Mandy Won’t Kiss You And Stop You From Shaking

Mandy - Still 1
(RLJ Entertainment)

Another day, another Nicolas Cage revenge movie, right? But director Panos Cosmatos, with his blood red heavy metal Mandy, delivers what has long seemed impossible.

very good Nicolas Cage revenge movie.

What better way to meet Red Miller (Cage) than wielding a chainsaw. But this isn’t a weapon–yet. Red is a lumberjack who lives and works in the Shadow Mountains in Eastern California, and this is the tool of his trade. Nevertheless, if you consider what kind of movie this is, and who’s holding that tool, this is a textbook example of the dramatic device known as Chekhov’s chainsaw.

Red lives with his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), enjoying a peaceful, rural life reading science fiction, listening to prog rock, and watching horror movies on tv. However, this woodland idyll is disturbed when cult leader Jeremiah (Linus Roache), a violent hippie with a Messiah complex, targets the couple and perhaps unwisely tries to plug his private press record.

Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) takes his sweet, diabolical time setting up his star’s outburst, but no director has set up their Cage rage like this before. From the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s menacing score, to cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, who frequently tints frames an infernal red, to the psychedelic  light shows that convey a really bad batch of acid, Mandy has so much texture that you want to scratch yourself.

For the most part, Cage’s co-stars are apt foils, the cult members of the Children of the New Dawn, including Richard Brake as their chemist, as hammy in their doom-saying way as Cage. And it’s a treat to see Bill Duke as the guy who has been holding onto Red’s weapons in his trailer, just in case.

Still, it’s more than an hour before Cage takes his moment and grabs it. When he finally does, it’s a magnificent sight to behold, an extended, delirious steel Cage match that gets more deliciously bloodcurdling with each evil victim.

The tax-burdened ham long ago took a career turn for the worse, taking whatever script that seemed to come his way. While Mom and Dad fared slightly better, giving Cage a chance to let loose in a sloppy satire, The Humanity Bureau didn’t even supply the kind of freak out you’ve come to expect, nay, demand from this stage in his career. All is finally forgiven with Mandy, in which the actor finally meets a director that’s as willing to go as over-the-top as he is.  The movie is available on VOD, though it’s best seen on the big screen. Unfortunately, in the Washington, D.C. area, you’ll have to venture all the way out to the Alamo Drafthouse in Ashburn, VA, or the Parkway Theater in Baltimore, to see it in a venue that befits its Grand Guignol spectacle.

Mandy
Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn
With Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, and Bill Duke.
Rated R. Contains strong language, graphic violence, and full frontal nudity.
121 min.

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The Nun Will Make You Pray For A Better Prequel

THE NUN
(New Line Cinema)

A priest, a nun, and a Frenchman walk into a castle. It sounds like the set-up for a bad joke; sadly, it’s the premise of the weakest entry yet in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. With its vision of a cloistered abbey fallen under diabolical corruption, The Nun is an apt horror movie during a time of crisis in the church. Unfortunately, the producers of this usually reliable franchise have begun to lose sight of their calling.

Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate who has yet to take her vows as a nun, journey to a cloistered abbey in Romania on assignment from the Vatican. One of the resident sisters has committed the grave sin of suicide, and with the help of a farmer (Jonas Bloquet) who found the nun’s body hanging from a castle window, the worried travelers try to get to the bottom of what happened.

Romania’s Corvin Castle is the gorgeous Gothic setting for this battle between good and evil, and it’s the most convincing character in the movie. The 15th-century structure was reportedly where Vlad the Impaler was held prisoner, and such colorful history has made it a ripe location for various paranormal investigations as well as the 2007 Nicolas Cage vehicle Ghost Rider. Dressed in CGI decay, it front-loads The Nun with plenty of ominous atmosphere.

But screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who penned both Annabelle movies, doesn’t develop these characters beyond stock types. What’s worse, one of those types is mere comic relief. A show of hands: how many people think it was a good idea to add a rustic named “Frenchie” to this supernatural troupe? “I’m French-Canadian,” he clarifies at a climactic moment, and although we finally learn that this character ties in with the rest of the series, that doesn’t make him feel like any more of a real person.

Farmiga’s nun-in-waiting echoes big-sister Vera’s struggle in the other films, and her baby face suits the role of the steadfast innocent. Bichir, on the other hand, has a thick accent that’s completely incongruous with his Irish surname, which helps give The Nun the air of ‘70s Italian B-horror (while nowhere idiosyncratic enough to evoke giallo).

The two Conjuring movies spent enough time with its characters so you’d be invested in their conflict, and that tradition continued with the patient backstory of Annabelle. But under the guidance of director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), Annabelle: Creation. relied too much on jump scares.

