“Where To Invade Next” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

After a six year silence, the director whose last film was 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore,  has proven he is as subversive, hilarious and entertaining as ever. This is with his latest feature, Where to Invade Next. The one hundred and twenty minute silver screen affair, released on December 23rd of 2015 through Dog Eat Dog and IMG Films, can be seen as a grand expansion on the themes present in his previous works. Our broken health care system, education and woman’s rights get explored magnificently and illuminatingly. Additionally, he focuses a great amount of the runtime on international lifestyles. Despite this, Moore almost ceaselessly maintains an unexpectedly upbeat, often poignant atmosphere.

Such is established with special emphasis on how other countries regard their fellow neighbors. This is both in and out of the work place. A special prominence is put on this fact as designated by their employers. There is also a stirring, and undoubtedly eye-unveiling, focus on the prison complex. Primarily, its treatment of the inmates. An extended segment where Moore visits both a minimum and maximum security reformatory in Norway is especially fascinating. Yet, he focuses just as much on the mutual love and respect the many countries he visits showcase to one another. This is illuminated as well as the alterations America needs. They make a riveting assessment. Such is all the more undeniable when layered together in the manner Moore does here.

One of the most recurring themes throughout is the age old principal of being a good neighbor. What is just as prevalent is the message, delivered by one German cop states when discussing his attitude towards his fellow citizens, “Human dignity above all.” That is certainly something America could benefit greatly, and immediately, from. This is if such a suggestion was applied more often to its residents’ demeanor. Such is just as true of their routine activities.

The movie focuses in on Moore lightheartedly ‘occupying’ other nations through interrogation. He encounters students, higher-ups, workers and an assortment of other differing personalities throughout this cinematic trip around the world. In so doing, he attempts to find out what ideas assist other principalities in getting superior results in the areas America lags behind in. Every time he finds a potential solution to our republic’s problems, he plants an American flag at the scene. Hence forth, he promises to steal the notion and bring it back to his homeland.

It’s a brilliant concept. One that mechanizes as a parody of America’s ability to take the philosophies of others and pass them off as their own. It is also an absorbing international glimpse into how others subsist. These humorous and enlightening elements, delicately woven throughout, are a perfect pulpit. It is one custom-fitted for the equal doses comedic and sobering sensibilities equated with Moore’s often imitated, trademark style.

Also true to form, the piece is briskly and expertly paced. For the most part, each issue is given well-divided intervals. Such a component is smartly utilized as to not weigh down the progression of the narrative. Because of this approach, there is no excess here. In terms of the previously stated aspect, this is especially true.

This opus begins with a perfect, immediately tone-setting introductory segment. In a sequence which plays as if it was taken directly from Moore’s own dreams, American officials summon Moore to find an answer to their states’ problems. Such is followed-up, just as smartly, with a commencing credits sequence. Moore than flashes many of these issues via news report. We are no more than five minutes into the motion picture when Moore begins his global ‘invasion’ of Italy. Yet, the breakneck movement of these early sections certainly do not undermine Moore’s stance being cemented and made distinctly evident. It also doesn’t undermine the stalwart nature of what he is showing us. These early glimpses are harrowing, and often horrific. Moore’s position towards American tribulations is clearly and evocatively sent.

This is another illuminating instance, another genius decision on Moore’s behalf. Such is because the scenes of police brutality and bloodshed which flash on-screen before Moore’s worldwide travel begins instantly give us culture shock. What follows after the grim, cringe-inducing actions of the acknowledgements is almost continuously peaceful and serene. After what graces our senses beforehand, this is a welcome atmosphere that is largely elucidated throughout. That, in itself, is one of the many successful ingredoents herein. Another is the continued range of emotion buried just beneath the surface of this boldly ambitious  Moore has undoubtedly crafted another incredible addition to his celluloid catalogue.

Also, keeping to the tradition of Moore’s previous ventures: the quiet, smaller moments are just as memorable and operative as the larger, more punctuative ones. For example, there is a sequence where a young French girl is given a sip of Coca-Cola at a school lunch table. Almost immediately she begins to fidget and shake. This is just as potent as the finale. Here, Moore reminisces with a friend from his home state of Michigan about taking down a wall in Berlin. A discussion with Krista Kiuru, the Finnish Minister of Education, and Tim Walker, a teacher who is also a representative of Finland, is just as mesmerizing. Yet, there are occasional bits, such as an instant where Moore tours a factory in Germany to see the workers relaxing in a room and merrily talking, which appears too convenient. It as if this section was established simply to help illustrate Moore’s point concerning the vastly superior treatment of laborers in realms outside of America. Mercifully, such intrusions are few.

What is just as phenomenal is that there are no repeated ideas here reintroduced to simply fill the runtime. Instead, Moore keeps the story fresh. This is with new information, thoughts and suggestions billowing from every new scene and location. Despite this, the composition never seems rushed. Furthermore, the whole never appears to be disrespecting the many personal tales and theories at hand. This is respectfully issued by giving the many personalities we encounter their due chance to make their statement and tell their tale.

There is a leisure to the narrative that is meditative but, never overwrought. This is perfect for the tourist-like aspect of the proceedings. Such is as much the courtesy of Pablo Proenze, Todd Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk’s phenomenal editing. This is also visible in Moore’s jovial, ever-likable presence. Such is also true of his style as both interviewer and documentarian.

