surroundings (I haven't seen a more beautiful film in quite some time), certainly bring some positive hope. As one of the adventurers says: "Life is everywhere".

Upcoming screenings:

Fri, Apr 26 7:00 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Sun, Apr 28 3:30 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sat, May 4 6:30 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Basking In The Cesspool Of Filth #19

Having watched a few random horror films recently, I felt I should get back to my Cesspool posts. I always enjoy the screencap process...

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974 - Brian Clemens) - The only director credit for Clemens - best known as a writer/producer for TV episodes of The Avengers, The New Avengers, The Professionals, Thriller, etc. - is a barrel of fun as the Captain and his hunchback sidekick hunt for whatever has been draining the youth and lifeforce from several ladies in a village. I'll give you one guess what kind of creature it is...

Mirrors (2008 - Alexandre Aja) - I guess I remain in the minority of horror fans who just didn't like Aja's High Tension (aka Switchblade Romance), but I thought I would give his bigger budget Hollywood horror Mirrors a shot. Aja's got a great eye and builds several impressive scenes, but the movie never fully engaged me in its characters, story or world. I like where it went, but didn't really care that much once we got there.

Dead Waters (1993 - Mariano Baino) - OK, I admit I have little idea what the hell happened during the majority of this movie. Apparently there's a remote convent in which secret sacrifices have taken place and is visited by the daughter of its former benefactor. She's there to see if she should continue paying regular contributions to them from his estate, but she's not very bright, more strange rituals start to take place in the catacombs underneath and things go from bad to worse. But even though it has a drab 4:3 presentation on DVD, there were still enough good scenes that made it a worthwhile experience - even if I didn't know what exactly was going on...

The Call Of Cthulhu (2005 - Andrew Leman) - A spiffy telling of the tale of Cthulhu that attempts to look like it was made 80 years prior. The silent film style of it is, well, all style and feels a bit like an experiment, but it complements the story well with its expressionist look and everything fits nicely into its compact under an hour running time.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Thanks Roger...

Thanks Roger.

Thanks for teaching me a great deal about film. Thanks for opening my eyes to not only different interpretations of popular movies, but to entirely different realms of film. Thanks for introducing me to Fellini and Kurosawa. Thanks for showing me there were smaller films out there worth looking for. Thanks for Flirting.

More importantly, thanks for engaging me at an early age with smart discussions. Thanks for showing me you could disagree with someone, but still learn a great deal from their arguments. Thanks for helping me learn to express my opinion, defend it with reasons and allow it to evolve. Thanks for always providing context.

We didn't come close to always agreeing, but I always knew where you stood and typically learned something, appreciated a different viewpoint or was at the very least entertained.

Thanks. Cheers to you good sir.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Blind Spot - "Moonstruck" & "Fatal Attraction"

The year was 1987. It was a tumultuous time...A breathless population tried to come to terms with the loss of Shelly Long from Cheers while simultaneously trying to choose sides in the great "Debbie Gibson or Tiffany?" debate. Fortunately Spuds Mackenzie and the announcement of Euro Disney were there to quell the public's fears (not to mention the arrival of Prozac).

Side note: there was also the premiere of a little upstart cartoon series called The Simpsons which created an industry of people quoting and borrowing humourous ideas from it - something which continues today unabated.

In the movie houses, adultery was on the minds of the American film-goer as two of the year's biggest releases used it as a central theme. Both Fatal Attraction and Moonstruck had characters cheating on their spouses (and almost-spouses) with varying degrees of consequences - none of which appeared to be lasting. Through different approaches and styles (one a sharply written comedy/drama, the other a consistently paced thriller), they each seem to end up at the same conclusion: infidelities certainly can't be swept away, but don't worry since you'll be forgiven. Since Moonstruck's main arc really deals with two suffocating people who stumble into each other (and subsequently allow each other to blossom), that's likely not the fairest assessment of the film. But I'll get to that later.

The story opens on Loretta (played by Cher), a tax accountant who seems to have the market cornered on frumpy. She's unsure about the marriage proposal she's just received from Johnny (Danny Aiello) because she's had bad luck before - in fact, very bad luck since her previous husband was killed by a bus. Now she insists that everything be done just right including the actual proposal (she even makes Johnny do it all over again by getting down formally on one knee in the restaurant). When he tells her he has to fly to Italy for his dying mother, her biggest concern seems to be that they set an official date for the wedding. She doesn't actually want or need him to help, but just agree to the date since all he'll have to do is show up. It's quickly established that Loretta isn't exactly passionately in love with Johnny and even tells her mother (played in Oscar-winning form by Olympia Dukakis) that she doesn't love him. Her Mom's response of "Good, when you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can" sets up the issues she has with her own husband (Vincent Gardenia in a possibly too spot-on casting choice). But back to Loretta for the moment...

As she starts to prep for the wedding, she contacts Johnny's estranged and tormented brother Ronny who hasn't talked to him since he lost his hand in a bakery slicer accident 5 years ago (which led to his fiancee walking out on him too). Since he was handling an order from Johnny at the time, Ronny feels that his brother has taken everything away from him and wants nothing to do with his new fiancee-in-law. As Ronny toils away in the bowels of a bakery basement, Nicholas Cage plays him with zeal and, well, a great deal of Nick-Cagey-ness - his monologue about the loss of his hand is unhinged, over-the-top and admittedly quite entertaining. The movie already feels a bit cornball at times with its accordion music (the characters are of Italian descent you see...) and its opening titles playing under the obvious tune "Amore", so Cage's broad performance doesn't distract. Loretta manages to convince him to meet with her at a later time and their heated argument ends with the two of them in bed together. And all of this just happens to occur on an evening with a full and brilliant moon out the window...

