Phoenix Film Festival wrap-up: The good, the bad, the surprising
The Phoenix Film Festival has become my favorite way to spend three or four days away from home. That even beats out Disneyland, which I went to for the first time this year. This year’s Phoenix Film Festival did it again with a ton of great movies, parties and seminars. There wasn’t enough time for me to take it all in so I dedicated most of my time to watching movies and eating Harkins concessions. This year I saw 16 feature films and a few shorts. I’m going to rank them from my most favorite to my least favorite; I’ll give you a short synopsis of the film and then tell you what I did or didn’t like about the film.
#1 – PIG
Pig is about a man who wakes up in the middle of the desert. His hands are tied behind his back and a woman finds him and nurses him back to health. He has no memories and no recollection of how he got to the desert, so he starts out on a quest to find out who he is. This was by far my favorite film of the fest. It had a great story line and great acting. The film was shot well and my interest in the story and what was going to happen to the man in the desert never waned. I liked how the film gave subtle hints and what was going on, but you’d never pick up on them until watching it a few times. See this movie!
#2 – Searching for Sonny
Searching for Sonny was a great little comedy about a group of friends who haven’t seen each other since high school. They all come together to look for their friend Sonny, who seems to be missing. When they go out in search of him they find a dead body and the events that happen seem eerily similar to a play they performed in high school. This film was very close to taking the number one spot. It was very well written and the humor never let up. The mystery side of the film was also very well done. All of the talent was great and the film was superbly directed. It’s very well worth your time to find this movie and give it a view.
#3 – The Theatre Bizarre
The Theatre Bizarre is a six segment horror anthology with six various directors, the most notable of which directors is Tom Savini. Each section of the film had its own unique greatness; they were all well directed and contained some of the best gore I’ve seen in a long time. Needle to the eyeball – enough said. One of the films seemed more dramatic than your typical horror film and didn’t have much of a story line, but we see a biker slice the throat of a deer to put it out of its misery. It was great for that reason! For horror or gore fans, it’d be worth your time to check out this movie.
#4 – Shuffle
Shuffle is the story of a man who keeps waking up on different days and at different ages. Sometimes he’s 30, sometimes he’s 8 and other times he’s 90. During that time he learns he has to save someone’s life so we follow him on his search to find out who he’s saving and why. Shuffle won Best Picture at the festival and I think it was well deserved. It is definitely a stand-out film and worthy of high praise. The story was very well crafted and the idea behind it was genius. I loved the two leads; they had a ton of personality and were very relatable. The only reason this wasn’t ranked higher is that I found the other films more entertaining. While a great story is essential to a good film I enjoy something to be more comedic or visually stimulating.
#5 – The Victim
The Victim stars the amazing Michael Biehn as a man who lives in a cabin in the woods to get away from the problems of the big city. The only thing is, those problems find him. When a dancer shows up on his doorstep claiming two cops were out to kill her, he has to stand in to protect her. The Victim was a lot of fun to watch, especially in a theater full of movie lovers but the acting, even from Biehn, seemed subpar. The film was shot day for night which lead to some odd looking shots. If you’re going to watch the film, it’s purely for the sex and violence which was the best part. Although based on how Biehn is marketing the film, I expected even more violence.
#6 – Below Zero
Below Zero stars Edward Furlong, who you’ll remember as John Connor from Terminator 2, as a screenwriter struggling with writers block, so his agent sends him to a remote slaughterhouse to be locked in a meat freezer. While in the freezer he has to write a film regarding a similar story and save his career. While locked up, things seem far from normal and we see the story of the script he is writing play out on the screen. While this story had some good moments it became a bit convoluted. As a horror movie it wasn’t very scary and had little gore. As a writer I did enjoy seeing the writing process come to form on screen.
#7 – The Intouchables
The French film The Intouchables is the feel-good movie of the year. It’s your every day odd couple story about a rich, quadriplegic white guy who hires a black man to be his caretaker. The movie had a lot of great laughs and was well shot. While I found it to be pretty entertaining, it didn’t offer much story wise. There was little conflict and when it had the opportunity to build a story line it veered away from it. I liked it, but I probably wouldn’t purchase it or go out of my way to watch it again.
