Prisoners Of The Ghostland: Nicolas Cage Strangeness Taken Too Far

2/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A drifter, Nicolas Cage, is tasked with venturing out into the haunted Ghostland in order to bring back a local officials daughter.

As many of you know I am a big fan of Nicolas Cage, I am a big fan of the aesthetic of this film, but as a whole it just doesn’t work- at least for me. There is far too much genre mashup going on here, so much so that none of it works. The western elements are offset by the Samurai elements and the more cerebral parts made lesser by the gory realities. This strikes me as a film that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.

Moreover, Cage is used minimally here. There are a few experiences that get close to what some refer to as ‘full Cage’ but that is never nurtured into anything of substance, he achieves far more in Willy’s Wonderland in which he barely says a word.

Also I found this film to be oddly and needlessly vulgar. There is a moment when one of Cage’s testicles gets blown off, why? Other than a gross out thrill what does that achieve? Weirdness within a film can work but weirdness for weirdness sake is never good.

Overall, an interesting concept executed poorly

Pros.

The concept

The visual aesthetic

Cons.

It underused Cage

It doesn’t make a lick of sense

The mismatch of ideas hurts the film in the long run

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Under The Silver Lake: Paranoia Incarnate

4.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

David Robert Mitchell is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors, It Follows is in my top 5 films of all time and though, like I you may have heard mixed things about Under The Silver Lake it is almost as good- that is a very high compliment indeed.

I found the bizarre and often sinister world of this film to be akin to a confused nightmare, but one that is also pleasant to experience. I thought the world of this film is so vast and so well set up that it is in desperate need of a sequel. I thought it was very clever to leave a lot of the mysteries open ended, as to give them an ending and tie them off would almost be a disservice, this way the idea of what could be will endure in the viewers minds.

Moreover, Andrew Garfield is quickly becoming one of my favourite performers he is so versatile and plays strange and odd characters better than anyone else, with the exception of Nicolas Cage.

Overall, though you may have heard mixed things this film is very much worth checking out.

Pros.

The world

The ending

Garfield

The deeper meanings

Cons.

It does have bloat and could do with being shorter

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Interview With Michael Caradonna (Producer) And Geoff Ryan (Writer/ Director): Blood From Stone

Written by Luke Barnes

Hey Everyone! I recently had the chance to chat to Michael Caradonna (the producer) and Geoff Ryan (the writer/director) about their neo-noir, western, vampire flick Blood From Stone. We talk about

Q: How would you sum up Blood From Stone in a word?

MC:  Honest. I have been a fan of the Vampire genre for as long as I’ve been a fan of film. Blood From Stone shows the realistic problems today’s vampires would deal with should they really exist.

GR: Unique. I wanted to make something different from anything else out there – for better or for worse – and judging from both critic and audience reviews it seems like we succeeded. 

Q: Who is your filmmaking inspiration?

MC – I enjoy films of all genres which has opened the door to appreciating the likes of Soderbergh, Kubrick, Scorsese, Lucas and Spielberg, but looking at a whole catalogue, I’d have to say Quentin Tarantino. From writing True Romance to his latest Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he inspires me as a Producer.

GR – So many to choose from! With this one I’d have to say the most overt influence would be Tarantino. From the genre-blending to the character banter punctuated by extreme violence, to the non-traditional story structure… it’s got a lot of his early works influencing it.

Other big influences would be Peter Greenaway, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Altman, The Coen Bros, and on and on…

Q: Other than your film, what is your favourite vampire film?

MC – Many films come to mind, but I would say Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. There was always something gritty and honest with that film and one of the first films I thought of when I read Blood From Stone.

GR – Let the Right One In. I love that it’s a great movie that perfectly balances being a beautiful character story and a haunting vampire tale.

Q: How did you gauge the emotional tone of this film, between having the character seem sympathetic whilst also being a blood thirty monster? 

