“Delusion” – (Movie Review)

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

Director Christopher Di Nunzio’s neo-noir horror opus, Delusion (2016), is a masterful stylistic showcase. Released through Creepy Kid Productions, this is an old-fashioned psychological portrait with touches of the occult. Likewise, it is a lesson in the power and potency of subtly and restraint. Di Nunzio’s upcoming undertaking comes together so ingeniously because it draws us in with its mystery. This is expertly teased with the on-going question of what exactly is going on with the lead, Frank (in an enactment by David Graziano which is remarkable, credible and continually watchable). We find ourselves peering through the tiniest of details trying, must as our protagonist himself must be doing, to sort out what is physical and what is nightmare. This, enthrallingly, takes up most of the feature. Yet, it plays with the imagination incredibly well throughout. Di Nunzio leaves so much to the seat of our thoughts that one cannot help but stand in admiration of how skillfully fashioned the entire endeavor remains.

Delusion 1

These sentiments are eluded to, after an ominous and brief credit sequence, with a commencing shot of a woman’s eye. This calls to mind the climactic moments of the legendary shower murder sequence of Lila Crane (Janet Leigh) in Alfred Hitchcock’s quintessential tale of murder and madness, Psycho (1960). For the rest of the meticulously paced, mesmerizing and impeccably structured eighty-five minute length of the affair, Di Nunzio’s bravura behind the lens vividly recalls the aforementioned cinematic maestro. This is incorporated with a dash of early David Cronenberg (1975’s Shivers, 1977’s Rabid) and Brian De Palma (1973’s Sisters, 1978’s The Fury). The previously stated comparison is most striking in the tensely orchestrated concluding fifteen minutes. This inspiration is mixed in to make this unique blend of fear all the more savory.

Delusion 2

With some of Di Nunzio’s earlier works paralleling other silver screen savants, such as he did with Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorsese in A Life Not to Follow (2015), such a resemblance only heightens how impressive Di Nunzio’s talent and multi-faceted handling of his various genre turns remains. Still, his style is distinctly his own. Di Nunzio is undoubtedly an independent moviemaker to be watched. He is a name that all fellow admirers of cinema will be well-acquainted with in the immediate future. This is, of course, if they are not already aware of this great name looming on the horizon.

All of this is also visible in the manner Di Nunzio composes a shot. This adds to the proficiency at hand. It also gives the arrangement even more of a visual allure. A design like this makes this ever-intriguing puzzle box of a flick all the more enchantingly cryptic. These physiognomies are also observable in Di Nunzio’s awe-inspiring framing. It all comes together to create a pulse-pounding example of showmanship. We also witness these components in the anything but straight-forward manner in which Di Nunzio’s equally intelligent and striking screenplay is constructed. Ultimately, Delusion is as much thriller as it is art.

Delusion pic 3

Di Nunzio chronicles Frank Parrillo. In the exertion’s first ten minutes he receives a letter from his wife, Isabella (in a marvelous performance by Carlyne Fournier). What is odd about this, and also instantly attention-garnering on the spectator’s side, is that she died three years prior. While recovering from this event with the support of his nephew, Tommy (in a depiction by Justin Thibault that is beautifully rendered and multi-layered), Frank tries to figure out what the written piece signifies. In the process he meets the enigmatic Mary (an incredible turn by Jami Tennille). Their mutual scars initially appear to be a point of healing between the two. All of this shapes a confrontation of Frank’s own personal doubts and fears. Yet, he is haunted by a male figure whose existence is questionable. Simultaneously, he is further plagued by a psychic, Lavinia (in a representation by Irina Peligrad that is certainly compelling). Her own premonitions tell Frank to stay away from the new love in his life. Amid these incidents, Frank must discern what is fact and what is fiction. This is before his time and chances to do so have vanquished.

Delusion pic 4

The story is riveting. It is also, much like some of the undertones presented herein, spellbindingly surreal unto itself. Such is indefinitely punctuated and made all the more captivating in the incredible, haunting manner in which it is told. Frederic Maurerhofer’s music is also eloquent and unsettling. This suits the atmosphere of the piece tremendously well. The same can be said for Nolan Yee’s eye-catching, gorgeously honed cinematography. Di Nunzio’s editing is skillful. This item assists greatly in giving the configuration its classic build. Arsen Bortnik’s special effects mirror the legitimacy Di Nunzio strives for spectacularly. They are a welcome distraction from the cartoonish computer generated imagery which, sadly, dominates so many motion pictures of our day. Additionally, Jessica-Lee Van Winkle’s make-up in this particular department is wonderful.

Delusion pic 5

Those responsible for the sound heard here offer us a demonstration of brilliance. Consisting of Carlo J. Barbieri III, Laura Grose and Christopher Lee, their collective contribution is crisp and ear-catching. Di Nunzio also supplies, along with the other pleasing apparatuses mentioned early, dialogue that cracks with believability. The situations that are bestowed upon us throughout align themselves to this facet with astonishing precision.

Moreover, the rest of cast fares just as well as those mentioned above. Kris Salvi is magnificent as Grayson. Renee Lawrie is exceptional as Rose. Jessy Rowe as Wendy, Christine Perla as Catarina and Ronnie Oberg as Ronnie all provide grand interpretations of their respective personas as well.

Set to be released on October 31st, Di Nunzio has crafted an exceptional example of the strength of the understated. It’s deeply impressed, poetic imagery is beautifully, terrifying issued. This is without a single exhibition of the various clichés and cold- shoulder to characterization which often takes over the category of fright. Di Nunzio keeps Frank’s plight and inner-wars at the forefront of the project. This adds heart to the proceedings. It also demonstrates a dramatic intensity that blends with the more outright suspenseful elements sweepingly. This makes the attempt resonate immensely. It is as if we are quietly walking alongside Frank throughout the entirety of the venture. This is as the wrenching chain of otherworldly events, which gradually encompass the plot, sweep over us. Consequently, we find ourselves absolutely amazed and intrigued throughout the course of this mesmerizing opus. Such is all the more reason that Di Nunzio’s latest, which was shot entirely in the state of Massachusetts, is a rich filmic experience. It is one which will prove worthy of many future viewings and potentially buried insights. This is as we return to the material in fascination of the craftsmanship at all technical levels as well in admiration of the quiet intensity and intricacy of the narrative. Di Nunzio has erected a tour de force. For fellow cinephiles: this is essential viewing. Delusion is a magnum opus of the highest order.

Delusion pic 6

The official Facebook page for Delusion can be found here.

“Cell” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Technology is turning us into autonomous drones. This is becoming all the more true with the passage of time. Modern dependency on social media as the primary source of wide-spread communication is all the evidence we need to back this accusation. It is also the central statement behind Stephen King’s ambitious, but overlong, Scribner published novel from 2006, Cell. In this undergoing, the term “zombie” was replaced with “phoners”. Yet, the overall comparisons to the undead are undeniable. Such is also the cornerstone of the ninety-eight minute film version. This uneven, sporadically engaging but technically inept entity will receive its official theatrical run beginning July 8th, 2016.

