“What the Doctor Ordered”- (Short Film Review)

Writer and star Audrey Noone

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Director Yvonne Labarge and screenwriter (and star) Audrey Noone deliver an uproarious glimpse into a decidedly unconventional relationship with the phenomenal five and a half minute short, “What the Doctor Ordered”.

The comedic endeavor concerns Sandra (Noone in a tremendously realized and well-timed performance) and Thomas (Sean McPherson in a portrayal that evokes the simultaneous confusion and varied attempts to keep the romance going in whatever manner possible his character conveys beautifully). While speaking to a psychiatrist (Jeanne Lohnes in a wonderful acting turn) the pinnacles of anger and admiration between Sandra and Thomas, and the underlying notion that these motions might all be an elaborate game between the two, are addressed in a succession of flashbacks.

These moments are always amusing. They induce a perfectly conceived atmosphere for the continuously light-hearted gaze of the narrative.

Moreover, Labarge and Noone never loses sight of their humorous intentions. Reccurring gags about food fights, and how Sandra uses the source of the combat to win Thomas over, are especially effective. It also provides a smirk-inducing punctuation mark for the story to conclude on.

These components provide verified proof that the comic nature of this brief film endures unflinchingly stalwart throughout the affair. Still, there is an innocent, caring heart beneath the joviality and the mirth that makes the leads charismatic, endearing, relatable and authentic.

The original music by Zachary Krodel is perfectly fitting for the defiantly upbeat, sitcom-like nature of this chronicle. This is what strikes us instantly in the opening instances of this exertion and it wins us over immediately.

Krodel’s immediately mood-setting, optimistic score is heard over a dark screen as the title is written out in whipped cream, in a nod to another of the numerous successful jokes, in the opening moments. Such an achievement, heightened by the fantastic sound design by Jeremy Eisener and vibrant cinematography and lighting from Mike Sun, are just a few of the many triumphs this work generates.

There is also an incredible display of animation from Danielle Lauretano. This contribution captures the spirit of the plot splendidly. It also adds considerably to the on-screen visual appeal.

The composition also victoriously settles into a rapid-fire pace. This attribute appears so casual, and is simultaneously so enthralling throughout, that the piece never feels rushed.

Such is surely an envy deriving characteristic. It is also a compliment to how apparently graceful, striking and well-done the whole endeavor remains during its runtime.

The writing by Noone and direction by Labarge, who also provides the seamless editing on display here, is brisk, sharp and vivid. They make an incredible team. This factor illuminates the final result spectacularly.

“What the Doctor Ordered” is the product of a year- long undertaking. It is a labor of love where the time, effort and commitment by all of those involved is emitted gloriously. This makes what we are given here all the more delightful to behold and wondrous to laugh along with.

Noone and Labarge have utilized all the endlessly witty and high-caliber ingredients mentioned above. This, as well as the welcome contributions from an equally capable cast, come together to craft a truly special cinematic treat.

 

Director Yvonne Labarge.

“Abandoned Dead”- (Horror Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: *** out of *****.

A film noir take on the supernatural thriller, writer and director Mark W. Curran’s Abandoned Dead, suffers from an all too familiar late twist.

Curran’s film focuses on Rachel Burke (Sarah Nicklin in a competent performance). She is a security guard for a healing facility. Called into the night shift she eventually begins sensing a terrifying presence slowly resonating about her. But, what is it? What does it want and why?

Despite an atmospheric score and mood draped cinematography by Robert Adams the seventy-seven minute feature (the DVD is reported to run eighty-five minutes) never dares peer that pensively at its narrative.

Instead Curran’s story follows suit with many horror works of our day. It does this by keeping everything on a surface level.

In turn, most of the effort is composed of many long shots. This is punctuated by the far too common sight of Nicklin pointing a flashlight into darkness. We are also handed endless walks down hallways. Alongside this we get ample doses of what could perhaps be paranormal activity.

All of these elements are well done. They provide stupendous atmosphere if that is all you wish for from a terror venture. Still, it leaves us with little to distinguish it from its genre peers.

The pace moves in much the same traditional fashion. For most of the piece Curran and his filmmakers successfully build a gradual sense of menace that, ultimately, leads nowhere new.