Technically, the rest of the project is just as striking. Rick Rowley and Jayme Roy’s cinematography is lush and gorgeous to the eye. Walter Thomson’s still photography is superb. The sound department, a collective contribution from thirteen individuals, is crisp and skillful. Likewise, Dan Evans Farkas and Heather Kreamer’s musical endowment is outstanding. But, the pinnacle of all these details is Moore’s exceptional direction. It is as commanding, welcome and attention-garnering as always.

Since it is practically impossible to review an undertaking by Michael Moore without the interference of politics, I admit that in the distance between Moore’s last feature the subject has lost its personal appeal. Perhaps the notion of difference making commonly associated with this often controversial theme is not a result I, a working class American, find plausible anymore. It could be an outcome of being weathered by age and cynicism. More than likely is that it is the product of bearing witness to one self-serving failure after another in the governmental sphere for the entirety of my adulthood. This sentiment endures in me regardless of the party associated to the individual in office. So it was out of admiration for Moore’s prior accomplishments, and not the belief that it would be able to hear concepts which America would ever dare mix into their commonplace existence, that I approached his latest offering.

The alternating doses of rage and sadness for the state of our country were still undeniably present while viewing his latest affair. It was felt as much with Where To Invade Next as it was after I initially saw 2002’s Bowling For Columbine in a college English class. These sensations also lingered and brimmed within me as much as it did after coming out of a screening of 2004’s Fahrenehit 9/11 and 2007’s Sicko during their respective theatrical runs. Yet, I didn’t initially feel the sense of empowerment that usually erupted within me during a Moore production.

That was until a pivotal, underplayed bit of information was dropped in the dialogue of the second half. Soon after this was unveiled it became a late thesis statement of the effort. Upon a follow-up sit through the movie proved to be every bit in line with the liberated impression equated to his prior on-screen journeys. In the end, this helped me realize how necessary engagements like these are. It convinced me again that it isn’t too late to re-fashion the complications America faces. This is mandatory so that we can live in a region where the reverie of tranquility and admiration for one another is as prominent here as it is in this meticulous and timely labor’s depiction of other areas.

Where To Invade Next gives us hope. Not only is that a start to a better society, it is the first necessary step to seeing this vision Moore has shown us take root. This reason alone makes Moore’s latest masterpiece a compulsively watchable, mandatory experience.

The exertion can also be defined by a casually addressed sequence where Moore declares, “My mission is to pick the flowers, not the weeds.” Ultimately, the purpose here is to communicate to all of of us, Americans especially, that we all can use a little bit more of that in our lives. Moore illustrates and drives home this proposition beautifully. The proof radiates through every shining frame of this galvanizing tour de force.

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“Hush”- (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: *** out of *****.

As an exercise in continued suspense, director Mike Flanagan’s Hush works incredibly well. The film echoes superior efforts, most noticeably the 1967 Audrey Hepburn starring tour de force Wait Until Dark, in its apparently unproblematic ability to shred our nerves. More often than not, this is derived from its capacity to evoke panic amid mundane surroundings. Remarkably, such transpires while keeping audience patrons’ devotion almost constantly peaked throughout with the implement of its deadly game of cat mouse. Flanagan’s latest, parallel to the adaptation of Frederick Knott’s play mentioned above, also incorporates the impairment of senses. Hepburn suffered blindness in the previously mentioned nail-biter. With Hush, the condition is deafness. This our heroine accrued as a teenager. The result, though ultimately retracing the motions of far too many analogous thrillers, is still surprisingly effective.

Such is thanks to Kate Siegel’s hypnotic and believable turn as the lonely writer, Maddie. Siegel injects her otherwise one-dimensional character with a wounded likability. This makes it all the easier to root for her. Such is especially visible when the murderous madman she sees watching her outside her secluded residence in the woods threatens to slaughter her by morning. Siegel projects a vulnerability from the on-set that still quietly cries out of her eventual refusal to be victimized. It is one that we can sense making her easy prey for the psychotic, and similarly archetypically penned, villain of the tale. This individual is known exclusively as The Man (John Gallagher, Jr.).

Yet, where Siegel, who had a small bit in Flanagan’s underappreciated Oculus from 2013, fashions her protagonist into a sum far greater than the part she co-wrote with Flanagan: Gallagher’s enactment doesn’t fare nearly as well. His portrayal is adequate. Still, he has difficulty rising above the generic trappings of the nefarious role he has been provided. Michael Trucco as John, Samantha Sloyan as Sarah and Emilia Graves as Max correspondingly do as well as they can. This is considering their run of the mill, plot-serving on-screen personalities. The climax also feels rehashed and, ultimately, underwhelming. It also attempts to make a commentary about the dangers of our era’s technological obsession. But, this too is distributed in no new way. In the end, it is this familiarity, as well as these shortcomings in the character development, which make Hush a solid, but forgettable, outing in fear.

