“Lights Out” – (Movie Review)

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

Lights Out (2016), based on the near three minute 2013 short film of the same name from director David F. Sandberg, is a cheap, cloying horror gimmick posing as a full length feature. The Atomic Monster, New Line Cinema and Grey Matter Productions release possesses a single item, a laughably redundant jump scare, in its fright arsenal. This is via a dark, ethereal figure dubbed Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey in a limited and ineffectual enactment). She all too gradually appears closer to her next victim every time the lights go out and disappears as soon as they come back on. Such is a fairly interesting notion for the Sandberg penned medium Diana first appeared in. Yet, as for an obviously pushed beyond its boundaries eighty-one minute motion picture, with a reported budget of $4.9 million, much more needs to be offered to satisfy the increasingly ravenous pallets of the average genre fanatic. This is true even with the less cinematically experienced, teenage audiences this dull, pedestrian, PG-13 rated affair is obviously catering to.

It also becomes all the more ridiculous in moments like the eye-rolling preface of this all too safe exertion. In this extended bit, Esther (in a fair turn from Lotta Losten; the star of the short this is based on) is about to leave her job at a factory late at night. Unsure if she is seeing something from the door a mere room away, she hits the light switch repeatedly. This is while the above-articulated fear tactic, wrong-headedly exposed in the movie’s trailer, flashes again and again before our eyes. In one of the first of many erroneous moves, we are not revolted by the ominous sight of Diana as Sandberg and company have obviously intended. Instead, we laugh at the absurd amount of times it takes Losten to discern if what she is seeing is real or not. Such is especially guffaw-inducing when we recognize that most people would’ve turned the lights back on once and fled immediately to safety the first time around.

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Perhaps this aforementioned criticism wouldn’t be so painfully noticeable if Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer were able to give us more of an original fiction. At the least, the team could’ve indulged in more innovative plot elements along with a meatier account. Instead, Diana and those she haunts are given garden variety backstory and motivations. The personalities we encounter are all cardboard archetypes. Luckily, they are somewhat elevated by solid performances. This is especially true of Teresa Palmer’s portrayal of Rebecca. She is a stepsister to the mentally ill Sophie (in a presentation by Maria Bello that is undoubtedly skillful and gripping) and Sophie’s son, Martin (a well-done representation by Gabriel Bateman that is constrained by the commonality of Heisserer’s dim depictions). Palmer and Bateman share a palpable chemistry. It is one which makes it all too easy to see them as a pair of semi-distant relatives who are forced to rely on another unexpectedly for survival. These two are the anchor that helps keep the movie afloat. This is even as its first two acts pile on scene after scene of exposition and tired, predictable character development.

In this portion, we learn that Martin is finding himself in the tormented footsteps Rebecca endured years prior. This is with Martin falling asleep at school arriving as a telltale sign of the youth’s restless nights avoiding the nightmarish whims of Diana. After a call from a school nurse who could not reach Sophie (who is not taking her medication and becoming increasingly obsessed with Diana), Rebecca reluctantly takes Martin to her home to catch some much needed sleep. It is at this point Diana makes her presence increasingly known in Martin and Rebecca’s life. From herein, the strange noises and unnerving scratching Martin has been hearing suddenly becomes much more. It’s a simple, accustomed, but not entirely unattractive, premise. Yet, it misses nearly every opportunity it has to be anything more than a one-dimensional, strictly on the surface thriller. It doesn’t even operate satisfyingly enough as pure, mindless entertainment.

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What is worse is that all of these aforesaid instances come off more as filler than an honest attempt to get its spectators to care for our young hero and elder heroine. During this time, the terror elements are, sadly, sparse. Yet, the talk is long and uninteresting. Likewise, the cringe-worthy dialogue is that of a Lifetime Movie of the Week brought to the big screen. In much the same vein, the visual effects, credited to seven individuals, are your usual sub-par, computer generated shtick. Alongside these detracting details, we realize more than ever before, how little narrative Heisserer’s dismal script actually delivers. Simultaneously, such tedium and pointless circle running creates a punishingly slow pace. It is one that only really seems to find its footing and come to life in the surprisingly energetic and tense final twenty-five minutes.

Amid this concluding stretch, Sandberg abandons the standard, point and shoot directorial style which dominated the rest of the opus. For once he seems to finally be allowing himself to have some fun with the material. Relatedly, a late sequence in a basement excellently and claustrophobically toys with the concept of finding a light source amid increasing blackness. It is an idea that is not given half as much creativity beforehand. Despite this, we are still amended many of the categorical tropes which weighed down most of the first hour. For instance, a fiendish hand reaching out from under the bed. But, it is done in a way that is still entertaining despite its familiarity. If only this sensibility was utilized earlier, Lights Out wouldn’t be such an underwhelming chore to sit through. Just as mournfully, it goes back to these disappointing origins for an end segment that is as imitative and stale as the first fifty-six minutes.

