Phoenix Film Festival 2019 posters

2019 Phoenix Film Festival – Day 3

Events Movies Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Hola! Hal Astell here from Apocalypse Later. Here’s my coverage of day three at the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival (PFF) and International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival (IHSFFF).

Circumstances (good grief, April is a busy month) and the shorter Sunday schedule meant that I only got to see three films today, all of them features.

I also forgot to check the sold out count at the end of the night, but it was 30 when I checked in this morning and I’m sure it’ll have grown during the day.

Speed of Life

Having thoroughly enjoyed Liz Manashil’s debut feature, Bread and Butter, at the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival, I was eager to see her second too, even though it was screening out of competition as a Showcase feature.

It’s a very different film, even though both revolve around the idea of love. This one began life as a horror movie but writer’s block put the kibosh on that and it didn’t fall together into its current form until David Bowie died and that made its way into the script.

Manashil is a big Bowie fan, though I was surprised not to notice any Easter Eggs from his work in the script except for Ordnance TVC 15 (named for a song on the very best Bowie album, Station to Station) and, of course, the title of the film (the opening track on Low). Maybe there were more and I just didn’t notice. [Edit: yes, there are!] His death was a big deal to her and and it’s a big deal for the lead character, June Hoffman, who grew up with Bowie and never believed he could die. Hey, don’t aliens live forever?

Reeling from this news and especially the fact that her boyfriend Edward can’t understand why it’s a big deal, she promptly pulls out a list of all the things that’s wrong with their relationship. And, just as she’s getting up some steam, Edward promptly vanishes, falling into some kind of rip in the fabric of space/time.

As you might imagine, June is shocked, but she clearly hasn’t got over it by the time we skip forward in time from 2016 to 2040, a few days before her 60th birthday. It’s a different world, one that sees you as over the hill once you pass 25, and the aforementioned ordnance requires anyone who reaches 60 to be immediately moved into some sort of government provided housing far away from the beautiful people.

The catch is that June hasn’t got over Edward. She’s still waiting for him to reappear out of thin air and she’s willing to break the law to stay just in case. I hate spoilers, but I think it’s fair to point out a couple of things. One is that we haven’t seen the last of Edward and he has a lot to do with where the film goes. It would have been difficult to do this concept justice without him.

The other is that this is a drama rather than a sci-fi movie, which is also key to this working because what happens is fine for a drama but would need much more grounding to be viable in sci-fi. This 2040 does have commentary on the internet of things and our always on connectivity, but it isn’t what you might expect from that ordnance. Hey, we already know that life clocks are a lie and there is no renewal. We learned that the same year Bowie made TVC 15.

I liked this, perhaps not as much as Bread and Butter, but I liked it a lot. It benefits from excellent dialogue and strong performances from a set of talented actors that you probably couldn’t name but have surely seen in at least one other film. I want to especially call out Ann Dowd as the almost 60 year old June. She’s fantastic, believable not only in the big scenes but in little ones too, like the one where she isn’t wearing a band aid.

And I’m sure it’s required that I end this review with a Bowie quote, so… “It’s not the side effects of the cocaine. I’m thinking that it must be love.”

General Magic

Back to competition features, General Magic is an excellent documentary, the most hope-filled story of failure I’ve surely ever seen.

It tells the story of a Silicon Valley company called General Magic, spun up out of Apple in 1990, which had died by the end of the decade and was buried in 2004. However, the technological world we take for granted today exists to a surprising degree because of a variety of concepts that were conjured up at General Magic. Former Apple chairman John Sculley rather appropriately described them as the most important company that you’ve never heard of from Silicon Valley.

The filmmakers thankfully obtained access to most of the players (though not Paul Allen, who bought most of their patents). All the interview footage is fascinating to an old school tech nerd like me and so is the period footage fortunately shot at the time for posterity.

This period footage is special partly because of what it shows—the people, the technology and the culture—but it’s most special when we get to the tail end of the film and the many people we’ve just spent almost an hour and a half watching get labels added as an overlay. I knew some of what’s sprung on us there, because I recognised some of these people, but far from all of it and I certainly didn’t have a clue how important pretty much everyone at General Magic became. These labels are a truly overwhelming underline.

Frankly, you won’t believe just how much General Magic invented before most people even knew there was an internet, so I’m not going to tell you. Watch this film to find out and prepare to have your mind blown. They failed most obviously because they were too far ahead of their time. And, while General Magic failed as a company, its ideas were indeed the future.

In many ways, the company is similar to the Sonics, documented last night in Boom, because their impact and importance wildly exceeded their success and because the general public doesn’t have a clue who they are. The difference, of course, is that they were very well documented in their time, not least for raising $96m without having a product or a revenue stream.

While this will play best to tech nerds, it ought to have a wider appeal. I highly recommend it to anyone, even though I was always PC rather than Mac.

The best thing about it is that it’s a rise fall rise story, but it kind of ends after the fall because the second rise is our world today. It gives us abiding hope that the great problems of this generation have probably been solved by people we don’t know working at companies which will fail but, a little later, they’ll find their way to implement their solutions through a variety of other means.

I Trapped the Devil

I wrapped up the night with an International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival showcase feature, made by Josh Lobo, whose only prior credit was as part of the art department for Dave Made a Maze, which played IHSFFF in 2017.

The core concept is pretty simple. Matt and Karen drive a long way to visit his brother Steve for the holidays. I’m not sure what they expect, but they certainly don’t expect to find Steve balancing on the edge of insanity. He claims, as the title suggests, to have captured the seed behind pure evil in his basement, the Devil himself, though naturally they feel that he’s just flipped his lid and, only as the film runs on, start to doubt that.

This didn’t unfold the way I expected and, while I quite liked the film, I’m sure that many won’t. It’s achingly slow, for a start. Long minutes unfold without dialogue. I’m not sure anything is well lit and much of the film is told to the light of a single red bulb. There are very few locations, almost all of which are inside one house. Little happens until the end of the film. There’s precious little action anywhere and what there is happens so quickly that we figure out what happens more from the results than the acts.

What it has is atmosphere. Whatever we might think is happening, this house is clearly not a safe place for anyone to be and the tension is palpable. It grows more tense as it runs on too and, while we can’t be sure what’s going to happen, we can be sure that it’s not going to be good. While the actors do their jobs fine, it’s the atmosphere that makes this picture.

This is a ballsy debut for Lobo that I feel is bound to be loved or hated. I could bring up Beyond the Black Rainbow as a comparison, not least for being another insanely slow debut feature that played IHSFFF (back in 2012) and generated a wild amount of love and a substantial amount of hate. This isn’t quite that extreme and I didn’t see anyone walking out of the screening, as they did for Beyond the Black Rainbow, but the haters will have similar concerns.

For my part, I felt it was highly effective. I enjoyed the atmosphere, felt the tone and appreciated the ending which is always the best way to handle a situation where we’ve been given two alternate interpretations and asked to figure out which we believe. Lobo wrote and directed, so this is his film in most ways and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Here and there ...

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