Mandy (2018)


Nic Cage is never happier than when he’s driving a car while drenched in fake blood.

(2018) Horror (RLJE) Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake, Bill Duke, Line Pillet, Clément Baronnet, Alexis Julemont, Stephen Fraser, Ivalyio Dimitrov, Kalin Kerin, Tamás Hagyuó, Madd’yz Dog Lollyta, Corfu, Paul Painter (voice), Hayley Saywell. Directed by Panos Cosmatos

 

Nic Cage has, in this stage of his career, carved out a reputation as having the best freak-out in the business. Perhaps not what he had in mind back when he was considered one of the finest actors in the business for serious works like Leaving Las Vegas and Peggy Sue Got Married but it’s always good to be good at something.

Here he plays Red Miller, a taciturn lumberjack living in the Pacific Northwest woods of the Shadow Mountains circa 1983 with his hippie chick girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough) who makes a living doing illustrations for fantasy and science fiction-themed album covers. She’s a bit of an aging waif with anime eyes who brings in a little extra cash working as a cashier at a local gas station/grocery. Walking home, she is espied by Jeremiah Sand (Roache) who decides that this is the woman from him. He sends Brother Swan (Dennehy) to see that she sees the light.

Using an odd instrument called the Abraxas Horn Swan summons a group of demonic bikers who use a sort of liquid extreme LSD to get themselves in the mood for violence. They break in to the rustic cabin of Red and Mandy and restrain Red in a kind of barbed wire manacle. Mandy is brought to Jeremiah who makes an art form of tooting his own horn. His attempts at seduction don’t get him the results he wanted so in a fit of Trump-like pique he decides to teach the couple a lesson.

The results aren’t pretty. Mandy meets a grisly end witnessed by her boyfriend who is stabbed and left for dead. As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with Red and he goes about collecting himself an arsenal and then going on a little ass-kicking expedition and you know it won’t end until every mutha who messed with his girl exsanguinates all over his face.

For those who, like me, love Conan O’Brien’s Nicolas Cage threat level gauge, he delivers one here that is sure to be Defcon One the next time O’Brien puts one together. Through the first half of the film Cage is fairly quiet but once Mandy is taken from him he goes full-on Nicolas Cage and that can be highly entertaining.

Director Panos Cosmatos isn’t above ratcheting up the crazy, using a good deal of psychedelic footage and LSD-inspired footage melds that with a largely electronic and almost progressive metal score from the late Oscar-nominated Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannson that really captures the heart of the film. Any movie that starts out with King Crimson’s criminally underappreciated “Starless” is a friend of mine.

Riseborough is not your usual lead here; oddly, Jeremiah seems to treat her as a younger woman but she’s clearly middle aged. I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder but her character’s new age babble is a little bit distracting. What isn’t distracting is the final half of the film which is essentially one long action sequence with all sorts of gory violence which is bound to bring a contented smile to most horror fans.

This is not your typical horror movie; there are some themes of love and violence, obsession and ego. There are some animated scenes that are sort of like a Roger Dean album cover come to life. So it’s very much a situation of the 70s have called and they want their horror film back. This isn’t a movie from that era (even though it’s set in ’83) but it captures the spirit of psycho horror films of that era nicely.

REASONS TO GO: Cage is at his most ludicrously demented which is saying something. The action sequences are bizarre but in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie does take a little while to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: Deep breath now; there’s gore and violence (some of it extreme), the full Monty, copious drug use, profanity and likely lots of mean thoughts.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Roache and Brake both previously worked together in Batman Begins in which Roache played Thomas Wayne and Brake played Joe Chill, who murdered him.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Drive Angry
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Bill Coors: The Will to Live

Hearing is Believing


The joy of music.

