I went to the movies this weekend with two films on the docket that I had no idea about at all. I had not heard one thing, seen a trailer for, or had any prior knowledge about either The Lost City of Z or Phoenix Forgotten. That is pretty rare. I hear a lot about movies and I see a lot of trailers, but these two had slipped past me. And that was interesting.
I had some ideas. I thought maybe that The Lost City of Z had something to do with zombies… (SPOILERS…IT DIDN’T). Meanwhile, I just liked the title of Phoenix Forgotten, even though I just saw Unforgettable last night. I had no clue about what I was in for.
I liked one a great deal and found the other movie dull and long.
Rotten Tomatoes had Lost City of Z at 87% and Phoenix Forgotten at 56% (at the time of this writing)… however, I would disagree this time with the web site aggregate. I found Phoenix Forgotten to be a really good time and the Lost City of Z to be boring.
Phoenix Forgotten turned out to be a found footage story based around an event that happened in 1997. The Phoenix Lights was a phenomenon that happened where hundreds of residents saw these mysterious lights in the sky over Phoenix, Arizona and wondered what they were. This movie was based in that time frame, making it historical fiction.
The Lost City of Z was actually more of a true story, completely without zombies… but replacing them with cannibals. This film was the true story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) and his obsessive desire to discover the lost city of Zed in Amazonia in South America, and how it consumed much of his adult life, taking him away from his wife and children.
Obsession played a role in Phoenix Forgotten as well as we see two time frames in play. Back in 1997, after the Phoenix Lights occurred, three teens disappeared in the desert, never to be seen again. One of the kids, Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts) became obsessed with the lights and he was investigating them by video taping everything around him. He, along with his friend Mark (Justin Matthews) and Josh’s crush Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) disappeared without a trace. Then, in present day, Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) was shooting a documentary about her brother’s disappearance, blending the two video tapes into one film.
Back in the jungles, much of the Lost City of Z felt pretty boring to me, as I nearly dozed off several times. There were some interesting moments throughout the beginning section of the film such as Percy encountering the “savages” of the Amazon forest and dealing with the lazy and whiny James Murray (Angus McFadyen). Things picked up again when Percy returned home to discover that his oldest son had grown into Peter Parker. Tom Holland’s arrival in the film was another shock as I had no idea he was in this. The problem was the character Tom played was amazingly inconsistent. He was very angry at his father’s seemingly abandonment of the family and reacted in one of the more powerful scenes of the film. However, this emotional wallop was not followed up upon and the story line was basically dropped as the son grew to become much like his father. I would have liked to see that relationship fostered more than it was. For one, that would have made for solid drama, and two, Tom Holland is a very strong actor and I would have loved to see more of him.
In the Phoenix Forgotten, the present day documentary by Sophie was a great technique of tying the old footage together with the present day footage. When I hear about a found footage film these days, I roll my eyes. They are, most of the time, pretty poorly done. I have to say that this was a great use of the genre, and the combination between the found footage shot by Josh and the documentary shot by Sophie was just an awesome way to tell the story. Plus, this film focused on the characters. In the documentary, we got to see the parents and family members of the missing kids and how they were still being affected by their disappearance. One of the best parts was seeing how Josh and Sophie’s parents’ marriage had been destroyed by the events following their son’s disappearance.
Both films were mysteries, in a sense. For me, I was much more engaged and enthralled by the mystery of what had happened to Josh and whether or not Sophie would be able to uncover it than I was for the whereabouts of some mysterious city that I had no emotional investment in.
Both films had endings that were purposefully ambiguous, and neither ending was great. I thought that the Phoenix Forgotten was a stronger ending that just needed some more wrap up. The Lost City of Z ending was too wishy-washy and had come way too late. The Lost City of Z was a long movie at over 2 hours 21 minutes. In contrast, Phoenix Forgotten came in at a cool 1 hour 20 minutes. The latter of the movie’s time was about perfect, needing about another 5-10 minutes to really put a stamp on the film whereas the former of the film was way too long and dragged on through much of the film.
Sure, Phoenix Forgotten is similar to the Blair Witch Project, but that does not make it a bad film. In fact, I really liked how they combined the past found footage with the new documentary filming to create a hybrid of film genres. Phoenix Forgotten is not a perfect film, but I was thoroughly entertained by the film whereas the more polished and high brow Lost City of Z was deadly dull to me more than intriguing.
Among two films that I had no idea about…one was a great success and one fell flat.
The Lost City of Z