Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

“You vicious snowflake.” A review of Mandy – By Josh Hains

The last time I saw a movie as batshit-fucking-insane as this year’s Mandy, a young woman was hacking apart her demonically possessed friends during a rainstorm of literal blood in Evil Dead (2013). And just like Evil Dead before it, Mandy earns its insanity by establishing it right from frame one with an epigraph containing the last words of the deceased murderer Douglas Roberts (who killed a man whilst under the influence of drugs):
“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones in my head and rock ’n’ roll me when I’m dead.”, a stanza which is evocative of the impending descent into a similarly drug induced murderous frenzy the character of Red will endure.

The plot is so exceptionally simple you can practically predict the ending from a mile away: happily in love lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and the introverted artist and convenience store worker Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, who doesn’t have to stretch much here but is still great nonetheless), are living a peaceful existence near the Shadows Mountains of the Mojave desert in California, when the megalomaniacal cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his drug addled Jesus-freak followers and a few near demonic drug fueled psycho bikers who growl and roar like pissed off dragons, kidnap and murder Mandy, and Red sets out on an obvious path of bloodthirsty revenge. You’ve seen plenty of movie with similar plots to this one, haven’t you?

While your answer may be a resounding yes, what separates Mandy from the typical revenge thriller is how the movie is executed by director Panos Cosmatos (the son of the late George P. Cosmatos, whom directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Cobra), with lush and often trippy visuals occuping the space between small bouts of impactful dialogue, or gory killings at the hands of the broken hearted Red. After kickstarting the movie with the aforementioned metal mantra, and accompanied by a haunting score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson that sounds like a 2 hour theme for the arrival of an apocalypse, Cosmatos beautifully conveys the idyllic lifestyle of Mandy and Red through lush, high contrasted photography while simultaneously gradually disintegrating the visuals into a trippy style that operates like a fusion between the surrealism of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and the nightmarishly hallucinatory trip of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, as the film’s events become more hellish and violent.

This first half of the movie is literally separated from its second half by the title card “Mandy”, followed by Red suffering an all-out emotional and psychological breakdown that allows Cage to go “full Cage” without the scene itself feeling fake or forced. Red then arms himself for bloody battle, collecting a crossbow from an old friend (Bill Duke) forging an axe that would give Thor heart palpations, and unleashes his near animalistic, boiling like an active volcano rage upon Mandy’s murderers. And yes, the rumours are true, there is indeed a one-on-one chainsaw duel, and it’s every bit as metal, badass, and grotesque as you’re wishing it to be. And no, that’s not the goriest death in Mandy.

Of course, Mandy does have a couple flaws in its blood drenched body armour. A confrontation between Mandy and the cult that provides deeper insight into their madness serves great purpose, but ultimately felt like it brought the movie to a grinding halt until this prolonged sequence finally came to a close. I also found a supporting performance by an unknown actor as a cult member who I can only assume was intentionally meant to annoy the audience, didn’t match the tone of the movie and was distractingly campy, though thankfully limited in their screen time.

Mandy may not be a revolutionary, game changing motion picture by any means, but along with the similarly slick and brutal (and goddamned great) revenge flick Upgrade, it is the kind of gloriously gory genre fare that Hollywood used to make in fistfuls, and needs to keep producing at this level of craftsmanship. So if you’re looking to spend the night all cozied up with a violent movie pulsing on your television, or screaming in your ears at your go-to theatre, look no further than the blood soaked beast that is Mandy.

*Mandy is currently in limited theatrical release and available through VOD and iTunes across North America, and features a brief post-credits sequence.

