“VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Kenneth Powell and Thomas Edward Seymour’s VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media (2016) is a riveting exploration of the effects of VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, downloading and streaming on independent photoplays. The subject matter alone is naturally fascinating. Yet, Powell and Seymour’s documentary benefits from a variety of insightful interviews from cinematic insiders and commentators. They include the head of Troma Entertainment, Llyoyd Kaufman, actress Debbie Rochon and legendary critic and author John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs). Clocking in at a lean seventy-two minutes, the consistently absorbing and nostalgia-inducing project also benefits from the sheer likability of all those on-screen.

What is just as gripping are the many scenes where the crew of the venture go to different video stores. This is to record their experience. It is also to reminisce on the days when such establishments were thriving. Such bits are mesmerizing. The fun of that era, where previously unknown movies were fighting for patrons’ dollars mainly through the eye-popping nature of their cover art, is sent up well. This is most evident in a game spied throughout the duration. It ardently showcases those involved with the exercise going to various VHS sellers. Upon doing so, they see who can bring home the most interesting program. This is based solely on the above-mentioned criteria.

The obvious love for cinema that stems throughout, especially in the aforesaid segments, further heightens the delight at hand. This makes the times when the endeavor feels a bit like an advertisement for Rudyard Kipling’s Mark of the Beast (2012), which Seymour co-directed with Jonathan Gorman, easy to overlook. This can be exemplified during a mid-point intermission. At this juncture, the trailer for the formerly addressed presentation is shown. What also helps these minor flaws are that such episodes, as is true of the entirety of the exertion, are erected with cleverness, sincerity and good humor. These passages also potently reflect the underlying message and thesis statement of the affair.

Powell and Seymour, though utilizing an approach to the material that is routine, have crafted a work that is as much a love letter to technology as it is a warning against such advancements. This balance is spellbinding. Such makes this New York Cine Productions related effort evermore endearing. The result is as immediate as it is immersive. Augmented by outstanding editing, music and cinematography, this ambitious item is essential to understanding both the past, present and potential future of motion pictures.


Available now on Blu-ray.

“Circus Kane” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director and co-producer Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray’s Circus Kane (2017) is a grisly, claustrophobic and often imaginative fun house of cinematic horrors. Written by James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward (from a story from Sean Sellars), the eighty-eight-minute feature calls to mind William Castle’s masterpiece House on Haunted Hill (1959) and James Wan’s groundbreaking Saw (2004). There are also echoes of Tod Browning’s controversial motion picture, Freaks (1932), Herk Harvey’s brilliant Carnival of Souls (1962) and Stephen Chiodo’s cult classic, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). These latter comparisons derive from the big top related setting shared in these previously addressed fictions. It also extends to the visceral effectiveness of these exercises. This relationship can also be viewed in their communal ability to unnerve via incredible imagery.

The former parallels can be found in the plot itself. Such concerns the secluded Balthazar Kane (in a wickedly good performance from Tim Abell) sending a group of social media stars an invitation via text. This offer states that any individual who can make it through his title walk-through residence of scares will collect $250,000. With some participants thinking this is merely a publicity gimmick, Ray’s central figures quickly accept. Once inside, the alignment to Castle and Wan’s work comes to light. This is as they find out that the real reward for the lethal terrors they endure is coming out of such a psychologically grueling and dreadful experience with their lives intact.

Bressack and Ward’s perfectly paced scripting of this intriguing tale is routinely structured. Subsequently, the characters are archetypical. Yet, they are sufficiently developed. They are given continued dimension. This is by the charismatic and stellar enactments from those who embody these on-screen personalities. For instance, Jonathan Lipnicki is tremendous as Scott. Mark Christopher Lawrence as Billy, Sinjin Rosa as Jake and Nicole Fox as Carrie are all top-notch. Even the antagonists, such as Bill Voorhees’ memorable representation of The Clown, are terrific.

Likewise, the notions Kane utilizes in his sinister game with our protagonists occasionally resonates familiarity. But, the sequences involving these bits are marvelously fashioned. In turn, such criticisms do little to sway the high-engagement factor such configurations hold over audiences. What is just as amusing is the constant references to classic media which populate the endeavor. This is especially true of the first half of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release.

Correspondingly, Ray’s guidance of the project is masterful. It contains just the right amount of visual style and spine-tingling atmosphere. Such makes the variety of macabre sights and malevolent snares Kane dispenses on Ray’s protagonists evermore absorbing. Such an attribute is also assisted by Alexander Yellen’s eye-popping cinematography. Adam Oliver’s ominous music and Joseph J. Lawson’s special effects are spectacular. James Kondelik’s editing is sharp. The contribution from the sound and make-up squad fares just as triumphantly. Such details punctuate these abovementioned episodes of trepidation, as well as the excursion itself, in a manner that makes the exertion a consistently dark delight.

This foreboding allure is palpable in the arresting commencing credits arrangement. It is just as noteworthy in the expository passages located immediately afterward. These erect the foundation of the narrative. From herein, Ray crafts a gripping and haunting exercise. It is one that is augmented by its welcome attempt to understand the inner-mechanisms of the nefarious Kane. Evidence of this can be unveiled in an intimate monologue from the man himself. Such occurs in the final twenty minutes. This leads to both a tense climax and a smirk-inducing finale. The result is a B-movie gem. It is also further proof of the prowess of Ray and the collaborative abilities of authors Bressack and Ward.