With The Nun, director Corin Hardy manages some of the moodiness he brought to his feature debut the The Hallow, and the movie generates a moderate charge out of the abbey’s descent into evil. But this series that started so well has become less inspired. While this ship may still be set right with The Conjuring 3, another spin-off, The Crooked Man, does not seem so promising.

The expanding Conjuring Cinematic Universe began as a reliable sanctuary for anyone who wants their horror movies dashed with character development and graceful camerawork on top of unsettling fear. Yet The Nun, despite great sets and evocative visuals, threatens to make one  lose faith in the series.

A couple of announcements:

I’ve stopped running my weekly movie column here since it got picked up by The DCLine. Get your local art-house and rep news over there! 

And just last week I became an official Tomatometer-approved critic, so I’m going to start reviewing movies here to supplement the usual outlets. You can see all my reviews, more than 500 written since 2011 (as a side-gig, I might add!) here.

 

Run the Gamut of Cinema This Week With Lewis and Martin and Lear on 35mm

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

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(Artkino Pictures / Photofest)

KING LEAR

Presented in conjunction with the exhibit Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe, the National Gallery of Art is screening a 35mm print of director Grigori Kozintsev’s 1971 adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy, based on a Russian translation by Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago). According to the Gallery, Estonian actor Jüri Järvet “is arguably the best Lear ever rendered on stage or screen.” Whoah!

Sunday, March 11 at 4 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium. Free.

 

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ROYAL HIBISCUS HOTEL

The AFI Silver’s 14th annual New African Film Festival continues this weekend with this Nollywood rom-com about a Nigerian chef (Zainab Balogun) whose failure to open an Afro-fusion restaurant in London sends her back home to run her family’s struggling hotel. When her parents decide to sell the place, the buyer (former Mr. Nigeria Kenneth Okolie) may have more than business on his mind.

Watch the trailer.
Saturday, March 10 and Monday, March 12 at the AFI Silver.

 

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(Movies a la Mark)

THE CADDY

Talented golfer Harvey (Jerry Lewis) is too shy to follow his father’s lead as a golf pro. Instead, Harvey becomes an instructor–starting with his fiancee’s brother (Dean Martin). The Mary Pickford Theatre at the Library of Congress pays homage to the late Lewis with this Norma Taurog-directed comedy full of howls and laughter. Martin, who scored a soundtrack hit with “That’s Amore,” confessed that he “couldn’t remember the last time had so much fun making  a picture.” Crazy, man, crazee!

Watch the trailer.
Thursday, March 15 at 7 p.m. Mary Pickford Theatre, third floor of the Madison Building, Library of Congress. Free. Seating is on a first-come first-serve basis. Doors open at 6:30 pm. Correction: the screening was Tuesday, March 13; I hope nobody missed it on my account; If it’s any consolation, I missed it too!

 

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HI, MOM

Next week the Washington Psychotronic Film Society presents this early work from Brian DePalma starring Robert DeNiro as a peeping tom turned militant black activist. And in case you missed it, this week DCPL’s Ray Barker invited me and my co-author Robert Headley to his Notes from the Library podcast to talk about our upcoming Arcadia book on DC-area movie theaters. Carl Cephas and Jonathan Couchenour joined us to talk about the WPFS.  Wait for Carl as he tells us about a VERY special film!

Watch the trailer.
Monday, March 12 at 8 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel.

Also opening this week, Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy star in the teenage psychological thriller Thoroughbreds. Read my review in The Washington Post.

See an Iranian Cat and an Irish Baby Elephant at the Movies this Week

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

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ONCE UPON A TIME, CINEMA

The Freer’s 22nd annual Iranian Film Festival continues this weekend with the work of  director Mohsen Makhmalbaf–you might remember him as the filmmaker impersonated in Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 semi-documentary Close-Up. The short documentary “Images from the Qajar Dynasty” combines some of the first film footage ever shot in Iran with contemporary art. The feature Once Upon a Time, Cinema, a 1992 comedy inspired by silent movies, imagines what happens when the Qajar shah first encounters the medium, his reaction developing from horror to obsession, when he falls in love with a movie actress. Shown in conjunction with the exhibit, The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran.

Friday, February 23 at 7 p.m. at the Freer Gallery of Art. Free.