There is nothing innovative or surprising about anyone we meet in this cinematic journey. Furthermore, many of the events herein are equally uninspired. A proposed ‘twist’ as to The Man’s real identity, which transpires late in the third act, smacks of much the same repackaged sensation. Additionally, one scene where Maddie writes, “My boyfriend is on the way”, in lipstick on glass as a message to the killer seems like it was molded after the brilliant opening of Wes Craven’s 1996 game changer, Scream. The only consequence is it comes off as an imitation of Craven’s far sturdier and better executed sequence. This becomes one of many other small details that temporarily throw us out of this otherwise well-honed vehicle. These flaws become more difficult to overlook. What hurts the attempt most of all is that it serves to constantly remind us of the imitation, as well as loftier entries in the slasher on the loose sub-genre, buried beneath the feature’s intriguing surface.

Regardless, many of the technical attributes help sustain the uncertainty and keep our consideration invested. James Kniest gives us dark, brooding cinematography. It is perfect for the piece. Flanagan’s editing compliments the aforementioned attributes splendidly. Ken Gorrell’s top-notch minimalistic special, as well as Bret Culp and Brian Jeremiah Smith’s visual, effects add authenticity to the project. Jaan Child’s set decoration helps this previously stated characteristic spectacularly. The art department does a great job. Brock and Bruce Larsen create a mask for the killer which is unsettling. This is even if Flanagan and Siegel make the fatal mistake of having The Man reveal his face, and therefore diminish much of the mystery, far too early. Joshua Adeniji, Kate Jesse and Michael B. Koff issue sound which makes the long periods of quiet interrupted by sharp, sudden noises, which Flanagan instills into the work often to build anxiety, all the more creepy and disturbing.

Flanagan’s behind the lens contribution which, when combined with Siegel’s high-caliber representation, makes the movie compulsively watchable. He heightens the tension dazzlingly with minimal dialogue. As a matter of fact, it totals less than fifteen minutes of the runtime. He also conjures haunting images aplenty. The craftsman of 2011’s gem, Absentia, uses the largely subtle instincts of terror building, though all tried and true, he utilized in his past features here with just as successful an outcome. Flanagan’s brilliant and striking use of The Newton Brothers’ unsettling music becomes a potent punctuation point for these already stalwart facets. It increases these already uncomfortable instances throughout to levels above the general formula that plays into all angles of the narrative. These elements could’ve easily become cliché, given they have been dispensed on uncountable circumstances in comparable endeavors, in less capable hands. Yet, the piece peaks our attention after its opening ten minutes of quickly fading serenity and brief, yet satisfactory enough, exposition. For the rest of the wisely compact length, Flanagan keeps the pace moving expertly with an almost unwavering intensity pulsating throughout.

This detail mechanizes well enough to keep our mind from returning too often to the reality that this is all strictly serviceable material. The trepidation victoriously produced is window dressing for an otherwise hollow, by the numbers undertaking. Yet, Hush, though far from Flanagan or even 2016’s best horror submission, is worth a glimpse simply for the enduring strength of this quality alone. It keeps Flanagan in the running as a chief of his respective field. This is despite the fact that compared to the baker’s dozen of cinematic treats in his directorial catalogue, Hush is more mediocre than masterwork.

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“Hardcore Henry”- (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

Hardcore Henry, a proudly R-rated action vehicle from thirty-year old director Ilya Naishuller projected almost entirely from the first person point of view, is an unusually successful cinematic experiment. With practically wall to wall violence from its slightly off commencing sequence to it’s certainly smirk inducing finale, the too often heard comparisons of film to a video are certainly impossible to ignore. As a matter of fact, it seems tailor-made for such tech savvy enthusiasts. Similarly, its general attitude is destruction of everything in sight without taking the time to ask why. It delivers only the most necessary bits of its narrative design to project the story from one jaw-dropping, breathtaking sequence of explosion and gun-fire to the next. Even the general plot, which concerns a robotic being with an unusually well-honed knack for fighting waking up with no recollection of prior events to find out he is a wanted man, seems lifted from the same comparative source.

The result is a spectacularly over the top, endlessly entertaining ninety-six minutes. It astonishes by showing us things we’ve seen far too many times before with a unique angle. This is that we are thrust directly into the sights and perceptions of our lead, Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, who proves he is certainly suited for his role; even if his actual performance is hard to assess). Furthermore, the composition moves at a relentlessly breakneck pace throughout. There is no denying the ground-breaking take on the brutal, yet conventional, exploits Jimmy dabbles in. The whole work, from one amazingly done early sequence atop a plane to the massive brawl incorporated in the completion, seems to be trying to top itself time and again. This is especially true in terms of sheer ravenous spectacle. A dynamic extended sequence inside a brothel and an equally terrific one involving a unique take on a car chase are among the most memorable such incidents herein. There are also several successfully humorous sections sprinkled throughout the bloodshed and ferocity. One such incident, where Jimmy fails to mount a horse near the hour mark, plays like a riotous western parody. It can also be seen, at best, as a hilarious outtake from such a genre offering. It is such unexpected moments amid the modern-day carnage which keeps the proceedings continuously fresh and unpredictable. These portions only heighten the joy at hand.

Yet, it isn’t until we leave this silver screen wonder that we realize we know little more about the individual whose shoes we’ve walked in as we did going into it. We are awed by its brazen, in your face attitude. This fascination continues with its sharp twists (one particular third act reveal is especially surprising) and the pure energy surging from every frame. Yet, it never asks us to peer any deeper. Such makes for a rousing, but, ultimately, hollow experience. Those who are looking for brisk, mindless excitement will more than get their money’s worth. All others may be underwhelmed by its lack of dimension. Those individuals may be just as disappointed with the by the numbers story arc.

