“The Other Side of the Door” – (Movie Review)

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

Sarah Wayne Callies is exceptional as the heroine, Maria, in the May 4th of 2016 released horror outing The Other Side of the Door. She provides an unusually strong backbone for a ninety-six minute film that often seems to echo a piece by Italian genre maestro Lucio Fulci. This is in its steady, but confident pace, and gothic tone. It also pulsates in its overall demeanor. Yet, for every instance which holds a mirror to Fulci there is a hokey sight. For example, the flick’s penchant for showcasing a child’s eyes turning black. There are just as many cheaply executed jump scares. Little of this holds any real baring on the actual narrative. The Johannes Roberts (2012’s Storage 24) and Ernest Riera (2011’s Forest of the Damned 2) penned screenplay also suffers from another near-fatal, tired trope of similar cinematic entries: myriad dream sequences. Most of these, exhaustedly, cut off a potential scream with Maria jumping up, as if from a nightmare, in her bed.

Perhaps, director Roberts was attempting to inject a surreal feeling into the proceedings. It would certainly fit the atmosphere. In fact, it doesn’t entirely take away from it. But, it seems to be one of the many attributes confining an otherwise skillfully done, if conventional in theme and overall narrative, opus. Regardless, Callies keeps the work watchable throughout.

This is true even when the fiction wavers away from Maria’s suffering. She has recently lost her son, Oliver (in a serviceable portrayal by Logan Creran). Such is the pushing, powerhouse force of the first act. When Maria becomes the central pawn the auteurs construct the segments of terror around in the remaining bulk of the picture: this suffering is still present in Callies’ mannerisms. Callies continues to bring depth to Maria. This is even when Roberts and Riera seem to have nearly forgotten the importance of her plight. Such transpires all the more readably as the composition progresses.

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Roberts and Riera tell the tale of Maria uncovering a ritual which will bring her deceased youngster back to her. The only catch comes once the ceremony, which involves a transcendent Hindu temple, is accomplished. This is that when Oliver, who passed away in a car crash which is harrowingly exhibited at about ten minutes in, is resurrected that she cannot disturb the balance between life and death. To do so, she would have to open the title entryway for Oliver and allow him into Maria’s world. Predictably, Callies ignores this warning. She keeps the knowledge of Oliver’s return between her daughter, Lucy (in a cloying, one-dimensional enactment by Sofia Rosinsky) and herself. Her husband, Michael (a routine performance by Jeremy Sisto) goes about his business. This is without the slightest notion of what is occurring. Gradually, Maria begins to realize she has welcomed an evil into the home.

The theme of resurrection, even in the manner it is presented here, is well-worn ground for a terror feature. Much of the proceedings call to mind a human reversal of Pet Semetary (1983) by Stephen King. Even a late segment seems to be drawing an unmistakable parallel to the re-animated Gage Creed. We are also provided similarities to Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). It is this familiarity which holds back the various competently done attempts at generating suspense herein. This also produces a restriction on our ability to fully become engulfed in the occurrences on-screen.

What also sinks the exertion is the rote, stereotypical handling of Lucy and Michael. They are a hollow presence. Their particular personas are practically indecipherable from comparable roles in endeavors of this variety. Lucy is where this is most noticable. The writers see her merely as an instrument for faux screams and not as a singular entity. Throughout the effort, Roberts and Riera never once care enough to develop Lucy and Michael as a presence we care about. In turn, they are amended one clichéd bit of dialogue after another. They exist to stumble about while Maria solely keeps the momentum of the account pummeling forward.

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Distributed by 20th Century Fox, the R- rated product sports mesmerizingly bleak cinematography by Maxime Alexandre. The editing by Baxter is tremendous and only heightens the comparisons to Fulci. Joseph Bishara’s music is haunting and appropriate. Roberts’ direction is impressive. The sound department offers a terrific contribution. But, the special and visual effects are another deductive component. They are wrought of the visibly, and all too common, computer generated type. Scenes meant to evoke fear, exemplified by the final shot, only summon a raise of the eyebrow or a chuckle.

Robert’s theatrical creation benefits greatly from its distinctive South India setting. The landscapes are illustrious. Additionally, its conclusion, outside of the aforementioned wrong step, is satisfactory. There is even a bit of poetry, albeit stating nothing new, summoned from it. Yet, it is still, much like the general structure of the tale itself: all too formulaic. We can see it coming once the set-up is introduced early on. On a likewise note: there are no surprises or genuinely frightful manifestations whatsoever in store.

The result is a fair, but ordinary, undertaking. It is a cut above comparable configurations in veneer and in style. For most of the production, the arrangement utilizes subtly instead of excessive gore. This, again, proves the far more successful manner of constructing revulsion. But, the characters, like the jolts, could’ve been taken from any other labor of this ilk.

Roberts’ opus may vaguely bring forth memories of Poltergeist (1982) at periodic intervals. Yet, The Other Side of the Door is missing the urgency, the sense of awe and the charismatic, cut from the everyday, personalities which made Poltergeist one of the best haunted house movies of all time. Instead, we find ourselves admiring the craftsmanship. But, we there is a distance to our admiration. The cause of this is the tedious exercise in trepidation this proficiency is built around. Such makes for a hit and miss affair. The potential is abounding. Yet, the storytelling confidence is not. Of all the things that evidently restrain this photoplay: this is the most critical.