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THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS

A young writer (Zosia Mamet of Girls,) inadvertently moves into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment in this first feature from writer-director Sophie Brooks. Variety describes it as a “crisply shot semi-mumblecore romantic comedy…just the sort of earnest indie trifle that Girls was influenced by and transcended.”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Edlavitch DCJCC

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ZOO

The Capital Irish Film Festival opens at the AFI Silver next week with the story of a 12-year old boy (Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) who joins forces with his “misfit friends”  to save a baby elephant during the 1941 air raids on Belfast. With a bit part from character actor great Toby Jones as a ticket taker. The screening will be followed by a  Q&A with director Colin McIvor and a post-screening reception sponsored by the Northern Ireland Bureau.

Watch the trailer.
Thursday, March 1 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver.

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MODESTY BLAISE

The Washington Psychotronic Film Society wraps up Femme Fatale February with this 1966 action comedy from director Joseph Losey, whom you may be surprised to learn was born in Wisconsin! Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde star in what the Psychotronic curators describe as, “a mad, mod world of sexy, stylish intrigue, mile-high hairdos, and swinging, psychedelic wall patterns in this campy spoof based on the British comic strip of the same name.”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, February 26 at 8:00 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel.

Run the Gamut of Cinema with Russ Meyer and Abbas Kiarostami

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

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(Janus Films)

24 FRAMES

Of what would be his final project, the late Abbas Kiarostami wrote, “I decided to use the photos I had taken through the years. I included four minutes and thirty seconds of what I imagined might have taken place before or after each image that I had captured.” This weekend the Freer’s annual Iranian Film Festival screens this experimental work, which contains no dialogue and consists entirely of 24 shots brought to life with computer animation. The movie is not currently scheduled for commercial release in the Washington area, so this may be your only chance to see it on the big screen.

Watch the trailer.
Sunday, February 18 at 2 p.m. at the Freer Gallery of Art. Free.

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(British Film Institute)

THE INFORMER

The National Gallery of Art launches a series of recent restoration work from the British Film Institute with this 1929 crime drama about a repentant IRA man who turns in a his best friend into the police and is then pursued by the organization. Based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty, the film was remade by John Ford in 1935. The restoration includes a new score by Irish composer Garth Knox.

Sunday, February 18 at 4:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium.

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BREATH

The AFI Silver is bringing back highlights from the Freer’s Iranian Film Festival, and this weekend screens this 2016 drama that I blurbed for the City Paper. Drector Narges Abyar’s film drama, I wrote, “follows a nine-year-old girl who imagines that her poor family inhabits the beloved folktales she reads. Set during the Iranian Revolution of the ’70s and the start of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, Breath captures a pivotal time in the nation’s history through a child’s hopeful eyes, conveyed with animated vignettes that are inspired by the nation’s art and calligraphy.”

Watch the trailer.
Wednesday, February 21 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver. $13.

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FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Russ Meyer may be best known for violent cheesecake, but the director cut his teeth as a combat photographer in World War II (you can see some of his footage in Patton), so his formative experience as a filmmaker required a technical prowess in often desolate locations. This 1965 exploitation action-comedy is the pinnacle of Meyer’s California Gothic period, its tale of three go–go dancers on a wild rampage filmed mostly in a desert, suggesting the American West as a arid landscape of sex and cars. If only he had lived to adapt J.G. Ballard’s Crash. The Washington Psychotronic Film Society promises, “drag races, catfights, murders, straining blouses, and lots of torrid action.”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, February 19 at 8 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel. 

Don’t miss my coverage of this year’s DC Independent Film Festival in the Washington City Paper.

Popcorn & Candy: From Art House To Swamp House Edition

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

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Courtesy of the Freer

NEGAR

The Freer’s Iranian Film Festival continues this weekend with this 2017 drama from  actor and television host Rambod Javan. Negar Javaherian  (Javan’s wife) stars as the daughter of a wealthy man who dies soon after filing for bankruptcy. As the loyal daughter tries to get to the bottom of her father’s death, the action ramps up. I can’t find any English-language reviews of the movie, but it should be worth a look as a more pop-minded offering from a film industry that usually exports art house drama.

Watch the trailer.
Sunday, February 4 at 2 p.m. at the Freer Gallery of Art. Free.

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(Sean Lyness/PBS Distribution)

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL

The Avalon’s weekly documentary series offers one of this year’s Oscar nominees, a look at the 2008 financial crisis from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams). The movie paints a picture of  Abacus Federal Saving loan founder Thomas Sung as a successor to It’s A Wonderful Life‘s George Bailey. As I wrote in my Washington Post review, “it’s a story of family, immigrant communities and scapegoating — as well as a rare case in which you end up rooting for the bank.” But, “by comparing the case to an almost universally admired movie, however, the film seems to argue that justice is best served by sympathy.”

Watch the trailer.
Wednesday, February 7 at 8 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.

