Rage (2021) and an Investigation of Intermission-Based “Epic” Films of the ’50s through the ’70s

Back in the analog days of old, before digital streaming and before home video, the only way to enjoy a film was in the cinema. There were no “home theaters” or man cave-cum-movie rooms (Samuel!) to order-in a movie on your voice remote or yank out a classic from your personal hard-media collection. Going to the movies was an “event,” an event that lead to your parents calling in a babysitter, your dad put on a suit and tie, and your mom wore a dress and heels. And they usually went to dinner before and drinks after. (“Happy Birthday, Pop!,” a 1972 episode of NBC-TV’s Sanford and Son, comically played off this now lost piece of Americana, as Fred Sanford says, during the intermission to Fiddler on the Roof, “You mean there’s more? Oh, I ain’t going back in there . . . the movie’s too long, get some cartoons in here.” (You Tube).)

In the earliest days of cinema, the intermission was necessary to allow projectionists to change out film reels, due to the length of a movie exceeding the length of a reel’s film stock. In the Drive-In arena, the intermission was less mechanical and more financially driven: it boosted concession sales between the double features of what became our later DVD-based, 70-minute trash classics. (Hey, there, Mill Creek!) While there’s Queen Elizabeth (1912), The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939) as early intermission-examples, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the intermission — at least in theaters — was reserved for the two-hour plus epics; the “events” your parents gussied up for and stuck you with your Aunt Martha (who, years later, you discovered wasn’t really your Aunt, just an elderly next door neighbor). Then, by the 1960’s, the intermission served a dual purpose: changing out the film reels to thread up the second half of a (long) movie . . . and boosting concession sales.

We could do one of our patented B&S About Movies theme weeks filled with intermission-based “epic” films, those regal, Americana cinematic events of yesteryear with the titles of Seven Samurai (1954), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960), King of Kings (1961), West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Cleopatra (1963), How the West Was Won (1963), It’s a Mad Mad Mad World (1963), My Fair Lady (1964), Dr. Zhivago (1965), The Great Race (1965), Those Magnificent Men in the their Flying Machines (1965), The Sound of Music (1965), John Guillermin’s The Blue Max (1966), Grand Prix (1966), Walt Disney’s The Happiest Millionaire (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Funny Girl (1968), John Sturges’s Ice Station Zebra (1968), Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Bernard L. Kowalski’s failed epic on-a-budget, Krakatoa, East of Java (1968), Oliver! (1968), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), Hello, Dolly! (1969), Paint Your Wagon (1969), Patton (1970), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), and The Godfather (1972), Barry Lyndon (1975; again, Kubrick), and Michael Cimino’s now infamous film idiom, Heaven’s Gate (1980) (i.e,. Waterworld became “Kevin’s Gate”). Then there’s John Sturges’s The Great Escape (1963), which intended to have an intermission, but despite its 172-minute/two hour fifty-two minute running time, ran without one. The same holds true for Warren Beatty’s bloated passion-project, Reds (1981).

Courtesy of the advent of the behemothian multiplexes (that, thanks to COVID, may not be able to make a comeback), and good ‘ol corporate greed in wanting to fit more screenings into a day (which meant larger box office returns), the final mainstream film with an intermission was Sir Richard Attenborough’s three-hour biopic, Gandhi (1982); there were a few exceptions, such as (again) Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and (again) Franco Zeffirelli’s Mel Gibson-starring Hamlet (1990), both which ran with or without intermissions, depending on the showing.

Today, the two-hour plus cinematic event is rarity; it’s a right of passage reserved for the dues-paying writer-director combos of the Hollywood A-List, such as James Cameron, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell, and Martin Scorsese. However, as result of advances in film technologies and the industry’s transition from celluloid reels to digital storage, a film can now be longer without the intermission. And while films such as Dances with Wolves (1990), Titanic (1997), Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), The Avengers (2012), A Few Good Men (1992), American Hustle (2013), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hunger Games, and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) are certainly artistic achievements deserving of the indulges of time, there’s no denying those films tried your patience and caused you to look down at your watch (more than once) and realize you’ve been sitting for two-hours . . . and you’ve still got the equivalent of a one-hour TV drama (sans commercials) to go. (As many had cursed the “when is it going to end” Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood.)