This notion is a perfect pulpit for King’s intended commentary. It is also wonderfully form fitting for his trademark, dark sense of humor. Such is also in line with his ability to turn real-life circumstances into otherworldly terror. These were all utilized well in the literary rendition of the saga. But, the cinematic experience, though nowhere near as overblown as many similar efforts of late, is a more tepid, straightforward affair. In turn, it is just as much a sufferer of the ‘hive mind’ its transformed counterparts suffer from. Even these aforementioned antagonists look no different than what we expect a non-living creature to traditionally look like. They are also of the grating ‘fast runner’ genus. Such is especially disappointing. This is made all the more melancholy given the way King went out his way to introduce a rather new, and intriguing, modus of morphing from man into thoughtless monster into the plot of both book and film. Furthermore, the mechanical screech these fiendish beasts elicit is far more annoying than creepy. It would laughable if it weren’t so irritating.

cell pic 5

The fiction, King’s first elongated stab at such an apocalyptic exertion as this, primarily concerns Clay Riddell (in a depiction by John Cusack which starts shaky but gets progressively better as it goes along). He is an artist from Maine. Riddell is on his way to Boston as part of a comic book deal. Almost immediately he meets up with a middle-aged gentleman amid the chaos, Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson in a likable, but serviceable, portrayal. Still, it is but another variation of his usual role). They are attempting to survive the threat of “The Pulse”. This is a signal sent over a global cell phone network. It is one which causes individuals using their calling devices to turn into mindless, savage brutes. All the while, Riddell is trying to return to his son, Johnny (a well-done presentation by Ethan Andrew Casto), in New England.

Along the way they, predictably, encounter a varied group. All of these are trying to avoid transformation. Among those is Alice Maxwell (Isabelle Fuhrman), whose role is much smaller here than it was in the foregoing King authored epic of the same name, Charles Ardai (Stacy Keach), Chloe (Alex ter Avest), and the surviving prep school pupil, Jordan (Owen Teague). We also eventually meet Raggedy, or “The Raggedy Man” as he was dubbed in the hardcover, (Joshua Mikel). All of these personalities are intriguing in their own way. They give the piece a finer edge of watchability. Their performances all respectively back up this attribute splendidly.

The motion picture form of Cell, which will disappoint gore hounds with its nearly non-existent and perceivably faux use of the red stuff, wants to hammer us over the head with its now fairly exhausted thesis declaration. In so doing, it greatly constrains the entertainment value. Such merely ebbs and flows throughout the effort. This is also drown out by the all too conventional sub-plot of Riddell’s search for his immediate kin. There is also a general air of soullessness, as well as a blatant disregard to the traits which make audiences care. These are cast out through much of this endeavor. Such King co-penned with Adam Alleca in the most lackadaisical fashion imaginable. Regardless, the quiet, subtle atmosphere maintained through most of King’s 384 page tome is refreshingly reverberated, at least for a vast portion of the duration, in the Tod Williams (2004’s The Door in the Floor, 20010’s Paranormal Activity 2) directed undertaking.

cell pic 4

What also hurts the more recent transition of Cell is Williams’ lack of vision and flare. His behind the lens contribution is mediocre. Williams constructs the scenes, especially those meant to provoke fear, in a mechanical manner. The approach is essentially what you would easily call: “point and shoot”. This is done with little to no build-up or suspense. The style Williams uses here is practically indecipherable from your garden variety undead narrative. Likewise, the overall feel is far too much in line with the plethora of similarly idealized horror opuses that have also been arriving in theaters and Video on Demand in droves. Such is especially observable in the ten years between the release of the text and the photoplay variants of this chronicle.

This overwhelming familiarity is only heightened by cringe-worthy computer generated effects. Both the optical and special aspects in this category, from a collective group of over two dozen people, are equally unappealing. Such is especially evident in the various instances herein showcasing fire. What also mirrors this sensation, and parallel, is the limp characterization. This is most noticeable in the almost too fast paced initial act.

Here we are given only the briefest bits of exposition. This arrives mostly via McCourt. These moments are so rushed, and artificial, that we endure another case of those in a thriller spouting unnecessary backstory. This is while running from one routinely erected threat to the next. Luckily, this construction largely settles down in its last 2/3rds. This gives a chance for the fiction to breathe. In turn, the quality of the picture increases exponentially. The same can be said for the human categorizations as well as the enactments which embody them. During this near hour long stretch, we actually find ourselves caring for these individuals on-screen. Yet, even this component is held back by a commencement that places action above all its other aspects. This competent duration mixes with the breakneck speed of the first half hour. Such creates a general movement of events and an arc that is choppy and bizarrely structured.

cell movie

King and Alleca’s strangely bland and unusually coy screenplay oddly leaves out many of the crucial details which made those in the earliest evokation of Cell so relatable. This is also what made it pivotal to its place and period. It almost seems as if it is deliberately taking out important bits to add a sense of confusion to the proceedings. Perhaps, the screenwriters, who give us dialogue that ranges from semi-potent speeches to merely plot serving quips, were trying to instill a sensibility of what those who dominate the screen are themselves feeling. This is as they jump from one hazard to the next without much of an opportunity to contemplate their deeds. But, the conclusive result is the sensation of King and Alleca only giving us the bare essentials of the account. This is one of those rare modern silver screen occasions when the production could’ve benefited greatly from at least another twenty minutes of explanation added to the product. Such could’ve cleared things up remarkably. The engineers of the script also give us a completely different climax. It is well documented that this is because of the negative reactions to the shoulder shrug that was the last page of the tome. Though this one is satisfying enough, and far less open-ended, it still seems modeled after too much that came before it.

Further hindering this misfire is Michael Simmonds cinematography. Simmonds goes for an almost too dark veneer. Such could easily suit an endeavor such as this. Yet, what we are given is simply too drab and unpleasant to look at. This only makes the variety of flaws at hand all the more difficult to peer around. Marcelo Zarvos’ music is fair, but unmemorable. Jacob Craycroft’s editing is sloppy. This is during the unimpressive and unimaginative sequences meant to provoke excitement. Such is especially noteworthy in the opening scene in an airport in Boston. This has the incredible benefit of a cameo by schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman. In the bestseller, this was set inside Boston Commons. This drastically alters the most exhilarating, and lengthiest, segment of King’s prose rendition of the tale. Yet, it becomes more proficient, as well as the case with the source material, when the fiction begins to slow down and become more focused. The art and sound department contribute skillfully in their singular regions. Alex McCarroll’s art direction, Kristen McGary’s set decoration and Lorraine Coppin’s costume design are impressive. But, these admirable items cannot hide the fact that we have seen this far too often, and in many superior incantations, prior.

cell 7

Cell, in its original format, was partially dedicated to master of the flesh-eating ghoul, George A. Romero (1968’s Night of the Living Dead, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and 1985’s Day of the Dead). King even had an uncredited bit as the voice of a Neswreader in Romero’s fifth opus of the similarly equated ilk, Diary of the Dead (2007). Their masterful 1982 anthology, Creepshow, which Romero directed and King penned, and 1993 pairing The Dark Side, where Romero successfully adapted King’s 1989 yarn with a matching moniker, resulted in two instant genre classics. There is an obvious mutual respect between these two terror maestros. It is this motivation which Cell, in both its volume and movie interpretations, appears used as an indirect catalyst.

This is especially accurate when considering the modern day consciousness, eerily reminiscent of Romero, which is injected into the fabric of Cell. In the 2006 take, the power of the imagination combined with this parallel to make the labor a nearly cinematic homage to the seventy-six year old director. In the flick, this article comes across as too much of a forced wink at its core spectators. It seems to imitate and never truly evoke the foundation laid down by Romero. Ultimately, it is the grand promise that came with the premise, the fact that it could’ve been something that could’ve been used in the same exclamatory breath as one of the previously stated cracks by Romero which is most disheartening of all. This makes Cell all the more underwhelming.

