Tag: revenge

Mandy


Mandy (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Surrealistic revenge thriller “Mandy,” written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, is to me, both a coal and a diamond in that, in a sense, it is equally student film and metal rock—bizarre and frustrating but cathartic and oddly compelling. After the final frame, I felt as though it is the movie that the writer-director wished to make and, although a trial to sit through at times, I cannot help but respect the final product. This is a project that will not appeal to most audiences, especially the modern variety, and it is self-aware that it isn’t for them. More filmmakers should follow suit.

The presentation is forceful and off-putting. For instance, it has the tendency to employ extreme coloring—particularly shades of red—to the point where the viewer is forced to wonder whether we are peering into a nightmare or hallucination. Wholly appropriate because, in a way, the story is supposed to embody a feeling of one descending into the depths of hell as the main character attempts to complete his gory vengeance, the wild use of color palettes eventually fuses into the marrow of storytelling. I found it surprising that the approach somehow manages to complement the cartoonish violence—sometimes shocking, occasionally funny—that is heavily influenced by the more unpleasant but endearing ‘80s sci-fi flicks.

It has been years since I have seen Nicolas Cage utilize his crazy facial expressions in an effective film. In the past five to ten years, I have preferred to watch him in quiet dramas where his emotions are controlled and captivating. Here, the veteran actor is allowed to run wild and just about every second of his performance works. He makes us believe that his character, Red, is so willing get even with his wife’s killers (led by the cult leader Jeremiah Sand played by Linus Roache) that his own life is of no value. Red died in that same fire that consumed his wife (Andrea Riseborough).

So many independent movies use drug-induced images to shove audiences into particular mindsets, especially when the screenplay is so limited, like lacking the ear for dialogue or the means to unspool more demanding action sequences. Cosmatos takes it a step further by subjecting us into experiencing specific feelings. When a character is afraid, for instance, images are hallucinatory but the editing is quite fractured. When someone dreams, we observe wordless animation. When someone’s rage takes over, these feverish images fade away. Tension builds just as quickly as embellishments fade way. Clearly, careful thought is put into how various styles ought be used to create a specific experience that makes sense.

I am more than willing to call bad art as trash, but “Mandy,” even though it can be a challenge to sit through at times due to its languid and uneven pacing, does not belong under such category. It works for the most part because there is conviction behind the strange images and circumstances, supported by a solid lead performance. In the middle of it, I wondered about Cosmatos’ versatility as writer-director. It would be interesting to see what kind of movie he would make should he be forced to abstain from psychedelic images to support his storytelling. I think he has it in him to create, for instance, a straight-faced drama; the decorations, like the visual kind, simply must be channeled in a different way. He’s one to keep an eye out for.

Revenge


Revenge (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Right from its opening minutes we are promised the work is going to be a revenge film with flavor. Take note of its generosity in employing kaleidoscopic colors designed to overpower the senses, eclectic music to get us into specific headspace, and numerous eye-catching environments so that even navigating one’s surroundings becomes a challenge especially when severely wounded. “Revenge” is written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, her first foray in helming a feature film. She should be proud of it because every second of the project is energetic, full of purpose, and packed with knowledge in terms of how the sub-genre works while at the same time striving to put her own stamp on it.

The woman destined to get her revenge is named Jen and she is played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Fargeat ensures that we appreciate the beautiful specimen from—first—a sexual point of view and—second—from the perspective of a survivor. Notice that during the first third, there are numerous close-ups of Lutz’ sun-kissed body, how the camera moves as if to caress her every curve. Her blonde hair falls freely, on her shoulders, down her back, or near her breasts and the locks dance as she turns her head suddenly or when the desert wind blows just so. Lutz is smart in deciding not to portray a typical dumb blonde, to make a joke of the character, even when Jen is being sexualized. And so when the story makes sudden dark turns, we believe that she is capable of a huntress’ ferocity.

Those to be hunted are three men (Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède) who left Jen for dead after she was raped. Assuming that she’d die after a long fall and being impaled by a branch through the abdomen, they neglect to consider the amount of fight she has left in her. The screenplay does an excellent job in making the viewers hate the men who wish to get away with rape and attempted murder. In revenge action-thrillers, we know exactly the order of the persons to get their comeuppance. The film offers no surprise in this instance nor does it really need to. Punishments simply need to be gory and satisfying.

