LDS Film Festival 2012: Day 4

Notes from Day 4 of the 2012 LDS Film Festival:

Unicorn City

Written / Directed by:  Adrian & Brian Lefler

Described as “Monty Python & The Holy Grail” meets “Napoleon Dynamite”, Unicorn City is a film made by gamer geeks for gamer geeks.  However, even if the terms LARP, D&D, WOW, or MMORPG don’t mean anything to you, don’t let that scare you away — Unicorn City is creative, funny, and accessible to all, and easily my favorite film of the LDS Film Festival.

Voss is an unemployed gamer who lives with his brother in a basement apartment.  His only reason for getting up in the morning is his regular role-playing sessions where he can be his barbarian alter-ego and leave his dreary, real existence behind.   When an interviewer for a potential dream job in the game industry tells him they want to see “leadership experience”, Voss quits his game group, gathers his friends together and forms “Unicorn City” a live-action gaming camp in the wilderness to take the role-playing experience to the next level.

Unicorn City is sharply written with a lot of insider insights that gamers will love (or hate, perhaps, if it hits too close to home).  Non-gamers may not get some of the subtle jokes or references, but will find the antics of Voss’s group and the glimpse into the geek world of serious gamers just as fascinating.  Voss as a character is kind of a blank slate, but it’s the supporting roles — especially Voss’s best friend Marsha and his gaming “rival” Shadow Hawk — who really shine, with excellent comedic performances.  (Jaclyn Hales as Marsha will almost certainly be the break-out star of this film. Watch out for her in the future…)  The creativity in the costumes and role-playing escapades in their wilderness camp is also worthy of praise (the “centaur” in particular is a stroke of genius).

The film is also well-produced considering the low budget, with good pacing and a coherent narrative.  There isn’t any deep message or meaning here, other than perhaps how gamers are attracted to virtual worlds where they have complete control over their character and destiny partly as psychological replacements for the real world where they don’t.

Unicorn City is a fun film regardless of your favorite hobby, and an insightful glimpse into a unique subgroup of humanity.

My Grade:  A-

Boy With Blue

Written by: Matthew Greene / Directed by: David Liddell Thorpe

Boy With Blue is an “experimental” drama shot in a 24-hour period, featuring a total of four characters who spend 99% of the movie in one room of a small apartment.  I don’t know if Boy With Blue was written originally as a stage play, but it is obviously very “play-like” in its structure.

Alex and Jackie Orton are a 40-something married couple who have lost their only son to a drunk-driving accident.  Still in the grieving process three years later, they are visited one afternoon by their son’s ex-girlfriend Raeanne.  Her presence reopens old wounds but also provides greater insight into their son and themselves.   (Their son Tristan is the fourth character in the film, sharing conversations previous to his death in ‘flashback’ form)

Boy With Blue is well-written and acted, and recommended for those who like stage-play-style films (four characters spending the entire movie talking to each other without any “action”).  The subject matter isn’t terribly original — recent films like Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, or The Greatest with Carey Mulligan and Pierce Brosnan cover approximately the same plotline and emotional territory — but this is still a worthy entry into the “parents grieving for a lost child” genre.

There is a slight religious slant to the material:  Jackie is an active believer, Alex shoulders some doubts (he says he “prays in questions”), although it isn’t a major theme.   The characters drink coffee, but could be interpreted as LDS in other aspects.  When Raeanne mentions she’s meeting with her “pastor” regularly to clean up her life, Jackie is surprised (“Pastor?!”) — which could be interpreted as Raeanne previously being LDS (like the two of them) and has now switched churches, providing a whole new subtext to their conversation.  Per my natural prejudice, I would have liked more discussion of the characters’ religious beliefs, especially as it applied to Tristan’s death, but it’s not vital to the film.

It should be obvious from the above description whether you’re in the target audience for this film or not.  It’s kind of dumb to say, “If this is the type of film you like, then you’ll like this film!”, but that’s the case here.  Boy With Blue is not ground-breaking in any way, but a meaningful film nonetheless.

My Grade:  B+

Elizabeth’s Gift

Directed by: Rob Diamond / Written by: Rob Diamond, Kristina Rising, Troy Hinckley

Elizabeth is the four-year-old daughter of Steve and Laura and the center of their existence.  They are devastated when she dies of a rare heart condition, and seek here and there for something to bring peace and solace to their lives.  When Laura sees Elizabeth’s spirit in a vision on the street one day, she is led to a runaway girl named Mary Jane.  Laura takes that as a sign that this new girl is destined to be a part of their lives and convinces her reluctant husband to bring her into the family.  However, there are darker elements surrounding Steve and Laura’s new daughter — a missing mother and a foreboding arms dealer who seems determined to get his hands on her though any means necessary.  Will everyone live happily ever after?

Combining an emotional family drama about a lost child and grieving parents, with a thriller involving gangs and vicious arms dealers is an interesting mix and it’s not entirely a good fit tonally.  (Although, as noted above, there are lots of entries already in the “parents grieving a lost child” genre, and the filmmakers probably felt like they needed something original to add to the mix.)  Director Rob Diamond (Once Upon a Summer) seems better suited to the family drama elements than the “thriller” elements — this isn’t a gritty drama about gangs or living on the street, and there isn’t really a sense that anyone is ever in great danger during the film.  Still, good performances and decent writing make Elizabeth’s Gift a good experience.  The “supernatural” elements are handled matter-of-factly as part of the film’s premise which you either accept or you don’t.  (They are certainly integrated better into the plot than Diamond’s previous movie.)

Nothing ground-breaking here either, but solid film that will appeal to LDS audiences.

My Grade:  B