2021 Sundance Film Festival: The Fourth Day

The fourth day of the Sundance Film Festival is over, and you know the drill. 

Land

Robin Wright appears in Land by Robin Wright, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Daniel Power Copyright Focus Features LLC 2020. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

From the Princess Bride herself, Land is actress Robin Wright’s first film as a director. The film sees Wright as Edee, a depressed woman who, in the face of uncertainty, retreats to the solitude of the wilderness. She hopes, by secluding herself from the outside world and throwing herself into one where she is unfamiliar, she’ll find reason to live again. After a rough start adapting to the unforgiving environment, Edee is saved by a local hunter, Miguel (Demián Bichir). Miguel teaches Edee survival skills, and how to work with nature rather than against it. Perhaps, Edee has finally been given the wakeup call she needed. 

Shot in Alberta, Canada, the most defining feature of Land is its location. The natural beauty of the area is fully on display, from the snowcapped mountains to the flowing river down below. In fact, half of the film is just nature porn. Does Land make me want to shed all my belongings and go off the grid à la Into the Wild? Yes and no. The film certainly doesn’t make it look easy. But that also leads me into my central problem with Land: I might as well have been watching a nature documentary on National Geographic.

The story of Land is one of personal transformation. Edee has suffered from an unfathomable loss, and she is struggling to move on. Her sister begs her to “not hurt herself”. With therapy not working, Edee decides to move up to the mountains. If Edee is to survive, she’ll have to want it. She’ll have to kill her inner-city girl and be reborn a woman of the land. Land has the potential of being an empowering tale of overcoming adversity, especially for middle-aged women (they can have midlife crises too!). The story is also one of humanity presented in the wake of hardship and harsh conditions. However, Land never reaches this potential as it’s too compact and simple (runtime clocks in a tick shy of 90 minutes), and spends too much time staring at the trees. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Prisoners of the Ghostland

Nick Cassavetes and Nic Cage appears in Prisoners of the Ghostland by Sion Sono, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Director Sion Sono has been called “the most subversive filmmaker working in Japanese cinema today”. Prisoners of the Ghostland marks his first film primarily in English and stars Nicolas Cage. The film is one hell of a ride. 

Set in Samurai town, an East Asian city that has been invaded by western culture, a wealthy warlord known as The Governor has sprung free a bank robber and strapped him into a suit that explodes in five days. If the thief hopes to remove the suit before it detonates, he must find and return Bernice, one of The Governor’s daughters who has run away. To do this, the bank robber must venture into the Ghostland, a place where no traveler has come back.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is a visually striking film. The film is vibrant and colorful when in Samurai town, and the production design of the apocalyptic wasteland that is the Ghostland is impressive. The wardrobes of the characters range from cowboy outfits to samurai kimonos. Nicolas Cage is fitted in black leather. The stunt choreography in the final act is smooth and fun to watch. Who doesn’t like a good old fashioned katana fight? This is easily the most stylistic of the films I’ve seen at the festival. 

Nicolas Cage is not known for turning down a role, and because of this he has found himself in some films that have thrown any representation of him being a prototypical leading man out the window. When we see Cage is in a movie, we expect insanity and Prisoners of the Ghostland not only embraces the insanity, but it also surrounds him in it. The film is a hybrid samurai western, in the vein of a Mad Max movie. We watch Cage have one of his balls blown off, and later scream “TESTICLE” at the sky. Sometimes the stupidity and overblown nature of the film is a bit much even for me. Sometimes I’m outright baffled. But with a film as daring and unique as Prisoners of the Ghostland, I cannot help but admire it.  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Violation

Madeleine Sims-Fewer appears in Violation by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by One Plus One. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Miriam and her estranged husband visit her sister and brother-in-law’s lake house. All seems well until Miriam’s trust and vulnerability around her brother-in-law and childhood friend is met with betrayal. Bloody vengeance is now the only answer.

Violation is another film of the #MeToo genre. It’s a rape revenge film that is difficult to stomach. What makes Violation different from other films of similar narratives is what filmmakers Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer decide to show, and how they show it. The rape scene is quiet and brief. We barely see anything as the camera zooms in on hands and Miriam’s face. In contrast, the revenge scene is drawn-out and brutal. The clean-up act afterward is extensive. Violation is as disturbing as the act with which it’s centered around. 

Violation also removes the catharsis that typically comes at the end of a revenge story. Once Miriam has removed her sister’s husband, Dylan, from the picture, she still appears to be internally distraught. In the final frame of the film, Miriam sheds a tear as she observes a family get-together. Violation is a cold reminder that revenge doesn’t always bring the satisfaction we think it will. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Teddy Frederick

I'm a coffee addict, so I work at Starbucks. I'm receiving an education at Anne Arundel Community College. I sometimes dabble in campfire guitar songs. But above all else, movies are my life. Watching them, learning about them, reviewing them, there's nothing I'd rather be doing.

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