“It Has Been My Honor To Be Your Servant. You Chose Me. And I Did What You Asked…”
Reuniting the rather excellent filmmaking team behind 2016’s The Big Short, Vice, brings to the big screen a rather scathing, politically one-sided depiction of the rise and fall of one of America’s most infamous contemporary political figureheads, Dick Cheney, the Nebraskan born figure of ruthlessness who during the course of almost three decades rose to great prominence within the White House, eventually earning the title of the most powerful vice president in history in his time within the rather controversial Bush presidency at the turn of the twentieth century. Directed by Adam McKay, whose success with The Big Short seems to have thankfully pushed him away from the laddish cringiness of the likes of Step Brothers forevermore, Vice follows a very familial cinematic layout to the Oscar winning drama by essentially portraying a contemporary and highly controversial issue with a balance of both black comedy and seriousness, one led by the seemingly interchangeable figure of Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) who once again goes full-on The Machinist, albeit in reverse, by utilising the skills of prosthetics and his local takeaway in order to pull off a rather outstanding central performance in what is a considerably flashy ensemble acting piece. Slapped with a guarantee to inflame and provoke immediate discussion on both sides of the political fence, Vice is an explicit, highly intriguing, and at times, genuinely terrifying, depiction of modern politics in action which continues the notion that when handed the right material, McKay can truly be a standout figure of importance within the world of issue-based cinema.
Beginning with the successful rise of Christian Bale’s Cheney as he quickly progresses from drunken college dropout to falling under the wing of Steve Carell’s (Beautiful Boy) charismatic and wickedly devious, Donald Rumsfeld, McKay’s movie utilises the opening chapters in order to establish the unbreakable relationship within the Cheney household, with Amy Adams’ (Arrival) Lynne equally as power hungry as her aspiring husband, albeit burdened by her understanding of the limitations of her gender in the world of American politics. With it absolutely impossible to fit in every single point of interest within Cheney’s alarmingly elongated career, the central narrative of the movie begins and ends with the events of 9/11, a time in which Cheney’s tunnel vision for power is most clearly represented, and whilst at times the movie seems to disregard levels of depth for characters who seem to come and go, it comes at no surprise that those already slightly invested in such a crucial time in American politics may feel the ride much easier than those with absolutely zero interest or awareness of the events which occurred at the start of the twenty first century. Being part of the latter, the chance to witness Sam Rockwell portray (Three Billboards) George W. Bush as a drunken, easily led simpleton is almost too delicious to turn down, even when the film refuses to hold back in reminding the audience of the terrifying devastation at the heart of his particular tenure as President.
Whilst comparisons to The Big Short are obviously rather inevitable in terms of the storytelling, the most obvious and in-your-face connection between the two movies is of course the flashy, quickfire editing technique which McKay utilises so heavy in order to convey the many ideas floating around his head onto the big screen. With almost an uncanny sense of being handed subliminal messaging at times, the storytelling is constantly intercut with random segments of imagery and seemingly relevant newsreel footage which are used to reinforce the overarching political standing at the heart of the movie. With Jesse Plemons (Game Night) this time handed the reigns as narrator, Vice surprisingly never seems gimmicky or too confusing, with the constant editing shifts actually balancing the rather heavy and hectic central plot involving political jargon and offers a somewhat release and breakaway from characters who at the end of the day, are all downright slimey and evil to their core. With Bale supplying the archetypal, Marlon Brando-esque sense of commitment to the lead role of Cheney, Vice supplies the platform for yet another awards touted performance full of grandiose presence, even when the real life Cheney himself was renowned for being something of a introverted, slightly muted charisma vacuum. Whilst I was always destined to admire a piece of work with a political standpoint which pretty much aligns with my own when it comes to the downright illegal doings of one of the most infamous presidencies in history, Vice crucially did not disappoint and managed to handle the difficult subject matter with relative ease, supplying an excellent follow up to The Big Short and getting me excited for whatever Team McKay decide to do next.