(2017) Music Documentary (Gravitas/Foresight) Rachel Flowers, Dweezil Zappa, Keith Emerson, Jeanie Flowers, Arturo Sandoval, Stevie Wonder, Andy Radford, Dan Flowers, Ian McDuffie, Frank Cavenee, Taylor Eigsti, Ellis Hall, Brian Hutchison, Vaughan Flowers, David Pinto, Benny Chong, Larry Tuttle, Joy Cavenee, Mari Kawaguchi, Leo Medina, Cynthia Gonzalez. Directed by Lorenzo DeStefano

 

Maybe once in a generation (if you’re lucky) comes a musical prodigy who has the ability to be a game changer. That person for this generation might just be Rachel Flowers. An absolutely lights-out pianist, she is able to hear a song once and then play it, possessed of true perfect pitch. She is also similarly skilled on a multitude of instruments, including guitar and flute. She is an amazing composer, working in a variety of styles and genres including pop, progressive rock, jazz and Latin. She is, in short, the real deal.

What makes the 21-year-old musician’s accomplishments even more impressive is that she has been blind since she was a baby, having been born prematurely and developing retinopathy which caused her retinas to detach repeatedly until eventually her parents had to accept that she would be blind for the rest of her life. She lives with her mom Jeanie in a modest home in Oxnard along with her little brother Vaughan who seems a typical well-adjusted teen who admits that he lives in the shadow of his sister and then the film proves it by going virtually the entire rest of the film without him appearing on camera.

The documentary follows Rachel essentially for two years as her impressive YouTube videos garner her  notice from various music industry folks who begin to help her – some directly, some not – but she begins to get a following. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t already well-known; by the time she was 11 she’d been on 60 Minutes twice. However, until recently her notoriety wasn’t really translating into income to speak of as the small family lived hand-to-mouth, surviving on Jeanie’s paychecks.

She does get the blessing of some pretty impressive musicians, including jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, keyboardist Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame) who seemed to hold a special place in Flowers’ heart – she performs several of his songs during the movie – and fellow blind prodigy Stevie Wonder.

She leads off the film performing the Walter Murphy disco-era pop hit “A Fifth of Beethoven,” serving notice that not only is she into classical but she’s into pop in a big way. The movie follows her from an appearance at a local concert hall in Oxnard to a Las Vegas stage with Dweezil Zappa playing the music of his father Frank (some of the most difficult and demanding compositions of the 20th century) to performing in her church and an impromptu performance at a big box store trying out a variety of keyboards on sale in front of admiring shoppers.

Rachel is an engaging presence, smiling broadly whenever she is playing music (for the most part; for more somber pieces her expression is more serious) and charming all with her humble demeanor and her infectious giggle which you will either be annoyed by or look forward to depending on your tolerance for girlish giggles and she giggles a lot. She is clearly a talented performer but also her original music ranges from haunting to joyful. She is clearly a talent to be reckoned with and I can’t imagine that she won’t be getting multimillion dollar offers from big players in the coming months.

It’s a shame that the film doesn’t live up to its subject. I haven’t seen DeStefano’s other documentaries but I sure hope they’re better than this one. He obviously adores his subject and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we are treated to multiple scenes of musicians and admirers praising Rachel effusively. It isn’t that she doesn’t deserve it but her music speaks for itself; we don’t need to hear people endlessly remark on how talented she is. We all know it.

To make matters worse, DeStefano packs his film with cinematic ephemera that do nothing to really give us any sort of insight into Rachel herself. We see her at a self-defense course for the blind with other blind folks but as we see person after person practicing their techniques I began to fidget and wonder what on earth any of this has to do with the woman or her music. Occasionally Rachel talks about her creative process and how she expands on snippets of melodies that pop into her head, but we don’t get a sense of how she tackles the act of creating music overall.

The concert footage is extensive, giving us a chance to listen to entire pieces of her music which is a nice touch; so many music documentaries go for more is more, giving us 15-30 seconds of a song before going on to the next one. Not so here and it’s a good thing; really the best way to get to know Rachel Flowers is through her music. I say that because that’s essentially the only way we get to know Rachel Flowers here; the filmmaker does a poor job of showing us who this woman is.

That’s too bad because you will want to get to know her better once you hear her music. Something tells me that the director got so close to her subject that he lost objectivity and as a result made some poor directing decisions. I love the music of Rachel Flowers; I can’t say I can recommend the documentary about her as wholeheartedly. See it for the musical sequences which are enthralling but be aware that this is a severely flawed presentation that might send you scurrying for YouTube to watch more of her performances. That might be a much less frustrating way to encounter her.