When Night of the Living Dead star Judith O’ Dea shows up late in the cinematic composition the sight of such a genre legend adds an element of credibility to the feature. Her performance as Doctor Pamela Myers is solid and enjoyable.

Moreover, the rest of the cast, especially Robert E. Wilhelm as Doctor Thaddeus Mayfield and Carlos Ramirez as Detective Phillip Haggis, fares just as well.

The special effects by Melanie Aksamit and Hannah Sherer are effective. They are also minimally used. This helps heighten the impact of the picture as a whole.

The nuance of these characteristics often gives the proceedings a classic thriller veneer. Such an attribute is much appreciated.

Curran’s impressive directorial flare and intriguingly constructed screenplay also help matters.

The main function of Abandoned Dead is to build an impression of unease. It does this satisfactorily.

Moreover, it incorporates a few moments that are genuinely unnerving. Regardless, it often feels as if it is going through the motions. It also appears unsure of itself at times.

This is overall fair entertainment. Still, I can’t help but think that we could’ve had something truly special.

This entry in fear evoking comes up a bit lacking in the end. Such an impression is brought upon because we leave the picture wishing that as much emphasis was put on the resolution as there was with building suspense.

Abandoned Dead is one case where the pieces are far more fascinating than the actual scene they together visualize.

Curran’s latest is more about the experience, the journey than the actual destination.

“Nature of the Flame”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

There’s an abstract beauty beneath the equally appealing visual style of writer and director Mike Messier’s 2014 short film, “Nature of the Flame”.

It is established early with shots of a body of water and feet, in a suggestion of serenity, wading in the stream. Suddenly we cut to a woman (Lindsey Elisabeth Cork in a tremendously wrought performance) sleeping.

After being told she isn’t prepared for enlightenment by an elusive figure (Jocelyn Padilla in an appropriately transcendent acting turn) in a monastery Cork wakes up in a cave.

From here the rapt audience participant wonders: “Did she die in her sleep?”, “Is this a glimpse of what awaits for her in the afterlife?”, “Is this merely a dream?”

Messier wisely gives us the room to come to our own conclusions with these inquiries. This is welcome since if concrete answers were provided it might’ve taken away from the ethereal, haunting, meditative experience at hand.

Despite these lingering questions one thing we know for certain is that Messier and company have captured the confusion and potential sense of ascension that can be tied to the narrative elements terrifically well. Furthermore, Messier evokes an even, appropriate pace throughout the endeavor.

But, the smartest move is that Messier allows the audience to attach his or her own conclusion as to the proceedings. This is done by letting a succession of gentle, intimate, ardent, and attractively executed and shot, sequences speak for itself.

There is no dialogue in the last five and a half minutes. This decision adds layers of skillfulness, invention and sentiment upon an already gripping set-up.

The musical score, along with Chris Hunter’s editing, enhances the illusion of going to what could be perceived to be a higher plane.

Moreover, Messier’s writing and directing are intelligent and illuminating.

The cinematography captures the allure and enigma of the storyline with an equally striking veneer.

“Nature of the Flame” captures all of the sentiment and drama of a full-length feature in just under eight minutes. It is always stunning to look at, to be caught up in and to think about long after its serene conclusion.

This is more than a brief fling with cinema: it is an exhibition of craft.

“Hail! Hail!” – (Short Film Review)

BY Andrew Buckner

Rating: **** out of *****.

Director James Russell DeMello (“Cemetery Stone”, “Captive”) and screenwriter Mike Messier (“The Nature of the Flame”, “The Actor”) have come together to showcase the aggressive and romantic extremes of a single relationship. Such is accomplished in the beautifully crafted short, “Hail! Hail!”

This is an intriguing concept. It is made all the more impressive when we realize it all takes place in a solitary basement setting.

“Hail! Hail” speaks its volumes in one beautifully execute sequence. Most astonishingly, it defines the sum of an intimate affiliation in several grand gestures. These, in turn, smartly disperse a lifetime of information about the leads quickly and believably.

What is equally fascinating, and another of many wise moves on behalf of the creative team, is that it all occurs in a breathlessly brisk four minute runtime. In this quick duration it never loses focuses of the unique connection between the pair on-screen. Moreover, it never forgets its initial concept.