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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

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart can be given the nutshell description of ‘Lynch does Bonnie & Clyde’, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this twisted, surreal, beautifully scarring piece of bizarro cinema cunningly disguised as a love story. It is a love story, first and foremost, but that’s also only a blueprint onto which all sorts of other dreams, visions and nightmares are painted. It’s very, *very* loosely on a book by Barry Gifford, but what Lynch whips up makes the source material seem grey and unrecognizable in comparison. Gifford’s book is the black and white prologue to The Wizard Of Oz and Lynch’s version is the dazzling yet unnerving technicolour dream world that follows, and indeed he uses imagery and gives shout outs to that film any chance he gets here. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune, lovers on the run from the Deep South and Lula’s tyrannical monster of a mother Marietta, played by Diane Ladd in an Oscar nominated turn that doesn’t just chew scenery but devours it with the force of an imploding neutron star that eats galaxies. Marietta is intent on keeping the two of them apart for reasons slowly and subtly unveiled, and she sends everyone and their mother after them including mopey private detective Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and dangerous mobster Marcellos Santos (the late great J.E. Freeman). Sailor and Lula’s journey is a deranged yellow brick road through 50’s infused Americana, perverse apparitions abound and literally almost everyone they meet ranges from deeply disturbed to outright psychotic to marginally quirky. Santos sends a cabal of weirdo assassins headed up by ghoulish sadist Perdita Durango (Grace Zabriskie in a pants shittingly scary performance) and her cronies (David Patrick Kelly and Calvin Lockhart). In Texas they run into reptilian scumbag Bobby Peru, brought to life by Willem Dafoe in a skin crawling portrait of sexual menace and warped glee that would scare off Frank Booth. Lula tells tales of her delusional cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) putting cockroaches on his anus and of being raped at age thirteen by her father’s business friend (actually shown in a brief but upsetting cutaway). Why all this unpleasantness, you ask? Well… I don’t know, but Lynch seems to and he isn’t sharing the coordinates of his moral compass with anyone, he’s simply storytelling and holding nothing back of the weird or wild variety. Amongst all the violence and monstrosity there’s an undercurrent of tenderness and love that pulses via Sailor and Lula’s relationship, cultivated in an ebb and flow tide of simple, candid pillow talk and unbridled passionate sex that mirrors their frequent and feverish visits to sweaty dance clubs. This is their story, and every ghost, goblin and witch they meet along the way is simply a dark passenger or otherworldly day player in their tale, plus they often make for hilariously off colour vignettes, like Jack Nance’s deranged 00 Spool or Freddie Jones’s gnomish pigeon expert. My favourite sequence is a sobering, haunted diversion off the side of a freeway where they discover a distraught girl (Sherilyn ‘Audrey Horne’ Fenn) rambling through a bout of brain trauma from a car accident. Angelo Badalamenti’s score sings through this to the point of chills, as it does throughout the film. Also traversing down this dark yellow brick road are William Morgan Sheppard, Frances Bay, musician John Lurie, Nicholas Love, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frank Collison, Ed Wright, Isabella Rossellini and Sheryl ‘Laura Palmer’ Lee herself as Glenda the Good Witch. As proclaimed by Lula at one point, “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top..” It is indeed, and we’re lucky to have a filmmaker like Lynch to do his part in keeping it that way by making unique, bizarre films like this to remind us just what is possible in cinema with a little invention, a whole lot of colour, splashes of horror and a love of storytelling. Maybe not Lynch’s most prolific or instantly recognizable work, but a full on classic for me and high up on his filmography list.

-Nate Hill

ALEX PROYAS: An Interview with Kent Hill

Dark-City-Alex-Proyas-1998-Behind-the-scenes-7

Dark City was (and is still) an incredible experience when it arrived in theatres – albeit in a form which didn’t accurately reflect the director’s vision.

Yet the power of the film is undeniable. Thinking about it and revisiting it makes me sad in many ways. In part because original films that tell stories that are fun, entertaining and with unique complexity are few and a galaxy far, far away in between. In the age of streamlined, market-researched, great score on Rotten Tomatoes-type movies, we see few, if any, interesting tales told from personal places as opposed to a facsimile of what’s trending well at the moment.

Director ALEX PROYAS on the set of KNOWING, a Summit Entertainment release.

