Sion Sono’s Prisoners Of The Ghostland

Nicolas Cage has a big laundry chute from his agent’s office that goes right to his mancave at home, wherein various wild, weird and wonderful scripts are just hurled through, whereupon he can evaluate them from the safety and comfort of his pad, and agree to do absolutely amazing, one of a kind cinematic celebrations of unconventional spirit and innovation like Sion Sono’s Prisoners Of The Ghostland, a psychedelic arthouse dream-poem that I promise you is unlike anything you’ve ever seen Cage do and sits atop the mighty crest of other such curios in his recent career like Mandy, Willy’s Wonderland and Colour Out Of Space. This is my baptism by fire, so to speak, in Sono’s work, a Japanese mad scientist of celluloid whose work here is as wantonly jagged and subconsciously nebulous as it is specifically calibrated and lovingly detailed as he tells the story of one lone hero recruited by a sinister southern dandy called The Governor (Bill Moseley, curdled to hammy perfection) to rescue his ‘granddaughter’ Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a vague netherworld called the Ghostland where she is being held by forces unknown. Cage is outfitted with an explosive device suit that looks like a hand-me-down from Snake Plissken, complete with little bombs to detonate each testicle, should he get frisky. I’m not sure why I’m describing plot here because there really isn’t one, but there also kind of is. Ever have one of those dreams where you’re in a narrative that should make sense from an earthly, rational perspective yet everything is somehow… off, somehow topsy-turvy and abstractly bizarre? This film literally functions within the logic of a dream, and you have to shift gears of perception before you’re in tune with it, there’s just no sense to be made of it beyond the intuitive on a subconscious level. Cage’s character here is nameless beyond the archetypal moniker of ‘Hero’ but I suppose if we wish to put a name to this stranger we can refer to the actor’s own comments, as he has said this guy is supposed to be a spiritual amalgamation of his work as Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart and Castor Troy in John Woo’s Face/Off. How awesome is that? It’s fitting because there’s a reunion of sorts for him and Nick Cassavetes, playing his hulking partner in crime here. The film is much less of a manic action spectacle than the trailers might show; there is action, yes, but mostly there’s just atmosphere, and heaps of it. Cowboy/samurai hybrid goons, giggling geisha girls overflowing with bizarrely effervescent personality, animalistic scavengers who roam the Ghostland, all adorned in breathtaking costumes and inhabiting some of the most arresting, beautifully otherworldly cinematography I’ve ever seen, something like post apocalyptic kabuki with vivid splashes of steampunk and shades of zombie horror peppered in too. Characters behave free from inhibition and careen wildly about at the mercy of their own impulses and those of Sono’s who is one hell of a visual artist. There are random pauses in the narrative as the cast breaks out into song for no apparent reason other than they feel like it, including a haunting group rendition of Burl Ives’ ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ led by Moseley and tons of hectic Greek chorus exposition in blessed unison from background cast. This is cinema distilled straight from REM sleep mode and blasted onto a screen, strikingly unique dream logic storytelling disguised as a latter day Nic Cage gonzo picture, the stuff of beautiful nightmares that will lull you into a hypnotic trance with it’s relentless, all encompassing alien energy. One of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

Atomic Blonde 


Atomic Blonde is the annual adrenaline shot the action genre gets every year, if we’re lucky. Amidst carbon copy superhero extravaganzas, increasingly ridiculous Fast/Furious hemorrhages and head scratching animation ventures, the multiplex is a frustrating realm these days, but sometimes we are blessed with a good old fashioned hard-R action blitzkrieg that turns out to be a pure banger, lighting up the summer movie roster like neon fireworks. Blonde rides the wake that John Wick left behind, a refreshing, stylistic, no-holds-barred form of action storytelling that cheerfully pisses in the face of all things glossy and PG-13. Set in a frenzied Berlin days before the wall comes down and the Cold War freezes over, Charlize Theron is a breathtakingly sexy super spy with a very particular set of skills and a borderline nihilistic approach to espionage, as well as a massive bone to pick with certain factions of the enemy, who stay fairly hidden until the wicked chess game of a plot rounds it’s final curves. Tasked by a sneaky British intelligence honcho (Toby Jones) and a mysterious CIA Agent (John Goodman, excellent as always) she’s caught between all kinds of warring assets including the KGB, roaming German euro trash punks and a British rogue agent (James Macavoy) playing all sides at once. The plot serves action, to be sure, but it still takes itself seriously amidst all the punches, flying kicks, icepicks to the jugular and careening vehicular destruction. Theron is a primal piston of wanton violence and slinky sexual virility, throwing herself headlong into every action sequence with the kind of reckless abandon that makes you believe those bruises for real (apparently she busted a few ribs for real filming this, the absolute champ). The highlight is a bone shattering one take wonder of a staircase fight, a hapless Eddie Marsan bandaging a bullet wound with swaths of duck tape while Theron furiously dispatches several enemies using any means within arms reach, a spectacle that leads to glorious cringes once the hits get hard and critical and sharp objects start getting close to eyeballs and major organs. The soundtrack must be noted too, the filmmakers employing nostalgic melodies straight out of the 80’s to evoke time and place nicely, with everything from Nina’s 99 Luftballoons to The Clash’s London Calling and Queen’s Under Pressure coming into play. There’s also pretty much the hottest movie sex scene I’ve seen in years, as Theron and a bombshell of a French agent (Sofia Boutella) get slippery under the sheets in a neon soaked Berlin hotel room. This is an action film made by folks who are head over heels in love with the genre, and the passion shows. We never feel cheated, chaperoned or short changed, every ounce of this piece charged up to please the crowd and keep pulses thundering. 

-Nate Hill