Then there’s the ticket prices: they’re higher than ever before. And there’s no intermission. And at those prices (I have to a pay for the seat, as well as the actual ticket-for-admission?), getting up for a snack — or a pee — isn’t a prudent financial option. What is this sick, twisted game Hollywood plays with us? The movies are even longer than in the ol’ intermission-days, the drinks are super-duper sized caffeine-shockers, and there’s no intermission? There’s simply no way to sit through today’s epics without the need of a bathroom break. (In fact, when Solo: A Star Wars Story, running at meager 135 minutes (when compared to the “epics” of the ’60s and ’70s, noted above), wasn’t getting any better by the halfway point, and with a need to urinate — and the bathrooms were all the way down the other end of 28-plex’s behemothian corridor — I did my urinal dump, then walked out of the theater. And since the Disney World-esque parking shuttles weren’t running upon my walkout — I had to hoof it back to the car. To paraphrase Fred Sanford: “There’s more? Hell, I ain’t walkin’ all the way back down there, then ‘up’ to my seat in the nosebleeds. It’s a shorter walk to the car.”)

Now, with the stay-at-home streaming age in digital overdrive, an auteur like Martin Scorsese can push the three and a half hour envelope — and skip theaters all together and go straight to the Netflix streaming service. And it’s our paradise: the director can indulge his unfettered artistic desires, the snacks are more bountiful, a better quality, and cheaper — and we have the option of pause buttons to answer to the bladder.

Today, courtesy of the digital-sans-celluloid (I still prefer the scope and depth of 35mm over Reds) cost-effectiveness and ease in which today’s filmmakers can crowdsource and self-produce their visions without studio interference, and with “movie rooms” that we can now set up in our homes courtesy of streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Vudu, not only the “Scorseses” are becoming more ambitious in their narrative scope, so are first time filmmakers. And the streaming-verse is rife with first-time (mostly indie) writers and directors. And some are better than others. For unfettered does not always lead to better (film). (And when those films come down my pipeline, my “review” is not reviewing that film; for there’s no positive endgame, in my opinion, in crushing a filmmaker’s passions. I’ll leave that to the Roger Eberts and Rex Reeds of the review-verse.)

When it comes to first time or “established” unknown indie filmmakers, I will always err (with notable exceptions) that brevity is best. I believe first timers (with notable skill-set exceptions) are best discovered by way of a more commercially palpable 80-minute running time, as such lengths became hard-media de rigueur in the DVD ’90s, since those indie films on the shelf of your local Blockbuster were cross-distributed into two-hour commercial blocks on cable television (see The Asylum-SyFy Channel synergy). But those hard media halcyons of the ’90s are disc-dead in the digital waters. Today’s burgeoning unknowns can even push beyond a patience-trying 90-minute mark to test a streamer’s willingness to dedicate their time to an unknown’s work. Out in those digital wilds on their own, sans a studio’s interference and streaming distributors proliferating the web — complete with their online clarion calls to “fill out our online submission form for your film” — indie filmmakers are free to indulge in their narratives . . . and also unable to separate themselves from the forest to make those hard editing choices to their Canon Red trees.

However, in the case of Rage, the editing and unconventional running time is solidly warranted. So strap on your streaming bucket and get ready for a jolting, 143-minute/two hour and 23-minute physiological ride . . . a graphic journey shot for only $170,000. Just wow. Never has a film accomplished so much with so little (in budget).

Let’s the the big red streaming button, shall we?

Rage is the second, full-length feature film from Melbourne, Australia-based director John Balazs, who made his feature film debut with the Danny Glover-starring Ninja Immovable Heart (2014). Rage also serves as his first internationally-distributed film. The screenplay is by Michael J. Kospiah, an award-winning screenwriter and playwright based out of New York City. He began his writing career as a sports columnist for newspapers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Rage also serves as his second and most widely-distributed feature film; his first was the multiple-festival winner, The Suicide Theory (2014). Each are currently working on their third features films: Balazs’s is the action film, Alpha Dogs (2022); Kospiah’s is the horror film, They Never Left (2022).