Circus Kane will be available on Video on Demand September 8th, 2017.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence and profanity.

“WTF!” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

WTF! (2017), the debut feature from director and co-writer Peter Herro, is as dependent on slasher formula as it is stylistic boldness and storytelling innovation. The set-up concerns your usual assortment of cloying, drug-addled and sex obsessed teenage archetypes. Their destination is the equally garden variety isolated cabin in the woods. Tagging along is the reserved Rachel (in a solid depiction from Callie Ott); the sole survivor of a brutal massacre that occurred three years prior. She is continuing to suffer from the shock of the event. This is noted in her reaction to a graphic drawing a classmate composes in an early passage that takes place at Rachel’s high school. Herro, who penned the satisfying and aptly structured script with Adam Buchalter and Christopher Lawrence Centanni, also displays the same type of reaction in a later sequence. This is when Rachel glimpses a bloody fighting game being played by two young men. When an unknown killer begins to slaughter those around her once again, her sense of unease quickly controls her.

It’s a straight-forward concept. Yet, it comes together sufficiently well for a genre entry of this ilk. Peter Herro, whose guidance of the photoplay is riveting, makes the plot far more substantial than it is in retrospect. This is with an added police procedural component. Such oversees Rachel being interrogated about the recent carnage that has transpired. There is also the inclusion of Rachel’s flashbacks. Many of these recollections revolve around the foremost bout of murder that Rachel encountered. Though this is as much a trope as the characterizations stated above, Herro utilizes it in a manner that effectively gets viewers to understand and relate to Rachel. The bits which look beyond the terror and focus in on her relationships with others gives Ott’s persona increased dimension.

Herro spends nearly forty-five of the eighty minutes of this Cthulhu Crush Productions release following the Spring Break antics of those on-screen. Given that there is nothing unique about most of the individuals Herro populates the fiction with, the endeavor occasionally feels like it is merely treading water. There are some funny moments and broad attempts at developing our central figures in this division. Such makes the wait for the horror element to kick in worthwhile. Still, the slow movement in these sections, with nary an episode of suspense or build-up induced during this expanse, seriously hinders matters. Once the picture picks up, it delivers enough grisly kills and questions of whodunit to balance out the leisurely and ultimately underwhelming former half. The final twist, though obvious in hindsight, is assembled deftly enough that one can easily admire how slyly it was hidden throughout the runtime. There is also a collection of comic book-like renderings which can be spied during the concluding credits. Such incorporates extra layers of magnificence. This is via their eye-popping flair and general creativity.

Helping matters are the previously unmentioned performances. Sarah Agor steals the show as Lisa. Nicholas James Reilly is stalwart as Toby. Andrea Hunt as Bonnie, Benjamin Norris as Jacob and Adam Foster as Bevan are all spectacular in their respective turns. Chloe Berman as Jessie and Cheyann Dillon as Carla are transcendent. Johnny James Fiore is good as Sam.

Likewise, Justin Kemper offers truly gorgeous and immersive cinematography. It is especially impressive considering the small budget of the piece. Steve Parker issues proficient editing. Sabrina Castro’s make-up is phenomenal. Natalia Zuniga exhibits skillful costume design. The sound team contribution is masterful. Adrian Sealy provides terrifically tense and dramatic music.

The result is a lean and enjoyable arrangement. Though the exercise drags now and then, it opens with a captivating and sharply executed excerpt. It ends just as triumphantly. Furthermore, the wit at hand is made immediately apparent. This impression emerges when the primary words spoken in the representation are the title initialism cried out in full. Such a realization is reiterated when the commencing acknowledgments segment proves an imaginative spin on the evidence of a crime scene.

Even if Herro’s protagonists are routinely etched, it is all part of the joyous embrace of tradition so often found in these efforts. For example, the commonplace “car that won’t start so we can escape” scenario or the obligatory first act gas station stop. These permanent fixtures in the psycho on the loose narrative comfortably find their way into Herro’s affair. But, it is all in the spirit of old-fashioned, nail-biting fun. Such is among the reasons why these movies have remained so popular with audiences over the last several decades. These trademark items are just as successful in Herro’s opus as they have been in similar sagas. Even though this attribute makes for a presentation that can never be measured as groundbreaking, it is certainly absorbing. When combined with the complex touches Herro puts on the construction of the chronicle and a lead that resonates genuine interest, WTF! endures as many cuts above average.

Herro’s excursion into fear will be available on Video on Demand August 1st, 2017.

