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On Blu-ray/DVD: BETWEEN WORLDS (2018) and A PRIVATE WAR (2018)

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BETWEEN WORLDS
(US/Spain - 2018)


By now, it's pointless to find any rhyme or reason when it comes to Nicolas Cage's career choices. These days, his only A-list gigs come from voice work in animated films like SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, and every once in a while, he'll luck into a FROZEN GROUND, JOE, THE TRUST, or MOM AND DAD among his plethora of VOD clunkers. But 2018 was the year of MANDY, Panos Cosmatos' gonzo mindfuck of a midnight movie that got a lot of festival buzz and was an instant, legit cult classic right out of the gate. It immediately became an essential entry in the Cage canon and got him the most acclaim and attention he'd received in years. But any hopes that MANDY would herald a Cageassaince are dashed with BETWEEN WORLDS, a moronic and amateurish supernatural thriller that hit VOD at the tail end of last year. With enough strange ideas and Cage once again cast as a blue collar loner who finds himself caught up in all sorts of inexplicable mayhem, BETWEEN WORLDS could almost pass itself off as a distant cousin to MANDY, but it's filmed in such a basic, rudimentary fashion so devoid of style and a sense of professionalism that it actually looks, at best, like a student film that accidentally got a distribution deal. It seems the only trick that co-producer/writer/director Maria Pulera has in her arsenal--aside from somehow cajoling the great Angelo Badalamenti into composing the main theme, which I guess is there to give the film a Dipshit David Lynch vibe--is the repetitious and pointlessly wanky reliance on low-angle close-ups of everything from a coffee carafe to a bottle of beer to the hairy ass crack of an overweight convenience store clerk. That, and the ability to get real and long-established actors like Cage and Franka Potente (RUN LOLA RUN, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) to embarrass themselves in a project that's far beneath them.






In an opening filled with one of the most laboriously clumsy exposition dumps I've ever seen, Alabama trucker Joe Majors (Cage, wearing what looks like the tattered remains of his CON AIR mullet), still grieving the loss of his wife and young daughter in a recent house fire, is using the men's room at a gas station when he walks in on a burly guy strangling a woman. The woman is Julie (Potente), and Joe thinks he saved her life, but it's something else entirely: since a near-drowning experience as a child, she's had the ability to cross "between worlds," with a psychic ability to rescue those near death. She uses it sparingly, but needs it now because her grown daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell) is in a coma after a motorcycle accident that morning. In order to go between worlds, she has to be taken to the brink of death herself, with strangling being the most convenient way, and she paid the guy to choke her. Since he ruined the connection, Joe feels obligated to choke Julie himself in order for her to save a non-responsive Billie at the hospital, and it works. Before long, Joe and Julie are a thing but something isn't right with Billie. She's soon leering at Joe, tempting him in various states of undress when Julie isn't around, and giving him under-the-blanket handjobs on the couch while they watch TV and Julie's in the kitchen making dinner. Yep, you guessed it: when Julie went between worlds, Billie's soul was switched out with that of Joe's late wife, who's now inside Billie's body, ready for action, and not at all pleased that he's hooked up with Julie.





BETWEEN WORLDS doesn't even follow its own barely-there logic, and its primary justification is simply for Cage to channel his inner Talk Show Robin Williams, with Pulera apparently so grateful that he said yes that she does nothing to rein him in. In a performance that makes his work in the long-forgotten early '90s erotic potboiler ZANDALEE seem disciplined, Cage has several absurdly over-the-top sex scenes with both Potente and Mitchell, sometimes amusing himself while thrusting away by randomly quoting and pantomiming the crucifix masturbation scene in THE EXORCIST or reading aloud from a book of erotic poetry with a cover that reads "Memories by Nicolas Cage." He ad-libs endlessly (Potente: "Want a beer?" Cage: "Does the Tin Man have a sheet-metal cock?"), and totally loses it in the finale, which has him sobbing uncontrollably and cradling his dead daughter's Jack-in-the-Box while pouring gasoline on himself to the tune of The Shangri-Las'"Leader of the Pack." Mind you, as on-brand as this is for Nic Cage--who wouldn't wanna see the movie I just described?--none of it is ever as entertaining as it sounds. Similar to his disastrous performance in the unwatchable ARMY OF ONE, Cage's histrionics come off as exhausted and overly affected, because there's no movie here--it's just him goofing off for 90 minutes. Something more polished and professional might've made Cage's antics more palatable, but BETWEEN WORLDS is a film that displays all the production value of a high-end sex tape or hostage video, magnifying the fact that Cage has nothing to work with and really begging the question of what even attracted him and Potente to this thing in the first place. (R, 91 mins)