But, this is not to say that many of the bricks in said groundwork are not worthy of praise. Yet, Cell, as a whole, could’ve been a monument of an achievement, as well as a subtle letter of respect to Romero. Instead, it is just another building. One that has little more for the eye than all the other edifices on the block. Fellow King admirers and genre addicts may like it well enough to find it an intriguing diversion. But, I cannot imagine that this pairing of King, Cusack and Jackson, who gave us one of the best adaptions of King’s short stories with 2007’s superb 1408, will merit the appreciation of a second look. This is by the standards of anyone who dares travel down its all too acquainted path.

cell 8


An Interview With Actor Timothy J. Cox

tim cox pic 1

By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the one of a kind honor of speaking with a prolific character actor, Timothy J. Cox! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

Thank you so much for having me, Andrew!

When I first moved to New York City 15 years ago, all I wanted to be was a good supporting actor in the theater. I wanted to do Shakespeare, Chekov, Ibsen…the classics. I loved all of those stock characters…they were all so much fun to play. So for several years, theater is all that I did, with an occasional film job, but in those early experiences, I wasn’t terribly pleased with my work or the overall projects.

In the last 6 years though, I’ve done more film and have come to really love it. I still love the theatre and I would jump into a play tomorrow if the project was the right fit, but right now, my focus and energies are in film.

What were your earliest acting influences?

Movies have always been an influence to me. Even before I was an actor, I was always a fan of the movies, doing impressions of Brando in The Godfather for my family.

From an acting standpoint, the biggest influence on me has been the work of Jack Lemmon. Lemmon was just so familiar up there on screen, with characters that dealt with the comedy and tragedy of every day life. The average Joes. Those characters really appeal to me. Those are the types of characters that I love to play.

What are some of your all-time favorite performances?

Aside from Jack Lemmon, I am also a big fan of anything that has Jason Robards, Albert Finney, Alec Guiness, Kathy Bates, Patricia Clarkson have done. Same goes for Paul Giamatti and William H. Macy. Allison Janney is wonderful in everything she does and to me, Bryan Cranston is a God.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) cites you as acting in 117 different titles! That’s amazing! Where do you get this drive from?

It’s simple. I like to work and try to work as much as possible. I get an immense joy from the process and the energy of a film set, plus I learn something new with every role, even the bad ones.

What was your first acting role?

When I was in the 8th Grade, there were auditions for the school musical being held during the school day, during Math class, so I decided to audition just to get out of class. I went into the audition, with no desires or aspirations to be an actor, but the director must have seen something in me because he cast me in the leading role and 25 years later, I’m still doing it.

How do you feel you have grown as an actor in the time since?

Oh, I’m still growing. I think as actors we are all works in progress. That’s the wonderful thing about this work, you never stop learning. You can always dig a little deeper, push a little more. The challenges are what make it great.

You are also a screenwriter. Your credits in this category are the 2011 short, “The Teacher’s Lounge” and “But It’s Valentine’s Day” from the same year. Also, you were the author of the up-coming “Finality” (2016). You also were among the top billed in these works. Comparatively, what is the experience like of conjuring up a character, penning it and then bringing it to life on-screen? Do you think you were successful at portraying the individual the way you imagined him on these occasions?

It was nice to experiment with screenwriting on those occasions. Some of it worked, most of it didn’t, but I will say that I loved to have the opportunity to try. Like everything else that I have done, those screenwriting assignments were interesting learning experiences.

As I mentioned, “Finality” is your latest effort in this category. What can we expect from this undertaking?

I wrote this script a couple of months ago, after reading an article about Bernie Madoff. I wondered what his final moments, before going to prison, were like. I wondered what he felt, if anything in those final moments, so that’s where the idea for the script came from. I presented the script to Matthew and Ross Mahler of 8mm Films, who I really enjoy working with, and they liked it. We had such a wonderful time on “What Jack Built”, that I was thrilled and delighted that they were excited about the project. I’m really looking forward to bringing that one to life.

jack built pic 2

Returning to your incredible acting abilities, you recently played the part of Dr. Bradley in a short film which struck a chord with me called “Dirty Books”. What can you tell us about this character?

Dr. Bradley is a genuinely decent man who, I think, secretly admires what David is doing in the film. David’s fighting for something he believes in. Yes, Dr. Bradley needs to maintain order, as part of his position, but there’s also a little twinkle in his eye, especially at the end of the film. I think Dr. Bradley wishes that he had the passion and tenacity to fight for something like that when he was David’s age. That was so much fun to play, so I must credit Zach (director/writer Zachary Lapierre) and Ian (writer Ian Everhart) for penning such an original script.

What was it like bringing Dr. Bradley to the screen?

Zach and Ian wrote such a great script, with characters that felt very real, so I just trusted the material. When you have great material, it makes your job as the actor much easier. You just show up, trust the material and the people around you and great things can happen.

dirty books tim cox pic 1

Another depiction of yours that was tremendously powerful was in Mark Battle’s short film, “Here Lies Joe”. In it you play the head of a group called Suicide Anonymous. His name is Bill. What can you tell us about this experience?

It’s a beautiful film; a wonderful slice of life, served up in such an honest manner by Mark and Pam Conway. I read the part of Bill and I really gravitated to him. Like Dr. Bradley, Bill is a genuinely decent man, the kinds of guys we see every day. Not terribly extraordinary men, but men who go out there in the world every day and struggle and survive through all the madness that is thrown at them. There was an honesty to Bill, a sweetness that was very easy to play. I especially loved that even though he appears in one scene, Mark and Pam made him very real on the page. He jumped off the page for me.

here lies joe cox pic 1

You were also in the 2015 comedy from director Sean Meehan, “Total Performance”. In it you played Walter Baron. Let’s talk about this character. What was it like?

Walter is a man in a very unfortunate situation. He runs a company with his best friend and the best friend is not cutting it, so he has to fire them, but he can’t get the words together to do it. Again, something drew me to Walter. The words. The character. The situation. Another average Joe. I really like these guys. They’re very relatable. I know them very well.

I knew that the film was going to be something special and unique, as all of Sean’s films have that quality. It’s such a delightfully unique film that cannot really be categorized. It has it all and I’ve been delighted at the reaction that it has received.

tim cox total performance

You also brought to life Mr. Bowers in Foster Vernon’s debut comedy, “Hell-Bent”, from this year. What was that like? 

Yes. I just shot that movie a couple of months ago and I am thrilled that it’s out for people to see. I worked for one day and that was a fun experience. It was great to play a real hard ass in the Jason Robards from “All the President’s Men” mold. Just a no-nonsense kind of guy.

hell-bent tim cox pic

I also see that you have a lot of works that you are featured in that are in post-production. Can you tell us about them?

I have the film One of Too Many written and directed by Amber Robinson of Sustained Entertainment in post. That’s the first part of a two part film series that addresses the recent rise in shootings that have been taking place in the country. I will be working on the second part of the series as well in the fall.

The comedy, “Gary from Accounting”, written by Phoebe Torres and produced by Chirality Films is also in post. I had a lot of fun working on that.

Lastly, I have the magical short, “Mail Time”, from writer/director Sebastian Carrasco. Just wrapped that a week or so ago. I played another average Joe, a real mensch, who gets a little taste of magic.

mail time pic

Do you have any other up and coming projects you would like to talk about?

I am in pre-production on the web series Shade, in a recurring role, produced by 1 Brain Productions. It’s a great part, so I’m excited to jump into it.

