Highlights from the 2012 Phoenix Film Festival/Int’l Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival Part I By Ray Schillaci
Once again, far too many good films to see and so little time. That is including the documentaries, World Cinema and short films provided. I am hoping to follow up with some of them in the next couple of weeks. As for the festival itself; stars were in attendance starting with Academy Award winning actress, Marcia Gay Harden present for a tribute to her body of work. Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss) introduced his directorial debut with “The Victim”. Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down) popped in to greet everybody with his new film “Slumber Party Slaughter” and the festival had a host of filmmakers introducing their films as well.
“Robot and Frank,” starring Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon kicked off the festival to a glorious start with huge applause. Due to pending release dates I have been asked not to review this film as with a couple of other wonderful ones; Lawrence Kasdan returning to his true form with, “Darling Companion” and the French hit, “The Intouchables”. But that does not preclude me from reviewing some of the other great feature films in competition.
I have yet to see the much talked about “Hollywood to Dollywood” that was nearly sold out with every showing. I’ve heard HTD is a very funny road trip movie about twin brothers trying to get their dream script in the hands of the legendary Dolly Parton. The documentary, “Connected” also had good word of mouth, involving the exploration of “visible and invisible connections linking major issues of our time” while the documentarian searches for her place in the world during a “transformative” time in her life.
“How Do You Write a Joe Sherman Song” was an audience pleaser, winning Breakthrough Director and the Cox Audience Award. Director Gary King undauntedly tackled a non-studio musical with unknowns. A struggling lyricist/composer gets the opportunity to write for an Off-Broadway musical and is forced to aid in the casting of his long-time girlfriend or a “newly discovered muse”. Sounds like a certain TV show? Whatever similarities are present are merely coincidental and can be looked as a plus for this small independent film. Christina Rose turns in a sweet and memorable performance and nearly outshines the rest of the cast. King’s use of split-screen during choreographed scenes is tight and effective, proving that he does have the ability to bring a dramatic flair to the big screen.
Director, Kenny Riches demonstrates a wonderful sense of humor and pathos with “Must Come Down”. Two very quirky individuals briefly find each other while trying to get through their early twenties crisis. Riches has found the perfect cast to convey the off-beat people that are marching to their own drum while sometimes banging it a little too loud around normal people, bringing a smile and laugh to all of us. Everything about this film echoes independent and cult, and it is a refreshing journey after so many studio driven rom-coms that we have all been subjected to.
Annie Howell’s, “Small Beautifully Moving Parts” is also a classic independent that moves us in every way. A tech-geek discovers she is pregnant and goes head first into discovering who she is and the estranged mother that lives “off the grid”. Anne Margaret Holleyman opens our eyes and breaks our hearts with a personable and sensitive performance. Her journey proves to be both funny and poignant. Howell provides a unique look into this woman’s life and delivers pleasant little surprises with every turn.
“Searching for Sonny” had the audience howling in laughter. A group of high school friends reunite when their friend goes missing and discover the eerie coincidences between his disappearance and the high school play he had written. Andrew Disney (no relation to the House of Mouse) giddily delivers the kookiness of guys who refuse to grow up while providing a tongue-in-cheek Raymond Chandler style mystery that becomes sillier than expected. Disney gives us a winning cast with many recognizable faces from TV and the Web. Together they give us a delightful comedy that received Best Ensemble Cast and Best Screenwriting.
Best Documentary was whisked away by “We Run Sh*t”. Directors, Michael Rogers and Scott Storm (star of last year’s “Official Rejection”) bring us an insane tale of five veteran event producers who plan a five day rave party in Miami only to have everything and anything go very, very wrong. Sex, drugs and music pervades a lurid tale of corruption in the club scene while platinum selling artists and spoiled celebrities are the nasty spice that no one in their right mind needs when their life is being threatened. Michael Rogers was the videographer throughout the event and the man is to be commended. He practically gave his life for this document of decadence. Scott Storm managed to not only piece it together and make sense of it, but he also provided the witty animation where no cameras were allowed to go.
The event producers all have distinct personalities that have us captivated throughout the whole ordeal with James DiFiore as the stand out. We go through his pain, but also laugh at it as well with his highly animated gestures and expressions. He appears to be the leader or tries to be, but he is holding court with a group of man/boys who appear to have not reached his seasoned level. I could be wrong on that one and every viewer will have another take on it, but that’s what makes this film more than just a documentary. It captures the hook that reality TV uses to entice its audience, keeping us watching with bated breath as to what will happen next. Michael Rogers and Scott Storm deliver a documentary on the seedy side of club life and it has the capability of being a huge hit with its particular audience and anyone else who is open-minded for a tawdry tale of madness and mayhem.
The winner of Best Picture was a surprise to me, at first. I had seen the trailer of “Shuffle” several times and was not impressed, but upon my first viewing, like many others, I was wowed and reduced to tears. Director Kurt Kuenne gives us the best movie regarding time jumping since George Roy Hill’s interpretation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s, “Slaughterhouse-Five”. Kuenne, cast and crew give us a film that touches our heart and soul and makes us better for it while having us reflect on our own lives. Lovell Milo’s life is shuffling away. He keeps falling asleep and waking up at different ages; 28, 30, 8, 92 and so on. Lovell attempts to get a handle on what is going on and to what purpose. The mystery is suspenseful, funny and endearing with T.J. Thyne giving a very honest and empathetic performance, Paula Rhodes making us so very easily fall in love with her as Grace and the two children Dylan Sprayberry and Elle Labadie who play their young counter parts deliver the joys of youth in spades.
There is not one false note in this film. Some may compare it to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” and those are not bad comparisons, but it does a disservice to the original voice of all involved. From its beautiful black and white photography to its subtle special effects Kuenne’s film captures our imagination in the very first scene and never lets it go. “Shuffle” is a testament to the human heart and spirit, and can be enjoyed by all.