A PRIVATE WAR
(US/UK/Germany - 2018)


One of the most overlooked films of the 2018 awards season, at least by the general moviegoing public, A PRIVATE WAR is a harrowing chronicle of Marie Colvin, an American expat and war correspondent who spent nearly 30 years covering the most dangerous areas of the world for the UK's Sunday Times. The film covers the post-9/11 era, where Colvin, portrayed here in a remarkable performance by Rosamund Pike, spent most of her time embedded in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, venturing into places and situations that most journalists would consider too dangerous (when asked if she's afraid, she replies "You're never gonna get to where you're going if you acknowledge fear...fear comes later"). She lost the sight in her left eye after catching shrapnel in a bomb blast in Sri Lanka in 2001--with an eye-patch subsequently providing her signature look--and after two miscarriages, two failed marriages to journalist/novelist David Irens (Greg Wise), and now too old to have children, she threw herself into her work and grew even more ambitious and addicted to the danger. After befriending photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) in Iraq, she convinces him to tag along with her and a translator, breaking the rules and moving ahead of US troops to corroborate rumors of a Saddam Hussein-ordered mass grave in Fallujah. Her actions both earn the respect and test the patience of everyone in her life, from Conley to her editor (Tom Hollander), her best friend (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and a sympathetic potential love interest (Stanley Tucci). Colvin extensively covered the Syrian civil war, and her life came to an end in the city of Homs, where she, Conroy, and journalist Remi Ochlik (Jeremie Laheurte) would be trapped in a building receiving heavy artillery fire trying to evacuate residents from the area. Only a seriously-injured Conroy survived, with Colvin and Ochlik succumbing to injuries sustained from a bomb blast. Only hours before her death, Colvin was interviewed by Anderson Cooper in prime time on CNN.






Originally intended as a project for Charlize Theron (who remained onboard as one of 34 credited producers), A PRIVATE WAR marks the narrative directing debut of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman (CARTEL LAND, CITY OF GHOSTS), who really nails the details when it comes to embedded journalists covering war zones. He stages one nerve-wracking sequence after another where a determined Colvin might be killed at any moment. Years of witnessing atrocities and death have taken their toll--she drinks too much, she grows more abrasive, she's diagnosed with PTSD and is briefly committed to a hospital--but it's all she knows and she can't cover the mundane assignments her editor half-heartedly suggests as alternatives ("the gardening section?"). It would've been easy to lapse into cliched melodrama and there are some times during the boozy, chain-smoking sections where it almost does, but Pike fearlessly inhabits Marie Colvin, warts and all. She keeps A PRIVATE WAR from turning into the cliched hagiography that might've resulted had a more "Hollywood" director than Heineman been handed the screenplay written by Arash Amel, whose credits include the instantly-forgotten Aaron Eckhart TAKEN knockoff ERASED and the little-loved Nicole Kidman dud GRACE OF MONACO. The last of three Pike political thrillers that bombed in theaters in 2018 (after the inexplicably dance-crazed 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE and the solid throwback BEIRUT), A PRIVATE WAR is further evidence of the actress becoming a top Flop Indicator (© Bob Cashill), but like BEIRUT, this one deserved a better reception than it got, and in a perfect world, Pike would've been nominated for an Oscar along with the similarly snubbed Toni Collette for HEREDITARY. (R, 110 mins)


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