Besides wisely avoiding showing the face of our protagonist by having Jimmy cleverly duck out of range of all the mirrors that surround him until one pivotal instant, which heightens the effectiveness of the gimmick Naihsuller engages us in, the screenplay continuously injects inventive ways to keep its rowdy spirit fresh and alive. The picture rarely repeats itself in terms of violence. Likewise, the incorporation of Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), an engaging albino villain with telekinetic powers, adds to both the wow factor. It also greatly enhances the creativity on display. This is noticeable when he is seen psychically picking up anything in his possession and hurling them at Jimmy. These range from tables to actual human beings. Either way, such sights suit the approach remarkably well.

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Sadly, none of that conception can be found in the other aspects of the conclusively rote Will Stewart and Naishuller penned screenplay. The duo offer strictly serviceable dialogue. They serve up to spectators’ ears the brand of perfunctory conversation that is just meant to move us from one scene to the next. That is when the feature settles down, as it rarely does, enough to allow such discourse. There isn’t even the expected degree of quips we would find in a classically honed vehicle. For instance, the brand that would’ve typically showcased Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. Additionally, all of the characters we meet herein are written as thinly as Jimmy.

Moreover, the ploy begins to grow tedious near the climax. There is also a staggeringly unexpected, and rather pointless, musical number in the third act. This weighs down the energy. Such an absurd bit plays as if the tale is suddenly lampooning itself. It throws us out of the account during the minute or two it lasts. What is worse is that the feeling that this segment is pure filler, in a flick where this word otherwise does not apply, is undeniable.

Yet, these detracting elements are saved by composer Darya Charusha’s kinetic, pulse-pounding soundtrack. The cinematography from Chris W. Johnson, Pasha Kapinos, Fedor Lyass and Vsevolod Kaptur, as well as the editing by Steve Mirkovich, are crisp, rugged and grimly beautiful. Such is true of both components. This is even when they mimic the erratic shaky camera movements commonly equated to a found footage effort. Anna Kudevich’s costume design is stylish and appropriate. Igor Byoko, Regan Livingstone and Tanit Phoenix offer terrific make-up. The sound, composed from a department of seventeen individuals, makes the various blows issued throughout all the more immersive and heart-pounding. The massive visual effects and stunt crew only enhance the credibility and the illusion that we are actually a part of what is unfolding.

Haley Bennett paints Jimmy’s wife, Estelle, with equal doses strength and vulnerability. Bennett gives a powerhouse performance in a role that is more layered than her introductory sequences, when Jimmy wakes up, would allow you to believe. Tim Roth is just as convincing as Henry’s Father. Andrei Dementiev as Slick Dimitri, Oleg Poddubnyy as Yuri and Stewart as Robbie are just as wonderful. They are continuously gripping in their respective portrayals.

I was initially put off by the concept of Hardcore Henry. It appeared that, with the found footage sub-genre long past its prime and audiences unafraid to announce their fatigue with such opuses, Naishuller and company were attempting to offer us a new moneymaking alternative to the aforementioned sub-genre. Moreover, the trailer made the actual execution of the idea appear juvenile. I couldn’t be more wrong. This is a well-done, ruthless, fierce and mostly mature endeavor. It should have no problem packing adrenaline junkies of all ages into cinema theaters with the enjoyment afterwards evident all around. Naishuller guides the piece with taut direction and more artistry than one might expect from such an undertaking. This is visible from the moment Jimmy opens his eyes after the initial prologue.

Though the affair can be equated to the likes of the Jason Statham starring Crank ventures, both entries in the Hitman series, James Bond, The Terminator and any given found footage exertion thrown into a blender: the result is, for now, purely original. My only hope is that when the movie’s success at recycling these familiar ingredients brings forth an era of first person vantage movies: that they are injected with the inspired spirit of virtuoso fun that is visible throughout so that this impression will not become tainted. Even though the tactic utilized has been done in cinema before, Naishuller has crafted a film that is still uniquely trailblazing. Though far from a masterpiece, this assuredly dazzles. Such comes as much from the novelty still ingested into its device as it does from its ability to wink at its audience while exhilarating us. The results are undeniable, and highly recommended.

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“The Corpse of Anna Fritz”- (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **1/2 out of *****.

Released on October 8th, 2015 through Invincible Pictures, the unrated Spanish thriller The Corpse of Anna Fritz has the benefit of a certainly intriguing set-up. To its further credit, director Hector Hernandez Vicens, who co-wrote the strictly serviceable screenplay with Isaac P. Creus, paints the seventy-five minute chronicle in a largely subtle, classic genre approach. True to form, there is wonderfully welcome, gradual build-up throughout much of the first act. The tale gets extra mileage from such a decision. It summons the viewers into its web initially with effective degrees of mystery. There also appears to be an ominous tension waiting to strike from beneath its surface. Ricard Canyellas’ dark and brooding cinematography compliments this attribute splendidly.