In August I will be working with writer/director John Henry Soto on the short film “And on That Day”, in a fun supporting role. John’s a great guy and I’m really thrilled that I get to work with him.

I’m also in pre-production on a zombie film currently titled Project Z working with writer/ director Daniel Pozmanter. Looking forward to working on a zombie film as I am a big Walking Dead fan.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Thank you for having me, Andrew! It’s been a real pleasure. Hope to have more films to share with you in the coming weeks. Thanks for your support of my work and for your support of all film.

Thank you for your time! I look forward to checking out your future works!

You can find out more about Timothy J. Cox at his actor’s site here.

Mr. Cox’s profile can be found on IMDB here.

You can connect with him on Facebook here.

“End of Watch” By Stephen King – (Book Review)

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

End of Watch (2016) oversees incomparable best-selling author Stephen King concluding his Bill Hodges Trilogy, which began with the riveting and Edgar Award winning Mr. Mercedes (2014) and continued with the experimentally designed Finders Keepers (2015), in spectacular fashion. Published by Scribner on June 7th, the 432 page volume is a labyrinthine maze of a novel. King has given us another instant classic. It radiates as another wildly inventive, skillfully paced example of why King endures as such a beloved storyteller. He is one who has captivated audiences for over four decades. Two years ago, I wrote that Mr. Mercedes was “elaborately conceived” and “worthy of Hitchcock”. The same sentiment certainly applies here. It even elucidates much the same relentless tone and sheer, compulsive enjoyment as Mr. Mercedes. End of Watch is a worthy, fitting finish. It is every bit on par with the initial effort which started this fascinating, ambitious, hard-boiled detective series.

mr mercedes cover

To its further credit, the work cracks with King’s sharp focus on characterization. He also sews his believable, sinister situations into often darkly comic humor. Likewise, his singular metaphors, vivid imagery and fluently engaging style are engraved deep into the fabric of the narrative. Such makes the experience all the more endlessly absorbing. It is also, much in the King tradition, ingeniously structured and plotted. King frequently fashions white-knuckle suspense, with touches of the supernatural and the everyday, gradually. This is issued organically and entertainingly throughout the entirety of this masterfully macabre ride. He creates a mounting wall of dread that is introduced strongly early on. True to King’s conventions, it mercilessly builds upon itself. There are also subtle references to both his prior undertakings, with The Shining (1977) being the most evident among them, and pop culture articles carefully, and with a wink to his audience, placed throughout the entirety. We are also, refreshingly, given an anything but overblown climax. It only adds to the realism King so ingeniously mirrors his latest tour de force after. The true to life drama and moments of heart King derives from these jarring circumstances, most visible in the last few pages, make this full-throttle investigative chronicle all the more well-rounded and illuminating. King’s ‘constant readers’, as well as those who are simply looking for a gripping account, will leave the tale fully satisfied.

The fiction concerns the infamous Mercedes killer, Brady Hartsfield, who remains one of the most purely wicked and intriguing antagonists conceived by King, slowing gaining power. This is while appearing dormant in hospital room 217. He is still in a persistent vegetative state. When a rash of suicides, many of them are individuals who have come into contact with Hartsfield at one point or another, begin to accrue: Hodges, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer, and his movie-loving partner, Holly Gibney, have an unshakable, inexplicable feeling that it is Hartsfield himself who is the cause of these tragedies. What is just as odd is that all of these horrific events are traced back to a cartoonish game, with potent hypnotic abilities, called Fishin’ Hole. Yet, what are these voices players seem to hear coming from the app? Furthermore, how does the letter ‘X’, which is left at many of the crime scenes, tie into all of this? Hodges and Gibney, who are eventually re-teamed with the computer savvy Jerome Robinson, must solve this case. This is before this wave of self-killings becomes an epidemic which wipes out hundreds or even thousands.

finders keepers

Hodges, Gibney and Robinson are as likable as ever. The dialogue King presents them is always absorbing. This attribute is lively and beautifully put together. It is easy to equate their mutual speeches to the conversations three real life friends may have. This is especially accurate considering being confronted with the puzzle, which is just as mesmerizing itself as Fishin’ Hole is to its victims, as the one King presents to them and, simultaneously, his legion of enthusiastic fans. King also weaves pivotal information from the past two entries in a seamless, diverting fashion. At no point does any of this feel forced, as it may with a less capable auteur. Additionally, those who have not had the pleasure of becoming lost in the world conjured by the other two installments in this saga will have no problem following this mesmerizing volume. For those of us who have perused the tomes, it offers a pleasant reminder of details that might have become a fuzzy effect of time. He also introduces other on-going personas, such as Hodges former police colleague, Pete Huntley, just as logically into the proceedings. He blends the perspectives of these individuals just as well into this striking exertion. These specifics are all further indications of the literary prowess King has injected into every technical venue herein.

The result of these components are highly addictive. King deserves every ounce of the acclaim he has attained throughout his career. He hits every note necessary for a wholly filling venture. This is done, as expected, with increasing interest and gusto. He draws us in with his opening words. This is by recreating the events which commenced Mr. Mercedes from an entirely new viewpoint. From then on we are trapped in the grim web that is End of Watch. We are gripped in this manner through the duration. King’s incredible imagination and ability to pull horror from mundane daily occurrences is in full swing here. It is as welcome, and tremendously wrought, as ever. He will have you seeing pink fish, and the various other more terrifying mental picture he invokes from them, swimming through the electronic currents of your nightmares. All the while, you will be as entranced by King’s brilliant, often cinematic, writing skills. This is yet another masterpiece in a career rich with titles where such a term can easily be equated. The king of the terror genre has returned and he is as amazing as ever. End of Watch stands alongside The Fireman by King’s son, Joe Hill, as another example of the year’s best books!

end of watch pic 1

“Disregard the Vampire- A Mike Messier Documentary” – (Documentary Preview Review)

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

Set for release in late 2016- early 2017, director Mike Messier’s Disregard the Vampire, currently in post- production, is an utterly absorbing glimpse into the creative process. Entailing the production of an independent feature that transformed and was re-imagined as Distance from Avalon (penned by Messier), the account chronicles the various delays and pressures of getting a feature from script to screen. For the cast of this particular composition this is an initial two day delay. Such is due to reports of a hammering blizzard in the area where imaging was to take place. As the piece goes on, we witness various re-writes and additions to a screenplay that the cast admits to being a bit perplexed about. It also incorporates the trials of an actor being released from the affair and another thespian, Scorpio, taking over with less than twenty-four hours’ notice. This only heightens the chaos and general stresses of putting the attempt together. Of all these foundations: one of the most interesting attributes is its underlying focus on the burden of shooting a sixty-five (now reportedly seventy-eight) page, feature-length script. This is in the amount of time one crew member states would be perfect for a short film.

disregard pic 1

The twenty-nine minute ‘rough cut’ of this effort I was lucky enough to see is mesmerizing because of these incidents. It showcases the passion and focus which goes into a project such as this to great effect. This will also assuredly prove a terrific teaching tool for up and coming moviemakers. It will also appeal to those of us who are interested in the craft itself. Artists of any ilk will assuredly be able to relate to the beauty, and simultaneously unforeseeable destructive forces that often take flight, when engaged in the act of creation. I know this characteristic struck a tremendous cord with the writer within me. The James K. Van fleet quote in the concluding seconds also provides a perfect punctuation point for this sentiment.

