JUMPSCARECUT: Mandy (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough

Written by Abbie Eales

Set deep in the backwoods of  the northwest of USA in 1983, Panos Cosmatos phantasmagorical horror sees Nicolas Cage’s stoic lumberjack, Red Miller, seeking vengeance against a variety of ghoulish figures following the murder of the love of his life, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough).

The couple live in a house which could be from a fairytale, hidden in the woods, all glass walls, wood and peculiar angles. Mandy herself is the fairytale princess but one with a difference. Fragile and seemingly damaged, she appears almost otherworldly, thanks to both some excellent make-up and styling together with a beautifully subtle performance by Riseborough. She loves to read horror fiction and paints women and fantastical beasts, while clad in her Black Sabbath t-shirt and with her long dark hair, she could be the archetypal horror fan.

Although there is very little dialogue in the film, Cosmatos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn manage to pack a punch where it does punctuate the visuals, from the heart-breaking speech by Mandy about a childhood encounter with starlings to some of Cage’s later sassy one-liners. They manage to paint an idyllic picture of Mandy and Red’s life together, a picture which is soon shattered when a sinister cult calling themselves The Children of the New Dawn roll into town.

Red Miller feels like the character Nicolas Cage was born to play, allowing him to showcase his tender, restrained side but also unleash some unrelenting CAGENESS. He is both lover and warrior, starting out cosied up in pyjamas and ending with… well… it’s quite the journey. In one scene Cage finds himself in a chainsaw battle against one of his tormentors, something which feels gleefully inevitable after the opening scenes of him swinging a chainsaw in the woods.

A swirling sea of reds, purples and dark blues, Mandy is part art-house music video and part homage to horror of the 1970s. The cinematography is also  part high-art and part cover-of-a-cheesy-horror-novel brought to life. The visuals are so trippy and hallucinatory you are left feeling truly off-kilter, mixing a whole slew of styles together but staying surprisingly coherent. There is even an odd interlude by Chris ‘Casper’ Kelly, creator of Adult Swim cult film Too Many Cooks which pops up when you least expect it.

The score by Oscar winning composer Jóhann Jóhannsson,  who sadly passed away in February of this year, is a thing of absolute beauty, moving from delicate, shimmering guitars to an all out aural assault with bass tones heavy enough to shake loose the bowels of hell. It’s a classic in waiting.

Mandy is the batshit, Cage-filled, hallucinatory metal horror trip you didn’t know you needed.

Abbie’s Verdict:

4

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The Headliners & Hidden Gems At The 62nd BFI London Film Festival

Yesterday saw the announcement of the full line-up of films for the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (LFF), and boy is there a ton to get your teeth stuck into! But this year we have even more reason to be excited as JUMPCUT will attending and covering the festival for the first time ever!

We’ll be covering a whole range of films screening at the festival, including some of the headliners and hidden gems! JUMPCUT’s LFF Queen Sarah has kindly picked out just some of the films she thinks you are going to want to keep your eye on!

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The Headliners

Widows
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya

Why it is worth a watch: I mean that cast list alone is worth the admission price, but this female-fronted action thriller is also helmed by the man who brought us 12 Years a Slave, a film which previously enjoyed awards success. But the talent doesn’t end there, Widows is penned by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn and Hans Zimmer provides the score. This is an action movie of the highest calibre and one that will be well worth your time and money.

Screening at LFF: 10th, 11th, 12th October
UK Wider Release Date: 6th November 2018

Stan & Ollie
Directed by: Jon S Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston

Why it is worth a watch: An ode to cinema, entertainment, and with two leading actors known for their brilliance as physical comedians, Stan & Ollie seems like the perfect film to close out London Film Festival. Coogan and Reilly bring beloved comedians Stan Laurel and Ollie Hardy to life on the big screen, focusing on the twilight years of their career. This is set to be a real crowd-pleaser and the most fitting curtain call for the festival.

Screening at LFF: 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 11th January 2019

The Favourite
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Why it is worth a watch: A divisive filmmaker, but certainly one that gets people talking, Yorgos Lanthimos brings his third English-language film in four years to the London Film Festival. With stand-out performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, The Favourite promises to be bizarre, bonkers, and brilliant!

