At The Movies: Zola a wild road trip though Florida

A still from the film Zola starring Riley Keough (left) and Taylour Paige. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Zola (R21)

87 minutes opens on Thursday (Oct 7) exclusively at The Projector, 4 stars

In 2015, waitress and part-time stripper Aziah King tweeted about a road trip she took that went horrendously, hilariously wrong.

The Internet gobbled up the ribald tale, which was told with sharp comic timing and drenched in street wisdom. It spawned an article in Rolling Stone magazine and now, this movie.

Does that vibrancy, doled out in 140-character-limit increments, survive the transfer to screen? Thankfully, yes.

In the hands of director and co-screenwriter Janicza Bravo, the film repackages King's text stream into a bleakly funny tour of a twilight America and a wild kingdom of scary pimps, Internet sex entrepreneurs, female sex workers and their creepy customers.

In Detroit, Aziah (Taylour Paige), also known as Zola, strikes up a friendship with fellow stripper Stefani (Riley Keough). She invites Zola to dance at a friend's club in Tampa, Florida, a place purportedly filled with generous punters. Zola agrees and there begins the journey that would, briefly, make her a star on social media.

Bravo, who has spent a decade specialising in award-winning comedies for films and television, frames the story as arthouse smut, or perhaps satirical sexploitation, depending on whom you ask.

While the film bears the lurid intensity of crime thriller Spring Breakers (2012), what is absent is the leering and grandstanding performances by male characters. This is Zola's journey.

Without the anchoring presence of Paige and Keough, though, this film might have been a disposable, candy-coloured tour of Florida sleaze.

The Guilty (NC16)

In The Guilty, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Los Angeles cop banished to an emergency call centre after an unspecified infraction. PHOTO: NETFLIX

91 minutes, available on Netflix, 3 stars

This American thriller is adapted from a 2018 Danish work of the same title. This reviewer is a fan of the original.

Besides being a terrifically tense movie, it is a near-flawless execution of the admonition to make the most from the least. Essentially a one-person, single-room production with other characters appearing only as voices, the original treats its limitations as a suspense-amplifying storytelling technique.

In the Hollywood remake, Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Los Angeles cop banished to an emergency call centre after an unspecified infraction. After taking a call from Emily (Riley Keough), who appears to have been abducted, he becomes personally invested in the case as it unfolds over the following hours.

The adaptation, directed by Antoine Fuqua (police drama Training Day, 2001; the western The Magnificent Seven, 2016) cranks up the emotional volume a few notches - from "Danish subtle" to "Hollywood intense".

Gyllenhaal's controlled performance makes the extra loudness bearable. Joe might be a caged animal, a bullying cop irritated by desk duty, but he holds the audience there with him, tackling each problem as it comes down the telephone.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland (NC16)

Nicolas Cage stars in Prisoners Of The Ghostland as a prisoner released so he can retrieve an escaped sex slave. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

103 minutes, opens on Thursday (Oct 7), not reviewed

The idiosyncratic Japanese film-maker Sion Sono is behind this project, aptly described as a "weird western".

Set in a dystopic Japan devastated by radiation, in a zone ruled by a warlord, Hero (Nicolas Cage) is a prisoner released so he can retrieve an escaped sex slave. He has to prowl the Ghostland, the mutant-populated wasteland beyond the settlement, to find her.

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