Overall Score: 8/10
“My Work Concerns A Particular Type Of Delusion Of Grandeur. I Specialize In Those Individuals Who Believe They Are Superheroes…”
So where do we being with Glass? Let’s begin at the end of the twentieth century in which an up and coming M. Night Shyamalan blew critics and audiences away with The Sixth Sense, a psychological chiller which to this day remains one of the go-to texts for jaw-dropping, I-never-saw-that-coming twists, and a movie which solidified Shyamalan a pathway in Hollywood forevermore to make pretty much whatever he wanted. Following on from The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable continued the interesting pathway the Indian-born filmmaker had already set sail for, introducing both Bruce Willis’ (Die Hard) David Dunn, the football player turned security guard with a miraculous ability to see criminal acts alongside an abnormal level of strength, and Samuel L. Jackson’s (Pulp Fiction) Elijah Price/Mr. Glass, who during the climactic twist of the movie is revealed to be the overarching villain with an unhealthy obsession with comic book heroes. From Unbreakable onwards, Shyamalan tortured audiences with wave after wave of downright insulting big-screen releases, only to fully redeem himself in 2017 with Split, the James McAvoy led B-movie horror of which Shyamalan’s latest, Glass, acts as a direct sequel. Confusing a huge majority of audiences who if unaware of the events of Unbreakable, questioned in tandem during the post-credit scene of Split , “why the hell is Bruce Willis in a diner?” Glass attempts to band together both Split and Unbreakable in an Avengers style team-up, offering up a confusing and sanctimonious muddle of tonal waverings whilst featuring some of the most laugh-out-loud moments of unintentional hilarity I have seen in years.
Let’s face it, on a fundamental level, Glass really doesn’t need to exist in any form whatsoever, with the gap between Unbreakable and Split so vast in terms of time that the decision to stitch those two films together in the first place ultimately lessens both works as a whole, with the individual picture much better as a single story rather than being the victim of utmost contrivance by slamming them altogether as trilogy. With Glass therefore, audiences heading in without previously seeing either Unbreakable or Split will have no idea whatsoever going in, a perfectly reasonable notion considering the franchise dependant world we are currently in, however with gargantuan levels of teeth grinding exposition, Glass doesn’t even attempt at playing it low-key in terms of storytelling ability and instead goes straight to the George Lucas handbook by screaming every single minor detail in the loudest way possible. I mean come on, Glass is the type of film which has incidental characters literally spell out what is happening even when the audience is already a million steps ahead. Now I’m all for silly movies, I mean Skyscraper was stupid but managed to pass the time rather nicely, yet as with anything stamped with Shyamalan’s name on, there seems to be a overriding sense of sanctimony creeping over it, and when the creator believes his work to be of such great importance, the weaknesses become more obvious and the grating, angry emotions begin to fester, particularly in regards to a movie which has such gaping plot holes, I literally just began to laugh at how amateurish the storytelling was out loud in a cinema full of paying customers. With no substance and a reliance on dull, uninteresting levels of wacky supposed “style”, Shyamalan returns to the cinematic black hole his career once fell into, with Glass a movie which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and annoyingly degrades the watchability factor of two of his three best movies. Oh well, at least we still can watch The Sixth Sense again without puking.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We Are Alone. No Matter What They Tell You, We Women Are Always Alone…”
Returning to the world of cinema for the first time since 2013’s award winning science fiction extravaganza, Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón becomes the latest big name director to fall into the laps of Netflix with Roma, the self-defined most personal project yet for the Academy Award winning Mexican and a film which brings with it an abundance of hype and critical acclaim, with it already in Oscar contention after being put forward for Mexico’s choice for Best Foreign Language film in time for next year’s ceremony. With Cuarón stating the film is partially inspired by his own upbringing in Mexico City, his decision to produce, write, edit and provide the cinematography undeniably backs up the notion of the Mexican’s personal attachment to the project, and with a completely unknown cast to work with, Roma is a relatively simplistic but achingly beautiful work of cinematic art which on first view seemed misguided but on second felt completely wondrous. With the likes of Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men in his back pocket, it’s understandable that many audiences will head into Roma expecting similar levels of world building epicness, but with Cuarón choosing to return to his native Mexico for the first time since 2001’s, Y Tu Mamá También, Roma is a film which revels in its’ own sense of scale in its’ own, alternative ways as it works its’ way through a naturalistic yet dramatic central narrative in a way which for some may seem utterly wasted but for most is a truly impressive and unforgettable work of cinema.