Based on what I’ve just watched with Rage, not only am I going to seek out their two earlier films, I will also keep my streaming eagle eyes on-point as I wait for the release of Alpha Dog and They Never Left. Why? Because, regardless of the at-first, apprehensive length of their mutual, first-internationally distributed film, everything works in Rage. We have Kospiah’s QWERTYs into his Final Draft with a non-superfluous, focused reason and purpose backed by thought provoking, solid research of his subject matter. Then it all streams with a digital ease across the finish line courtesy of expertly composited shots by John Balazs and his cinematographer, Ben Luck. The acting by the experienced but unknown Aussie cast (at least here in the U.S.) is of an Oscar-level across all quarters, but do keep your eye out for the best-known thespian of the cast: Richard Norton (here as Detective John Bennett) . . . yes, “The Prime Imperator” in Mad Max: Fury Road (which we discuss in passing during our review of China’s Mad Sheila).

Yeah, you know us all to well, ye reader: There’s more, so much more to Richard Norton when it comes to B&S About Movies film geek fandom. And Norton’s the reason why, in addition to this film’s fine craftsmanship, that we were willing to take on a two-hour digital plunge into the stream from an unknown writing and directing team. Richard Norton got his start in Chuck Norris’s The Octagon (1980) and Forced Vengeance (1982), as well as contributing to multiple episodes of CBS-TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger, starring in Robert Clouse’s Force: Five (1981) and Gymkata (1985), as well as with Michael Dudikoff in American Ninja (1985). And do we really have to remind you that Richard Norton starred as Slade in the great Cirio H. Santiago’s Philippine post-apoc’er Equalizer 2000 (1987)? Well, now you know: Richard Norton is right up there with Mark Gregory, Michael Sopkiw, and Daniel Greene on the B&S About Movies A-Team. (Uh, Sam? How many times must fate drop the Gymkata gauntlet at your QWERTY processor? Review the damn thing already and show the love.)

While we haven’t seen all of Richard’s 67 credits, we’ve seen most of them. And some are great — like the films we’ve mentioned — while others are not so great (Ugh. We’re talking to you, so-not-Alien Hyper Space*.) There’s not another actor that’s more hard working, who was stuck in some questionable projects over the years, more deserving of being cast in a leading role in such a high-quality film. Yeah, we love it when our celluloid heroes — who, in the case of Richard, started out as a bodyguard to the Rolling Stones and personal trainer to Mick Jagger — from our VHS-yesteryears books a role in a great film. (From Jagger to Cirio to this? My head spins . . . what a career!)

Rage is a dramatic thriller that deals with the issues of trauma after experiencing a violent episode, how that trauma affects a marriage, and the errs of revenge and marital infidelity. And to bring it’s Neo-noir narrative full circle, Rage goes uncomfortably dark with bloody, nasty violence — and one of the most graphic rape scenes ever committed to film. This is no weeping willow of an 80-minute, quickly wrapped tight, Lifetime channel damsel-in-distress romp for U.S. TV rife with stagnant camera shots of cardboard situations accented with wooden acting (with all due respect to Sir Eric Roberts and directors Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau who collectively rise the Lifetime sauages to a B&S-approved level).

Rage is a film about truth. Rage is about the real, ugly-dark violence that exists in society — a violence that is, sadly, much more violent that our reality-escapes in film depict. Take Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), then strip away that early decade’s then puritanical censorship film rating boards’ griping about the “rising violence” in films — and let ‘er rip. However, even at that most graphic moment (sans the pre-and-post rape carnage), Rage is still not as scuzzy as Last House on the Left (1972), Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham’s less-tasteful (but the best-made of the ’70s exploitative rape-revenge horror sub-genre) homage-remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960).

Could the brutality of Rage‘s rape scene have benefited from a softer, artfully-styled cut, as seen in Nicolos Roeg’s Don’t Look Now¹ (1973), his mainstream, British Giallo exploration on the psychology of grief and the effects of trauma? Yes. However, that particular editing choice would have diminished the impact of screenwriter Michael J. Kospiah’s “Do the ends justify the means?” and “Who’s the real monster?” exploration end game. For me, Rage isn’t the scuz of the I Spit On Your Grave (1978) variety: Rage is on the respect-level of Takashi Ishii’s Freeze Me (2000). And for as hard as it is for some (most) to watch Gaspar Noé’s non-exploitative Irréversible (2002), Rage is analogous, not only in its “hard to watch” moment (but not as much), but in its cinematic qualities.

