Friday 15 April 2016

Phoenix Film Festival - Day Eight

I'm posting daily coverage of the Phoenix Film Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! this year. Here are some rough notes for Thursday 14th (Day 8) to help guide what you might want to look out for once they're widely released.

Thursday marks the end of the festival when everything wraps up with the closing night movie. We were hoping to catch one more film before that but grandkid duty rendered that non-viable.

It's been a great week though and I've managed to catch 27 blocks of films: 22 features and 5 sets of short films, including everything that screened in the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival portion of the event.

I've written them all up here at Apocalypse Later Now! and will aim at reviewing many of them in greater depth at my main review site, Apocalypse Later. I tend to prioritise the IHSFFF side of the house, then Arizona films and then PFF competition features. I know I want to catch up with some other short film sets too, as both Live Action Shorts sets looked particularly inviting but I was unable to fit them into the schedule.

Note 2: I have indexes up at Apocalypse Later that detail every film, whether feature or short, that's playing this event. Here's the Phoenix Film Festival index and here's the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival index.

Block 27: Five Nights in Maine (2015)

I've had a blast over the last week, enjoying almost everything I've seen. Some of the short sets were inconsistent, I found Patagonia Treasure Trail poor and I hated The Dark Tapes, but the films in the rest of the 27 blocks I saw ranged from good to awesome. I'd be hard pressed to pick the best feature as a few would have to battle it out, but 20 Matches trumps them all as the best short and the best film of the entire festival for me.

Sadly the closing night film turned out to be the weakest feature I saw except for the two mentioned above. It's not a bad film but it's not a good film either and I have no idea what the point of it was.

Sure, it's about survivor guilt, explored through Sherwin going to see Lucinda. He's the husband of a young lady called Fiona who is killed in a car accident very soon into the movie. She's Fiona's mother, who is fighting cancer and apparently was opposed to the marriage. So they don't get on, which is understandable, even though he treats her with respect and she responds with polite insults. But what have they learned at the end of the movie that we didn't know at the beginning? I can't think of anything of substance.

If the script is a weak link, the camerawork is weaker. Almost the entire film is shot in close-ups, with little to showcase the beauty of rural Maine or highlight distance, either literal or figurative. What's worse, writer/director Maris Curran or her DP felt the need to jiggle the camera every time emotions were raised. This may have been appropriate occasionally, such as when a bored cop literally phones in the news of Fiona's death to Sherwin and the camera jars along with his mind, but far more often this approach spoils scenes of potential power, especially the last one with Lucinda which could have been an absolute gem.

There's a good side too. Even if the script got nowhere in the end, that doesn't mean it didn't find places of power on the way and there are a number of excellent scenes dotted in and amongst that are worthy of mention. The acting is especially strong, with the fantastic Dianne Wiest and David Oyelowo both doing good work as Lucinda and Sherwin respectively and Rosie Perez even better as Ann, Lucinda's nurse. If only they had a better movie to be excellent in.

Final Words

And that's it for this year's Phoenix Film Festival and its genre track, the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. As with every year thus far, I'll leave it with many memories.

Like last year, Cox Communications is pushing Gigablast hard, even though they still won't actually sell it to me. At least every day was still enhanced by George Takei's amazing laugh during the AARP commercial, though what are movies for grown-ups anyway?

I thoroughly appreciated being able to see every IHSFFF film at the festival, the first time that's been remotely possible. All the stupid scheduling issues that plagued the last few years went away because the Phoenix Film Foundation listened and acted. I have a lot of respect for that. I also have a lot of respect for what Festival Director Monte Yazzie did in his debut year and am eager to watch his vision develop over the next few years.

His showcase features were varied but always interesting. Under the Shadow and The Eyes of My Mother worked as excellent bookends to my IHSFFF experience this year. It was Saturday that will resonate most though. The double bill of High Rise and The Greasy Strangler was a real trip, especially given that I'd watched the competition features, The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man and Night of Something Strange earlier. What a memorably weird day that was! If only Antibirth had taken the place of Coming Through the Rye, I might still be in a state of shock.

I was very happy to see not one but two excellent Arizona features, Postmarked and Lucky U Ranch. Every time my periodic pessimism about local film kicks in, someone throws something up onto the screen to replace it with hope.

And so, to old friends and new ones, get some sleep and we'll see you back at Harkins a year from now for the 2017 festival and another run of daily coverage at Apocalypse Later Now!

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