When this visually crisp work (courtesy of DeMello’s rich cinematography) opens Robbie (Anna Rizzo in another terrific turn which further exhibits her great range as an actress) awaits the return of Roseanne (Jessica Rockwood in a role that captures her character’s essence terrifically).

Robbie passes this time while playing a bass guitar. Moreover, she finds herself talking to a recording camera in front of her.

This is done in an act which delivers character development in an entertaining, engaging fashion. It follows the sum of the piece by being fresh and vigorous. Also, it never feels forced.

When Roseanne arrives she brings with her an argument over fast food. This quickly escalates into a credible rollercoaster ride of realistic emotion. This is captured in an ending which signifies the cycle of the rapport either ending or beginning anew.

To compliment Messier’s well-honed screenplay there are also plenty of moments which exhibit DeMello’s directorial flare. In one case we follow Roseanne’s heels treading down the basement steps as Robbie waits. This is seen from beneath the stairway in a manner that is striking and impressive.

DeMello also ends the short with a shot that is a stunning, creative angle. It is also the perfect punctuation point to conclude on and summarize what came beforehand.

Further helping “Hail! Hail” achieve its charismatic effectiveness is the end credit sequence. It calls to mind the veneer of such segments by Italian master Pier Paolo Pasolini. This is incorporated with a wonderfully realized touch of modern music.

When “Mr. Suitcase” by Sun@ndmun (released through Hip Hop Star Inc.) arises in this final segment it give the proceedings an appropriately sensual allure. It is another act that reiterates the mood of the story remarkably.

This is all complimented further by Mark Hutchinson’s sound design. Lighting engineer Jill Poisson does a terrific job helping create the seamless tone of this piece. To its further credit, the make-up by Kaitlyn Ciampa is exemplary.

The entirety of this short was filmed in a single day. Given the impeccable professionalism radiating from every technical avenue on-screen this is especially incredible.

“Hail! Hail!” is a riveting experience. It proves how much a group of incredibly talented individuals can accomplish in a small time span.

I greatly anticipate the sight of what future marvels this gifted team has in store.

“Still Life”- (Short Film Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Most of the routes of dreams branch out maddeningly into avenues of failure so varied that we often lose sight of the sharply focused paths ahead. They are departures that can be falsely perceived as permanent. Yet, those who find themselves off-road, staring wide-eyed into the obvious sign posts of their addressed defects, especially if it is engraved in their ultimate ambition, often lose hope altogether.

Soon they find their feet sinking into the mire of abandoned hopes when such an incident transpires. With this they are wrought in disillusionment. This is rooted in what he or she believes to be the reality that they will never rise up. Furthermore, they feel as if they will never better these errors.

They become stuck, some momentarily and most others indefinitely, as the voices of those who pointed out their shortcomings ring forever in a cacophony of eternal humiliation. For many of us, artists especially, such small criticisms cause silent wounds. These forever inwardly scar. They make our once swift movement towards personal reveries immobile.

This is the focus of the 2012 short “Still Life”, a cinematic composition worthy of Ingmar Bergman, by writer and director Chris Esper. It concerns a student of photography, Martin (Timothy Bonavita in a part that perfectly conveys all the layers of vulnerability, intelligence and sentiment his character demands). He wants to be a photographer.

Yet, as we learn in a beautifully wrought early scene, the world around our wide-eyed and ambitious lead puts him in the line of fire for constant criticism. Still, he is devastated yet, optimistic.

The tale walks this fine line of emotion in a realistic, understated manner. It is done in a conscientiously ardent and understanding way. With this modus anyone who has felt defeated by negativity after it is cast at his or her aspirations will undoubtedly find liberating.

An early segment showcases him being criticized in front of his peers. This is done in a manner that suggests he just needs slight improvement to be where he needs to be to achieve the first steps of his intended success.

It is a sequence that is an analogy for how our main character is feeling. This also communicates his own contemplations about himself through emotion and action.

This draws us instantly into Martin’s existence. To further add to this intimacy the camera surrounds Martin like a close friend; one who should speak up in defense. Regardless, he never finds the strength to do so.