Enter the cinema of Alex Proyas. Be it low budget or big-time-blockbuster, Alex injects his work with a very distinct style, a mastery of cinematic arts along with a passion for the story he is bringing to a theatre near you. But what I found most intriguing is that there is a price for everything in the market place. A toll which one must pay on many levels as a concept makes the arduous journey from script to screen.

Alex has fought many battles both while making the movies he wants to make, but also after the film is taken out of the camera and projected for your viewing pleasure. And, personally, I feel it is a nonsensical exercise to place hurdle after hurdle in front of the artists giving their all to satisfy themselves and we the movie-loving public. A foolish endeavor to hinder the music makers and the dreamers of the dreams – when all they seek to do is take you away from your dreary existence for an hour or two.

Filmmakers have usually already talked about, at great length, the makings of their pictures. So, as much as I love his work, I decided to talk to Alex about the state of movies in general. It is after all, always fascinating to hear the other side of the story. I’ve always been as intrigued by the mechanics of films and the men who make them, as I am with the end result.

It was truly an honor, as it ever is, to have a chat with an artist one admires – Alex Proyas was no exception. A great gentleman, an important filmmaker . . . my dear PTS listeners . . . I give you, Alex Proyas.

Lee Tamahori’s Next

Lee Tamahori’s Next is an ironically titled piece of garbage, because in working my way through Nicolas Cage’s minefield of a post-90’s career, all I wanted to do was yell “next!” and shut this one off. Next in line is actually Ghost Rider, which is like going from the frying pan into the fire, but you can’t win em’ all I suppose. I’m all for a trashy Cage flick now and again, even enjoying some of his more lambasted outings but this one really takes the cake. Adorned in a greasy mop-mullet, he plays a low rent Vegas magician here who actually does possess a bit of the ol’ clairvoyance, which comes in handy when Ice Queen FBI Agent Julianne Moore wants to recruit him for the bureau’s x files department to stop terrorism before it even happens, particularly an attack on Vegas expected soon. It’s a thin setup and he spends most of his time hitting on truck-stop waitress Jessica Biel, who is at least half his age. That’s another thing with the latter half of his career, this old grandpa Cage keeps getting casted with these babes who are young enough to be his daughter, and man it feels weeeiirrddd. (Two films starring as Eva Mandes’s boyfriend! Two!). I know the guy’s a superstar but believability is strained when you realize none of these chicks would actually do that if these flicks were real life. Anywho, the terrorist plot here is a lazily written thing, the baddie literally called Mr. Smith, played by Thomas Kretschmann, too great of an actor to always be stuck in these half ass styrofoam villain roles. Cage uses a mode of telepathic foresight to investigate, a gimmick that plays around with time and reality but lacks any modicum of coherence and just becomes super duper confusing to the plot. This one is all glitter and razzle dazzle up front, but there’s nothing under the hood to back up the hollow roar of it’s somewhat promising premise that gets trod upon by sloppy filmmaking and an overall sense of tackiness. Next!

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

Joel Schumacher used to be a household name amongst Hollywood directors, and then kind of sailed off the face of the map (Coppola seems to have done the same). He was one of the most prolific filmmakers of the 80’s and 90’s and then it cooled off in recent years, but he still churns out a flick or three now and again, one of which is the high gloss home invasion thriller Trespass. It’s in the vein of Cimino’s Desperate Hours, not just for having an almost identical premise but also for the fact that it’s not a great movie, but one that services the genre nicely, gives the crowd just what they’d expect from this fare and even throws in a few earned surprises. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy couple who live in a fortress of a house that comes under siege from three rabid criminals who are after… something. Is it the alleged diamonds in Cage’s impenetrable safe? Is it the money he claims is all gone or stuck into his lavish home? Or is something darker at stake here? The guessing game that ensues is pretty well done, with perspective flashbacks and red herrings used nicely. The burglars are played by a quartet of the excellent Ben Mendelsohn who give yet another sketchy, terrifying villain portrait, fondly remembered TV actress Jordana Spiro, The always reliable Dash Mihok and Cam Gigandet, who sadly keeps getting casted in stuff way beyond his talent level. His psycho/pretty boy role here is one of the most demanding parts in the script and the guy just doesn’t have anything under the hood except for his looks (see Pandorum for another painful case of him ruining a well written role). Kidman is wistful and scared, doing the same thing she did in Dead Calm without the cold resilience, while Cage does crazy to a T, no surprise there. I heard that midway through filming he suddenly wanted to switch to one of the villain roles, and didn’t get his way. I laughed upon hearing him bellow out ‘shit-hole’ in that maniacally screechy, petulant way of his and I pictured him having a tantrum at the producers for not giving in. This is a humdrum flick that isn’t built to last or make huge impressions, but it serves as an energetic, well mounted domestic siege thriller with enough violence and commotion to keep eyelids from dropping.