A Brief Word on Recent/ Upcoming Releases: “Boss Baby”, “Camera Obscura”, “Camino Island”, “Charlotte”, “The Darkest Hour”, “The Dinosaur Four”, “The Drama Club”, “Flower Boy”, “4:44”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “It Stains the Sands Red”, “Killing Ground”, “Miss Sloane”, “Night of Something Strange”, “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter”, “Trespassing Bergman” and “Watch the Sunset”

By Andrew Buckner



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

Even though the premise of director Tom McGrath’s Boss Baby grows tiresome near the finale, it is surprisingly clever. This unique tale, based on Marla Frazee’s 2010 book of the same name, concerns a suit-clad baby (perfectly voiced by Alec Baldwin), who teams up with his older brother to unfurl the wicked schemes of the CEO of Puppy Co. The ninety-seven-minute project incorporates terrific animation. Additionally, there are a fair share of laughs. There is also just the right amount of heart. For a family film, you can certainly do worse.


Now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming platforms.



Rating: * out of *****.

As an exercise in coherent storytelling and crafting a unique horror opus from an inventive idea, Camera Obscura (2017), which concerns a man with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who sees upcoming deaths in the pictures he takes, is wholly out of focus.


95 minutes.

Released: 6/9/17.

Available to rent or buy at Amazon.



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

Camino Island (2017) is among John Grisham’s greatest novels; brilliantly penned, characterized and plotted. Fellow authors will especially enjoy its insights, atmosphere and engaging central caper (which involves the theft of a handwritten J.D. Salinger manuscript). Published through Doubleday, the volume opens exhilaratingly. It closes just as successfully.

294 pages.

Released: 6/6/17 in eBook and physical copy format.



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

Killer doll centered anthology Charlotte (2017) hits more often than it misses. Many of the plots and ideas found within its brisk 83-minute runtime are routine. Still, there is an undeniable charm found in the effects, execution, writing, direction and performances that certainly make up for such criticisms. Best of all, the project begins cleverly. It also ends just as well. This is with the most memorable and inventive tale in the entire production. The result is an enjoyable, if minor, descent into fear.


Available now at Amazon Prime.



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

Madchild’s fourth solo album, The Darkest Hour (2017), is a 14 track knockout. Terrific imagery, wordplay and rhyme schemes; mesmerizing production.

Available now in CD and streaming format.



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

Equal parts Stephen King, Michael Chrichton and Jules Verne, The Dinosaur Four (2014) by Geoff Jones is a creative, fast-paced and thrilling debut novel. The plot, which focuses on a group of individuals at The Daily Edition Café suddenly being transported back into prehistoric times, is unique. Additionally, the central figures are lively and wide-ranging in personality. There is also an abundance of differing title creatures found throughout the project. Simultaneously, Jones’ writing is terrific. His in-depth knowledge of the extinct beasts at the center of his tale only makes the fiction even more credible and compelling. The result is an absolute bulls-eye.

290 pages.

First released: 3/25/14.

Available now in eBook and physical copy.



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

Writer-director Joe McLean’s The Drama Club (2017) is conventional in plot and characterization. The narrative follows the ex-members of the title high school organization as they reconvene after a twenty-year absence. Their past decisions, along with the not always wise choices they make during their reemergence, continuously challenges this group throughout the brisk eighty-seven-minute runtime. McLean’s independent feature has its share of joyous and sorrowful moments. Still, it holds too rigorously to its obvious cinematic inspirations, such as co-writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983), to be anything truly groundbreaking. This is despite strong portrayals all-around. The heavy-hitting issues McLean threads into the endeavor are also admirable.


Now on Video on Demand.



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

Tyler, the Creator’s fourth solo album, Flower Boy (2017), is inventive, beautifully produced and eclectic; another gem in the California born rapper’s discography.

(Parental advisory). Explicit lyrics.

14 tracks; 46 minutes.

Released on CD and digital streaming form on 7/21/17.



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

Jay-z’s 13th studio album, 4:44 (2017), is among his most thoughtful, concise and introspective efforts to date; remarkable production and mature flows.

(Parental advisory). Explicit lyrics.

10 tracks; 36 minutes.

Released on CD and digital streaming form on 6/30/17.



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

Visually spectacular, but at its heart routine and a narrative mess, the live-action Ghost in the Shell (2017) has no real soul. It’s enactments and finale are similarly muddled.


106 minutes.

Released on DVD and Blu-ray on 7/25/17. It is also available to buy or rent on digital platforms.



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

Beautifully shot and refreshingly offbeat, Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red (2017) is one of the best zombie films of the year. The piece is centered by an excellent lead performance from Brittany Allen. There is also a great balance between dark humor and effective horror present throughout the exercise. The phenomenal make-up, character focus and genuinely tense finale only strengthen this 92-minute masterpiece. Such results in a truly original, surprisingly introspective take on a well-worn sub-genre. This is a bulls-eye.

(Unrated). Contains violence and adult language.

Available now on digital platforms.



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

Painfully routine, unimaginative, slow-moving and cruel, writer-director Damien Power’s Killing Ground (2016) is a gigantic misfire; another uninspired Deliverance (1972) imitation.


88 minutes.

Available now in select theaters and on Video on Demand.



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

Miss Sloane (2016) is one of 2016’s unsung political masterpieces; riveting in its timely subject matter and execution. The bold script (from first-timer John Madden), direction (by Jonathan Perera) and performances (especially Jessica Chastain as our flawed title lead) overcome the weak finale.


132 minutes.

Currently on Amazon Prime.