The personal stories from those involved, ranging from set designer Shevon “Muffin” Young and Court Fisk, itself are just as endlessly watchable and informative. Likewise, a sequence involving the emotional impact a bout of credible weeping from Anna Rizzo’s performance as Ginger has on one of the squad is especially stirring. Such sights make the undertaking all the more well-rounded and fulfilling. In turn, we are not only amended guidance from Messier himself, whose introspective narration and climactic bits of self-interviewing humor add all the more depth and heart to the exertion, but from all involved. This decision will prove all the more intriguing for those who dream of being in front of the camera as well as behind it. Such is one of the smartest moves this warm, uplifting and courageous ‘insider’s look’ offers its patrons.

disregard the vampire 3

All the while Messier’s guidance of this transcendent labor of love is just as striking and intimate as the previously stated elements. His stylistic approach here, which calls to mind documentarian Michael Moore, is incredibly entertaining. Eileen Slavin’s skillful excisions to the material are exceptional. Of this particular detail Messier states: “Further VO (voice- over) and final editing will be mastered by Tim Labonte.” He is a fellow collaborator with Messier. Furthermore, Labonte is an award-winning silver screen master as well. Scorpio’s music fits the atmosphere presented herein exceptionally well. Chris Hunter’s cinematography is crisp and impressive. It all comes together to evoke a product that is elegant, sophisticated and illuminating at every turn.

Messier describes the $50,000 budgeted Distance from Avalon itself in the following manner: “An intellectual, highly sensitive school teacher and profound philosopher named Joe experiences a failing marriage, past life digressions and suicidal regret en route to initial comfort then mind control from La Croix Distance (Distance from the Cross) a wild haired mojo man who lives in a world of pain and manipulation. Their battles are enhanced by stolen soul, Heartbreak, La Croix’s rebellious muse, and Ginger, Joe’s insightful co-worker who is tempted by the Distance from Avalon.” The plot sounds wonderfully enigmatic and alluring. I look forward to the final product.

disregard vampire cover

The chain of events in Disregard the Vampire are also breathtaking. It reminded me a lot of German director Warner Herzog’s similarly exhilarating Burden of Dreams (1982). They both illustrate the feverish dedication it takes to make a dream of telling a tale through the cinematic medium resonate into fruition. This is often when the impossible odds of doing so constantly pile up. Yet, Burden of Dreams, which concerned Herzog’s shooting of Fitzcarraldo (1982), saw completion of an undertaking from start to finish. Disregard the Vampire lets us peek into a development which is still in production. In many ways this is even more captivating and awe-inspiring. This is because its promise and potential is still in an infinite state.

disregard 5

Throughout the duration, Messier frantically fights to keep Distance from Avalon afloat. Not only does this make the sum simmer with an underlying intensity, as the clock ticks and fate appears to be shaking his head at the enterprise, but it also heightens the hunger inside Messier. This desire is to prove these forces wrong. All of this transpires is as he continues to evolve with these circumstances and move forward. Such adds a cryptic yet, ultimately, inspiring pulse. It is one which throbs with increased immediacy and interest throughout the endeavor. Messier offers brilliant work here. Disregard the Vampire is a mandatory experience. It will especially appeal to the struggling combatant as well as the motion picture admirer within us all.

Note: Besides this exclusive early review, I am also honored to present the world premiere of the official 2 minute preview of Disregard the Vampire (above) and the Distance from Avalon teaser (below)!


Director, Author Chris Esper Talks “The Filmmaker’s Journey”

esper pic 1

By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the tremendous honor of speaking with writer and director Chris Esper! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. Growing up, I have always had a lot of love for the arts. As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an actor/comedian like Robin Williams, who was always my favorite. I tried my hand at acting when I was in my teens and part of the drama club. I also tried doing stand-up comedy. I found some success in both areas, but I ultimately felt it wasn’t for me. I was also really interested in puppetry and tried my hand at that as well. Again, I enjoyed it very much, but I felt my talents were in other areas. All the while, I was always a big movie buff and had a love and fascination with movies and most of the arts that I enjoyed always lead back to movies. I think this when I knew I should be in filmmaking.

What was the path to becoming a filmmaker like for you?

My path into filmmaking came to me when I was about 17 or 18 years old, but before that almost everything I did somehow lead back to film and I never truly realized it. For example, when I was 10 years old, I wrote a thirty page script about a boy and his robot which I called Boy Bot. I think I wrote it because I wanted to act in a movie. I was a big Ghostbusters fan and enjoyed comedy and science fiction, so I wrote this story in a similar vein. I also discovered that two of the actors were also the writers, so that convinced me that perhaps I should write something. I kept telling all my friends in school that I was going to make a movie and everybody wanted to be part of it. I went about sending the script to Columbia Pictures, thinking that if they made Ghostbusters then surely they would make mine. About 6 months to a year later, the envelope came back to me with a “Return to Sender” labelled stamped on it. For some reason, this didn’t hurt or cease my passion, even at age 10.

By the time I did reach age 17, I started to see movies in a different way. No longer were movies entertainment, but it was an art form. I trained myself in learning about classic cinema, different directors, etc. I also received my first camera at that age and started making movies on my own. I made a documentary, stop motion animation pieces and most of the time small experimental films and narratives I would star in while also directing, writing, shooting and editing everything. YouTube was new at the time, so I went about uploading these films to a channel. The films were not good by any stretch of the imagination, but other amateur filmmakers were taking note of my work and started following my channel. It was after making these films that I truly knew I wanted to make movies for a living. I found that I could combine all the art forms I grew up to love into one medium while also satisfying my passion for film and storytelling.

Are there any movies or fellow directors you look to for inspiration?

The movie that made me want to make movies was Raging Bull. Martin Scorsese is easily my favorite director. His passion for cinema is contagious and he’s also a filmmaker that’s taught me about the importance of personal filmmaking. To me, Raging Bull demonstrates all that he believes in in cinema and while also showing his own personality on screen. I love how its shot, the atmosphere, the acting and the overall story and how it unfolds. I recall watching the audio commentary and behind the scenes documentary and hearing Scorsese talk about what he wanted to achieve really inspired me. I feel that the rest of his filmography also follows suit with films like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Hugo, The Last Temptation of Christ, etc. All these films carry qualities of himself as a person while showcasing his deep cinematic desires.

I find that I enjoy movies by directors that are personal stories and also movies that challenge me and take me to another world. I tend to lean towards films by Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining), Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, Vertigo), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Day for Night), David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Brood, Naked Lunch), Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, Modern Times), Darren Arronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler), Walt Disney, and Jim Henson.

My other favorite films include dark comedies, animation, sci-fi/fantasy and psychological thrillers. I could go on and on!

esper pic 2

You’ve directed many short films. Among them is “Still Life”, a favorite of mine, which you have said is personal to your own experiences as a cinematic artist. How is this so?

I made “Still Life” when I was just finishing college. It’s a film about dealing with criticism as an artist and learning how to grow from it. At the time, I don’t believe I have ever been given an honest critique of my work until I entered college and we would present our projects to the class. I wouldn’t react negatively towards anybody, but I would beat myself up over any kind of feedback, thinking I failed. That side of me would show easily and many would try explain to me that it wasn’t a bad thing. I didn’t see it that way. So, I wrote the screenplay to “Still Life” as a way to express those feelings. In way, it was a therapeutic film to make because I learned something as I made it and it seems that audiences did too. My attempt was to show audiences that everybody faces of fears of criticism, but have to in order to grow as artists.

What is it like to release something that means so much to you individually out into the world?

