Filmchilada Review: MANDY

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Nicolas Cage is back…at being Nicolas Cage. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with that. Why we love or hate him is solely based on the degree of which his persona is successfully married to a project, that compliments his “eccentric” nature. It seems like it should be easy, but that winning combination is elusive. Lately, things have been more like punishingly slow and misguided Bangkok Dangerous (2008) and less of the fun, action oriented The Rock (1996) or emotionally heartbreaking Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Hell, I would even take his nasally odd performance in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) at this point. So how does Mandy fair?

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Very well. Very well, indeed. Mandy (2018) is set in the Shadow Mountains of California in 1983. This dark and brooding offering is from director Panos Cosmatos, whose only other feature directing credit is Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010). The film is co-written with Aaron Stewart-Ahn and has music by recently passed composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson. The film has a nature-based claustrophobia that holds the audience close and tempts the brain with a dense, sensory overload that will certainly drive a desire to re-watch.

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The 3 act story is mostly strong and carried by Nicholas Cage in the style that only he could give. His character, Red Miller, is a relatable, loving partner and his motivations are clear and affecting. Side note: he is one of the only actors that can pull off a full beard without devolving into full on machismo. (Gotta love you some NC for that.) His wife, Mandy Bloom, played by Andrea Riseborough (Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Oblivion) is a talented, macabre soul, embracing a life in seclusion. They really have an eerie chemistry that is somewhat puzzling but genuine. The tone of the film shifts pretty dramatically between each act and really challenges the audience to trust the director in what kind of film he wanted this to be. The music and cinematography keep us grounded and provide the perfect base for Cage to shine. The film succeeds in keeping the villains terrifying without falling flat, like in earlier works such as 8MM(1999). Where in 8MM, the reveal of the villain felt hollow and unsatisfying, the Mandy antagonists are operating on multiple levels of evil and many times leave you wondering if there is anything that can stop them.

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I am willing to bet Tacos to Pesos that the film had some inspiration from The Crow. (Not the tv show, that monstrosity can go to hell and die.) The theme from Mandy is a beautiful tribute to the early 90’s Brandon Lee vehicle. (Even after all these years, Brandon Lee’s death still hurts. RIP, mang.)

I give this film 4 out of 5 Filmchiladas, as it is a near perfect horror/revenge film that knows its subject matter is over the top and fails to let that discourage its style or manic energy. It gets extra points for introducing supernatural elements in a believable and creepy manner.

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Could this be the Nicolas Cage rebirth we have been hoping for? A new Halloween classic? Yo creo que, si! (yup.)

Mandy is currently in theaters and available on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and iTunes.

Filmchilada Review: Netflix's Lost in Space

by Noel Ramirez
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Lost in space- My first question was, “who asked for this?”  Even with all the die-hard fans out there, it’s hard to imagine that the pitch meeting for this was a no brainer.  There had to be a lot of persuasive nuance in the argument for this project to be greenlit or…the rights were cheap.  I kid. (mostly)    

Let me say, I had my doubts. I have not watched the original series, created by Irwin Allen, besides an episode here or there. I have my reasons. Ok, Ok, it was 60’s camp and lacked the requisite number of Vulcans. Just not my cup of Earl Gray, I guess. 

My expectation of the first episode was that it would echo Stephen Hopkin’s 1998 version.  Was this to take the slick, heavily (albeit primitively) CGI dependent approach? Was there going to be a tour de force cast assembled to rival the Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, and Matt Leblanc dream team? (Typing that with a straight face was sooper tuff.) 

I’m happy to say that nothing in the past matters. This iteration stands on its own as the definitive update to Lost In Space.    If there were any throwbacks from the older versions, I didn’t recognize them.  (I fully accept the arrogance in my assumptions that most people didn’t recognize them either).  

