Monday 11 April 2016

Phoenix Film Festival - Day Four

I'm posting daily coverage of the Phoenix Film Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! this year. Here are some rough notes for Sunday 10th (Day 4) to help guide whether you want to prioritise attending these films later in the festival or look out for them after they're released.

Sunday is a shorter day because things wrap up early to allow for the awards ceremony.

Note 1: I'll eventually review all the films that played as part of the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival part of the event (and some PFF films too) in detail over at my main review site, Apocalypse Later, but that sure ain't gonna be this week!

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 15: Displacement (2016)

All three of the sci-fi competition features this year were time travel movies, though they each had different angles to explore. This one was the most expected, with a physics student travelling in time, generating some sort of problem which threatens to unravel the spacetime continuum. Stuck inside this problem is that physics student, Cassie Sinclair, who's being subjected to odd time slips and memory lapses as she tries to figure out what's going on and what can be done to fix it.

Courtney Hope is excellent as Cassie, believable as a science nerd fluent in technobabble and a judgemental bitch who makes snap judgements that aren't always the right ones. Even when I didn't like the character, I liked what she was doing and Hope carries the film well. She's backed up by few major names, Sarah Douglas and Bruce Davison amongst them, who both do good work, but it's her film.

Time travel movies are all about paradoxes and the more complex ones warrant at least a second viewing to properly evaluate whether they actually make sense or not. It's easy to see the goofs in most films, but it's a lot harder in pictures as complex as this. I grasped most of it and appreciated how the various scenes featuring multiple versions of the same character added clarity without seeming forced. I still have questions though and look forward to that second viewing.

Block 16: Horror Shorts B

Like the A set, Horror Shorts B (2015) contains a varied bunch of films, from mundane filler up to the best picture I've seen at the entire event.
A Tricky Treat (2015) is a cheap and cheerful way to kick off a set of horror shorts. It's agreeably icky, as a family team up to dump a severed head in a bowl, crack it open, pull out its innards and... well, that basic introduction alone is enough to spoil the film which is entirely predictable and very short. The credits are possibly longer than the film itself.
Night of the Slasher (2015) is an inventive take on the slasher movie which just about manages to keep us on the hop even though it's clear where it's going to take us. A young lady runs through all the horror movie sins because... and you can guess most of the rest, given the title, but it's not entirely that simple. I had minor problems throughout but it's still a bundle of fun.

Miriam (2015) is a beautifully shot Italian short that uses great composition of frame to show off the local cityscapes. Within them, a man robs a convenience store at gunpoint only to find, as he reaches his escape car, that a young lady needs his help. The bad guy becomes a good guy but, of course, things aren't as straightforward as that might suggest. It's a succinct piece, capably set up and capably brought home, but it's not as original as it would like.
The Voodoo Dick (2015) is 'a short film based on a bad joke' and it's one that I'd heard before, so nothing surprised me here. It's done well enough and it elicited a number of laughs from the IHSFFF audience. The casting felt wrong, but the actors do OK and the effects guys back them up. It comes back to the joke though, which isn't fleshed out that much.
Larry Gone Demon (2015) is an over-the-top short which is like cheap comedy take on The Exorcist for stoners. Three roommates are having trouble with a fourth because he won't pay his rent, won't talk to them and, well, is clearly possessed by a demon even though his friends are oblivious. It might appeal to Troma fans, but it jumped the shark too many times to really impress.
Flush (2015) is an interesting little short that makes a movie villain (or hero, depending on your point of view) out of an airport bathroom. The red HAL 9000 light on the toilet is put to very good use, as an arrogant traveller gets his just desserts.