 

REASONS TO GO: Rachel Flowers is an exceptional musician and extremely likable person. The extended concert footage gives you more than a snippet of a song to enjoy.
REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is ragged; there’s way too many cinematic non-sequiturs and extraneous footage. There is a little bit too much fawning going on.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few instances of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Flowers will be playing at a tribute concert to the late Keith Emerson in Birmingham, England on July 28th with, among others, Rick Wakeman of Yes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Best and Most Beautiful Things
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Transformers: The Last Knight

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage


Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee.

(Banger Films) Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, Gene Simmons, Billy Corgan, Matt Stone, Trent Reznor. Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden

Some bands are high profile due to their outrageous personalities, some because of how many tickets, downloads and/or albums they’ve sold. Some bands, however, may make a lot of money but fly completely under the radar, a spirit of radio that survives into the digital age.

Canada’s Rush is like that. They started in the late 60s as a kind of psychedelic hard rock band, evolving into a more heavy metal incarnation in the 70s, before morphing into a progressive rock outfit in the 80s (which was, ironically enough, the height of their sales and popularity). In the 90s, they became a bit more of a hard rock band, which is where they’ve been ever since. Obviously, time stands still for some bands but not for Rush.

Even though the band has sold tens of millions of albums, sold out arenas and stadiums all over the world and are considered to be some of the finest musicians in rock and roll, they have never really gotten their due. I’m not sure why that is; it’s a subject that is often brought up, particularly by the musicians and celebrity talking heads, but there are no real answers. I don’t think there’s a ghost of a chance we’ll ever really figure it out other than to say that there are a lot of people who have crap taste in music, but that’s the music snob in me talkin’.

Part of the reason is displayed in this documentary. The three are actually very nice guys who don’t party like rock stars, who don’t do outrageous things and essentially stay out of the limelight. While never a fly by night kind of band, they’ve kept the same lineup for nearly their entire history, with only a single drummer change very early on in their career. In the very maleable world of rock and roll, that’s quite the rarity.

Drummer Neil Peart writes most of their lyrics with an eye towards science fiction, fantasy and philosophy. Watching the interviews with him and his mates, one gets a sense of how intelligent all three of them are. They haven’t squandered their fortune on ostentatious homes, toys and drugs; they haven’t got an arrest record a mile long. In that sense, they’ve managed to stay out of the camera eye. They’re basically decent family men who work in a peculiar industry, but otherwise they’re just like you or me.

Stars in both hemispheres, their music is complex, layered and yet melodic. It has influenced a diverse group of musicians, from hard rockers Kirk Hammett and Sebastian Bach (who claims he was the third member of the group’s fan club) to alt-rockers like Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor, all of whom appear here singing the praises of Rush along with filmmaker Matt Stone and actor/musician Jack Black. Influencing guys like this is launching mystic rhythms into the ether that will come back in the future in unexpected ways.

I admit to being a big fan of these guys, which makes it hard to be objective about a film like this. I enjoyed watching the concert footage, the fan love and of course the interview segments; however, it is the band’s home movies from their early years that I found most fascinating. Hearing them discuss their goals and aspirations sitting around a kitchen table at their suburban Toronto home, you get kind of a sense that they had a clear vision even back then. After all, even Tom Sawyer went to high school.

I can admire that these filmmakers give you a very detailed, intimate portrait of a band that I happen to care about, but even if I didn’t this is still a wonderful introduction to their music and their career. Whether you’re fans or not, chances are you’re going to like these guys who refer to themselves in very self-deprecating ways as boring and uninteresting. If you are fans, this will be a gold mine of rare footage and concert films of old favorites. It’s not quite going home, but it’s close. However you term it, this is a good way to get closer to the heart of an influential yet largely non-respected band.

WHY RENT THIS: An in-depth look at a band that never got the respect it truly deserves. Some really interesting home movie footage gives you a real sense of how the band evolved.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While accessible to non-fans, certainly it won’t hold much appeal to those who aren’t into the band’s music.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there but otherwise this is perfectly fine for Rush fans of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Neal Peart replaced John Rutsey as the drummer for the band; he also became the lyricist, allowing Geddy Lee to concentrate on the music and vocals.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes an extra disc with an hour and a half of live performances not seen in the film, deleted scenes and a 12-page booklet.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Adventureland