Movie Re­views

With Mandy, a wild and hal­lu­ci­na­tory re­venge pic goes all out to give Ni­co­las Cage the come­back he de­serves

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MANDY

Star­ring Ni­co­las Cage. Rated 18A

Is it hy­per­bole to de­scribe Mandy as a tow­er­ing 2 work of ge­nius? What­ever the case, here’s a movie so com­mit­ted to its own out­landish vi­sion that it de­serves some­thing com­men­su­rately bonkers in re­turn, which is what it’s re­ceived, uni­ver­sally, from crit­ics and fans who have caught the film at fes­ti­val screen­ings. If you’re of a par­tic­u­lar mind­set, then ex­pect to love Mandy to death. It’s a con­di­tion you’ll share with Red Miller, the soul­ful hunk of lum­ber­jack who, in the shape of Ni­co­las Cage, oc­cu­pies the other side of the screen.

It’s 1983, and Red nests in a mossy Pa­cific North­west idyll called the Shadow Moun­tains with the an­drog­y­nous, Black-sab­bath-t-shirt-wear­ing crea­ture of the ti­tle (shape-shift­ing Death of Stalin–ite An­drea Rise­bor­ough). While he’s felling trees and lis­ten­ing to King Crim­son’s “Star­less”, which has never sounded bet­ter in any con­text, she bus­ies her­self at home ren­der­ing their star­lit union into Frank Frazetta–es­que il­lus­tra­tions or sink­ing into fan­tasy nov­els. At night they snug­gle in front of Don Dohler movies like 1982’s Night­beast and softly dis­cuss their favourite plan­ets.

It’s un­der­stand­able, then, that vengeance-crazed Red hits the road to hell and back when Mandy is mur­dered, in broadly the worst way imag­in­able, by a cult of Je­sus freaks on su­per-acid led by a third-rate faerie folkie called Jeremiah Sand (Priest-ly Li­nus Roache). They shouldn’t have left Red for dead, and they def­i­nitely shouldn’t have made him watch, but that’s psy­chotic, mes­sianic hubris for you.

Van­cou­ver-based film­maker Panos Cos­matos has done this be­fore, pin­ning our eyes in 2010 with his de­but, Be­yond the Black Rain­bow. Like that film, Mandy bor­rows from a (Panos) cos­mol­ogy of pro­fane in­flu­ences—stoner metal, ’80s trash cin­ema, bad drugs—and fash­ions them into some­thing that feels sa­cred. This solem­nity of pur­pose is abet­ted by all in­volved, among them cowriter Aaron Ste­wartahn, cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ben­jamin Loeb, and the late com­poser Jóhann Jóhanns­son, and then spiked with blunt in­tru­sions of gonzo hu­mour. (Rain­bow had the dri­est of punch lines; this has a bunch of them.)

But Mandy pos­sesses all the warmth Rain­bow lacked, thanks to the thrillingly oth­er­worldly Rise­bor­ough and the mad­man at its cen­tre, the fallen, late-stage Nic Cage, who pours his heart into the role with such gusto that even the os­ten­ta­tious de­sign of this most ob­ses­sively com­posed of films finds an equal in his in­ten­sity.

There’s so much more—in­clud­ing a quasi-hu­man berserker im­paled on his own boner, Heavy Metal– style an­i­ma­tion, and a spec­tral tiger—but here’s a film to be ex­pe­ri­enced, not read about. Some fic­tion is so af­fect­ing that its world be­comes sub­limely real to us (Tolkien comes to mind), and in that spirit, by the time Mandy ar­rives at its fi­nal, hero­ically in­sane im­age, all we de­sire is a re­turn to the Shadow Moun­tains, or what­ever fugue-state Möbius land­scape we’ve landed in, so we can do it all over again. > ADRIAN MACK

THE CAKEMAKER

Star­ring Tim Kalkhof. In

Ger­man, and He­brew, with English sub­ti­tles. Rat­ing un­avail­able

Can a re­la­tion­ship be 2

based on lies, lust, and ap­ple strudel? Ac­cord­ing to this ten­derly con­structed new movie, that de­pends on the qual­ity of the bak­ing.

A first fea­ture for writer-direc­tor Ofir Raul Gra­zier, born in Is­rael and based in Ger­many, The Cakemaker con­cen­trates on kitchen as por­tal to the hearts of men and women, re­gard­less of re­li­gion, geography, or gen­der roles. It be­gins when a suave Is­raeli called Oren (Roy Miller) wan­ders into a Berlin café and is struck by the qual­ity of its pas­tries, and then by their maker, the tac­i­turn Thomas (Tim Kalkhof). Oren fin­ishes off his dessert with an­other af­ter­noon de­light. And pretty soon he’s stay­ing at Thomas’s place on fre­quent busi­ness trips to the Ger­man cap­i­tal.