Bad Blood (2015) is a slow and atmospheric short with a very European flavour, an evocative score and some nice cinematography. A serial killer tracks a new victim, only to discover that she's more than she seems. I expected a further twist which never came, but it's capable enough with the main one.
Little Old Cat Lady from Rancho Cucamonga (2015) unfortunately can't live up to that magnificent title, though it does try extra hard. Four American football players violently rob the little lady of the title, who closely resembles the grandma in the old Little Red Riding Hood cartoons, but she finds vitriol enough to wish upon a star that her cat, Georgie Pie, will kill them all. It goes way overboard so can't be taken seriously, but it does generate a few laughs.
20 Matches (2015) is so far and away the best horror short shown at this year's festival that I was truly stunned to hear that it was beaten by Night of the Slasher. Nah, bad call, Danny. It has an incredibly minimalist setup, just a single girl, played by the fantastic Nina Rausch, talking to us through the fourth wall about an Austrian serial killer to the light of a succession of lit matches. Her story progresses magnificently from banal history through disturbing insight to vicious irony. I couldn't look away from the screen and that progression floored me. I salute the filmmakers for achieving so much with so little.
Ray Schillaci talking to composer Chris Wirsig (20 Matches), writer/director Aleksandra Lagkueva (Bad Blood) and director/co-writer Matt Cooper (Flush)
photo: Countess Chaos Creations

Block 17: The History of Time Travel (2014)

I enjoyed the heck out of this documentary style sci-fi competition feature, but the ending spoiled it for me. I figure that the approach taken only has two valid explanations and the ending sadly chose an invalid third.

It's ostensibly a TV documentary made for History Television about Edward Page and his son, Richard, who pioneered time travel. Everything expected is here, from the variety of interview subjects to the collation of aged video and distressed photos, live interviews and dramatic reconstructions, insight and light humour. All are exhibited with panache.

What really sells this film though is the way things change. As if someone was changing history while we're watching, little details shift in the background and what we're told gradually morphs into something else too. If I could buy the internal logic, I'd love it all. Unfortunately I can't.

Block 18: The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015)

I have no idea what the title means, though the original title of February isn't much better. I do get that, but it's not exactly insightful. Whatever it's called, it's an interesting and unsettling horror piece that is confident enough to tell its own story in its own way and take its own bleeding time about doing so.

To suggest that this is slow is an understatement. We're introduced to three girls whose activities eventually coalesce into a single story, but we do wonder for a long time what that might be. Two are students at what appears to be a Catholic boarding school and they're stuck there during a week's break because their respective parents haven't come to pick them up. The third is a damaged creature who has apparently escaped from some sort of institution and gets a lift from a good samaritan and his wife.

In most respects this is spot on, if you can cope with the lack of pace. The one real negative is the apparently uncontrolled way in which the stories are spun together. We're set up to follow one, only to suddenly be thrown at another with no suggestion of a connection. That sort of thing continues and could have been addressed by better flowing editing.

The trio of young actors do their jobs well, especially Kiernan Shipka as Kat, and they shine even above the established couple of James Remar and Lauren Holly. I like the story's direction, if not its choppy and cryptic back and forth nature. The central point of the film is an intriguing one too, which feels very original.

This film highlights how Monte Yazzie is definitely making his mark on the IHSFFF with yet another film in an increasingly diverse set of showcase feature. I've seen five of the ten thus far and am really looking forward to the remaining half during the week.

Copper Wing Awards

Sunday night is awards night and many were given to filmmakers present and absent. Here's a complete list of what won (in order), so you can figure out what might show up in the Award Winner and Festival Choice slots during the week.

Best Arizona Short - Dino Park
Best Student Short - The Bench
Best Live Action Short - A King's Betrayal
Best Documentary Short - Keep It Grand
Best Animated Short - Burnt

Best Sci-Fi Short - Helio
Best Sci-Fi Feature - Parallel
Best Horror Short - Night of the Slasher
Best Horror Feature - Night of Something Strange

Arizona Filmmaker of the Year - Colleen Hartnett
Volunteer of the Year - Aaron Kes
Colleen Hartnett
photo: Countess Chaos Creations

Best World Cinema Short - Violet
Best World Cinema Director - Cody Campanale for Jackie Boy
Best World Cinema Picture - Home Care

Sydney J Shapiro Humanitarian Award - Rwanda and Juliet

Best Arizona Feature - Carry On: Finding Hope in the Canyon
Best Ensemble - Welcome to Happiness
Best Screenplay - James Steven Sadwith for Coming Through the Rye
Special Jury Prize for Acting - Stephen Lang for Beyond Glory
Best Director - Logan Kibens for Operator

Best Documentary Feature - Rwanda and Juliet
Best Picture - Coming Through the Rye
Audience Favourite - No Greater Love

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