Phoenix Forgotten: Movie Man Jackson

Some things seen cannot be forgotten. March 13th, 1997. Bright, odd lights appear hover over Phoenix, Arizona. No one knows for sure what they are attributed to, but some in the city believe them to be UFOs.

One of those people is Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts). He, along with friend Mark (Justin Matthews), and love interest Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) decide to take it upon themselves to find out exactly what happened. But, the three go missing days after the sighting, with nary a sign as to what happened. Now in 2017, Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is committed to solving the mystery of what happened to her brother and his company, going off of the documentary-style tapes that were left behind.

The most noteworthy thing about Phoenix Forgotten, a movie American moviegoers probably didn’t forget but rather, just not cared for based on the box office reports, is one of its co-producers being the legendary Ridley Scott. The producer connection seems to be in name only, going no further than an Easter egg featuring the Xenomorph on a poster. So that leaves Phoenix Forgotten as a traditional found footage movie more or less, not scraping the bottom of the genre barrel but not exactly leaving an imprint, either.

Almost any film in this genre ilk is going to be compared to The Blair Witch Project, fairly or unfairly. Really though, the story presentation of Phoenix Forgotten is a little Sinister-lite with mockumentary style injected, so not entirely found-footage delivered. In his first full-length feature, director Justin Barber toggles the first 40-50 minutes of the runtime between the present and the past, having Josh’s sister play her missing brother’s tapes and trying to piece together what exactly happened. The present-day scenes are adequate, but the fun exists (for a little while) in seeing the late 90’s recreated through the granular tapes and audio effects. To an extent, the particular story with these three teenagers does feel like it could have actually happened, which is a credit to Barber for balancing an actual real event with mostly fictional characters.

After around this 50 minute benchmark, Phoenix Forgotten transitions fully into the mode one expects it to. The film’s final act isn’t without a few thrills, but in the process ends up casting its main character/narrator aside and never brings her back. Which is odd, if only because the movie teases the question that what the audience is viewing cannot get out to the public, only for that possibility to go nowhere. As such, Phoenix Forgotten ends with a “That’s it?” type of feeling.

Barely being 80 minutes doesn’t really allow for signature character exploration. Phoenix Forgotten looks more at the idea of conspiracy obsession and the basics of how a family, especially a husband and wife, can be pulled apart after a terrible incident. Playing the father and the mother, respectively, Clint Jordan and Cyd Strittmatter do an excellent job of portraying parents who struggle to cope everyday with a missing child.

Although relatively brief, their character work is noticed. However, the four crux characters are surprisingly pretty forgettable—in part due to the lack of aforementioned runtime—but also in part because the cast playing them does so in the most bland of fashions. Outside of a few impressive moments from Chelsea Lopez, it’s hard to see anyone in this foursome getting increased high-profile work from their work here.

Even with a little of successful early movie genre subversion, Phoenix Forgotten doesn’t rise, as it eventually settles into the same repeated ashes and clichés that make up the genre it belongs to.

C

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, buzz.affcart.com, and blastr.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Blade Runner (The Final Cut): Movie Man Jackson

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Man’s creations will eventually rebel against their creators. Los Angeles, 2019. The City of Angels is a place that has seen many of the world’s greatest technological advances. One of these advances is the creation of “Replicants,” androids who look and feel like everyday humans. Proven to be dangerous after an uprising, the remaining replicants are banished outside of Earth and relegated to slave labor.

A few escape, and land back on Earth in search of their creator, whom they believe can help extend their life expectancy. They need to be “retired,” no ifs, ands, or buts. Taken from the shadows is Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an individual who specifically tracks and eliminates replicate threats. Upon the course of his investigation/manhunt, he gets romantically involved with an experimental model replicant, Rachael (Sean Young), who believes herself to be human. Deckard’s involvement with Rachael forces him to confront his humanity, as well as those of whom he is hunting.

Almost 35 years after its release (as of this writing), it’s impossible to talk about Blade Runner without acknowledging the impact it has had on the science fiction genre, mainly on the technical side. Almost 35 years later, it’s still one of the better-looking science fictions movies in history.

The dystopian future is a lynchpin of many a feature in the genre, but few, if any, have topped the fully realized vision that director Ridley Scott employs here. Los Angeles circa 2019 world feels authentic and lived-in, and draws one into the film immediately starting with the first interrogation utilizing the Voight-Kampff machine. Production is absolutely stellar, from the way Scott sets up shots, to the impressive score and sound design. Clearly, a sci-fi, however, it doubles as a film-noir (earlier versions feature Deckard narration, thankfully removed) in its use of lighting and plot elements.

Even as a visual tour-de-force, Scott’s Blade Runner is a slow moving film, mainly for the first half. Not until the second half do the themes start coalescing and things become more balanced with action and narrative. Scott tackles issues of oppression and corporate control, but being mainly concerned with what makes someone human. With the protagonist narration removed, Ridley leaves this question open to interpretation for the viewer. 