It’s so surreal. On the one hand, you’re really excited to share your creation but at the same time you’re scared to death of how it’s going to be received. In the end, it’s one of the most gratifying feelings in the world when you’re sitting in a cinema and watching your film play and watching/listening to how the audience is reacting. This is especially true with comedy. You also know you do a great job when an audience member wants to talk with you further about your themes or how you made the film. That’s when you know your film left an impression on them.

You are currently producing your first feature called Higher Methods. It is going to be directed by Nathan Suher. What can you tell us about the project?

Nathan and I have been good friends for going on five years now. Higher Methods was a play written by Lenny Schwartz (who also wrote the screen version) which is about fame and the price we pay to achieve it. The basic premise is an actor, Matt, is in search of his sister who has been missing for 10 years. This search leads him down a rabbit hole where he comes across an acting class in which the professor employs unusual and sometimes sadistic methods in order to get a performance out of a student. The film then becomes an ultimate question of what is reality and what is fantasy.

I hadn’t seen the play, so when I read the script it was a huge treat for me. I was blown away by it. It’s exactly the kind of film I would direct and/or watch. Nathan had contacted me initially asking me to be the assistant director on the project, which I agreed to. Later, though, he asked me to be in a bigger position of co-producing with him. I was flattered and said “Yes”. We go into production next year.

You’re work has played at many different film festivals. You’ve also received a lot of acclaim for your material in these places. For instance, your short, “Steak Knives”, won the Festival Prize for Best Opening Scene in the Stories by the River Film Festival 2015 and In the Bedroom won the Outstanding Achievement Award for Writing in a Drama Series at the LA Web Fest in that year. How important do you think film festivals are to helping indie directors get their work out and recognized?

I think it’s extremely important. We live in an age filled with media saturation, so it’s very hard to stand out among everyone else who is also making movies. By submitting and then being accepted into a film festival, it shows that you’re standing out among the rest and that your piece belongs amongst other talented filmmakers. Awards are great, too, but just being accepted is a nice honor whether the festival is big or small.

You also have done several music videos. Among the most recent of these is Aaron K. Wilson’s “I Hear the Future”. Is directing a music video a lot like shooting a short film? If so, how?

I love directing music videos. I feel that I have more freedom in that I don’t necessarily have to follow a strict narrative structure with a complete beginning, middle and end. I can play with the medium and do something that is a visually narrative and experiment more so than I could with a short film. I also enjoy not having to think about sound when shooting a music video. It usually makes the day go by a little faster without having to worry about that factor. I do also enjoy doing music videos that include a complete story with dialogue as that’s not always done and its fun doing something different like that.

esper pic 4

You have a book coming out on June 24th, which I highly recommend to everyone, called The Filmmaker’s Journey. It is based on a popular vlog of yours. What was this transition like?

I started the vlog earlier in the year. I have been doing this for about six years and I felt that I had a lot experience to share, especially still at a young age. Ultimately, I wanted to help other filmmakers who are either just starting out or thinking about getting into the field. There’s a lot of things that many don’t tell you before getting into it and I wanted to be the one to say what the realities were while also convincing others that this career isn’t impossible and can be done. The transition from vlog to book wasn’t really too difficult. I pretty much had all the information I wanted to get out there. At that point it was just about expanding upon it in book form.

At what time did this occur?

At the time I decided to write this as a book, I had only been producing the vlog for about a month. I didn’t have a big audience for it at all, but felt it had a ton of potential to be something bigger. I also like to keep my videos short at 5 minutes or less as that usually works well for the internet audience. However, I was a bit frustrated in that there was so much more I wanted to say that I didn’t have to say on video. So, I decided that in order to share my larger ideas and advice, it might be best write it as a book. I had never written a book before, so it was different for me, but also easy because I knew the exactly what I wanted to say.

In the book you share a lot of personal stories, experiences and dispense a lot of helpful advice for aspiring directors. Some of this is your definition of what it means to be a director and detailed explanations of technology and filmmaking. You are even kind enough to give A Word of Dreams a shout out in the “Web Sites to Get Your Film Reviewed” section. Thank you! Of all these bits of wisdom can you share one with us that you feel is among the most important?

You’re very welcome! I would say that most important is knowing that everyone faces all the struggles I mention throughout the book. I cannot stress this enough. I would always read so many biographies about my heroes and film idols, but they hardly ever mentioned what their struggles or failures were before they became the success that we know them to be. I think it’s very important to know that you’re not the only one as it puts things in perspective if they could face failure, you can too. We have a tendency as humans to look down upon failure and try to ignore, but I feel that it should be welcomed in order to understand that as much as it hurts, it’s what drives us to become successful in life. Every career, especially this one, has no clear path. It’s filled with detours and by trying to compare your failures to someone else’s successes if just a waste of energy.

What are the differences and similarities between the process of writing a book and publishing it and creating a film and releasing it?

The most obvious difference is one being so visual over the other. With a book, the goal is to keep the reader interested by creating the visuals through your words. Because I have written screenplays in the past and because I tend to be a visual person this was somewhat easy for me. The hardest part for me was writing sentences that made sense while also getting the point across. With a film, the camera work and visuals usually fill in the blanks but with a book the writer has to do that themselves.

In terms of distribution and releasing, I would say the process is somewhat similar because it’s all about independently releasing your work by way of digital technology. I do have the self- publishing process to be a little harder because it’s so difficult to find people willing to review your book. Many of the writers I found either charge an outrageous amount of money for a review or you genre isn’t what they want. With a movie, I can easily get 20 reviews for a single short film for very little money and also find a number of avenues to show it.

You also have your own production company. It is called Stories in Motion. How did that come about?

I started Stories in Motion in March 2016. By that point, I realized that I had making a living as a filmmaker/videographer for 6 years. But, yet, I didn’t have an identity to follow other than my own name. I wanted to create a production company in order to market myself in a better way and perhaps even create further opportunities for myself. In short time that I have had the company, I am finding more success and opportunities than I did in just using my name for 6 years.

You are currently penning your first feature film. What is this experience like?

It’s a very difficult experience. With short films, I do a little bit of outlining and character development, but for the most part I just dive right in and develop as I write. With a feature, I’m trying my best to do more of that before actually writing the screenplay. To tell you the truth, too, I’m kind of impatient when it comes to writing because I like to just get started and see what happens and experiment. I often feel tied down by first formulating what happens on each page and when a certain beat of the story should happen. Perhaps it’s not the best way to work, but I find it works best for me. It gets easier though as I do more pre-planning.

What can we expect from this work?

I’m trying to keep the overall story and premise under wraps at this time, but, much like “Still Life”, it’s a very personal story. The main character is basically myself and it’s also a psychological drama with similar elements as the films of Charlie Kaufman.

What do you want your audience to take away from your material?

I like to make an audience think while also relating to them on an emotional and personal level. I would hope that an audience walks away from one of my films still thinking about it, relating to the characters and maybe even take action for themselves or for somebody else.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

Yes, there’s lots of exciting things happening. My short film, “Please Punish Me”, is currently making its rounds on the festival circuit and just got into its 13th festival. I’m also in the process of finishing production on my latest short film, “A Very Proper Man”, which I’m hoping to release later in the year. My company also optioned a couple of short screenplays for this year including Pride and Money and Smartphone by the very talented Brian Pickard. Both will be produced in 2017. The company also recently optioned The Deja Vuers by Jason K. Allen. That project will be going into production later this summer. Finally, I’m going into production along with Massachusetts based production company, Stories by the River, this fall on a short comedy film I had written.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Thank you so much, Andrew, for the interview and your continuous support of independent cinema!