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“Over Coffee” – (Short Film Review)

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

The primary joke of “Over Coffee”, a fifteen minute short from 2010 that was written and directed by Sean Meehan, is the lengths someone will go for that all-important morning cup of joe. The ticking clock motif is hilariously utilized in this situation. Such occurs as we find out that this beverage isn’t for our office laboring lead, Andrew (in a likeable performance by Erik Potempa that showcases the everyday qualities of his on-screen persona to terrific effect). It is for the imposing real-estate entrepreneur, Hamilton Rice (in another masterful portrayal by the always watchable Timothy J. Cox). He is from Rice Realty Inc. We learn in the first few minutes, in one of the many triumphantly humorous initial bits, that he has an obsessive fascination with the Post-It notes and their colors’ representational values. When a meeting that was scheduled with him at Wednesday at noon turns to “he’s on his way” the office Andrew works at descends into chaos. Andrew sees this as an opportunity to help out the girl he has unvoiced affections for: Carla (a tremendous representation by Jocelyn DeBoer that mirrors Potempa’s enactment in charisma). This is by executing an exploit he fools himself into thinking will be easy. It is to get Rice his coffee, measured out to his demanding specifications, before he shows up.

This set-up is splendidly introduced five minutes in. The last 2/3 are a cheery, light, but dead-on, parody. Such is of the maddening rush of the work-world. It is also about how, especially for those of us who are feeling the aforementioned crunch of labor and time, the simplest of tasks become the most difficult and strenuous. This pressure is perfectly realized in the opening moments. Such is a reverie of sorts involving Andrew’s run to his place of employment. This can be seen as a delightful thesis statement to the entire exertion.

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It is this allure which helps propel Meehan’s attempt to such successful heights. An early sequence between Andrew and David (in another of the many enjoyably wrought performances herein), where the duo are engaging in a conversation about cell phones and relationships that is sprinkled with one funny sexual innuendo after another, could’ve been cut from any closed door office friendship. A mid-film arrangement involving the laborious undertaking of getting a coffee order right, especially when said coded in a dense Starbucks-esque language, also adds to the breezy, slice of life comedy at hand. The romantic element also further illuminates such an aspect. It makes for a finale that is wonderfully old-fashioned in its upbeat simplicity and joviality. This makes Meehan’s work perfect viewing to break up another cloudy day of toil. This is by pointing out the absurdity of many of the situations we, the laborers, find commonplace.

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This detail is also thanks to a sharp, genuinely hilarious and character-oriented screenplay by Meehan. He gives us direction that fits the atmosphere of the material beautifully. This endeavor parallels itself to the look, luster and pace of similarly themed genre cracks well. Yet, it always feels fresh, unique and new. The Two-Five Films and A Studio in Production release benefits from vibrant music by Eric Campo. Matt Schwarz’s cinematography is exceptional. The same can be said for Meehan and Schwarz’s editing. Contributions from the five members of the sound department are also terrific. To add to the skillfulness visible throughout, Mallory Portnoy is outstanding in her representation of Laura.

Meehan aims to amuse and brighten with this venture. This he triumphs at stupendously. His exhibition is even paced and consistently entertaining throughout. The composition has just the right amount of well-timed comic moments and affectionate instances. This is utilized without ever appearing to artificially strive for either. The piece, made for $5,000, is amiable at every turn. Meehan injects the same demeanor here that made later efforts like 2015’s “Total Performance” so winning. His goal is to appeal to a mass audience by using themes we can all find applicable. This is one of the many triumphs on-screen. “Over Coffee” is a tour de force achievement. It is one which seems to have a bit of a Woody Allen spirit to the proceedings. Such makes this phenomenal accomplishment all the more endearing. This is the increasingly rare cinematic product which will be undoubtedly relevant, in some form or another, to practically everyone who crosses its merry path.

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“The Fireman” by Joe Hill – (Book Review)

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

One of the great joys of reading Joe Hill is that his stories seem to exist in the same literary world created by his father, Stephen King. So when Hill’s masterful fourth novel, The Fireman (2016), calls upon, and often directly incorporates, ideas from King benchmarks like The Shining (1977) it doesn’t just summon a smirk. Instead, it seems natural and even expected. This sensibility is so strong that I often even silently anticipate Hill’s antagonists running into those who populated King’s tales at any given interval.

With this in mind, it should not be a shock that throughout Hill’s latest eight ‘book’ epic he also slyly references other King works. For example, the novella which was first made available in King’s short story collection Different Seasons, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (1982). There is also an undeniable parallel to The Stand (1978). This is most evident in the end of the world theme, scale and ambition. It is also comparable in the sheer length of Hill’s massive seven hundred and fifty two page tome. Hill also shares King’s knack for effortlessly entertaining his audience through the pure readability of his terrifically written sheets alone.

There is also an intimate character-focus and various pop-culture mentions. We are also amended statements concerning Maine and the state’s surrounding spots. All of these further align Hill to King. Yet, there is a noticeable inspiration from J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury and, of all things, Julie Andrews. Mary Poppins (1964) is a personal favorite of Hill’s heroine, Harper Willowes. Likewise, the Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman composed song, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, is constantly mentioned. It is also creatively mixed into the proceedings. There is also a direct comparison to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and the trials which occur within the confines of Hill’s most recent opus itself. This creates a direct arrangement to the measures of Hill’s fiction sewn into the fabric. It also seems to be modeling itself after The Andromeda Strain (1969) by Michael Chrichton in many respects.

True of all the talents of the authors mentioned above, Hill has an affinity to make us deeply care for our leads. He keeps a sense of urgency, a quiet intensity, lurking at every turn. This is present even in the numerous exposition heavy stretches which take up much of the mid-section. Yet, such makes every tragic, unexpectedly poignant and occasionally comic item all the more pivotal, intimate and immediate. This makes the adventure Harper, a nurse, takes with John Rookwood, a likable Englishman whose own dreams are alluded to in the title all the more jarring, exciting and spectacular. Helping matters is the singular, expertly developed personalities Harper meets along the way. For example, a vindictive radio personality dubbed ‘The Marlboro Man’ is among Hill’s more interesting antagonists. This only enhances the credibility and quality of the undertaking stupendously.