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You know you are in trouble when the various rock and roll posters sprawled out on the walls of Rebecca’s home are more visceral, terrifying and immediately stimulating than any of the actual attempts at trepidation Sandberg invokes. Lights Out suffers from this affliction and much more. It is complimented by atmospheric, but unmemorable, music from Benjamin Wallfisch. Marc Spicer’s cinematography works best, like the rest of the endeavor, in the later and more moody sections. Still, it is pleasant enough. Michael Aller and Kirk M. Morri offer sharp editing. The sound and make-up department are fair. Yet, they suffer much the same results as the songs which accompany the fabrication. The same can be said for Shannon Kemp’s art direction, Lisa Son’s set decoration and Kristin M. Burke’s costume design. Alexander DiPersia as Bret, Billy Burke as Martin’s father and owner of the plant spied in the hackneyed opening arrangement, Paul, and the rest of the cast are adequate.

But, none of these comparatively brighter flashes can make up for the fact that most of the movie is a lumbering, overblown and underdeveloped mess. Why the usually reliable modern day master James Wan, who is producer of this vehicle and recently gave us the most accomplished offering of the summer with The Conjuring 2 (2016), would want to sully his good standing with having this title on his resume is beyond me. Sandberg’s effort is a forgettable, uninspired trek through the motions. All of which we have seen done much better, often by Wan himself, umpteen times before. Do yourself a favor and be sure to put the lights out on any further thoughts of seeing this for yourself. I guarantee that you will be better off that way.

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“Tastes Like Medicine” – (Short Film Review)

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

“Tastes Like Medicine” (2016), the sixteen minute and thirty second debut short from writer-director Steven Alexander, is an absolute triumph. It operates spectacularly well as both a non-linear, character-driven drama and as a meditative allegory. Alexander presents a journey into the fragmented recollections of our lead, Drew (in a well-rounded, emotional powerhouse of a role from Damion Rochester), that is undeniably harrowing. It is also courageous and challenging throughout. Moreover, it is full of abstract, insightful glimpses into the sad plight of those who, like Drew himself, sense that they cannot let go, or escape from, what has been.

In fact, one of the grandest accomplishments here is how beautifully Alexander blends the situation Drew keeps returning to. This is a celebration for the expectant ex-lover of our protagonist, Allison (a wonderfully honed, slice of life enactment by Marisa Rambaran). All of these are balanced alongside the more surreal, poetic elements issued throughout. Additionally, a mid-film shouting match between Drew and Allison’s current beau evokes how well the authentic and dream-like counterparts of the endeavor are handled. The end result is a profound, technically and tearfully dazzling construction. It is one made all the more magnificent by Alexander’s stylish directorial flare.

All of this is further complimented by Alexander’s intelligent, layered, competently paced and awe-inspiringly designed screenplay. For example, an impressive initial portion demonstrates Alexander’s ability to dually transport thoughtful and entertaining exposition. This is while making a larger statement about society as a whole. The bit comes at a mere two and a half minutes in. It oversees a discussion concerning Drew, felonious background, how the term “criminal” haunts one, especially from an employer’s standpoint, and the male and female double standard. Such is the perfect manner to construct a narrative such as this. It allows us to see the vulnerability and internal wounds of the main personality through his own eyes as well as those around him. Similarly, it also enhances the incredible degree of artistry, skill and ingenuity at hand.

In the tale, Drew arrives at the aforementioned party with a call girl named Kake (in an excellent, down to earth turn by Wi-Moto Nyoka). Continuing to be overwrought with grief and jealousy at how his romance with Allison went wrong, he has a mental breakdown. This causes a situation somewhat reminiscent of what deceased director Harold Ramis laid down in Groundhog Day (1993). Such is where Drew finds himself destined to continuously relive the same incidents connected to the joyous gathering for Allison as if in an eternal loop. The main difference is that, unlike Ramis’ critically acclaimed feature, Drew may not get the chance to move on. This is even if he somehow gets everything ‘right’.

Besides what is clearly visible in the underlying nature of the account itself, Alexander brilliantly fills all that we come across with obvious representations, as well as subtle indicators, of Drew’s inability to live in the present. For instance, a stunning looking title card over a dark screen informs us early of the name of the labor. It than simply states, “Chapter I”. Yet, there is no “Chapter II” anywhere to be found. Even the moniker of the piece itself can be seen as a deserved treatment; a purgatory-like punishment for errors Drew has made. This is punctuated by a chilling, and certainly appropriate, climax. It is one where Drew finds himself doomed to repeat the events which we just encountered.

