Thursday, March 9, 2017

2017 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival

Of the films recently shown at the 2017 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, I've seen and reviewed the following:

Quarries [2016] (directed and cowritten by Nils Taylor along with Nicole Marie Johnson) plays like a feminist and, yes, in part lesbian Deliverance [1972].   Just having left an abusive relationship Kat (played by Nicole Marie Johnson) decides to join a week-long all-female wilderness backpacking trip.   Because of raging nearby forest fires, the group gets dropped off in an alternative spot.  This proves to be a nightmare as unbeknownst to them, the group has to pass through a wilderness inhabited by unemployed, since like forever, gun-toting white male supremacist / survivalist weirdos, who yes, also happen to be Christian Fundamentalists.

This can't go well and it doesn't.  Much, often very violent ensues.  What I have to give the film is its cleverness even if, in retrospect, a film like this was inevitable.  It basically corrects what was missing in the largely all male Deliverance [1972] -- in place of the "effeminate" / "city slicker" males who find themselves "out of their element," this film makes the conflict between increasingly (rightfully) assertive women (who are coming out of their own pain) and really the men _most lost_ by the changes around them.  Yes, the men here are nuts, but they find themselves in the one place (a wilderness) that they feel that they still control (if only by violence) even as THE FOREST IS BURNING ALL AROUND THEM ANYWAY.  It is ONE STARK YET FASCINATING FILM -- 3 1/2 Stars

Island Zero [2017] (directed by Josh Gerritsen, screenplay by Tess Gerritsen) plays like a fun 1950s style low-budget sci-fi horror movie:  All across the Eastern Seaboard, fisheries seem to be collapsing, one by one, yet no one seems to understand why or even see a pattern.  Well almost no one; one lone marine biologist, named Sam (played with appropriate craziness by Adam Wade McLaughlin) seems to be literally "connecting the dots."  He doesn't know _why_ the fisheries are collapsing, but he sees the pattern, and goes out to a lonely island (Zero) fifty miles off the coast of Maine to test if his hypothesis is right.  It is.  But then, whatever is ravaging the fisheries ... seems to want more!  To be stuck on a quaint if lonely island when SOMETHING REALLY HUNGRY seems to be "just offshore" doesn't seem smart and ... it isn't.  The residents of said quaint little island, fifty miles off the mainland, start to be eaten, one by one as well.  What's going on?

Well that's the rest of the movie ... and, of course, the military becomes interested ... but do they want to stop this thing, or try to bring it to its side?  Who's really really going to save the people of this Island (and humanity at large) ... Again, a clever 1950s style sci-fi horror flick ;-) -- 3 1/2 Stars 

Ribbons [2016] (directed by Elias Matar, screenplay by Edward E. Romero, story by both) is psychological thriller about an Afghan War vet named Vincent (played by Patrick Hickman) who's come back to the Antelope Valley region in the far reaches of Los Angeles County.  Of course he's not well but he finds a kindred spirit in Rachel (played by Haidyn Harvey) who though underage (to drink) he finds in a bar.

Rachel has her own issues, notably an abusive father named Kenny (played by Brian Krause) and a mother named Joan (played by Anna Easteden) who won't do anything.  Well Rachel brings her new beau Vincent home to meet her dysfunctional parents and needless to say much ensues, notably Vincent, a true hero, but one who's "seen too much" has to find the renewed strength to face down an abusive loser who's never done anything substantial in his life.  Can he find the strength / courage to do so?  Well that's the movie ... As often is the case with really low-budget independent films, there's a lot of intergenerational / cultural commentary present underneath the film. -- 3 Stars

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