The 18th Annual Phoenix Film Festival is well underway and what a year it has been so far! While it’s impossible to see all of these films, the weekend has proved to be absolutely spectacular. Check out the capsule reviews below and watch for full reviews in the coming weeks of the highlights so far.
Brett Haley, the talent behind the writing and directing of “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” brings us yet another poignant commentary on life and aging with “The Hero,” starring Sam Elliott. Lee Hayden (Elliott) finds his life’s work of acting waning as he ages, but when he receives a cancer diagnosis, his future seems dismal. Attempting to right the wrongs in his life, he finds that the future is what you make it. Filled with introspection and humor, Hayden finds that life can still be meaningful even after the age of 70. The humor, sometimes bittersweet, balances this beautiful story and Elliott shows us that he is the quintessential leading man, no matter his age. (Opens in theaters June 9) THE HERO Trailer
“Brave New Jersey”
This quirky and star-filled spoof takes us back to the night that Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 “War of the Worlds” aired in the small farming town of Lullaby, New Jersey, just miles away from the supposed attack. As this sleepy little town must now awaken and take heed, the true personalities of each are revealed. It feels like a reunion of great comic television actors who have found a way to have a blast as they create new and frequently over-the-top characters in a solid and unique story. Clark (Tony Hale) is madly inlove with Lorraine (Heather Burns) who is married to the mayor and bully, while Reverand Ray Rogers (Dan Bakkedahl) attempts to lead his congregation, but is more lost and irreverent than his followers. And Sheriff Dandy (Mel Rodriguez) shines as the hapless law enforcer. This sweet love story/dramedy will have you in stitches as you laugh and root for the underdog. BRAVE NEW JERSEY Trailer
Divorce is never easy, but throw into the equation the Quaker rules and it becomes an almost insurmountable yet hilarious task. Joe (Alex Dobrenko, “Arlo and Julie”) and Emily are married under Quaker tradition which includes all guests signing their marriage certificate. The couple having lived apart for five of the six years of marriage, decide to finally call it quits officially. Upon Emily’s parents’ request, the two road trip across the country to get each guests’ signature crossed off. As Emily and Joe reconnect and with each guest they try to convince to cross off their name, they discover a little bit more about one another and themselves. Filled with miscommunications and comedic situations as well as unusual characters, it’s an entertaining journey about life, love, and all the bumps in the road. QUAKER OATHS Trailer
First-time filmmaker Julian Fort creates a heart-pounding crime thriller taking you into the life of ex-con Victor who can’t resist one last bank heist…with his son, Danny (Gregory Sims). Victor (Leon Russom), sees that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but the Danny (Gregory Sims) is in way over his head. This intense story will keep you guessing as the plot twists and turns and as you watch the characters’ motives unfold. Skillful editing and cinematography add to this stylized drama. What makes this particular film stand apart from many others like it is its ability to create sympathy and empathy for Victor. We truly care for this man who continues to make one bad decision after another, but he is also a father who loves his son. This is one impressive first-time feature film.
“Second Hand Hearts”
Young love. We’ve all been through it, but what happens when you meet your true love only to find out it’s your girlfriend’s sister? As Ben (Ben Isaacs) is in Japan as a freelance photographer, he bumps into Emily (Mallory Corinne) and there is an immediate spark and much, much more. It’s a classic love story, but with a higher dose of reality making it much more relatable than most films in this genre. “Second Hand Hearts” is a non-linear story allowing us to be in the present as we understand what has happened in the recent past. While there are some pacing issues and the character of Jaime seems a little inconsistent, it’s a film that is intriguing, keeping you invested in wanting to know how this ends. SECOND HAND HEARTS Trailer
“Dave Made A Maze”
Director Bill Watterson co-wrote this extraordinarily unusual film with Steven Sears about a grown man who builds a maze out of a cardboard box in his living room while his girlfriend is away for the weekend. Upon her return, she finds that he is “lost” in this box. Gathering a rescue team comprised of his friends, the group ventures in to a world in which they are not prepared. It’s a gruesomely hilarious romp with exaggerated characters and a touch of charming sweetness. The set designs will blow your mind as these creative storytellers take advantage of your childhood nightmares in this mesmerizing film. DAVE MADE A MAZE Trailer
Australian filmmaker Damien Power creates a chilling psychological thriller in “Killing Ground” as a young couple ventures out into the country for a weekend camping trip. Noticing another campsite not far away with no activity for hours, the couple looks for clues as to where they might be. As they find a toddler wandering nearby, their greatest fears don’t begin to compare to the horror that lies ahead. Power sets up the perfect situations in this film that give you a sense of dread, pushing your every sense to a tipping point. It is not a classic horror film; it is much more. It’s clever and unpredictable as you face some of your own biggest fears. The cast is stellar witha brilliant script and cinematography bringing you into the characters’ world of the “Killing Ground. KILLING GROUND Trailer
There are still many days ahead at the PFF with opportunities to see these films and many more! Be sure to put “Norman,” “Graduation,” and “Tommy’s Honour” on your must-see list this week! Go to www.phoenixfilmfestival.com for more information and screening times.