Screening at LFF: 18th, 19th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 1st January 2019

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck

Why it is worth a watch: It’s the Coen Brothers! In all seriousness, the latest from the incomparable Coens promises to be wild (west) entertainment, hilarious, offbeat, and surprisingly melancholic. Dark humour and the trademark Coen brothers flair will be here in abundance

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Screening at LFF: 12th, 13th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: TBA

Beautiful Boy
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Why it is worth a watch: Just try and get through the trailer to this one without crying. Sometimes you just need to let it all out, and this will be the film that gets audiences at LFF reaching for the tissues. Starring man-of-the-moment Timothee Chalamet, hot off the heels of last year’s Call Me By Your Name, and Steve Carell in what is set to be another great dramatic role for him, Beautiful Boy will be the one to watch for those early Best Actor hints…

Screening at LFF: 13th, 14th, 16th October
UK Wider Release Date: 18th January 2019

Suspiria
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Chloe Grace Moretz

Why it is worth a watch: Full disclaimer, I am a massive horror wuss and will therefore not be seeing this on the big screen, but it would be very remiss of me not to mention it here. There is no denying the trailer is stunning, and the hype levels amongst the JumpCut team have reached fever-pitch for this one. It won’t be for everyone but it’ll certainly be a talking point. And also it has Tilda Swinton in it; you can’t go wrong!

Screening at LFF: 16th, 17th, 19th October
UK Wider Release Date: 16th November 2019

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The Hidden Gems

Wild Rose
Directed by: Tom Harper
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo, Julie Walters

Why it is worth a watch: After impressing in Beast, Jessie Buckley stars in what is set to another impressive film. A Glaswegian single mum dreams of being a country singer, how hard could it be?! This is the sort of film that will make your heart soar, and with Julie Walters also appearing, it is hard not to draw comparisons with the underdog story of Billy Elliot. This film is already set to be one of the truly underrated gems of the festival.

Screening at LFF: 15th, 16th, 20th October
UK Wider Release Date: 8th February 2019

The Hate U Give
Directed by: George Tillman Jr
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Common

Why it is worth a watch: Adapted from Angie Thomas’ ‘Black Lives Matter’-inspired Young Adult novel, this film certainly feels like an important one, and one which is sadly still so relevant. Focusing on the young lives affected by the tragic shootings of their peers, the BFI are also offering £5 tickets to see this one for 16 to 25 year olds. Even outside of this age range, this film has a lot to offer, promising to be a powerful and timely watch.

Screening at LFF: 20th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 26th October 2018

Assassination Nation
Directed by: Sam Levinson
Starring: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bella Thorne

Why it is worth a watch: Don’t let the early trigger warnings put you off, this is a film that bears everything upfront and then unleashes all hell. Assassination Nation is the Salem witch trials meets the digital generation in this thoroughly modern cautionary tale, and one which is poised to join other teen cult classics such as Heathers and Spring Breakers. Subversive and utterly unique, this could be one of the surprise hits of the festival.

Screening at LFF: 19th, 20th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 23rd November 2018

Burning
Directed by: Lee Chang-dong
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, Steven Yeun

Why it is worth a watch: This film wowed audiences at Cannes, which is often the mark of a successful festival film! This lean slow-burning thriller promises to have you gripped right from the start, as well as exploring complex themes such as obsession, class-conflict and suppressed male rage. It will be unlikely to have a wide cinema release, so catch this one at the festival whilst you can!

Screening at LFF: 19th, 20th October
UK Wider Release Date: 1st February 2019

Mandy
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Why it is worth a watch: Yes, Nicolas Cage. Stop reading now! Just kidding, this synopsis alone is enough to make you want to see it so we’re not even going to add to it: “In a mountain-cabin idyll, lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives in perfect harmony with his great love Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). But the couple’s blissful utopia is cruelly shattered when a ragtag band of Satanic cultists invade their humble abode and claim Mandy for their own. Traumatised and distraught, Red is left with no option but to exact a bloody revenge.” (Michael Blyth, BFI)

Screening at LFF: 11, 12, 17th
UK Wider Release Date: 12th October 2018

Blaze
Directed by: Ethan Hawke
Starring: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Sam Rockwell

Why it is worth a watch: Ethan Hawke is having quite the year, and fresh from his acclaimed performance in First Reformed, his latest directorial offering his heading to LFF. This biopic about a little known musician is shot with affection and true passion that is hard to replicate, and quite frankly anything Ethan Hawke is passionate about, we love already!

Screening at LFF: 20th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: TBA

Chainsaw-Wielding Nicolas Cage Goes On A Rampage In The First Trailer For ‘Mandy’

“‘Mandy’ is set in the primal wilderness of 1983 where Red Miller, a broken and haunted man hunts an unhinged religious sect who slaughtered the love of his life.”

Directed by: Panos Cosmatos

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Release Date: September 14th, 2018

The Death of Stalin

Year: 2017
Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Armando Iannucci is arguably the world’s most famous Italian Scot. After finding success with British political send-up ‘The Thick of It’ and American political send-up ‘Veep’, Iannucci found himself a niche as a singular voice in political satire, combining the typically awful people found in politics with jet black, profanity laden humour. His latest effort, his second directorial venture into film after 2009’s ‘In The Loop,’ chronicles the remarkable true story of, you guessed it, the death of Stalin. What follows is much of what you’d expect from an Iannucci creation, but it doesn’t have that sharpness for which he was so renowned.

