Tag Archives: post-apocalypse

Sundance 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Prisoners of the Ghostland is a collaboration between America’s most bonkers actor, Nicolas Cage, and Japanese auteur Sion Sono, known for grotesque violence, extreme eroticism, and surreal imagery. I’m not the biggest fan of Nic Cage’s recent reincarnation as a b-movie cartoon, but I thought this combination was made in movie heaven and couldn’t wait to check it out at the Sundance Film Festival.

But you know what? It wasn’t that great. It was okay, but I expected some pretty bananas action from these two knuckleheads and instead Cage seems to be playing it straight, giving us a film that’s far more conventional than I ever would have guessed. Had they embraced the subversive, unhinged kind of film I was expecting/hoping for, Prisoners of the Ghostland could have been an instant cult classic, instead I’m left feeling disappointed after having been promised “the wildest movie I’ve ever made” by Cage himself, which is patently untrue.

Cage plays Hero, a notorious bank robber who’s released from prison in the savage, post-apocalyptic frontier city of Samurai Town in order to rescue the wealthy warlord Governor’s granddaughter, Bernice. The Governor (Bill Moseley) will guarantee Hero’s freedom in exchange for Bernice’s swift return, but straps him into a leather suit programmed to self-destruct in just a few days as a little extra incentive. And while we’re at it, the suit is also loaded with explosives should Hero raise a hand against a woman, and more explosives in the crotch region should Hero pop a boner for Bernice (Sofia Boutella).

Hero does indeed find Bernice, by accident, and I do mean accident – he immediately crashes his car and is rescued by the people in Ghostland, where Bernice is being held. Ghostland is under some mysterious curse that prevents anyone from leaving and is guarded by the “survivors” of a prisoner transport bus crash who were turned into monsters thanks to radiation. The people of Ghostland are obsessed with time, and they’re not even the ones strapped into leather jumpsuits charged with deadly explosives. The town is peppered with crumbling mannequins that house prisoners inside them; Bernice is broken out of her shell but is still voiceless, and not much help against the curse, the cult, the gunslingers, the ghosts, the samurai, or the irradiated convicts.

Prisoners of the Ghostland isn’t a complete wash. There are some crazy-cool visuals, a western-spoof vibe, an interesting soundtrack, and plenty of dirty neon lighting up our Hero’s path. And there’s Chekhov’s gun, of course: if in the first act you have rigged a suit with ball-sac bombs, then in the following one they should explode. And indeed they do. But I wanted more than just scrotal thrills, I wanted a whole anatomy of weird and wonderful, I wanted a rainbow parade of the absurd, I wanted Nic Cage at his best worst most demented, I wanted Cage and Sono to make a movie that would get banned in 17 countries and give me a nosebleed and an ice cream headache and leave me out of breath and intellectually bedazzled. Okay, that’s asking a lot, but I dared to dream big, and what I got was a strange, supernatural cinematic question mark that’s not half as nuts as anything else Cage has made in the last decade.

Space Sweepers

In 2092, forests have vanished and deserts spread over the land. Fading sun and acidic soil mean plants have disappeared and home has become unlivable. Fleeing the dying Earth, UTS Corporation builds a new orbiting home for humanity, but only a chosen few can ascend, and the head of the Corporation (Richard Armitage) has plans to unveil a new habitat on Mars, leaving those on Earth to their fate.

Meanwhile, a ship of non-UTS citizens search for valuable scraps. Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), Tiger Park (Seon-kyu Jin), Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), plus a robot named Bubs are a bunch of misfits and outcasts who do dirty work because they’re broke, collectively and individually, and badly in need of cash. And then a little girl puts a wrench in their plans.

Dorothy is no ordinary kid, she’s actually a highly weaponized android that merely looks like a 7 year old girl. A bomb, basically, in the busy little body of a child. Not only is a bomb an obvious threat to their ship, but Dorothy is pursued by a few different factions, and any one of them is ready to sacrifice the whole crew of a space sweeper ship to get their hands on her. Our resourceful sweepers resolve to sell her to the highest bidder in order to turn a tidy profit, but along the way they grow pretty attached to the munchkin, even though she’s not quite what she seemed.

Space Sweepers isn’t a great movie, but it’s perfectly serviceable if you like space robot sci-fi action dramas about the inevitable end of the world and the humans who continue to destroy it even beyond its breaking point. It’s effects heavy, action heavy, explosion heavy, fun heavy. The story is secondary, and arguably sometimes gets in the way. We’re here to see robots in space and little girls explode and apocalyptic terrorism, let’s not get up in our feelings. If dumb fun is in your future, this little adventure can be found on Netflix.

