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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Rage
Liberation Entertainment // Unrated // September 22, 2009
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 3, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Most filmmakers fall into one of two camps: those who make films as art, and those who make films as entertainment. Me, I don't think the gap is that hard to bridge, but for some people, the idea that their work might cross over from the intended side to the other is just horrifying. Sally Potter's independent film Rage is a single-camera "interview" movie that simply seats each of its actors in front of a greenscreen (which changes several different solid colors in the movie) and lets them talk to the camera. This is the kind of premise with the potential to bridge that gap; artistically, it's minimalist, reducing the craft of the filmmakers to the bare elements (something that always excites high-minded auteurs), but many of these faces are familiar, and depending on their topics of conversation, there's nothing that says the end result has to be philosophical or intellectual.

Rage is set behind the scenes at a New York fashion show, where an intern named Michaelangelo (who is never seen or heard) flags down company execs, fashion critics, photographers, models, advertisers and even the pizza boy to share their feelings with his cell phone camera. Over the course of a week, Michaelangelo documents the various catastrophes that keep striking the event, and quietly slips home at the end of the day to post them on his blog (title cards are "typed" onto the screen, complete with the occasional typo, and some of Michaelangelo's subjects comment on the website).

The conceit is far from airtight, mainly because nobody ever seriously complains about Michaelangelo's camera. Some of them get upset that he posts his footage on the internet, but if we see them complaining, that means they're on camera, giving another "interview", which is distracting. That there is not massive panic after each of the show-derailing incidents is also hard to swallow, but it's even harder to believe nobody would get angry that Michaelangelo is sticking his camera in their faces immediately afterward. Only one interviewee gets riled enough to yell at Michaelangelo, and it's not for his blatant insensitivity. I guess I should suspend my disbelief since it's the film's premise, and people love to have ways to vent and talk, but about 35% of Michaelangelo's interviews are increasingly, unrealistically unattainable. It also strikes me as a bit...egotistic, maybe? to name an artist character Michaelangelo, even if he's a film director and not a painter.

Potter is credited as the film's writer, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me the actors had been allowed to improvise much of their scenes, which brings me to my next issue: I hate watching people artificially trying to create the atmosphere of spontaneous conversation, and some of Rage is no different. I don't know what it is, something about the way actors gesture with their hands or the slightly unusual, maybe-funny advice they offer just lets off a subtle whiff of "trying too hard", no matter how well they pull off their off-the-cuff syntax. Of course, there's also at least one or two performances that are just plain bad, including David Oyelowo's intense overacting as a "funky", Shakespeare-quoting detective (ugh) sent to investigate after the second incident, and a few moments (but definitely not all) of Jude Law's look-at-me role as cross-dressing model Minx. Other veterans, like Dianne Wiest and Bob Balaban just don't make enough of an impact; there isn't enough there for them to grab onto.

However, there are still sporadic flashes of the solid, if unremarkable little film it might be if everything was working. I liked Buscemi's slightly edgy attitude as a weathered, tired cameraman even if I probably wouldn't like the "person" if I'd met him in real life, which is a balance most of the film lacks. Jacob Cedergren, Patrick J. Adams and Eddie Izzard are all in some way interested in the "image" or vision of the event (as a promotions guy, an advertising intern and a rich entrepreneur, respectively), and their awareness of Michaelangelo's website and what he's doing with the footage makes their interviews entertaining and even funny. There's also one total outsider, a character named Vijay, played by Riz Ahmed. As a bystander who just happens to get swept up in the show, his perspective is already meant to be an "in" for the audience, but such an attitude ends up doubling as an "in" to the film itself, cutting past any dramatic intentions until he just seems like a believable person.

I recently read a review of a movie that was summed up as the reason people don't go to film festivals. Rage is unlikely to irritate the masses quite that badly, since there's some star power in it and some of it is pretty amusing, but the idea or concept of the experiment still seems more prominent than anything about the execution, a hump that any film -- artistic or otherwise -- needs to overcome.

I just complained about the "box montage" cover in another review, but the one on Rage is too low-tech to count as the same thing. It does feel like it's missing a photograph, though, next to the one with Sally's credit in it. The back cover is covered in tiny text that might have benefitted from being blown up a little, the disc has a full color image of the title with a photo showing through it on a black background, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Rage is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks excellent. Since the film's visual aesthetic is so basic, there's really not much for the DVD compression to have trouble with, and the colors are bright and vivid. Whites run a little hot, but I'm pretty sure it's an intentional choice on Potter's part rather than an issue with the DVD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also surprisingly active. The film's setup often places music and sound effects in the background, and it does an excellent job of recreating the "backstage at an event" feeling of far-off action. The only other element is the dialogue (there is only the briefest bit of foreground music at the end), and it's clear as day. Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is also included (is this really necessary anymore?), and there are no subtitles.

The Extras
22 unused scenes are included, arranged by character or a Play All option (24:57) that places the footage in chronological order. This material isn't any better or worse than what's in the finished film (although Balaban tells a good story), but watching it this way does make me wonder if the film would be more interesting if a single character's interviews were all presented in a consecutive reel.

There's also an extremely low-key, grainy-looking interview with Sally Potter (12:56), discussing the themes and inspiration behind her film. She's got plenty to say, but it's kinda boring, so maybe it's a good thing she didn't record an audio commentary. The only other extra is original theatrical trailer. None of the bonus features are subtitled.

Viewers with a taste for the experimental without anything more pressing on their "to watch" list might enjoy renting Rage on a rainy day, as the video and deleted scenes are solid, but the movie isn't entirely successful, failing to bridge the gap between art and entertainment.

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