Primarily walking through the events of the movie through the eyes of Yalitza Aparicio’s, Cleo, a hard-working and loyal maid residing in the household of Marina de Tavira’s, Sofia, Roma is a low-key, familial, almost soap-esque drama wrapped in the blankets of a modern day epic, one which manages to sift through a wide range of ideas and themes in its’ two hour runtime even when ninety percent of the film consists of deep contemplation and a tendency for mood rather than heavy plot exposition. With Cuarón utilising the character of Cleo to not only bear witness to her own trials and tribulations but that of the wider historical context too, a harrowing re-staging of the Corpus Christi massacre and the aftermath of deadly earthquakes potentially poke a hole into the life of a once young Cuarón, and with a central theme running through the entirety of the movie like a vicious spike through the heart regarding the weakness of man and particularly, man’s inability to take control in the face of responsibility, it’s fair to say that Roma more than anything seems to be an avenue for the Mexican to speak out against his view on fatherhood and potentially the rather negative light he saw such a crucial role when growing up on the streets of Mexico City. Aided by a catalogue of understated yet brilliant central performances from the army of seemingly professional unknowns and amateurs, lead actress, Yalitza Aparicio, is simply stunning in conveying the many emotional highs and lows her character rides through and whilst the film is based around a screenplay in which very little is said, characters are developed through other, minimal means, with each delicately individual and defined within the backdrop of a production which oozes with a stunning level of authenticity which makes every single camera frame feel believable and heartfelt.
Speaking of the camera, with Cuarón deciding to hire himself as the film’s director of photography, one may envision a slight touch of trepidation regarding the film’s handling of the cinematography, particularly when Cuarón has worked previously with the spellbinding talent of the various Academy Award winning Emmanuel Lubezki, but like any natural artist, Cuarón not only seems to have picked up tips from his various previous DP’s throughout his career, but has managed to somehow equal such mastery with a simply gorgeous visual experience, one which blends stunning wide vistas ranging from woodland plains to the crashing of Moonlight inspired oceans, all sat within the forefront of a genuinely staggering chromatic filter. With the film moving from small, delicate insights to set pieces of epic proportions, including a central riot scene which immediately brought to mind the likes of Zulu or even The Dark Knight Rises, Cuarón’s favoured and most obvious trick within the movie is the axle spin, with the camera at times wandering on a natural tilt as it follows characters and actions with a strange sense of invasion, and whilst the movie at times suffers from a resounding sense of being too on the nose regarding Cuarón’s technical ability as a filmmaker, a particular weakness which sometimes outshines the flow of the very basic narrative, Roma gets away with it by being simply too beautiful to argue with. With the runtime spectacularly long for such a simplistic idea, there is an undeniable sense that maybe Cuarón should have left the editing to someone else, with a few too many lingering character shots and a bizarre David Lynch, Twin Peaks inspired scene not exactly aiding the runtime or the overarching point of the movie, but as a body of cinema, Roma is a film much like Moonlight in the sense that on first viewing may feel wholly disappointing and somewhat nonexistent, but like any true decent work of art, does not leave your mind and it was only on second viewing did I understand the minimalistic and personal nature of Cuarón’s most ambitious movie to date, a film which blossoms with technical nuance and one which come the end of it, will leave you in an emotional wreck.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Know What They Say. If An Exorcism Isn’t Completed, Evil Will Find A New Vessel…”
With the horror genre in general throughout 2018 managing to have one its’ most successful years in recent history, with the past twelve months offering up a wide range of interesting, superbly entertaining and, particularly in the case of Hereditary, unrelentingly nightmarish new examples of the well-trodden format, it seems both an oddity and a shame to leave the year on such a false note with The Possession of Hannah Grace, an ideas-based horror flick which fails to hit the heavy heights of its’ similarly genred pals and fall instead more into the here-we-go-again cattle-prod cinema audiences more than ever are getting more and more accustomed to. Directed by Dutch filmmaker, Diederik Van Rooijen, and based on a script from Brian Sieve, whose previous credits include the television adaptation of Scream and um, the awkward one-two of Boogeyman 2 and 3, The Possession of Hannah Grace, originally entitled Cadaver, follows Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars) as Megan Reed, a grieving ex-cop and recovering alcoholic who takes the thankless role of a night shift morgue worker who swiftly comes across the battered corpse of young Hannah Grace, a seemingly innocent murder victim found hacked and burnt to death on the streets of Boston with a mysterious past regarding her involvement in a devilish exorcism attempt gone horribly wrong.