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – As anyone who has been in a toxic relationship knows, the emotions can go from deep love to vicious hate in a matter of seconds. Or, at the big picture level, how a society with so many enlightened and progressive advancements is still capable of primal brutality, selfishness, and tribalism. To me, vampire lore was a perfect way to explore these ideas: It was a way to explore the way our own worst impulses, no matter how much we try to deny them to ourselves or bury them in the past, still make up so much of who we truly are. None of the characters want to be monsters and go to great lengths to convince themselves they are good people (and in many ways they are), but their actions matter. I wanted to really show how actions have consequences no matter our good intentions.  It is something all of us do. I personally might not be a vampire or a killer, but I am a citizen of a nation that wages wars, I buy products from exploitive companies, I eat once living animals, I’m sometimes a crappy friend, and so on. These are things I don’t want to define me but to those who are impacted by these actions it is who I am. And, so, in the story it’s about the search for balance and how we live with the monster inside of us. 

Q: Do you have any funny on-set stories?

MC – Oh my, where do I start?  The crew that worked together on this film was full of its own great characters. From the encounters with the Las Vegas Police Department when I get pulled over while getting the crew food at 3am and they discovered “blood” all over the back seat, to casino security, with hand on gun, following up on a video feed showing dead bodies being dragged down a hall where there were supposed to be no people. We had such a great time on set. While getting every shot that Geoff required, there were infinite moments of fun, laughter and comradery.

GR – So many funny stories! This was really a once-in-a-lifetime type of film for me because the team that came together to work on this was a phenomenal group of fun people. Add to that the ridiculousness of what we were filming, and it made for some funny moments. Like when casino security had to do a safety check because they saw us dragging dead bodies through the hallways or having to explain to a policeman who pulled us over why there were blood stains all over our car (my car’s backseat is still a blood stained mess). On the Blu-Ray there’s a bloopers segment that captures some of the fun but nowhere near the almost constant state of joking, hijinks, and lunacy we went through. 

Q: How would you describe the current state of the Vampire horror sub-genre?

MC – Just as in the myths and legends, vampires will never die. While I am biased, I think that Blood From Stone is up there with many other great vampire films throughout filmmaking history. There are many bad vampire films that are good and many good ones that do not get the attention they should. Every once in a while there is a film that truly stands out like The Hunger, The Lost Boys and even What We Do In the Shadows. These films draw us in and, as fans, we suck it all up. The current state of the Vampire films is alive and well.

GR – Just like all movie genres, there’s a ton of mediocre-to-bad with some exceptionally unique and amazing work shining through. Plus, there’s some really exciting new Dracula/Nosferatu films in the pipeline that I’m eagerly anticipating. Much like vampires themselves, the genre won’t ever die, and great artists will continue making great vampire films while some will suck the corpse dry for whatever cash-grab potential it has. 

Q: Was there a message you were trying to communicate with the film? And if so what was it?

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – I kind of touched on it in the early question about tone but the primary theme I wanted to explore was about our interconnectedness. It’s why the two main characters only share two scenes together: I wanted to tell a story of how their lives are connected even when their actions aren’t directly to each other. And, I intentionally told the story in a way that offers a lot of ideas in a way that will allow the audience to create their own opinions on it. It’s been fascinating to hear from audiences about how they see the characters and the story. Some see it as a tragedy, some as a love story, some as a dark comedy. Some people think Jure is a monster and others think Darya is the real monster. 

But the most important line of the film to me is when Viktoria tells Jure, “There are no endings, only cycles. It’s your choice: Creation or destruction, vengeance or forgiveness.” This to me is the message of the film. We all have those choices in our lives. Are we creators or destroyers? Do we seek forgiveness for our own sins, or do we seek vengeance for wrongs against us? The choices we each make will shape the future for humanity. Do we circle back to another dark ages or do we progress forward into a brighter future? 

Q: How important were western and neo-noir elements to you as you were filming? 

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – To me they were very important! For Jure, the movie is a western. For Darya, it’s a noir. Even the score represents this with Jure’s music being composed of guitar, banjo, and lap steel to evoke that country/western vibe. And Darya’s music is reminiscent of Bladerunner with pulsing Moog and sparkling synth Arpeggios. He’s rooted in the old world and she aspires for the future. 

Westerns especially are iconic American stories. The lone hero is a trope that has its virtues but also has been used to justify some of the worst elements of our society from our wars (“You’re either with us or against us”) to our gun culture (“Only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”). Jure sees himself as this lone hero. At the beginning, he’s riding into town to save the girl, and at the end: He’s riding off into the sunset (or sunrise). He sees himself as the good guy, even a god amongst men, but modern society has forced him into the shadows. He resents this new era where he can no longer act with impunity. It was often joked that Jure should wear a hat that says, “Make Vampires Great Again”. 

