by Dan Gibson
If you're into movies, whether that's emotional dramas, thrillers, comedies, documentaries or anything on a screen, if you take a few minutes to look through the schedule for the Arizona Underground Film Festival (opening Friday and running through Saturday, Sept. 27), you're bound to be impressed by the selections this year at the newly revamped Screening Room. No joke, there's some amazing work here, whether that's the dark Indonesian thriller Killers or the heartbreaking documentary Who Took Johnny?
Here's what's showing this weekend:
Friday, Sept. 19:
Killers (Arizona premiere); 137 minutes
From the Hollywood Reporter:
Of course there’s plenty of (realistic) gore and torture here but what really fascinates is the cat-and-mouse game of sorts that develops between the two men, as their unusual online relationship, conducted in English, makes it possible for these two killers to externalize something of their attitudes toward their darkest secrets. The plot thickens considerably as the film winds its way toward a necessarily bloody yet also extremely well-plotted conclusion (the film was written by Tjahjanto in collaboration with producer Takuji Ushiyama), and along the way, even audiences might come to question whether perhaps there are good and bad uses of murder, especially after the separated Bayu’s young daughter (Ersya Aurelia) falls into the wrong hands. Remarkably, there’s not a single mention of religion, making the choice to kill or not to kill a purely moral and ethical one.
Saturday, Sept. 20:
Includes Path of Blood, by Eric Power:
Who Took Johnny? (Arizona premiere); 76 minutes
Inherently, this film is utterly unforgettable. The story here, of a youngster getting snatched off his paper route in middle America in an era where it was beyond normal for kids to roam the neighborhood seemingly free of any fear or danger, is upsetting and beautifully woven thanks to directors David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley. The film is ostensibly a collection of sourced, archival footage with new interviews with those family, friends and law persons previously involved, and it is in this duality where the film truly shines.
The source footage itself, when paired with some interviews here, hints at a generation that is now dead and gone. A generation of child-like innocence and a freedom that today has been masked by over protective parents rightly believe that when it comes to letting their children out by themselves, the proverbial glass is half empty. Touching on topics like the introduction of missing children on the sides of milk cartons and things of that nature, this film is as much a meditation on a nation that has had its innocence of Americana ripped away due to truly malicious acts as it is a look at this specific court case.
Despite The Gods (Arizona premiere); 85 minutes
Wryly humorous, straight-talking and casually foul-mouthed, Jennifer Lynch is a big personality who, before our eyes, veers from exhilaration at an actor’s performance through tears and vexation to a self-deprecating quip and c’est-la-vie shrug. She doesn’t scare easily, having chosen to follow in the career footsteps of her icon father David Lynch, and picks herself back up after the venomous reception that greeted her Razzie-winning debut film, Boxing Helena....
Entertaining beyond its nuts-and-bolts appeal to cinephiles, Despite the Gods owes much of its zip to the funny, passionate and remarkably frank Lynch, who waxes sanguine about the experience in a four-years-later coda featuring a pink-haired love interest first introduced toward the end of filming Hisss.
Time Lapse (Arizona premiere); 104 minutes
Time Lapse is a fun, tight thriller that uses both its resources and limitations to its advantage. Continually building over 104-minute run time, this is quick, but not rushed. This is the kind of film that, when you watch a second time, you’ll definitely notice the breadcrumb trail King and Cooper leave to lead you through. The film just staged a North American premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival, and there is a distribution deal in the works. While it may not quite reach the level of those thematically similar films I mentioned earlier, Time Lapse is definitely a one to keep your eyes on. And if nothing else, you’ll walk away having learned an important lesson: don’t fuck with time.
Featuring Extreme Pinocchio:
Sunday, Sept. 21:
The Republic of Rick (Arizona premiere); 78 minutes
Rick Launer is the self-proclaimed President of the Republic of Texas, an organization that claims the annexation of Texas by the United States was illegal, and that Texas remains an independent nation under occupation to this day. The Republic of Rick is a mockumentary about Launer’s quixotic attempt to lead a paranoid militia for Texas’s independence in the late 1990s.
“I’m from Texas,” said writer-director Mario Kyprianou, a UCLA film school graduate in screenwriting. “This is a topic of conversation that always came up as I was growing up, that we’re the only state that’s allowed to secede. I started researching and finding all these Republic of Texas groups all over the state that were trying to secede, and some took it really far, as far as even trying to legally take on the United States. I thought it would make a great modern day Don Quixote-type story.”
Unsound (Q&A with filmmaker following the film); 94 minutes
How much of the story is taken directly from your own life?
Pretty much the whole movie is taken from my own experience. What happens are the facts, but I sculpted them so they could be accessible to an audience. I had to shorten things and extend things to make them into a film. If I scripted the film exactly as things happened, it would be really boring, because these things take time.
At the same time, the film does give a sense of how long it takes to get anything accomplished within our public mental-health care system. I don't think people understand that if they haven't had firsthand experience with the system, so I appreciated that Unsound takes the audience through it step-by-step.
The legal aspect of [the system] is one of the things that compelled me to tell this story. Because the struggle of [caring for a mentally ill relative] isn't just dealing with the family member, but having to fight the whole system. Everybody's afraid of getting sued, so you have to wrestle with so many people to get someone into care, and that compounds how tough it is to get them back on track.
Half of the struggle I went through was dealing with the hospitals. They would release my mom without telling me, and she'd be out on the street with no purse, no cell phone, nothing. So often I would drive around, hoping she was just hanging out in an alley somewhere—that's terrifying. If the system wasn't as inaccessible as it is, I think we wouldn't be seeing so many of these stories.
Call Girl of Cthulhu (Arizona premiere); 92 minutes
The supporting cast all attack their roles with equal verve, enthusiastically throwing themselves into situations that often see them dowsed and dripping with gore and other sticky liquids. Lovecraft may have deigned to describe his unspeakable horrors in detail, but LaMartina takes the Stuart Gordon tack of visualizing them in all their tentacled, misshapen glory; kudos to Jason M. Koch and Kaleigh Brown for creating a string of gloriously grotesque sights on a very modest budget. The entirety of CALL GIRL OF CTHULHU, in fact, bespeaks a passion for creating fun, frightful fare, financial restrictions be damned. These days, B-movies in which all the effort seems to have gone into coming up with a goofy/hybrid title are almost a cottage industry; CALL GIRL OF CTHULHU is one happy occasion where it feels like the movie came first.