Opening with the titular exorcism attempt, Van Rooijen’s movie immediately lays down the movie’s wildly chaotic cinematic cards, with the overblown, nonsensical and rather quite silly introduction resulting in one particular laugh out loud moment of unintentional absurdity which begins the failed attempt of the film to hold down a central feeling of dramatic pull which every single effective horror piece fundamentally needs to get spot on. With low budget violence, creaky digital effects and an over reliance on Ringu inspired creepy dead girl gurns, the movie’s eighty minute runtime after the initial opening set piece circles in a Groundhog Day esque roundabout as we see our leading lady attempt to get to the bottom of mysterious doings within the morgue, including not-so-secure security doors and the miraculous recovery of wounds on the body of the recently obtained, Hannah Grace. Whilst there is undoubtedly an interesting and spooky idea at the heart of the movie regarding isolation of our leading heroine within a surgically clean open-aired basement with dodgy light installation, the movie unfortunately falls into the same traps many small release American horrors do by resorting to predictable jump scares and particularly dodgy character deaths to one dimensional side characters with as much substance and personality as a freshly made cadaver, but with a committed central performance from Mitchell and rather swift runtime, Rooijen’s big time debut is undoubtedly weak and iffy, but not as awful as it could have been.
Overall Score: 4/10
“People Like Me, We Live In The Past. You Got People That Need You Now. You Got Everything To Lose, This Guy Has Got Nothing To Lose…”
Boosting the career of Ryan Coogler into the international stratosphere, 2016’s Creed remains arguably the most entertaining and thrilling entry into the Rocky franchise since the Oscar winning original, one which brought the leading boxing film series back into the eyes of critical admiration and most crucially, managed to place Everton’s beautifully old fashioned Goodison Park onto the big screen. With Coogler too busy to return to directorial duties, American filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. takes the reigns for a sequel which sees Michael B. Jordan’s (Black Panther) Adonis Creed be crowned as the new heavyweight champion of the world after a successful win against former foe, Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler, a title which is soon challenged from across the East when Creed is called out to partake in a high profile grudge match against the son of Dolph Lundgren’s (The Expendables 3) Ivan Drago, the Soviet Union muscle machine responsible for the death of Creed’s father in Rocky IV. With stakes higher than ever before, Creed II follows a very familiar and welcome filmic sensibility to Coogler’s re-shuffling of the tried and trusted boxing genre back in 2016, with Caple Jr. using the most cinematic of sports as a secondary measure to a story which centres on notions of grief, regret and ultimately redemption within a movie which wonderfully offers once again a much deeper and thematically complex narrative backbone than one would expect from what is essentially a big budget Hollywood sporting blockbuster.
By immediately accepting its’ role and responsibility of the Hollywood sequel with welcome arms from the offset, Creed II utilises a two hour plus runtime to balance expanded characterisation with gorgeous sporting spectacle, and with a central key narrative arc regarding the pressures of living up to individual legacy running parallel within both the tightly wound Creed party and the fiendish Drago camp, Caple Jr.’s movie impressively manages to focus enough on both protagonist and antagonist to allow an empathetic view into the trials and tribulations of their individual lives, ones separated not only by country but by lifestyle too. Offering bolder and bigger orchestrated set pieces, including not one, but two superb fights involving Creed and Drago, the narrative at times does sway into cliche, particularly to audiences already well versed in the ways and means of the Rocky franchise, but with beautiful dialogue and complex character development which carries on from the groundwork already put in by Coogler and co in the film’s predecessor, emotional involvement is achieved with astounding ease, resulting in you peering through your fingers as you witness the young Creed battle through broken ribs and busted eyes against the intimidating and physically mountainous presence of Florian Munteanu’s similarly youthful Drago. With the choreography of the central fights executed to an excellent degree and the long awaited ringside reunion between Stallone and Lundgren as gleefully exciting as the diner scene between Pacino and De Niro in the masterful Heat, Creed II is everything I expected from a follow-up to one of my favourite films of 2016 and even without the presence of Ryan Coogler, the latest Rocky picture is superb sporting cinema.
