“Mandy”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy might be Nicolas Cage’s career revival. Save for a few stellar supporting performances in the last ten years (i.e. Kick-Ass), Cage has become more of a laughing stock in recent years. That reputation can be put to rest.

Red (Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live a quiet, peaceful life at their remote cabin in the Shadow Mountains. When cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) becomes fixated on Mandy, Red finds his world turned upside down. He then arms himself with a crossbow, a handmade axe, and a chainsaw to fight Jeremiah’s cult.

Mandy is one of the zaniest films in recent memory. Want to watch a neon-color schemed horror film that features psychedelic visuals and Cage drunkenly screaming in a bathroom mirror? Look no further! Want to watch a movie that features both a chainsaw duel and philosophical monologues about the universe? Look no further! Arthouse and grindhouse haven’t meshed this well together since Drive.

Mandy works better as a rock opera than a horror film. It’s told in three separate chapters, each focusing primarily on one character. “Shadow Mountains, 1983 AD” is Mandy’s story and is a candy-colored romantic tragedy. We learn through vague lines of dialogue of Mandy’s tragic upbringing and how she feels at peace with Red. Riseborough and Cage both are appropriately quiet and expressive in this segment.

“Children of the New Dawn” is Jeremiah’s story and is psychological horror at its finest. It expands the world building of Mandy as we’re focused on a Manson-like cult and a demonic motorcycle gang. Roache delivers a chilling performance as the creepy Jeremiah. In one key scene, Jeremiah delivers a self-righteous monologue to a drugged-out character while listening to The Carpenters. It’s an attack on our visual and auditory senses.

“Mandy” is Red’s chapter and that’s when the gears shift into full grindhouse mode. Cage embraces his own maniacal talent in the role of a broken, vengeful man. You can’t help but laugh at certain outbursts, but also feel sympathy for his predicament “Mandy” is also an extremely bloody segment filled with impalement, head crushing, decapitation, and sadism. Cage’s performance, along with beautifully drawn animation sequences, add panache to this gory chapter.

Cosmatos’s sophomore film suffers from mild pacing issues due to its structure. It’s forgivable since each segment is its own artistic achievement. Backed by the late, great Johann Johannsson’s (Prisoners, Arrival) metal-like score and King Crimson songs, Mandy isn’t just a horror film. It’s a rock music tribute, Cosmatos’s direction also shows off his love for comic books with certain camera angles and elaborate set designs.

Cage recently said in an interview that people will only see Mandy for him. It’s true, but I would say watch Mandy if you want to see an original, artistic genre film that’s subversive on a technical and narrative level.

Grade: A-

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“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

Writing reviews for the Mission: Impossible franchise is often repetitive since I’ve said the last three installments, “This is the best of the franchise.” Well, I’m here again to say that about Fallout! If more installments are released, they’ll have to work hard to top the suspense and insanity of this one.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) saves his team in a failed mission, resulting in the loss of plutonium cores. He’s forced to team up with the straight-faced CIA operative, August Walker (Henry Cavill) to recover the cores, leading to a reunion with double agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and old enemy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). It wouldn’t be a Mission: Impossible movie without the action sequences!

The previous M:I installments (Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation in particular) had impressive action sequences that relied on Cruise’s stunt work. Fallout’s action reaches new achievements in action movie filmmaking. Every sequence raises the stakes both for the film’s cast and narrative. HALO jumps, a brutal bathroom fight, and a thrilling helicopter chase will leave you wondering, “How the hell did they do that?”

Screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie (Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher) once again balances character-driven storytelling with spectacular action sequences. We learn what makes Ethan tick: his addiction to the mission and love for his team. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames return as Benji and Luther. We see a few key scenes where Ethan’s willing to sacrifice the mission for his only family. Both Pegg and Rhames once again shine in their supporting roles.