The story itself is set in modern day New Hampshire. It concerns an outbreak of Draco Incendia Trychophyton or, as it is commonly dubbed throughout this meticulously detailed affair, Dragonscale. This is a lethal spore which evokes spontaneous combustion in those who have not learned how to control it. Those who do find the beauty in this microorganism. Such activities, taught to Harper by The Fireman himself, bring about a sense of time slowed down. Among the benefits of such a control is the ability to create blazes without a match. But, how long will it be before this power is corrupted?

Once Harper unveils that she is a carrier of Dragonscale, early in the undertaking, we follow her on a continually mesmerizing journey. She narrowly escapes her husband, Jakob. He is a self-proposed ‘intellectual’ and amateur writer. One that is slowly becoming unhinged and increasingly more fascinated with a suicide pact he made with Harper before she found out she was pregnant. She is fearful. This is until she finds a presumed safety at a place for those who are infected. The name of this area is Camp Wyndham. It is run by the ever-intriguing Father Storey.

Here she becomes more familiar with the title entity. It also gives her a sense of temporary safety. She thinks this will be a haven. One which will ensure that her unborn child will be protected from her increasingly violence prone spouse. This is until the pleasantries of those at Camp Wyndham are unveiled to be a ruse. It is than she must fight to survive for the sake of herself, those around her and the babe within her.

The result of this struggle, the pushing force of the entire narrative, is fully satisfying on all fronts. This is sprawling, suspenseful and smartly paced in equal doses. All the more admirably, these attributes often appears to transpire simultaneously. Hill’s structure throughout is meticulous and always fascinating. He also evokes crisp imagery. It is as spectacularly visual and unforgettable as the most haunting and harrowing mainstream blockbuster. This is especially true in the first and last hundred pages.

What is just as admirable is the magnificent way he ties up as many loose ends as possible in the concluding stretches. This makes the rare predictable element, such as a chain of events brought forth by the hierarchy in Camp Wyndham, easily forgettable. This is also true of the last 1/3 of the hardcover. Here Hill follows a generally formulaic pattern for tales of this variety. Still, he breaks new ground and dismantles expectations at nearly every turn. Thus, these small familiarities are made all the more trivial in comparison.

The volume triumphs as action. There are plenty of scenes so rigorously detailed you can often hear the crack of the shots fired and the clash of fictional vehicles. It succeeds just as well as science-fiction, horror and drama. There’s terror, poignancy, life lessons and wisdom in abundance. Just as prevalent is Hill’s rich prose. It is as grand as the plethora of authors who served as the muse for this astonishing tour de force.

Hill wants to teach us the importance of a song and unveiling moments of splendor amid an ever-blackening backdrop. Furthermore, he wants to instruct us on how everyday people can turn into heroes under the most horrific circumstances. There is also a strong emphasis on kindness and humanity amid insurmountable odds. Such, along with a tremendously realized and deservedly poetic finale, will produce tears from even the sourest of hearts. To its further credit, there is also an active imagination vividly alive here. It also easily aligns Hill with those who he specifically notes as his muse early on. These are but a few of the many numerous achievements visible in The Fireman.

Hill’s latest is endlessly engaging and meditative. It showcases the remarkable talent he demonstrated in his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts (2005), and in the Bram Stoker Award for Best Debut Novel winning, Heart Shaped Box (2007), as continuing to blossom and take flight. Though the overall content may not be as horrific as that exhibited in NOS4A2 (2013), whose Christmasland is also cleverly referenced here, it is every bit as magnificent. The William Morrow and Company published piece certainly towers over Hill’s uneven Horns (2010). What’s best is that the comic book series Locke and Key (2008-2014) scribe continues to exhibit growth, further potential and brilliance.

There’s a lot of Hill’s dad in him. This much is true. Admittedly, this connection is what drew me initially to his material. But, with every new labor turned in Hill proves that his voice is exceptional and distinctly his own. The Fireman is no exception. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most striking novels I’ve read in years. For those of us who like many genres triumphantly put together into one compulsively readable digest: this is an absolutely mandatory experience.

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“Hail, Caeser!” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

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

1984’s terrific Blood Simple established Joel and Ethan Coen as a magnetic cinematic force. Since than there has been certain high-brow expectations for the writing and directing team. Over the course of nineteen feature and thirty-two years, the pair has come with an unspoken promise of witty, rhythmic banter and top-notch storytelling with each upcoming release. Their comedies, such as 1998’s The Big Lebowski and 2000’s brilliant O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? also brought forth the promise of more minimized, intelligent gags. Such was a welcome breath of air for those of us who are wearied by Hollywood’s penchant for grossly overblown, mindless physical satire.

There more seriously toned pieces, such as 2007’s Best Picture winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and 2013’s quietly masterful Inside Llewyn Davis, are among some of the most memorable photoplays of the past decade. As with any such creative force there are a few minor, often disappointing endeavors. For instance, the comic Tom Hanks starring vehicle from 2004, The Ladykillers. But, these wrong-headed moves are a rarity for them. Such is a phrase I had to keep repeating to myself. This was while sitting through the well-meaning, but fairly underwhelming, Hail, Caeser!

The story concerns an individual named Eddie Mannox (in a role by Josh Brolin that showcases his rugged charm as well as a layered and well-executed enactment). He toils at Capitol Pictures. This is a fictional filmmaking company which calls to mind the MGM of the 1930’s- 50’s. As the flick opens we watch with vague intrigue as he begins another chaotic day. His job is, among other things, to clean up the public image of Capitol Pictures’ stars. Such allows many of the brighter moments involving twin reporters, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both charmingly played by Tilda Swinton). To make matters more stressful: Mannox is currently overseeing the production of the company’s biggest current release.

