Schultz reviews: 'Land' and 'Shadow in the Clouds'
“Land” Distributed by Focus Features, 89 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released February 12, 2021:
In the scenic and expressive “Land,” a middle-aged woman (Robin Wright) after a devastating emotional experience decides to reject both society and community and retreat into herself, moving into a deserted log cabin in a remote Wyoming wilderness with a vague notion to live off the land. With only limited experience as a camper, she’s overwhelmed by the indifferent and unrelenting forces of nature, and rescued from death by a passing outdoorsman (Demian Bichir).
After her recovery, the woman reluctantly accepts an offer from the seasoned wilderness expert to tutor her in the ways of survival. And over time, she learns a new respect for the simple majesty of life and nature, and the elements of self-reliance...and also begins to suspect that her rescuer and teacher likewise turned his back on civilization, for reasons not all that much different from her own.
Actress Robin Wright’s first effort as a filmmaker becomes a genuinely moving experience, in no small part because of her choice of an elemental subject and an uncluttered plotline. Her talent as a first-time director aside, Wright also has chosen her collaborators well, starting with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, whose striking and evocative photography is often breathtaking, sometimes intimidating, and always visually striking. Also richly appropriate is the folk-oriented music score by Ben Sollee and Time for Three, augmented by some soulful tunes courtesy of The Staves.
The screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam doesn’t overload the viewer with needless complications, or unnecessary information about either the woman or the outdoorsman who rescues her, gains her trust, and eventually teaches her to appreciate life. Rather, “Land” unfolds in its own good time, adding details only as necessary up until the final revelations near the end of the film, and keeping the viewer emotionally engaged from the first frame of film until the last.
From one perspective, “Land” resembles a distaff version of 1971’s “Man in the Wilderness,” with the actress best known for playing the title role in “The Princess Bride'' in the old Richard Harris role. The difference is that Wright’s character willingly enters a cocoon of isolation, rebuilding her life following an emotional injury rather than a physical one.
Although slow-going at first, Wright pulls off her first picture with evocative performances on both sides of the camera, matched by an equally affecting characterization from Demian Bichir (“The Nun,” “The Grudge”) as the seasoned outdoorsman who becomes her friend. Check it out--this one’s a winner.
Filmed in Alberta, Canada on a production schedule of only 29 days, “Land” is rated PG-13 for adult language and some mature themes.
“Shadow in the Cloud” Distributed by Vertical Entertainment and Redbox Entertainment, 83 Minutes, Rated R, Released January 01, 2021:
There’s never a dull moment in “Shadow in the Cloud,” the new movie from filmmaker Roseanne Liang, distributors Vertical Entertainment and Redbox, and nine (count’em) different production companies. The movie takes a hysterically unlikely premise and somehow makes it less and less credible as it goes along...while simultaneously drawing the viewer in and becoming more and more entertaining as it goes along.
Set in 1943 at the height of World War II, in “Shadow in the Clouds” 24-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz stars as WAF Flight Officer Maude Garrett, a mysterious young woman on an even more mysterious mission. With a broken arm in a sling and carrying a top-secret classified case, young Garrett boards a non-combat B-17 bomber flight transporting an emergency delivery of transponders (?) from Auckland, New Zealand to Samoa to reinforce the troops.
Consigned due to the flight’s already overloaded manifest to the belly-gunner’s plexiglass bubble beneath the plane (!), the comely young flight officer after the aircraft is aloft watches in mounting alarm as the plane comes under attack by not only Japanese fighter aircraft but also a reptilian gremlin pulling back the cowling and sabotaging the beleaguered B-17’s engines. And that’s just for openers.
You can actually count the red herrings popping up during the opening minutes of “Shadow in the Clouds”--among other items, Flight Officer Garrett conceals a revolver in the sling supporting her broken arm, her top-secret case contains ventilation holes, and the plane is nicknamed “The Fool’s Errand.” And the viewer can rest assured that every one of the oddities will lead to a surprise plot twist later on. But thanks to enthusiastic performances and a game-for-anything cast playing it straight every step of the way, “Shadow in the Cloud” becomes the most entertaining horror thriller to lurk along in ages.
Mixing elements of horror and slam-bang action thrillers with some yankee doodle dandy World War II propaganda-style flag waving and a cheerfully feminist attitude, “Shadow in the Cloud” contains just enough jump scares, seat-grabbing suspense, and eye-popping CGI shots to produce some remarkably effective sequences. At one point during the troubled flight, young Garrett exits her plexiglass bubble outside the plane at 6000 feet and dodges enemy fire from Japanese Zeroes while climbing hand-over-hand toward the engine to subdue the gremlin, who’s holding a baby. And that’s not even the most exciting scene in the picture.
Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Roseanne Liang from a script she took over from original screenwriter Max Landis, “Shadow in the Cloud” contains crises so reminiscent of every “Airport” movie you’ve ever seen (as well as a dizzying aeronautics trick borrowed from Robert Zemeckis’ 2012 movie “Flight”) that at times you’ll almost swear that the picture’s a satire. But there’s nary a raised eyebrow, a wayward glance or an arch delivery in evidence. In the end, it’s mostly plain old audience goodwill keeping this plane in the air.
As always, actress Chloe Grace Moretz gives her role everything she’s got, especially during the first twenty minutes or so--a sort of tour de force solo performance as Moretz’s character’s locked alone in the belly gunner’s bubble, and interacting with the rest of the crew only by intercom. Even when she rejoins the rest of the cast inside the plane, Moretz’ character experiences so many changes before the end of the picture that it’s difficult to describe the part without revealing important plot developments. Still, the young actress never falters, and keeps the audience cheering her on all the way to the explosive finale.
After his now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t first scenes, the movie’s gremlin resembles a reptilian cousin of the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz”...which were actually pretty terrifying, if you think about it. By the way, that’s Nick Robinson, the star of the popular teen-oriented movie “Love, Simon” and Hulu’s continuing “Love, Victor” series, in a brief appearance as tail gunner Stu Beckell. Robinson and Moretz also starred together in the 2015 dystopian science fiction teen epic “The 5th Wave.”
Following a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Shadow in the Cloud” was acquired for distribution by Vertical Entertainment and Redbox and briefly released to theaters on January 01 before being quickly withdrawn due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. Currently available for pay-per-view streaming on Vudu and Amazon Prime Video, the film should be available in no time at all on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as in co-distributor Redbox’s signature vending machine locations. Check it out--this one’s well worth a dollar rental.
Filmed in Auckland, New Zealand and also featuring performances from Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, and Benedict Wall, “Shadow in the Cloud” is rated R for language, violence, and some sexual references.