Cruise has never been better as Ethan Hunt. At 56 years old, Cruise displays amazing agility and fearlessness in his stunts. It’s hard not to gasp for breath watching him jump into a lightning storm or fly a helicopter between mountains. He also delivers a more tormented performance, showing Ethan is burned out, but determined.

Cavill’s August Walker is a great foil to Ethan. Younger, more physically imposing, and okay going after colleagues since “it’s the job,” August is one of the more formidable antagonistic characters in the franchise. Plus, I can watch his “arm reload” pose on repeat.

Fallout runs at 147 minutes long (the longest installment in the franchise) and is never dull. In fact, McQuarrie paces the film in a roller coaster fashion. If we can just get rid of the “last-second countdown” cliche, then Fallout would be perfect. But I can forgive that one little flaw and will pay full price to see it again (thanks, MoviePass).

Grade: A

 

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

Just because a reboot to an iconic franchise scores $1.6 billion at the box office, that doesn’t mean we need a sequel. Case and point – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Isla Nublar is on the verge of an impending volcanic eruption. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) reunites with Owen (Chris Pratt) to lead a rescue operation and retrieve the dinosaurs. Things go further south when they’re double crossed and find that the operation’s financier Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) wants to auction the dinosaurs to arms dealers.

Five movies into the series and have we learned nothing about cloning dinosaurs? Have we not learned to avoid a dinosaur island? Have we learned to not bring dinosaurs home? Fallen Kingdom is a redundant sequel filled with stupid characters that make bad decisions.

Jurassic World was my first review on Donttalkaboutmovies and I found that movie great entertainment. The jokes were funny, the characters were fleshed out, and it had a dumb B-movie spin that embraced the sci-fi, disaster, and monster genre tropes. Fallen Kingdom is a misfire.  Underdeveloped characters screaming every five minutes isn’t funny or compelling. However, director JA Bayona does embrace the genre tropes occasionally.

Fallen Kingdom is beautifully shot and filled with some terrific visuals, utilizing shadows. The opening five minutes is a thrilling homage to Jaws and Jurassic Park that features one of the funniest dinosaur kills in the franchise. Bayona understands dark humor, as there are a few more moments scattered throughout the film. Though, the praise for Fallen Kingdom is obviously minimial.

Between Boyna’s directing and Colin Trevorrow’s script, both are more concerned with paying homage to the first two Jurassic Park films than making their own film. After seeing callbacks to the T-Rex entrance and the velociraptor kitchen sequences in Jurassic Park and the dinosaur breakout scene in The Lost World, I wanted to scream, “WE GET IT!”

The filmmakers also can’t decide if they wanted to make an artistic hard sci-fi film, a B-horror movie, or a continuation of Jurassic World, resulting in severe pacing and tonal inconsistencies. There’s a human clone subplot that feels like a separate movie and pretentiously concludes to set up a third installment.

Performance wise, Fallen Kingdom is a mixed bag. Pratt and Howard both give serviceable performances and have decent chemistry. James Cromwell delivers a solid performance as John Hammond’s dying partner, but is shamefully underused. The great character actor Toby Jones has fun as a sleazy auctioneer, but I can’t tell if he was intentionally trying to do a Gary Busey impression.

We have one more Jurassic World film due for release in 2021. Afterwards, here’s hoping that producers listen to Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm and leave the dinosaurs alone.

Grade: D+

“Incredibles 2”

I loved Pixar’s superhero movie, The Incredibles, but didn’t hold my breath for a sequel. I’m happy to report the overdue sequel is as incredible (pun intended) as its predecessor.

The Parr family continue fighting crime as The Incredibles. After a fight with a diabolical villain ends in disaster, superheroes are once again outlawed. Things change when billionaire media mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) recruits Helen (Holly Hunter) to reprise her Elastigirl alias. Meanwhile, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) struggles as a stay-at-home dad dealing with Dash’s (Huck Milner) homework, Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) teen angst, and Jack-Jack developing a new power every five minutes.

