Quick Movie Reviews (In the Shadow of the Moon & The Third Wife)

In the Shadow of the Moon

Time travel can often be a conundrum, for theoretical physicists and screenwriters alike. It’s a more cheaper device to portray convincingly than space travel, which often makes it an appealing prospect for independent filmmakers looking to stretch their sci-fi dollars. But with that, it’s also an incredibly complicated and inherently contradictory concept — so much so that a logically seamless time travel story is, historically speaking, rather rare. Jim Mickle’s In the Shadow of the Moon unfortunately proves to fall under the clumsy rule rather than the clever exception.

In the Shadow of the Moon comes from Netflix, continuing to display how they’ve stepped to fund the kind of mid-budget genre films that major studios have stopped making. This one in particular is a hybrid of many things, blending gritty crime drama with high-concept sci-fi for a story about a time-traveling assassin named Rya (Cleopatra Coleman) who’s working her way backwards from the year 2024 to 1988, when she has a fateful encounter with a Philadelphia beat cop Lock (Boyd Holbrook). Lock nurses a decades-long obsession with this mysterious young woman, who reappears every nine years to kill a handful of people with a gadget that’s explained away to the point of you just shrugging and replying “sure.” The film is structured around these returns, which have something to do with the moon and which brings along with evolution of Holbrook’s facial hair, which doesn’t help his surprisingly unengaging performance.

Image via Netflix

The script by Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock is one that is full of telling rather than showing, and it doesn’t help either than it seemingly makes a point to tell it in the most convoluted way possible. It’s laden with hackneyed banter and pseudoscientific jargon but distressingly short on internal logic. Throw in heavy-handed voice-over at the end of the film that does everything but draw the audience a diagram of what happened over the previous hour-and-fifty minutes, overall it’s all just too overwritten to take seriously. The same combination of sloppiness extends to Mickle’s direction, which overemphasizes certain details while completely neglecting others. The most baffling being the scene of where Lock’s pregnant wife dies, which comes and goes within minutes. But in the end, I at least appreciate some of its ambition. Attempting to meld a boatload of elements, from the likes of sci-fi, action, noir and social commentary, In the Shadow of the Moon is a swing-and-a-miss with every singe one of them. It aims high, but is ultimately a sloppy, at times goofy, misfire.

Grade: C

The Third Wife

It’s not uncommon in Asian cinema to depict female oppression (and resilience) through the historical lens of old patriarchal customs. Stories of entrapped mistresses in existential crisis take on the operatic dimensions of high tragedy; execution and suicide and all sorts of unhappy endings are meant to indicate how unlucky it is to be born a girl in a world of arranged marriages and polygamy. Ash Mayfair’s sensual directorial debut, The Third Wife, recalls the best of these miserable wives tales, taking a microcosmic look at warring spouses within the confines of an austere compound. But Mayfair’s film, set in the countryside of 19th-century Vietnam, threads territory that few male visions have covered before.

The film is centered on May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My), who’s only fourteen. She’s just been sold to a man of high prestige, in order to settle a debt owed by her family. As the title suggests, May is the third wife of the man to which she is engaged. In order to assert herself, she must give birth to a newborn son. She prays, as all women in the village do, asking to “create the last boy for this family.” Given the path instructed, May allows herself to become a man’s physical object, crawling across the floor like a service animal at her new husband’s request. She soon becomes pregnant. And one day, May follows the second wife, Xuan (Mai Thu Huong Maya) and her firstborn son out into the wilderness. The two make love to each other in the forest. May watches the incestuous situation unfold, intrigued by the passion and pleasure she’s witnessing. She begins developing an attraction towards the older mistress. But bad behavior can bring a curse upon the family tensions continue to simmer in secret.

the-third wife
Image via Film Movement

Throughout The Third Wife, Mayfair often keeps her camera at a distance. Numerously using long lens’ and composing her frames with frequently obscuring the foreground with natural elements. Her visuals almost sedate the viewer, bringing a compressing nature into cultural oppression. The misty fog and compact images seemingly evoke the compositions of the great Kenji Mizoguchi. And just like that Japanese auteur’s filmography, the intimate, empathic performances and images amount to everything in this film. Bleeding emotion through its imagery. For a directorial debut The Third Wife is a solid achievement for Ash Mayfair, certainly making her a filmmaker to look out for. Gently paced with a measured approach, The Third Wife displays a understated reflection of sexual subjugation, all shown through subtle, strikingly textured cinematography by Chananun Chotrungroj.

Grade: B-

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