What is just as interesting is the manner in which the composition successfully comments on the way the public views and treats celebrities in its commencing moments. This combination of atmosphere and social commentary, mixed with the taboo of necrophilia which is heavily mixed into the plot, assures us the resulting feature will be bold and fascinating. Alas, these opening bits are the pinnacle of this silver screen travesty. They suggest far more than the movie actually delivers. Once a twist kicks into play at the twenty minute mark, the tale jolts us again. It seemingly ups the ante on the nightmarish situation unfolding. Sadly, the promise Vicens and Creus so delightfully conveys up until this point is quickly unveiled as a scheme. Once the previously stated segment arises, the last fifty-five minutes of the depiction stumbles with a decidedly by the numbers story arc. During this later period, the piece proceeds to constantly run itself around in circles. It’s insistence on keeping the leads in the morgue for much of the duration also becomes quickly grating. Such also limits the opportunities of the account severely.

In the end, Vicens and Creus’ cinematic affair has its amusing sections. Still, it’s as if the auteurs used all their invention on pulling us in. Once this was victoriously achieved, the pair decided to fall back on genre conventions and repeated ideas remained ad naseum. It makes the whole an ultimately a tedious exercise. The undertaking is never quite dull. Yet, it is certainly unfulfilling. By the time the similarly predictable and underwhelming finale comes into play we find ourselves admiring the restraint of the effort, especially given its off-putting subject matter, more than anything else the filmmakers conjure herein.

Vicens and Creus tell the tale of Ivan (Cristian Valencia), Pau (Albert Carbo) and Javi (Bernat Saumell). They are led into a hospital morgue where the title individual, a popular actress, lies sprawled out on a gurney. Soon the three seize the opportunity to indulge their fantasies of being with the deceased. Amid this action, the trio unveil that Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) may not be as dead as she seems.

Among the problems of the script is that Ivan, Pau and Javi are all treated like adult variations of the stereotypically hormone driven teens who are killed off one by one in your garden variety horror offering. This attribute is especially highlighted early on with the three spouting juvenile dialogue galore. Once the actual story arrives and the tone becomes decidedly more serious so do the men. Not only is this much fitting to the fashion of such terror archetypes as mentioned above but, it is almost as if we are supposed to forgive and forget the heinous light the application illuminated them in previously. This could be overlooked if the screenwriters gave them even an ounce of character development or even a reason for us to care for them. Fritz is given much the same treatment. We never get to know anyone on-screen in the least. It makes the experience distant and cold. The run-around motions of the last two acts might not have been so noticeable if we were invested in any of these personages in any manner.

To its credit, Ribas is fantastic. This is visible in her ability to convey emotion through wide-eyed facial expressions. Given that her role hinges on the quality of such characteristics, with the writers giving her almost no dialogue, this becomes one of the flick’s few triumphs. Valencia, Carou and Samuell distribute fine enactments with what material they are given. Yet, the ultimately hollow script rarely utilizes such opportunities for the aforementioned individuals to showcase their capabilities in the way it does with Ribas. Ultimately, the on-screen personalities are simply put there because the narrative requires them to be. They are pawns. We see this in the reality that they are given no depth. Nor do Vicens and Creus issue any attempt at them becoming fully realized. Such is a shadow that eclipses the entire exertion.

Despite this, Tolo Prats’ sparse, but unnerving, original music serves the venture well. Alberto Bernad’s editing is masterful. It helps the illusion that what we are seeing is actually transpiring before our eyes. Zeroquatre’s art direction is tremendous. The same can be said for the moody lighting. It is also true of the believable visual effects from Javier Peirot. Urko Garai and Miquel Linas deliver top-notch sound department contributions. Pi Piquer’s costume and wardrobe choices add further commonplace authenticity to the project. Cristina Pellicer and Cristina Pellise provide excellent make-up. This is visibly evident in the credibility of Franz’s recently passed appearance in the early instances. Regardless, these solid influences do little to mask the gaping flaws of the fiction itself.

The Corpse of Anna Fritz begins promisingly. Despite this, it ultimately falls victim to its own choppy pace. It issues suspense intermittently. Our interest ebbs and flows throughout. Yet, it cannot sustain its nail-biting demeanor long enough to be deemed satisfactory. This is especially baffling given the taut movement suggested by the wisely scant running time. Likewise, there are rarely any genuine surprises in store. Not to mention, the piece ends on a whimper. All these details indicate a disappointment. Vicens and Creus have created a sadly mediocre, forgettable affair. It is one that will have even the least demanding of genre fans waving their hands and shouting, “That was it?”!

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“Choosing Sides’- (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Director Lee Loechler and writer Yael Green deliver a quietly powerful statement on religious conversion with the short picture from 2013, “Choosing Sides”. Painted with several moments of genuine hilarity, mostly deriving from the aforementioned situation, the exertion defies the bitter, preachy sermon the piece could’ve easily become in less capable hands. Instead, the two frame the composition in a radiant likeability. There is a perpetual warmth throughout that walks the line between comedy and drama. Such allows the audience to pick up on its message through their own assessment of the happenstance. This is a brilliant move. Such is true in that it allows the configuration, which plays entirely as a single extended segment, to unravel naturally and believably. In turn, there is never an instant where the illusion that we are watching a scene that could have occurred over numerous dinner tables throughout the world becomes shattered. This is another fantastic element of this effort. The experience overall will be wholly unique and intimate to every one of the exertion’s patrons. Such is another wonderful turn from the filmmakers’ decision to simply show the sequence without interrupting with their own thoughts. Never do Loechler and Green add any unnecessary cues as to how they want us to feel. They are inherently confident in their vision. Such only heightens the professionalism glistening through every frame of this subtle masterwork. The result is amazing. This is pure magic.