Director Brad Bird once again shows great passion and skill with the highly entertaining Incredibles 2. This is a beautifully animated, hilarious, and thrilling sequel. Bird admitted he waited fourteen years to make sure Incredibles 2 was as good as the original; it’s close.

The formula is familiar; Bob misses his superhero life while he and Violet debate how to raise their kids, there’s a superhero revival opportunity, and a self-righteous supervillain. The villain is a cyberterrorist called Screenslaver, who manipulates people to commit crimes with electronic screens.  Why? Because Screenslaver feels that society is lazy and too dependent on superheroes.

Despite the grandiose action sequences, the highlight of the film is Jack-Jack! The surprised reactions from Bob, the kids, and Edna (Brad Bird) are hilariously realistic while Jack-Jack’s powers range between funny (he turns into a giant baby), cute (he fights a raccoon with his newfound powers), and occasionally scary (he turns into a goblin-looking creature at one moment). The repeated line, “Jack-Jack has powers?” never gets old here.

The big reveal with Screenslaver is a tad predictable, but I can forgive that minor flaw due to Bird’s directing, Michael Giachinno’s epic music score, and a strong cast. Nelson and Hunter once again deliver wonderful and expressive performances and Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Lucius Best/Frozone and has great one-liners. Odenkirk applies his Saul Goodman charm as the shady-yet-charming Winston, Catherine Keener is terrific as Winston’s tech-wiz sister, and even Sophia Bush of One Tree Hill fame has a few solid moments as the socially awkward superhero, Voyd.

This summer is packed with comic book films. We already got Deadpool 2 and Infinity War (both great comic book movies), but Incredibles 2 might be the best superhero movie of this summer.

Grade: A

“Hereditary”

Critics praise A24 for their award-winning hits like Moonlight and Lady Bird, but their standouts to me are their horror films. Hereditary is A24’s latest art house horror film; it might also be the best they’ve made yet.

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) has lost her abusive, mentally ill mother. As she copes with the loss, Annie’s demons resurface, as do her mother’s haunting secrets. Things only get worse when Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) questions Annie’s sanity, her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) performs ritualistic behavior with dead animals, and her son Peter (Alex Wolff) has violent hallucinations. Saying this family is dysfunctional is an understatement.

Hereditary is more a tragic melodrama than supernatural horror film, but don’t dismiss the horror! Writer/director Ari Aster doesn’t rely on false jump scares or an abundance of gore. Aster infuses real-life tragedy with supernatural mythologies and he doesn’t hold back. Decapitations and combustion haven’t been this horrific in quite some time.

Annie is a miniature artist who designs works based on her own tragic life. The works are expressionistic and nightmarish alone, but almost reflective of Aster’s directing. From the opening long take in Annie’s work shop set to Colin Stetson’s daunting score, we know we’re in for an unsettling ride. The film’s production design, cinematography, and editing are reminiscent of gothic horror films and Annie’s art works, leaving a surreal impression.

Collette gives an incredible performance as Annie and pulls no punches. Annie is a broken introvert who’s wrapped in her art. Collette shows versatility and anguish in her performance. Whether it’s a rage-fueled tangent at the dinner table or a series of awkward monologues about her horrible upbringing, Collette feels genuine as the tortured protagonist.

I have to admire Aster’s treatment of exposition. I normally dislike telling versus showing, but Aster adds some haunting ambiguity to Annie’s exposition-fueled monologues. Without going into spoilers, there are certain details in Annie’s backstory that sound tragic. When the revelations in the final act occur, a rewatch is necessary to determine what contributed to Annie’s said tragedies.

Hereditary shifts into full horror mode in the final thirty minutes. Aster packs it with frightening imagery in the corners and shadows, sound effects that get under your skin, and a wickedly scary inheritance. Like Annihilation earlier this year and April’s A Quiet PlaceHereditary is a harrowing genre film with more on its mind than genre conventions.

Grade: A+

“Upgrade”

If there’s one thing to admire about the sci-fi action body horror comedy, Upgrade, it’s watching action sequences that combine physical humor, slick choreography, and psychological horror. Upgrade is the biggest (technically smallest) surprise of the year.