(¹ I know . . . everyone says Don’t Look Now meshes the occult-thriller and Gothic genres, but as Sam pointed out in his review: we see it as William Freidkin’s The Exorcist meets Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. If you’re not familiar with the scene: To get past the sensors, Roeg fragmentary softened-the-shock of the then “graphic” depiction of sexual intercourse between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland post-coitally preparing to go out to a dinner party.)

In a way, Rage not only works as a twisty, ulterior-motives fueled neo-noir and retro rape-revenge film, but as a pseudo-portmanteau inspired by the very same “Gothic” Amicus anthologies that inspired Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Michael J. Kospiah’s complex-yet-easily-followed narrative not only explores the distrusts and deceptions between the married as-you-sow-ye-shall-reap victims Noah and Madeline; it also avoids the plot-trope of disposing its law enforcement and criminal aspects as boiler-plated afterthoughts: Kospiah also explores how Noah and Madeline’s noirish ne’er do well activities affects the lives of police detective Rudy Bennett, his wife, therapist Dr Elizabeth Montrose, reluctant femme fatale Sophia Odgen, and the underbelly-existence of Melbourne police officer Tommy Wells and disgraced, ex-cop-cum-private investigator Randy Cooke. As in a Paul Naschy movie — only not as outlandishly Giallo-improbable as his (adored) film Panic Beats — everyone here is spiritually and emotionally rotted — and connected — rattling their bones and hiding skeletons.

And it’s those hearts and bones of all concerned that attract as they repel the viewer in the aftermath of a violent home invasion that leaves the body of Noah (Matt Theo; also served as the film’s executive producer), a mild-mannered, yet ne’er do well husband, in a bullet-ridden coma, his sister-in-law dead, and his wife, Madeline (Hayley Beveridge; 2012’s Dead Moon Circus and 2014’s The Ghost of Victoria Park), adrift in the throes of a speechless, post-traumatic stress disorder existence. As result, the months-on investigation by police detective Rudy Bennett (Richard Norton) is at a dead end — even with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Montrose (Tottie Goldsmith; much-cast Aussie TV actress) improperly disclosing her sessions with Madeline. And the crime deepens Rudy’s emotional scars connected to his ex-partner Randy Cooke (the incredible Jasper Bagg; Thor: Ragnarok and Pacific Rim: Uprising), and their mutual connection to Officer Tommy Wells (Tony Kotsopoulos; he reminds me of the great British actor Ben Cross) and his connection to this latest rape-murder’s similarity to a series of “unsolved” crimes.

As Noah and Madeline try to move on with the lives . . . one day, Madeline spots her “attacker.” And instead of telling Rudy or disclosing to his therapist wife, the couple devises their own twisted plan of a brutal, “eye for an eye” revenge — a revenge that will change the lives of all involved, forever; for love can make you do terrible things. But even when done out of love . . . or guilt to right a wrong . . . is that “terrible thing” justified?

Oddly enough, as Rage rolls out these various character’s dark confessionals with director John Balazs’s unconventional Scorsese-like length, the film ends up being not too long . . . but too short. Rage is a film that could have easily been expanded — so that we could learn even more about (the engaging) Randy Cooke and Tommy Wells, and the defeated-before-they-were-even born lives of the film’s rapists Anthony Bridgewater and Robert Conway — into a mesmerizing, two-day television mini-series event (and back to those intermission-event films of yore, ye go). Or into a Tarantinoesque (again, reflecting to our discussion about “intermission movies”) Kill Bill two-part styled film. At the very least — and considering how Rage leaves its narrative open-ended (Argh! No! But I “get” it.) — Rage deserves, no demands, a sequel. (And please, for god sake Hollywood: Don’t remake Rage, just shower the film with well-deserved foreign award accolades during the 2022 season — then call Kospiah and Balazs up to the la-la land big leagues and leave it at that.)

Rage will be released in the U.S. on February 23, 2021, through Gravitas Ventures. Other films on the imprint we’ve reviewed at B&S About Movies includes Alien Addiction, The Argument, The Arrangement, Don’t Look Back, The Good Things Devil’s Do, and No Way Out. You can discover more of their films via trailers on their official You Tube page.

* We’re scraping the cream . . . and the bottom of the VHS barrels . . . with a week-long blowout tribute to film’s set in outer space. So “like” and “bookmark” us, and come back for our “Space Week” this coming May 2021, won’t you?

Disclaimer: We received a screener of this film from the studio’s P.R. firm. That has no impact on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

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