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

With gore, humor and attitude in abundance, co-writer and director Jonathan Straiton’s Night of Something Strange (2016) is a wildly enthralling B-movie. It is one which is much in the vain of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992). The piece is graced with terrific effects, pacing and depictions. Likewise, Straiton’s ability to craft one intriguing, heavily tongue-in-cheek sequence after another gives this zombie outbreak film perpetual life.


97 minutes.

Now available on DVD/ Blu-ray and Video on Demand.



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

Writer-director Neil Johnson’s Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter (2017) is terrific science-fiction. It is ambitious, exhilarating, idea-driven entertainment. The effects, writing, direction and representarions are all charming. Heavily comparable to the Star Wars films (1977-), a sense of old-fashioned fun hangs over the proceedings.


101 minutes.

Currently on Blu-ray at Walmart. It will be available on DVD everywhere 8/15/17.



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

Trespassing Bergman (2013), from directors Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas, is ever-illuminating and endlessly fascinating; a true cinephiles’ delight. The 107-minute documentary is a collection of ruminations from a variety of high-pedigree filmmakers. They are seen discussing at length the influence they derived from of the all-time cinematic greats, Ingmar Bergman. This is as many of them gather to wander around Bergman’s secluded home on the Baltic Sea island of Faro. Magnusson and Pallas’ opus utilizes these intimate discourses powerfully; to a paint a thorough portrait of the Swedish maestro. This is while providing a private and movie-by-movie retrospective into Bergman’s many masterpieces. The result is an effortlessly engaging, invigorating and essential tour de force.; a must for anyone with even a passing interest in both the history and future of motion pictures.


Now available at Amazon Prime.



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

The single take set-up legendary director Alfred Hitchcock utilized in Rope (1948) works well in Watch the Sunset (2017): a lean, effective, if familiar and routinely characterized, crime saga.


79 minutes.

Premiered at the Revelation Perth International Film festival in July. No DVD/Blu-ray or Video on Demand information yet announced.

“Dunkirk” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Christopher Nolan’s World War II film, Dunkirk (2017), was a strangely distant experience; all spectacle and little heart. The photoplay ran one-hundred and six minutes. Throughout that span, I was continuously aware that I was sitting in a darkened theater. My psyche was always cognizant that the harrowing images I was being submitted to were simply vivid projections cast onto a silver screen. Therefore, I was never pulled into the intensity of combat exemplified. Such is unusual given how meticulously and intimately it is recreated in Nolan’s tenth feature.

Notwithstanding, I found myself in awe of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s eye-popping cinematography. Just as often, I appreciated the detailed build-up of the affair. The basis of which concerns the violence which ensued when members of the German army encompassed soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France. Such a hostile encounter erupted into a chaotic evacuation from the beaches and harbor of the title town in Northern France. The date this event, which became alternately known as Operation Dynamo, transpired was May 26th – June 4th, 1940. Nolan’s small-scoped, yet determined, filler-free saga is a naturally engaging chronicle. It is one that should’ve amounted to more.

The fictional, one-dimensional individuals Nolan filled this true tale with were provided solid enactments. This is granted the limited material they were given. For example, Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson and Fionn Whitehead as Tommy were adept. Tom Hardy’s turn as Barrier, a pilot, and Kenneth Branagh’s representation of Commander Bolton was memorable. The effects were a massive achievement. Lee Smith’s editing was just as beneficial. Even though the sound was poor, the make-up and costume design was stellar.

Additionally, Nolan utilized several different perspectives into the narrative. His trademark non-linear approach was also displayed to grand consequence. These elements were a source of unremitting fascination. Nolan’s stylistic approach in Dunkirk was relatively straight-forward. This became especially accurate when compared to the intricate complexity he attempted in movies such as Following (1998), Memento (2001) and Inception (2010). Nevertheless, it was a smart decision. Such fit the tone and attitude of his latest opus exceptionally. Similarly, Nolan’s direction was dazzling. This is even if his scripting only worked on a serviceable level throughout the account. Correspondingly, I embraced the old-fashioned, epic feel that coursed proudly through the exertion. Still, it failed to mask what an empty exercise Nolan’s latest proved to be.

During my sit-through with this Warner Bros. co-distribution release, I also respected how masterfully Nolan paced the piece. This esteem stemmed further when noting how magnificently he constructed the wall-to-wall scenes of peril. The same can be said of the deftness with which Nolan conveyed the confusion and totality of war. This is through the lens of a single skirmish. Other touches, such as the ticking clock sounds heard in Hans Zimmer’s sweeping (and occasionally off-putting) score, created a clever thematic bridge. This is to the connective subject unveiled in much of Nolan’s work: time itself.

But, my attention remained in the present. The illusion that I had been transported back to the historical episode Nolan had spun into cinema didn’t overcome me. This is even after considering the visual triumph Nolan honed. Such a deep-seated impression constantly arose within me regardless of the high-caliber success Dunkirk, which frequently reminded me of Wolfgang Petersen’s masterpiece, Das Boot (1981), generated. This is in its intended purpose to tax me as a viewer. Such is via its endless barrage of taut, death-defying instances. Even so, the lack of depth and sentimentality, combined with the utter disinterest Nolan expresses in fleshing-out those we follow through the configuration, was a problem. This sensation lingered even with the knowledge that Nolan was deliberately engaging in this developmental deficiency. Such was incorporated in an admirable effort for audiences to look at all those we come across in the labor as equals.

