Phoenix Forgotten


A billboard you don’t want to see your image on.

(2017) Horror Sci-Fi (Cinelou) Chelsea Lopez, Luke Spencer Roberts, Justin Matthews, Florence Hartigan, Clint Jordan, Cyd Strittmatter, Jeanine Jackson, Matt Biedel, Ana Dela Cruz, Mackenzie Firgens, Jay Pirouznia, Marc Marron, Don Boyd, Tony Duncan, Richard Cansino, Hector Luis Bustamante, Joseph J. LaRocca, Larry Toffler, Cynthia Quiles. Directed by Justin Barber

 

Some may remember the notorious Phoenix Lights that on March 13, 1997 were witnessed by thousands of Phoenicians. Some in the UFO community consider it one of the most important sightings in history; others pass it off as military planes in formation dropping flares. Either way, it is still something of a mystery.

Three teens – Josh Bishop (Roberts), his crush Ashley Foster (Lopez) and their mutual friend Mark Abrams (Matthews) decide to head towards a remote area of the Arizona mountains to investigate the lights a week later. Their car was found abandoned by the side of the road but the three young people were never seen again.

Twenty years later Sophie (Hartigan), the younger sister of Josh, comes back to Phoenix to help her mom (Strittmatter) move. She comes across some of the videotapes her camera-obsessed brother took, including those of the lights themselves and decides to make a documentary of her brother’s disappearance. She interviews as many subjects as she can including her dad (Jordan) and other interested parties. At length she discovers a badly damaged camcorder found in the desert with the tape in it amazingly intact – which may solve once and for all the mystery behind the disappearance of the three teens.

The movie is in reality two separate movies; the story of the three teens told through their own videos, and Sophie’s investigation, which is a more standard storytelling method. The more interesting of the two is surprisingly the found footage. Barber has recreated it well, making it look like it was recorded on a camcorder circa 1997 complete with wavy lines, static and shaky cam. It looks real authentic as does the environment depicted; kudos to Barber for that.

The three “teen” leads are all as they tend to be in low budget horror movies attractive and do at least an adequate job of performing. Lopez in particular seems to have some screen presence and might well be on her way to a bright future in the business.

The thing here is that it borrows a little bit too much from The Blair Witch Project, even one of the character’s names is present. The plot is just about identical, adding elements from last year’s Blair Witch to sweeten the pot, substituting the Arizona desert for the Maryland woods. Imitation is of course flattery and in all honesty Phoenix Forgotten does imitate well, but if you’re looking for something more, you might end up disappointed.

Speaking of disappointing, the special effects are pretty poor for a film of this caliber – although they do get the aging of the found footage right. Mostly the effects consist of colored lights, wind machines and wires and it would have looked primitive back in 1997. In 2017, well, it’s simply not good enough. With maybe a little bit larger budget they could have done a more realistic job.

Still, the movie delivers where it needs to. I’m pretty sure I’m alone in this assessment; the movie disappeared without a trace (much like its protagonists) at the box office and the critical reception was less than enthusiastic. I liked it though; there was plenty that worked that I can recommend it to horror fans and to thriller fans alike. Sci-fi fans might have issues with the subpar special effects. Phoenix Forgotten is likely to be forgotten judging on the overall lack of interest in it (there are only six reviews up on Metacritic; most major releases have anywhere from 20-45) but it doesn’t deserve to be.

REASONS TO GO: The found footage is cleverly utilized, making it more palatable. I got a bit of high school nostalgia watching this.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are nothing to write home about.
FAMILY VALUES: There are scenes of peril and terror as well as a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The footage of the Phoenix Lights was digitally simulated and then saved onto VHS tape. It was then converted back to digital. The analog effects are a result of this process and help to integrate the CGI into the era-proper technology.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Blair Witch Project
FINAL RATING:7/10
NEXT: The Discovery

New Releases for the Week of April 21, 2017


UNFORGETTABLE

(Warner Brothers) Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Whitney Cummings, Jayson Blair, Robert Wisdom, Isabella Kai Rice. Directed by Denise Di Novi

Julia thinks she’s finally found the happiness that has eluded her when she gets engaged to David. She adores his daughter from his first marriage (he’s recently divorced) and this is the opportunity to put her own troubled past behind her. Unfortunately she didn’t plan on Tessa, the first wife, to be pathologically possessive and stop at nothing to get rid of Julia and resume her place as David’s wife and Lilly’s mother.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity)

Born in China

(DisneyNature) John Krasinski (narrator). The latest in Disney’s series of nature documentaries takes us to China, one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth. There we’ll follow a family of giant pandas, of golden snub-nosed monkeys and rare and elusive snow leopards. Some of the footage displays behaviors never before caught on film. As is customary, Disney will make a donation to a wildlife cause (in this case the World Wildlife Fund) for every ticket sold the first week of release.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Nature Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: G

Free Fire

(A24) Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy. An arms deal goes horribly wrong as a group of gun smugglers are selling a shipment to a gang when shots are fired. Complete pandemonium ensues as nobody seems to know who’s shooting at who and what the heck is actually going on. Surviving this night is going to be no easy task.

