Film Review: Mandy (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Sam Louwyck, Hayley Saywell

SpectreVision, Umedia, Legion M, XYZ Films, RLJE Films, 121 Minutes

Review:

“You are a vicious snowflake.” – Red Miller

Everyone is raving about Mandy. Most of the comments I’ve seen have painted this as a modern surreal horror masterpiece. Well, it’s definitely not a masterpiece but it was a serious mindfuck and pretty enjoyable.

It’s almost two movies though, perfectly split down the middle and broken into two solid hours.

The first half of the film is romantic, sweet and then very fucked up and disturbing. It tells the story of Red and Mandy, shows their love for one another but also brings in the evil Jeremiah Sand and his cult. Sand has an obsession with Mandy, after seeing her walking through the woods.

The second half of the film deals with Red, having watched his woman burn alive due to the actions of Sands’ cult, walk into the mouth of hell for a one man revenge killing spree. And as enchanting and mesmerizing as the first half of the film was, this is where shit really hits the fan and it’s a balls to the wall blood feast.

What makes the film so surreal is the mixture of it’s bizarre plot and evil characters along with the use of color, lighting and overall cinematography. This mixture of narrative and visuals makes this feel like early David Lynch meets recent Nicholas Winding Refn. It’s a pretty interesting marriage of styles but at the same time, that alone can’t carry a film and this thing is more drawn out than it needs to be.

There isn’t as much action as the trailer might imply but the action is pretty good where it occurs. This is a bloody film and it really hits a raw nerve in several places. But one could make an argument that this is style over substance. I won’t necessarily say that but I will point to the fact that the things I found most interesting weren’t really expanded on or fleshed out enough, in my opinion. I definitely felt like I needed to know more about Sand and his minions.

The film’s score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, this was his final film, was a perfect compliment to the film’s visual and dark allure. Jóhannsson’s work here magnified the effect of key scenes.

This is definitely a memorable film that I know I will watch again in the future but it isn’t so compelling that I’ll fire it up again anytime soon. I do, however, wish that I could have seen this on the big screen.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.

TV Review: Bloodline (2015-2017)

Original Run: March 20th, 2015 – May 26th, 2017
Created by: Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tony Morales, Edward Rogers, James S. Levine
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Jacinda Barrett, Jamie McShane, Enrique Murciano, Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Katie Finneran, John Leguizamo, Andrea Riseborough, Chloë Sevigny, David Zayas, Beau Bridges, Mario Van Peebles, Mia Kirshner

KZK Productions, Sony Pictures Television, Netflix, 33 Episodes, 48-68 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a show that came highly recommended by several people. I put it off until now but picked it up just in time to binge through it and catch the final season as it debuted.

Bloodline is a show that is really up and down. It starts out a bit slow but builds towards something strong, compelling and powerful as the first season comes to an end.

The second season isn’t as good as the first and it is tough to sit through some of it, as it loses its pacing and doesn’t really seem all that interesting in resolving anything or bringing any sort of balance to the characters’ situations or them spiraling crazily out of control.

The third season suffers from multiple personality disorder. A big portion of the season deals with a trial where you expect there to be some real closure but there is none. Then the season ends and the show ends with still… no friggin’ closure.

Bloodline had the tagline of “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” In reality, they are all horrible people. There are a few good and innocent characters but they are all dragged down into the murky shit that is the lives and personalities of the main characters. The Rayburns are an awful family of awful people who are willing to do anything to anyone in an effort to play up appearances because the Rayburn name is apparently the equivalent to royalty in the Florida Keys.

The only really good character is the only one that actually starts out as a criminal. Danny, played by Ben Mendelsohn (most famous for being the baddie in Star Wars: Rogue One), is a great and dynamic character. You are never sure of what his motivations are but there is something redeeming about him, even if he does despicable things. By the end of the show, however, he is the least despicable member of his shitty family of fuck ups.

The big problem with the show is that you don’t like anyone and it makes it hard to care about any of them. Truthfully, I wanted to see justice for everything that they did but it never comes. The show ends in the most unsatisfying way and all the innocent people effected by these self-important assholes are left with nothing.

