Saturday 24 February 2018

AZUFF Phoenix - Day 2

After the excellent selections on Thursday night, I was keen to see what else David Pike and his team had up his sleeve for the first AZUFF Phoenix. And to sample some more of the Prescott Brewing Company's Achocalypse porter. That's highly recommended too.

Block 3

First up was a block of short films, named Shorts Block 1: Cinephiles Attack!, a title surely inspired by the meta play on offer in a couple of its films.

Brock Bledsoe: Future Hero (2018)

And talking of meta play, here's the first example. The apocalypse has come and our only hope is Brock Bledsoe, a muscular gentleman in an eyepatch. Who is promptly shot dead in front of our eyes to twitch horribly like a fish out of water. This shot is very deliberately embarrassingly long because...

Cut! This is a film set and the director, played by the director of our film, is not happy with the work of his leading man. Less is more, he tells him, and that just begins a saga that will be very recognisable to anyone who's spent more than ten minutes on a film set.

Well, for a while at least. This goes a little further than we tend to see on real sets and it has a grand old time doing it. The actors do their jobs well but I got a real kick out of the hyper boom operator too.

Stages (2017)

Josh Berghoff is the man behind Kick Ass Cops, which this film firmly isn't. It's not remotely funny but, for a change, it isn't meant to be. It's a drama that aims to explore the seven stages of grief and it does so with enough power that the audience was really glad when the positive emotion kicked back in. This got dark fast and it stayed there for a while.

It's relatively predictable but that was inevitable, given what the script was aiming to do. When you're exploring a documented list of stages, you're not going to surprise people with what comes next. The film works because of how well the script, by Berghoff himself, is crafted and how well the lead actress, Shaniya Brown, is able to carry it. She had a tough job to do but she did it well.

The audience tonight certainly took an emotional rollercoaster with her. It rose and sank as required, especially in a key scene with a broken bottle, one that featured a very neat piece of cinematography with a flashback that shows up on a piece of glass. As much as I like Berghoff's comedy, this says in no uncertain terms that he can make serious films too.

Idea Guy (2017)

I liked this comedy for most of its running time, but it lost me at the end. The punchline would be pretty cool in a conversation but a short film needs a little more, I think.

The idea behind Idea Guy is that a guy named Jared has ideas and does nothing with them. It's infuriating his girlfriend, whose therapist suggests that she try to help with one of his many unfinished projects. She does and... well, you'll need to see the film yourself to see where that goes.

There's nothing spectacular here, but the film does what it needs to do and I laughed and nodded knowingly when I should.

Page One (2017)

While Page One hardly treads new ground, it does at least tread old ground in a way that I hadn't seen before. It was my favourite film of the night and I'd love to see it again.

Like Brock Bledsoe, the apocalypse has come and we join the fray at the point that four actors make it off their set into a safe room. Well, maybe safe and maybe not. The fake nurse is sick and the fake cop is arrogant. It falls to Abel to talk sense but will they listen to him? After all, he's the black guy who always dies on page one.

One reason why they should listen to him is that this was the third film in four to feature an African American lead and that's refreshing to see. All those leads are great, but the African American lady who backs Page One up is even better. I don't know what her name is but she was fantastic!

Unauthorized (2017)

Unauthorized was an interesting film and I applaud the ambition of Justin Stabley and his crew in attempting it, but it clearly needed a lot more money than they had in their budget.

It's a cyberpunk thriller, but it's not set in Tokyo with a cast of Asians and a token white hacker dude; it's set in Phoenix with a few young actors who are mostly Hispanic. Again, that's refreshing to see and they gave it a pretty good shot, but Stabley needed better equipment, especially better sound equipment, more money to add some digital effects and yet more money to allow him to bring a lot of what's obviously in his head to the screen.

I won't say I didn't enjoy this film, because I did, but I'd see it as more of a stepping stone or a test run. I'd very much like to see what Stabley will be making in a few years time.

