[Early Review] Land (2021)

Director: Robin Wright
Cast: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir
Screenplay: Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam
89 mins. Rated PG-13.

The story behind Robin Wright’s directing of Land, her feature directorial debut, came about by a mere scheduling conflict. Wright, who had previously helmed several episodes of House of Cards as well as the short film The Dark of Night, was asked to direct the film when all the pieces had come into play but there was no director, and the film had to be completed with production in 29 days. The entirety of Land was shot in those 29 days with Wright, who appears in every scene, behind the camera as well as in front.

Land is the story of Edee (Wright), a grieving woman who has purchased a plot of land deep in the Wyoming forest. She doesn’t seem particularly skilled at living off the grid, minus a phone and any technology, and when she nearly dies in a snowstorm, she is luckily rescued and brought back to health by Miguel (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Chaos Walking), who also lives in the wilderness nearby and has passed her house several times. Edee would much rather be alone, but she’s in no condition to push Miguel away. Miguel instead offers to teach her to successfully hunt, fish, and care for herself in the wild. Edee takes him up on his offer, and she begins to see all the ways that they are more similar than she expected.

Land is a solid debut for Robin Wright as a feature director, but it is not without its faults. The pacing of the narrative holds mostly well for 89 minutes, but this is a case where even 89 minutes feels a little too long. I don’t think the extended periods of Wright all alone on screen consistently maintained my interest. I held this criticism for the Robert Redford film All is Lost, another movie with even less dialogue than Land, but both struggled to keep my focus on the narrative with the lack of visual action onscreen. I never had flat-out signs of boredom, but I found myself checking the time more than once.

The film’s cinematography makes up a lot of ground, though, thanks to some truly striking imagery of the beauty in Wyoming (well, the film was shot in Canada, but we are meant to see Wyoming). The shot composition did a lot to position me in the world with Edee. I felt cold watching the snowy environment and I could almost smell the morning dew on the blades of grass. It’s a wholly arresting bit of scenery that evokes every sense.

I also found Wright’s performance to be quite strong as Edee. I would have liked to peel back the layers of her character earlier on in the narrative. We get a big emotional information dump at the end of the film that would have been more interesting had it shown up earlier than the final ten minutes. We get bits and pieces of her backstory as the film moves along, but we never really get the ability to reconcile with her past and her pain because the movie ends as soon as we get the story that Edee’s been struggling to bury at the very end and therefore the reckoning that we’ve been waiting on never really occurs, though we are meant to believe it has.

Wright plays off of Bichir very well. In fact, so often, Demián Bichir is the secret weapon of any film, as he can do so much with so little. He’s easily the best part of the underwhelming The Grudge from last year, and he even stand out among The Hateful Eight with limited dialogue and screen time. Bichir and Wright have such solid chemistry and they each come at their roles differently, Wright with stoic sadness and Bichir with a limited sense of hope and happiness. The scenes with the two of them onscreen are electrifying.

The only element of the film that flat-out doesn’t work is the invasive and, dare I say, annoying score that invades every scene like an unwelcome intruder. It grates on the ear drums and, though I can sense what it’s trying to do, it never seems to add anything to the film but irritation.

Land has more strengths than weaknesses, and the strong acting from Wright and Bichir as well as an arresting bit of visual delight save an otherwise more forgettable movie. There’s just a lot here that has been done before, and better, but I wouldn’t say that Wright’s feature directorial debut is a bust. It’s a solid little movie for an afternoon matinee, and I would still give it a slight recommendation, if you can handle the score.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Triple Frontier (2019)

Director: J.C. Chandor

Cast: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, Adria Arjona

Screenplay: Mark Boal, J.C. Chandor

125 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Triple Frontier seemed like a movie that was never going to get made. Cursed, almost. Over the past few years, I’d heard reports of all sorts of actors from Johnny Depp to Tom Hanks board the project and then back out. Some actors, like star Ben Affleck (Argo, Justice League) joined the film only to back out over scheduling conflict and then come back and join the cast once again later on. Kathryn Bigelow was set to direct but then left to direct Detroit. It seemed to wallow away in development hell until finally J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All is Lost) put all the pieces together, with a script from Mark Boal and Chandor, and delivered Triple Frontier, and it turned out to be an intense thought-provoking thrill ride.

Santiago (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) assembles a crew of his friends and ex-Special Forces members to steal from and assassinate a dangerous drug king in South America. When the heist takes a surprising turn and the escape plan changes, their loyalties to the mission and to each other are tested. They are forced to decide between risking their greed or their survival as obstacles mount all around them.

Triple Frontier’s tense screenplay works with the Hero’s Journey really nice, and Isaac’s Santiago, for better or worse, works his way toward a goal, and his decisions have consequences. Affleck’s Tom is a man who needs the money but knows what this kind of mission can do to him. The two play opposite sides of the coin and as their moralities change between them, they play great foils to one another.

Charlie Hunnam (A Million Little Pieces, TV’s Sons of Anarchy) plays William, a public speaker struggling with his mental state after what he’s witnessed. He takes on the job once he knows Tom is involved because he knows Tom’s clear head will prevail. His is a character of habits and little comforts who plays by the book.

Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, If Beale Street Could Talk) is Francisco, a hell of a pilot with a little drug problem. He wants to get in the air again and feel a sense of purpose. These four characters are written as people who don’t break the rules, but the circumstances of the plot and narrative fundamentally change their thought processes, and with that comes mistakes and a sense of moral ambiguity.

That being said, I felt like Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound, Burden) was wasted in this film. His character, William’s brother Ben, doesn’t have all that much to do. He isn’t given a compelling narrative and seemingly fills out the cast.

Triple Frontier has a vivid and gorgeous cinematic look to it. The cinematography is clean and colorful, the editing quick and tight, and the production design realistic. There’s some issues with the sound design in the film, though, and the music choices sometimes feel like a checklist for drug cartel movies, but the film’s most impressive aspect is its use of tension. There are a great many scenes where the wills and resilience of the crew are tested, and thanks to Chandor’s decision to stretch the tension from an already tense script work wonders here. I was pulling my hair wondering just how they were going to escape from several situations.

Triple Frontier hits Netflix screens on March 13th, but you can catch it in theaters before that, and I would suggest it. This is a tense morality play with some intense action, solid character development, and some genuinely shocking moments. I recommend seeing it immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

captainamericathewintersoldier2014a

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

captainamericathewintersoldier2014b

The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

captainamericathewintersoldier2014c

In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