Phoenix Film Festival Rewind:
The 2015 Phoenix Film Festival Recently Wrapped Up It’s Eight Day Takeover Of The Harkins Scottsdale 101 And Had A Lot To Offer Attendees
By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine
May 12, 2015 - This year’s Phoenix Film Festival saw an estimated 20,000 visitors over the eight-day period and screened more than 100 films over that time. From indie comedies to animal documentaries, everything was covered. The only potential downside to such a big festival is that not everyone can see everything. However, a motivated film-goer can still take in quite a few films over that period. Having been able to distance myself from the experience, it is easier to now assess which films really stuck out from the festival, for a variety of reasons.
Marvel Cinematic Universe alumni Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders headlined Results, a comedy about two personal trainers whose lives are thrown into a bit of a spin after a new wealthy client comes into their lives. That wealthy client is played by Kevin Corrigan (The Departed, Grounded For Life) who is arguably the reason to see this movie. The cast is loaded down with people who could conceivably make a living by just being good looking, but fortunately they are more than just good looking set pieces. They are delightful.
Pearce and Smulders have a really bizarre yet entertaining chemistry on screen that is countered very nicely by Corrigan, who gives the most layered and dynamic performance in the film. Director Andrew Bujalski does a great job of letting the performances sell this otherwise very simple film. There are no bells and whistles, it is all about the story and the story is not only relatable, but also happens to be quite enjoyable. This may not have been the breakout comedy of the festival, but this will dominate Netflix instant-watch screens at some point.
Horror movies generally fall into one of two very broad categories. They are either the type of movie that tries to genuinely scare the viewer by showing them something that they will lose sleep over, or the type of movie that is gratuitously violent and they may lose their lunch over. There is plenty of grey area there, but Julia is almost entirely the latter. For that reason, for better or for worse, this movie really sticks with you.
Director Matthew A. Brown’s Julia, a film about a rape victim who turns to a unique and extreme form of therapy in order to overcome here encounter is brutal, unrelenting and very disturbing with its use of graphic visuals to get its point across. Though that point can perhaps be a bit foggy and unclear at times.
Ashley C. Williams (The Human Centipede) gives a very compelling and convincing performance as Julia, especially given the grim nature of her characters on-screen evolution. Williams has to portray a woman who has went through a very real and horrific event that many women actually face. However, the message that the movie sends in terms of that issue is a bit mixed.
Those looking for a movie that carries a message of empowerment for women who are victims of sexual violence will find themselves puzzled and perhaps even offended. Those who are fans of Asian revenge cinema (Ichi The Killer, I Saw The Devil) and horrifyingly graphic gore is more likely whom this film is for. Make no mistakes, this is not for the faint of heart because what is seen can not be unseen.
Disneynature has been making outstanding nature documentaries for some time now, and their latest effort Monkey Kingdom is no different. Often times films such as this are billed as fun for the whole family, or something along those lines, but this film truly is great for people of all ages. Even as an adult, this film really sat with me and resonated in a refreshing way.
Tina Fey (30 Rock, SNL) lends her voice as the narrator for this film that centers around a group of monkeys who live in ancient ruins in the jungles of South Asia. The main story follows a monkey named Mya and her newborn child as she struggles to make a life for them in the complex class system that the monkeys have established.
The story that is told is very compelling and seems at times as though the documentarians handed all of the monkeys a script in order to achieve it. Aside from the narrative being compelling and very satisfying, the nice part about this being a Disney movie is that there was some money, time and effort put into the making of the movie, and it really shows on screen. Ultimately, this is a great movie for virtually anyone who likes good storytelling.
A Dog Named Gucci
A Dog Named Gucci is the type of film that is incredibly difficult to watch in a lot of ways, but at the same time it is a very important and worthwhile film to see. The film chronicles the story of a dog, who happened to be named Gucci, who was set on fire in Alabama back in 1994 and the man who helped to save the dogs life.
Seasoned rock documentarian Gorman Bechard is the film's director and he did a spectacular job of tackling the very difficult topic of animal abuse in this film. He manages to balance the conflict of presenting the difficult substance with the progress that has been made with animal abuse laws across the country.
Anyone who doesn’t cry at least a little for one reason or another is probably made of stone, but the tears are not wasted. One leaves the theater with a close to home feeling on the issue. It is a well balanced offering that educates the viewers on how much needs to change when it comes to animal rights, but it also gives viewers hope and shows how much has changed for the better. The film has yet to secure distribution, but when it inevitably does, make a point to see it. This may be the single most impactful film I, or anyone saw at this years festival.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
It would be a crime to talk about the films that were shown at this year’s festival and not mention the Sundance darling, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. This film set a purchase record at the Sundance Film Festival and honestly, it was warranted. This is a film that is rare blend of comedy and drama and is nearly flawless in its execution.
The film centers around Greg (Thomas Mann) who befriends a girl from his school, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with cancer. The journey that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon takes viewers on is memorable, emotional and incredibly touching. The entire cast of this film is stellar. Mann and Cooke are terrific as the pair that carry this movie on their shoulders, but the supporting cast is like a dream. Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and Connie Britton (Nashville) are perfect as Greg’s parents. Molly Shannon (SNL) is a standout as Rachel’s grieving mother. And of course, RJ Cyler as Earl, Greg’s best friend, is pitch-perfect as well.
There is absolutely no reason not to go see this movie when it gets released on June 12.
Ryan Scott is a contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He lives in Mesa.
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