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Phoenix Film Festival 2014: Saturday’s cinematic spectacles

Posted by on April 6, 2014 – 2:55 am

Phoenix Film Festival 2014 Trolley

As you might expect, Saturday saw larger crowds at the Phoenix Film Festival (PFF) and International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival (IHSFF), and the festivities included “Kid’s Day” at the Party Pavilion, with all manner of fun activities for the younger filmgoers.

I took my first ride on the PFF trolley to go check out the pavilion location for Sunday’s “Geek Day”, but then it was back to the cinematic spectacles at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 for another full day (and evening) of movie marvels.

Here’s a rundown and capsule reviews of the films I took in on Saturday:

Disneynature’s Bears – This latest DisneyNature film (Shouldn’t this be two words?) is a throwback to the old-school “True Life Adventure” nature movies from Uncle Walt’s heyday, where the narrator, in this case John C. Reilly, speaks for the animals as they walk through the narrative as if they were human characters.

Sure, it’s silly, but this formula still makes for a fun family-friendly tale; and this one has some pretty awesome cinematography of the Alaskan landscape and the animals that populate its woodlands and coastline. Bears is a very good movie despite its cute hokiness.

The Morningside Monster – A killer is stalking and killing all of the jerks who live in Morningside, a small town in New Jersey (so you know there are a lot of them.)  The local Sherriff and his crew try to unravel the mystery as it keeps hitting closer to his home, friends and family.

This was a rather awkward film that has very good dialogue and acting in spots (especially by actor Robert Pralgo, who resembles George Clooney in both look and manner), but it’s coupled with some very bad horror sequences that are unintentionally funny. This one has its moments, but its inconsistent quality hampers it terribly.

The Joe ShowThe Joe Show – This is the best film I’ve seen at the festival so far, which is awesome because it was produced and directed by local filmmaker, Randy Murray. It’s too bad though that the subject matter is such an embarrassment and black eye on our state. (Chris Christie’s got nothing on us.)

This excellent documentary shows the rise, and the rise, and the rise, and then the partial fall of the infamous Maricopa County Sherriff, Joe Arpaio. It’s a thoughtful exploration of politics, brand marketing and egomania. I was fascinated and shocked by the quantity and quality of footage that Randy Murray got his hands on for this film, not to mention the things he gets Sherriff Joe to say and do on camera.

This was also the downright scariest movie I’ve seen at the festival this year and it made me think this film might have fit better onto the IHSFF schedule. Every Arizonan should see this amazing film.

The Sacrament – Full disclosure, I missed the first 10-15 minutes of this movie due to The Joe Show starting late and running long; but it didn’t seem as though I missed much. It was kind of weird though, going from a Joe Arpaio film straight into one about a Jim Jones like figure who baffles people with lies while thinking he’s doing the right thing – a very strange coincidence.

The Sacrament is obviously inspired by the seventies’ “People’s Temple” massacre in Guyana, where the cult leader had his followers commit mass suicide by drinking poison-laced Kool-aid; but in this film the story is given the found-footage/point-of-view treatment (a la The Blair Witch Project) as a team of journalists are doing a story about the commune.

There is very good acting in this movie by Gene Jones, who plays the “Father”, but this type of movie isn’t really my cup of Kool-aid (as it were) and I’m not really sure who the target audience would be besides someone who digs mass suicides. It’s not a poorly made film, it just wasn’t much fun to watch.

Horror Shorts B – This was another great selection of films and kudos to whoever made the choices for the Horror Shorts this year (the A block was very good as well.) And like the collection of movies in block “A”, almost all of these films could have been pulled straight from the pages of an EC horror comic, being both fun and frightful.

  • Phoenix Film Festival 2014Whispering Pines – This Australian short has a couple of teenagers playing a fetishy wolf and red riding hood game in the woods, until suddenly it’s not fun anymore. Fans of fable reduxs will dig this short but sweet film.
  • Edward the Damned –Allegedly based on an “old English legend”, Edward has something strange going on with his head that requires him to wear a wig. I won’t ruin any surprises, but this short has great make-up effects and is horrific without being ultra bloody.
  • Tasha and Friends – Tasha is the star of a Sesame Street style show with puppets, but when she feels she’s being upstaged and tries to get rid of her cute competition, the characters decide to strike back. This goes from good fun to gruesome pretty quick, and you may never look at the Muppets the same way again.
  • Bright Eyes – A costumed slasher can only take so much before he…gives up? This is a funny take on the stereotypical killer-in-the-house film; it’s original and hilarious.
  • The Carriage or: Dracula & My Mother – This title pretty much sums it up. A guy’s Mom has Dracula’s old-timey carriage appear in her yard one day, and her son becomes obsessed with coaxing the vampire out into the daylight. Nothing good can come of it. This gothic tale is stylish, scary, and probably the best of this Horror Short lot.
  • My Love, Our Time is Now – This is basically a music video for the band, The Hemmingbirds. It involves some sort of romantic interlude between a man and a woman, plus demons. Kind of an odd piece for a film festival, but the music was good and, heck, why not?
  • One More for the Road – What better way to work on a strained relationship than with a long road trip to a bed & breakfast? Well, it doesn’t work out so well in this case. A milquetoast man gets revenge on his bully wife, or does he? Some fun twists and turns in this road.
  • The Bad Days – Are you crazy for zombies? Well, you’re not alone, as this short film is out to prove. It’s a new and original take on the zombie menace.

Don’t miss “Geek Day” at the Phoenix Film Festival this Sunday! NERDVANA will be tweeting ‘live’ from the PFF/IHSFF all weekend. Follow us @nerdvana.

More Phoenix Film Festival: Phoenix Film Festival 2014: Friday’s rabid film roundup