“Phoenix Forgotten” (2017) is a found-footage horror film that didn’t pan out.

“Phoenix Forgotten” (2017) has a couple of things going for it.  The first is its use of real events as the MacGuffin for its found-footage horror story — the 1997 mass UFO sighting in Arizona known as “The Phoenix Lights.”  The second is the young Chelsea Lopez in a lead role.  She appears to be a gifted young actress, and she’s … astonishingly good here.  (The script, too, does succeed in painting her adolescent protagonist as likable and identifiable.)

Those two things, however, do not save “Phoenix Forgotten” from being a mediocre movie.  It’s sometimes slow and occasionally even boring, despite the fact that it picks up quite a bit in its closing minutes.

It also feels far too much like a beat-for-beat remake of 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project.”  Yes, it’s a different sub-genre, with a science fiction plot device instead of a supernatural threat, and a desert setting instead of the Maryland forest.  But its story, its conclusion and even its closing shots parallel that superior film very closely.

I’d rate this a 4 out f 10.

 

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A very short review of “Blair Witch” (2016)

I fully understand the reasonable popular criticisms of “Blair Witch” (2016).  But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy it — I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

Yes, it’s largely a retread of the first film in 1999.  This putative sequel is effectively a remake, given how closely it parallels the original.  (And there are a lot of people who hated that movie to start with.)

There are other problems too.  A subplot’s non sequitur segue into body horror is entirely out of place, for example, and we have at least two characters who are so irritating that we can’t care much about their fate.  And then there are some missed opportunities involving technology.  (Much attention is paid to a drone that the ill-fated protagonists bring along in their trek into the woods, but it is underused later in the story.)

Still … this still worked for me.  I have always really liked found-footage horror movies, and I also like stories featuring local legends.  (They’re just more engaging to me than yet another slasher film or third-rate, no-budget zombie movie.)  And there are a couple of moments of brilliance.  The scariest has already been spoiled by the film’s trailer (seriously, f*** you,  Lionsgate marketing department).  But there are other nice touches … one is the dread-inducing, reality-bending story arc of the two locals who accompany the main protagonists.  (And weren’t these two supporting characters the most fun and interesting, anyway?)

And we indeed finally get glimpses of the titular Blair Witch!  They are brief and few, but they’re a damned effective, scary payoff.

All in all, this is still an offbeat horror outing in the same vein as the original, and I think the better parts made it a decent viewing.

 

Camping at Iron Gate, Virginia, July 2016 (2)

Here are a few more pictures of our campsite on the Cowpasture River in Iron Gate, in Virginia’s Alleghany County.  The river snakes and winds throughout its 84 miles until it combines with the Jackson River to make the James River.  The Native Americans called it the “Walatoola,” or “Winding River.”  The arriving British renamed it, Wikipedia informs me — there are “Bullpasture” and “Calfpasture” rivers too, and they are all apparently named according to some confusing early American folklore involving stolen cattle.

The water was perfectly clear, and as warm as a mild bath after the late July sun hit it for a little while in the morning.  I remember thinking that my friends and I had an endlessly stretching hot-tub beside the place where we slept.

The riverbed and the hills through which it cuts are composed of jagged, gigantic jigsaw pieces of sedimentary rock — shale, sandstone and limestone — tilted askew.  They’re slippery.  But above those, in most places, are scattered wide beds of perfectly smooth, smaller stones that are comfortable to walk on.

There are often scores of small fish that hug the bank or quietly dart about the ankles of visitors wading in.  These are a staple for the eagles.  Flycasters, too, pursue larger quarry on the western bank, while people swimming and tubing stay to the right — I suppose this is river etiquette?

Upriver from our campsite, there are also “riffles” — miniaturized rapids that offer a bumpy but easy ride to anyone “tubing.”

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House Stark’s invading army bivouacs on its way south to King’s Landing.  NOBODY GET MARRIED.

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I found the ancient Native American Magic Machete of Legend beneath the river’s clear waters. Because I am strong and pure of heart. (I also found the ancient Native American stone cell phone.)

Wielding the legendary blade allowed me to walk on water, as you can see.  Having thus conquered it, I then claimed the river for New York.

 

I tried unsuccessfully to prank a friend by placing a Blair Witch stickamajig outside his tent.  Unfortunately, it kinda unraveled.  I even managed to position it outside the wrong tent, actually leaving it for a nice girl who had never seen “The Blair Witch Project.”  I was really off my game.

 

The quick, shy skink. After nearly two years in Virginia, I finally snapped a pic.  I indeed mean “skink,” and not “skunk.” It’s a lizard. It’s got a glittery blue tail, though you can hardly tell in these pictures.