Similarly in noir it was often a “damsel in distress” that turned to the guy to save her, but she was usually hiding a dark secret. And Darya at first is portrayed to be that “damsel in distress” but over the course of the film she evolves into a force of nature. She is from an old world and holds an old idea of who she should be. She hides her true self just wanting “to be normal”.  But over the course of the story there are glimmers of light showing her breaking through that and discovering her power to shape her own destiny. 

Q: Sequel ideas and future plans?

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – I would love to! It kind of sets itself up for one and I have notes for where the story will go. Much like this one had a yin & yang between Jure and Darya, the sequel would have that between past and present. It would juxtapose life for the vampire women of the story after Jure (spoiler!) and life for him before modern society – and how those timelines impact each other. Sort of like a hybrid of Unforgiven and Thelma & Louise told through Aronofsky’s The Fountain! But, unless Blood From Stone develops a much bigger fan base than it currently has, the prospects for a sequel are unlikely. 

Q: If Blood From Stone ever won an Oscar or other award who would you thank in your acceptance speech?

MC – First and foremost, Geoff Ryan for trusting me to produce this project for him followed by the rest of the amazing Blood From Stone family. Geoff Black, Nika, Adeshola, Sarah, Alethea, Carl, Steven and, of course, our solid cast, including our stars, Vanya and Gabriella. Thanks to all of you!

GR – My BFS Family: Our small and wonderful team who put so much of their trust, time and talent into helping make my crazy fever dream a reality on a budget that did not merit the scale of what we made. Linda & Michael of Indie Rights who believed in this film back when it was just a concept in my brain. The people of Las Vegas who opened their doors and contributed so much to this movie. And, my cat Pafoofa who passed before the film came out, but her voice is immortalized in the music score. 

If you would like to check out Blood From Stone you can find it on all good digital media marketplaces, Vudu, Amazon and of course you can buy the Blu-ray and DVD director’s cut as well. As always I have a review up of the film on my site now, so check that out as well!

Hell Or Highwater: When Sitting On Your Porch Always Keep A Gun To Hand

Written by Luke Barnes

Hell Or High Water is a neo-noir western film directed by David Mackenzie.  The plot sees two Texan brother (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster), rob a series of banks to achieve a better life for themselves and their families. However, in there efforts to do this they come to the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and a game of cat and mouse begins.

I find the neo-noir aspects of this film fascinating; they merge so well with what you would consider a western to be and further the genre into something new- that honestly feels refreshing. I thought setting this in modern day, and having the film play on key contemporary society issues helped it to further its resonance and create more feelings from us towards the characters.

The performances from all three leads, (Bridges, Foster and Pine), are strong and help to anchor this film into believability. The writing also helps to layer the characters and have them transcend a simplistic good and bad character narrative, allowing for a greyer complexity where the ‘villain’ and the ‘hero’ can switch around mid-scene.

My one issue with the film however, and sadly it is a fairly major one, is that it suffers from bloat. The film is certainly overly long, as such certain scenes feel like they have been stretched out to pad for time, and often these scenes add nothing to the narrative as a whole.

Overall, a compelling cat and a mouse story, brought low by an overly indulgence

Pros.

The performances

The tension

The moral ambiguity

The combining of the western and the noir

Cons.

Bloated pacing at times

3.5/5

Arkansas: Vince Vaughn Is The Godfather

Arkansas is a neo-noir crime film directed by Clark Duke, based on the John Brandon novel of the same name. The plot sees two budding drug runners move up the ranks of the ‘Dixie Mafia’ after their boss dies, however without direction they find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence and expansion.

I enjoyed this film a lot more than I first thought I would, I thought when I first put this film on that it might be yet another generic crime film, but it is so much more than that.

Firstly, I like the chaptered approach and how the story jumps around in time. Moreover, it is a strength of the film that neither the Vince Vaughn storyline nor the Liam Hemsworth storyline is prioritised over the other as in the end it is all part of a much bigger cyclical tale.

I thought the worldbuilding was well done, and I would like to see another film set in this Southern world of organised crime; it feels to me like a really under tapped market that is begging to be explored in further depth.