The result is a well-meaning and crafty excursion. The picture, which was sturdy throughout, is technically brilliant. Many of its arrangements, such as the quiet sense of isolation which punctuated the opening seconds, haunted me in retrospect. Despite its obvious prowess, it left me underwhelmed. This is because in its anticipation to stun bystanders with its phenomenal sights, it ignored two principal ingredients of storytelling. They are the concepts of caring for your characters and emotional immersion. If anything, Nolan has showcased that you need the former to get the latter. With the ever-extant shortcomings of Dunkirk, he also demonstrated that these are essential in making a rousing undertaking such as this a genuine classic. For without these items a contribution to celluloid, however skillfully made, is merely another uninvolving illustration; a motionless marvel sitting silent and forgotten in the shadows.

(PG-13). Contains violence, adult content and profanity.

Dunkirk was released in theaters on July 21st, 2017.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) is brilliant pop culture cinema; brooding, emotive, intelligent and intense. The one-hundred and forty-minute feature, a 20th Century Fox distribution release, is a triumphant marriage of state of the art effects and an unwaveringly grim tone. This is made further effective by the often bold, high-potency storyline. These components are blended seamlessly. Such makes for rousing entertainment. It also creates a singular and immersive world; one that cinema patrons will be delighted to become immersed within. The pacing is smart. Additionally, the picture benefits from Michael Seresin’s lush cinematography. Such makes the heart-tugging civility disclosed in our simian protagonists in this Apocalypse Now (1979) and Platoon (1986) inspired epic evermore stellar.

After a beautifully executed and claustrophobic opening sequence that showcases the first word in the title of the endeavor in full swing, Reeves follows our primate hero, Caeser (Andy Serkis). This is as he and his crew become imprisoned by a militant group of Caeser’s foes. The leader of this opposing power is a cruel, unsympathetic figure. He is simply named The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The treatment Caeser and his partners suffer at the hands of The Colonel and his squad compel Caeser to combat his own anger. But, soon an uprising is sparked. The outcome of which will determine who will become the dominant force on Earth.

Though not as science-minded as Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), this third entry in the rebooted series is undoubtedly the best. Serkis and Harrelson are superb. The segments they share on-screen are electric. They are palpable in their dramatic resonance. Likewise, Steve Zane’s Bad Ape character is one of the most memorable entities found herein. His presence adds welcome touches of humor to this otherwise no-nonsense affair. Amiah Miller is also a standout. This is in her powerful, wordless enactment as the deaf Nova. She is a young woman who is taken into the care of Caeser’s tribe in the initial half of the venture.

Reeves’s guidance of the project is breathtaking. The uniquely structured script Reeves penned with Mark Bomback is well-mounted, daring and thoughtful. It continues the events in Rise and its excellent follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), brilliantly. This is with little that feels like a retread. The noticeably darker lens through which Reeves tells his tale this time around lays the foundation for this assessment. The feature also ends as well as it begins. This is with a gorgeously erected scene that is as uplifting as it is sorrowful. The result is that increasingly rare Hollywood blockbuster that engages while making you think and feel. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the most human.

(PG-13). Contains violence, adult themes and disturbing images.

“The Ice Cream Truck” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Marvelously fashioned and engrossing, writer-director Megan Freels Johnston’s sophomore feature, The Ice Cream Truck (2017), succeeds as both a character study and as a slasher saga. The eighty-seven-minute venture, produced by Look at Me Films, utilizes its title vehicle driving antagonist, The Ice Cream Man (in a devilishly divine turn from Emil Johnsen), just as triumphantly. This is as an extension of the underlying apprehension of moving and being accepted into a new neighborhood. Such is an affliction Freels Johnston’s likable and credibly-etched heroine, Mary (in a spectacular, layered portrayal from Deanna Russo), endures throughout the project. Yet, some of the best segments are the variety of quietly erected, darkly humorous touches. These play phenomenally well into Freels Johnston’s nightmare in suburbia scenario.

Besides being stated outright on the eye-popping cover art for the affair, this notion is glimpsed in the anything but normal way Mary’s neighbors listen in on her conversations. This is as they obsessively tend to their yards. Moreover, it is illustrated in the fanatical manner that they always seem to be ever-inquisitive, intrusive even, about Mary’s personal life. What is just as absorbing is how the unfamiliar males Freels Johnston’s central figure encounters early on are menacingly presented. For instance, there is a first act arrangement involving a delivery man (in a solid representation from Jeff Daniel Phillips). In this configuration, Freels Johnston frames him in an unsettling veneer. This viewpoint is comparable to that which she later employs on The Ice Cream Man. Mary’s visible abhorrence reflects the aforesaid theme to mesmerizing consequence. It also serves as a splendid confirmation of the psychologically deft details of the demonstration. This is also a testament to Freels Johnston’s skill at generating suspense from otherwise mundane events. Such a high-caliber quality, a courtesy of Freels Johnston’s prowess as a literary and cinematic storyteller, resonates incredibly throughout the exertion.

The Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is certainly effective. It blends these above-mentioned items into an authentic atmosphere of dismay. The tone is equal doses John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and co-creators Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017-). There is even much of the internal mystery of Frost and Lynch’s program present in Freels Johnston’s outing. These related traits are treated and blended seamlessly. They are applied with prowess to tremendous import. The alignment to Carpenter is most evident in the engaging opening acknowledgments sequence. This is noteworthy when considering the general orchestration of the chronicle. Such is a facet that is rousingly carried throughout the depiction. This is also heard in Michael Boateng’s chill-inducing music.

Freels Johnston’s composition concerns Mary, a struggling writer. She is settling into the previously addressed community. This is after her husband, Steve (Brett Johnston), is relocated. Such a sudden shuffle is due to the demands of his job. Arriving days before the rest of her family, who are back at her prior home concluding what business they need done before their departure, Mary tries to fit in with those that she now lives alongside. Yet, there is fear lurking in the shadows of these initially idealistic surroundings. It comes in the supposedly innocent form of The Ice Cream Man. Soon a trail of bodies become left in the wake of this murderous fiend. When Mary becomes his target, she must fight for survival.

This is an intriguing concept for a labor of this ilk. Yet, what is just as interesting is the sub-plot of Mary’s attempts to recall her youth. These bits are focused on throughout the picture. These scenes work as engaging development. They add continued dimension to the lead. Such makes Mary and her plight relatable. Simultaneously, these ingredients also help Freels Johnston’s low-budget gem, whose brilliant script was a semi-finalist in the Circus Road Screenplay Competition, from becoming another assembly of tropes. For example, there are hardly any of the illogical actions or garden-variety stalk and chase moments routinely melded into these types of terror ventures.

Still, the episodes of trepidation Freels Johnston evokes in the effort are appropriately tense and memorable. They are striking for their captivating build-up, execution and ultimate restraint. The satisfyingly lean climax is proof of the efficiency of the exploitation of this on-screen component. Such intricate structure is further elevated by Freels Johnston’s ear for realistic dialogue. It is also augmented by her ability to pull dread from a commonplace setting.

Also assisting matters is Stephen Tringali’s remarkable cinematography. Likewise, Krista Speicher’s costume design is superb. Tony Urgo’s visual effects are masterful. Eric Potter’s editing is astonishing. The make-up, lighting, sound and visual effects are just as admirable. Correspondingly, John Redlinger is magnificent as Mary’s college age acquaintance, Max. Sam Schweikert as Nick, Hilary Barraford as Jessica and Bailey Anne Borders as Tracy are especially good. The same can be said of Dan Sutter’s turn as Frank and Dana Gaier’s performance of Brie.

Freels Johnston, the granddaughter of popular crime novelist Elmore Leonard, has crafted an all-around superb undertaking. The pace is smart and pitch perfect. Similarly, it shares the reality-mirroring jolts that made Freels Johnston’s debut, Rebound (2014), terrific. The Ice Cream Truck also handles the subject of horror honed from social interaction. Such a topic was the concentration of Freels Johnston’s prior opus. The personalities that contact the protagonist of Freels Johnston’s latest may come across as archetypical. But, it is all part of the sharp sense of Mary’s perspective which gloriously courses through the piece.

In turn, Freels Johnston has constructed a truly unique vision. Such is made increasingly envy-deriving when considering that it is orchestrated around everyday people and situations. Freels Johnston’s tale is intimate, immersive, dramatic and nail-biting. Her artistry is impeccable. Best of all, the movie never resorts to cheap shock tactics, such as an overreliance on jump scares or excessive gore, to glean intensity. The result is a photoplay that is consistently successful at evoking empathy and alarming audiences. This is a must-see.

The Ice Cream Truck will be released in select theaters and on Video on Demand August 18th, 2017.

“Playing with Dolls: Havoc” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Jumpy, grisly and straight-forward, writer-director Rene Perez’s Playing with Dolls: Havoc (2017) holds rigorously to the formula established in the two prior entries in this series. They are the admirable, if dialogue-heavy, Playing with Dolls (2015) and the superior follow-up, Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Such a presence of familiarity as that mentioned above is a classic trait of the slasher sub-genre in which all the Playing with Dolls flicks are firmly rooted. Still, it makes Havoc almost indecipherable from its predecessors. The lean, seventy-eight-minute “uncut” version of the picture has enough stalk and chase moments, brutal acts of on-screen violence and comforting tropes to pose as satisfying entertainment. This is even if the project never comes across as remotely tense or terrifying.

The latest admission into this low-budget saga showcases Havoc, who holds more than a slight resemblance to Jason Voorhees, breaking up an unsuspecting meeting between Timothy Curry (Kyle Clarke), his wife, Sara (Nicole Stark), and Timothy’s girlfriend, Mia (Jade Ellis). This occurs in the Curry’s cabin in the woods. Mia arrives at the secluded location in hopes that Timothy will make a proposal of marriage. What she gets is an unanticipated confrontation with Sarah. Once Timothy makes it to his destination, any thoughts he has of a relaxing getaway are torn by the unfaithful secret that has recently been disclosed. Yet, it isn’t long into Timothy’s strained attempts to explain himself to his matrimonial partner that this tearful situation turns deadly.