Thank you for your time! I look forward to all your upcoming works!

You can pre-oder The Filmmaker’s Journey on Amazon here.

You can connect with Chris Esper on Facebook here.

esper pic 3

An Interview With “Lilith’s Awakening” Director Monica Demes

demes cover

By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the great honor of speaking with writer and director, Monica Demes! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a guardian of the old times, an owl, a storyteller.

What initially drew you in to screenwriting and directing?

I have always been a filmmaker. It’s part of me. I have no other way in which I can express myself better. Without it I would be lost.

Do you have any specific filmmakers or movies which you turn to for inspiration?

Repulsion from Polanski, The Hunger, The Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive (Lynch).

All of those are excellent choices! I highly recommend them as well. Your first short film, “Rose”, was made in 2003. What was that experience like?

“Rose” was shot in 16mm black and white in NY. And the first time I saw that short in the Theater was a big deal to me. I really felt overwhelmed. With that short I learned that a film is never completed until the audience sees it. And you know what? I also learned back in those days that film festivals are wonderful places. After all the work you have doing the film (and the one who makes films know the amount of work I’m talking about). There’s nothing like being surrounded by people who love films and that want to see your work. I really enjoy festivals.

demes pic 1

How do you feel you have grown as an artist in the thirteen years since “Rose”?

It’s funny… Somehow on one level, I feel I’m just the same, someone who uses dream and intuition to create, and “Rose” and “Halloween” were the natural steps of story-telling to get to Lilith’s Awakening. But on another level, I feel I learned so much.

You collaborated with the artist, Carmela Calvo, for your initial animated short, “Halloween”. How was this different than putting together a live action work?

When I direct actors I have the control of everything and I will also directed the DP towards what I want in terms of photography. I establish the mood, the look and the pace of the whole film. With Carmelo our interaction was complete. His work was as important as mine in terms of building the mood, look and atmosphere that “Halloween” had to have.

What was it like to hear that “Halloween” had received the interest of the cinematic maestro, David Lynch?

I was overwhelmed. And that was the only reason I got an airplane and decided to shoot my first feature in America.

demes pic 4

Your latest work, which you mentioned earlier, is your first full-length fictional film. It is a brilliant vampire picture called Lilith’s Awakening. What inspired this mesmerizing production?

Transcendental Meditation. I used it to dive into my unconsciousness and came up with one of the scenes. The one where Art meets the mysterious woman on the dark road. After I came to that scene through intuition, I asked my intellect, “Why did I write that scene? What does it mean?” And I came to the conclusion I wrote that scene because I was tired of seeing women raped in films, especially in horror. In those kind of films they are usually portrayed as victims. So I said, “What if it’s reversed? What if something really bad happens with the rapist instead? That was the seed of the entire screenplay. Also, when I meditate I connect a lot with the energy of the place. The Victorian times of Dracula can be easily found in the American Midwest nowadays. Long cold winters, distance, loneliness, sexual repression. And vampire tales are all about sexual repression. So I started to used the line “what if…” meaning: what if instead of a prince of the darkness, that seduces Lucy and take her away from her beloved Jonathan and society. It is a woman in his place, a princess of Darkness? What if …that princess lives inside Lucy’s head? In her dreams? What if she was Lucy’s shadow, her hidden part?

That is a fascinating insight into your creative process. Thank you. From the time the writing began until the work was complete how long did it take to create Lilith’s Awakening?

One year and 8 months.

In your latest masterpiece you are writer, director, producer and editor. What is it like contributing in all these different technical arenas for a single project?

(Laughs) It’s crazy. You are so much involved in the project that you don’t have a life anymore. It’s all about the film.

Do you think your studies in Law at Rio de Janeiro and lessons at the School of Actors TAI in 2001 helped shape your abilities and discipline as a filmmaker? If so, how exactly did they do this?

I certainly developed a sense of the civilization that surrounds me studying law and studying acting in Europe. And that certainly shaped my points of view. And when you make a film this is basically what you do: you show the world your point of view about something.

Acting also helped me in other levels, though. I don’t think I could direct actors the way I do if I haven’t acted, for example. And acting also helps me to write.

demes pic 3

What do you want audiences to take away from your work?

The experience I had until now is that people connect in very different levels with this film. Each and every experience is so different. I think that’s going to be between the film and the audience now. I was just a medium for the story to come out.

Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

I’m working on the screenplay for a thriller in a music conservatory.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

It’s a dream come true to screen this project at Dances With Films at such an iconic theater as the Chinese. Come join me on June 11. It’s going to be fun!

Thank you for your time, Monica! Lilith’s Awakening plays at 11:45 p.m. on June 11th at the Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles. You can get tickets here.

demes pic 5

“Lilith’s Awakening” – (Movie Review)

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

From the commencing moments of Lilith’s Awakening (2016), the astonishing first fictional full-length film from Brazilian writer and director Monica Demes, an atmosphere of mesmerizing, quiet intensity is immediately evoked. This is heard in the simple, almost mechanical, grinding of a swing. It is one piloted by our enigmatic heroine, Lucy (in a brilliant portrayal by Sophia Woodword). Yet, the din produced is anything but mundane. It comes to our ears like a rhythmic, sinister song. One which is meant to conjure an unholy fiend from his slumber. All of this is initially prefaced by an unnerving yet, grimly poetic shot of the moon veiled in a foggy night sky.

This image, along with this distortion of our common perception, is the perfect set-up. Such is for this startling and singularly unique avant-garde, nightmarish, 80 minute stroke of genius. This largely subtle, psychological horror outing, derived from the gothic style, is a visual and creative marvel. It is one where trepidation is lurking in the multiple layers beneath what we view as well as looming ornately on the surface. Such creates, particularly with the dashes of the old-fashioned mixed in with the contemporary, that increasingly rare terror feature. The one which satisfies on all avenues and demands.

Heavily inspired by Bram Stoker’s immortal novel, Dracula (1897), even down to the names and its use associated with the places found herein, this masterful work tells the tale of the sexually repressed Lucy. Her life appears to be a bland, repetitive cycle. It is one she desperately wishes to escape from. She labors thanklessly for her father, Abe (in a portrayal by Steve Kennevan that is both exceptional and credible). This is at a service station in a small town in Iowa, the state where this gem was recorded, which he owns. Just as worse: her marriage to Jonathan (a terrific depiction by Sam Garles) has long lost its affection. In turn, it has become every bit as routine as the time spent at her place of employment. The solace she finds is when she mentally constructs the spectacle of an ominous female figure. Her name is Lilith (a riveting, unsettling portrayal by Barbara Eugenia). She is a menacing presence found in the woods surrounding her home. After Lucy is taken advantage of by a mechanic she toils alongside, Arthur (an enactment which is endlessly gripping), a sense of wickedness overcomes her. Slowly, she begins to sense Lilith’s presence surrounding and closing in on her. But, is it true or all in her mind?

Demes’ literary and behind the lens capabilities are taunt, terrifying and claustrophobic. She also takes risks aplenty. There are scenes that are dialogue driven. We are amended just as many segments where Demes allows the imaginatively rendered phantasmagorias to speak their volumes without a single word. Such helps make this a magnificent, captivating modus. One which incorporates both the real life and the deep slumber-like qualities visible throughout into the piece. This also assists in our ability to see the world through Lucy’s eyes. Such happens as her grasp on these essentials seem further blended. But, the smartest aspect of this tactic is that it keeps the balance between story movement and invention faultlessly even. It makes for a photoplay that, like the penned product it sprang from, is riveting in structure and execution.