Likewise, we are also amended a striking, elegiac, lustrous and stirring opening sequence. It runs a mere seventy-seconds. Still, it provides an incredible bit of narration that functions as a stalwart thesis statement of what comes afterward. The arrangement immediately exhibits Alexander’s knack for imagery. This is as a montage of shots of Allison, all of which ingeniously capture her in a range of expressions that could possibly personify the attitudes Drew saw her in during their long extinguished rapport, are spied. During this memorably attention-garnering segment, Alexander poses a question for his audience. This is articulated in the afflicted inflection of our broken hero. Such is repeated in the finale. It sets the tone of the entire endeavor. It is the centerpiece of, not only this scene, but of the work itself. Here Alexander forces his spectators to ponder: “Have you ever stared at something so long that it changes before your very eyes”?

Further crediting the affair is Oliver Covrett and J. Anders Urmacher. The duo drapes the production in moody, alluring black and white cinematography. This veneer matches the overall atmosphere incredibly. Furthermore, Charles Allen Brownley III’s sound contribution is remarkably crisp and proficient. Joanna Rodriguez conjures tremendous make-up. Alexander’s editing is masterful. Justin Walker White as Kevin, Lauren J. Daggett as Julie and Randall Holloway as Alex are all terrific in their respective depictions.

All of these essentials come together to create a multi-genre undertaking that is endlessly believable. Such rings true even when utilizing its more fantastic third act components. That, in itself, is more than enough reason to recommend this evocative, sentimentally rousing tour de force. Alexander has given us a riveting composition. It is one that is unafraid to display the flaws of all of those unveiled within the chronicle. In so doing, it commands us to peer inside ourselves and reflect on the bleaker moments in all our lives. From herein, it pushes us to do just as Kake states to Drew near the conclusion of this magnum opus and “Let it go”! Such is only a hint of the transformative and cathartic strength of the spellbinding fiction Alexander has delivered to his spectators. “Tastes Like Medicine” is a winner on all fronts!

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“Sisyphus” – (Short Film Review)

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

“Sisyphus”(2016), the fourteen minute and thirty-three second debut short from director David Graziano, is an incredibly clever and strikingly original modernization of Albert Camus’ 119 page philosophical essay on the pointless quest for understanding, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). In Camus’ famed text, the title Greek Mythology figure labored to roll a boulder up a mountain. It was a duty he was forced to endeavor for all of eternity. The futility of this back-breaking chore was articulated in the fact that once this was achieved he would watch the rock slide back down the elevation. The job was then repeated to no avail. Such was an expression of the human condition that endures as easily visible. It can still be applied to various aspects of our own personal lives. In turn, it is more than deserving of the updating Graziano and screenwriter Christopher DiNunzio, from a story by Bryan Casey, so marvelously craft here.

In Graziano’s effort, the symbolic pillar is that of a secret romantic relationship. It has blossomed from a friendship between Gretta (in a warm, gentle and credible performance by Jami Tennille) and Marlene (an enactment by Diana Porter that is just as nuanced and wondrous as her on-screen counterpart). The passage of days into years is gently, wisely expressed. This is through their various meetings at the same coffee house. At the heart of this dramatic undertaking is Gretta’s impending divorce. She sees this as a perfect opportunity to cement the once ardent bond she had with Marlene. Yet, Marlene is indecisive. It is an attribute of Porter’s role that she conjures brilliantly. This is as she goes through the majority of the piece coyly, as if unsure of what Gretta is desperately trying to communicate to her. It is from this point other interestingly conveyed concealments begin to get in the way of what Gretta and Marlene once had with one another.

The affair is punctuated by sparkling, immersive cinematography by Nolan Yee. He captures the mature, yet down to earth, tone Graziano injects spectacularly into each frame. This is with incredible visual flare. There is also a vastly appreciated underlying commentary on our diminishing face to face talks with one another. This is as the labor opens with everyone on their phones, directly avoiding all the people surrounding them. There is even an impression that Gretta and Marlene, with the exception of the baristas to their customers, are the only ones who are actually speaking to one another directly. All of this increases greatly the highly representative nature of this beautifully executed opus.

Likewise, Steven Lanning-Cafaro, who appropriately appears here as The Guitar Player, builds upon the sophisticated ambiance unveiled throughout. This is with his musical contribution. Cafaro provides soothing, melodic rifts. All of which are precisely what you may hear at a setting such as the one found herein. Such sweet sounds are continuously streamed in the background during the coffee house sequences. In turn, it often seems as if it is in sequence with and, simultaneously, helping edify the sentiment being uttered by our leads at every turn. Yet, astonishingly, it never once overshadows the dialogue driven emphasis of the account. In this sense, as well as many others, “Sisyphus” is a masterful demonstration.