With all of that said, Blade Runner doesn’t resonate like envisioned, even after two viewings. I look to Scott’s characters as to a reason why, and mainly, his protagonist. Rick Deckard, even as more of his backstory is hinted at, is rather bland and nowhere near as compelling as he should be. As such, Harrison Ford ends up sort of being forgettable. Compare his character to that of Peter Weller’s in RoboCop (a movie that has similarities to Blade Runner but better pacing and memorable central characters to carry out its themes through), and Deckard feels…there. No real reason to get behind him and care about his journey. Why is he a blade runner? Why is he pulled out of retirement to hunt these replicants down, as opposed to someone else?

The replicants actually steal the show, in particular Rutger Hauer as the central leader Roy Batty of the escaped crew inhabiting Earth. Looking the part of an unstoppable killing machine, Hauer and Scott peel back the onion to show that there’s more to his character than that, and ends up being arguably the best character of the entire movie. Another argument can be made for Rachael, played by Sean Young who gives the character multiple layers as well. Rounding out the replicants are Joanna Cassidy, Daryl Hannah, and Brion James—each getting adequate screentime to further sell this created world—but amounting to little in actual people generating feelings from the audience. 

More impressive from the production and vision aspect than a storytelling and character one, Blade Runner is a little disappointing from the latter front. But is it still quite the sci-fi-experience in totality? Absolutely, and for that alone, it’s a mandatory watch for anyone. 

B

Photo credits go to qz.com, rogerebert.com, and dkillerpondworld.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com. 

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The Martian: Movie Man Jackson

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“Hi, I’m Mark Watney and I’m still alive… obviously.”

Space…never…cooperates. On a routine manned mission to the Red Planet, a violent storm forces a NASA crew to evacuate quickly. During the evacuation, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from the rest of his crew as a result of a large piece of flying debris. The impact with which it strikes him with is believed to be fatal, and despite Commander Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) desire to find Watney, her crew convinces her to come back to the evacuating ship.

Back on Earth, NASA is certain Watney is dead, and even announce so in a press conference. But back on Mars, he’s not exactly well, but alive. He’s becoming The Martian, using any and all of his brainpower to last long enough for the next manned mission to come to Mars. Will it work? Is it even worth the effort on NASA’s part? Can someone just find a wormhole to make things easier?

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Who says all movies in space have to be completely doom-ey and gloomy and overly heavy? Certainly not Ridley Scott. Look at The Martian and it is darn near impossible not to think about that other movie directed by Christopher Nolan. But, the two don’t really share much in common aside from NASA. Hell, The Martian hardly ever spends that much time in the actual entity of space! Whereas something like Interstellar was more rooted in the fear, resignation, and depressing aspects of the galaxy on more of a macro level, The Martian’s focus is micro, focusing on the individual and finding resolve and optimism in a trying scenario.

By no means does that mean that the movie is all happy-go-lucky. Space is still shown to be a dangerous place. But, it is also a place in where a person with a positive attitude can navigate through. By that analysis, The Martian should satisfy people who like science fiction with a little less pronounced focus on the science. The best phrase to describe it would be “audience friendly,” as stated in Mark Hobin’s review. In my opinion, it lacks a little bit of the unpredictable and thematic drama that some space exploration movies possess. Perhaps this is something that exists in the novel, but lost in translation on the silver screen.

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But, the real reason why Ridley Scott’s big screen adaptation of the novel works so well is the fact that there is so much fun to be had in simply watching Watney make due with anything and everything to make it another day, week, year, and years. Yours truly may be a prisoner of the recent moment, but it is hard to remember when was the last time a film had a character not only incredibly smart, but incredibly resourceful and heady.

Matt Damon does a great job of, while still being an amazingly intelligent guy, playing a man who really feel likes an everyman. He’s not brooding, but instead upbeat and hopeful. He experiences worry, but is never consumed by it. When he talks science, it is put in a way that the audience can understand, which makes him an easier guy to connect with. Though easy to see where his tale ultimately ends, it is the journey in getting there that is the real story.

Damon is clearly the sole focus and does most of the heavy lifting, but due to the mega-starpower cast assembled around him, he isn’t as alone as Watney is. Chiwetel Ejiofor can pretty much blend into any role at this point and make it notable, which he does here. Jeff Daniels starts out as a character who looks to be the basic “guy-in-a-suit” stock character, and in many respects he is, but his character is revealed to be pretty realistic and not as antagonistic as to be believed. Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Aksel Hennie, Sean Bean, and Donald Glover are all notable names that may have small parts, but add to the Watney story one way or another.

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Always one to be known for some directorial flair, Scott makes his imprint here once again. The first shots on Mars are extremely photorealistic, with lighting that looks as if it were shot on the Red Planet itself. Particularly, the climax is as dizzying (in a good way) as anything in recent memory. He gets a nice assist from composer Harry Gregson-Williams, whose score snaps perfectly into the movie during comedic moments and more serious moments, never being more than it needs to be.

The genre of science fiction almost in some ways feels a little like a misnomer for The Martian. There appears to be nothing too fictional about the science, as NASA had involvement on both the novel and the film. Strip away the setting, and this story is one that could be told across many genres, and it has. But that isn’t a negative by any means. In a genre that can be so devoid of hope  and optimism, it’s a pleasant welcome for this galaxy to have it.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, maguzz.com, and mlive.com.

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