Though the set-up is amusing on its own, the confidence and competence at every level adds supplemental layers of depth and profundity. They unravel as the mind meditates its instances. Such adds a perpetually immersive luster to an already memorable bit of celluloid. Aided by terrific and endlessly watchable performances from Timothy J. Cox as the Catholic father, Peter, Rachel Lynn Jackson, as the Jewish mother, Ellen, and Max Abe Plush as Mikey, this is an all- around winner.

Loechler and Green’s tale focuses largely on Peter and Ellen. A pleasant enough, if rather mundane, discourse at dinner takes a noticeably disagreeable turn. Such occurs when faith slips into the dialogue. With young Mikey in ear’s range of the pair, the duo take the opportunity to use various methods, both derogatory to the opposing side and praising their own creed, to sway the innocent child to their side of the theological argument. This becomes, in the eyes of the parents, a battle for Mike’s moral direction. It is one which ends masterfully. We are given a concluding reveal that personifies another tremendously effective narrative choice on Loechler and Green’s behalf. Not only is it surprising, but it drives home the inevitable judgment sadly cast by some when they hear your doctrines do not align with their own. The last few minutes are a wonderfully strong punctuation point. It is one which re-states all that was communicated prior with brute force. Such makes this spectacular conclusion all the more riveting.

Among contributing the finely honed and competently crafted direction of this scant journey, Loechler provides cinematography which is striking, lush and alluring. His editing is just as skillful. The same can be said for Green’s nuanced and meditative screenplay. It is filled with credible, often successfully guffaw inducing, dialogue. What makes this all more operative is that Green has penned the type of speech one can easily hear erupting from the mouths of someone in the same combat Peter and Ellen become engaged in. These round out but a few of the various accomplishments visibly radiating from this production.

“Choosing Sides” works splendidly. This is true of both its laughter oriented and more sentimentally intense components. It also excels as a utilization of both genres to create a cohesive statement on the subject matter at hand. This is a rousing, well-executed and evenly paced undergoing. Though some may leave the labor offended at the picture painted, stating that such brawls would never derive from differing dogmas, the chronicle forces us to do as the title states. Such is an example of how accessible the characterizations are on-screen. It is also evidence of the participation we are pushed into inevitably. This, in itself, is verified proof of the emotive tiers buried immediately beneath the account’s apparently straightforward surface. All of these attributes join brilliantly. The outcome lingers with us long after the bit has settled. Such is evidence of the transcendence of the endeavor. It is also consequence of the volumes spoken in such a diminutive span. What Loechler and Green have provided here is challenging cinematic art; a sum which illuminates beautifully.

“That Terrible Jazz”- (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.

Inaugural writer and director Mike Falconi’s near seventeen minute short thesis film for The Art Institute of Philadelphia, “That Terrible Jazz”, is every bit as smooth, classy and elegant as its title musical genre suggests. It is complimented by the pulpy attitude one would expect from a 1930’s – 40’s noir. This Falconi has ardently fashioned his debut cinematic achievement after. Also, the narrative is similarly fitting in that it is packed with sly, diminutive, cryptic dialogue. This hallmark aspect is as intriguing, illusive and mesmerizing as ever. It is another of the fiction’s many trademark attributes. Regardless, it adds layers of additional mystery and sophistication to an already compulsively intriguing dramatic composition.

The plot concerns the chain-smoking and heavily drinking protagonist and private Investigator Sellers (Ephraim Davis in an enactment which brings to mind Humphrey Bogart with a uniquely splendid and well-executed spin) and his attempts to locate a missing saxophone player. The ticking clock motif, another common quality of similar affairs, is utilized here. This comes into play as Sellers learns that the individual needs to be uncovered before the jazz band performs that night. It is an amusing jump-off point. Such is perfect for the scant form it is presented in. Likewise, the account is punctuated with an underlying intensity throughout. Falconi and his moviemaking crew, keeping the enigmatic traits of its brood in check, frame the yarn largely as one interrogation sequence after another. This administers supplementary respect for the roots of similar entries of its ilk. It also mechanizes incredibly well as a tried and true manner of delivering exposition. With several genuinely unforeseeable twists in tow to add to the attention-garnering at hand, Falconi develops those who populate the screen in a consistently engaging, charismatic and alluring fashion.

These well-developed cinematic dispositions themselves endure as enigmatic as the lead himself. They follow the modus impeccably well of such a classically stylized entry. Such can also be said of Ellay Watson’s brilliant embodiment of Elizabeth Alksne. Timothy J. Cox gives us another of his many masterful turns in his portrayal of the barkeeper, Nicky. Cox’s always welcome presence is reserved for a small amount of the runtime. Still, he makes a certainly memorable impression. David A. Rodriguez is exceptional as Jimmy Calder. Jim Snyder as Gregory and John Rifici as Dean fare just as well in their respective depictions. Thomas Schmitt as Dallas, Bruce Clifford as Mac and Gyasi Howard as Wynn Dumont astound. Together these performers complete a cast of characters etched with both dimension and a hard-boiled edge. We, the audience, sit spellbound by everyone we meet herein.

