Tag Archives: Andrea Riseborough

Mandy (2018 Sundance)

15 Sep

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but somewhere in the 2000’s or perhaps 2010’s there was a collective cultural reawakening and renewed appreciation for the actor Nicolas Cage. Perhaps it was due to the broadening of meme culture and prevalence of GIFs as a viable communication tool. Perhaps it’s entirely due to the infamy of Neil LaBute‘s unnecessary remake of The Wickerman which is often cited as being one of the best (worst?) of the so-bad-it’s-great horror collection. Or maybe it had something to do with fan-made “greatest hits” video mashups of the thespian’s most outlandish moments. Whatever the reason, the Chuck Norris of the internet age had gone from acclaimed dramatic actor to C-movie superstar with roles in such abysmal works like Knowing, Drive Angry, and Left Behind.   

And then we get to Mandy, the follow-up from the elusive director of Beyond the Black RainbowPanos Cosmatos. Premiering in the Midnight section at the Sundance Film Festival, Mandy is exactly the sort of thing that the best midnight movies are made of. Cage stars alongside Andrea Riseborough (playing the titular character Mandy) as a woodsman hauling trees somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The two appear to be husband and wife, and have settled themselves comfortably away from civilization in a remote mountian lodge.  One day as Mandy is out for a morning jog, she crosses paths with an eclectic group of self-identified “Jesus Freaks” who then kidnap poor Mandy to be used as some sort of cosmic, ritualistic sacrifice.

Mandy is essentially two separate hour-long films; the first half being the more surreal, psychedelic, visually-impressive storytelling that we are familiar with Cosmatos doing so well in Beyond the Black Rainbow. Scene by scene, the pulsating music, visuals, and 80’s aesthetic become so overwhelming that one becomes simultaneously distanced and hypnotized by the dreamstate that unfolds.  Characters ramble on and on about cosmic deities and philosophical musings and destiny and the nature of good and evil. Things make absolutely no narrative sense but you don’t really don’t care because Cosmatos believes so intensely in his unique drug-fuelled vision and the vivid details carry the film far above its C-level script. One becomes increasingly less-concerned with why and more transfixed with how things happen as the film progresses.  This part of Mandy looks and feels like a painting lifted straight out of a 1992-era Dungeons & Dragons game manual and the scenes are crafted with such Kubrickian-like artistry rarely seen in cinema today.

Eventually one part of the story bleeds into the next and the hallucinatory effect of Cosmatos’ cinema-drug starts to wear off as various images emerge and dissipate. A burned body….. cloaked figures chanting in a circle…. and….. is that Nicolas Cage forging a battle axe?!? Suddenly the lucid dream we were experiencing comes to halt and we are snapped into a vicious action story centered around a vodka-infused character (Nicholas Cage) out for blood.  Here the film completely embraces Cage’s legacy as the gaudy cult-icon he has become and events go from mildly absurd to full-bore bonkers as Cosmatos turns the Outrageous dial up to 11.  Mandy never enters full on camp territory however, even as Nic Cage breaks the fourth wall to stare directly into the camera and give his signature “You Don’t Say” face (soaked in blood this time, of course); Cosmatos is so committed to his vision that things still feel cemented in a serious story – even when moments become outlandishly bizarre.

By the end of Mandy, I found myself mentally and physically exhausted. This film takes you on a journey and steeps its way deep into the subconscious long after viewing. It’s definitely not for everyone, but those inclined toward midnight genre fare are in for a treat.

Bottom Line: While some might have a hard time with the film’s slower, more metaphysical first half, Mandy rewards patient viewers with an all-out assault on the senses that culminates into a truly original and exciting viewing experience. 

Rating: 7.6 / 10

Film Recipe: Enter the Void + The Evil Dead pt II + Beyond the Black Rainbow + The Visitor 

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Birdman (2014)

28 Nov

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige” remarks Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a method actor recently hired to play a key part in Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Directed by veteran dramatic director Alejandro Inarritu (21 Grams, Amos Perros, Biutiful), Birdman follows a Broadway stage production over the course of several days, capturing the cynical characters of it’s production. The film’s titular character is actually the superhero alter ego of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up, aging actor set on reclaiming his past glory by directing and starring in his own play called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Riggan has faded from glory since his role in the blockbuster Birdman films, and though his influence in the artistic community is waning, Riggan is committed to becoming the Next Big Thing. Living partly in his fame-seeking fantasy world guided by the Birdman character from his films, Riggan’s desperate attempts at producing an authentic work of art collides with disillusionment with reality and increasing disconnect with those around him.

Despite Inarritu’s affinity for the bleak and somber, Birdman is incredibly upbeat and vibrant. Keaton is fantastic as the leading role, and gives a performance that is both inspiring, bizarre and desperately meta (Keaton himself was the star of Tim Burton‘s successful Batman films from the early 90’s). Norton’s performance of Mike Shiner is also fantastic as he is essentially playing a younger, more successful version of Riggan. The rest of the all-star cast is composed of Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s lawyer/agent Jake, Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter Sam, and the always-excellent Naomi Watts as Lesley, the actress and former lover of Mike.

Birdman is entirely shot in one simulated take, giving the audience a feel that we are watching a play-within-a-play unfold as characters come and go on set and in between acts. The camera acts as a sort of character itself, swooping in and out of scenes at will, sometimes tracking characters for 20 minutes or more. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch, and should make for a shoe-in Best Cinematography nominee come Oscar time.

Though Birdman makes a point to capture various points of view, most of the drama revolves around Riggan’s denial of reality and constant distance from those closest to him – namely, his daughter and ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan). Though I was expecting a bit more laughs in something billed as a “Dramedy Satire”, Birdman provides some incredibly thought-provoking commentary about fame, relationships, and staying relevant in an increasingly disconnected world.

Rarely is the existential crisis this cool.

Similar to: Adaptation (2002), Magnolia (1999), Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Rating: 8/10 

Disconnect (2012)

5 Jan

In a society growing more and more reliant on digital technology,  does such technology fundamentally the way in which we are communicating and connecting with one another? This is the questions Disconnect asks the audience, and through s series of interconnecting stories we see the multiple effects the digital age has created for its users.

Structurally similar to the 2006 Best Picture Award Winner Crash,  Disconnect strings together a series of characters and incidents surrounding the use and abuse of digital media. A lonely housewife flirts with an online stranger.. a highschool boy starts a fake Facebook profile as a joke… someone’s digital identity is stolen, someone’s daughter receives a sexually explicit text… you get the idea.  The film’s message is obvious right from the title screen.

What makes the film work is its use of editing back and forth between the stories to keep the film moving forward at a brisk pace.  Despite an overbearing amount of melodrama, the narrative is engaging, and the film paints an effective portrait of 21st-century life. Things get bugged down during the third act where a predictable finish is delivered to us in a painful slow-motion.  By this time, the audience is so numb from the film shouting in our faces about the evils of the digital world, this final sequence is simply an anti-climatic way of wrapping things up.

Directed by Oscar-nominee Henry-Alex Rubin, the film stars Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, and Alexander Skarsgaard, who all give good-enough performances to make up for some of the less-than-enthusiastic child acting.

Rating: 7/10

Similar to: Crash, Babel, 21 Grams