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(Horrorpedia)

THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING

Cinematographer Freddie Francis lensed such classics as The Innocents and The Elephant Man; as a director, he shunned the art house for grind house fare like Trog and this West-German-produced horror comedy from 1971. The Washington Psychotronic Film Society writes, “It’s a case of mistaken identity when American actress Betty Williams gets confused with her vampire grandmother. Betty has inherited grandma’s castle in Transylvania and accidentally sets her loose from her tomb. What follows is a sex comedy that you can really sink your teeth into, complete with a bloodsuckers’ ball orgy featuring top vamp Dracula himself.”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, February 5 at 8 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel.

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(Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot)

Streaming Pick: SWAMP COUNTRY

Amazon Prime Video is a seemingly bottomless pit of strange B-obscurities, from forgotten noirs to low-budget Juvenile Delinquent exploitation to Kim Jong-Il’s Godzilla ripoff. Most of the older titles have suffered the vagaries of time and poor film preservation, but the producers of this 1966 crime drama had Technicolor stock on their side, so the vivid colors of Southern Gothic exploitation have survived intact. Thus we have a curious document of life on the Okefenokee (the film was shot on location near Waycross, Georgia) . Rex Allen stars as a small-town sheriff who chases down traveling businessman Dave (Dave Wetzel, in his only screen credit) accused of a murder he didn’t commit. When the police close in on the businessman after he finds himself in the hotel room of a freshly killed Southern belle, Dave overpowers the deputies, anticipating by decades a similar scene in Tak3n. Allen was a popular country singer, but musical duties are left to Baker Knight (who penned songs for Elvis and Ricky Nelson) , playing himself as a troubadour who provides a running commentary in song. If you’ve wondered what a mafia-infused, musical Liam Neeson action movie set in swamp country might be like, see Swamp Country.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Also on the big screen this week, look for my Critic’s Pick of Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night in this week’s Washington City Paper.

Popcorn & Candy: Iranian Blues Edition

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

 

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Courtesy of The Freer

BLOCKAGE

The Freer’s 22nd annual Iranian Film Festival launches this weekend with this drama from director Mohsen Gharaie about a civil servant in charge of inspecting sttreet vendors in Tehran. Screen Anarchy writes that the film,  is just the latest in a long line of contemporary Iranian dramas whose tightly woven narratives succeed both in pulling the veil back on life in modern-day Iran, while simultaneously transcending their cultural roots to tell universal stories of desperate individuals just trying to get by. The results are engrossing, despairing and all-too-familiar.” Stay tuned later in the festival for 24 Frames (February 18),  the final work from director Abbas Kiarostami.

Watch the trailer.
Friday, January 12 at 7 p.m. at the Freer. Free.

 

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Courtesy of Sam Pollard

TWO TRAINS RUNNIN’

The Washington Jewish Film Festival continues it’s year-long programming with this 2017 music documentary. For DCist’s 2017 guide to FilmFest DC, I wrote, “In 1964, a number of young white blues fans (including Takoma-born guitarist John Fahey) journeyed to Mississippi in search of lost blues legends. But their difficult musical journeys coincided with the “Freedom Summer” that electrified the Civil Rights movement. Director Sam Pollard weaves together animated reenactments of the musical journey along with news footage of the Civil Rights movement along with interviews with both blues fans and musicians like Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams and Gary Clark, Jr.”

Watch the trailer.
Tuesday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Edlavitch DCJCC. 

 

 

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Courtesy of Bistro Bohem

SCHOOL IS THE FOUNDATION OF LIFE

Bistro Bohem‘s monthly Film and Beer series starts off the new year with a 1938 comedy about the high jinks that ensue when an anonymous student criticizes a teacher in the school paper. Series favorite Martin Frič directed the film, whose plot keywords on the IMDb promise a hilarious “chemical accident.”  The screening includes a complimentary beer and an introduction by a representative from the Czech Embassy.

Tuesday, January 16 at 7 p.m. at Bistro Bohem, 600 Florida Ave NW. Free, but make reservations at 202/735-5895 or bistrobohem@gmail.com. Guests must arrive by 6:45 pm to keep their reservation. 

 

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PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE

Next week the Washington Psychotronic Film Society pays homage to the late Baltimore character actor Conrad Brooks, who died in December at the age of 85.  Brooks got his start in such exploitation films as The Beast from Yucca Flats and the early work of legendary schlockmeister Ed Wood, including Monday’s feature, perhaps the original so-bad-it’s good cult movie. Plan 9 will be preceded by a selection of highlights from Brooks’ career, which grew into that of a B-movie regular in such titles as A Polish Vampire in Burbank (1985) and  Jan-Gel, the Beast from the East (1999)

Monday, January 15 at 7 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel.