Random Memory Time!
For those that do not know I used to live in California; San Pedro specifically. It was 3rd great and we had to do some big collage about our lives and one of the specifics was what we wanted to do when we grew up. Given I was in 3rd grade but I couldn’t think of anything. Maybe it was random, maybe it was fate but I picked film director. Obviously I didn’t become one (which is fitting since as opposed to an actual director I had some random promo pic for a Dominos/Blockbuster promotion in the collage). Since then I have been obsessed with movies. How they’re made, what’s out there, everything. The latest in this little obsession of mine is going to the Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. While a lot what I saw was a part of the Horror/Sci-Fi side of things there was still quite a bit of variety in what I saw. So with my poorly written intro out of the way here are some shortened reviews for everything I saw.
FDR: American Badass
I can’t possibly describe how fun this movie is. I mean it’s about the best US president ever killing Nazi werewolves. What’s not to like? The jokes are funny, the action is delightfully cheesy and the acting is surprisingly good for something so ridiculous. Particular recognition should go to Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror, Spin City) as President Roosevelt. He not only looks the part but has hilarious delivery every scene he’s in. My only problem with the movie is how some of the jokes went too long. For example there’s a 15 second basketball scene that felt really unnecessary. Of course when it’s followed up by FDR reciting lyrics from Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” these flaws are easy to forgive.
My second (and last) screening of the night was a collection of horror shorts from around the world. Overall all of them were well made with surprisingly good effects for indie shorts. Also a majority of these can be found on YouTube so check them out; they’re all a fun watch.
Follow The Sun– Shown above this is by far my favorite of the bunch. This hilarious parody of the 50’s intermission ads is a must watch. A
Bad Moon Rising– A fine, if not generic, werewolf short. The only thing that really stood out was the great transformation effects of the werewolf. Besides that it was an okay time killer. C
Brutal Relax– This comes from Mexico and is the first international short. I thought it had a good mix of comedy and gore. My only real issue was it felt a bit long. I realize that sounds crazy for a short but it felt like it was doing the same wacky stunt over and over after awhile. The credits sequence did make up for that though. B+
Roid Rage– While it’s enjoyable it also falls into the problem of being too long. I know shorts don’t have to be less than 5 minutes or anything but Roid Rage had filler that wasn’t needed. An ass monster is funny but not 15 minutes worth of funny. C
The Table– Honestly there isn’t too much to say about The Table. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. Fine stuff. C+
Shoreditch Slayer– Soreditch was a very unique and fun look at vampires post-Twilight. As opposed to going the easy “what sissies” route the filmmakers decided with the more original “What do we do now” route. It’s pretty funny and definitely worth a watch. B
The Waking– This short started with quite a bit of promise. As the sole ghost offering it succeeded in having a different tone and a good slow build. Unfortunately I found the ending beat to be kind of unsatisfactory. This is too bad because it started off well. C
Employe Du Mois– Another more comedic short. This one didn’t capture my imagination though. Maybe it’s because the movie Folklore was already playing, maybe it was the jokes, just something about it didn’t click with me. C-
Ambush– Of all the shorts this is the oddest for me to grade. It is well made and is basically one cool fight scene. The thing is I don’t consider it horror so it’s kind of out of place. Ignoring this though it’s a blast to watch. It’s 17 minutes of Lance Henriksen kicking ass and taking names. Nothing wrong with that. B+
Beyond the Black Rainbow
I have absolutely no idea what the hell I watched with this movie. Don’t get me wrong the story is fairly easy to understand. There’s an evil doctor named Dr. Nyle and at the Arobia Institute he is examining a disturbed girl named Elena. To survive this girl must do her best to escape the hellish Institute. Simple enough. It’s the way it’s filmed and paced that makes the movie so bizarre. The movie is filmed like an early 80’s horror/sci-fi movie that somehow mated with a David Bowie album cover. The movie is bizarre, mind melting, and I have no clue if I like it or not.
Rating- Buffalo. Because if the movie is going to be crazy I’ll give a crazy rating.
