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by Peter Sobczynski

"All The Boys Really Love Mandy"
5 stars

Last week, you will recall (and don’t worry for a second if you didn’t), saw the release of “Peppermint,” an absolutely reprehensible thriller about an ordinary person who sees their loved ones brutally murdered before their eyes by violent thugs and then, with conventional justice not an option, sets off on a rampage of blood-soaked revenge in which they systematically slaughter everyone even tangentially responsible for the original crime. Although there were plenty of reasons to hate the film—the clumsy and contrived nature of the screenplay, the shoddy and haphazard quality of the filmmaking and the utter waste of the immensely likable Jennifer Garner in the lead role among them—perhaps the worst thing about it, other than the startlingly level of racism on display in virtually every scene (including one in which Garner kills about 20 Hispanics in a piñata factory but leaves the sole white guy on hand alive to pass on some information), was how boring and pro forma it was—for all intents and purposes, it was little more than just another uninspired knockoff of “Death Wish” and we already had one of those earlier this year with that terrible Bruce Willis remake. I cannot imagine any circumstance in which I wouldn’t not have been aware of the sheer laziness that permeated every scene of that film but I was perhaps especially attuned to it when I saw it because I had just finished watching a film that utilized the same basic plot parameters but infused with such ingenuity, style and sheer audacity that it felt like a truly singular work for the ages.

That film is “Mandy,” a movie that has been earning plaudits as some kind of gonzo masterpiece ever since it first turned up on the festival circuit earlier this year. Normally, I tend to take most festival hype with several grains of salt but in the case, it more than lives up to the hype by presenting viewers with an arthouse/grindhouse fusion that will leave anyone who encounters it goggle-eyed at the way that it takes the usual revenge movie cliches and ramps them up to unheard-of levels of weirdness. You know how in most movies like this, there is almost always a scene in which the main character prepares for their revenge mission by getting their arsenal ready for business? “Mandy” contains a similar scene, of course, but this is perhaps the first time that I can recall (at least in a film set in contemporary times) where the hero prepares for battle by forging their own ritual battle axe that they will soon be using to hack their enemies to bits.

Perhaps the least surprising thing about “Mandy” is that the character doing the forging is played by none other than Nicolas Cage, who seems to seek out oddball material like this like a dog might search for a bone, oftentimes with similar results. In this film, set in 1983, he plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives in an isolated cabin in the Pacific Northwest with his girlfriend, an illustrator of pulp novel covers named Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Although pretty much cut off from the rest of the world, the two are seemingly living in a state of bliss—or as close to bliss as can be accomplished in a Nicolas Cage movie—and we can instantly sense that it is only a matter of time before it all falls apart. That is instigated when Mandy happens to walk past a van carrying members of a weirdo religious cult and catches the eye of Sand Jeremiah (Linus Roache), the charismatic leader of the group who, before turning to religion, was a wispy sub-Dan Fogelberg-style folk-rock singer. Jeremiah is instantly besotted with her and demands that his followers bring her to him so that she can assume her place of destiny at his side.

After summoning up a group of cycle-riding demons to lend assistance, Mandy is kidnapped, dosed with LSD and brought to Jeremiah, who justifies his actions with an alternately hilarious and horrifying speech that essentially boils down to his belief that the world owes him a woman to serve as his lover—the kind of crap that you hear so-called men’s rights activists use to justify their own hideous actions. Although Mandy is high, she is not that high and she laughs off his speech, his music (which has been playing throughout the scene) and the sight of his manhood, even while knowing that doing so will pretty much seal her fate. That it does and for good measure, Jeremiah and the others brutally beat Red and make him watch what they do to Mandy before leaving him for dead in a semi-crucified pose. After painfully freeing himself, the now-shattered Red returns home but knows what he has to do—one visit to a friend (Bill Duke) with a lot of weapons and one round of forging later, he sets off in pursuit of Jeremiah and his followers in order to kill them all in the most grisly ways imaginable.

