PHOENIX FORGOTTEN

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN

I’m a huge BLADE RUNNER fan, so I am excited to tell you about producer Ridley Scotts’s latest project, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN. The film hits theaters across the country this Friday, April 21. Our friends at Katrina Wan PR, in conjunction with Cinelou Films have released a featurette featuring Sir Ridley, alongside co-producers Wes Ball and TS Nowlin and director Justin Barber discussing the March 13, 1997 appearance of what has become known as “The Phoenix Lights,” which was the impetus for PHOENIX FORGOTTEN.

The movie relates the story of a trio of teenagers who, seeking to document the phenomenon, headed into the desert looking for answers. The three disappeared that night, never to be seen again. Much like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, this new film uses found footage of their final hours, revealing the truth behind the teens’ ultimate fate. Check out the featurette before heading out to catch the flick this weekend:


FIELD OF LOST SHOES

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/BOSCH MEDIA/TREDEGAR FILMWORKS/BROOKWELL-MCNAMARA ENTERTAINMENT (95 minutes/Rated PG-13); 2014)

FILS_DVD_Wrap_FM1.indd

I am a Civil War nut! I love reading and studying about the era. It is, without a doubt, one of the few truly defining moments in this country’s history. The events leading up to the bloodiest conflict in America’s relatively young past divided the Republic along, not only ideological lines, but territorial lines, as well. As the Southern States began to feel the economic pinch from the Northern States over – among other things – tariffs for their goods, states’ rights of sovereignty and slavery, plans were formulated for their secession from the Union. As has been well documented through historical records, in many instances, the actions taken on both sides of this divide led to fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and best friends facing each other from different sides of the battlefield.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Nolan Gould, Luke Benward, Max Lloyd-Jones, Parker Croft, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Nolan Gould, Luke Benward, Max Lloyd-Jones, Parker Croft, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

Over the years, there have been some really well made movies about the Civil War (SHENANDOAH, starring Jimmy Stewart, has been a long-time favorite) and some fairly crappy ones (okay… here’s where you get out your torches and pitchforks and chase me through the woods… GONE WITH THE WIND immediately comes to mind); FIELD OF LOST SHOES is poised to take its place as one of the best films ever about one of the worst times in American history. The film follows seven of the 257 cadets (all between the ages of 15 and 24) from the Virginia Military Institute forced into active service on May 11, 1864 and into the action at the Battle of New Market on the 15th. The Confederate commander, Major General John C Breckinridge (a brilliantly understated and tortured performance from Jason Isaacs), was loathe to use the cadets but, when reinforcements didn’t show up in time, he reluctantly sent them forward. Breckinridge gave orders to the VMI’s commanding officer, Captain Chinook (a character portrayed by Courtney Gains and who is, apparently, a composite of Colonel Scott Shipp and Captains Frank Preston and Henry A Wise, among others) to keep the cadets at least 300 yards behind the main force but, the might (and accuracy) of the Union’s artillery prompted the cadets to fill a hole in the Confederate lines, coming into direct musket and cannon fire.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Parker Croft, Luke Benward, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Parker Croft, Luke Benward, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

Even though the creative team (headed by director Sean McNamara, of SOUL SURFER fame) went to painstaking lengths to be accurate (studying the few existing official records, as well as diaries and journals of some of the participants), with a movie based on an actual event, there are certain aspects added to the story – especially one that occurred more than 150 years ago – to enhance the entertainment factor. The fact that these enhancements meld seamlessly with the truth go a long way in making FIELD OF LOST SHOES the riveting film it is; the Captain Chinook character is a prime example. The movie opens in 1858, as Governor Henry Wise and his twelve year old son, John, are discussing events of the last several days, including John’s trip to Philadelphia with his mother, where they took in the play, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Virginia’s chief executive wonders why the boy has not said anything about the play; “Because I do not agree with it,” comes the reply. The Governor, not holding to the precepts of slavery and well understanding his son’s true beliefs, takes John to a slave auction. He sends his child in to the “market” alone, hoping that he may better understand the true impact of trafficking in human lives, treating them as property, lower than even the animals of the field. In a heart-wrenching scene, a family is brought to the stage… a mother, a father and several children; the father, who had been hobbled with a broken leg, pleads with the “masters” to keep his family together. With the mother bringing only $400, the auctioneer asks the buyer if he will take the entire family; he says that he can’t really afford to feed the one he just bought and has no need for the husband and children, telling the mother, “You can have more children.” Young John Wise has his eyes opened as the devastated family are brutally ripped apart; their lives and his are forever changed.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Jason Isaacs) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Jason Isaacs) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