Further facilitating matters is DiNunzio’s terrific, seamless editing. Graziano, who has wide-ranging involvement as a scripter and actor, has a behind the lens approach which is stalwart and engrossing. He will assuredly fare here as well as he did in his previously stated doings. Graziano’s bravura also compliments the material splendidly. There is also strong sound and camera work present. Such continues to build the excellence found herein.

DiNunzio’s screenplay is smartly paced. The aforementioned banter between our two leads is intelligent, authentic and well-written. The only occasion the feeling at hand seems to lapse is in a mid-way segment and in another nearly identical one during the concluding seconds. This is when we witness the shot of a package being opened. Instead of letting this transpire leisurely, and in real time, it is sped up. On each instance this plays out it momentarily throws us out of the saga. This is because it seems too rushed. It betrays the gingerly constructed illusion to watching life unfold that arose beforehand.

Yet, these are but a few erroneous flashes in an otherwise stellar, highly gripping composition. The fiction, which is scheduled for release in December of this year, is magnificent told. This is in a simple, straight-forward manner. Such mechanizes splendidly in the overall context. Best of all, the characters are always at the forefront. Gretta and Marlene are spectacularly developed. This is especially noteworthy given the exertion’s brief duration. Our protagonists, as well as the photoplay itself, should prove relatable to a wide-audience. Graziano has erected a truly impressive, emotive experience. I look forward to seeing what moving picture wonders he will conjure in the future.

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“It’s Not You” – (Short Film Review)

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

“It’s Not You” (2013), the four-minute debut short from writer-director Sophie Peters-Wilson, is a sentimentally searing powerhouse; a visual poem told largely via flashbacks. It is one where joy is overtaken by a hidden heartache. What makes the material all the more potent is that it these memories, and the emotive journey attached to them, personify what is occurring in the mind of a young girl. She is referred to in the credits merely as Daughter (a performance by Abigail Spitler that tremendously conveys all the conflicting sensations someone in her position would undergo in such a situation). As the undertaking commences, she is being told that her parents are about to partake in a divorce. What follows showcases magnificently, achingly Daughter’s altering perspective. This is concerning what initially appeared to be happy times.

Peters-Wilson communicates this to the audience with small tidbits, all of which suggest transformative secrets, which were either regressed or deliberately hidden from Daughter’s eyes. For instance, one sequence showcases a close-up of Father (in another commanding, passionate and hypnotic enactment from Timothy J. Cox) pulling himself out of the locked hand of Mother (in a phenomenal, well-rounded depiction by Sarah Ruth Blake). This is to address another woman who has stopped to ask Father a question. Yet, the moment, heightened by the angry glimmer in Mother’s eyes as the instant occurs, speaks of jealousy. There are also various other hidden undertones. These are of her suspicions that Father is not being faithful. As the mid-section becomes a balance of arguments between both the maternal and paternal halves of this familial unit, Peters-Wilson clearly states the concealed tiff, revolving around the fear of breaking the matrimonial bond, between the two. It is during this succession, more than ever, we also note how remarkably Peters-Wilson has put us into the mind of Daughter. This transpires as we find ourselves asking many of the same questions that the character herself must be forced to ask during this deliberation. These are inquiries like: “Is this particular time what caused their falling out? Was this simply part of a bigger sequence? What could’ve been done to change this while it happened?”

It all helps to make this brief affair, which was shot in New York City, victorious. This is as both a psychological portrait and a maturely fashioned character study. Likewise, Peters-Wilson, who created this haunting composition with a reported budget of only $100, provides a screenplay that is credible at every turn. This specific section is also brilliantly structured and fluently, suitably paced. Moreover, the sparse bits of dialogue Peters-Wilson provides her leads are endlessly believable. Such is especially accurate with the circumstances the collective kin unveils. Though Daughter’s outlook fuels the majority of this stalwart opus, Peters-Wilson goes out of her way to be respectful to the plight and perception of all involved. Such a decision amends the effort with all the more dimension and detail. In turn, it makes it feel all the more complete. Peters-Wilson’s stirring, meditative authorship is given a stylish visual component through her directing. It is one which is equally elegant and impressive. Both elements find the perfect note for the material immediately and execute it beautifully throughout. All of these aforementioned attributes are more than visible in the final product.