“Still Life”, made for only $500, finds the right note and atmosphere instantly and never departs from it. To its further credit, the pace is meditative and cerebral. Still, it is always fascinating.

This characteristic is, like the rest of the tale, appropriate. It also gives us the necessary time to learn and reflect on Martin’s situation. Such is done without the proceedings ever feeling as if it is ignoring the act of moving the story along rapidly.

Esper’s brief film never once steps away from following our starry-eyed persona as he continues on despite a succession of letdowns. The crisp and intimate largely black and white cinematography by Mark Phillips adds to the haunting, downtrodden yet inspiring poetry of this massive achievement. It also heightens the previously stated sense of luminosity amid darkness.

One especially poignant moment involving Young Martin (Charles Everett Tacker) and Martin’s Mother (Carlyne Fournier) are in color. This segment is highlighted by aching reminiscence. It is only amplified by the  stupendous caliber of the aforementioned portrayals.

The gorgeously gentle drive of Ryan Campos’ beautiful score is perfectly in sync with the sentiment expressed on-screen. Jill Poisson’s editing is terrific.

This also issues exemplary acting turns from David Graziano, as Professor Lynch, and Mike Daniels, as Josh. The rest of the cast fares just as well.

All of these elements make “Still Life” a contemplative, deeply felt masterpiece. In but eleven scant, but quietly harrowing, minutes Esper and his filmmaking crew triumphantly executes introspection, drama and sorrow.

These elements all unify in a silent cry to love and understand those around us. Also, it assures us to that defeat is but a temporary obstacle meant to be overcome.

Martin states about a flower he photographed in the first few minutes of this heart-wrenching work that he wanted to “convey a solidarity of loneliness”. That is exactly what Esper and his crew have done.

They have framed the chief protagonist as the lone blossom. His seclusion is the focus of what lies enclosed in the picture. In turn, the work itself and the character radiate a melancholy splendor.

It illuminates the moving photograph it is contained in. From here it touches our core. In turn, we relate and feel unified with the central figure of the narrative.

Maybe Martin isn’t so alone after all.

“Right There”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

The beauty of the silent film era lies primarily in the actuality that the actors had to use facial expressions to supplant the sentiment that would later be inserted into dialogue. This was usually accompanied by either recorded or live music being played in the theater the work was being projected in to punctuate the emotions glimmering through actions and countenances on-screen.

These, along with tale-telling through striking camera angles, shadows, mimes and title cards, were the sparse tools of the filmmaking trade in the years from 1894-1929. It gave the cinematic compositions of this period an underlying sense of poetry, even in comic endeavors, which have proven to be forever endearing.

This time frame, more often than not, elucidates a constant sense of admiration for these aforementioned attributes alone. Such is just one of the many reasons “Right There”, a masterful eleven minute short from director Nathan Suher (2015’s “Next/ Door” and “Scary Little F*ckers”), is so immediately enjoyable and charismatic.

Suher, who wrote the delightful, well-paced script (from a story by Gregory Capello, Suher and Ian Taylor), captures the essence of Charlie Chaplin and the spirit of European cinema, which he has stated was his intention with this glorious piece, immaculately.

This wonderful, breezy homage concerns a man, The Guy (Ryan Hanley in a performance that is as energetic, endearing and enjoyable and perfectly fitting for the era Suher tributes) who tries to garner the attention of a woman, The Girl (Lauren A. Kennedy who does as phenomenal a job as Hanley, as does the entirety of the secondary cast, in conveying story through gestures).

He is drawn to her immediately. This intrigue only grows as he finds her sitting everyday on the same bench. Over the course of several weeks he tries to get her to notice him.

All the while we find ourselves riveted and wondering: “Is it his own shyness holding him back? Could he have been hurt in prior relationships? Was this pain recent? Will he get the girl?”

Because of the profoundly artistic nature of the epoch “Right There” is sending up we are drawn in by the nuance. Moreover, our intrigue is piqued by the high-caliber technical facets, the joy and broken-heartedness (sometimes in the same scene) that Suher and his filmmaking team pull off so effortlessly. Yet, because of the well-woven dramatic touches that balance the humor and heart terrifically we are forced to look deeper.

