Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Light and Dark and Off the Beaten Track

It goes without saying that Hollywood no longer knows how to make movies. What may be news is that it doesn’t even know how to distribute or market the good movies being made in other countries.

Miss Minoes is a charming children’s move from the Netherlands about a cat that’s transformed into a young woman. If you’re concerned about the how or why of that, this is not your movie. However, if you just accept the premise, and if you enjoy such things in a children’s picture as: good performances (especially from the mesmerizing Carice van Houton in the title role); a child lead who is not offensively precocious; a gentle, humorous adventure in which  justice prevails and an unlikely romance blooms; and if you prefer a children’s movie that doesn’t hit you over the head with some insipid “message” about friendship or self-empowerment, then Miss Minoes should be right up your alley, cat.

The movie was made fourteen years ago, and released in America for about five minutes under the misguided and not very enticing title Undercover Kitty. Hollywood seems to have done everything in its power to bury the thing. Hollywood does this, frequently, to movies that it does not understand (does anyone remember Bamboozled?) or that threaten to outperform its own product. I found it on iTunes. Glory be to this science-fictional, content-on-demand world that we now live in, in which almost nothing stays dead and buried forever so long as the rights issues can be sorted out.

Emotions that have stayed buried for too long are the subject of the Australian horror movie, The Babadook. If you are one of those Icky people who actually enjoys the kind of blood-soaked, gore-laden exercises in cruelty that Hollywood is currently passing off as “horror movies,” (horrible movies would be the better description) then again this is not your movie. 

Unrated in this country, it deserves a PG-13 but would probably be given an R by our nonsensical MPAA system that can’t even come up with a list of standards that makes sense to itself. There is minimal blood, no gore, and the only person who dies in the whole picture did so some years before the story begins. So-called “jump scares” are nonexistent in the picture, which favors dread and suspense over shock value. That said, the emotions run very high indeed, and lead actress Essie Davis deserves a medal of honor for a performance that goes for broke and leaves nothing at the gate.

The monster of the movie’s title is seen only in shadow: but it is as dynamic as any movie monster and carries more impact than most. Without, hopefully, spoiling too much of the plot, this is a real-life monster that we must all meet, and deal with, sooner or later. The people who don’t appreciate this movie’s denouement are either too thick to “get” what the filmmaker is saying — or else they have never yet experienced the thing that the monster represents; which is to say that they have lived a blessed, merciful life so far, and cannot be faulted for their good fortune. For the rest of us, The Babadook offers a powerful release of negative emotion, feelings that we never asked for, but which inevitably take up residence in our emotional closets, ready to pounce when we are least able to face them.

— Frede

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