Guns Akimbo

Guns Akimbo could be written off as cheap cartoonish thrills or simply whack-job hyperactive splatter without a touch of artistry like some of its type, but the fact remains that it’s actually a really good film from all standpoints and I had a ton of fun with it. Daniel Radcliffe has been doing his best to shed the deeply rooted Harry Potter mythos and pick some genuinely edgy, offbeat scripts (Horns, Swiss Army Man) and this one slam dunks squarely into that niche. In the not too distant, slightly dystopian future a terrorist cell of lunatics operates a gladiatorial games match called Skizm, in which various freaks, degenerates and maladjusted humans fight each other to the death all over an unnamed city (actually a super arbitrary combo of Auckland and Munich) as advanced drone technology catches it all and a vast, unruly community of online users observe over the interwebs. Radcliffe is Miles, a meek, beta computer programmer whose only joy in life is to troll user-boards relentlessly until he makes the wrong comment to the wrong account and finds himself targeted by the CEO of Skizm himself, a deranged, tattooed fiend called Riktor (Ned Dennehy). He’s kidnapped and wakes up with two giant guns *literally* nailed into his hands and turned loose into the death match that is Skizm for his troubles, where frying pan turns to fire but quick as he finds himself hunted by the game’s ruthless reigning champion, a rambunctious goth waif named Nix (Samara Weaving). Being an inexperienced softie he finds himself in quite the predicament until… well I won’t spoil the story but it goes to some fun places. Much of it is Miles furiously cavorting about the city with Nix in hot pursuit as vehicles are annihilated, bystanders are blown to pieces and several thousand rounds of ammo are emptied into everything animate and inanimate set to a thunderous, skeleton reverberating electronic score by Enis Rothoff. The action is frenetic, meticulously choreographed and strikingly brutal especially whenever Weaving, who is wicked here, shows up to pulverize a horde of enemies like some kind of nightmarish hell-shryke who escaped from Hot Topic. Radcliffe spends much of the film in a confused, exasperated daze and sort of just.. bungles his way into escaping each new hurdle, it’s a fun shtick. Dennehy is an actor to watch out for as the villain Riktor. He’s an Irish dude who made a distinct charismatic impression as one of the second tier baddies in Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, but he’s positively in another orbit here, a rambling, incoherent, cheerfully psychotic animalistic nut job who is just too much fun to watch. This film falls in the category of super duper torqued up stuff like Crank, Smokin Aces and Shoot Em Up that are a ton of fun for the right audience yet many will find to be just too obnoxious and cacophonous for their tastes, which is fine. I enjoyed this a lot, it’s got style for days, momentum like nobody’s business, ruthlessly pitch black humour and even finds a moment for an albeit heavy handed (literally) yet pretty effective nugget of social commentary on toxic internet gaming culture and the poisonous, desensitizing, voyeuristic prism violence is viewed through online. Fun times.

-Nate Hill

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy

“When I die

bury me deep

lay two speakers around my feet…

wrap two headphones around my head, and rock and roll me when I’m dead”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Wow. This is a film I have been waiting a year for, and while I eagerly devoured up every production still, sound byte and trailer released for marketing, none of that diminished the thunderous, neon drenched nirvana that was the experience seeing it on the big screen. Cosmatos is madly, deeply in love with 80’s horror/fantasy/scifi cinema, and after the initial stroke of brilliance that was Beyond The Black Rainbow, he has evolved into something more cohesive and specific, but no less balls out surreal and brazenly expressionistic. Set in the same austere, timeless 1983 twilight zone meta-verse as Rainbow, this one sees tortured lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) exacting apocalyptic vengeance on both a maniacal cult and a clan of demon bikers for the murder of his beloved girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That is of course the nutshell, analytical summary you’ll see in the online rental guide. What really fills up this two hours of nightmarish bliss is a more free flowing, right brain amalgamation of everything special to Cosmatos in both cinema and music, mottled using material from his own lively imagination, wearing influences both proudly and organically on his sleeve and giving us the gift of one of the most intensely invigorating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. The rage is all about Cage and his gonzo performance, and while that is a sideshow later on, it’s certainly not the main event and the real strength of his performance lies in the restrained, beautiful relationship he has with Mandy, which only makes his crazed rampage cut all the more deep later on. Riseborough is really something special in her role too, she’s the crux of the whole deal and gives Mandy an ethereal, introverted aura that’s just creepy enough and cute enough to live up the film’s title. Linus Roache is really something else as Jeremiah Sand, the fiercely insecure, manically dangerous cult leader, it’s a career peak for the former Thomas Wayne and he plays him like a bratty failed folk musician who’s delusions have fused into his very soul and made him really fucking sick. Ned Dennehy is freakishly deadpan as his second in command, while chameleon actor Richard Brake has a key cameo and veteran Bill Duke shows up to provide both weapons for Cage and a tad of exposition regarding the Hallraiser-esque bikers. This is the final original score composed by Johann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing, and it’s one hell of a swan song. After a gorgeous, arresting opening credit sequence set to King Crimson’s Starless, its all dreamy synths, thunderclaps of metal, extended passages of moody, melodic strains and threatening drones, a composition that leaves a scorched, fiery wake in its fog filled path. One thing that’s missing or at least depleted in film these days versus yesteryear is atmosphere: Back then there were ten smoke machines for every acre of set, title fonts were lovingly hand painted and scenes took their time to unfold, rather than tumbling out of the drawer in a flurry ADHD addled action and exposition. Cosmatos is a physician to this cause and his films feel like both blessed nostalgia and an antidote to that which many filmmakers have forgotten. With Mandy he has created a masterpiece of mood, violence, dark humour, hellish landscapes, softly whispered poetic dialogue, Nic Cage swilling down a sixty pounder of vodka in his undies, fire, brimstone, roaring engines, beautiful music, a tiger named Lizzie, and a pure unbridled dove for making the kinds of films I want to see at the multiplex. Best of the year so far.

-Nate Hill