Peters-Wilson also offers cinematography which is absolutely stunning. This is from the aspect of its overall veneer and tonal mastery. The more upbeat moments are merry, bright and cheery. When the story exposes the dark underbelly of Mother and Father’s relationship, what we see on-screen is drenched in a color palette that is appropriately bleak. Peters-Wilson’s contribution in this respective category is all the more striking and wondrous because of how well she speaks to her audience through this, and all the previously stated, mediums. Her editing is just as sharp and seamless.

With the further assistance of tremendous camera work from four individuals, this is just as pleasurable to admire from a technical angle as it is to witness. Peters-Wilson and her moviemaking crew have provided a narrative that has undoubted resonance and true cathartic value. This is for those who, sadly, may find themselves in a similar condition as those we encounter within the venture. It is just as much for the personalities who can look back, much as Daughter may do years after the events of this tale have happened, in continued meditation. “It’s Not You” is a heartfelt, courageous, challenging and necessary drama. Peters-Wilson has crafted an unflinching, cerebral masterpiece. It is one which all of its spectators can utilize to understand, in one arena or another, and grow from. That, in itself, makes it certainly worthy of recommendation, seeking out and experiencing for yourself.

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“Mail Time”- (Short Film Review)

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

Writer-director Sebastian Carrasco’s six minute and twenty-four second short, “Mail Time” (2016), is quietly compelling and magical. It is also grandly emotive in the manner of silent films from the early twentieth century. This sentiment is greatly enhanced, and made all the more operatic, by the remarkably stirring, uncredited score which drives every frame of the composition. Such an element is made so herculean that even mundane bits are immersed in a magnetic cinematic light. An example of this can be spied in a mid-way sequence that involves our lead, Ted (in an enactment by Timothy J. Cox that is commanding and likable as always and made all the more impressive by the performance being completely without dialogue), sitting at home. The moment conveys volumes by merely showing him smiling giddily as he watches a magician on television.

What continues to assists matters magnificently is that Carrasco has erected a screenplay which is artistic, beautifully honed, structured and contemplative. Yet, he gives Cox room to breathe and to create. Such a decision makes Ted something special. He is a hero who, like many of us, are unaware of such a stature. This is projected through the duration to great impact here solely through the lens of his everyday actions.

The narrative focuses in on Ted’s faux magician act suddenly becoming genuine. Initially, this behavior is an undertaking he has evoked to make the grinding routine of his occupation enjoyable. This is as much for his customers, the faces he sees repeatedly and to divert the nefarious man who constantly tries to rob him, as it is for Ted’s own sense of childlike wonder and awe. It is also utilized for the sake of keeping Ted’s employment as fresh and new as possible. This also mechanizes as a method to help make the transaction between mailman and customer memorable. Almost unthinkably, genuine mysticism begins to finds its way into his life. Soon the humdrum pattern of his days are anything become anything but ordinary. Ted now has now become real-life illusionist. His once banal delivery route has become a stage, a setting for truly joyous and numinous exploits.

The piece is a simple, innocent tale at its heart. It knows this on a conscious level. Therefore, it never gives into any possible inklings lesser exhibitions of this ilk may have. This would be to make the work more complex than it needs to be. That, in itself, heightens the wonderfully old-fashioned joviality and storytelling at hand. This assists in making Carrasco’s brief endeavor all the more charming.

Carrasco’s direction is equally illuminating. It is endlessly stylish and further calls to mind similar entries which are a hundred years or more behind us. Moreover, Carrasco has a sharp sensibility of pace. This effort moves along much in the manner Ted does through his day of labor here. It is briskly casual. We glide from incident to incident with sufficient time to get a strong impression of all necessary details of the situation. Also, we never assume the sensation of being pushed along doggedly to get from point A to B. Despite this, it miraculously never feels as if it lingers or any of the sequences go on longer than they should. This is a difficult and delicate balancing act in itself. It is one worthy of great acclaim. Such is one of the many astounding feats this marvel pulls off wonderfully.

Enhancing the overall prowess of this composition is Makeela Frederick. She is excellent in her small role as The Girl. Additionally, Bernardo Salazar’s cinematography is resplendent and certainly striking. Carrasco’s editing is just as impressive. Simultaneously, the sound and make-up contributions are just as terrific as the previously stated traits. These details conduct an account, stated to have a budget of only $1,000, which is pure, exuberant delight.

Carrasco opens on a loving note. He carries that ardor respectfully, engagingly until the closing credits. Such evokes an undeniably positive experience. It is one which will undoubtedly leave even its sourest of spectators in a far better mood after viewing it. That, in itself, is a rarity. This only makes “Mail Time” all the more worthy of recommendation. To its further recognition, the touches of comedy here are natural and endlessly successful. They appear as much of the story as everything else we come across. For instance, a commencing gag in the first sequence which dramatically showcases postage articles falling onto a table in slow motion, reminiscent of something one might see in a soap opera, are where this is most effective. Such an aspect only further represents the upbeat nature of the visions radiating on-screen.

