“House on Rodeo Gulch” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Enjoyable performances enhance an already engaging mystery in writer-director William Scherer’s debut, House on Rodeo Gulch (2017). This central secret involves the strange goings-on in a home located in Santa Cruz, California. Such occurs after Denise Peterson (Chanel Ryan), and her strong-willed step-daughter, Shani (Megan Jay Simrell), take residence in the household. Soon afterward, the duo uncover that the building has attracted the attention of their neighbors. They are an obsessive Reverend, James (Jaye Wolfe), and his alcoholic assistant, Raul (Adrian Torres).

Based on true events, this plot is a stalwart foundation for a thriller. Scherer’s Hitchcockian inspiration lends a classical, underlying elegance to the fabrication. Continually, the meticulous, slow-burn pace of the excursion beautifully builds upon this basis. The high-functioning presence of this trait is consistently noteworthy throughout the 95-minute production. This is a courtesy of Scherer, who deftly plays Junior, and his well-structured and intelligent scripting. The same can be said of his equally proficient guidance of the affair. These items combine spectacularly. This is to keep both audience devotion and the enigma of the tale ever-palpable. The comedic bits installed into the undertaking, though minimal, further season the exercise. Simultaneously, Scott toys with the potentially supernatural elements of the saga to admirable consequence. This is true in the early sections of the feature. Still, there is a succession of familiar beats unveiled throughout the endeavor. Such a quality keeps the project from becoming groundbreaking. This is most evident in the underwhelming finale.

Regardless, the cinematography from Chen Dubrin, who also crafts a wonderful depiction of George in the picture, is stellar. His former-stated influence offers a gloomy, atmospheric veneer to the chronicle. Such comfortably suits the general feel of the configuration. Likewise, Scherer’s editing is proficient. The make-up, effects, costume design and sound contributions are also solid. Correspondingly, Austin Lawrence and Kevin MacLeod’s music is riveting.

The relationship between Denise and Shani is also a smart focal point for Scherer’s work. These aforesaid protagonists are sufficiently developed. They offer an internal intensity to the piece that makes viewers care. It also heightens the credibility Scherer injects into the proceedings. The other individuals that populate Scherer’s account aren’t as fully formed. Still, the vagueness of these details immeasurably increases the overall mystery coursing throughout the effort.

Such results in a splendidly honed and character-oriented psychological suspense yarn. The philosophical themes Scherer explores are bold. Moreover, the film comes off as authentic in nearly all departments. in turn, the arrangement builds a captivatingly believable tone. Best of all, Scherer culminates shock and surprise from sheer storytelling. Rarely does he resort to cheap jump scares or similar tactics of evoking on-screen fear. Scherer’s latest cinematic venture, which is full of many smoothly engineered narrative shifts, fluently allows bystanders to obtain the perspective of its chief figures. The undergoing just as readily establishes Scherer as an upcoming moviemaker to be watched. Because of these incredible attributes, the unique House on Rodeo Gulch is certainly worthwhile.

(Unrated).

Available on Vimeo and other digital platforms now.

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A Brief Word on New/Upcoming Releases: “Alone”, “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, “Burning Bridges”, “47 Meters Down” and “A Quiet Passion”

By Andrew Buckner

“Alone”

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

“Alone” (2017), a 2-minute short film from director Tofiq Rzayev, is a smartly bare bones exploration of fear. Specifically, the terror that strikes one man (in an absorbing performance from Mehmet Faith Guven). This is as he begins to sense that he might not be the only one in his home. It is a classic horror story set-up; a scene spied in many cinematic entries in the genre. Yet, Rzayev proves its enduring effectiveness. This is with his atmospheric and nail-biting guidance of the project. The sudden bump-in-the-night trope so commonly associated with stories of this ilk is brilliantly incorporated. This is especially true when considering the wisely wordless attributes of the piece.

When combined with Gergo Elekes’ wonderfully creepy music and Rzayev’s masterful cinematography, the effort is all-around incredible. This Angry Student Films production also operates as a dazzling homage to an impression many have felt at one point or another in their life. Such a relatable trepidation makes this haunting exercise evermore unnerving. Because of these aforementioned qualities, Rzayev’s latest is as hair-raising as it is well-made.