Overall Score: 8/10
“This Is The Story Of How My Town, Salem, Lost It’s Mind. Let’s Start At The Beginning…”
Written and directed by Sam Levinson, son of Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man director, Barry Levinson, Assassination Nation acts as the American’s third feature after trading in acting for directing but the first to venture onto the big screen with a significantly wider general release. Slapped with a beautifully rare 18 certificate and released within a period of the cinematic year in which Halloween, Overlord and Suspiria have all shown a resurgence in the BBFC classifying movies with the highest rating possible, Levinson’s latest is a particularly odd beast, a hybrid of varying subjects with an underlying topical social commentary which sees Odessa Young as the free spirited Lily Colson who along with her group of freely spoken youthful friends become embroiled in a town-wide internet hack which sees every single resident’s personal online history leak into the gaze of the public eye, resulting in extraordinarily extravagant and particularly violent consequences. Beginning with a familiar stylish and slightly bizarre aesthetic feel to Harmony Korine’s woefully unsatisfactory Spring Breakers in 2013, Levinson’s movie traverses through a minefield of themes and genres for two hours worth of storytelling which at times is undoubtedly problematic and troublesome, but crucially, never boring, resulting in audiences guaranteed to leave the auditorium thinking to themselves; “what on earth was that all about?”
With the film using the first half an hour to introduce the primary quartet of femme fatales at the heart of the action, each with their own distinguishable individuality and vices, the coming of age style narrative allows the evolving opening scandals to be seen from the point of view of the youth of the aptly named town of Salem as an unknown hacker forces out both the secrets of both a local politician and teacher. With Levinson’s screenplay clearly following on from the likes of Ingrid Goes West and Searching by conveying an on-the-nose comment on the nature and impact of social media, whatever point Levinson chooses to focus on becomes completely lost in an out of control second act in which the audience bears witness to a startling combination of Winding Refn and Dario Argento eye-gouging neon style with elements of The Purge, resulting in an abundance of violence and particularly tough scenes of torture, murder and near attempted rape which for some audiences may be too explicit to cope with. Personally however, the sense of silliness and emphatically ripe shock tactics which unveil themselves heading towards the film’s climax never became dull or uninteresting, due in part to some wonderful camera work and blissfully bright cinematography, and whilst there never was a single character in which I cared whether they lived or died due to pretty much every single one being fundamentally unlikeable, Assassination Nation moved along nicely as it offended audiences left, right and centre and concluded in a way which simply made me giggle. Bring on more gory grunge movies!
Overall Score: 6/10
“This Is Not A Place For A Priest, Father. You Shouldn’t Be Here…”
Written and directed by the excellent Drew Goddard, the mind behind the likes of Cabin in the Woods and Netflix’s first season of Daredevil, Bad Times at the El Royale bundles together an abundance of top-notch actors within the confines of a script which mixes together an Agatha Christie-esque air of neo-noir mystery with a very obvious nod to the quirky and wordy works of Quentin Tarantino. Set in the dying embers of the late 1960’s, the majority of the action takes place within the lifeless, unkempt eeriness of the titular hotel, one straddled with history and echoes of a previous life involving the rich and famous but now suffering from a lack of custom primarily due to a newly founded inactive liquor license. As soon as the film’s colourful band of characters slowly check themselves in however, the presence of the murky collection of cats including Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Catholic Priest, Donald “Doc” O’Kelly, Dakota Johnson’s (Fifty Shades Freed) rebellious young Emily and Jon Hamm’s (Tag) travelling vacuum salesman, Seymour Sullivan, result in the mysteries of the hotel and the secrets of its’ guest’s unraveling with particularly violent and menacing ends.