The show also ends on a cliffhanger but it is a weak cliffhanger because even though you are left guessing, after three seasons you know that truth and justice won’t prevail. With the Rayburns, self-preservation is their disease, even though all their attempts at it have disastrous results that ultimately ruin their lives anyway. This is a long drawn out story where no one learns anything or really evolves other than getting worse and worse.

To be fair, the acting is stellar and the cinematography is amazing as hell. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make a show all on its own. The writing dissolves as this show rolls on past its first season. Frankly, its a story that seems to be designed to torture the viewer, unless the viewer doesn’t have a moral compass or a burning desire to see justice prevail in the end.

It sounds like I’m coming down hard on the show but I didn’t hate it. I was mostly just annoyed by it and in the end, it all seemed pointless.

Film Review: Birdman (2014)

Release Date: August 27th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo
Music by: Antonio Sánchez
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 119 Minutes

birdmanReview:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu seems to be making the sort of films that the big wigs in Hollywood seem to love. Michael Keaton seems to be having a real career resurgence over the last few years. So seeing the two collaborate is really interesting. Throw in an all-star cast on top of Keaton and you might find yourself with something truly special, at least on paper.

Birdman is a fairly refreshing film. It has some very unique elements to it but it doesn’t necessarily tread new or daring territory. It is a movie that I’m on the fence with.

Let me talk about the positives, many of which should be quite obvious, even without seeing the film.

To start, the acting is incredible. This is one of the best performances of Michael Keaton’s career. He truly shines and really lets loose. He also looks like he is intimately enjoying his craft.

Zach Galifianakis is a guy I’ve never been a fan of. However, he shows that he has what it takes to reach the next level and I enjoyed him in Birdman. Edward Norton gives one of the best performances of his career. Granted, he is always great in just about every role but this is up there with his part in Fight Club for me. Emma Stone, as good as she is, has never been better. Naomi Watts was also solid but didn’t have a lot of screen time, which is also how it went for Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. These three women were stellar but needed more time to shine. Riseborough especially won me over.

The direction was very good and Iñárritu got the most out of his cast. The cinematography was phenomenal; the color palate and the lighting were stunning. The score to the film was perfect, as the jazz drummer flawlessly built up the right kind of tension and mood from scene-to-scene.

Now as far as the plot goes, there wasn’t much there to captivate me. Sure, Keaton’s Riggan is a good character with a lot of complexity but I’ve seen this story before. It is about an old actor, past the prime of his career, trying to hold on to his fame and asking himself, constantly, what the meaning of everything is. It is a midlife crisis playing out on film from a self-absorbed, sometimes douchebaggy man, that seems more like a spoiled child that can’t handle it when reality starts to set in. Therefore, he creates a fantasy world in his head, which sometimes teases that it might be real but never is. In fact, the teases get kind of annoying, as the overall story is more interesting than these little psychotic flourishes throughout the picture.

People often times question the film’s ending, asking if he actually did have these special powers or if there was some hidden meaning. The final scene sees his daughter look to the sky and smile, supposedly confirming that her father can fly like Birdman, the famous superhero he played twenty years prior. Throughout the film, you see people react to Riggan’s use of his powers in his fantasies. Why would the ending be any different? I think it is to signify that Riggan is still slightly mad, as opposed to it proving that he isn’t actually crazy and that he truly has superpowers. In fact, I feel like that was absolutely obvious but people want to read too much into things and have debates for the sake of debating. I don’t see it as an ambiguous ending at all. But it’s good for the filmmakers, as people will discuss it for years to come.

I did enjoy the film, despite the things that just didn’t grab me. It is certainly a showcase of great acting, directing, the use of music in film and cinematography. It is the type of film that a film lover loves. However, from a writer’s standpoint, it just feels very thin and not as unique as it tries to be. So many other films have walked the line between the real and surreal and done it much more effectively. Look at Terry Gilliam’s work for example.

It is also hard to not see the similarity between Birdman, the fantasy character, and the bird wings sprouting from the back of Jonathan Pryce’s character, in the midst of his fantasies in Gilliam’s Brazil.