It all comes together to create a tour de force. Carassco has concocted a mesmerizing opus; a well-deserved ballad to the often unsung powers of those who take up the reins of laborer dutifully. This is a stroke of brilliance. It is one that broad ranging audiences will assuredly have no problem relating to. Carassco has provided us a touching, illuminating and enchanting masterpiece. It is as much necessary viewing for the stressed out adult who is long exhausted of the repetitive nature of our quotidian doings as it is for the wide-eyed youth lurking within. Carassco has fashioned a gentle character study. It is one that hits us on a passionate level, speaks to us and makes us want to unveil the magic in our own lives.

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“Linda LeThorn & the Music Box” – (Short Film Review)

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

One of four short films writer-director Meg Skaff constructed in 2012, “Linda LeThorn & the Music Box” is a hypnotically erected, splendidly paced and, ultimately, rousing success. Skaff takes the tried and true horror element of a haunted music box and builds a world around it that is mesmerizing and wholly new. This is courtesy of, and made all the more engrossing by, Skaff’s witty, wry observations of the weird and commonplace intertwining. Her brilliant screenplay and impeccable eye for framing these components into entertaining, stylistic bravura makes this mixture all the more illuminating. Such items punctuate the plethora of uncanny observations at hand. All of these are produced in a manner as if the camera itself is reflecting the interpretation of our enthrallingly odd title heroine (in an impeccably realized performance by Aundrea Fares where her monotone, emotionless character expressions only heightens the effectiveness of the already potent humor).

Such a tone is established immediately in an opening montage of sorts which showcases LeThorn’s various pets. This sensation never wavers throughout the seventeen minute runtime of this dazzlingly made comedic opus of innocence and melancholy. Even the most routine of moments, such as a repeated sequence in the first half which showcases LeThorn peering at frozen food as if both ravenous and drugged in a grocery store, are put together in a manner that is both hallucinogenic and ominous. They are also darkly hilarious and captivating. All of these words are perfect for the atmosphere Skaff gives the material. It fits wonderfully. Such makes the intelligence and expertise resounding through every frame all the more intense. Yet, all of the distinctive images, and the incredibly delivered bits of Skaff’s well-penned and credible dialogue which accompanies them, conjures a wisely underplayed, yet visible, level of emotion. I related to LeThorn and the projected assessment of the landscape she inhabits more than I care to admit.

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Skaff, who has a small bit as a homeless person here, tells the tale of LeThorn receiving a collection of one of a kind articles from her Aunt Lucinda (in a fantastic role of the domineering by Susan Kirby that etches her character, largely via flashbacks, remarkably well through brief glimpses). Among these is the aforementioned container of sound. It is one which happens to play songs on its own accord. Almost immediately after receiving this resplendent item, LeThorn becomes possessed by Lucinda. From herein, she learns of a debilitated love triangle involving Lucinda. She also feels the need to start a skin-picking society. This is something of an ode to one of Lucinda’s equally inexplicable traits. Such a characteristic becomes the pushing force for a large portion of the dryly riotous second half. Likewise, the account ends on an appropriate note. It is just as attention-garnering and expressive of LeThorn’s isolated domain as what opens the venture.

The rest of the cast and crew provide exceptional work. Timothy J. Cox is delightful in his depiction of the sweat-suit wearing, bespectacled individual we come to know as Purple Green. He lives in the same building as LeThorn. Simultaneously, he also appears to be named after the color of clothing he wears. Ashley Peoples as Geraldine, Brit-Chardle Sellers as Terry Kendall and Kimberly David as Traffy are all terrific. The previously stated depictions are as singularly off-beat and watchable as LeThorn herself.

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Composer Insula Dulcamara’s music echoes the nature of the fiction well. The soundtrack is melodic, uniquely beautiful, dramatic and evocative. Skaff’s cinematography is marvelous. It makes all we encounter into a consistently gorgeous visual feast. This is especially evident in the more dream-like instances. We see this in one spectacularly done early moment. Such transpires when LeThorn is viewed dancing in her apartment. This strange segment is made all the more so as a majestic glimmer of a disco ball arrives out of nowhere. Immediately, it begins spinning radiantly in the background. The direction, editing, production design, costume, wardrobe and make-up work by Skaff are just as proficient and appealing.