It’s a simple, yet worthwhile, premise for a feature of this ilk. Though the first and second act sequences which chronicle the turbulence Mia puts into Sara and Timothy’s relationship are handled in the manner of a soap opera, it doesn’t take too much away from the iDiC Entertainment produced labor. This is because Clarke, Stark and Ellis all turn in solid enactments. They make Perez’s often stiff dialogue better than it should be. These often-theatrical flashes are also assisted by the effective bits of Havoc living up to his name that are placed in between these episodes.

What also helps matters is the colorful, eye-popping cinematography from Perez which dominates the effort. It takes full advantage of the snowy landscapes surrounding the indoors retreat where the venture is set. Such also makes the plentiful instances of gore evermore visceral. Perez also contributes seamless editing. Her largely synth and piano driven music is evocative and haunting. It heightens the atmosphere of the exercise. The tone is further punctuated by her skillful guidance and fair, if routine, penning of the affair.

The lighting, make-up and sound work found herein are certainly proficient. Likewise, it opens with a near ten-minute arrangement that is as attention-garnering as it is deftly executed. Stormi Maya, who is cast in this section in a small role dubbed Girl in Caves, is solid in her enactment. The commencing credits configuration which arises immediately after this part is clever and visually stunning. Havoc also ends well. This is with a final act that delivers just what audiences have come to expect from this type of B-movie. The characters are archetypical. Yet, they are developed sufficiently. The result is an occasionally fun, unassuming journey into cinematic fear. It certainly doesn’t break new ground. Yet, there is no reason horror fanatics shouldn’t be able to fully appreciate this latest installment in the on-going Playing with Dolls narrative. This is especially if you enjoyed the last pair of films in this franchise.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, nudity, adult content and profanity.

Available now at Amazon.

“Shin Godzilla” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Epic in every sense of the word, Shin Godzilla (2016) is one-hundred and twenty minutes of breathless, deftly executed excitement. Also known as Godzilla: Resurgence, the effects and pacing in this thirty-first installment in the franchise are spectacular. Augmenting the sheer quality at hand is Kosuke Yamada’s colorful, impressive cinematography. The same can be said of the rousing, vastly cinematic music from Shiro Sagisu. Likewise, Hideaki Anno’s screenplay and collaborative direction with Shinji Higuchi is surprisingly tense, dramatic and cerebral. The result is undoubtedly one of the greatest entries in this long-standing series to date.

Boosted by terrific performances, especially Hiroki Hasegawa as Rando Yaguchi and Ren Osugi as Prime Minister Seiji Okochi, this Toho Pictures and Cine Bazar production is the third reboot of this well-known tale. The movie follows an emergency cabinet that is assembled after an unexpected incident occurs in the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line. Soon after this transpires, an evolving, radioactive giant terrorizes the citizens which reside nearby. From herein, the team of governmental heavyweights institute all items at their disposal to stop the radioactive, fire-breathing beast.

The film, which reinstates the political commentary that made the original Gojira (1954) so potent, holds firmly onto the trademark turns and general arc of prior chapters in this series. Yet, it never feels like a retread. The modernized outlook and approach make the unique vigor felt in the previously stated tropes evermore astonishing. They also heighten the immediately classic impression pulsating through the endeavor.

Anno and Higuchi also impart an operatic sensibility to the piece. Such makes the fervent urgency the effort demonstrates increasingly dazzling and palpable. This is notable in the various scenes exposing the frantic discussions between the squad members. It is just as evident in the more obviously rousing instances. For example, when Godzilla’s spine is aglow with purple light. Such is a signal of the calamitous force which is about to be expunged. But, what is just as striking is the perfect symmetry of human interaction and beastly annihilation which is incorporated within the presentation. In turn, the intimate sequences of character development are just as pulse-pounding as the sweeping episodes which showcase the wrath of Anno and Higuchi’s legendary behemoth. Serious in atmosphere and demeanor, these high-caliber attributes culminate into a top-tier creature feature. Recent Hollywood blockbusters like Kong: Skull Island (2017) are child’s play in comparison.

(Unrated). Contains violence and adult themes.

Available now to purchase at Amazon.

“Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The original Volumes of Blood (2015) was a smart and wildly entertaining anthology. Co-executively produced by veteran actress Lynn Lowry, the ninety-seven-minute excursion was a showcase of talent for all of those involved. It was also a wonderful homage to its genre. There was no denying that it was created for and by those who obviously have a deep-felt passion for the genus of cinematic dread. The various conversations of the main characters, all of whom were huddled together around a table in a library telling terrifying tales to one another throughout the presentation, and clever nods to moving picture frights of the past cemented this quality. Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories (2016), the Petri Entertainment distributed sequel to the afore-mentioned success, stalwartly carries on these ingredients. It lacks some of the more intentionally tongue-in-cheek flashes of the first outing. Chiefly, the dialogue and delivery of the lines heard in the opening moments of the initial affair. Still, the one-hundred and eighteen-minute follow-up, which parallels its precursor in being shot in and centered around the city of Owensboro, Kentucky, towers as an all-around improvement over its predecessor.

