• Nate Adams

Sundance Review Day 4: 'Prisoners of the Ghostland,' 'Together Together,' 'Land' and more


Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Below is our final day of Sundance Film Festival coverage aside from a review of "Judas and the Black Messiah" that will run tomorrow:


TOGETHER TOGETHER

Ed Helms going full dad mode kinda rules in Nikole Beckwith’s charming “Together Together.” While nothing groundbreaking, “Together Together” is a sweet natured comedy that follows the relationship of Matt (Helms) and his surrogate Anna (Patti Harrison). Upending the traditional gender norms of single moms, Helms’ Matt is eager to move forward in life and start his family.


On the other hand, Anna - who takes on the job to help fund college aspirations - is caught in the balance of whether or not to be friends with Matt or keep their arrangement purely transactional. (You won’t be surprised at which one of those wins the day). It’s an interesting though awkward dynamic that proves a winning formula. Harrison and Helms don’t fall into the predictable trap of love, instead their relationship stays platonic, which is refreshing for a variety of different reasons.


Again, “Together Together” isn’t anything spectacular, but its juicy, good natured attitude is hard to resist.


Grade: B


TOGETHER TOGETHER premiered in the US Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival and will be released by Bleecker Street later this year.


LAND

In her directorial debut, actress/star Robin Wright captures nature’s beauty, and finding serenity through hardship. “Land” isn’t the most compelling piece of cinema that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but thanks to Bobby Bukowski’s gorgeous cinematography and Ben Sollee (with help from Time for Three) sobering score, it looks and sounds excellent.


Aside from directorial duties, Wright plays the lead Edee Mathis, a bereaved woman still reeling from an insurmountable tragedy. In an effort to revitalize her life, Edee sells everything, rids herself of electronics, and purchases a rustic cabin in the mountains, far away from civilization where the only company she’ll have to worry about are hungry grizzlies. That is until local bystander Miguel (Demian Bichir) comes to her rescue after she underestimated the harsh living conditions and was on the brink of death.


Miguel slowly nurses her back to health, eventually offering to teach the basics of living in the wilderness, like setting traps and hunting food. Their relationship becomes integral for Edee’s recovery, physically and mentally. It’s not much for the audience to sink their teeth into nor does Wright make any standout directing choice, but taking “Land” at face value, there’s integrity in the two central performances despite the lack of an obvious conflict and stagnant pacing which hold it back from being great.


Grade: C+


LAND debuted in the Premieres section of the Sundance Film Festival and will be released by Focus Features Friday, February 12th.


SUPERIOR

Erin Vassilopoulos’ delightfully retro “Superior” works in that it provides a great vehicle for real life twins Alessandra and Ani Mes, but stumbles with thin plotting and uneven narrative foundations. Presented as though your buddy lent you a worn out VHS tape, “Superior” sees Vivian (Ani Mesa) and Marian (Alessandra Mesa - who co-wrote the film) reuniting for the first time in six years. The reasoning behind this sudden reunion lies with Marian who just rolled into town following an accident that left her abusive husband in shambles.


But as far as Vivian’s concerned, Marian is in between gigs with her band “The Error.” The contrast in these two livelihoods is intriguing and Vassilopoulos - utilizing the neo-noir setting of October, 1987 - runs with the premise. Color palette and production design set the mood and watching the Mes twins swap roles and interchange their personalities creates effective dramatic irony, but the genre tropes in “Superior” often feel like a distraction from the goal of the story: which is exploring how these sisters want to shape and form their identities.


It doesn’t pay off during the film’s clumsy final act either, where the characters are still figuring out their purpose and a burden from the past shows up to wreak havoc (and sour the experience). For a movie about finding a sense of identity, “Superior” needed some more.


Grade: C+


SUPERIOR debuted in the US Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival and is seeking distribution.


PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND

Guaranteed to be the only spaghetti western, sci-fi hybrid where there’s both a samurai showdown set to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” and an unhinged Nicolas Cage exploding (literally and figuratively), Sion Sono’s english language debut “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is slight, but an imaginative and consistently engaging exploration of east meets meet genres and styles.


Cage plays the misunderstood Hero, a notorious thief sent away for armed robbery that resulted in several deaths, including a small child. He’s tasked with venturing into the formidable “Ghostlands” by the Boss Hogg-looking Governor (Bill Moseley - persnickety) to save his granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella). Armed with a suit rigged to detonate his balls if the girl isn’t returned in time, Hero sets forth on a wild goose chase into the unknown, where hallucinatory nightmares, zombie ghouls, and supernatural samurai are the rage. Did I mention Nick Cassavetes has an extended cameo playing Cage’s right hand man named Psycho?


You have to take something called “Prisoners of the Ghostland” starring Nicolas Cage with certain expectations. On paper, it sounds like B-movie fluff, but Sono dabbles in cross-genres and stages exhilarating fight sequences. Not to mention the sound and production design are superior to that of most B-movies. Of course the dialogue could be punched up, and God bless Cage’s unwavering commitment, but he struggles to carry the heavier moments. Boutella and Tak Sakaguchi’s round out the cast and give “Ghostland” credibility, solidifying the film's eventual place in the cult classic kingdom. In other words, it kicks tons of ass.


Grade: B


PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND debuted in the Premieres section of the Sundance Film Festival and RLJE will release it later this year.


MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE

Kate Tsang’s directorial debut “Marvelous and the Black Hole” takes familiar beats and retooles them considerably. Here we have the story of Sammy (Miya Cech who is just wonderful) a troubled youth heading in the wrong direction. Constantly keeping her Dad (Leonardo Nam) on his toes, Sammy is still reeling from the loss of her mother and is one failing grade away from getting sent to military school for a severe attitude adjustment.


And just as she hits rock bottom, in walks Rhea Perlman’s Margot, a traveling magician who will become the outlet and subject of Sammy’s summer school project. Their relationship trajectory, though predictable, is also incredibly moving. “Marvelous and the Black Hole” won’t have a problem appealing to young children as they’ll see themselves, at one point or another, in Sammy. Ceche and Pearlman hit all the sweet spots which combined with Tsang’s authentic visual flair, fill this black hole with tons of heart.


Grade: B


MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE debuted in the (insert section) of the Sundance Film Festival and is seeking distribution.


All the above photos courtesy of the Sundance Institute.