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use)

Grow House

(Rocky Mountain) Malcolm McDowell, Snoop Dogg, DeRay Davis, Lil Duval. A couple of stoners who are deeply in debt figure out that one way to get rich quick is to sell weed to legal dispensaries. Unfortunately for them, while they are awesome at smoking the stuff, it’s a whole other thing to grow it.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Stoner Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Fashion Square Premiere Cinema, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, UA Seminole Mall

Rating: R (for drug use and language throughout, including some sexual references)

The Lost City of Z

(Bleecker Street) Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland. Percy Fawcett was a British military man and cartographer near the turn of the 20th century who was sent to map the Amazon region to help settle a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil. Instead he discovered evidence of a vast advanced civilization that once dwelled there and a legendary city he called Z. Ridiculed by the scientific community, he made attempt after attempt to find the lost city until he and his son disappeared on an expedition in 1925. The movie is based on a book written on the explorer and a review for it will appear on Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity)

Phoenix Forgotten

(Cinelou) Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews. The incident known as the Phoenix Lights occurred on March 13, 1997 and was witnessed by thousands of residents and is often pointed to by UFO enthusiasts as proof positive of the existence of extraterrestrial life visiting this planet. This movie is based on those events.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Found Footage Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for terror, peril and some language)

The Promise

(Open Road) Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian genocide, an Armenian doctor falls in love with a woman of Armenian descent who already has a boyfriend – a famous American journalist out to expose the truth of the genocide to the world.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality)

Their Finest

(STX) Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston. During the Second World War the British Ministry of Information is tasked with producing films designed to lift the spirits of that war-battered nation. With most of the available men in the armed forces, the desperate ministry brings aboard a woman to add her light touch into the scripts. She becomes enamored of a producer from an entirely different social strata and soon discovers that the camaraderie behind the camera is at least as intense as that in front of it.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language and a scene of sexuality)

Pick of the Litter – April 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

The Fate of the Furious

(Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron. The first post-Paul Walker film in the franchise shakes things up quite a bit. Dominic Toretto does the unthinkable; he turns on his gang, his family. He has thrown his lot in with a manipulative cyber terrorist. Stopping the two of them becomes a big priority and they’re going to have help from an unexpected quarter – the man they just put away. April 14

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Transfiguration

(Strand) Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Lloyd Kaufman, Anna Friedman. This is a unique take on vampire films. Milo is a young African-American teen who is fascinated with vampires to the point of obsession. He meets Sophie who is also an outsider and the two form a strong bond but that bond is beginning to push Milo further into the belief that drinking human blood will transform him into an actual vampire. April 7

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

(Abramorama) Denzel Washington (voice), Common, Bill Clinton, Carlos Santana. John Coltrane is without question one of the brightest lights in the jazz pantheon. His music transcends boundaries or even description – it is music that is felt and experienced more than listened to. He remains today as influential a musician as he has ever been and his story deserves to be told and his music heard by those who haven’t yet had a chance to experience the miracle that is John Coltrane. April 14

Queen of the Desert

(IFC) Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson. There are few things in life that make me as happy as hearing “a new Werner Herzog film.” While this isn’t strictly new (it was originally released in 2015 and is only now making it to the US) it is at least new to us. This is based on the extraordinary but true story of Gertrude Bell, a British woman of many talents who held a particular fascination for the Bedouin on whose affairs she advised the British government during the early years of the 20th century. As policies changed, she found herself at odds with her own government – and taking the side of the people whom she cherished. April 14

Demain

(Under the Milky Way) Melanie Laurent, Cyril Dion, Olivier De Schutter, Michelle Long. When French actress Laurent was pregnant, her activist husband told her that her child could live in a world of food shortages, clean water shortages, overpopulation and scarce energy. She was determined not just to find a way to avoid this future but to seek out alternatives to it. This is a documentary Laurent and her husband made looking for viable solutions to all of those problems now before it is too late. April 14

Finding Oscar

(FilmRise) Kate Doyle, Scott Greathead, Sebastian Rotella, Fredy Peccerelli. In 1982, a massacre occurred in the tiny Guatemalan village of Dos Erres. In the 35 years since the tragedy, justice has yet to be served and the victims lie in unquiet graves. There is hope in the form of a little boy who may have survived the massacre and may be able to finally shed light on what happened and bring those that perpetrated this heinous crime to justice. The search for that boy – now a man – is not an easy one however. April 14

Phoenix Forgotten

(Cinelou) Matt Biedel, Ana Dela Cruz, Florence Hartigan, Jeanine Jackson. While many feel that found footage horror films have run their course, it has to be said that having an A-list director like Ridley Scott involved in the production is at least intriguing. The incident that this is based on – the Phoenix lights – actually did happen. The footage of three teens who disappeared shortly thereafter did not. Doesn’t mean it can’t be a cool and scary movie though. April 21

 

 Bang! The Bert Berns Story

(Abramorama) Steven van Zandt (narrator), Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Van Morrison. Bert Berns was a songwriter and producer of some of the biggest rock and soul hits of the Sixties. Songs like “Twist and Shout,” “Hang on Sloopy” and “Another Piece of My Heart” all sprung from his fertile mind. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016 and some say it would have been sooner but for his association with Tommy Ryan – a high ranking member of the mob – which threw a cloud over his career. April 26