These are the films that I caught at the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival, and my impressions of them.
The first movie I saw was Danish film The Guilty. If you’ve ever seen Locke with Tom Hardy, a film that takes place entirely inside of a car with the protagonist talking on a speaker phone, or Buried with Ryan Reynolds, a film takes place entirely inside of a coffin with the buried-alive protagonist calling for help on a cell phone before he runs out of air, The Guilty is another movie along these lines. This time the movie takes place entirely inside an emergency call center where the protagonist is a police officer who has been pulled off street duty, pending an investigation, and is answering emergency calls in the meantime. He becomes engrossed in the drama of one call he responds to, and finds himself unable to let it go and let others handle the situation. The movie is a gripping tale of a highly judgmental man being forced to come to terms with his own human fallibilities. It’s a powerful and moving drama, carried by a strong performance by lead actor Jakob Cedergren.
5 out of 5 stars
Next up was Under the Tree, a film from Iceland that explores the way small neighborly spats can escalate into something much larger. What begins as a dispute over a shadow being cast by a neighbor’s tree erupts into violent confrontation. The movie is somewhere between a drama and a dark comedy. It has some interesting insights into human behaviors and contains some images that have stuck with me, but is also over-the-top to the point of being cartoonish and contains a lot of loose threads that the audience is left to piece together for themselves. I found it worth seeing, but considered it to be one of the weaker offerings I caught at the festival.
3 out of 5 stars
The next film I saw was DriverX. Starring Patrick Fabian of Better Call Saul fame, DriverX is based on the real-life accounts of an Uber driver. The protagonist is Leonard, a middle-aged man with a wife and two children whose record-store business has folded after twenty-five years. Finding himself in a prolonged period of unemployment, Leonard resorts to driving for Uber in order to bring in some income for the family. The movie has a lot of comedic elements while also serving as a mirror for technologically driven change and its impacts on society. A simultaneously funny and moving journey.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Next was To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story. This is the tale of Kane Hodder, the stuntman-turned-actor who is most famous for his portrayal of Jason in the later Friday the 13th movies. Anyone who thinks all that role requires is for someone to put on a mask and stand in front of a camera will be in for an eye-opening experience with this documentary. The amount of hard work and sheer physical torture that the man went through to get where he did is nothing short miraculous. From his tales of being bullied as a child to his accounts of being a burn victim in a fire stunt gone wrong, this a person who had to overcome tremendous pain and suffering to get where he did and whatever you think of his movies you can’t help but be moved by how much doing them has meant to him personally.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Next I saw Becoming Who I Was, a documentary about Padma Angdu, a reincarnate Buddhist lama born into a Tibetan refugee community in India. We follow the story of this young boy who wants to go to the monastery in Tibet that he remembers from his past life, but when nobody comes to claim him he is kicked-out of the monastery that has been sheltering him in India and winds up being cared for by an old doctor who raises him like his own child. The movie was shot by a Korean film crew over the course of many years and how they managed to capture some of the footage they did is nothing short of amazing. We follow this young man as he grows from a child into adolescence and watch as he tries to find his way “back” to Tibet.
4 out of 5 stars
Finally, I saw The Dead King, a very low budget movie made by a local Phoenix-area film crew. A man whose brother has recently died assembles a group of friends to play a memorial “Dungeons and Dragons” game wherein they will officially say farewell to his brother’s character in game. During the course of the game, however, the deceased brother’s girlfriend begins to reveal her own experiences of emotional and physical abuse that she suffered under him and the game becomes a vehicle for bringing her trauma to the forefront. I found the premise of the film to be fascinating, but the execution disappointing. In order to hide some of the film’s budgetary limitations, decisions were made to shoot only the upper or lower halves of people’s faces in various scenes, or to take shots from behind a moving fan. While intended to be “artistic” these sequences are instead quite distracting and annoying. Also, while the film seems to be trying to show the ways abuse can manifest in human interactions I found it less an insightful exploration and more one of wondering what it was about these unpleasant people that the girlfriend thought was worth spending her time with in the first place.
2 out of 5 stars
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