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This lavish, mega budget biblical epic, obviously inspired by the decade appropriate labors of Cecil B. DeMille, shares the same title of the movie itself. Most majestic of all is that the silver screen opus showcases the talents of one of their brightest stars: Baird Whitlock (in a depiction by George Clooney which is as likable and compulsively watchable as you’d expect from him). The endeavor seems geared for success. This is until a group of political minded writers, which exist to provide orientation points to the Communist scare and Hollywood blacklist that took place in the United States in the circa 1950’s period this endeavor is set, kidnap Whitlock. This is where Mannox is called in. He must keep the information of Whitlock’s abduction from leaking into the papers.

All of this should’ve indicated a knockout. The premise had the promise of another impeccably honed, multi-perspective account. This parallels what we’ve come to associate with the Coens. The actors and actresses within certainly have proven themselves capable. Their portrayals herein only re-inforce this belief. For example, Ralph Fiennes is commanding as always as Laurence Laurentz. Scarlett Johansson is great as DeeAnna Moran. Frances McDormand as C.C. Calhoun, Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney, Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle and Jonah Hill in his brief turn as Joseph Silverman all add additional layers of dimension. They increase the differing personalities which dominate this varied cast.

But, the opus itself does what I once thought was unthinkable for a Coen Brothers picture: it intermittently lumbers. This is especially true in the first forty minutes. Miraculously, it finds its footing and captures, for the most part, the unique Coen essence that we wished for all along. In this time frame, even the dialogue lacks the literate jocularity of their earlier, similarly light affairs. It follows a form much in their tradition. Nevertheless, it is too simple and straight-forward. It’s not to say it is without its entertaining ticks. Regardless, most of the first half is evidently lacking.

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There are a few mildly successful jokes sprinkled throughout this rough patch. However, the large sum of the guffaws distributed here are artificial and painfully desperate. Most of it is forced slapstick. This can be seen as an homage itself to the type of humor associated with 1950’s Hollywood. Still, it doesn’t gel. It doesn’t seem in line with the far more successful guffaws. These are those that playfully poke at the style of antiquated cinema in the last hour. They range from lavish musicals to conventional western musicals. Even splashy singing mermaid ventures get thrown into the mix. This is where Johansson’s character comes into play.

Regardless, Joel and Ethan Coen save their smartest morsels for the sequences where we watch these wide-ranging genre entries themselves alongside the audience on-screen. The songs which often accompany them are just as entertaining. This is especially true of the number attached to the rousing five and a half minute tap dance segment in The Song and Dance Man. It is just as true of the folksy ballad heard in Lazy Ol’ Moon. The narration which documents Mannox’s actions throughout are constantly smirk-inducing. There are even crafty references to real-life productions that are much at home with these fictional account shrewdly blended into the proceedings. The Gene Kelly starring and Vincent Minelli directed vehicle, An American in Paris (1951), are among them. All of these components summon the spirit of 50’s cinema tremendously well.

The pace is relatedly much in line with what you’d expect from prior Coen undertakings. Their writing is smart. Though it is ultimately a shadow of their prior penned endeavors. The direction, much like the editing, the two offer is elegant. It is on par with previous efforts. Yet, it never becomes uniquely striking. This hinders the chronicle greatly.

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Roger Deakins’ cinematography is undoubtedly a bright spot. It is luminous, cheery and eye-capturing. Besides, it fits the spirit of the flick beautifully. Carter Burwell’s music is also splendid and appropriate. It helps frame some of the more triumphant humorous flashes. Mary Zophres’ costume design, Nancy Haigh’s set decoration and Cara Brower and Dawn Swiderski’s art direction are all wonderfully fashioned. The make-up, special effects and sound department carry on the spectacular quality of these technical attributes. These angles all add to the visual appeal outstandingly.

Hail, Caeser! clocks in at one hundred and six minutes. For nearly 2/3 of that length it succeeds. It has several meditative and brilliantly artistic moments to heighten its character-oriented focus. These are all Coen trademarks. They satisfy well enough. But, the section beforehand sets the article immediately off on the wrong foot. It feels like it could use better timing. Likewise, it could’ve benefitted from a round of tightening and another re-write or two. Than it might have been worthy of what comes after it. Maybe than we could’ve had a cohesively solid addition to the Coen catalogue.

Perhaps my own expectations were so high that I need to see it a second time to see it for what it is. Either way, the Coen’s latest often felt uneven. Also, it left me not entirely fulfilled. Sadly, this one of the duo’s lesser exertions. Which, amusingly enough, is just as impressive as many others’ greatest works. Simply put: it’s worth a watch. This is as long as you don’t expect another Coen classic.

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“Touch Gloves” – (Movie Review)

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

Director Felipe Jorge and Haymaker Films’ boxing documentary, Touch Gloves, held me in its captivating grasp for every second of its brief, but effective, seventy-four minute runtime. Recorded from May 2015 until May 2016, the work is intimate yet, wide-ranging and ambitious. All of this is much in line with the tradition of the best documentary features. Yet, amid the loss and triumph, personal stories, closed door interviews, training and matches that we encounter throughout: the passion which resonates from all those involved on-screen is visible. It is also undoubtedly infectious. Moreover, it is ultimately inspiring. This masterful, insightful composition absorbs us with the real-life pursuit of dreams radiating through it all. In the end, it lifts our spirits. This is in a way only the most tremendous movies can do. Furthermore, it satisfies our soul. The images evoked herein pushes us to be the individual we personally would like to be. Such makes this mandatory viewing. This is for, not only athletes, but dreamers of all ages.

This no budget production concerns a gym which stays open via fundraisers and donations. It is in Jorge’s Massachusetts hometown. The place goes by the name of Haverhill Downtown Boxing. The piece follows the man who runs the building, Ray Hebert. The endeavor also introduces us to a group of charismatic sports related hopefuls. They are a mix of both male and female participants. These wide-eyed, optimistic locals Herbert helps guide to greatness in the ring. One of those folks is as young as eleven years old. His name is Andrew. The enactment also focuses on the personal plights of other, comparatively older talents. These are Eddie Rozon, Brendon Simoes and Duncan McNeil. They all aspire to fight in the statewide Golden Gloves tournament.

