Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya, Charles Glover, Young Dais, Cici Zhou, Louis Kurihara, Tetsu Watanabe, Takato Yonemoto, Hiroshi Kaname, Lorena Kotô, Canon Nawata, Ilsa
Written by: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai
Directed by: Sion Sono
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English, Japanese, Mandarin, with English subtitles
Running Time: 103
Date: 09/17/2021

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mad Nic

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While it's not for everyone, this truly bizarre mashup of Westerns and samurai movies, mixed with many other bits and pieces, offers a visionary design as well as a thrillingly unhinged Nicolas Cage.

Our "hero" (Nicolas Cage, unnamed but called "Hero" in the credits) is a criminal whose partner, Psycho (Nick Cassavetes), shoots several bystanders, including a small boy, during a robbery. Unexpectedly, he's taken out of prison by the crooked Governor (Bill Moseley) and tasked to find the Governor's adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who has run away.

To ensure that our hero does the job, he is fitted with a suit packed with explosives. If our hero doesn't finish the job in a certain number of days, the suit will explode. Our hero finds Bernice easily enough, living in a strange, ramshackle city. But he finds he is unable to leave because of the nuclear mutants who attack all travelers. Can our hero find the "hero" within himself and do the right thing?

Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, a cult favorite known for Suicide Club (2001) and the equally odd, amazing Love Exposure (2008), makes his English-language debut here (though some Japanese is also spoken). Prisoners of the Ghostland is largely set in what seems like a post-apocalyptic future, or perhaps some alternate reality, where a white man rules a Japanese village that is peopled by both samurai and cowboys, and at an astonishing, ramshackle town, built with random knickknacks. The colorful set design and incredible costumes are almost enough for a look.

Plotwise, Prisoners of the Ghostland shamelessly plucks whole ideas from Escape from New York and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, as well as employing Ennio Morricone-like music cues, but Sono has enough style of his own, that these borrowed items somehow seem to fit. Sono's storytelling likewise takes a pretty straightforward sci-fi/action tale and peppers it with weirdnesses, making it feel like something bracing and even surprising.

At the center is Cage, zipped up in his pouchy leather suit, with a metal arm brace screwed into place and wearing a broken football helmet; he gives another of those crazed performances that his fans love, but this time it goes right along with the rest of the fun strangeness.

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