Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Enter quirky new territory with pair of upcoming docs: 'Axiom' and 'Farms'

Short of a few zowie-wowie acid trips, even old Haight-Ashbury hippies never might have seen anything as strange as something called San Francisco's House of the Latitude, "a place where truth and fiction are indistinguishable," as unveiled in the equally odd "In Bright Axiom."

Apparitions of a key creature pop up "In Bright Axiom."
The title comes from a kind of good-luck sendoff that Latitude members offer each other throughout a movie billed as a documentary but -- true to its real/fake qualities -- features at least one fictional character. That would be pipe-smoking weirdo Prof. Walker Kinley (played by co-screenwriter Geordie Aiken), who demands absolute discretion from the minions invited to join this special club. It turns out that about 3,000 artists, adventurers, and just plain curiosity seekers decided to accept.

What they got with their positive RSVPs -- all for free, no less -- are the same things we get to watch in a somewhat mesmerizing assortment of surprises, mysteries, scavenger hunts and more. I mean, would you believe game tokens that open secret doors, a magic Abraxas stone, and an all-powerful being that kinda looks like Chewbacca?

The whole shebang, apparently, is the brainchild of executive producer Jeff Hull, one of many talking heads here never identified until the closing credits. However, Hull's role becomes clearer than much in the film when he notes having "the good fortune to be independently wealthy," and that "this entertainment and business product was incurring $3,000" in daily expenditures.

By the way, among a mostly positive group of interviewees, Hull is the guy wearing the silver, Jughead-like crown, yet somehow easily claims that "this is not a hippie love fest, not a commune, and not a free-for-all."

He's correct; it's not any of the above, and who says nobody attempts to make original movies anymore? Even director Spencer McCall gets an impromptu appearance as "a middle-income Shia LaBeouf."

Not rated by MPAA (but includes a word of rough language or two); 1:28; $ $ $ out of $5

A more conventional documentary, "Comfort Farms," has many particularly righteous reasons for its own peculiarities, though raising and killing animals as a therapeutic healing process still likely will offend some viewers. 

In layman's terms, the Georgia-based nurturing program supposedly eases the transition into home life for returning war veterans who have seen so much killing that the ritualistic slaughter of cattle (and other meaty creatures) evidently brings them more comfortable structure.

Most of the vets interviewed by writer/director/producer Carlisle Kellam served more than one tour in the Iraqi War, so the filmmaker surrounds their discussions with images of battle. However, certainly the most entertaining ex-G.I. in the group is 92-year-old Forrest L. Giles, a WWII Southern homeboy whose war stories movingly and suddenly end with, "Lot of it I can't tell you. I just can't."

Of course, war always has been hell, That's why the others don't tell much easily, either, until decorated Army Ranger Jon Jackson starts talking about creating "Comfort," named after a fallen officer/buddy.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about returning combat veterans," Jackson explains, "The biggest is that they all share similar pain, but that's just not true. PTSD is only one of many potential negative outcomes."

So now the six-tour combat vet raises living organisms for food instead of constantly thinking about committing suicide. "Comfort Farms" attempts to show us why.

Not rated by MPAA (but with a warning about "depictions of a graphic and violent nature"); 1:17; $ $ $ out of $5

(These are two in an intermittent series of early reviews for buzz-worthy films currently playing the festival circuit, soon to be released, or ready to stream. "In Bright Axiom," which earned Best Documentary honors at the Skiptown Playhouse International Film Festival (in L.A.), will be released July 14 on various VOD platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and Tubi. Meanwhile, "Comfort Farms" still awaits a summer release schedule after collecting the Grand Jury Prize for Feature Documentary at Film Invasion in Los Angeles.)