Rapture-Palooza

The “Rapture,” if you believe in such things, is an end-time fairy tale made up by evangelicals that basically says God is going to pull a Thanos, do a snap, and with that, all the good little boys and girls (and men and women) will vanish from earth, having ascended to heaven, and the rest of us will be left behind, shrugging at each other like “Ooops!”

The rapture has happened and young lovers Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) have indeed been left behind. The rapture is followed by several plagues, like locusts and blood rain, and the anti-christ’s reign. The anti-christ, who prefers to be called The Beast (Craig Robinson), nukes Chicago and Orlando and threatens to do more, and worse. Whatever he asks, you say yes. That’s just how it is now. Unemployment is high and what little you have can be taken at any moment by the flaming rocks falling from the sky, so to get by you’d better do as you’re asked. And just in case Jesus gets any big ideas about coming back to save humanity (again), The Beast has a really big laser for that.

Anyway, when Lindsey and Ben’s dreams of owning a sandwich cart are crushed, literally, by one of those big flaming rocks, so they have to go to work with Ben’s dad (Rob Corddry), who works for The Beast. Which is how The Beast lays eyes on Lindsey, and decides to take her for himself. This situation suits neither Lindsey nor Ben, so they hatch a plan to rid the Earth of The Beast. One little catch: you can’t kill The Beast, or he comes back as Satan. So the plan involves trapping him, subduing him, and caging him…for one thousand years. It’s a great plan. What could go wrong?

Is this a good movie? It is not. If you like any of the talent involved, you might eke out a few laughs, but you won’t be proud of yourself for it. You have to be smart to pull of satire, and this movie is very, very dumb. It’s crass where it should be incisive, crass where it should be biting, crass where it should be crafty. You get the idea. It’s stoner r-rated raunch and I’m pretty sure the world could live without it.

I Think We’re Alone Now

Everybody in the whole world dropped dead on Tuesday afternoon. They seem to have  died suddenly, no pain or suffering or foreknowledge, on the toilet or in front of the TV. Del (Peter Dinklage) was asleep when it happened. When he got up to work his night shift at the library, everyone else was dead. He is alone, utterly alone.

Del has spent the last however many months or years methodically cleaning out the houses in his town. He is respectfully burying all 1600 residents. He tidies their homes, scrounging commodities like batteries and gas, and empties their refrigerators. Entropy is why: one less case of chaos in the universe. Then he searches for unreturned library books, marks the house, and leaves it behind, unsentimentally, ready for the next one. Sure he’s alone but so, apparently, was he in his life before.

MV5BMTk4MjM3NDUyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU4MzgyNDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_You’ll never guess what’s coming. Okay, I bet you already have, more or less. Grace. Grace (Elle Fanning) is coming. She careens into his town one night and refuses to leave. That he wants her to is interesting, isn’t it? They make a grudging peace, but his solitariness is destroyed, and Grace, of course, is a big ole blob of chaos herself. But she challenges him in unexpected ways. He’s been able to manage this post-apocalyptic world because he didn’t lose much. Grace has lost everything – family, friends, lovers. She thinks Del is cold.

Of course, Grace is not as forthcoming as she’s presented herself. Who knew the end of the world could get so complicated? I wasn’t crazy about the tonal twist in the end and I’m not sure why the screenplay by Mike Makowsky veers off so dramatically when it’s been so low-key up until then. I like a script that has he space to leave some questions unanswered. And Peter Dinklage is very good at filling in the gaps. The opening scenes, largely dialogue-free, are not unreminiscent of a human version of Wall-E. But we get a sense of our solitary man, how comfortable he is with the routine. He’s alone, but he’s not lonely.

If I had some problems with the story, I had none with how I Think We’re Alone Now looks. Director Reed Morano, before she got her Emmy for directing The Handmaid’s Tale, was a cinematographer on films like Frozen River. She was the youngest person admitted to the American Society of Cinematographers and 1 of only 14 women (out of approximately 345, yuck). Morano’s the real deal, and so much of Del’s world looks incredible. I love what the camera will linger on, I love which colours are emphasized and when. I just wish the story delivered on the film’s promise.

 

How It Ends

Two suspiciously attractive Seattleites are expecting a baby boy and they are happy: yay! Will flies to Chicago to ask for his in-law’s blessing in marriage, despite the fact that he’s, ah, already stormed the beach. An awkward conversation about money ensues and he more or less gets asked to leave.