The segments dedicated to this competitive event offer some of the most breathtaking instances herein. They illustrate numerous semi-climactic moments of rousing emotional intensity. Such occurs as we watch those we feel as if we were taught alongside. This is courtesy of Jorge’s unflinching cinematic vision. The undertaking becomes all the more illuminating thanks to his competent directorial hand. Chris Esper, who shot supplemental footage for a fight that took place on September 18th of 2015, also offers a terrific contribution in this department. Their respective styles complement one another seamlessly. Together they heighten the impact of the exertion spectacularly.

Jorge, who acts as a one man crew here, utilizes editing which is beautifully executed. He incorporates a pace for the material that is natural and quick. Still, it is never rushed. Best of all: it keeps our interest sharply piqued through the duration. Additionally, there is not a single scene which can be seen as excessive or unnecessary. Every frame directly enhances the narrative as well. This can also be said of the various perspectives sewn into its fabric.

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He also provides cinematography that is darkly gorgeous. It is rugged and absolutely perfect for the material. This quality stunningly calls to mind the gleam of similar classics such as Rocky(1976). In many ways it is much on par with the aforementioned effort. This is in that it is also destined to be a classic. One which audiences will turn to for motivation many years into the future.

The music, delivered by http://www.freemusic.org, is every bit as empowering as the sights which accompany them. An end credits section which uses a personal favorite track of mine, “Momma Said Knock You Out” from LL Cool J’s same titled 1990 album, is especially smirk-inducing. It is an excellent bookend to the instantly fascinating commencing sequence. This phenomenal bit pans mesmerizingly through a collection of articles. These delve into the history of Haverhill Downtown Boxing.

Touch Gloves is one of the most exhilarating, ardent and credible, entries of its type I have seen. It is a sincere portrait of the human spirit. Additionally, it concerns one of the many heroes who habitually guides those the story revolves around to unveil their most fulfilling path. The enterprise as a whole is traditionally formalized. Yet, the endurance of the approach is more than fitting. It goes hand-in-hand with the frequent issues and themes derived from the subject matter. This is done terrifically well. Such is one of the many longstanding attributes mechanizing within this rousing attempt. These components make it all too easy to see the picture playing as a staple on channels like ESPN or one of its television alternatives. This is also undeniable proof that Jorge has crafted an exceptional labor of love. It is one that spectators will be more than happy to pass down from generation to generation.

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“Hell-Bent” – (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1.2 out of *****.

“Hell-Bent” is a deliciously dark comedy from first time director Foster Vernon and writers Lorenzo Cabello and Shayne Kamat. The twenty-six minute and forty-second short film, released through MKaszuba Productions (“Inspired“) in 2016, takes full advantage of its wise-cracking demon on the loose set-up. The laughs are rapid-fire. This is thanks to the endlessly witty dialogue Cabello and Kamat have constructed. It is also courtesy of Steven Trolinger’s dead-on performance as the unholy fiend himself, Ricky. Trolinger, whose on-screen persona has a unique resemblance to Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy, brings a smirk-inducing charisma to his unkempt, obscenity spewing demeanor. It is one which is compulsively watchable. Such is unmistakably noticeable from our initial sighting of him, as he talks into a disconnected phone, at five minutes into the work. His portrayal is one of the many elements incorporated herein that make the proceedings play like an R-rated rendition of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice from 1988. Even the way Trolinger carries himself seems modeled after Michael Keaton’s timeless enactment of the title personality from the previously mentioned feature. It can also be seen as a riotous parody of the evils of the laboring world. Moreover, the malevolent beings one would call upon to get ahead in it.

The tale follows Michael (in a tremendously realized performance by Justin Andrew Davis). He is in constant competition with Beth (a well-orchestrated depiction by Ashley Kelley) at Brimstone Magazine. Michael is desperate to find a way to prove that he is the best writer at his place of employment. His options appear to be bleak. That is until he finds out that the upbeat and unassuming Agatha (a scene stealing, continually amusing enactment by Leslie Lynn Meeker), who labors alongside Michael, happens to have a summoning circle in her basement. It is than Michael becomes a curious, but confused, bystander to the act of bringing forth Ricky from his fiery resting place. Michael’s initial fear turns into optimism. This occurs as he sees Ricky as the perfect subject for what he is certain will be the article that makes his literary capabilities widely known.

Such a premise is intriguing in its own right. Yet, the filmmakers wisely know when to take chances and when to underplay the guffaws. For instance, the best sequence in this brief endeavor is erected while Michael and Ricky stand outside a church. It is than Ricky decides to play a game called “See You in Hell”. This is where he announces the sins of those who pass by as they file out of the aforementioned building. Soon he points to the structure itself and says, “Tax evasion”. Moments such as these help fashion the piece with its constantly sharp edge.

Yet, it triumphs just as well in its smaller, more understated instances. Such can be seen in the emotionally stirring typewriter shot which opens the composition. It is also visible in one of the hilarious concluding bits. In this segment, Agatha, Michael and Rickey take a picture together. This is arranged in a way that mimics the at home quaintness such arrangements often embody. It all comes together to showcase the variety at hand.

This smoothly paced effort is elevated by Kamat’s impressive, immersive cinematography. He also incorporates wonderfully done editing. Marc DeBlasi gives a crisp, skillfully issued contribution to the sound department. Kailia Bowlby’s make-up is terrific. Likewise, Kiyun Sung’s visual effects fit the atmosphere of the exertion spectacularly well. They are also astonishingly and credibly issued. Such heightens the 1980’s style charm that ebbs and flows throughout the undertaking. Vernon’s direction is stalwart and even throughout. Cabello and Kamat’s writing is brilliant in structure and in quality. Timothy J. Cox is mesmerizing in his representation of Mr. Bowers.