“Mandy” was written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, the follow-up to his 2010 debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow.” As far as I can recall, I never saw his earlier feature but I will have to scrounge up a copy and check it out because based on his work here, the guy (who is the son of director George Pan Cosmatos) is a born filmmaker. As I stated before, the basic elements of the film are not blazingly original but the manner in which he handles them certainly is. For starters, the look of the film is startling right from the get-go—with its wild color schemes and hallucinatory visual sense, it resembles nothing so much as a mid-70s prog-rock album cover brought almost too vividly to life. (Perhaps to literally underscore this approach, the background music for the opening credits is a cut by none other than King Crimson.) However, lest you think that the film is just going to be a collection of pretty-but-empty visuals, he then spends a half-hour slowly and effectively establishing the relationship between Red and Mandy that convincingly establishes who they are as characters and the loving relationship that they share—an important thing to set up if the subsequent action is to have any impact at all. Once Jeremiah and his followers enter the picture, he brings in the tragic elements in ways that are sad and brutal without tripping over into callous exploitation and studded with just enough WTF moments to cause viewers to sit up and realize that this is probably not going to be the usual run-of-the-mill trash. Having expertly lured people in during this first half, Cosmatos then puts the pedal to the metal in the second half with a blood-soaked exercise in unhinged nuttiness that compares favorably to such giddy gore classics as “The Evil Dead” and “Re-Animator.” As the film goes on, Cosmatos keeps upping the ante but every time you think that he cannot possibly top his last scene of astonishing excess, he manages to do it yet again—to call it “operatic” somehow seems inadequate to suggest the sights and sounds that he has to offer.

Luckily for Cosmatos, he found a perfect partner in crime in Nicolas Cage. At this point in Cage’s undeniably eclectic and prolific career, it usually only take a scene or two to figure out if the film in question is one that he is just coasting through in exchange for a paycheck and a trip to Bulgaria or if it is one that has truly seized his imagination and inspired him to truly commit his still-prodigious talents to the material at hand. This is clearly a case of the latter example as Cage throws himself into a role that would seem on the surface to be relatively interchangeable with many of his more outre turns but which actually displays a startling amount of nuance and shading throughout. Like the film as a whole, Cage wisely starts off on a quiet note by playing an ordinary man in a way that suggests that he has seen and done some dark things in the past but that the love of Mandy has helped him put all that behind him—the most lethal thing about him in these early scenes is his incredibly earnest delivery of a knock-knock joke that actually scores laughs despite itself.

When circumstances change and he is forced to go into revenge mode, he ushers his character (and us) into via one of the strangest scenes that he has ever performed (and that is saying something)—in it, he has to will himself to embrace his dark side and avenge Mandy by pacing around a room in the house they once shared while swigging booze and uttering an unrelenting stream of primal screams. Considering how badly this particular moment could have gone (it stretches out for a couple of minutes of screen time), it is the kind of scene that most sane actors would do anything to avoid but Cage not only embraces it, he finds just the right note so that is both crazed and heartbreaking in equal measure. As for the second half that finds him killing off bad guys while getting increasingly drenched in blood, let us just say that he is perhaps the only actor alive who could not only perform a scene that finds him butchering demons from hell and snorting a mound of cocaine off of a broken shard of glass afterwards but do it with genuine panache.

“Mandy” is an exercise in lyrically lurid excess and at two full hours, there is the possibility that some viewers may find it to simply be too much of a good (or bad) thing. It does go over-the-top but it at least does so with the kind of heedless abandon that too few movies—even the ones angling for potential life as a cult item—are even willing to attempt these days, let alone pull off as well as this one does. This is a film that will not be easily forgotten by anyone who sees it (especially if they manage to catch it in an actual theater instead of on VOD) and even those who come away from it completely poleaxed by what they have just witnessed will have to admit that it is certainly unique. As for fans of Nicolas Cage, those who have elected to seek out and embrace the more bizarre onscreen moves that he has made throughout his career, they should know that “Mandy” is so completely nutso that its existence means that “Mom and Dad”—the film that featured Cage as a dissatisfied father mysteriously driven to try to kill his own kids and which features a scene in which he destroys a pool table with his own hands while singing “The Hokey Pokey”—is now only the second-craziest film of his to come out in 2018.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31951&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/13/18 15:27:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  14-Sep-2018 (NR)
  DVD: 30-Oct-2018


  DVD: 30-Oct-2018

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