The movie moves ahead in time five years, with John (Luke Benward) now a cadet at the prestigious Virginia Military Institute. From this point forward, the film focuses on Wise and his “band of brothers,” five fast friends – as diverse as the nation that spawned them – and a new cadet, a “rat,” as they were (and still are) called, whom they take under their collective wings, saying that forevermore, he will be known as “Sir Rat.” As the political rhetoric and the war intensify, we are privy to the inner turmoil brought to bear on these seven young men and, indeed, the entire populace of the VMI, including its instructors and staff. They are torn between their commitment and pledge to the United States military and their allegiance to their home, the Commonwealth of Virginia… a scenario that was actually played out from the very top of the Federal government to the ranking officers of the country’s military to the farmers and businessmen throughout the land, including its territories to the west. This conflict of conscience and loyalties is nowhere played out as well as a particularly touching and telling four minute scene where Breckinridge, the former vice president of the United States, meets the seven cadets on the eve of the battle. I don’t usually quote a lot of dialogue from the films I review, but this exchange is so well done and poignant that I can’t help but quote it nearly in its entirety.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (David Arquette) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (David Arquette) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

After asking the cadets to sit, Breckinridge tells them, “Well, the purpose of this little visit is because it’s my fault you’re here. In many ways, it’s my fault that everyone is here in this valley, because when I was vice president, I tried to solve this problem and I could not. Now, good men from the North and South will die here and I will have some difficult decisions tomorrow, some of which may involve you.” He asks for the cadets’ thoughts on the war and their future plans. Jack Stanard (Zach Roerig), young Wise’s nemesis before the order to march, offers his opinion first, “We find ourselves invaded by a conquering army who I must consider foreign invaders. Defending our homeland is an imperative and I can’t understand anyone who thinks otherwise.” Next, cadet Thomas Garland Jefferson (a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson, played by Parker Croft) sums up the feelings of many of the landed gentry of the south: “My family’s owned a plantation for close to a hundred and fifty years, so I’m defending my heritage and my future. But, that ain’t the whole of it. I believe folks of a certain class have a heavy responsibility. We must use our position to see that the common folk among us are cared for.” In a line that could have been quite condescending, Isaacs’ quiet, unassuming Breckinridge replies, “Well, we common folk sure do appreciate that.” Sam Atwill (Max Lloyd-Jones) eloquently states the feelings of most men in any war: “I think war is stupid and cruel and nowhere near as necessary as those leading the fighting like to tell themselves,” to which the General asks, “I see. And do you think I can negotiate my way out of this tomorrow?” Pausing for reflection, the cadet answers, “No. Not anymore. We will stand with you and fight.” Sir Rat, the freshman cadet Robert (a fine performance from MODERN FAMILY’s Nolan Gould), tells Breckinridge, “I will fight Grant’s bullies, sir. I tell everybody that I’m going to be a farmer but, if Mister Wise will let me, I’d like to help him be governor.” “My family and my home were burned,” relates the quiet, reflective Benjamin “Duck” Colonna (Sean Marquette), “I’ll kill as many blues tomorrow as God permits, sir.” Sir Rat introduces Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman) as a “genius artist” before Moses tells him, “I would like to try my hand at sculptor.” Ezekiel’s statue, “Virginia Mourning Her Dead,” a memorial to the VMI cadets who fought in the Battle of New Market (of the 257 called up, 10 were killed and 47 wounded), sits on the academy’s campus. General Breckinridge’s final thoughts to the group relate his feelings about the situation he has put these young men in and the belief that there is a better day coming: “I know that you must be afraid and I know because I am afraid… This war will end, I swear to you and you boys… you are the future of this country and having met you, the future will be bright.”