On an acting front Vaughn is strong here, he plays the role completely straight and nails the dramatic moments and the emotion of the character. This film really does prove, if there was any doubt left, that Vaughn can do both drama and comedy well. Hemsworth on the other hand is not as strong, his performance is very one note with him not being able to conjure much up, other than his angsty anger.

Overall, a very strong crime film that could have benefited from a different lead.

Pros.

The worldbuilding

The focus on the ‘Dixie Mob’

Vaughn

The chapters and the flashbacks themselves

Cons.

Hemsworth is not a good actor

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

King Of New York: Live By The Sword Die By The Sword

King Of New York is a neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Abel Ferrara. The plot sees infamous mob figure Frank White (Christopher Walken), released from prison and then set about taking his city back only to become targeted by a band of corrupt police officers.

For those of you who like gangster films, this is a work of art. It is very much in line with something like Cronenberg’s Eastern Promise as this is more of a thinky gangster film rather than just a senseless shoot em up, though there are plenty of those sort of scenes.

The inner dialogue that begs the question are men like White inevitable? Are they representative of the city, a by product in some sort of way? These questions prove fascinating as we break down Frank as a person and see how it is that he is the King of New York’s underworld.

The violence in the film feels bold and punchy, it strikes you as real and visceral and leaves a mark. In this regard Lawrence Fishburne’s Jimmy steals the show. Jimmy is unhinged throughout the film, but his night time fight with corrupt police might be his best and most unhinged moment. I think this is a career best performance for Fishburne and it makes me want to explore more of his back catalogue.

Overall, a very grisly and effecting crime tail and leaves you shocked and horrified but also with a few pertinent questions in mind.

Pros.

Walken

Fishburne

The violence

The psychology

The noir like feel of the film

Cons.

None

5/5

Reviewed by Luke   

Dragged Across Concrete: A Pulp Fiction Novel Done In 159 Minutes

Dragged Across Concrete is a Neo-noir action thriller film, directed by S. Craig Zahler. The plot revolves around two cops, Brett (Mel Gibson), and Anthony (Vince Vaughn), who are suspended after an excessive force incident. However, for various reasons both men need to make money, so they decide to rob a group of criminals that have robbed a bank.

Craig Zahler is a very strange filmmaker to talk about as his films have a very specific style to them, if you have ever seen any of them you will know what I am talking about, said style can be incredibly polarising. I enjoyed his debut effort Bone Tomahawk but thought that his follow-up Brawl In Cell Block 99 went a little too far for my tastes and veered into vile and uncomfortable viewing. This film, however, seems to hit a sweet spot, it has moments of extreme violence, but these aren’t excessive rather instead well used.

One of my favourite bits from this film is one of those violent moments. Jenifer Carpenter plays Kelly a recent mother who is having separation anxiety as she has to be away from her baby and go back to work, can I just say here that even though her role is under 10 minutes I think this is one of the best performances of Carpenter’s career, once she is back at work she gets caught up in the bank robbery and killed. What makes this worth talking about is the fact that this is incredibly shocking as she is a recognisable actress, and had a big part in Cell Block 99, we don’t expect her to die so suddenly yet she does. This moment actually made me gasp out loud, I am being serious.

The antagonist of the film is also terrific from the moment we are introduced to Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), he is menacing. Furthermore, the choice to have him be in a mask for most of the film really adds to the sense of terror. He is the first ‘bad guy’ in a long time that has actually captured my interest.

Gibson and Vaughn are both solid leads and have a good repour, you can easily buy that these two men have been partners for some time. Moreover, the character motivations for the two are well written as well, Vaughn’s Anthony wants to propose to his girlfriend, he dies as he listens to a voicemail of her rejecting him this perfectly captures that gritty sense of reality that this film is going for. Brett, on the other hand, wants to provide a better life for his family, which in a sense he does, and this provides the film it’s happy ending.

Overall, this film feels as though S. Craig Zahler has brought a pulpy crime novel to the big screen in the best way. Usually, these sorts of films, especially with a run-time as long as this (159 minutes) start to lose my attention, but this one kept me hooked right the way through to the end. A modern masterpiece in noir cinema. A Must Watch!

Pros.

It Is Genuinely Shocking.

It Is Everything A Pulpy Crime Film Should Be.

It Is Gorey But Doesn’t Over Do It.

Great Leads.

A Career Best For Jennifer Carpenter.

Cons.

None.

5/5

Reviewed By Luke