Whilst Goddard has proven to be successful in the past with work which has always remained entertaining and interesting, even if at times not exactly for everyone, Bad Times at the El Royale is unfortunately the American’s first cinematic turkey, an excruciatingly overlong and plodding mess of a movie which although begins in intriguing fashion, fails to warrant almost two and a half hours worth of your time as it drags its’ way towards a finish line without any real sense of purpose or point. Whilst the film does boast a healthy selection of well-executed dialogue heavy set pieces alongside excellent central performances from the likes of Bridges and Cynthia Erivo’s wandering soul singer, Darlene Sweet, as the film crosses over the hour mark, the over-reliance on wasteful backstory and wandering narrative stretches result in a painful longing for the action to come to some sort of meaningful end. Enter Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Infinity War), whose appearance come the ninety minute mark as a curly haired, spiritually baffling and overzealous cross between Charles Manson and Jim Morrison, meant the film then decides to go on for another excruciating forty five minutes, concluding with a soppy and rather weak attempt at humanising a particularly annoying character and then finally ending with a final gasp of saintly praise as I left my seat and headed to the exit. Whilst not totally awful, Bad Times at the El Royale is a simple case of style over substance and made me check IMDB pretty quickly to see if an editor was actually hired at all to do a decent job. On inspection, Lisa Lassek, you are in my bad books.
Overall Score: 5/10
“She’s An Enigma My Wife. You Can Get Close To Her, But You Never Quite Reach Her…”
Directed by Paul Feig, the American filmmaker behind the all female led reboot of the woefully unsuccessful Ghostbusters and the mildly entertaining action comedy Spy from 2016 and 2015 respectively, A Simple Favor, based on the 2017 debut novel of the same name from American author, Darcey Belle, sees Feig turn to the “dark side”, a self proclaimed statement of intent plastered within the film’s thoroughly intriguing trailer which sees Anna Kendrick’s (Table 19) Stephanie attempt to unravel the mystery of Blake Lively’s (Age of Adaline) Emily’s recent disappearance. Based on a screenplay from Nerve screenwriter, Jessica Sharzer, A Simple Favor is a strange beast, a film which on the one hand attempts to emulate the domesticated mysterious oddity of David Fincher’s wonderfully dark Gone Girl, and on the other, an Ira Levin-esque centralisation in which everything on the surface appears cosy and calm yet underneath, is riddled with secrets and lies, and whilst the key mystery of the film’s narrative begins well with enough room to flourish if handled correctly, the end product is ultimately produced in a manner way too convoluted and preposterous to be regarded as anywhere near the excellence of the many films Feig’s latest evokes.
Whilst it is fair to say that the increasingly agitating figure of Anna Kendrick in recent times has always left me loathing her acting ability more and more with every new release in which she inevitably sucks, with Table 19 being the key text of a film in which death by torture undoubtedly seems more rewarding, what a relief that when under the direction of Feig, a director who does manage to get the best out of his performers no matter the final product, (see Kate McKinnon circa Ghostbusters for example) Kendrick does manage to flourish and arguably gives the best performance of her career so far. Add into the mix the ever radiant Blake Lively, her knowingly ripe and hilarious portrayal of a walking ambiguity manages to work perfectly in tandem with her co-star, resulting in a healthy amount of hearty belly laughs which always seem so spare in American comedies of a similar ilk, and whilst the second half of the movie in which the core mystery unravels to an annoyingly predictable end does ultimately dive-bomb the overall appeal of the feature, A Simple Favor is throwaway, good-natured fluff which puts Kendrick back into my own personal acting guild good-books.
Overall Score: 6/10
“What You’re Hunting Is Rabid Animals. You Should Go In Knowing You’ll Probably Die…”
With Nicolas Cage primarily confining himself to acting roles within releases of a more B-movie nature since the turn of the twenty first century, its’ understandable when both critics and audiences alike approach the latest Cage-led flick with a slight tingle of trepidation, particularly one which heads onto the big screen following a widening level of support and critical praise, and in the case of Mandy, the second feature from Italian director, Panos Cosmatos, Cage’s latest arrives with exactly that, with an array of extensive positive reports clinging to its’ back after the film’s debut showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival back in January. Blending supernatural horror with gross-out, exploitation levels of gore, Cosmatos’ latest is as wacky and unpredictable as the temperament of its’ leading star, a movie which synchronises a Death Wish-esque revenge plot with a beautiful, stylish design, accumulating in a wickedly entertaining genre piece which fully understands the nature of its’ existence and completely runs with it, resulting in Mandy being not only the most impressive and original Cage-led movie in donkey’s, but one of the most riveting visual and sensual cinematic experiences this year.