-Nate Hill

Con Air

Con Air, man. Is there a better movie about inmates who take over an airplane and hold the guards hostage? It’s actually the only movie about that, but in all seriousness it’s one hell of a blast of summer action movie fireworks, and it holds up like a fucking diamond to this day. It’s ridiculous and it full well knows it, but producers Jerry Bruckheimer and notorious pyrotechnics enthusiast Don Simpson start at outlandish and only ascend from there, until there’s so many explosions, crashes, bangs, tough guy banter, graphic violence and commotion that it reaches a fever pitch and you kind of just surrender to the onslaught and get lost in hyperkinetic bliss for two glorious hours. One of the biggest assets the film has is the script by cunning linguist Scott Rosenberg (Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead), who gives every character at least a handful of one liners and keeps the dialogue fresh, cynical and never short on laughs. Nicolas Cage and his tangled, flowing mane of hair play Cameron Poe, a good ol’ Alabama boy just off of a jail stint for accidentally killing a redneck asshole (Kevin ‘Waingro’ Gage) who verbally assaulted his beautiful wife (Monica Potter). Here’s the setup: he’s paroled and stuck on a giant aircraft thats sole purpose is to transport convicts around the country. Now the department of corrections being the geniuses that they are (John Cusack is the head genius in this case), they decide to populate this particular flight with literally the worst group of psychotic, ill adjusted, murdering dissidents that ‘Murcia has to offer, because staggering them over a few flights or peppering just a few monsters in with the regular convicts every third or fourth flight just makes too much sense, or, as we the audience must remember and revere, there would be no bombastically entertaining hook for a story like this. Of course the plane gets taken over, the inmates run a very big flying asylum and many people die in many different ways, while Cage sticks around to play hero, protect his cell mate friend (Mykelti Williamson) and take out as many of these bastards as he can, often with his bare hands. Talk about eclectic, layered casts; everyone is in this flick, starting with scary John Malkovich as Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, a career criminal who claims he’s killed more people than cancer. Yeah. Ving Rhames is a hulking lunatic called Diamond Dog, vicious Nick Chinlund scores points as mass murderer Billy Bedlam, Danny Trejo is a heinous piece of work called Johnny 23 on account of his numerous rape charges, and there’s all manner of creeps, scoundrels and scumbags including Dave Chappelle, M.C. Gainey, Juan Fernandez, Emilio Riviera, Doug Hutchison and more. Colm Meaney, Don S. Davis, Rachel Ticotin and Powers Boothe make impressions as well, but it’s Steve Buscemi who takes the cake as a Hannibal Lecter-esque nutjob named Garland Greene, who’s so dangerous that corrections officers will literally only touch him with ten foot poles. It’s an action movie that dares to get really down n’ dirty, and probably wouldn’t get made today, or at least not without a few tweaks to its very profane, deliberately messed up script. I wouldn’t have the thing any other way though, not only is it mean and nasty, it’s got all the bells and whistles of a summer blockbuster, plus the Lerner Airfield sequence and the Vegas strip landing set piece are two of the most monumentally raucous action undertakings I’ve ever seen, not to mention the subsequent fire truck chase that destroys half the city and makes gruesome use of a pile driver. This film is as far over the top as the altitude that the plane flies at, and then some.

-Nate Hill