‘The Death of Stalin’ follows Stalin’s various aides (First Secretary, Secretary of Defence, Chief of the Secret Police etc.) as they scramble around attempting to contain the rather large issue of Stalin suddenly dying, as well as figuring out who succeeds Stalin, what happens next for Russia on a global scale, and organising Stalin’s state funeral.

It’s important to know heading into this film that I don’t think it’s wholly necessary that you should be well-versed in Russian politics to understand it. Most key details are explained thoroughly enough, but it does expect you to follow along. Any Iannucci project is full of people who talk very quickly, so it’s our responsibility to keep up. Iannucci does, however, have a knack for throwing 20 lines of complicated political talk and injecting it with a blunt insult or a swear word to draw our attention back in in case anyone was wavering. It’s fascinating to see it at work in this setting, particularly because every single Russian character in the film has a British accent.

That realisation is jarring. It takes you a few minutes to adjust. You have people like Paddy Considine and Paul Whitehouse talking to people named Vyacheslav and Malenkov and Khruschev in a London accent. It’s peculiar initially, but it makes sense for what we’re watching. The complexities of what is happening can be hard to follow, particularly if everyone was speaking in a strong Russian accent. Allowing the actors to use their own accents makes them stand out to us, the general audience, and helps us separate each character from each other. As you can see from the cast list above, the ensemble here is huge. Every character has agency in the film too, every character has a part to play in the grand story of the film and of Russia as a whole. That works hugely in the film’s favour, and benefits many of the comedic moments of the film.

Of which, there are, indeed, many. The opening scene is classic Iannucci, where a famous orchestra has finished their performance. Paddy Considine working the sound gets a phone call from Stalin himself asking for a recording of the performance. Considine, of course, realises they didn’t record it. He then must scramble around getting the orchestra back together, filling the quickly empty audience with random people form the street, and then having to find a replacement conductor after the initial conductor knocks himself out on a fire bucket. Meanwhile, the Soviet Secret Police are out executing and arresting various targets for crimes against the country. It’s a wonderful, ridiculous, shocking opening sequence that is played mostly for laughs, while establishing the darkness and cruelty at hand.

This opening sequence is ‘The Death of Stalin’ in a nutshell. Funny scenes, great one-liners, physical comedy truncated by realisations of how insane the Soviet Union was in 1953. It had a dictatorial air about it similar to that of Hitler in Nazi Germany, any mistake that could be considered as anti-Russia saw you killed. Iannucci balances this masterfully and he is the perfect writer to tackle such a heavy subject matter. There is a fascinating period drama here that lasts three hours and doesn’t flinch on any of the more tragic or nasty details. As such, Iannucci makes it consumable to us with his unique style. The act of Stalin’s aides literally carrying his body from his office to his bedroom is not funny, but the way it is staged is. That’s what makes so much of ‘The Death of Stalin’ work.

On top of the clever script and the humour, the performances here are genuinely fantastic. The whole ensemble is fully on board with the idea and are dedicated to getting it right. Jason Isaacs is a stand-out as the no nonsense, sarcastic Minister of Defence in a strong Birmingham accent. Jeffrey Tambor channels George Bluth as Malenkov, Stalin’s second in command, a bumbling buffoon who has many of the film’s best lines.

However, Steve Buscemi’s Khruschev and Simon Russell Beale’s Beria are the two stars of the film. The two characters are butting heads through the whole film. While Khrushchev generally has an air of exasperation about him as he becomes dumbfounded at some of the choices the others make, Beria has far more sinister intentions. Beale’s performance, in particular, is terrific. He can make a joke about someone’s stutter in one sentence, before casually sentencing another death two lines later without batting an eye. Beale completely dominates the film and takes the brunt of the heavy lifting on a plot front, and he nails it. Beale’s performance may well end up as one of my favourite male performances of the year.

Sadly though, the film has its drawbacks. It suffers from an issue that so much of modern comedy does. Iannucci doesn’t do anything particularly interesting on the directorial front. He merely points the camera at his characters and has them deliver their lines. ‘The Thick of It’ had a more chaotic feel to them, hand held camera for much of it almost like a documentary, and the chaos from the camera added to the insanity of the story. I truly believe ‘The Death of Stalin’ would have benefited from such an approach, just to add something extra to the film. To put it bluntly, it’s not very interesting to look at.

My second issue lies with the actual humour. When the film is funny, it’s very funny. I do want to watch it again so I can note some of the best lines down. But, there are sections of the film where there aren’t many jokes to speak of, and it gets bogged down in the complicated plot. Of course, it’s a complicated story, so this can be expected, but Iannucci always managed to inject some life into this conversations in ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It’, more off-handed insults, more ridiculous analogies to explain it to someone, more off-the-cuff. It may seem like I am comparing this to his old work a lot, but I feel it’s necessary; it worked so well there, why not make it work here?