And they are. Every confrontation is elaborate, suspenseful, thrilling, and cathartic. It’s funny because Jen often tries to go for the quick kill. But it appears as though fate intervenes each time so that Jen has the opportunity to maximize the level of pain, to humiliate them just as they humiliated her, before finally ending the lives of the disgusting monsters who did her wrong. Blood is shed on expensive carpets, body parts are torn off in the hot and humid desert, and there plenty of screaming from pain. Always wear shoes in the desert. I imagine that with enough word-of-mouth, the work has the potential to become a cult classic.

But “Revenge” is no cheesy action suspense-thriller where viewers get so distracted that they end up compiling a list of dumb moments. It may be criticized for a few questionable decisions, particularly in how Jen, for some reason, only tends to the open wound on her abdomen when clearly a branch had pierced her torso from the back. Given that Fargeat has a keen eye for detail, I believe this was done on purpose: to remind us that the material is meant to be a revenge fantasy first and foremost with an admixture of feminism.

Most curious for me, however, is how the writer-director employs close-ups, not just of the wince-inducing gaping wounds—which tickled and fascinated me—but also of animals that live in the desert, how they are treated by the presence of man in an already unforgiving environment. A spider drowns in man’s urine. An ant is assaulted by a rain of blood. I wondered if the filmmaker was trying to make a statement about man’s role in the rape of the natural world—admirable for a film made for adrenaline-fueled entertainment.

The Prestige


The Prestige (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

Robert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred (Christian Bale) were gifted magicians. They used to work together up until Alfred accidentally caused the death of Robert’s wife during a performance. Her death triggered Robert’s obsession to have a better career than Alfred, a difficult feat because his rival could effortlessly think outside the box, a natural magician, although he lacked a bit of drama in order to establish a solid rising action and truly engage the audience during his performances. As the two attempted to create more complex tricks, everything else in their lives began to fall apart. Alfred’s wife (Rebecca Hall) became unhappy with their marriage and Robert’s lover (Scarlett Johansson) began to feel used when Robert asked her to spy on his former colleague. Directed by Christopher Nolan, “The Prestige” was a curious film for me because no matter how many times I watched it, I failed to see why it’s loved by practically everyone I know. I admired the performances. Bale was wonderful as a family man who was completely invested in his craft. Every time he spoke about magic and being on stage, I felt passion in his eyes and the subtle intensity of the varying intonations in his voice. Jackman was equally great as a man who was never satisfied. I felt sad for his character because despite his many achievements, what he truly wanted was an impossibility–for his wife to live again. The dark hunger consumed him and he became unable to question his motives or if vengeance was even worth it. The story was interesting because its core was about how being a magician defined a soul. Its labyrinthine storytelling, jumping between past and present, kept my attention because it was like solving a puzzle. However, the picture committed something I found very distasteful. That is, when Robert’s greatest trick, with the help of a scientist named Tesla (David Bowie), was finally revealed, it was borderline science fiction. Imagine a magician who, using a white cloth, made a pigeon disappear right before our eyes. We wait in heavy anticipation for him to bring back the pigeon. Once the “Tada!” moment came, what laid before us was not a pigeon. What appeared was a blue mouse or something not similar to a pigeon at all. The magic trick had turned into a joke. That was how I felt when all cards were laid on the table. Some critical pieces made no sense. I felt cheated because I had the impression that the magic trick was supposed to be grounded in reality. It wasn’t and, I must admit, I felt angry for spending the time in trying to figure out the secret. “The Prestige” wore out its welcome but was kept afloat by its morally complex characters and their willingness to destroy each other for the sake of nothing.