Where this enhancement is most visible is in the brilliant, complex manner the more recent effort is structured. Taking place after the conclusion of the foremost venture, this seven-spiel saga concerns a couple, Ash and Laurie (Jacob Ewers and Erin Troutman respectively). They are interested in purchasing an on the market home. This becomes James Treakle’s engrossing wraparound narrative, “A Killer House”. As the fiction endures, the duo is guided through their potential residence by the ominous realtor, Mr. Stine (in a superb depiction from Christopher Bower). As they wander around the confines of the domicile, the audience glimpses a violent scenario that erupted in or around the area these individuals are investigating. This provides a tremendous springboard for staggering enactments of such incidents. For example, there is the smirk-inducing and unique spin on the monster in the closet trope. This is John William Holt’s terrific Thanksgiving related labor, “Feeding Time”. Born from this notion is also John Maynard’s inventive brainchild, “Blood Bath”. It concerns a shower that is the source of unexpected slaughter. The latter item, which emerges on Father’s Day, is one of my favorite pieces in the project.

Though the Dark Cuts publication takes its time getting to this set-up, it is all a part of the sheer, envy-inducing craftsmanship at hand. For example, the article starts with the beautifully executed short from Nathan Thomas Milliner, “Murder Death Killer”. It than moves to a highly amusing orchestration from co-producer P.J. Starks. This portion, a daring extension of “Murder Death Killer”, is called “Haters”. The section integrates a great argument about remakes. This is while incorporating solid portrayals from Milliner (as Troll Nate) and Kevin Roach (as Troll Kev). There is also a conversation about “nostalgia blindness”. It transpires at twenty minutes into the feature. This sequence, inciting the exchange that Hollywood is devoid of fresh ideas, I especially enjoyed.

After Milliner’s chronicle, bystanders witness Sean Blevins’ “Trick or Treat”. This account ties seamlessly to Milliner’s undertaking. It also thematically carries on the psychotic killer facets of “Murder Death Killer”. Concerning a woman, Mallory (in a marvelous turn from Shelby Taylor Mullins), who finds herself alone on Halloween night, “Trick or Treat” is tense and compelling. It also introduces the holiday theme which prevails through most of these cracks at trepidation. Such an aspect forms the backdrop of Milliner’s powerful, Christmas Eve set “Fear, For Sinners Here”. This, the sixth endeavor in the order of the arrangement, is another of the best episodes found herein. Completing the compendium is Justin M. Seaman’s twisty, birthday related finale, “The Deathday Party”. Seaman’s contribution is thrilling. It is the perfect climax to one of the greatest collections of chilling morsels I have viewed in years.

Augmenting the overall delight is how slyly the film harkens back to the originating Volumes of Blood. For instance, the location of this previously addressed exercise is cited. There are even some familiar sights which reoccur in Horror Stories. A certain red-eyed mask comes immediately to mind. These bits heighten the already immense appeal for those of us who have seen the earlier opus. It also offers further proof of just how impeccable the construction of the photoplay is altogether.

Humorous, gory, visceral and guaranteed to please a crowd, this Blood Moon Pictures release also benefits from fantastic cinematography from Alexander Clark, Austin Madding and Holt. Josh Coffey, Rocky Gray and Mikel Shane Prather’s music increases the intense atmosphere of the undergoing remarkably well. The editing from Blevins, Holt, Maynard, Milliner and Treakle is exceptional. Barbie Clark, who triumphantly tackles the role of Vallie, issues costume design that is masterful. Additionally, the effects, camera work, lighting and sound are just as impressive. The writing from Blevins, Milliner, Starks and Jason Turner is sharp. Blevins, Holt, Maynard, Milliner, Seaman and Treakle offer proficient direction. Correspondingly, Aric Stanish is brutal and imposing as the rampaging fiend from “Murder Death Killer”, Atticus Crow.

The result is an illustration of boundless skill, effectiveness, efficiency and fun. Given that the yarns included herein generally clock in at around fifteen minutes, each composition is brief and to the point. Usually, the major downfall of such fleeting anecdotes is that it provides little time to get to know the leads. This is before the events of the plot begin to unfold. Yet, nearly everyone we meet on-screen avoids this trap. There is a wide-reaching variety of quirks and a relatable foundation unveiled in the central figures. Such makes their quick scenes memorable. In turn, “Fear, For Sinners Here” may have you cheering on the poor taking on the rich plight of its antagonist. It is these astounding elements, mixed with the deft juggling of its subtly differing tones and execution, that allows this perpetuation to be so consistently engrossing.

Simultaneously, the pacing is top-notch. The end credits are respectful and astute. Likewise, the post-acknowledgments configuration spied in the last few seconds of the movie is most agreeable. Ultimately, this is a massive achievement. I greatly anticipate the third installment in this trilogy, Volumes of Blood 3: Devil’s Knight. It is scheduled to be unleashed in 2018.

Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories will arrive on DVD, Blu-ray and Video on Demand August 1st, 2017.