Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021): Action/Fantasy/Sci-fi

A man with a dark past is sent to an allegedly cursed place to find and bring back a missing woman.

Experimental, surrealistic, and intricately poetic. Don’t expect to make much sense in the beginning… Or in the middle… Or in the end… I’ll keep it deliberately brief so you can decide for yourselves if this is your cup of tea or not.

It seems like Nicolas Cage and Sofia Butella’s story takes place in a dystopic, surrealistic, post-apocalyptic, Westernised Japan stuck (metaphorically) in (a futuristic) time. How did that happen? It doesn’t really matter. Through diverse filmmaking techniques, such as Tarantin-esque and Lynchean, Prisoners of the Ghostland is inundated with surrealistic performances and utterances, and oneiric (dreamy) and trippy sequences. Furthermore, the spirit of ancient Greek drama that guides it, from the chorus to the means of expression, adds to the hero’s journey on the way of redemption. What to expect, in a nutshell: A story that doesn’t make too much sense, in a film that doesn’t care to explain (not the way you would expect to, anyway). And neither feels guilty about it nor apologises for it.

For your information… the film faced certain setbacks. Director Sion Sono suffered a heart attack and the film was moved from Mexico to Japan, and that delayed the production for about 1 year. It took 17 years for the writer Reza Sixo Safai took to get the film made so, if it wasn’t for Sion’s health, it still would have been 16. This is the fourth collaboration between XYZ Films and Cage who, once more, goes on berserk mode. If you are interested, Mandy (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/12/01/mandy-2018-action-horror-thriller/ and Color out of Space (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/ are equally colourful and crazy. But even they make more sense than this one. Oh, if that’s your thing, don’t forget this one: Willy’s Wonderland (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/24/willys-wonderland-2021-action-comedy-horror/

Cage’s surrealistic acting is unique and it’s his trademark. Love him or loathe him, he has managed to stand out and create a specific fan club that follows him. He even got acting schools to focus on his way of performing, calling him the David Lynch of acting (Lynch has praised him already). Needless to say that Butella is mesmerising as ever and, as in previous films, she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

Now that you know, it’s up to you of you are going to give it a shot or not.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Willy’s Wonderland (2021): Action/Comedy/Horror

An eccentric, silent man of unknown origin is lured into cleaning up an abandoned funhouse, inhabited by deadly animatronics.

Great fun for some members of the family – the adults, if you didn’t get it. I mean, check the logline. Is spaghetti horror a thing? Well, writer G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis most definitely treat it that way and they want to make sure that, under no circumstances, you take Willy’s Wonderland seriously. The inciting incident takes place right off the bat and The Janitor’s introduction – the one and only Nicolas Cage – promises one helluva ride. Minutes into the film, once everyone else has been introduced and you realise you don’t really care about who lives and who dies, you sit back, relax, and eagerly wait for actor and co-producer Cage to do what he does best; wreak havoc! Of course, accompanied by his amazing grimaces.

Inspired by Pale Rider (1985) and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Lewis decides to go berserk on the funhouse, turning it into a slaughterhouse of psychopathic animatronics vs a psychopathic janitor, and a group of millennials caught in the middle. Overall, I didn’t find any particular gruesome murder capable enough to stand out. Also, the comedy genre massively overshadows the horror, making one wonder how the script was green-lit to begin with. The obvious and only answer is none other than… Nicolas Cage. His co-star, Emily Tosta, has a strong presence in the film, and lightens up the shots every time she’s in. Look forward to seeing her in more projects.

Anyway, the contrast between soundtrack and visuals is the most enjoyable part of the film – and Cage, yes – and it only lasts an hour and twenty five minutes. Enough time to forget your life’s problems and go to bed.

Stay safe!

Pig (2021): Drama/Thriller

A truffle hunter who lives alone in the woods returns after many years to the city that once gave him a reputation after his pig gets kidnapped.

Pig is the kind of film that when you know nothing about it you get a surprising cinematic experience. Well, you get that with most Nicolas Cage films anyway, but the narrative looks like Pig was written for Cage, and that’s it. Therefore: unexpected narrative + Cage = double the surprise!

I’m just going to give you a one-line summary and keep it short in avoidance of spoiling the crucial parts. The once best and hard as nails chef in Portland, who also had an extraordinary reputation in underground restaurant fights (???) and once disappeared into the woods resurfaces himself, raising hell when his pig gets kidnapped. I mean… WTF?! How does one green-light such a concept? How does one even conceive it to begin with? It sounds to me like writer/director Michael Sarnoski, a David Lynch fan, liked John Wick (2014), smoked a couple, and then put it together. Remember, everything is happening because someone stole his pig. How does Lynch come into play? The two Cage monologues. The first one sounds completely irrelevant – or is it? As if Rob listened to a different story and recited something from a different movie. Check Amir’s reaction that reflects the audience’s. Which brings us to the second one… the second one is all about Chef Derek’s (David Knell) close-up reaction as the story evolves. His reaction is priceless. To me, that is Lynch through and through and Sarnoski brilliantly encapsulates it.

There is so much I could say about this film, but I won’t. I’ve already said enough and it will just ruin the experience. The principal photography lasted 20 days and all cast and crew should work like a Swiss watch as the budget was tiny. And after they actually did, about an hour was taken out in the cutting room for Neon thought it was too long.