What also heightens and illuminates such a parallel is Stephen Grancell’s moody black and white cinematography. This is complete with beautifully done lighting that augments the visual splendor. Contributing to this appeal is Earl Stepp’s immersive, era appropriate music. Such sophisticated luster is treated by the dress of the aforementioned period. There are suits, ties and pork pie hats aplenty. With these elements in mind, this could’ve easily come off as mere imitation. Instead, the sum of this labor soars far beyond such a broad description. This is accomplished by issuing a tautly-knit, relentless pace. It is also assisted by sharp editing from Falconi and Grancell. Additionally, Falconi has crafted a screenplay that is smart, absorbing and proficient. The well-constructed piece makes exceptional use of its low-key sensibility. Furthermore, this rousing effort demonstrates phenomenal make-up work from Frances Gonzalez-Chavarria. It also exhibits incredible sound from Strepp. These jaw-dropping components illuminate this magnum opus dazzlingly. They help establish the competence resounding from every technical facet.

Among its other wise moves is opening, as if being dropped in the middle of a scene, with Watson hiding her face in a pillow. The words are uttered: “You better end this, Betty. Because you don’t want me to.” Such a display grips us immediately. It urges us to put the broken portions of this seemingly broken puzzle together quickly. This is before the actual narrative ventures in that direction. Falconi’s production is compulsively watchable from its first frame onward. As the tale moves on, the same sense only accumulates. When the end credits arrive, with a grey moniker in quotations that recollects the days when crime sagas such as these dominated movie theaters, we realize that we have been riveted in the manner this exertion commenced upon throughout.

Ending on a brilliant, suspenseful and pensive note that suggests the name of the effort represents the unpleasant goings-on of the leads’ daily lives, Falconi has given us a debut exertion that is sophisticated and clever. With a budget of only $1,000, Falconi has delivered a composition that mirrors the rugged gloss of an antiquated Hollywood production spectacularly. Falconi does this so well that one cannot help but feel awestruck by how well he creates the illusion of watching an eighty year old classic.

“That Terrible Jazz” is phenomenal. This is true as an example of old-fashioned storytelling as well as its enduring contemporary hold. It is also a promise of great things to come for Falconi. His contribution behind the lens is fantastic. Yet, this splendidly crafted love letter is striking all around. Falconi’s exertion proves that the genus it ardently models itself after needs a modern-day resurrection. It also subtly suggests that some definitions of ‘cool’ are eternal. They continue to excite and compel us as years stretch on and pass. Such is just one of the many reasons why Falconi has concocted both a wonderful love letter and a sight well worth seeing.

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“Accidental Incest”- (Movie Review)

Rating: ***** out of *****
By Andrew Buckner

Accidental Incest, based on the off-Broadway production (published through Indie Theater Now) by Lenny Schwartz, plays like a gloriously successful mash-up of John Waters, Kevin Smith and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker at their most riotous and wildly unhinged. Schwartz has engineered a consistently funny, beautifully constructed and intelligent screenplay adaptation. It is one that is alternately meditative and unabashed. Likewise, it is consistently cunning, engaging and conclusively uplifting in its own respect. These elements assist in making this one hundred and two minute piece undeniably bold. Not only is this visible in the taboo bridled title subject matter, with much of its humor deriving from its sexual frankness, but also in the stances it takes against religious persecution. Additionally, the faux sense of superiority instilled in those who take the reins of such facets. This is the increasingly rare feature that utilizes the comedy genre as not only an instrument to entertain but, also, to drive home its timely thematic conscience. From the first effective comic segment, a tone-setting quote by Irving Berlin that flashes over a dark screen in its initial seconds, to the splashy extravaganza marking its heaven sent conclusion: the proof of this statement reverberates through every frame of its expertly paced one hundred and two minute runtime. This audacity is also visible in the unconventional manner the endeavor is told. It is just as foreseeable in the truly impulsive chain of events which dominate the general story arc. Such makes the whole affair endlessly intriguing; a vigorous breath of fresh air for those of us who are long exhausted, dulled to fury with the timid, rote manner in which the genre of laughter is so often served up on the silver screen.

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The narrative concerns Milton and Kendra (courageous, attention-garnering enactments by Johnny Sederquist and Elyssa Baldassarri that are full of surprising dimension and heart). After an extended six-minute opening, that is just as successful in establishing Milton’s carnal promiscuity as it is the string of rousingly victorious and well-timed unorthodox gags which pop up throughout the duration of the picture, our male lead swears to better himself and absolve such sinful deeds. Cut to Kendra waking up “Somewhere in Mexico”. She is disoriented, disrobed and has little remembrance of how she got there. As can be readily anticipated, the paths of the two unite during a motel stay. A date soon ensues that pushes the promises the two have made quickly out of the way. After finding out that they have the same father, their collective passions and fleshly indiscretions heighten to new zeniths entire. Eventually,  this anything but standard issue romance is tested. Such occurrs as the outside world, especially a pair of religious fanatics that the second half of the chronicle gets to know in depth, try to enact their fervent sense of moralism upon them.

