Film Review: NANCY (USA 2017) ***1/2

Nancy Poster

Nancy becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief.


Christina Choe

NANCY opens with the title character, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) looking after her ill-tempered mother, Betty (Ann Dowd, last seen in HEREDITARY).  The mother is ungrateful, nasty, impatient and rude making Nancy wonder the reason she is that way, as she has always been pleasant towards her mother.  The two watch OLIVER TWIST on  television, the Charles Dicken’s story of an orphan.

When the mother dies, 15 minutes into the film, Nancy watches on television the news of a mother who has had lost her daughter about 30 years ago.  Nancy thinks she might be the missing daughter and contacts Ellen (J, Smith-Cameron) and her husband (Steve Buschemi).  Nancy heads out to meet them, the meeting being the rest of he film.  Revealing more of the plot would definitely spoil the film’s effectiveness.  All that needs be said is that writer/director Choe has made an effective psychological mystery drama.

The film is set in winter in the country where Ellen and her husband live.  The falling snow and snow covered woods are beautifully shot by cinematography her Zoe White, who went on to shoot THE HANDSMAID TALE after being noticed for her work in this film.

NANCY speaks to a lot of Americans for reason of the main character’s demise.  

NANCY gives voice to and represents the many disappointed, disconnected twenty-

first-century millennials making up the first-world.   These are adults struggling to grow up, yet

unable to identify where boredom ends and untreated mental health issues begin.   Nancy is a confused grown-up kid, unable to really function socially, unable to afford to fly the coop, their 

youth saturated by inflation, aware of the dream that capitalism promises, yet living on the 

outskirts of its failings. 

Longing for physical connection, and attempting to find it through online self-

misrepresentation, Nancy has a short meeting with a well-meaning Jeb played by John Leguizamo.  Nancy wrestles with unemployment, only able to obtain a temporary job with insufficient hours.  The character also, when the film opens, has returned from a visit to Korea – not South but North Korea, to the surprise of the person Nancy was speaking to.  Nancy claims that it was easy to go there.  The choice of North Korea depicts the kind of vacation Nancy would be interested with – going to a country with dispirited and oppressed people. Director Choe herself has visited North Korea.

The film’s message comes across loud and clear as voiced by Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron, who delivers the film’s best performance): “We have to appreciate what we have now.  It is the only thing that matters.”

NANCY belongs to the category of low budget films that often struggle at the box-office but is worth a look for effort and result.  The film has already received accolades having been nominated for the following two categories of ‘Best First Screenplay’ and ‘Best Supporting Female’ for the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards.  In addition, the film won the ‘Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award’ at Sundance this year.



Film Review: MANDY (USA 2017)

Mandy Poster

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.

MANDY a futuristic horror is director Panos Cosmatos second feature after his ultra-pretentious futuristic drama that I absolutely hated THE BLACK RAINBOW.  RAINBOW was exceptionally slow moving, like the beginning of MANDY as if the director wanted everyone to remember the comatose, rhyming with his last name.  Panos is the son of Greek director George Pan Cosmatos, whose films I also generally dislike.  His most successful film is one I hated THE CASSANDRA CROSSING that starred Sophia Loren.

Panos Cosmatos reaches one step higher in MANDY that it has well-known actors Linus Roache (PRIEST, THE WINSLOW BOY) and Nicolas Cage.

MANDY begins really slowly, so one must be fully attentive as it is easy to doze off.  Consider the inane dialogue.  “Are you ok?”  “I am not ok.”  “Is it my fault?”  “it is totally your fault.”  The dialogue goes on and on without making much sense.  

Cosmatos’ horror movie MANDY pals like an art house horror flick.  Art and horror do not not go well together, as this exercise and Cosmatos’ devious film THE BLACK RAINBOW have proven.

The film is set in at futuristic looking 1983. But this story is a little more steeped in demonic myth than microchips.  

 Red Miller (Cage) lives with his enamored girlfriend, artist Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), in a cabin near the lake. Red works as a logger, while Mandy has a day job as a cashier at a nearby gas station in the woods. She creates elaborate fantasy art, and Red admires her work greatly. They lead a quiet and reclusive life, and their conversations and behaviour hint at a difficult past and psychological hardship. Red appears to be a recovering alcoholic, and Mandy recounts traumatic childhood experiences.

The film shifts to a weird guy (Ned Dennehy) lying on a bed yelling at his mother , Mother Marene (Olwen Fouere) (with the inane dialogue above)  followed by his brother assuring him “consider it done” to a request he has made.  The film then follows Brother Swan as he tries to kidnap Mandy with the help of the Black Skulls, a demonic biker gang with a taste for human flesh and a viscous, highly potent form of LSD.  Red Miller saves the day.  Watch out for the duel the chainsaws.

Cosmatos loves to play with visuals.  A lot of his scenes are coloured bright red and accompanied with a thundering soundtrack like from an electric guitar.

MANDY’s story is incredibly difficult to follow and really frustrate got try.

Nicolas Cage appears only after nearly half the movie has transpired.  Once he appears everything picks up.  He is at one point stabbed with a sharp knife through his sides with a crazy woman yelling: “Now you will legalize the the cleansing power of fire.”  Cage is so over the top, he adds the campiness that is seriously needed to life the film’s dreariness.