In the not too distant, dystopian future, Earth has been divided into the skilled and leaving vs. the average and stuck.  The Robinsons are set to travel to Alpha Centauri for a new life, ripe with opportunity. (This show gets a “trope pass” as the original series helped define the trope in the first place.)  Disaster strikes mid-journey and the Robinsons find themselves (along with the entire expedition) in a rush to adapt.  Nothing is certain and resourcefulness becomes a commodity.

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Even with the dire consequences, the pace is fast and light compared to other popular science fiction adaptations like The Expanse or Star Trek: Discovery.  There could have been more character development for some of the children and secondary cast members but I suppose I can live with that.  Perhaps, this is the reason that the show doesn’t seem to get bogged down with the “filler” episodes that series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are constantly struggling with.

Show runner, Zach Estrin (producer for Charmed, Prison Break), used surprising amount of outdoor sets to help establish an adventure-type feel.  Alien life is presented in cautious way, as it plays only a minor role compared to the character driven plot points.  I would recommend to not making too much of the displayed physics in action, I am told they are rubbish by the more physics-ey types .   Ship sets have a well designed, futuristic look but puzzlingly, seem to have as many copper conductors as fiber optic cable. It’s the future for Pete’s sake.  Surely, something could have been created to…ok I’ll stop, I’m getting a little nitpicky. Let’s move on.  The ship colors are a little drab, but it only serves to help the planet’s landscape of alien fauna stand out. Ah, and there are some explodey things here and there. (Makes Noel very happy!)

The cast is mostly unknown with a few exceptions like Parker Posey (Superman Returns, Scream 3) and a fun cameo with Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Hellboy).  It has its share of “that guy” (or gal) cast members too, like Tobey Stephens (Die Another Day, 13 hours) and Molly Parker (The Wicker Man, Deadwood). Though relatively unknown, they breathe life into the heads of the Robinson family.  Their portrayal of balancing the expectations of family and career is realistic enough, though at times, almost feels unnecessary and most comes close to dragging down the plot.

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The younglings Robinson- Judy, Penny, and Will (played by Taylor Russel, Mina Sundwall, and Max Jenkins) struggle to find themselves in their new roles as survivors and explorers.  Netflix might just have the child actor equation figured out as these kids can certainly handle all the sarcasm and heart required to connect with today’s pop culture consumers. Each character is strong and likeable and does a pretty good job of avoiding the kid tropes that most writers seemed to be compelled to leave kids barriered in.  Taylor Russel is the only cast member that gives pause as she looks only slightly older than her child cast mates. The perceived lack of age gap makes it harder to see her as the elder. This appears to be a key component to Judy and is a bit distracting. In time, this may become less of an issue. 

Ignacio Serricchio is Don West, whose character has been converted from a military Major to a simple mechanic. He tends to play his role like a cousin of Oscar Isaac’s Poe Damron.  Using a touch of over the top heroics, he allows for just enough charisma to keep annoyance at bay. I’m glad to see that his acting chops garnered during his tenure on Young and the Restless did not go to waste.  I am being mean.  (Overall, he is actually not a terrible choice.)

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Rounding out the main cast is the aforementioned Parker Posey, sending up a truly devious Dr. Smith whose actions, first to last, leave you wondering how far she might go to meet her goals.  I’ll admit, I was confused by her approach to the character at first and there is something needing to be said about the implication of mental illness and villainy, but by episode 4, I couldn’t see Dr. Smith as any one else.  All in all, I think she steals the show. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the robot, who was thankfully, used sparingly.  He was not used for comic relief as much as in previous versions of Lost In Space, but this only helped to serve the overall feel of the show. He was there when needed, almost forgotten about when not. (You came here for the Robinsons anyhow, right?)

I think for a show that I had almost no desire for, I was surprised by how much I was rooting for the Robinson family to make it to their new home.  I predict that this will be a hit and fully expect to see a season 2. Beware the limited swearing if watching with children. I eagerly await what Legendary Television has in store for the future. 

I give this 4 out of 5 Enchiladas!