All of these components comes together to create a character oriented, effectively sidesplitting and engrossing product. Such is one that is as narratively intriguing as it is technically gripping. The quips and one-liners are triumphant in punchline and in execution. Yet, the exertion has as many gentle cases as it does boundary-pushing instances. This makes the affair so much more than a string of well-delivered cracks. It provides an undercurrent of heart and unbending concern for its leads. Such makes the depiction all the more even, varied and alive. What could’ve easily turned into a bitter outing becomes a resplendent balance of joviality, proficient filmmaking and depth. In turn, the promising young talents of Vernon, Cabello and Kamat shine. Their collective strengths, along with the rest of the terrific cast and crew, help make “Hell-Bent” a winner on all fronts.

You can check out the official Facebook page for “Hell-Bent” here.

“In a Time for Sleep” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

On its surface Trofiq Rzayev’s fourteen minute, 18+ rated short, “In a Time for Sleep”, is about a turbulent relationship. It is one which explodes into un-meditated violence. This is during what it meant to be a celebratory one-month anniversary dinner. Such shockingly transpires between our heroine, Leyla (an incredibly honed depiction by Goknur Danishik that is both vulnerable and aggressive in equal doses), and her ungrateful boyfriend, Arda (a terrific performance by Mehmet Faith Guven that greatly enhances the credibility on-screen). Yet, the Turkish language piece, released through Angry Student Productions, derives poetry and dramatic resonance from a set-up less competent filmmakers would use for traditional thriller conventions.

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Screenwriters Guven and Rzayev also add quiet commentaries on the intervention of fate. This arises most readily from the bond Leyla finds in an unnamed woman (a strong representation by Elif Barut) she meets, and partners up with, along the way. For most brief features this would be enough. Despite this, Guven and Rzayev focus sharply on how the incident, whose action and deliberation of potential consequences take up the first half of the composition, shapes Leyla’s sense of liberation. In the wake of the bloodshed, she also unveils her true self. The emotive heft of this reveal becomes all the more poignant. Such occurs with the realization that this individual spirit was abandoned, discarded even, during her time with Arda. This is powerful material. It is made all the more potent by the meticulous care and craftsmanship at hand. Such reverberates through every frame and creative influence from the moviemakers herein.

Much like Rzayev’s terrific “Nihan: The Last Page”, which also concerned the difficult aftermath of a liaison, Guven and Rzayev find a tone that is striking and consistently mature to tell their transformative tale. It is also stunningly beautiful. This is issued immediately. It is only expanded upon as the affair unravels. Most incredibly, there is an authenticity about the situations and what comes from them. Furthermore, the characterizations and the overall veneer share this attribute splendidly. Likewise, the pace is brilliantly etched. It offers even time to contemplate every major turn in its narrative events. This is without feeling rushed. Moreover, it never betrays the believable, slice of life nature. Such is accomplished effortlessly throughout. The script is intelligent, multi-layered and awe-inspiringly fashioned. Rzayev’s directorial contribution is elegant, often understated, gentle and endlessly impressive. It, again, showcases Rzayev’s absolute mastery of the cinematic craft. All of these elements are also much in line with the previously stated endeavor.

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The other technical facets are just as astounding. Rzayev’s cinematography is illustrious. It fits the eloquent atmosphere of the chronicle terrifically well. The same can be said for his input to the editing of the undertaking. The original score by Gergo Elekes and songs by Serif Ahmet Ege are transcendent and touching. David Kislik’s visual effects are phenomenal. These components only further increase the plausibility Rzayev is obviously striving for. An inventively done concluding credits bit only heighten the appeal.

Rzavey has created a full-bodied masterpiece. “In a Time for Sleep” is entirely fulfilling as a gripping account. It is just as ravishing as a study of those we encounter on-screen. From Leyla’s commencing line, “You’ve destroyed everything!”, to its uniquely uplifting climax: our attention is piqued throughout. Yet, its emphasis on thoughtfulness, spied most readily in even its most miniscule of instances, is the most encapsulating component of all. What is just as astonishing is how this is all consummated in such a transitory duration. Rzayev’s latest satisfies on all aspects. For those of us who adore a moving picture which challenges and compels, as well as invigorates and leaves a lasting impression, this is mandatory viewing.

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“Sky’s the Limit” – (Short Film Review)

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

When we first meet Jason (a charismatic, genuine and beautifully honed portrayal by Timothy J. Cox), the lead from first time writer and director April Schroer’s “Sky’s the Limit”, the balance between family man and recently widowed father is perfectly displayed. He is visibly distracted. It is easy to detect that there is a high level of stress, hints of anger even, beneath his always calm exterior. The individual is spied typing away on his laptop. He is searching online messages. All the while he is only partially listening to what his son, Frankie (a strong and vulnerable depiction, perfect for the material, by Joseph Di Stefano) is saying. The signals, cries of attention from Frankie, appear initially lost on Jason. That is until a playful, imaginative game fills the duo with joy. It is this note which makes the second half, where Jason meets Kaitlin (a sharply rounded and authentically honed representation by Monica Servellon) so quietly powerful.

As the story goes on, it is uncovered that Frankie’s babysitter, Rebecca, is unavailable. From herein, the youth tags along on his dad’s date. It is during these later scenes, both natural and skillfully executed, so pivotal. Here, the audience begins to further sense the unspoken tug of war Jason has within. This is with his decision on which priority is more important to him: the role of parent to Frankie or lover to newly met Kaitlin. His final choice is as underplayed as all that came before it. Such heightens the dramatic beauty ebbing and flowing beneath its transcendent, vibrant slice of life surface. The result is a dynamically developed, breezily paced tale. It is one complimented by genuine dialogue and same-said events. Moreover, it is graced with tremendous performances. The outcome of such is a herculean marvel. It is one that is both fully satisfying and illuminating. Ultimately, it is the consistent believability on-screen, a mirror to existence itself Schroer holds throughout the endeavor, which makes these elements all the more stalwart.

