Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Justin Barber. Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez. Runtime: 1h27 min. 

Phoenix Forgotten is like one of those films that come out of nowhere, but this is because of a quiet marketing campaign. It tries to replicate the success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and it’s disappointingly mediocre (especially with the involvement of Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free Productions).

Integrated at the centre of the story is the Phoenix Lights, a triangular light formation that was seen from Phoenix, Arizona in March 1997. It’s never been explained, and is the most famous so-called UFO sighting in the world.

The fictional story comes with three teens – Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts), Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez), and Mark Abrams (Justin Matthews) – who disappeared without a trace investigating the Phoenix Lights. 20 years later in 2017, Josh Bishop’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan), 26, is investigating the disappearance. She discusses it with her own parents and Ashley’s parents as she makes a documentary.

It’s interesting learning about the Phoenix Lights. It’s famous, but I never heard about it, so it’s intriguing. I thought it was just making a generic UFO sighting and developing mythology; instead, it interestingly blends some truth with a lot of fiction, and the unexplained phenomena has some intrigue. That’s what makes some of the first hour interesting.

The story doesn’t flow well as it skips between Sophie making a documentary in 2017 about the disappearance, and back to Josh and Ashley making a documentary about the Phoenix Lights in 1997 (Josh was an aspiring director, so he filmed everything). It thereby mixes some docu-drama with found footage.

Sophie mostly just talks to her parents and other experts who give lots of speculation. They say forgettable stuff, and there are so many boring interview subjects that I found myself forgetting who was who. It’s interesting how Sophie’s parents were affected after Josh has been missing for 20 years with no closure. It’s heartbreaking, but besides them, the emotional connection is non-existent; as the characters are one-dimensional.

Phoenix ForgottenJosh is single-minded and becomes obsessed when he gets an idea in his head. I liked seeing in his room that he was sci-fi enthusiast with X-Files and Alien posters all over his room. Ashley’s more interesting, since she’s open-minded and interviews well as an aspiring journalist. One interview features local astronomers talking about how they think the lights were flares.

Mark just feels like he’s kind-of there, since he has a car. He’s a friend but he’s almost has no dimension. The little-known actors aren’t memorable, but they do serviceable jobs. Chelsea Lopez as Ashley brings some charm.

The cinematography is stronger in Sophie’s documentary, but her film is way less interesting. Her documentary feels distinctly incomplete even when she has a chance to make an ending, and the film doesn’t execute.

It’s also silly that she waits 20 years to investigate the disappearance, and like the documentary, this feels like it’s made a few years too late, especially after the release of The Phoenix Incident in 2015 (a docu-drama about the real-life disappearances). It’s especially late since Adam Wingard released Blair Witch last year, and this is essentially a carbon copy of The Blair Witch Project mixed with a some of The X-Files.

The film’s a puzzle as they try to explain what happened to these 17-year-olds. The mystery’s never been solved because they stopped filming at one point. It’s the one video that promises something happening, as most of the videos are uneventful. Sometimes they investigate the Lights, but other times they just go for a hike hoping something will happen.

The videos are amateurishly shot and Josh annoyingly can never keep the camera on the action, and it’s hard to see what’s going on. The camera’s consistently shaky, but the visual effects are cool when we see it long enough. The filmmakers make it look like the videos were filmed in 1997. It has a VHS quality, and it adds realism.

The horror relies on psychological aspects of paranoia, lots of bright lights and loud noises instead of jump scares, which makes it refreshing. In that way, it does something different from most found-footage films, and part of the reason why I’m giving it a passing score.

The tension is palpable because of chilling sound design. It feels more like freaky, sci-fi scares than anything and when I’m talking about horror, it’s only existent in the film’s final 15-20 minutes when we get the last piece of the puzzle. It’s a good finale.

The first hour has 15 minutes of interesting material, but it’s boring and not scary. Since only a fraction of this is thrilling, it doesn’t work as a feature film. It would be better as a 30-minute segment in an anthology franchise like V/H/S because there’s not enough material here, and Josh’s sister making a documentary in the present day often feels like filler. Director Justin Barber fleshes it out to about 80 minutes and it doesn’t feel like a well-rounded feature. The last piece of the puzzle is the only good part. Otherwise, Phoenix Forgotten is already fading from my memory.

Score: 50/100

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G.I. Jane (1997)

G.I. JaneG.I. Jane

Release Date: August 22, 1997

Director: Ridley Scott

Stars: Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft

Runtime: 125 min

Tagline: Failure is not an option.

G.I. Jane follows Lieutenant Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore), the first woman to be enrolled in a U.S. Navy SEAL training camp. Everyone expects her to fail, especially the fairly brutal Master Chief John James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen). However, she is a woman who needs to prove everyone wrong.

As far as memorable military action dramas go, this is one of the most forgettable and dull I’ve seen. Its slow pacing does not allow it to be engaging in the slightest. The only highlight of the feature is Moore and Mortensen’s acting, her hot body, the few action sequences it offers, its attempt at underlying themes, and Ridley Scott’s expert direction.

Demi Moore delivers a solid performance by exemplifying emotions of strength, perseverance and her will to make a statement. Oh, and her body and cold nipples are great supporting performers. O’Neill’s will to prove her point on sticking it out through the brutal training is her main characterization. She is a strong woman who can kick ass and look sexy while doing it. At least, before she shaves her head. Then she only looks half-sexy. Mortensen’s brutal Master Chief is the most vibrant symbol gender inequality within the American military, as he is the one who doesn’t want her to succeed the most. O’Neill’s husband wants to her to succeed, but others don’t even believe she’d last a freaking week. All the other characters are barely characterized, and there is hardly anyone else that is notable.

There’s only two very memorable action sequences, and they are unfortunately tedious. There’s one scene where two characters might as well be in a real-life duel of Mortal Kombat, and it gets to a point of dullness and disgust. I also wanted to yell at the screen, “For the love of God! FINISH HIM!” The other scene isn’t quite as tedious because it is very suspenseful, and well directed by the great Ridley Scott. Another memorable aspect of the film is its attempt to display the brutality of the Navy SEALs and the sort-of-insane training. These men in military gender inequality really push O’Neil to her emotional, physcial and mental capabilities. Gender inequality is the other solid underlying theme and it’s about a fictitious woman who tried to change it. However, it comes across as dull feminism propaganda. Within the first twenty minutes, I already felt as if the one of the only underlying ideas was being sledge-hammered too deep down my throat. G.I. Jane’s attempt at trying to express these ideas is admirable, but unfortunately very flawed. It also doesn’t know if it’s an action flick or a drama, because there’s too little action and too dull to be an effective military drama… If you look at it as a military drama with the tendency to be somewhat exciting, you might like it.

In a nutshell: G.I. Jane is a forgettable military drama most will forget within two months. The premise is too predictable to be engaging. Its purpose of showing gender inequality within the military is admirable, but ultimately too flawed and only a little exciting. The only solid things about the flick are the few action sequences, Moore’s acting, and her nipples metaphorically singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

55/100