Definitely worth the watch! Will you find meaning, eventually? Only if you put your phones down, turn the lights off, and understand why Rob’s journey takes place. A journey explicated though his stories and attitude towards people and circumstances. But also… what the pig means to him and why. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

Knowing (2009): Action / Drama / Mystery

Knowing

A fifty-year-old list of numbers prophesying every major catastrophe that took place ever since will make a professor of astrophysics, and a single parent, to race against time to prevent the ones that are yet to happen.

Is pessimistic optimism a term? Does it make sense? It doesn’t, does it? Be it as it may, that’s the oxymoronic feeling you get out of Knowing. But first things first…

“Randomness vs Determinism”, from a philosophical and/or scientific point of view, will become the setup’s foundation, and your mind’s internal debate while watching the confrontation unfolding. One of my favourite Nicolas Cage movie from the noughties where, back then, I couldn’t find many flaws. Watching it now for a second time, eleven years later, I spotted certain plot holes and gimmicks but I didn’t let them get in the way. Yet, it answers all the questions it raises halfway there (not even in the end), and that feels a bit spoonfed for my taste. Regardless, Cage is the right man for the job, Rose Byrne delivers a great performance, the kids are surprisingly convincing, and Ben Mendelsohn, be it in a leading or supporting role, always nails it. Once again, it’s a shame that the film answers everything for you.

The man in the director’s chair is Alex Proyas, a director whose niche is dark fantasy/sci-fi. My personal bests are: The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998), and I, Robot (2004). Unfortunately, he has not been involved in many projects and some of them, I believe, were beneath him. I look forward to watching something of his ’90s style soon.

(Not)Fun fact: The film predicted the BP’s oil spill in the Mexican gulf the year after.

Stay safe!

Color Out of Space (2019): Horror, Sci-Fi

Color Out Of Space.jpg

A meteorite of peculiar color, carrying a hostile living organism, strikes a secluded family farm and turns their lives into a sadistic nightmare.

What an opening scene!!! But I’m not convinced that the rest of it is how H.P. Lovecraft envisaged it. But first things first. It’s great to see the talented – yet hurt from the Industry – writer/director Richard Stanley coming back. After The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) fiasco, Stanley strikes again and, directing-wise, the film lacks nothing. Chasing it for years, the film’s Odyssey finally came to an end when he finally found the money to finance it in early 2019. The acting is also solid. Very convincing performances add to the film’s pros and Nicolas Cage, once more, proves that no matter how many memes, trailer compilations, or other creative visual and audio fun they make out of him that he will not give two s#$%^ and will keep on being… Nicolas Cage! Every, God knows how many unknown films/flops he’s been in every year, there’ll always be this one film that will stand out and perpetuate Cage’s ongoing on and off glory.

The major con is the production’s decision to make it look like the paranoid, cult film Mandy (2018) – same production company behind it. Lovecraft’s world, the way I grew up with visualising anyway, has nothing much to do with this adaptation. The bold, exaggerated colors create a visually incoherent landscape that overshadows the narrative. But don’t take my word for it, what do I know anyway? John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1993) is, arguably, the best Lovecraft adaptation out there. If you haven’t watched it, and you are a ‘Lovecraftian’ horror fan, you will fall in love with the film’s paranoia (Do you read Sutter Cane?).

Regardless, Color Out Of Space is a low budget must-watch that definitely deserves your attention. It is not commercial enough but that means nothing. Once you turn your screen off, parts of the film will keep looping in your head. What makes me happy is that, even posthumously, Lovecraft’s legacy is still alive and very rich. Which is exactly the opposite of how he died…

Original vs Remake: Hollywood’s Need to Retell the Story (or the Lack Thereof)

“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on a few international films, not particularly well-known ones, that have spawned renowned Hollywood successes (whether critical or commercial). Maybe I can get you to watch either or both of them, and then get you to ask if the Hollywood remake added to the existing film it was indeed necessary.

Original vs Remake: Hollywood’s Need to Retell the Story (or the Lack Thereof)

Mandy (2018): Action / Horror / Thriller

Mandy.jpg

Producer Elijah Wood sets up a meeting with director Panos Cosmatos and actor Nicolas Cage and they wonder: How do we pitch “Mandy”? They scratch their heads for a while and then it hits them: “I Spit on your Grave” (1978) meets “Hellraiser” (1987) – OK, that didn’t happen.

A hippie cult and their demon rider attack a couple in their secluded cabin in the woods, savagely kill the wife, forcing the husband to watch. And all hell breaks loose…

A psychedelic journey to a sinister world of surrealism which makes acting chameleon Nicolas Cage go absolutely berzerk and pull every beloved face from the “Vampire’s Kiss” (1988) to “Ghost Rider” (2007). Linus Roach is right behind him giving it all! On the other hand, Panos Cosmatos offers a “Grindhouse” experience including his favourite trademarks: High film grain, characters on LSD speaking slowly and in a strange manner, campfires…

One could analyze its sequences separately and write essays on them. But that is boring, and you don’t care. There are certain films or directors (say, David Lynch) that must be watched and either left alone or processed internally. Analysis ruins it. Enjoy the experience. As for people who are hell-bent on pathologically giving negative reviews, maybe it would be best if they didn’t judge a film and rate it according to how they would have wanted it to be made. Maybe they should accept the diversity of cinematic schools of thought and realize how malleable visual storytelling can be.

Received a five-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/37cImjz