Such is the impetus which thrusts forth the everyday comedic bits. It makes them all the more engaging and likable. These are all beautifully assembled. Refreshingly, the use of humor is not so heavily applied that it ever appears forced or betrays the realism Schroer has successfully accomplished. There is also a poignant, sobering emotive resonance beneath it all. It is one which is lightly, proficiently issued.

Schroer’s fantastic direction and smartly written screenplay never demonstrates the need to underline the sentimentally intense instances. Instead, it is as if we are a silent partner. This is most noteworthy as Jason greets Kaitlin at the door to initiate their date. Such is especially accurate during the climactic movie theater sequence. This is where Jason mentally assesses which definition of love is most important to him. Additionally, this is all entertainingly and convincingly distributed. The fact that such is done in a tightly-knit runtime of seven minutes and thirty-one seconds is all the more awe-inspiring.

With an estimated budget of only $1,000, this is also a technical gem. It looks and feels like an expensive, polished big budget product. Tom Mika’s cinematography is splendid. It supplements the tangible veneer emanating from all other aspects of the effort spellbindingly. Mika and Schroer’s editing fares just as well. Georges Estrella and Filip Ilic’s sound is crisp and spectacularly fashioned. The uncredited music utilized is phenomenal. It fits the brief production’s tone gloriously. To add to the quality at hand, Ryan Moore is incredible in his quick turn as Sky King.

Filmed in Montclair, New Jersey the composition is a joy to behold. There’s a joviality, an innocence lurking beneath the frames. It is one that is as admirable as it is necessary. This is a terrific, heartfelt account. It serves as the reminder to those of us who may see some of ourselves in the rendering of Jason. Such is to disconnect from the workaday world which dominates us. Furthermore, to focus our energies where true importance lies. This message Schroer delivers in a manner that is as understated as all that is previously witnessed. Much like these other attributes, such an action makes it all the more potent, pivotal and prevailing. This is a fantastic, intelligent and masterfully constructed undertaking. It is one I highly recommend you experience yourself.

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“Don’t Look in the Basement II” – (Movie Review)

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

Director S.F. Brownrigg’s Don’t Look in the Basement, or The Forgotten as it was formerly titled, was an unusually effective thriller. Released in 1973, the Bill Pope penned and Bill McGee starring vehicle turned its $100,000 dollar budget into gold. The grainy, washed out quality of Robert B. Alcott’s cinematography, alongside a winning combination of 70’s horror exploitation charm, made the feature a minor cult classic. Brownrigg milked the asylum setting, which was still rather common back then, and made it feel fresh. Fast forward forty-two years later to the release of the long-awaited sequel. It is predictably titled Don’t Look in the Basement II. Now, such an institution is incessantly manipulated. This is to the point that even the concept of it being used again in another fearful undertaking is more terrifying than anything those behind said production can put on screen. What’s just as threadbare is the concept of the aforementioned location being overrun by sinister forces. Despite the fatigue of these components, they are no match for the various wrong-headed moves Anthony Brownrigg, the director of the past affair’s son, makes in the follow-up.

Brownrigg, who co-wrote the hackneyed and strictly serviceable screenplay with Megan Emerick, tells the aftermath of the slaughter at Stephens Sanitarium viewed in the first go-round. The lone survivor of the atrocity, quiet and introverted, arrives at a shelter. It eerily resembles that in the preceding outing. As if greeting the man’s presence, the patients and employees of the area beginning to act strange. They hear and see things. Such incidents slowly unnerve them and make them question their own sanity. It isn’t long until these events become worse. From herein, the specters attached to the place reach out. This is when the slaughter commences again.

The often too gradual pace Brownrigg and Emerick, who also winningly plays Jennifer, mirrors the erstwhile Don’t Look in the Basement well. There’s a slow build until the last half hour that is welcome and refreshing. It largely radiates an air of competence to 2/3 of this silver screen travesty. This makes the stock characterizations and routine arc bearable. Yet, it has difficulty with engagingly delivering exposition. Instead of the ghosts applied for genuine scares, they often provide lengthy dialogues about their own backstory. This could be interesting. That is if it weren’t distributed in such an accessible fashion.

What is just as trite is the emphasis Brownrigg has on reusing footage from the last installment. He turns these segments into gritty, briefly glimpsed black and white bits. Likewise, they are used to fill in the countless flashback sequences herein. It is a jab at David Lynch style avant-garde artistry. Such is interposed far too frequently into the attempt. This is attention-getting when it is displayed as the earliest sight of the composition. But, when the notion is repeated invariably throughout the effort, it becomes increasingly dull. In the end, it is simply a worn trick meant to be eerie. It doesn’t succeed. Such makes the exertion feel much more protracted than its otherwise short eighty-two minute runtime suggests. It also makes the genuine lack of meat on the narrative’s bones all the more obvious.

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There’s a noticeably low body count. Regardless, some of the deaths are well-staged. A possessed woman who slits her own throat is where this is mainly evident. Such depictions build suspense temporarily and satisfactorily. Yet, it only serves to remind us what could’ve been. Moreover, it allows us to realize how little intensity Brownrigg and Emerick’s other cracks at trepidation generated. Actually, one of the supremely haunting images is one of the tried and true. This is when a window is spied slowly shutting and locking itself in the second act. It also gets credit for the way it hides an otherwise obvious ‘secret’ about the location of the tale itself. This successfully distracts its spectators from such a reality until just the right moment. Furthermore, it interplays a major twist from the primary item well into the action.