This is a testament to the profundity of the style of cinema Suher emulates so masterfully here. It is also a demonstration of the terrifically executed brilliance, the obvious admiration for the truly golden age of cinema Suher is tackling radiating on-screen. This is a gem.

The merry, often tender, and beautiful result of “Right There” is also thanks to a wonderful bit of opening animation by Dave Lubelczyk. Make-up artist Morgan Duffy captures the appearance of stars from the early 1900’s spectacularly. Chris Esper’s film editing is tremendous.

Jill Poisson’s cinematography and Kevin Keough’s score is striking and beautifully rendered. These characteristics, combine to make it all the easier to envision that we are sitting in a theater, before the age of “talkies”, and enthralled by this new invention that they call “moving pictures”.

Suher continues to showcase further range and a willingness to risk differing genres, atmospheres and approaches. The work he makes is transcendent to, not only fellow admirers of filmmaking, but everyone.

“Right There” is a sweet, lively brief work that reminds us of the tenderness, merriment, relatability and undeniable artistry the craft of unspoken big-screen storytelling can evoke.

“Dead Hearts”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“Dead Hearts”, a sixteen minute short from director Ramzees Carvalho (2014’s “Night of the Damned”), opens with four young adults trapped in a cellar. Radio broadcasts are announcing that the reanimated are coming back to life. When a chilling chain of events transpire it is up to Dan (Carvalho himself in an impressive, spectacularly wrought performance) to take the reins of heroism. With this action he must face the ravenous hoards of the undead.

It’s a classic set-up that brings to mind visions of George A. Romero’s timeless 1968 gem, Night of the Living Dead. To further the sense of unabashed reminiscence this wonderful short (the second by Carvalho) induces is crisp, vivid and rich cinematography from Nelson Reis.

The special makeup effects by Manny Savini only heightens the appeal. The zombies, and their veneer, are stalwart, gritty and credible at every turn.

Such attributes resonate amid the numerous well-done decapitations and various other gory bits. This is because there is a palpable sense of camaraderie between all the leads.

This is most noticeable between Dan and Liz (in a performance by Alyssa Paige Moreno that is every bit as strong and understated as the role demands). Their relationship is the propelling force of most of the narrative. The work is all the more commanding because of the sheer strength of their portrayals.

Ramzees Carvalho and Moreno prove they are more than apt to take on what the taunt, intelligent script that has a Stephen King-like eye for characterizations, also by Carvalho, demands.

Cameron Perrault, as Luke, and Luke Eleuterio, as Alex, fare just as spectacularly. They further add to the sense of kinship and authenticity pulsating through every frame.

This isn’t the only factor which contributes to this triumphant success. The work constructed in all other technical arenas are phenomenal. They come together to formulate something truly special.

The smooth film editing by Ramzees and Luis Carvalho are further evidence of these high-quality characteristics solidifying to evoke brilliance.

In its quick-moving runtime it creates an atmospheric mood. In an exhibition of the artistry on display this is done before the story even begins to unfold.

It carries this impression out effortlessly. All the while it is constantly building upon this solid foundation. We are issued mounting trepidation throughout.

In turn, “Dead Hearts” is a persistent wall of ever-increasing suspense. It grips us with increasing intrigue until well after its elegiac, and cleverly wrought, finale.

We remain mesmerized, awe-struck by how well conceived the sum of this exertion remains. This is especially remarkable given its compact length.

The composition creates an illusion, brought forth by its genuine dialogue, performances, zombie make-up and effects, that we are with our leads.This is a credit to the incredible talent all around.

“Dead Hearts” has an obvious affection for the sub-genre it is rooted in. It showcases a knowledge of undead works of yore. Yet, there is also an abundance of originality here.

Carvalho’s brief film is distinctly its own entity. It is always fresh, vigorous and smart. Moreover, it is endlessly engaging, gripping and terrifying in ample doses.

“Dead Hearts” is riveting. It establishes Carvalho as a great new talent. Simultaneously it breathes fresh life and perspective into the much documented account of cannibalistic ghouls.

This is a must-see. It is a testament to how much can be done on a small budget. Furthermore, it proves the potency inherent when the components of affection and respect, as well as a phenomenal natural aptitude, for the craft and the composition being operated on unify among the respective contributions of all involved.