MANDY is not for everyone and it is also safe it is not for many.


Full Review: BATTLE OF THE SEXES (USA 2017)


Battle of the Sexes Poster

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.


Simon Beaufoy


Emma StoneAndrea RiseboroughSteve Carell

BATTLE OF THE SEXES begins with Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) just winning the women’s singles tennis championship making her number one female player in the world. King is outraged with the inequality of pay by the National Tennis League, especially with Jack, the chairman (Bill Pullman), who is shown to be the real villain of the story.

Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), arranges the battle of the sexes match, using his loud mouth and publicity to earn himself some cash to aid his failing marriage. To King, winning this match is more symbolic. It is a milestone for women’s rights for equal pay, a point that is mentioned at the film’s end credits but not made clear throughout the film.

The lazy script by Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) never bothers with important details of the story. How, for example did King’s husband Larry, learn of his wife’s sexuality. In the film, King tells her hairdresser lover that this is her first time with women, but apparently the husband knows King has has same sex relationships before.
The film overdramatizes to the point of laughter. One scene has Billie’s lover in her hair salon shop hearing the news of Billie, realizing that she is needed and dramatically drops everything to leave the salon.

The wardrobe of the 70’s has never looked so awful in any other film. Did we, in the 70’s really look that bad thinking we were looking so cool? Billie’s husband, Larry ‘s clothes are the worst. Perhaps that might be one reason she later left him. The hair of everyone is just as bad, including Billie’s even after a hairdo from her girlfriend.

The script contains lots of inane dialogue and unfunny jokes. One line has Larry asking his wife if she was getting a blow dry, with full sexual innuendo. The film sheds no real light on the female rights movement, except what we already know. The dialogue contains lot of cheap jokes on women like Riggs saying that he believes women should be on the tennis court, but for picking up balls. These jokes are predictable, told many times before and if they meant to offend women, they still might. Two anti-female remarks are also voiced by two stars Llyod Bridges and Ricardo Montalban shown on old TV footage.

The crucial tennis match between King and Riggs can hardly be called exciting. For one, history already dictates who had won and the audience is in for no surprise. The camera is also placed mainly in one spot, showing the overhead shot of the players. The directors appear more concerned to show the match in long takes than any thing else.

Oscar Winner Emma Stone is too skinny to look like a tennis player. Carell looks remarkably like Bobby Fisher as they are right around the same age in the story. The nude picture of Carell resembles the one taken by Riggs. The rest of the cast of Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue are largely wasted by the script that are unbothered with these characters.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES ends up a boring film on an exciting sport.



Film Review: SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS (South Africa 2016) ***

shepherds_and_butches.jpgDirected by Oliver Schmitz

Writers: Chris Marnewick (novel), Brian Cox (adaptation)
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Garion Dowds

Review by Gilbert Seah

Director Olive Schmitz has made quite a name for himself with his first feature MAPANTSULA (1988) debuting at Cannes in Un Certain regard and again with his LIFE, ABOVE ALL (2010) being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. His latest is again a film which deals with a controversial topic, inspired by true events, the trial of a prison guard who shot seven black men dead.

The film is set during the height of apartheid in South Africa. The racial prejudice is obviously expected to be an effect on the story. A young white prison guard, Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds) embarks on a seemingly motiveless shooting spree that leaves seven black men dead., one night during a traffic incident. But this is obviously something deeper than road rage. A British-born lawyer, Johan Webber (Steve Coogan), assigned to his case sets out to prove his actions were a direct result of psychological trauma from his volatile work environment.

It is an odd choice to cast Steve Coogan in the role of a concerned lawyer. His best roles have been in comedy as in THE TRIP and THE TRIP TO ITALY as well as in ALAN PARTRIDGE. Even in his serious roles like PHILOMENA, he injects a sarcastic, biting humour that makes him an actor a joy to watch. In this film, Coogan is total serious. He is seen smoking a cigarette during the planning of his case, but never gain in any other seen. Actor Garion Dowds was probably chosen for his role as the accused because of his innocent and small stature, showing his character a vulnerable and easily influenced one.

One expects to be disturbed when watching a film like SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS that deals with the death penalty. There is plenty in the film to shock the audience. These are mainly in the flashbacks and recalling of events by guard Leon Labuschagne. The description of a hanging with the rope not of correct length (the dying man suffering the pain of strangulation with a broken neck in consciousness for a full 15 minutes) and the actual enactment during a flashback are clearly not for the faint-hearted. The scenes showing the sights of the faeces and urine surrounding the dead hung bodies are also plain nasty. Director Schmitz also creates the uneasiness of the period of apartheid throughout the film.

Leon Labuschagne was a prefect at school and attended church regularly. He was a father with a wife and daughter but now he stands trial for the murder of 7 people. The most intriguing question the film is to answer is what brought the change to this man, Leon. Director Schmitz brings his film to a satisfying conclusion with the verdict of the court case.
The film’s most absorbing parts still lie during the courtroom drama. Andrea Riseborough is marvellous as the prosecutor Kathleen Murray questioning Leon to breakdown.

The film was shot entirely in Cape Town, South Africa in English and Afrikaans. Why the film is called SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS is clear during a crucial scene at the end of the film.


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