She also ties together these elements with a finale that is fittingly unsettling and illusive. There is a noticable penchant for extended sights, all ravishing displays courtesy of Demes, exhibiting Lucy reflected in mirrors. Such heightens the boldness and ingenuity at hand. This attribute mechanizes spectacularly as one of the numerous low-key nods to vampire mythology strategically placed through the composition. Adding to the creative luster is the instances where the colorful, bright red splashes of blood, so vibrant it is like watching paint being thrown on a canvas, offers a departure from Alfonzo James and Gregor Kresal’s gorgeous black and white cinematography. Such only accumulates the dizzying fascination the endeavor elucidates.

The undertaking is also magnificently structured and paced. Demes gives us characters that are purposefully crafted as a mystery. Yet, we still, incredibly, impress upon ourselves that we know them. It suits the sensation brought forth by this electrifying, perplexing puzzle box of a silver screen affair terrifically.

The endeavor also benefits from chilling music by David Feldman. Andrea Acker’s costume design and Mary V. Sweeney’s art direction is phenomenal. Eden West is fantastic in her turn as Police Officer Morris. Demes’ and Lloyd Wilcox’s editing only further complements the proficient, macabre allure of all we encounter. David Feldman and Francois Wolf’s sound department contribution is top-notch. The use of such is one of the defining components of this surreal tour de force’s lingering technical nature.

It is easy to see how Deme’s impeccable, abstract talents received the attention of the Missoula, Montana maestro, David Lynch. As a matter of fact, the Ganesha Filmes and Outsiders Arts production often calls to mind Lynch’s debut cinematic opus, Eraserhead (1977). This is evident in the individuality and attention-garnering genius that is finely hammered into every frame. It is also seen in the general approach. Most readily, how it mixes the commonplace with the horrifying and hallucinogenic. There are also touches of Ingmar Bergman, Mario Bava and early George Romero woven into the proceedings. Yet, this creation is distinctly its own entity

Demes is astonishing. She has displayed more talent in one picture than countless do in their entire catalogue. What is just as startling is that she explores much of the same themes explored in Stoker’s aforementioned novel, especially its alternately inhibited and liberated views on sensuality, in a method that is always innovative and exciting. Likewise, there is never a moment that feels familiar or worn. Instead, we are given a wholly ground-breaking journey. It is one which is just the breath of fresh air cinephiles desperately need. Demes has crafted a stunning success. It is a striking, hypnotic effort. One which will assuredly grant her a legion of fans who appreciate movies as a singularly expressive experience. This is one of the best pictures I’ve seen all year. I highly recommend you seek it out.

The official site for Lilith’s Awakening is here.

The Facebook page for the film can be found here.

You can get tickets for the premiere of Lilith’s Awakening at the Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles on June 11th, 2016 here.

“Beyond the Ice Limit” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – (Book Review)

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

The fourth Gideon Crew novel from the collaborative team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is a sequel to the duo’s July 1st of 2001 release, The Ice Limit. It is entitled Beyond the Ice Limit (2016). The 384 page volume, released through Grand Central Publishing, succeeds as a stand-alone novel. It is just as triumphant as a sequel. Preston and Child craftily find a way to interject pivotal details from the original into the dialogue. These are all crucial components that would’ve left those who haven’t read The Ice Limit confused. All of this is done in a manner that appears genuine and never forced. Simultaneously, it still smartly maneuvers forward the chronicle. The undertaking even manages to ultimately leave us, satisfyingly enough, with a dash of the mystery that concluded The Ice Limit. However, as a follow-up to Crew’s last harrowing adventure, The Lost Island, it fails to summon the old-fashioned excitement, at least to the degree, of the previously stated work.

Part of this has to do with the proficient, but too gradual for a composition of this pulse pounding ilk, pace. We go through over half the book until any real suspense or sense of danger seems imminent. This is save for several promising instances beforehand. All of which seem cut from a high tech rendition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) by Jules Verne. Nevertheless, Preston and Child’s fascination with science and theorization, which calls to mind Michael Chrichton, is in full swing in this early section. For the most part, this aspect is absorbing. This is as much as the riveting entertainment commonly equated with an opus from the collaborative team. The difficulty is that the emphasis on this angle takes up so much of the hardcover that the plot seems to be left stationary. Such is most visible as past occurrences and ideas are constantly mulled over and re-explained. This happens so frequently that one can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. This repetition is also intermittently evident in the last 1/3.

Another problem area is that all of the new characters are given little time, despite the length dedicated to the exposition, to be established as a unique personality. All we know about them is from the perspective of their occupation. The rare glimpses we are given into these beings suggest stereotypical banality. Already established personas, such as Effective Engineering Solutions’ head Eli Glinn, are the only ones we feel any intimacy or sense of presence towards. Even Gideon Crew, the hero of these volumes, seems noticeably underused.

Preston and Child’s latest concerns an expedition to the remnants of the ship which was destroyed in The Ice Limit: the Rolvaag. This mission is propelled by the belief that the meteorite they attempted to recover last time was not such an item at all. Instead, it is an extraterrestrial entity. One that is planted two miles below the surface. It is located within the Antarctic sea bed itself. The organism, if that is indeed what it is, seems to be growing. If it continues to do so it may just mean the extinction of mankind. This is unless Crew, who only has nine months left to live due to a fatal medical condition, and a varied band of individuals can find out how to stop it. This is while the option to do so remains.

This is a fascinating and fun set-up. It is a plot that should be naturally intriguing. Likewise, it arises as a perfect platform for Preston and Child’s trademark intellectual, white-knuckle style. For the most part, this is true. Such is especially accurate when the affair turns into an underwater variation of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) in the later segments. Preston and Child prove again capable of blending multiple genres as the tale moves from adventure to romance, science-fiction and, ultimately, horror. There are even impressive statements on the destructive nature of mankind brilliantly woven into the proceedings. Each genre turn is blended seamlessly into the composition. There’s a natural transition to those shifting components at every interval. Such is a distinctly impressive feat.

Despite this, even when the opus is at its most engaging: the sense of exhilaration and fear never catches on. At least, not in the way that is expected. Moreover, nearly every turn in the story is familiar. Preston and Child seem determined to bring us one cliché after another. All that transpires in Beyond the Ice Limit has been done far too often. What also sinks the proceedings is that most of the climax, outside of an epilogue which nicely ties up many questions and adds a few more, is limp. Still, its structure, as frustrating as it may be, is oddly compelling in its own right.

The best attribute is Preston and Child’s cinematic prose. Their writing is clear, meticulous, intelligent and compulsively readable. They have a style which is perfect for beach reads. Such is the case of the bulk of the endeavors in their literary catalogue. It is easy to get swept up in the vividly described world they have created with each respective tome. Such makes the flaws herein largely forgivable. They even come off as strangely charming.

The result is a solid read. It is one that certainly soars over the mediocre tedium of Preston and Child’s recent Agent Pendergast entry, Crimson Shore (2015). Yet, without such a herculean characteristic as Preston and Child’s talents piloting the narrative: the endeavor may have quickly flatlined. If this were so, its brightest trait would be the literary homage to antiquated B-movies and similarly themed literature erupting from its surface. As it is, the exertion ebbs and flows amusement. The piece could use considerable tightening. This is noticeable in the first two hundred pages. Even with such excess this remains a pleasant diversion. Sometimes that is all you need.