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Nolan Gould, Zach Roerig, Max Lloyd-Jones) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Nolan Gould, Zach Roerig, Max Lloyd-Jones) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

The film is filled with many equally poignant moments, maybe none more so than the sight of Sir Rat and the VMI’s black cook, “Old Judge” (Keith David in a memorable role), sifting through the mud and the dead, collecting the shoes that were lost in the battle. You see, like the movie, the place where the cadets met the Federal forces is known as “the field of lost shoes,” because several days of nearly torrential rains had turned the area into a muddy morass and many on both sides sank up to their ankles in the sucking ground, losing their shoes as they advanced. One chilling scene, as the cadets charge the Union artillery positions, sees the infantry defending the position realize, “They’re just a bunch of damn school boys! Kill ‘em all!” The battle scenes are especially well done, not pulling any punches in showing the brutality of long-range cannon and musket fire, as well as vicious hand-to-hand combat. In the background of a scene at a “field hospital,” a home where the wounded and dead are brought, you get a glimpse of a surgeon amputating a wounded man’s leg. The entire film is beautifully shot and masterfully staged; pay close attention as the cadets are marching toward the Shenandoah Valley and John Wise meets the gaze of a very familiar face. Heck, even the prerequisite love interest is well done (with Mary Mouser as the coy Libby Clinedinst), though, inevitably, as we know from the start, doomed. Aside from the young stars, you can look for Lauren Holly as Libby’s mother; Tom Skerritt as a particularly grizzled Ulysses Grant; and former World Championship Wrestling heavyweight title holder, David Arquette, as Union Captain Henry A DuPont. FIELD OF LOST SHOES is rated PG-13 and the only concern I would have for letting kids under 10 or so watch is the very real looking battle sequences and, especially, the resultant battlefield carnage. While not centered on one family like the aforementioned SHENANDOAH (and not as melodramatic), the film is every bit as touching and heart-wrenching in its depiction of the Civil War and far more historically accurate.


PLASTIC

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/GATEWAY FILMS (101 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

PLASTIC

To be quite honest, I was going to give this one a pass; on first blush, it just didn’t seem to be my particular cup of tea (either Raspberry or Cherry Vanilla… or, maybe, a simple English Breakfast Tea). To say the least, I was dead wrong. PLASTIC is a thrilling roller coaster ride of deceit, theft, violence, sex, drugs and a thumping electronic soundtrack. The film is based on (or inspired by) a true story but, then, aren’t they all?

The story revolves around four university con artists working a brilliant and seemingly flawless credit card scam. Ringleader Sam (played by Ed Speleers, who looks genetically produced from equal parts Eric Stoltz, Topher Grace and Rick Astley; he apparently, occupies an abbey located downtown) has gone to great lengths to insure the loyalty of his three co-conspirators (he hacked into their e-mails and used the information he found to either blackmail them or play on their sympathies). Fordy (Will Poulter), ostensibly, the group’s second in command, is the cool-headed realist, biding his time before he makes a move on Sam; Rafa (Sebastian De Souza) is a big dreamer stuck in a dead-end job; Yatesey (Alfie Allen, who stars in that one show about thrones) is the loose cannon, who would like nothing better than to excise Sam from his life (and, possibly, this earth). Yatesey and Rafa decide to freelance, attacking a man and stealing a briefcase in his possession. The owner of the briefcase, a gangster named Marcel (a delightfully evil Thomas Kretschmann), has gone to great extremes to protect his property, including placing tracking devices and cameras in it, which, of course, leads him (and two very large assistants) right to the boys’ lair (or dorm room, as the case may be). Marcel gives them until the end of the day to acquire a long list (about £60,000 worth) of items with their stolen card information, or else. They manage to fill Marcel’s wish list and discover that the “or else” is a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere. The lads make a deal with Marcel to obtain two million bucks in two weeks in exchange for their lives.