#8 – Tilt
Tilt is about a group of friends who live in Bulgaria during the late 80s and early 90s when they were transitioning from communism to democracy. The group sold pornography and did other not-so-legal things to make money. After getting shut down by the cops one of the friends falls in love with the police chief and soon-to-be militia boss’s daughter. The father refuses to let love blossom and we see the story unveil around a young man chasing his love. The story is similar to a Romeo & Juliette theme and is entertaining for the most part, but it tends to drag along and had some meaningless scenes. I think it’s worth a look, but the story itself isn’t worth someone going out of their way to see it.
#9 – Into the Wake
Into the Wake is about a man who travels back to his hometown because of a mysterious phone call. Once home, he is taken capture and tortured until he reveals the location of a buried dead body. Into the Wake probably has the best cinematography of any film in the festival. It has some stunning imagery and a good cast, but it fails to really tell its story. I understood what was happening and why, but the story lacked depth. There were events that happened and it was unclear exactly why; while this is sometimes used as a great cinematic tool, I felt it held this movie back. It was also upsetting when the main character shaved his beard.
#10 – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
This is about a year in musician Andrew Bird’s life on tour. We see him making music and performing music. The film is titled Fever Year because he is sick for the better part of the tour. I wanted to like this movie much more than I did. Bird is a fantastic musician and he puts on a hell of a show. However, the movie was more about showing his performances than it was about documenting his life on tour. We only see one or two venues he played at and a barn where he made music. He never actually got very sick and the people around him kind of poked fun at him for it. The film is worth watching if you want to see what a Bird concert would be like.
#11 – FDR: American Badass
FDR: American Badass is about Franklin Delano Roosevelt being pretty badass. A pesky werewolf bite takes the use of his legs away from him; but it gives him the courage he needs to run for President. As President he has to deal with pesky werewolf Hitler, Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito. The story follows him handling these terrorists like a badass. The idea of the movie sounds amazing, but the execution isn’t there. There are only a few jokes, but they’re overused throughout the film. There was little action and the effects were done very poorly. It’s a shame that a good idea went this bad.
#12 – How Do you Write a Joe Schermann Song
This is a fairly atypical love story done as a musical. A composer finally gets his break to write for an Off-Broadway musical, but runs into the dilemma of casting either his girlfriend or a newly discovered talent. While the movie was well made it, wasn’t very entertaining. We simply don’t care about the characters or what is going to happen at the end of the film. The only thing I liked was the way they chose to end it. Anti-Hollywood.
#13 – Monster Brawl
Monster Brawl lives up to its title: It’s a bunch of monsters fighting each other. Unfortunately, the movie was a monster fail. It’s set up just like a WWE Pay-per-view event and there is absolutely no story or plotline, just monsters fighting each other. The premise might be interesting, but the movie isn’t. The effects and costumes are mediocre and the judges and hosts aren’t very funny. Much like FDR: American Badass they had a good idea, but failed to pull it off.
#14 – We Run Sh*t
This is the documentary of a group of guys who try to host five events with no money. The movie depicted a group of people failing at life. It was way too long, inconsistent and probably didn’t deserve to be screened.
#15 – Beyond the Black Rainbow
This film follows a girl locked up in a futuristic commune with a crazed doctor. As she tries to escape the doctor gets crazier and crazier. I wanted to like this film, but it is ridiculously slow and boring. There are three things that happen in the entire film. There are some interesting visuals and the effects are done well, but I think they could have added to the story to pick up the pace of the film.
#16 – Paranoia
Paranoia is a local Phoenix film that was tagged as a “psychological thriller”. It’s about a woman who thinks her husband is cheating on her. Her paranoia and stress cause her to lose focus on reality. This was the worst I saw at the festival and probably the worst I’m going to see all year. The movie was neither psychological nor thrilling. The story was laid out right in front of the audience and I never really cared about the characters or what was going to happen to them. There were scenes that were so poorly done and lines so poorly read that I laughed out loud.