The Skin I Live In


The Skin I Live In (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) was a renowned plastic surgeon whose wife’s body burned in a car crash while trying to get away with her boyfriend (Roberto Álamo). Robert transported Gal home and took care of her for months, but when she saw her reflection on a window, she jumped out because she couldn’t bear living with her teratoid appearance. Since the tragedy, we learned that Robert had been performing experimental skin treatment on Vera (Elena Anaya). Although artificial, it was resistant to burning and insect bites which was promising for the scientific community. However, Robert’s colleagues were led to believe that he had been experimenting with mice, not on humans. “La piel que habito” had plenty of ideas about how anger and grief could drive a person into trying to achieve something so radical, it threatened to destroy him. The picture was most fascinating when it allowed the camera to observe the surgeon’s work sans dialogue. I liked watching him navigate his hands with precision while cutting a piece of skin and applying it onto his model. When something went wrong, he maintained his composure and consistently found a way to work around the problem–a quality that also served him well outside the lab. By observing his routine, though shot with cold detachment, we learned a lot about his experiment and how invested and desperate he was to make the seemingly impossible a reality. The film held a lot of secrets about identity. The most curious was Vera and why she lived like a prisoner. While it made sense that she lived in a relatively contained environment because her skin was being replaced, there were some red flags that grabbed (or should grab) our attention. For example, she wasn’t allowed any visitors, never handed sharp objects, and there were writing, like tallies of dates, on the walls of her room. If she was a voluntary patient, why was she considered a danger to herself? Pedro Almodóvar, the writer-director, did a solid job on keeping a lid on what was really happening. The less information was available for us to put the pieces together, although I felt a bit of frustration due to its unhurried pacing, the more I felt compelled to think of increasingly ridiculous hypotheses. One of the most interesting characters was Marilia (Marisa Paredes) who, to Robert, was just a trustworthy longtime maid, but was actually his biological mother. I loved looking at her face, the way she moved across the room, and why she was convinced that Robert ought to kill Vera. Marilia provided another layer, if you will, to the story. I just wished that she had been used more. The most critical opportunity that the film lost was not relating its story deeply enough to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his creature. Marilia was Robert’s creator and Vera was Robert’s. Instead of looking to the future and exploring the repercussions of the surgeon’s transgressions, the screenplay went back in time about halfway through and gave us images of what happened to the wife and daughter. While it was necessary for us to know, several lines of dialogue would have sufficed. Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel “Tarantula,” “The Skin I Live In,” wonderfully shot even without Almodóvar’s usual primary colors, could have used less family history and focused more on horror that came about from ignoring certain moral obligations.

Heartless


Heartless (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Jamie (Jim Sturgess) was born with a heart-shaped birthmark on the left side of his face. It turned him into a self-conscious person because people did not want anything to do with him and his teratoid appearance. After his mom (Ruth Sheen) was killed by hooligans who wore monster masks, Jamie was intent on taking revenge. But when Papa B (Joseph Mawle), possibly the devil himself, offered Jamie to live a life without his birthmark, Jamie reluctantly accepted. If he was beautiful, he figured he could finally ask an aspiring model (Clémence Poésy) out on a date. But his newfound beauty didn’t come without a price. Written and directed by Philip Ridley, “Heartless” started with a heavy-handed premise about true beauty being found within but it got stronger over time because it wasn’t afraid to take us to many surprising directions. I must admit that I had a difficult time believing that Sturgess was ugly just because he had a birthmark on his face. It was almost laughable because his character’s shyness was reflected by his habit of wearing hoodies and always looking down on his feet. And, just to top it all off, he spoke ever so softly. It didn’t require much effort to see that he was still handsome. However, once Jamie made a deal with the devil, the movie became much more interesting. We had a chance to observe what he was willing to go through in order to keep his face unblemished. When asked to kill, a part of his payment, there was something darkly comic about the whole ordeal. I particularly relished the Weapons Man’s (Eddie Marsan) visitation of Jamie’s flat as he explained what kind of weapon our protagonist had to use to murder, the type of target he must get his hands on, and the ridiculous rules he had to abide by. Even more amusing was the potential victim Jamie had actually chosen. I liked that there were vast shifts in tone because the Faustian fable was something we’ve already seen many times. However, I wished the filmmakers held back on using shrieks when something scary would appear on screen. It felt too Horror Movie 101, more distracting than horrific, and it took away some of the originality it worked hard to reach. Lastly, the picture would have benefited if Timothy Spall, who played Jamie’s deceased father, was in it more. Jamie obviously missed his dad not just because he was family but because Jamie saw his father as a role model, someone he’d always aspired to be. “Heartless” may not have reached its ambition by tackling the deeper angles of broad issues like religion, physical beauty and social decay, but I appreciated its well-meaning attempt and solid performances by Marsan, Spall, and Sturgess.

