#797 Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck is a romantic comedy from 1987 that seems to have defined the genre itself. The film follows the magical misadventures of a lonely widow trying to find her place in love as she wanders around her small Italian community. Cher and Nicholas Cage’s performances are captivating as they bring warmth and heart to this well-paced script. It is a classic, uplifting cultural family comedy steeped in long traditions of love and marriage while playing with the mystical unknowns of the heart.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonstruck

Garrett

I remember seeing this film when I was young and not entirely understanding all the eye-rolling and hubbub of adults in love. Now that I am an adult, I look back at my young self and I understand love and relationships in a different way, but still found myself asking, seriously guys, what is it about this movie?

This piece is a middle of the road romantic comedy with performances that I could frankly swap out with any number of other actors in any number of other romantic comedies. The script is ironclad, however, and I sincerely felt as though the great writing carried the performances. I think that this is one of the first films that we look at when we think of the genre itself, so it carries the weight of all of the romantic comedies that have come after it that rely on its structure, pacing, themes, motifs, and tropes. So essentially, I know I can’t go back and watch this film as an adult in 1987, but today with my experience I felt like it was only an okay film based on the many others I have seen. If one considers it the modern vanguard for the entire genre, then I can easily accept that it deserves some of the praise it received.

Roger Ebert ironically referred to other reviewers of the film as downplaying it as a “madcap ethnic comedy.” He then examines the piece in terms of its great qualities of being a simple, well-executed romance. Truthfully, I think that watching it in hindsight and not in the context of the year it came out takes a lot away from the film. In 2017, is it funny? I didn’t find myself laughing out loud at it and much of the funny bits seemed dated or strangely ethno-family-centric in the context of the film in a way that I have absolutely no familiarity with. In 2017, was it romantic? A little… but I wasn’t always convinced. The script is strong, but the execution seems like the piece remains in a fantasy 1987 rather than a relatable reality. Sure, that’s the job of a movie, but I wonder if I would have been convinced better if we hadn’t been reminded so often and so blatantly by the writers and director that this love was so magical and mystical. Don’t tell me, make me believe it. Sure, I sat through it and enjoyed its sparkle, but it still felt pretty dated and flat to me. Maybe I’m just cynical… Strike that, I’m pretty darn cynical.

Jennifer

I’m not really sure what the hype is about, either. Worth the watch, if only for a baby-faced Nicholas Cage wearing next to nothing in the hot, sweaty bakery…. makin’ the bread. My favorite part of the movie were the scenes with Cher’s extended family, her parents, her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. There is some sharp dialogue with great timing there. I also enjoyed the great appearances of our favorite eighties hair and costumes. Cher’s makeover scene before they go to see Carmen is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a cute movie, and I would tell my friends to see it if they haven’t… But I wouldn’t buy a copy and sit down and watch it again like I would with similar comedies like Groundhog Day or You’ve Got Mail. It’s simply a little too dated and doesn’t hold up like many other movies that are even many more decades old. I felt like this one fell into too narrow of a niche, and unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding that was heavily steeped in the use of family, romance, and comedy, this one’s specificity seemed to detract from its staying power.

Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel Man Bites Dog BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#885 Man Bites Dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous / It Happened in Your Neighborhood) (1992)

With a $33,000 budget (or as the creators in the Criterion interviews indicate, zero budget that they supplemented by asking friends and family for money in between shoots every three weeks), Man Bites Dog is an edgy genre-busting film from three Belgian filmmakers shot while they were still in college studying the craft. The first film on our list officially rated NC-17 and banned in several nations, this movie is violent, misogynistic, racist, degrading, gruesome, explicit,…..and absolutely hilarious. This black comedy balances two worlds – the world of funny upbeat satire in the style of Spinal Tap and completely shocking “bleak criticism of our desire to watch everyday live tilt out of balance” (Mathijs). The self-awareness of the piece blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that their metafictive narrative’s characters carry their names, they refer to borrowing the money to make the film in character, and at one point their murders reach to the bizarre level of our protagonists murdering a new documentary team documenting their documentary team documenting their murders while other murderers are fighting over victims with them during a shootout in a dim and dilapidated building. The result is something unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Not for the weak-stomached or anyone who can’t recognize postmodern humor and satire when they see it.

We watched Man Bites Dog on Criterion DVD #165.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Bites_Dog_(film)

Garrett

I absolutely loved this film from beginning to end. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, and only read internet material and the liner notes from the box prior to Mathjis’ essay in Schneider. Was it a horror film? A mockumentary? A comedy? A political and artistic statement about film? About our consumer culture as a whole? What was this film?

Honestly, it is all of the above, and more.

I loved this film. I laughed (almost) the entire way through. With a lively energy, the three creators of this film have made something unlike anything else in cinema – a self-reflective mockumentary that dances between horror and black comedy like nothing else. Where many films attempt this in a manner that is approachable by audiences in a way that is bankable, the three independent filmmakers responsible for this movie have taken a literal budget of no money and outlined and cobbled together a script and a film that not only tells an interesting and engaging story with characters and performances that are believable and fun (not to mention breaking the fourth wall and production standards the entire time in their use of the crew, their own names, and a variety of other tricks throughout), but makes a heavy and effective statement on cinema  and audience itself. The people watching the very film we are watching as we watch it are just as important to their story and thesis as their product. This culminates in amazingly well-executed hilarious, but black moments such as the birthday dinner party, and hilarious setups that turn into terrifying and disgusting black moments, such as the rape and murder sequence. No taboo is off limits in this film, from rape to infanticide, and perhaps what is most intriguing about this film is how it was made in such expert hands when the filmmakers were so poor and so new to the craft.

This film can certainly get into the ring with the works of Christopher Guest and Quentin Tarentino and hold its own – even more so considering its execution of cinéma vérité , satire, humor, violence, horror, and politics are not only effective approaches to the early years of a genre but that it almost does it better than most of the films I have seen of its kind.

Final note… I did a little research afterward and totally remember downloading a video of Bill Gates being hit in the face with a cream pie when I was a freshman in college. I remember reading that it was the work of a subversive filmmaker, and thinking it was a hilarious statement against capitalism and absolute power. Since then, Gates has retired and dedicated his life to giving his money away to great causes… Within ten years of this event, that man, Rémy Nicolas Lucien Belvaux, committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine. It is just now that I am seeing something he has created for the first time, and find myself mourning in retrospect for a young artist who sincerely had a sense of humor in wanting to bring light to changing the world for good. Today, nearing thirty-nine, I appreciate what he was able to accomplish in this lifetime and wish I could have experienced more of his work – no matter how hilariously disgusting and shocking it was. Sometimes this is precisely the kind of subversive message our world needs; Belvaux’s work is precisely the kind of art that excites me.

Jennifer

Well. This takes a page out of the “Weekend” playbook.  At first, it seems almost like a comedy about a sadistic killer and the hapless film crew making a documentary on his actions. As the film progresses, the crew gets more and more involved in the “dirty work.” To me, this movie seems like a commentary on media, violence, and the viewer. What level of horrifying violence is too much? Where is the line between entertainment and horror? To me, this film’s  commentary on violence in mass media and our apathy towards it is about as strong as you can get.

I won’t say I enjoyed watching this movie and I will not watch it again. I can, however, appreciate the contribution that this film has made.