Fatal Attraction is more blunt in its approach. The background: Successful businessman with beautiful, loving wife and child, good friends and no financial worries; The issue: He doesn't get sex when he wants it (dog, child, tiredness all block his path); The Turning Point: While his wife is away, he has a weekend tryst with a very willing partner who is also very creative in her sexual exploits; The consequence: His "mistake" goes crazy, attacks him and his family and he must resort to drastic measures to restore the family unit.

One way to look at this film is to simply break it down as a thriller and look at its style and craft - on that front, it works pretty well. Director Adrian Lyne constructs some tense moments and scenes, brings creativity to their staging and keeps the pace reasonably brisk. Even knowing the outcome of the film (and having seen its final climax before), it still kept me watching. Though there are issues - the "easy" banter between friends doesn't feel overly natural; Anne Archer is given very little to do as "the wife" for most of the movie; Glenn Close's psycho-lady transformation goes a wee bit beyond the tone of everything else (as opposed to Cage who fits in with Moonstruck's reality) - as a straight up thriller, there were enough "memorable" moments that obviously contributed to the word of mouth which drove a boffo box office. Bunny rabbits, bathtubs and large warehouse elevators were likely part of water cooler conversations back in the day.

A different way of analyzing the film is as a message movie. At the time, much was said about it being a warning to men not to cheat on their spouses and a testimony to a strong marital bond. The recent view of it has shifted somewhat to it being described as terribly misogynistic and a male fantasy. While I don't necessarily agree that the film has a hatred of women at its core, there certainly is a deep seated lack of respect for them going on. Looking at the main characters, the women seem to have two varieties: they can be meek and dependent on men or they can be unreasonable, insane and selfish. Granted, the husband is a jerk since he commits adultery just because he can (it like just wasn't fair that, you know, he wasn't getting sex when he wanted it) and he makes so many wrong and stupid moves throughout that you do have to question how he rose to any position of prominence in the business world, but he is also allowed to have more moods and thoughtful states as he multitasks his work, home and deceptions. His mistress gets to be either a seductress, a needy simp or a whacked out loonie while his wife is either wallpaper, useless or raving mad. Empowering this movie is not.

Though Moonstruck certainly provides a wider palette for Cher's Oscar nominated performance as Loretta, it fails her mother's character Rose. Not that Dukakis isn't excellent in the role - she has fantastic timing and a few moments of wonderful subtlety (in an oft not-so-subtle movie) - but her acceptance of her husband's cheating ways was a severe flaw in the film for me. As mentioned earlier, she loves the guy so I can appreciate someone wanting to work through issues of this variety with their spouse. But the revealing moment is during a conversation she has with a man she has met at a restaurant (played by John Mahoney) who walks her back home one night and indicates his interest in pursuing things further. She isn't really interested, but does use him as a sounding board regarding why men chase women. Her own theory is that they do it to feel young since they fear death. It's an awful rationalization of her husband's exploits ("oh, he's sowing some remaining oats..."), so when she excuses herself from any further dalliances with Mahoney's character claiming that she "knows who she is", it feels like she should be suffering from cognitive dissonance.

Like Douglas' character in Fatal Attraction, it seems like Rose's husband Cosmo simply cheats on her because he can (he shows no strong affection for his mistress either). Back to back, these two movies feel like an awkward apology: "Thanks for understanding that we just can't help cheating on you Sweetie. You know, we really do feel bad when you find out...". Rose and her husband are only a supporting thread to Loretta and Ronny's story, but it undercut the film for me. Loretta ends up cheating on Johnny because she finally feels passion for someone and is able to admit that her engagement is simply because she just feels she needs to be married (especially when asked "Why you wanna sell your life short?"). In both the story and the opera to which Ronny takes Loretta (La Boheme), moonlight has stirred the initial embers and one can forgive the too-easy final reconciliation of Johnny and Ronny. But when Cosmo only has to deal with a simple lecture, it feels wrong.

So too does the final zoom to the family unit photo in Fatal Attraction - sure, Douglas' husband character has been through a little slice of hell trying to stop his crazy mistress, but that last shot indicates that everything can simply return to normal now. Phew, now that we've cleared up that little problem, let's get back to fixing up our new house dear...Especially since he manages to rationalize that, though he made a mistake, it wasn't really his fault. For example, while having dinner together before their first roll in the sack, they have the following conversation:

Her: "...and you're here with a strange girl being a naughty boy"
Him: "I don't think having dinner with anybody is a crime"
Her: "not yet..."
Him: "Will it be?"
Her: "I don't know...What do you think?"
Him: "I definitely think it's going to be up to you!"

Seriously, the dude has some nerve...He feels guilted into seeing her again the next day and yet they have a full-fledged date - walking the dog in the park, cooking dinner while listening to opera (the foreshadowing as he talks about the last act of Madame Butterfly is a bit heavy), sensual dancing, more sex...It's certainly that little extra spice he thought was lacking in his marriage, but what did he think would come of it all?

Perhaps I'm misreading both films and they are meant to wake up women to recognize that their men are flawed and that they must assume a degree of control. If that's true though, it would apparently mean that they must also forgive and forget the weak wills of their men. They just can't help it you know...