Here are my reviews of Prisoners of the Ghostland, First Date, and Land from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND
Though he’s an Oscar-winning actor, it feels like Nicolas Cage is more known for the amount of roles he takes and the insanity he brings to his movies. Though one of our great actors of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Cage has spent the last decade starring in movies that allow him to play bug-nuts, crazy characters with an affinity for yelling and going off the rails. His latest set of films, Mandy, Mom and Dad, and Color Out of Space offered up something more than just an off-the-rails Cage performance: they offered him interesting characters to play, where we were able to see the super-stardom of Cage while also having seeing him go ballistic on screen.
Cage’s latest film, Prisoners of the Ghostland, continues the trend of him playing insane, interesting characters, yet this one highlights his movie stardom the best. Director Sion Sono utilizes Cage’s presence and mythic-like persona to play a notorious criminal who must break an evil curse in order to rescue an abducted girl who has mysteriously disappeared. Sounds like a Nicolas Cage movie, right? It most definitely is and Sono knows it.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is a movie that features samurai, gangsters, ghosts, and so much more and Sono balances all the mayhem and chaos with quieter moments and character beats perfectly, along with making the movie look visually stunning with vibrant colors and incredible set-design and costumes. But Sono knows the stardom of Cage and lets him run the show. This isn’t a movie where Cage goes crazy right away or a movie where he is yelling the entire time. Channeling his inner samurai, Cage gives a nearly wordless performance and only has a few moments of rage and yelling, like when he yells “testicals!” at the top of his lungs, throughout most of the movie up until the grand finale, which is the Cage we’ve grown to love over the last few years. But it’s Cage’s screen presence that really impressed me. You are watching a man who is a ticking timebomb. His manic eyes tell you everything you need to know about how scary and threatening this man is and Cage command the screen whenever he’s on it.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is a surprisingly gorgeous, crazy-ass movie and Cage carries the film to excellence.
The first date with the person you like is very important. You’ve built up the courage to ask the person to go out with you and now you want to make it as good of a night as you possibly can. For Mike (Tyson Brown), he thinks that it is important to have a car to take out Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) and with his parents out of town for the weekend, he finds a sketchy ’65 Chrysler to purchase for cheap so that he has a ride for the date. But the strings of what come with this car is not what Mike had intended. Gangsters, drugs, corrupt cops, and an insane night of madness put Mike’s date with Kelsey in jeopardy.
The film reminded me a lot of a Pulp Fiction-inspired crime film from the 90’s. Though not a ton of pop culture references, this is a movie that has a lot of violence and bad people, yet looks at it with humor, excitement, all while having an interesting, sweet story at its core. Though some of the plot points and characters get a little messy and the film runs a little long, first time writer/director duo Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp do an excellent job of keeping the tone consistently exciting and fun. The movie goes in a lot of different directions with tons of surprises, yet never forgets that this movie is about a kid trying to go on a first date with the girl that he likes. Credit to Brown and Duclos for having really good chemistry and I really enjoyed the performance by Jesse Janzen as our unstable crime lord who is desperate for Mike’s Chrysler.
It isn’t perfect, but First Date is an exciting time and shows the promise of two up-and-coming filmmakers.
Land marks the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress Robin Wright. It is a solid effort by the great actress and shows that she has a good understanding behind the camera, even if it means a lack of flash.
Wright stars in the film as Edee, a woman who is having trouble connecting with the world after a family tragedy and goes off the grid in the woods of Wyoming. Unprepared for what awaits her, Edee finds help in a fellow lonely traveler, Miguel (Damien Bichir) who teaches her how to survive in the wilderness.
Land is a familiar story about finding yourself and dealing with trauma and loss. Wright’s performance in the film is excellent as the grieving Edee, a woman who doesn’t know how to handle loss or what her purpose in the world is and nearly dies in the wilderness because of this. Bichir is equally great as the kind, resourceful man who not only helps Edee survive the woods, but also understand how to handle loss. Their friendship carries the film.
Wright’s direction is very by-the-numbers. There isn’t anything flashy that she does and the film’s camera work is very basic, though one thing she does do is highlight the beautiful Wyoming wilderness and giving us some truly breathtaking scenery. Wright also seems to know Edee as a character and makes sure that she has a fully story arc by the end of the breezy 89-minute runtime. Though you can see where the story is going to go, Wright to
Though familiar and lacking style, Land offers up great performances by Robin Wright and Damien Bichir while also showing the beauty of American nature and giving us a strong story about loss and finding yourself.
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