So, not a success. “Luckily” he gets a second chance. An “event” happened “out west”. Something happened, something catastrophic. He’s on the phone with Samantha when it goes down, but they’re cut off, and she’s scared. The airport shuts down. The roads are immediately impassable. So that leaves Will (Theo James) to traverse America mid-MV5BYTI5OGFjMzctYjQ4My00ZTViLWE2M2YtMmYxYTQ1ZDAzMDEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODk0NjQxNzY@._V1_catastrophe (mid-apocalypse?) with his disapproving, openly hostile, not-yet-father-in-law, Tom (Forest Whitaker). Who would have thought that the end of the world would only be the second worst thing that happens to Will today?

[Acting Master Class 101: If you have a wound, you immediately stick your fingers in it so that you can wince and prove to us how painful it is.]

The road to Seattle is paved with hell. Okay, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you know, the going is rough. It’s like: murder, murder, murder eVeRy day. Brain-flecked hair, coughing blood, impossible storms, raging fires, fucking over your fellow man, and a vague end of world scenario.

How It Ends sometimes feels like it may never end. It has a pretty good hook but then it meanders in a way that you wouldn’t think possible what with all the mayhem. It almost feels like the director loaded his actors in a car and headed out across Manitoba (standing in for rural Ohio since 1905!) (that was a random date, please don’t pay me any attention) with no destination or conclusion in mind. Which is maybe not the best way to make a movie. But  David M. Rosenthal makes sure there’s something menacing and apocalyptic in nearly every scene, and dude knows a thing or two about disaster porn. It should be noted that Sean, an avowed enthusiast of ridiculous premises, said at one point “They’ve overplayed their hand here.” And yeah, the writer is not subtle. The whole thing’s pretty obvious. But did I hate it? No. Not at first. But then it started to end. And the ending just boggles the mind. So that’s my case. I’ll let you, the jury, decide. The prosecution rests.

 

 

Bokeh

A young American couple is on a romantic getaway in Iceland when the impossible happens: everyone in the world disappears, except for them. They wake up alone on the planet. Well, presumably, since they find no other survivors but also have no way to communicate with the world.

Riley (Matt O’Leary) seems to embrace their aloneness as a challenge, and sets about building primitive tools to keep the water running. He enjoys the freedom to shop MV5BNmI3MWU2N2UtNDJmOC00YjdiLTgzYmEtZmI1NzBiYTNmY2ViL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0NzEyMzE@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_without paying and help himself to cars without stealing but he’s a little reckless in his adventuring, which irks his girlfriend Jenai, who points out that should he get hurt, there’s no more 911 to call. And she’s right. But she’s also contorted with anxiety. Jenai (Maika Monroe) misses her family. She searches obsessively for other survivors. She seeks understanding, not just of what happened, but of its greater, spiritual meaning. Have they been chosen, or left behind? What is their purpose here? She and Riley drift apart over these issues, which is extra tragic since they don’t have many other options.

On paper (or technically, a computer screen) this movie sounds interesting. But oh no it is not. It’s the slowest, most boring, most plotless post-apocalypiptic movie you’ll ever see. There are only two things Bokeh is good for: 1. the terrific Islandic travel porn, and 2. torturing yourself with bleakness and existential defeatism. So yeah, if you’re researching beautiful places to kill yourself, definitely consider Iceland. But I’m guessing that wasn’t their intention in making this movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Wow! I was excited going in to Mad Max last night. I was expecting something crazy and strange.  I got that, only ten times more crazy and strange than I thought. And that is a very, very good thing.

I saw the three Mel Gibson Mad Maxes a long time ago. I don’t remember much except for snippets (the end of #1, the hockey mask guy and tanker chase in #2, the Thunderdome and a bunch of kids in #3). So your mileage may vary but for me, Tom Hardy more than fills Mel Gibson’s shoes. He is amazing. He only has about ten lines in the whole movie but he really doesn’t need to say anything more for us to know what he’s thinking because we are thinking the exact same thing (usually, “What the hell is happening?”). Max isn’t crazy, he’s us. And together we go on a mind-blowing ride through his world/what’s left of ours.

I really don’t want to say anything more. Just see this movie for yourself. I am not promising you will like it (though if you like seeing shit blow up this has to be the one to see in 2015). But they really threw everything into this and made a spectacle. And it is glorious.

Mad Max: Fury Road earns a well deserved rating of 44 chrome-mouthed trips to Valhalla out of ten.