Monthly Archives: September 2018

Mandy — 4/10

MANDY (2018, Panos Cosmatos)

Full of shit in all sorts of fascinating, novel ways. It’s not often you come across a director so visionary, so singular and unique, and also so terrible at the same time. Usually movies and styles this idiosyncratic are also good, so it’s some sort of achievement that this manages to be crap unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Not to say that it isn’t a huge pile of influences: there’s a lot here from Hooper to Carpenter to Lynch to Ken Russell to Rob Zombie, and if you melt all of that together, put it in a bag and shake it around, you could squeeze out this trippy bore. But the familiar ingredients have never quite been cooked in this manner, so I was constantly questioning what might happen next, and constantly apathetic about the trivial, insipid answer.

Cosmatos seems to have dropped a giant book on color temperature in front of his DP, who decided that stocking up on red bulbs and overexposing the shit out of it would make everything look wild, man. And maybe it does. I have nothing against a movie that provides distinct pleasures when experienced on hallucinogenic drugs, but I do have a problem if the movie requires that medication to enjoy it. For audience members watching this sober, it is nothing but a slow, gory, self-important trudge. The intended jokes fall flat (“That was my favorite shirt!” and “Don’t be negative!” seem to come from two totally different characters and neither one works), and Cage does not help them land. For all the shots that amaze — like the close-ups of Roache and Riseborough dissolving into one another — the shot that says the most about this movie comes in the second half, when Cage is riding an ATV into the cult camp. His wheel gets stuck, and Cosmatos cuts to a tight insert of the rubber tire spinning, spinning, and spewing out the mud in which it is stuck.

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The Old Man and the Gun — 7/10

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018, David Lowery)

Somehow manages both to take place in the early ’80s and feel like it was made in the early ’80s. The high-grain super-16 photography, sloppily lit and medium-saturated with earth tones, brings you back to 1981 caper movies, but also to the Redford canon: everything from BUTCH CASSIDY and THE STING to SNEAKERS and SPY GAME. And even if he walked it back recently, it makes sense that Redford says this will be his final performance: it’s a summation and a coda, a wink and a smile.

On a scene-to-scene level, this is crisp and entertaining — it clocks in at a lean 93 minutes, skipping not only exposition but sometimes entire heists or major character changes. Lowery knows what we’ve already seen and what will or won’t surprise us, so he brushes past the chorus to gives us a new bridge or two. And the way information is revealed or suggested is playful, clever, and inspiring — much like its protagonist Forrest. Take the opening sequence: as Redford drives away from the bank robbery listening in on the police scanner as they put out an APB on his white sedan, he drives behind a fence being painted by a couple of kids. The kids slap some paint on the wood, then the camera continues moving to catch Redford’s now-blue sedan emerge and continue. Cute goes down a lot easier when it’s also functional.

In taking Redford (his PETE’S DRAGON star) and Affleck (his AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS and A GHOST STORY star) into this cat-and-mouse chase, Lowery is drawing a line from past to present. He’s doing the same with Spacek (who is sensational here), relying on our knowledge of her introduction in BADLANDS as the innocent lover of a criminal. And in pulling this cast into the present, he’s making a movie about time itself and how character is determined both by current action and by a series of actions throughout history. That’s how Redford’s image was developed, and it’s how Forrest lives his life — he doesn’t rob banks to secure a future, he does it because it’s in his nature. (As one line puts it: it isn’t about making a living, it’s about living).

And because of this existential definition, the movie turns to celebrating the chase rather than its result. One slightly clumsy line is forced on Affleck’s daughter — she says that once her dad catches the bad guy, it’ll be too bad because he won’t get to chase him anymore. Perhaps too on-the-nose, but the spirit is there. Time marches on, we get older, we make new friends, new lovers, children who know us and those who do not. And as the generations pass, some things remain constant: the things that thrill us, and the things that make us feel alive. Wait, am I describing A GHOST STORY or THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN? Pretty cool trick, David.

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Searching — 6/10

SEARCHING (2018, Aneesh Chaganty)

Has an opening ten minutes that goes for UP-level pathos, and while it may not reach Pixarian heights, the form does make it interesting. Producer Timur Bekmambetov has made a new career out of churning out movies that all take place on a laptop screen, and while this is no UNFRIENDED, it still uses the conceit to reveal information in interesting ways. We start on a Windows/PC laptop and see the Norton Antivirus software. First clue we’re in the past. As we lurch towards the present, the PC is replaced by a MacBook. Certain search windows and tools are further signifiers, and beyond that, the content of the folders and iMessages gives us a taste of what we really need to know.

This keeps the story entertaining, because it generates both tension and laughs (one huge one) out of things as simple as missed call notifications and text bubble ellipses or someone entering and leaving a chat. This isn’t a movie about technology in any pro-computer or Luddite scenario; it’s about parenting, and it simply uses modern communication as a means to dole out exposition craftily.

Unfortunately, as it goes along, it paints itself into a corner and the story becomes kind of stupid, and all of it is exacerbated by Chaganty’s unsteady tone and amateur desperation, ┬ásuch as using either Cho’s worst take or not asking him for more, or piling on a heavy-handed, bombastic score. It also cheats on its own gimmick by escaping the laptop in favor of surveillance footage and TV news cameras. SEARCHING is a brisk, entertaining sit, and Bekmambetov knows what he’s doing with this genre, but it shouldn’t be a crutch for shaky screenplays.

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