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2021 Sundance Film Festival: Day Five Recap

Sundance is slowly winding down but there were still a lot of films to screen. For day five, I spent the day catching up on the films I missed from day four. Here’s what I watched on day five of the virtual film festival.

Prisoners of the Ghostland

IMDB: “A notorious criminal must break an evil curse in order to rescue an abducted girl who has mysteriously disappeared.”

This film starts out with a bang as we see Hero (Nicolas Cage) and Psycho (Nick Cassavetes) storm into a bank to rob it. Unfortunately, this is all the action we see for the next hour. This film, although it was highly-anticipated, was a big disappointment. They teased it so well with great visuals and vagueness but Cage wasn’t able to carry this one.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is crazy. I like crazy but, honestly, this film didn’t even make sense. The script was extremely uneven, the acting was bad and the overall movie was a letdown.

Jockey

A jockey wants one more championship. That’s when an up-and-coming jockey shows up, claiming to be his son.

In Jockey, we meet Jackson (Clifton Collins Jr.) as he’s attempting to make one final Rocky Balboa style run at the horse-racing championship. Next, we meet Gabriel (Mosiés Arias), a young up-and-coming jockey who arrives in town claiming to be Jackson’s son. Although he denies him as a son, he trains Gabriel.

This is about the time that the film lost its way. Viewers need to identify with Jackson’s journey but that doesn’t happen. There’s a disconnect so while the film is aesthetically pleasing, the rest felt forced.

As a result of this, Collins’ performance falls to the wayside. It’s unfortunate because it’s obvious they want to make him a Balboa-style character but he doesn’t have any actual substance. Collins did what he could to elevate the character and the film as a whole but the script was lacking.

The Blazing World

IMDB: “Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive.

Writer/director Carlson Young has a really interesting way of building this film. There’s minimal dialogue but she’s still able to create this beautifully artistic and crafty world. The Blazing World begins with a mesmerizing score and a vibrant and aesthetically pleasing color palette. Young builds the anticipation in an impactful way that forces you to become engrossed in the story.

As I mentioned above, I like crazy. I like crazy and unusual when it’s done right. This film keeps you second-guessing what’s reality and what’s fiction. Young’s writing is twisted and crazy and she excels at creating Beth’s character (Sophia Bernard). Throughout the film, her character development is crucial to engaging viewers in the mystery behind this story.

Not only is Beth’s character well written, Bernard also gives one of the best performances I’ve seen at Sundance. The role was a difficult one with her needing to articulate through emotions and body language — and she makes it look so easy! She is a star in the making.

The Blazing World is a technical achievement like no other. The combination of the powerful score, beautiful cinematography and Bernard’s riveting performance set this film up to be a cult-classic for years to come.

Mayday

IMDB: “Ana is transported to a dreamlike and dangerous land where she joins an army of girls engaged in a never-ending war along a rugged coast.

This story is strange and, that may have worked if it had any structure. It was difficult to follow and just generally all over the place. While the performances were good, even they felt uneven at times. The film just didn’t have anything going for it. The rough structure, mediocre score and unimpressive cinematography left much to be desired.

First Date

IMDB: “After being conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date plans with girl-next-door Kelsey implode as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady.

First Date begins with a phone call as Tony calls his girlfriend and wants to progress their relationship. She doesn’t feel the same. As the call unfolds, a scuffle in their house results in him getting shot and actually dying.

Next up we meet Mike (Tyson Brown), a shy young kid who has scored his very first date with Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) but he needs to find a ride to pick her up. This is where the story gets really fun because the car seems to have some bad karma.

Co-writers/directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp do an excellent job of making the car the focal point of the film without making that obvious from the beginning. This is the type of creative writing we need more of in movies. I also can’t wait to see more from Brown and Duclos. They were a great match.

Is First Date perfect? No. Is it a good time? Absolutely. It was a blast from start to finish and a very unique film.

Judas and the Black Messiah

IMDB: “The story of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal.”

Check out this great review from Leo Rydell.

Stay tuned for more from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. You can find all my coverage here and on Twitter.

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