Killer Elite


Killer Elite (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

After a job in 1980 which involved assassinating a man while the target’s kid was in the car, Danny (Jason Statham) decided to quit the killing business. A year later, Danny, living in rural Australia, received a package that contained photos of his mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), and instructions on how to retrieve his friend. In Oman, we learned that Sheikh Amr (Rodney Afif) wanted to avenge the death of his three sons. If Danny successfully killed three British former special air servicemen (Lachy Hulme, Grant Bowler, Daniel Roberts) before Sheikh passed away from his affliction, Danny would be able to walk away with Hunter and six million dollars richer. But just how do you get a recorded video confession and make the assassination look like an accident if the targets are tough and gifted special forces agents trained to endure the greatest types of torture? Based on the novel by Ranulph Fiennes, “Killer Elite” was able to accomplish a juggling act so uncommonly found these days in action pictures. It managed to be entertaining without sacrificing story and intelligence. In its own way, it was fashionably old-school. The goals that needed to be accomplished were succinctly laid for us. The steps toward each goal made sense even though the path was almost always never a straight line due to complications. Furthermore, since the film was set in the early 80s, sophisticated gadgetry was rarely featured. We were able to learn about the professions of the men involved, mostly through Danny’s perspective, in the way they handled guns, big and small, engaged in fiercely drawn-out hand-to-hand combat, and maneuvered their way in and around political agendas of men known as The Committee, mostly in their seniors, so intent on keeping things hush-hush, it almost felt like their loyalty was, ironically, a crime. I found a smidgen of sadness with it all. The Committee had no regard for the SAS, a group they formerly depended on for counter-terrorism and the like, because their use had expired. Determined to protect the former ex-SAS was Spike (Clive Owen), a former special agent himself who sported only one fully functioning eye. I was fascinated with how he was introduced as the only man capable of stopping Danny. Despite his obstructed vision, his focus never meandered and he was comfortable with thinking outside the box. And that made him a very dangerous man to deal with. Yet, over time, I learned to identify with what he believed to be worth fighting for. I wished, however, that the pacing was more consistent. With a running time of almost two hours, it felt longer because there was one too many flashbacks of Danny thinking about his girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski): how they reconnected after so many years, how much he missed her, and how she was one of the main reasons why he wanted to quit the business. It was clear that he loved the girl. No further explanation was needed. The flashbacks greatly interrupted the urgency of the picture; instead of pulling me in closer, I began to feel an aversion to the romance. Based on a screenplay by Matt Sherring and directed by Gary McKendry, “Killer Elite” proudly supports the idea that the most effective action movies are not just about good people versus bad people. There’s good and bad in all of us. Some of us walk away from good, some of us walk away from bad. But it doesn’t mean we can’t choose to go back.

Red Hill


Red Hill (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom) decided to move in a place where she could get some peace and quiet in order to keep her blood pressure under control. They moved to Red Hill, a small town whose inhabitants were very protective of their land. Incidentally, Shane’s first day as a police offer became his worst nightmare when a known murderer named Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) escaped from prison. It turned out Shane making a good impression on Old Bill (Steve Bisley), his superior, should be the least of his worries. Jimmy, with half of his face burnt which made him look like a serial killer in an ’80s slasher flick, made it his goal to assassinate Red Hill’s police officers one by one. Written and directed by Patrick Hughes, I found “Red Hill” to be entirely predictable. As a moviegoer with a critical eye for character development and understanding their motivations, I quickly figured out the picture’s major twist fifteen minutes into the killing spree. I surmised that the lawmen did Jimmy wrong in the past when the escaped inmate showed a soft spot for Shane. I didn’t know exactly what had transpired to make Jimmy hell-bent on taking bloody revenge but when the cards were laid out for us, it felt painfully ordinary. When Jimmy hunted the cops like animals, I thought it was strange that it lacked tension. The murder scenes followed an eye-roll worthy formula: the cop was caught off-guard by Jimmy, the cop begged for his life (sometimes a ruse to get to a gun), and Jimmy killed him anyway. My lack of feelings for the characters about to be slaughtered was proof that the filmmakers weren’t successful in creating an engaging story and characters with depth and complexity. Other than Old Bill and Shane, I could not recall any of the other police officers’ names. The film also suffered from a tired exposition. A panther, not ordinarily found in the Australian outback, killing horses was a heavy-handed metaphor for an outsider that threatened to tip the balance of power and cause change. In this instance, Shane was the outsider who entered a protected sphere governed by old men who desperately protected a secret. There were some amusing bits about Shane always losing his gun. However, it was difficult to root for him when he was always hiding, getting caught, or walking for miles. He would have been better suited as an awkward but funny supporting character who was killed somewhere in the middle. But as a main character, I wasn’t convinced he was strong enough to survive the raging madness and flying bullets. Not even with his luck.