My general feelings towards ‘The Death of Stalin’ are far more positive than negative. Writing this, I have felt myself become more positive about it than I initially thought I was. I just think it was lacking that extra special something Iannucci usually has. It was almost there, just not quite. Still, I never thought I’d find myself laughing so hard at a funeral scene in any film, and yet, here we are.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.1/10

Battle of the Sexes

Year: 2017
Directed By: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming

Written by Fiona Underhill

Co-directed by the ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ helmers Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ has come out of the festival circuit and probably has hopes of Oscar potential. This film tells the true story of Billie-Jean King (played by Emma Stone here), the Number 1 women’s tennis player of the early 1970s and a washed-up, has-been male tennis player, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) pitted together in a ridiculous rivalry that questioned whether a female athlete could rival a male one. It is set during the burgeoning ‘women’s lib’ movement, but of course still resonates today, not least in the world of tennis itself where the likes of Andy Murray has to constantly remind the media of Serena Williams’ achievements. I confess I was unaware of this event until the film came about, but it had a huge impact at the time. It was one of the biggest televised sporting events ever, with 90 million viewers and made a significant difference to the feelings of women who still struggled to get credit cards in their own names.

As told in this film, the match came about because King dared to challenge the huge imbalance between prize-money for male and female tennis players. When she was met with derision from the Association of Tennis Professionals, headed by Jack Kramer (slightly shocking to see Bill Pullman in an elder statesman role), she decided to ‘go it alone’, finding a group of fellow women tennis players to form the Women’s Tennis Association. Bobby Riggs, a successful player in the 30s and 40s,  had fallen on hard times due to a gambling problem and marital problems (his wife Priscilla is played by Elisabeth Shue). So he comes up with the wheeze to challenge a female player to a match, first he persuades Margaret Court (who had recently had a baby), then he finally manages to ‘bag’ Bille-Jean King.

The performances in ‘Battle of the Sexes’ are astonishing across the board. I truly believe Steve Carell is one of the best actors we have working today and he should have received more attention for ‘The Big Short’ last year. The supporting cast is also exemplary; of course Andrea Risborough is the stand-out, as she is in anything. Risborough plays Marilyn, a hairdresser who goes on tour with the women and who starts an affair with Billie-Jean. Sarah Silverman is also fantastic as King’s agent and Austin Stowell sports the finest head of hair I’ve seen since Robert Redford’s heyday (whilst portraying King’s husband, Larry).

Frustratingly, although written by Simon Beaufoy, whose work I have enjoyed, the script didn’t really stack up for me. It’s also disappointing after ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ (in which you felt like you knew and understood each member of that family) and ‘Ruby Sparks’ (a really great rom-com directed by Faris) that ‘Battle of the Sexes’ doesn’t quite work. For me, the main failing comes from the character of Riggs and his motivation. He is portrayed as a buffoon, doing anything gimmicky (playing tennis with sheep and in a variety of costumes) for publicity and money. This ‘challenge’ is just another extension of that, you certainly don’t get the impression that he was truly a vehement chauvinist – out to put women back in their place. He seems to be acting that role and playing it up for the cameras, but this disconnect isn’t made explicit or explored in enough depth. It’s also unclear whether King really believed or understood why he was doing it. Although reluctant, King allows herself to become part of this circus, during the peak of her career and I’m not sure I fully understood why. It didn’t allow her to be open about her sexuality, for example.

Alan Cumming’s character, Ted Tinling, who designs and makes the women’s tennis dresses also didn’t quite work for me. He is portrayed as stereotypically camp but is also shown trying to share a tender (actually cheesy and sentimental) moment with King in ‘solidarity’. Although all of the performances were excellent (I don’t want to get into a debate about whether Stone deserves the Oscar for this more than ‘La La Land’), ‘Battle of the Sexes’ did fall short, for me. I’m glad I got to see groups of middle-aged women clapping and whooping in the showing I saw and I was affected by an article about how important this real-life event was to a woman who was a young girl with an abusive father at the time. However, I feel that they deserved a better film than this – one that really got to grips with the motivations of the characters. And one that perhaps put the event more firmly in the context of the women’s lib movement of the time. Ultimately; great performances, shame about the script.

Full disclosure: I am adding 2 points to my rating for Andrea Risborough alone.

Fiona’s Rating: 7.0/10

tennis

First Trailer For ‘The Death Of Stalin’ Has Arrived!

“The internal political landscape of 1950’s Soviet Russia takes on darkly comic form in a new film by Emmy award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/director Armando Iannucci. In the days following Stalin’s collapse, his core team of ministers tussle for control; some want positive change in the Soviet Union, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They’re all just desperately trying to remain alive.”

Director: Armando Iannucci

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Steve Buscemi, Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough
Release Date: 20th October 2017