Searching for Sonny
This was actually a movie picked at random. I had a couple hour gap between Beyond the Black Rainbow and The Victim that I needed to fill. After briefly reading summaries I picked out Searching for Sonny and I’m glad I did. Searching for Sonny is about Elliot Knight, a directionless pizza boy who receives a mysterious postcard about his high school reunion. After he meets up with his brother and a childhood friend he discovers on a mystery that will lead them to their missing friend Sonny. The movie was excellent. It was able to mix comedy and noir-ish elements perfectly. Particular praise should go to Nick Kocher as Calvin, Elliot’s brother. He was great as the comedy foil throughout the movie. If you get the chance you should definitely check this out.
Written, directed and starring Michael Biehn I was initially disappointed with The Victim. I don’t know why but I expected a big production. However as more time pass I started to like The Victim a bit more. What we got was a pure, direct to DVD B-Movie. The acting is over the top at times, there’s tons of day for night and early on there are poorly dubbed in gun sound effects. Of course when your movie stars Michael Biehn and Danielle Harris you shouldn’t expect anything else. Before the screening Michael Biehn told the audience “Don’t take it seriously. It’s like cotton candy.” I can’t think of a better analogy. It has no real substance but is a fun bit of cinema cheese while it lasts.
Maybe it was because I had movie fatigue, maybe it was coming off The Victim but for whatever reason I am really glad I ended my night with Folklore. The movie was a lighthearted look at beings of folklore and where they are now. While the premise was original what kept the movie going was Brad Roller as the lead interviewer. He plays the role of the bumbling, American interviewer perfectly. There was a bit of a rom-com element near the end that felt a bit forced but it wasn’t too bad. Overall a fun movie that I’d recommend.
We Run Sh*t
Originally I was going to see With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story. Unfortunately it was sold out so I went with We Run Sh*t. It was a well made documentary into a world I have no place in; the Miami club scene. While the subject wasn’t something I was really fascinated with it was interesting to see absolutely everything go wrong for this group of club promoters. It was a comedy of errors about guys that seemed douche enough for me to laugh at their failures.
Holliston Todd & The Book of Pure Evil
Alas here we are at my final showing at the festival. More specifically it was a sneak preview of FearNet’s first original show “Holliston”. I’ve followed its production for a while and was very excited to see the preview. What we got was less than satisfying. The showing started with an on video interview with Adam Green (writer/director/star) and the cast. Totally generic but fun to see clips of the show. Then the lights darkened and……. nothing. Just kind of sat in the dark for a couple of minutes. But wait, what’s that? A show is starting! It’s…. not Holliston. Instead what we got was an episode of Todd & The Book of Pure Evil. Don’t get me wrong, Todd is one of my favorite shows on TV right now. I figured “Must be a pre-show or something.” So the episode finishes and….. we get a blu ray menu on the screen. The audience sits a good five minutes before the lights come up. We’re told that the Holliston disc FearNet sent was messed up so they sent Todd to make up for the problem. That was cool of FearNet to do but it was still disappointing. Also a bummer way to end my last day at the festival.
I would see Holliston later in the week and it was an enjoyable show. It was fun to see a kind of meta/horror take on classic sitcom tropes. Heck, I’m just happy to see Dee Snider get work.
3 Days, 8 features, 11+ hours. It sounds kind of silly but by the end I was exhausted. I haven’t done movie-going to this level in, well, ever. Not only that but the production quality of movies were generally top notch. Given these weren’t Hollywood blockbusters but it was so much better than “Generic film students have a marathon”. Maybe it’s because Clerks is the ultimate independent feature for me but I keep saying to myself “Wow, those movies looked really good”.
I was also surprised by the festival itself. When you first arrive it seems a bit cheesy compared to the bigger festivals; running out of a Harkins, none of the pomp and circumstance of an event like Sundance, etc. To my surprise the whole event was well run and quite organized. I have to commend the Phoenix Film Festival for a fun event that defied my expectations. Not only that but they had quite a few activities running all weekend. While I didn’t get to see them first hand there was a silent auction, various workshops, and a good amount of the screenings I went to had Q&A’s with the directors afterwards. Very cool stuff.
The only real problem I had with the event was the use of Blu Rays and DVDs as opposed to actual film. I know using a disc is cheaper and it’s a sign of the times but it’s just something I was disappointed about. That’s a minor quibble though. The overall experience was great and I am now counting the weeks until next year’s Festival.