Hopefully, next week I can give you Part Deux of the PFF and Int’l Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival. A chilling southern gothic tale with Scooter Downey’s, “It’s in the Blood” starring Lance Henrikson will be reviewed. Also, I can give you some insight into some fantastic shorts from documentary, live action and horror. As a special mention, check out one of the past Phoenix Film Festival favorites on DVD next week. David Dilley’s complex crime drama, “Suspicion” (full review - http://asitecalledfred.com/2011/04/15/trailer-park-phoenix-2/) has an April 17th release date and now is the chance to pump that down and dirty soundtrack as loud as you want.
THE INNKEEPERS - Blu-ray Review
Watch this, buy this. Support horror comedy done right. There is something so fun about a movie that knows what it wants to be and embraces it fully.
Back when I talked to the movie’s director, Ti West, the movie was really gaining steam within a community of fans who appreciated Ti’s previous work, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and heard his call to see the movie in a theater and to make a genuine effort to support a well made genre movie. Watching it for the second time you can see how right West was when he urged people to see a movie that would be worth their time. No blowhard-y false modesty, this was a movie that was able to build suspense and deliver on the thrill that movies have somehow lost in an age when splatterfests are taking all the fun out of building up to something great.
There would be a danger in getting to that boiling point, as we are wrapped up in a mystery surrounding an old hotel and its haunted past, if it didn’t deliver, everything hinges on it, but it does. It pays off in a way that has easily landed this movie in my top 10 of the year for sheer craftsmanship. For those wanting a scream a minute thrill ride, you would be better served elsewhere because what this minimalist production does is upend your expectation of what a horror movie should be and rewards you with something that satisfies completely.
About the Blu-ray/DVD:
An New England inn about to close for good is the classically creepy setting for THE INNKEEPERS, the acclaimed new film from Ti West, the young filmmaker whose critically praised House of the Devil gave the genre a jolt. Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy and Kelly McGillis, THE INNKEEPERS comes to Blu-ray and DVD from Dark Sky Films and MPI Media Group on April 24, 2012.
After over one hundred years of service, The Yankee Pedlar Inn in Connecticut is shutting its doors for good. The last remaining employees Claire (Sara Paxton, Shark Night 3-D, The Last House on the Left) and Luke (Pat Healy, Dirty Girl) are determined to uncover proof of what many believe to be one of New England’s most haunted hotels. As the inn’s final days draw near, odd guests start to check in and the pair of minimum wage ghost hunters begin to experience strange and alarming events that may ultimately cause them to be mere footnotes in the hotel’s long mysterious history.
Writer-director Ti West has revealed a unique style that pays tribute to classic horror of the 1970s and 80s with the bold spirit of the new American independent cinema. THE INKEEPERS, which co-stars Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Stake Land), was an award-winning hit on the film festival circuit and opened to rave critical reviews last week in theaters nationwide. The way he works his magic is through a technique that some fans have called the slow burn: long takes and deliberately paced scenes, in which the camera follows characters down hallways, through the woods or into empty rooms says The New York Times “Featuring great fun, scares and characters, it’s a film that has the wonderful ability to both make you laugh and scream without ever becoming a parody of itself.” says CinemaBlend. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, Ti West knows how to build suspense.
THE INNKEEPERS, which blends the classic ghost story style with a solid modern twist is an original Dark Sky Films in partnership with Glass Eye Pix. The extras on the Blu-ray and DVD will include:
The Innkeepers: Behind the Scenes
Commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Ti West, Producers Peter Phok & Larry Fessenden, and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick
Commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Ti West and Stars Sara Paxton & Pat Healy
SHAME - Blu-ray Review
This is a movie not for the timid.
After I watched it a second time, I began to feel more sympathetic towards Brandon (Michael Fassbender) and his grinding addiction that simply is eating at his life one empty conquest at a time. It’s not so much the trigger of his sister coming to stay with him and, thus, disrupting his voracious appetite for sexual activity that needs constant fuel but it’s the film’s examination of addiction that is really satisfying from a narrative standpoint.
The entire movie is meant to keep you uncomfortable and it succeeds in trying to emotionally telegraph what it would be like to be caught in an echo chamber of impulse and self-satisfaction. While his nameless job and nameless company would be somehow disconcerting if we thought that it had some reflection on the movie’s direction, it’s just emblematic in a film where names are not important. Fassbender does an exceptional job in depicting the life of a man who is too far gone to save, who operates on a compulsive schedule that, and while it certainly won’t be a movie you will be excited to re-watch again and again there is some satisfaction to be had in watching this man unravel and succumb to the demons that need release.
About the Blu-ray/DVD:
From visionary director Steve McQueen, one of the most talked about films of 2011 comes home to stunning Blu-ray from Fox Searchlight and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. A film festival powerhouse, SHAME has captivated viewers through its haunting depiction of the life of a sex addict and his emotionally troubled sister. Evocative performances from Golden Globe® nominee Michael Fassbender and Academy Award® nominee Carrie Mulligan make SHAME the must-have release of the year. Get your hands on SHAME on Blu-ray Combo Pack April 17 and see the movie everyone is talking about in the privacy of your own home. Available for pre-order now on Amazon.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his wayward younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment and stirs up memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control.
The SHAME Blu-ray Combo Pack presentation features a premium high definition Blu-ray loaded with special features, a DVD version of the film and Digital Copy. Get a behind-the-scenes look at McQueen’s groundbreaking vision with exclusive extras and featurettes. Pre-book date is March 21.
SHAME Blu-ray Combo Pack Features:
●Focus on Michael Fassbender
●Director Steve McQueen
●The Story of Shame
●A Shared Vision
●Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character With Michael Fassbender
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