Over The Moon

Of the many things Over the Moon teaches younglings and adults alike, the most apparent lesson is that grief over the death of a loved one is often overcome by flashy, colour-splashed fireworks and jelly-like space creatures.

If you ask me, that’s less of a lesson and more of a delusion. But still, if one peers ever so hard into the deep crevices of the bubble-like structures making up the fantasy moon land of Lunaria, they will find the context and relevance of that delusion within the scope of the story. But even then, it’s such a small, negligible part of the equation.

It could have been grander and I think, somewhere in his heart, legendary master-artist Glen Keane knows this as well. Keane is an institution whose career and pencils, as animation supervisor, brought life to Aladdin, Tarzan, Pocahontas, Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) and Beauty and the Beast’s Beast. He would have made his debut long ago with Tangled when it was still conceptualised as a traditionally-animated feature. Now, away from Disney, Keane is directing and executive producing Over the Moon, and Netflix hopes the film will edge itself into the Oscars race.

If only it were that easy.

Over the Moon soars in its first 15 minutes. In a small scenic, unnamed Chinese city, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), her Ba Ba (ie. father, John Cho) and her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) live happy little lives making and selling mooncakes, and sitting by the riverside recounting fables. Fei Fei’s favourite one is of Empress Chang’s (Phillipa Soo), a moon goddess who pines for her human lover.

This week on Netflix: The animated Over The Moon could have been far grander while Rebecca is an entertaining enough remake with bits and pieces of flair here and there

When Fei Fei’s mother passes away, and her father brings in a soon-to-be new mom (Sandra Oh) four years later, the young heroine has no choice but to build a rocket to the moon out of firecracker rockets and less-than-sturdy plastic deliverables. Tagging along with her on the trip is her annoying soon-to-be younger brother (Robert G. Chiu) — a hard-headed kid who believes he has superpowers — his frog and Fei Fei’s pet bunny.

Once they hit the moon, with help from supernatural forces, the film’s momentum sputters to a halt. The fantasy land, splashed with colour and teeming with jelly-like inhabitants, seems superficial, and Empress Chang’e, who makes a grand entry as a pop diva (with an upbeat song Ultra Luminary, whose lyrics are forced on to the music), turns out to be just as shallow. To complicate matters with undue reason, she sets off Fei Fei on a small quest.

The adventure is far from adventurous, and the midpoint of the film adds some minor characters of interest. With so little on-screen time so late in the film, the entries try to force, but don’t contribute any worthwhile, emotion to the film.

Keane’s debut needs a rewrite (Audrey Wells, the screenwriter whose credits include The Hate U Give and George of the Jungle, passed away in 2018) with a heavy helping of originality. Unspectacular as it is, it’s still a decent spend of one’s 100 minutes.

Over the Moon, streaming on Netflix, is rated suitable for 7+ – ie. a Universal rating fit for everyone

Rebecca

There is something tonally misplaced in Rebecca. You sense it from the moment a young female voice starts narrating about dreaming of returning to Manderley — a plush estate near the coastline of southern England in 1935. It’s not the words — the words themselves are a classic, by the way — but rather how those words are delivered — dreamy and orated.

The words come from a nameless, parentless, young woman who works as a “companion” — an assistant-cum-aide, if you will, to bored wealthy people. As it happens, the young woman — who is never named in the film — is the companion to a snide, single woman crossing her middle ages, hoping to find romance in Monte Carlo.

And romance there is, but for the young woman, when she meets a handsome devil named Maxim de Winter, a wealthy Englishman who roams the world after the death of his wife. Maxim has an air of insincerity about him, as does everyone in Rebecca. An air of showboating that feels fake, unnecessary and apparent.

He is played by the great Laurence Olivier, and the Rebecca I’ve just written about is directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 — his first film produced in the US, and his only Best Picture Oscar winner.

But fret not, the version of the film streaming now on Netflix starring Armie Hammer in Olivier’s shoes, isn’t that much different from Hitchcock’s. Hitting the exact story points, some of which Hitchcock deliberately huddled together, there is nary a difference.

As it was in the past film, in the present version, the nameless young woman marries de Winter and relocates to Manderley, where she is immediately put into her place by their housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). Danvers has been at Manderley since Rebecca, de Winter’s dead wife, was married here. From the condemnatory looks she throws at the camera every so often, it’s apparent that she doesn’t like the new Mrs de Winter (Lily James) very much.

A mousey ingenue, the young girl’s lack of royalty is obvious as she walks around with trembling fingers that may knock over priceless heirlooms. Her anxious hesitancy, however, doesn’t curb her sense of curiosity as she probes into Rebecca’s death. The answers she manages to dig up are creepy and incomplete; when she confronts her husband, he fidgets, turns an angry shade of red, and walks away with a thunder cloud over his head.

While Rebecca is dead, and there are no pictures of her in the house, her aura is suffocating the air in Manderley’s great halls. The story, adapted from the novel by Daphne du Maurier, is a straightforward one with little mystery. It’s a fitting playground for directors and screenwriters to embed their own visual theatrics into specific turning points. While Hitchcock, given his deft touch of urgency, is still a master to revere, Ben Wheatley isn’t bad either.

Wheatley’s version, written by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, The Woman in Black, Kingsmen), Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel (Seberg, Frankie & Alice), shines a great big spotlight on Kristin Scott Thomas to play-up Mrs Danver’s evilness.

Both Hammer and James slip into their characters with relative ease; they — and the tone (and especially the climax) — deliver a modern touch-up of the original. While not much of a mystery, Rebecca is still an entertaining story with bits and pieces of flair here and there.

Streaming on Netflix, Rebecca is rated 18+ for scenes of romance and adult themes

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 6th, 2020

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