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This represents another show-stopping exhibition of range for both Scorpio Film Releasing and the incredibly talented and the always reliable director, Richard Griffin. Being his third collaboration with Schwartz, their first such venture was the spectacularly inventive 2012 slasher saga Murder University and the 2013 drama Normal, the duo remain a terrific creative team. Griffin, who is marked as the ‘Drunken Film Director’ in the end credits, and his behind the lens work here is the perfect combination of indie artistry and its respective spirit. In particular, his ability to bring us something wholly unique and liberated from the conventional trappings of mainstream cinema. This characteristic is visible in the ravishing manner in which it incorporates five endlessly uproarious tunes throughout. Each of these ravishing, anything but commonplace ditties are every bit as side-splitting and amusing as the one which came beforehand. Among these are the Crimson-Al Khelmia (who depicts Angel #1) penned ditty “Nicolas Cage”, which utilizes the title actor’s movies as erotic innuendos with magnificent results, and “Circuit Board Christ”. The latter track oversees The Lord, God Almighty (played with fervent relish by the author of the number, Aaron Andrade) displaying his lyrical prowess in what can be described as a dead-on parody of modern hip hop clichés. Not only are these show-stopping, off-the wall segments that represent the un-fettered spirit of the piece entire but, they are among the best moments in the entirety of the exertion. The send-off tune, “Sentimental Incest”, sung by Jesse DuFault, The Young Adults performed and co-scribed “Kill Yourself”, and the Mark Cutler authored and Patrick Keefee executed, “Next Door Neighbor”, are unswervingly adroit. Such sonic oddities, and the routines which often accompany them, simultaneously remind us of the story’s stage roots (as does the leads’ various intimate discussions with the camera as if such is a silent audience). Similarly, it succeeds as both extensions of tone and sheer entertainment. Griffin, true to the form he established in earlier endeavors, drapes the project in nods to various other genres. An example of this is seen in a repeated shot of a sign for a motel. Composed over Jill Poisson’s gorgeous and sleek black and white cinematography, this scant segment wonderfully calls to mind a noir fabrication from the 30’s. Yet, despite such occasional departures the general demeanor of the composition is rooted in our modern times. The attitudes and point of views from the personages on-screen highlight this point incessantly.

Not only is this escapade beautiful to look at, with its brief color bits as eye-catching as its aforementioned classic cinema veneer, but its allure stretches beyond the screen. There are layers of emotion to the tale that are made all the more immersive and powerful due to the sheer talent at hand. Timothy Fife’s music is brilliant. The visual effects by Jill Poisson and John Dusek are skillful and astounding. Griffin’s contribution as editor is just as exceptional here as it was in his previous escapadeses such as 2015’s similarly genius Seven Dorms of Death and Flesh for the Inferno. Angela Shulman’s art direction is astounding. Also, every cast member is spectacular in their roles and make them wholly their own. Tonya Free as the oblivious wife of a homosexual, Susan, does a fantastic job of delivering wild guffaws. This is through the medium of facial expressions and the well-hewn dialogue coursing throughout the affair. Jose Guns Alves as The Anxious Man, Anna Rizzo as Tabitha, Jamie Lyn Bagley as Jen, Jesse Dufault as Rex and Christian Masters as Alex fare just as incredibly. Laura Pepper delivers another display of her magnificent rib-tickling aptitude in her brief, but certainly memorable, part as The Brain Damaged Wife. Bernard Larrivvee Jr. is just as stupendous as the eye-patched hotel manager. Paul Lucenti as Issac, Kevin Kilavey as Tool, Dan Mauro as Bob, Sean Carufel as Wesley, Christopher L. Ferreira as Tyler, Rich Tretheway as Kevin, Ryan Hanley as St. Peter, Michael Thurber as Harrison, Rosemary Pacheco as a receptionist, Sissy O’ Hara as a landlady, James Bagley as a doctor, Mark Hutchinson as a bartender and Steven O’ Broin as Dr. Emil Locust are delightful in their corresponding depictions. Knate Higgins as Sven, Casey Wright as Ariel and Erin M. Olson as Mary also embody their portrayals just as masterfully as those mentioned previously.

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Griffin and Schwartz’s latest collaboration is an example of high-risk taking resulting in a singular, innovative and distinctively captivating experience. There is a finely etched concern for all of the individuals we meet along the way. It is both smart and exuberant. Furthermore, the arrangement entire showcases proudly the admiration for motion pictures of the past and present. This has become another of Griffin’s many charming staple attributes. In an age when mainstream romantic-comedies are so by the numbers we can predict every movement the story takes before we even sit down to view it, Accidental Incest seems determined to take these routine twists and demolish them. In turn, we are delivered a completely capricious undergoing. The result is wall to wall cackles at situations ‘polite society’ would turn their nose up at. There is also an unexpected mirth, a merriment to the proceedings that is genuine. Such is another component multi-million dollar Hollywood productions package artificially, as if via an assembly line. Griffin’s feature is a grand masterpiece; authentic, rousing and both ground and rule-breaking. For those of us who enjoy boundaries being pushed so far away from our eyes that we are capable of enjoying the briefly held sense of being truly and utterly free: this feature, along with all of Griffin’s other celluloid journeys, should go immediately to the top of your ‘must-see’ list.

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