The man is mar­ried and has a lit­tle boy back in Jerusalem, so there’s that. But then Oren sud­denly dis­ap­pears from the story (in the first few min­utes) and the baker de­cides to in­ves­ti­gate the life he left be­hind. The dude must have re­ally loved cafés, be­cause his wife, Anat (Fox­trot’s ex­cel­lent Sarah Adler), runs one too. We don’t know why she hires a non-he­brew-speak­ing Ger­man as a dish­washer for her fail­ing en­ter­prise (would that even be le­gal?), but of course it’s not long be­fore his bak­ing skills, if not his own story, are ex­posed.

Thomas’s cre­ations soon make the place a hit. Well, with ev­ery­one but Anat’s Ortho­dox brother-in-law (don’t mess with Zo­har Sh­trauss), who knows some­thing’s not kosher. Lit­er­ally. Anat isn’t her­self that ob­ser­vant; in­deed, it takes a while for her to spot ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence that the new­comer has some his­tory with her late hus­band. Any­way, a com­bi­na­tion of grief, cu­rios­ity, and the fact that Thomas bonds so well with other fam­ily mem­bers even­tu­ally has her swoon­ing like Demi Moore in Ghost—only with a liv­ing, highly am­bigu­ous fig­ure in the Pa­trick Swayze part.

The movie is good at (very) slowly turn­ing up the heat, but a lot of it comes out half-baked. Even aside from log­i­cal ques­tions left unan­swered, it doesn’t re­ally explore is­sues raised by the no­tion of an im­poster tak­ing some­one’s place, or of the con­nec­tions be­tween re­li­gious stric­tures and those placed on sex­ual iden­tity. Per­haps this is be­cause Thomas’s char­ac­ter, who never ex­plores Jerusalem out­side of this one Jewish en­clave, is pas­sive to the point of be­ing al­most ab­sent him­self—an ef­fect height­ened by Kalkhof and Adler both sound­ing more stilted in English, the char­ac­ters’ only lan­guage in com­mon. The Cakemaker is very taste­ful in­deed, but does it sat­isfy? > KEN EISNER

UN­DER THE TREE

Star­ring Steinþór Hróar Steinþórs­son. In Ice­landic, with English sub­ti­tles. Rated 14A

There aren’t many trees left in Ice­land. So 2

it’s alarm­ing on sev­eral lev­els when sub­ur­ban neigh­bours come to blows over a small chunk of ar­bour that pro­vides un­wanted shade on one party’s pa­tio.

Im­mac­u­lately de­signed geo­met­ric houses and well-or­ga­nized shelv­ing units can’t hide the chaotic rot hap­pen­ing with the peo­ple in those homes. Mid­dle-agers Kon­rad and Ey­b­jorg (Þorsteinn Bach­mann and Selma Björns­dót­tir) are try­ing for a baby; their slightly older nabes seem jeal­ous of the other cou­ple’s rel­a­tive youth­ful­ness and peeved by their in­sis­tence on cross-bor­der tree-trim­ming. Meekly re­tired Bald­vin (Sig­urður Sig­ur­jóns­son was the fear­somely bearded lead in Rams) is con­tent to sing with an all-male Vik­inglite choir, while chain-smok­ing Inga (Edda Björgvins­dót­tir) makes things worse with ev­ery in­sult she hurls across the hedge.

The older cou­ple are al­ready bur­dened by the dis­ap­pear­ance of their older son, and Inga seems less than de­lighted when his younger sib­ling, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórs­son), turns up on their Dan­ish-mod­ern couch. His wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jóns­dót­tir), caught him watch­ing a sex tape he made with a pre­vi­ous part­ner and has thrown him out with no fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion. It doesn’t take Atli long to re­al­ize that his par­ents’ home life is even nut­tier than his own— not that this helps him when he does one truly dumb thing af­ter an­other in bids to get back with his wife and their small daugh­ter.

In his sopho­more out­ing, writer-direc­tor Haf­steinn Gun­nar Sig­urðs­son finds few re­deem­ing qual­i­ties in the hu­mans cat­a­logued here. Ev­ery bad sit­u­a­tion is es­ca­lated by weird be­hav­iour, un­der­lined by gloomy light­ing and omi­nous me­dieval mu­sic. For a lot of the movie’s neatly con­structed 90 min­utes, this plays as dark com­edy, with bleak punch lines ar­riv­ing as char­ac­ters fight over in­creas­ingly im­por­tant things—gar­den gnomes, pets, chil­dren— with­out un­der­stand­ing what’s re­ally at stake.

There are a cou­ple of break­throughs, in which some­one gives a sym­pa­thetic inch or demon­strates some smidgen of self-knowl­edge. But the direc­tor isn’t re­ally in­ter­ested in for­give­ness, and heads doggedly to­ward a de­ter­min­is­tic end­ing that feels more cyn­i­cal than il­lu­mi­nat­ing. He ba­si­cally makes his point early on, by show­ing that some peo­ple with is­land fever have come to think of an IKEA park­inglot lawn as a na­ture pre­serve—the kind that some­one else will wa­ter and trim. > KEN EISNER

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