Blu-Ray Review: MANDY
With very, very few exceptions, any good movie should be seen in a movie theater, especially for your first viewing. We can debate all day about people using cell phones or the cost of concessions, but when you filter all that crap out (or just go to a Drafthouse, where it's not an issue anyway) there is nothing that can compare to the size of the screen, the power of the speakers, and - god willing - the shared joy of the crowd. For things like Avengers or the new Halloween, it's easy enough to assume most people who cared got to see those films in theaters, but then there are movies like Mandy, which due to its release pattern a number of people simply couldn't see projected, as it never came close enough to their town to do so. Per Boxofficemojo, it never played on more than 250 theaters (and not all at once, either), compared to the 3,100 or so that showed Ghost Rider 2 in 2012, which was the last time a "Nicolas Cage Goes Crazy" movie played in wide release.
To be fair, unexpected high interest in the film did result in distributor RLJ putting it on more screens than originally intended (despite being on VOD already), but it still wasn't like you could walk into your average multiplex in the Midwest and expect to find it. But the flipside to that sort of release is that those films tend to hit disc much faster, so while the other movies that opened in September like The Predator aren't going to be on your shelf anytime soon, now everyone can experience this unique and mesmerizing film on Blu-ray (want to win a copy? Click here!), with a few bonus features to sweeten the deal for those who still prefer physical media (or, like the film's characters, live somewhere that streaming options don't mean much if they want their movies to look good). Panos Cosmatos' second film (after the equally must-see Beyond The Black Rainbow) may be a bit slow-going at first, but once things kick in you'll not only forgive it for its pacing, but realize how much better the movie is for it.
The "problem" with this movie (and a few others in recent years, such as Craig Zahler's output) is that if you ask anyone the plot they're likely to say something that describes the second half (in the case of Cell Block 99, it'd be more like the third act), which will leave some viewers restless. People don't have patience anymore and just want to get to the exciting parts - but only if they know they're coming. So maybe it's best to go in relatively blind, knowing that the film is about Red (Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) trying to live their quiet and simple life in Oregon but finding their world interrupted by a group of "Jesus freaks" run by the Manson-y Jeremiah Sand, played by Linus Roache in a role originally pegged for Cage (who convinced Cosmatos to let him play Red instead). As you might expect, this means we get to see Cage fighting a cult, but the particulars are what makes the movie such an exciting journey, and I'd rather not spoil them for anyone who has managed to stay blissfully ignorant.
But if you HAVE already found out more than that (and skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't!) you should know that "that thing" literally happens at the one hour mark of this two hour movie, and you really shouldn't dismiss the film for "dragging". A typical revenge movie would get to this moment sooner, and that's fine for those, but Cosmatos is trying something different here. You want to get a better sense of what Red and Mandy are like on a day to day basis so you can truly understand how insane the things that happen to them are, and why Red is left so broken by what happens to her. The key bit to me is when we watch them eat dinner in front of the TV, barely speaking and focusing on a cheesy movie together - this is a scene that would probably be cut in another film, but we get to see how right for each other these folks are and how low-key their existence is. Too many of these revenge movies use shorthand or cheats to get your sympathy (how many times have we seen someone get killed just after being engaged or planning some romantic extravaganza?), but Panos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn recognize the value in showing simplicity and routine.
Revisiting the film I was able to soak in its small details I missed the first time around, leaving me liking the movie even more than I already did. For example, I had originally missed the clever tribute to fellow revenge movie classic Rolling Thunder in the infamous Cheddar Goblin scene - the Kraft-like company it's from is named Devane, which almost has to be an intentional nod to that film's star. And after a few plays of the soundtrack album it was great to hear Jóhann Jóhannsson's terrific score (his last before passing away - the film is dedicated to him) in context with the scenes it was written for; it might be my favorite of his compositions, which is really saying something considering how great they are. And knowing that the film is not in much of a rush, I never once found it "slow" - if anything I found myself dreading the inevitable even more, making those early scenes not "dull", but low-key panic inducing.
Of course, the biggest hurdle for new viewers will be its star. Cage's eclectic choices (and, yes, erratic quality control when it comes to the projects he signs on for) have a lot of people thinking of him as a joke because they don't get what he's doing and find it easier to judge him based on a deleted scene from the Wicker Man remake. Frankly, it's their loss, but if you're on the fence with your opinion of him as a performer I think you'll find yourself swayed to the right side here - he is terrific, and I laud him for fighting to play Red instead of the more showy Jeremiah. If he played the villain there would be the usual memes and "mega acting" moments you've come to expect, but as Red those brief detours into "Cage Rage" acting - such as a scene where he alternates between screaming and guzzling vodka - are heartbreaking, not funny (unless you're an asshole). Cage has incredible range, something his critics tend to forget (or ignore because it doesn't suit their clickbaiting cause of "10 Wacky Nic Cage Moments!"), and he gets to show it here - even when the plot goes into crazier territory, he never fully goes along with it; his final scenes are devastating to watch, and wouldn't work at all if he was dialed up to 11 the entire time. Now that it's on video I'm sure some dipshit will be taking a few moments and putting them on YouTube, but when they have their context, you'll know that his performance is never theatrical for theatrical's sake - it's just plain great.
The Blu only has two bonus features - a collection of deleted/extended scenes (including, yes, a full look at the Cheddar Goblin ad) and a terrific making-of piece that I wish went on as long as the film itself, especially since there is no commentary track. In its brief runtime, we see Panos taking an active role in even the smallest details in the production, Cage asking permission to make a small revision of a line (along with his reasoning), the crew pushing cars through the mud... basically a lot of fly on the wall footage (usually drowned out by off-screen interview audio) that really shows how much of a labor of love this was for all involved. Movies like this that combine genres (it's action, horror, romance, and psychedelic sci-fi all in one) could be disastrous, and even as a fan I can be first to admit that sometimes Cage is not right for this or that movie, but everything works in sync here to create something memorable and wonderful, and I'm glad there's a pristine version out there now for everyone to enjoy.