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

That deal sends them looking for help. The help is a girl both Sam and Yatesey had previously met at a bar. Sam remembered that Frankie (Emma Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Jill Ireland… plus, the Red Queen looks really good in a bikini) works for a credit card company as a data processor in overseas accounts. Sam’s plan is to be empathetic to lure Frankie into the scheme; her father is very ill and the family is drowning in medical bills. Once the girl is on board, she tells the guys that the best plan would be to go to America because, according to her inside information, she knows of several high-budget card holders that spend a lot of time and plenty of cash in Miami. So, using other people’s money (as they have since the beginning of the story), they head for the sunny beaches of Florida. Infighting, mistrust, jealousy and greed are at work, eroding the plan virtually from the time they land in Miami; The two low men on the totem pole, Yatesey and Rafa, plot against Sam, looking to get their fair share; initially, the plot takes the form of Yatesey using one of the fake cards at a strip club after Sam specifically tells the team to be careful how they are used. Of course, when the card is refused for “suspicious use,” the junior partners (including Fordy) run afoul of several very large bouncers.

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

From that point, things take a decidedly dark turn. As more and more people and ancillary businesses are drawn into the conspiracy, an international noose begins to tighten around the throats of the five thieves as police and Marcel seek justice in their own ways. From the scene in the strip club, the crosses and double-crosses begin to stack up, eventually pitting too rival criminal cartels against each other, with Sam’s team squarely caught in the middle. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. To say more would be undermining the purpose of this review, which is to get you to watch (purchase) this movie. Let’s say that the climax of PLASTIC is a thrill-a-minute, action-packed and wholly implausible ending… but, then, it based on a true story.

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

The R rating is for the violence, strong language, some nudity and drug use. Though it does drag in some parts, the payoff is definitely worth the price of admission. Bonus points are awarded, by the way, for the casting of Malese Jow (she plays Beth, the secretary and arm candy of one of the sleazier business-types that gets sucked into the scam). The role is small, but Malese has a way of commanding every scene she’s in. The DVD has a “Making of… ” special feature which is quite entertaining in its own right. The producers briefly interview a man named Saqib Mumtaz who, in 1997, was a member of the fraudulant group the film is based on; I would guess that, from the interview, the character of Rafa was based on Mister Mumtaz. Overall, a great movie, though you may wanna keep it away from the kiddies.


LOUDER THAN WORDS

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/IDENTITY FILMS (93 minutes, Rated PG-13); 2014)

LOUDER THAN WORDS

For me, ambivalence is not an option for a film like LOUDER THAN WORDS; either I like such fare very much or hate it vehemently. I knew that the script was based on a true story which, depending on the screenwriter, the director, the principal stars and – yes – the subject matter, could signal disaster or thought-provoking, uplifting confirmations about life, family and the inherent good within each of us. The first few minutes of LOUDER THAN WORDS had me leaning toward disaster… to the point that I nearly hit the “stop” button on the remote. But, I hung in and, thankfully, was rewarded with story about life and death and family dynamics that seem, in some part, to reflect each of us.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (David Duchovny and Hope Davis) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (David Duchovny and Hope Davis) (publicity still)

So, is LOUDER… perfect? No, the movie definitely has problems, which I’ll address shortly. First, though, here’s the basic gist of the story (no spoilers here, as the story has been well documented): John and Brenda Fareri (played by David Duchovny and Hope Davis) are a well-to-do couple devastated after the loss of their 13 year old daughter, Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer), to a rare strain of rabies. Maria, a vibrant and loving child, was the glue that held the Ferari family unit together. John – always the thoughtful, quiet one – seems to become more insular and withdrawn, alienating Brenda and their other children (from Brenda’s previous marriage), triplets Stephanie, Michael and Julie (Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield and Morgan Griffin), each grieving in their own fashion and wondering why the man they call Father has abandoned them. At one point, one of the girls tells her Mother that she fels like things are back to the way they were before John became a part of their family: Like they didn’t have a Father. John gains focus when he decides to build a new children’s hospital to better serve the needs of the whole family and to make the kids feel – if not at home – a little more comfortable about their hospital stay. Of course, everybody thinks that John has driven off the rails somewhere, including city leaders, rich friends and the consultant (Bruce Komiske, played by Timothy Hutton) he hires to help bring his dream to fruition. An eventual kitchen showdown between Brenda and John allows both to vent and gain a modicum of understanding of the pain the other is feeling. From there, it isn’t a great stretch to bring Brenda and the three kids on board and start the ball (and donations) rolling. The previous despair is replaced by a sense of hope and a desire to help others in the Fareri’s situation.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Olivia Steele-Falconer) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Olivia Steele-Falconer) (publicity still)