Additionally, the performances are solid. Arianne Margot as Dr. Lucy Mills, Andrew Sensenig as Dr. William Matthews and Frank Mosley as Dr. Lance White round out a watchable and talented cast. Screenwriter and actress Camilla Carr, who played Harriett initially, enacts a character named Emily terrifically. The cinematography by Chuck Hatcher and music by Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster is proficient and impressive. Yet, it is indistinct. They fit the modern approach Brownrigg is striving for well. Despite this, it is never memorably so. The same can be said for Daniel Redd, David Rennke and Brownrigg’s editing. The art direction by Bryan Wailor and set decoration by Alec Gates and Lance Martin are beautifully issued. The special effects from Matthew Ash, Marcus Koch, Brownrigg and Rennke are credibly etched. We are also given an outstanding contribution from the make-up and sound department.

But, these technical aspect can’t overcome the uncertainty in Brownrigg’s direction. This is especially noteworthy in how many occasions he tries to align this second dose to the 1973 endeavor. Worst of all is its whimper of a finale. It is one which incorporates more head-scratching than anything resembling a chill.

That is one of the largest problems with Don’t Look in the Basement II. The Legless Corpse Films and RDM Productions release from 2015 simply isn’t scary. This is despite the tone being consistently serious. Such is much in line with its contemporary bravura. It also isn’t B-movie fun like the freshman entry in this series. Instead, Brownrigg’s recent offering is a misfire. It is a bland exercise sprinkled with several visually intriguing incidents. There’s potential here. It is just weighed down by its insistence on reams of re-iterated details from the previous picture. Though this isn’t as heavily utilized as it was in the unbearable Silent Night, Deadly Night II from 1987, it seriously injures the proceedings. Also, it’s window dressing. This is meant to allow the audience to think there is more depth and plot bulk than what Brownrigg actually provides.

If you do insist on going back in the basement again, you are better off re-watching the original. Afterwards, come to your own conclusions what might happen in another installment. I assure you it will be far more satisfying than what we find in Brownrigg’s hollow account. As it is, the novelty of finally getting this opus after four plus decades, and seeing some familiar faces and sights, wears off quickly. What we are left with is a few well-done instances breaking up another underwhelming, routine genre piece. There’s little here to set it apart from its similarly themed peers. Ultimately, Brownrigg’s continuation is forgettable. Considering how well the drive-in feature that came before it is preserved in the memory of fellow cinephiles, this could be the most disappointing element of all.

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“Inspired”- (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

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

“Inspired”, a twenty minute Senior thesis film from first time writer and director Maggie Kaszuba, is an absolute triumph. Likewise, the 2015 release is fittingly titled. Kaszuba and her moviemaking crew put us through the emotional ringer. We feel anger, frustration, spats of teenage confusion and undeniable sorrow. Yet, it all resonates, through its sensational gym room monologues and tersely private at home instances, to uplift. It does this, especially in its concluding sequence, spellbindingly so. There is not a second of its runtime we don’t sense the drive and initiative Kaszuba has injected into every frame. It is seen in both the towering quality of Kaszuba’s material and her delicate crafting of scenes. Such is also calculable in the brilliantly honed individuals that dominate this outstanding yarn.

Kaszuba’s powerful tour de force concerns high school student Samantha Higgins (a tremendous and fantastically realized performance by Tyler Kipp). Plagued to lateness, she has developed a turbulent relationship with her basketball instructor, Coach Stafford (an unflinching depiction by Ariane M. Reinhart that is smart and courageous). The initial half of the narrative focuses to spectacular effect on the relationship between Higgins and Stafford. This is until a tragic ailment is introduced into their existence. It serves as a reminder to Higgins of the elusive balance of life and death. It also becomes a lesson in appreciating the time we have with those who stir us to better ourselves.

But, it is just as much about the path of dreams. Higgins’ seem plagued, as is the case of so many attempts to fulfill our personal ambitions, by unyielding detours of failure. In turn, the effort radiates hope beneath its mournful chain of events. It is proof of how well-rounded, tear-jerking and fulfilling this brief undertaking remains. Such is true as a relatable endeavor and a photographic experience.

Higgins, Stafford and Coach Bohn (an exceptional portrayal by Chris Viemeister) is credibly etched. Such is also the case with the chain of events Kaszuba builds around them. Because of this, the on-screen personages and the composition as a whole should prove accessible. It will likely prove personal to a widely varied group of cinematic patrons. A pre-end credits segment of this MKaszuba Productions and FDUF Films masterwork makes Kaszuba’s own intimate relation to the material glaringly apparent. Such makes the proceedings all the more impactful. This also evokes an autobiographical air. It brings about another of the many re-iterations of motivation spied in the enterprise itself.

Technically, the affair is as strong as it is in its account. The cinematography by Dan Quiyu is illustrious. It complements the accurate atmosphere of the exertion terrifically. Michael Posner’s editing fares just as well. Jalen Thompson and Foster Vernon’s sound contribution is top-notch. Matt McAndrew’s music trails the sentimental beats of the fiction wonderfully. Kaszuba’s directorial flare is impressive. Her screenplay is well-mounted and intelligent. It is filled with dialogue and situations that are as harrowing and believable as all other components we witness. This parallels beautifully all other aspects she visibly strives for throughout the venture.

Kaszuba’s labor of love begins on a note that immediately allows viewers to glimpse Higgins’ turmoil and plight. It is a riveting opener. Moreover, it is as natural, but attention-garnering, as all else that follows. The piece is just as credible in its organic pacing and sensibilities. Everything Kaszuba projects here comes from a place of authenticity and insight. This is issued meticulously and with genuine concern through the duration. Kaszuba has given us a dramatic slice of life. It is one that is character-oriented and exhilarating. This is mutually accurate as storytelling and as art. She is a tremendous talent. I look forward to seeing what future offerings she has in store.