Skaff has proven herself an incredible talent with “Linda LeThorn & the Music Box”. There is a striking parallel to her approach here and that of a film by Wes Anderson (2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) at his most sophisticated and striking. Furthermore, some of the more ethereal scenes call to mind, in their own way, the behind the camera flare of moviemaker Tim Burton (1988’s Beetlejuice, 1990’s Edward Scissorhands). Best of all, the laughs are quietly underplayed. They are never highlighted as such as many modern mainstream genre entries appear obliged to do. Each guffaw is planted in one sense or another in reality as exclusively spied by LeThorn. Such only adds to the skill and craftsmanship pulsating throughout. It all comes together to create a masterpiece; a commentary on social interactions and society itself that is biting, bold, memorable and downright hysterical. This is a must-see!

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An Interview With “Trinity” Director Skip Shea

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the great honor of speaking with writer, artist, actor and director Skip Shea! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

Thanks for having me. I’m a filmmaker.

What were some of your earliest influences and inspirations?

I was in high school in the 70s. This may just be nostalgia speaking, but I think it was an amazing time for film and filmmakers. And for whatever reason, the people I knew not only talked about actors but we also discussed directors. It was a very small school and I was also involved with theater so we had to be involved in all aspects of production. So we grew to appreciate directors at a very young age. Martin Scorsese, in particular Taxi Driver, and Woody Allen were very big influences at the time. Annie Hall seemed like a revolution of storytelling to me. I was unaware at that point of the influence of foreign films by the like of Fellini or Bergman on his work and all of the rules they broke. I also grew up in a town with a drive-in. Quite a few in the area at the time. So I’d also be able to see films like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left and Tobe Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These were not my mother’s Hitchcock films. Which I loved but, outside of Psycho, very safe films. And I loved them. So many films and filmmakers to list. Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Midnight Cowboy, Lenny and All That Jazz. I wanted to create something like that.

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Before being a filmmaker, you were a visual artist. What can you tell us about this time period in your life?

That period has never ended. I started at a very young age. I loved to draw. I would study and copy Batman comic books when I was five years old. By the time I was in 3rd grade I had an illustrated book I put together on display at the Worcester Art Museum. Some sort of display about the local young artist. Something like that.

How did your visual artistry assist you when you first stepped into the director’s chair?

It assisted tremendously. I knew how I wanted to compose each shot. I could easily look at a space and block out what I didn’t need with ease. It makes it easier to communicate with the DP when you know exactly what you want.

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In 1999, you produced, penned and performed a one-man stage memoir called Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads). It shares many of the same themes as your 2016 debut feature, Trinity. What can you tell us about this work?

In a lot of ways it’s the same work. In some points, literally. Parts of the one-man show are in the movie. I had an art/poetry exhibit called Catholic Guilt on display in a very small gallery that I helped run, that no one would visit. A very safe way to pretend to be telling my story. A story about surviving clergy sexual abuse. One day two very lovely people came to the exhibit and told me I needed to get this exhibit to New York. And I thought if I could get an exhibit in New York it would be hanging there. But that old love of theater kicked in and I thought I’ll do a one man show in New York. I started writing in in June of 2005 and I was on stage in New York that December. Like Trinity, I felt it is important to tell the story not so much to educate the masses as much it is for others who have suffered through clergy sexual abuse or any type of sexual abuse as a kid. So many end up with addictions or worse, commit suicide. The one-man show had a lot of comedy in it. I wanted to show that is better to make fun of them then give your life to them. It takes work, years of therapy. But it’s worth it not to give another minute to them. Like Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

In 2011, your poetry was used by Jon Faddis, a Jazz trumpeteer, for his Songs of Mourning. This took place at the September 11th Tenth Anniversary Commemorative Concert at Symphony Space in New York City. What was this experience like?

It still doesn’t seem real to me. That was such an amazing honor. Dignitaries like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor were in the audience. Listening to a jazz great recite a poem I wrote. And it’s really not a poem about the attack as much as it is about grieving. I lost one of my twin daughters, Shawna, in a car accident in 1999. She was 16. Grieving is a very private thing. It has to be. Most people are uncomfortable around it. They don’t want to see it, it makes them feel unsafe. So we do things like give people three days bereavement leave and respect them to come back and be fine and productive. The level of ignorance around the grieving process is staggering. Or its denial. But it became a very public and shared process after the September 11th attack. For a short while anyway. The poem was about our ability to grieve together at that one moment, even if mine was more about my daughter than the nation. But loss triggers loss. Ultimately it’s all the same.

In 2013, you directed the horror short, “Ave Marie”. What inspired this wonderful work of art?