The film is narrated by Maria, who is initially seen riding her bicycle on a beautiful fall day (or, maybe, she’s in Heaven). I originally found this premise a bit dubious, to say the least but, as the story progresses, it seems somehow natural that she would be the one to tell this story. LOUDER THAN WORDS encompasses approximately seven years, boiled down into a compact 90-minute package; and, therein, lies the bulk of my problems with the movie. Sometimes it just seems too much like watching MTV on speed for its own good. The film bounces back and forth between past and present, generally via family remembrances, with too many quick cuts and edits and little “black-out” vignettes meant to move the story forward as quickly as possible. Producer Anthony Mastromauro says, in the “behind the scenes” bonus feature, I think any time you’re telling a story that spans a number of years, the non-linear structure can work in your favor.” Or not, sir. While I did find the movie engaging and the story a great affirmation of life, I would very much have preferred a more traditional, linear telling (which the film does revert to eventually) and, maybe, about another 30-minutes to flesh out a few of those frustrating vignettes.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Timothy Hutton, Hope Davis and David Duchovny) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Timothy Hutton, Hope Davis and David Duchovny) (publicity still)

Some of John’s flashback sequences are akin to Agent Mulder’s search for his sister (and the truth, which is out there… or so we’re told) in THE X FILES. And, now that I think about it, the hospital where Maria dies kinda looks like one of those draped-in-shadows secret government facilities that Scully and Mulder would occasionally find themselves searching for that truth. As is often the case with a death in the family (particularly a young child), the survivors each handle the loss in their own way. The Fareri family’s coping mechanisms may seem a bit over the top, but… try to put yourself in their shoes (heck, you may have been in those shoes yourself once). I haven’t lost a child, but I watched my Mother go through it twice; it’s a pain that never goes away. So, anyway… the kids are suitably sullen; Brenda is devastated, confused and angry… in that order; John is, first, zombie-like, then, inconsolable and, finally, driven. With Bruce Komiske on board, John and he begin to knock on the doors of the wealthy and the powerful. At one point, a consultant mentions that the best way to build a new hospital is by putting a donor’s name on the building; John steadfastly declares that the hospital will bear his daughter’s name. That is the attitude that has his family and friends, at first, questioning his sanity and, later, joining him in the fight to give these children and their families a state-of-the-art facility, as well as a sense of hope.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Ben Rosenfield, Hope Davis, David Duchovny, Morgan Griffin and Adelaide Kane) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Ben Rosenfield, Hope Davis, David Duchovny, Morgan Griffin and Adelaide Kane) (publicity still)

Duchovny’s performance is understated, sometimes to the point that he appears to be mumbling his lines; he very rarely raises his voice, but when he does, it’s with authority and passion. The sincerity in the faces and eyes of Duchovny, Davis and Hutton are real. In the “behind the scenes” documentary, they each declare how much they believed in this story and how much they believed that it was one that should be told… standard quotes for any actor about any of their projects. This time, though, that same sincerity is in their eyes. They aren’t just giving lip service, they really mean it. Rosenfield, Kane and Griffin play the lost and hurting triplets as if they’re walking through a very bad dream; and, that’s exactly what it feels like, especially when you feel like you’ve lost your parents, too. Olivia Steele-Falconer, at times, seems to be in over her head and overreaching to compensate but, when it’s all said and done, she delivers a moving performance. The Fareri family were all involved in the production of LOUDER THAN WORDS and, I couldn’t imagine how hard that must have been, particularly when they would see this little girl playing their daughter and the uncanny resemblance to Maria.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (The Maria Fareri Children's Hospital; Maria in inset) (uncredited photos)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (The Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital; Maria in inset) (uncredited photos)

So, I told you that it wasn’t perfect and I stated my reasons for that assessment. If you don’t feel the same way I do about the editing style and non-linear storytelling, then by all means, you should check out LOUDER THAN WORDS. It truly is a story that had to be told.