Molassus and Lemon (2017)

A short experimental film, Molassus and Lemon is about love and heartbreak, the sheer glory of the former and the soul-destroying darkness of the latter and how the two interact. It's told by many different voices and illustrated with some interesting visuals.

I liked it, but it's the sort of film that you know you'll like or not by reading the paragraph above.

Claws (2017)

I was very interested to see Claws because I know a bunch of the people who made it, both on and off the screen, and this is surely their most ambitious work to date, not least because it's 38 minutes long. I found a lot of that ambition on the screen too, especially in some artistic transitions that work really well for the most part.

The idea is pretty simple. Kris Cane is swamped with work and unable to find the time to get into the Christmas spirit with his wife and two kids. He's also plagued by a creepy Santa Claus who looks like a bum and turns out to be more like Santa Claws. Bodies start to add up, murdered by this Father Christmas of Death, but the cops are on the case and... nah, you need to see this one too, with friends and copious amounts of rum in their eggnog.

Tony Noyes does a great naturalistic job as the lead, though he sadly shows up a couple of the actors who can't match him, even though I've seen them do great work elsewhere. Gary Herkimer is a lot of fun though, as always; I've never seen him on screen without a whole bucketful of character and he has a new bucket here, playing believably drunk.

Claws is a lot of fun and will be even more fun around the holiday season, but it's too long. If the good folk who made it are too close to be willing to wield the scalpel, perhaps they should hire an editor to chop it down to twenty or twenty-five minutes at the most.

Block 4

Derelicts (2017)
Director: B. C. Glassberg
Writers: B. C. Glassberg, Clay Shirley and Andre Evrenos
Stars: Kelly Dealyn, David Lee Hess, Emily Ammon, Dalton Allen, Steve Uzzell, Lana Dieterich, Les Best, Samson Pleasant, Clay Shirley, Kara Mellyn, Marcela Louise and Andre Evrenos

This ensemble feature from Texas confused me, because it felt so Australian to me that I was planning to google whether the Aussies have their own form of Thanksgiving when I got home. Now I wonder if the ladies from Austin who were sat across from us were part of the film.

It's an interesting piece but I believe I need to see it again to figure out exactly what it's trying to do. You know thosse films where you naturally assume one thing for most of the movie and then something happens to change your perspective on the whole thing? Well, this is like that except that it's literally the last shot that questions our perspective. I spent the end credits playing the whole film back through my mind and a few of us chatted about it afterwards for a little while.

On the face of it, it's a home invasion movie, albeit utterly unlike Framed from the previous night. A family with obvious problems prepare for their Thanksgiving meal and wait for a couple more relatives to arrive. Sadly, they never will because they were waylaid on the way by a band of crazies who drag them out of their ar and kill them. Even more sadly, they were following directions on GPS so those crazies drive on to take their place.

Of course, that doesn't go remotely well and we witness a particularly dark, cruel and sadistic feast. I honestly wondered at a few points how the film was going to change tone; it couldn't stay that sadistic throughout. Could it?

Well, the family being tormented do find some balls, but they're hamstrung by a set of discoveries that show how they're not so great themselves. The best line of the picture, delivered by another African American character, comes after one of those discoveries and one of these murderous thugs says, 'I thought we were the assholes.' We never, of course, buy into them being the good guys, but we do start to question whether there are any such folk in this movie.

It's also odd that the tormentors are mostly men (Kara Mellyn is fantastic as the one exception) but the strongest characters are all women, whichever side they happen to be on. I'm not going to talk down the male actors, as everyone on screen does their job well, but it gradually becomes clear who we're really watching here.

This is certainly not a film for everyone. It's not the gore that feels odd (though I have to say that I never thought I'd see an eyeball extracted with a penis pump), it's the nasty tone of the film that will turn many off. I'm not one of them, though I found it disturbing, and I really want to see it again because I'm still unclear as to which of two very different readings is the right one.

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