Shot entirely with a blushing, blood red colour palette and smokey, dream like cinematography from the excellent hand of Benjamin Loeb, the film’s stylistic approach to the revenge based narrative is a glossy mix of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and strangely enough, the odd-ball, thematic craziness of The Void. Add into the mix an array of truly baffling camera shots which range from morphing, superimposed character close-ups to shadowy, nightmarish long shots, Mandy is a hazy, drug induced stupor of outlandish visual and audio delight, with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, one of his last before his shocking premature death, managing to expertly supplement the crazed, florescent feel of the movie from start to finish. With an opening act which introduces the central relationship between Cage and Andrea Riseborough’s (Battle of the Sexes) Mandy, a pair of reclusive outsiders who seem to be reeling from uncertain traumas from their past, the film’s opening hour manages to assemble a true sense of empathy for what follows, as Mandy soon becomes embroiled in a seedy plan hatched by Linus Roache’s (Batman Begins) Jeremiah Sand, the crazed leader of the Children of the New Dawn, a murderous and drug obsessed religious cult.
Because of the first hour’s willingness to allow the main characters of the piece to breathe and expand behind the backdrop of the sheer wondrous and mythical retro spirit which flows throughout the film’s two hour runtime, the second act in which Cage’s Red Miller is let completely off the chain does ultimately feel thoroughly deserved and immediately welcomed with open arms. Because of Cage’s penchant for exaggerated performances throughout his entire career, Cosmatos seems to actively understand and embrace Cage’s odd-ball nature, allowing him to basically play himself for the second half of the movie after a first act where he is somewhat subdued and second to the ever radiant and brilliant Andrea Riseborough. When the film does begin to hit the conventions of revenge genre cinema however, boy does it become a slice of over-the-top brilliance, with intentionally comical insane set pieces, including a truly unhinged chainsaw duel, and S. Craig Zahler levels of exploitation splatter violence all resulting in one of the most enjoyable second acts I have witnessed in a very long time, and with a final, haunting shot of a bloodied, gleaming Nicolas Cage after his mission has well and truly been accomplished, Mandy is a slice of euphoric, wacky unhinged excellence which will, with time, undoubtedly become a infamous cult classic.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Fight New Wars. The Old Options, Military, Diplomacy. They Don’t Always Succeed…”
Acting as the fourth collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after Lone Survivor and the excellent one-two of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, Mile 22, based upon a screenplay written by American writer, Lea Carpenter, sees Wahlberg as James Silva, the ferociously agitated, quip-laden sociopathic leader of Overwatch, an elite, CIA-led special ops division who are tasked with traversing the destructive roads of Indonesia as they attempt to extract a prize asset from the country into the United States in return for the location of missing weapons grade plutonium. With Berg’s previous releases successfully managing to balance the re-telling of horrific true events with strong storytelling and well orchestrated action set pieces, Mile 22 manages to bat in completely the opposite direction, with Berg’s latest a film which can only be described as a crazed frenzy of a movie, a ninety minute, action packed head rush which is as violent as it is overly ridiculous, and a movie which results in you leaving the cinema with a guaranteed headache and a high chance of tinnitus as you feel your body become overcome with exhaustion from the events that have occurred before your eyes on screen.
Whilst strictly based on some form of “true story” regarding the existence of the Overwatch programme within contemporary wars across the globe, Mile 22 clearly wavers towards fictionalised events in which Wahlberg’s Silva and his team of cold-hearted killers have free reign to blow up, violently execute and cause as much general havoc as they desire. With paper thin characterisation which mainly focuses on our “heroes'” penchant for killing as effortlessly as possible, this only results in there being no sympathy whatsoever for events which unfold throughout the movie, particularly towards Wahlberg’s Silva, a foul-mouthed, utterly despicable smart-ass, a leading performance which made me wonder whether Wahlberg had actually been incredibly mis-cast due to Wahlberg not at all managing to balance the OTT nature of his character and ends up coming across more annoying than heroic. However, with a heart-stopping editing pace, crunchy action scenes with gunfire aplenty and a rousing, physical performance from arguably the greatest action star of the past decade in the form of Iko Uwais (The Raid, The Raid 2, Headshot), Mile 22 was a film in which I was never bored, and for a film in which its’ mistakes are blindingly obvious, Berg’s latest is a confusing, often manic, all action speed rush which sort of won me over the more it ventured into the realms of complete and utter ridiculousness.