Quadriplegic mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) gives up on life after his accident and wife’s murder. When an eccentric engineer named Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers to restore his mobility, Grey has a microchip implanted in his spine called STEM, which restores his mobility and guides him to avenge his wife’s murder. Grey gruesomely (and effortlessly) kills one killer when STEM takes over. That’s when Grey realizes he has an advantage on the gang with mechanically implanted weapons.

Upgrade sounds ridiculous on paper, but even the most absurd premise can be entertaining. Horror writer/director Leigh Whannell (Saw I-III, Insidious 1-3) shows versatility with this mid-budget genre feast. It starts as a hard sci-fi commentary on technophobia, transitions into a bloody revenge movie, and concludes as a psychological body horror movie. In the end, I wasn’t disappointed.

I haven’t been impressed with Marshall-Green’s previous performances, but he shows great physical and emotional range as Grey. Marshall-Green shows off some badass martial arts skills and expressions of horror during his action sequences; his priceless delivery results in some occasional laughs and convincing depiction of fear.

Marshall-Green also sells Grey’s technophobia and fleshes him out. Grey doesn’t want STEM controlling him, but his desire for revenge prompts him to keep STEM. His humanity mixed with technology reminded me of Peter Weller in the original RoboCop.

Whannell’s script and direction draw themes and tone from Verhoeven’s RoboCop, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Between the small budget, dirty urban settings, excessive gore, and cynical commentary on technology and our government, Upgrade should have these filmmakers cheering.

I was only drawn out of Upgrade when Betty Gabriel’s Detective Cortez appears. Every revenge movie has a police office who suspects the hero is a vigilante and tails them. Cortez is that character and offers no depth or originality.

Still, Upgrade was a total blast and given its final act, there’s franchise potential. And I’m okay with that!

Grade: B+

 

“Deadpool 2”

If Ryan Reynolds decides to play Deadpool for the rest of his career, I’m totally okay with that. Deadpool 2 is a sequel that tops its predecessor.

Wade Wilson AKA Deadpool (Reynolds) is now an international assassin. When he changes careers and briefly joins the X-Men, he meets a troubled mutant teen named Russell Collins (Julian Dennison from the great Hunt for the Wilderpeople). He takes a liking to the angsty kid and becomes obligated to protect him from the time traveling assassin Cable (Josh Brolin). But Cable has justifiable reasons for wanting to kill the kid.

For a sequel that changed directors and its entire crew, Deadpool 2 is an improvement in nearly every way. The action is bloodier and more kinetic, the meta jokes and pop culture references are edgier and more subtle, and the songs are better suited. Just when I got tired of hearing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” in action movies, Deadpool 2 has me wanting more of that song.

John Wick and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch (credited as “One of the guys who killed the dog in John Wick”) understands the source material and knows when to get crazy with the action. His trademark single take choreography is present, but he gets delightfully frenetic in certain sequences, including one spectacular highway truck chase.

The movie gets darker and more dramatic by exploring Deadpool’s suicidal tendencies and Russell’s outsider attitude, but it still has heart. After all, Deadpool himself calls this movie a family movie (which, it weirdly is). That’s what I love about these movies – they improve upon the source material by humanizing their titular character.

Reynolds once again is delightfully vulgar, ruthless, and unhinged as Deadpool. I’m not sure if it’s the script or Reynolds, but Reynolds makes you root for a character that’s despicable. Brolin is a great foil as Cable. He’s not as compelling as he was in this year’s Infinity War, but he delivers plenty of dry humor and arm-breaking moments. Zazie Beetz also scores some great moments as the lucky mutant, Domino, who’s a member of Deadpool’s X-Force team.

Deadpool 2 may come off drawn out and a tad uneven to some and offensive to others, but it continues Reynold’s A-game streak. The question is will we get Deadpool 3 or x-Force next?

Grade: A