It was a sequel of sorts to “Microcinema”. A woman in a mask extracting justice. Microcinema created a little buzz so I wanted to keep it going while I was writing feature length scripts. I think it was a story on NPR where I heard about Alessandro Moreschi as the last castrato singer. Then I heard him sing. I thought about how insane the notion would be that families would gladly hand their son over to the church, to be castrated to sing for the Pope. And to consider it an honor. It’s crazy. But it really isn’t when you look at the global crimes of clergy sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. It’s so bad that the UN wrote two reports on it as crimes against humanity. But how has the world responded? So I wanted to make a piece avenging all of the boys who were castrated. It seemed only fitting to have women do this in the woods, considering how the church slaughter pagans during the Inquisition, destroying the cultural heritage of the regions and then stealing their property. And it was a huge bonus to find Moreschi singing “Ave Maria”, a song to the divine feminine. So the short was born.

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“Ave Marie” was the winner of the Audience Award at the Interiora Horror Festival in Rome, Italy. It was also entered in 20 festivals worldwide. During this time it received awards in Montreal, Canada, Providence, Rhode Island and Tallahassee, Florida. What was this experience like?

It’s a wonderful and very unexpected experience. In particular in Rome. It’s nice to know that a piece you’ve created can have an effect on people.

How important do you think film festivals such as those mentioned above are to making or breaking an Independent filmmaker?

I think it’s so important I’m involved with two film festivals myself. I help with the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and the Shawna Shea Film Festival which is a fundraiser for the Shawna E. Shea Memorial Foundation, Inc. I work with filmmakers Chris Di Nunzio, Nolan Yee and Jason Miller on Mass Indie and we go to great lengths to support and push true indie artists. It sounds silly to say true indie artists but there is a level of filmmakers who generally pay for their own movie and don’t have big money producers behind them. So they have to be innovative and creative to make their films. And part of our philosophy is that we won’t show a film that we’ve worked on so every minute programmed goes to someone else. Not that festivals who do show their own work are wrong. That’s totally understandable too. It’s a great way to show your film to the people who’ve worked on it. Screening in any festival is important because, and here’s where I answer your question, in order to get to the next level where producers with money exist, a filmmaker needs to have a proven track record. It helps.

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“Microcinema”, from 2011, also had similar popularity and acclaim during its film festival run. What inspired this composition?

Microcinema was inspired by the very tired rape/revenge horror genre. I remember Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave and the impact they had on me. There are so many that copied these movies but went to the gratuitous side. Making us endure brutally long rape scenes. And there is a sub-culture of viewers who get off on this. The types who rate horror movies by blood, gore and boobs. So I wanted to make the anti-rape/revenge movie. I tried to set it up like it would be a formulaic short but turn the tables very quickly where the woman never becomes a victim. And then have a short three minute or so endurance test of a man being brutalized. This isn’t revenge. He pays just for thinking about what he wanted to do to this woman.

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You have stated that “Ave Marie” and “Microcinema” helped make Trinity happen. What can you tell us about the deeply personal and abstract horror gem?

“Microcinema” and “Ave Marie” helped to make Trinity happen because of the success those shorts had, so I was able to gain a certain level of confidence from the cast and crew who would have faith that I could do it as well since most of them know the reason behind telling the story. As I decided it was time to take the next step and tackle a feature, I thought if this is my first, I should make the movie I want to make. The karmic aspects of Microcinema, justice exacted on a sexual predator, and Ave Maria, justice for castrating boys, didn’t get to the core of clergy sexual abuse. That danced around it. The movie I wanted to make would be directly about that subject.

What was the process of filming Trinity like?

My process is the same. I write it. I meet with the actors and DP. Talk about the characters and look of the film. Then shoot it. I know people often think the process of making these movies are cathartic experiences for me. They are not. I’m well beyond that. I would say the one-man show took care of that artistically for me. So it wasn’t as challenging as some may think. Plus it’s a tight schedule. Just have to get it done.

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Besides twelve directing credits currently to your name, you also have a dozen writing credits, five editing and cinematography credits, producer, camera, sound department and even a composer credit for a song you created for the 2010 short, “They Serve Breakfast Here All Day Long”. Have these different experiences helped shape you as a moving picture artist? If so, how?

I got into this late in life. I think this first short I finished was in 2009. I was almost 50 years old. So I viewed shorts like minor league baseball. Learn the process, see the mistakes in production, get it all under my belt so that when I did Trinity I was as prepared as I could be to face the challenges. So doing as many aspects in production on the shorts helped me to learn the process. And, probably most of the time, it was a necessity. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself to get it done.

What among these aforementioned traits do you find most enjoyable to do? Why?

I enjoy it all. I was born a creative type. I don’t know why but it’s what I love to do. As long as I’m creating I’m happy.

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

I do and not yet.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. I can get longwinded. Thank you for having me.

Thank you for your time! Best of luck on all your future endeavors!

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