(Unrated).

“Alone” can be seen in its entirety at the YouTube link above.

 

The Brainwashing of My Dad

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

Director and co-writer Jen Senko’s The Brainwashing of My Dad (2016) is a beautifully fashioned and essential political documentary. Concerning the effects conservative media has on her once long-standing democrat father, a World War II veteran, the 92-minute project is as powerful as it is timely. Though it can be argued that the Gravitas Ventures distribution release is a bit one-sided at times, the intriguing interviews administered are undeniably affecting. The same can be said of the myriad bits of documented evidence Senko presents to back up her case. Such results in an endeavor that is ever-absorbing.

Furthermore, the overall style of the documentary, which is heavily reminiscent of a Michael Moore venture, is perfectly suited to the material. When combined with Rachel Levine’s solid cinematography and Jeff Formosa’s same said sound contribution, the deft execution of the exertion is dually perceivable. Alongside these attributes, Senko fashions an insightful gem. It is one that is as well-paced and in-depth as it is eye-opening. In turn, The Brainwashing of My Dad endures as an emotionally resonant looking glass into the effects of televised propaganda on American culture. This is a must-see.

(Unrated).

Available now on Blu-ray, DVD and on Amazon prime.

 

Burning Bridges

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

Rapper Ernie D’s 6-track, 23-minute EP, Burning Bridges (2017), is insightful, introspective and immersive; a truly inspiring work. The production is fantastic. Additionally, the lyricism is poetic, complex, clever and mesmerizing. It uplifts. This is while being filled with sorrow, pain, wisdom and life lessons. Correspondingly, every song is a standout. This is some of the best material from this artist to date.

(Parental Advisory). Explicit lyrics.

Available now at Amazon and other streaming platforms.

 

47 Meters Down

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

Aside from stellar cinematography and an enjoyable final twist, there is hardly anything that doesn’t feel standard service in 47 Meters Down (2017): a surprisingly ineffectual shark survival/suspense story. Mandy Moore is charismatic and enjoyable as the lead, Lisa. This is even if her central figure is a one-dimensional archetype. Additionally, Johannes’ Roberts’ direction is competent enough. Still, it does little to keep this forgettable 89-minute project afloat.

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

In theaters now. On Blu-Ray and DVD September 26th, 2017.

 

A Quiet Passion

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

Though conventional in structure, writer-director Terence Davies’ biopic of the ever-rebellious Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion (2016), effortlessly flows with an unvarnished beauty. This is in nearly all cinematic facets. Such is especially visible in Davies’ admirable handling of mood. Yet, the cinematography, music and philosophical themes explored in the venture are where this exquisite nature is most evident. Still, the crowning achievement of Davies’ exercise are the performances. Most notably, Cynthia Nixon’s masterful, layered and nuanced lead turn.

Dickinson’s timeless and immersive poetry, which is narrated in a manner which is meant to communicate her unspoken thoughts to the audience during the more pensive moments of the labor, only heightens the elegance of the 125-minute project. Furthermore, Davies’ screenplay and overall guidance of the feature, which brings about a hefty Ingmar Bergman-like sensibility to the proceedings, are every bit as mature and refined as the narrative demands. The result of these high-caliber attributes is a mesmerizing masterpiece. Davies has crafted what is undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year.

(PG-13). Contains adult content.

Now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.

“Clowntergeist” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Incorporating likable characters, performances, credible dialogue and a clever concept, writer-director Aaron Mirtes’ Clowntergeist (2017) is efficient, effective horror. The build-up and overall atmosphere of the eighty-minute venture are both equally outstanding. Mirtes, with constant assistance from Kris Brendrick’s chill-inducing music and Chaz Olivier’s remarkably moody cinematography, induces unyielding fear in cinema patrons. This is perceptible from the unnerving opening sequence. The full-throttle terror Mirtes, who works from a story by Brad Belemjian, implements courses throughout the labor. Yet, audiences care all the while. This is thanks to a screenplay that is as scary as it is protagonist-oriented. Such a debt is also owed to Mirtes’ stylish and nail-biting guidance of the project. The attempt is also graced with a satisfying finale. Such is proceeded by an eye-popping and imaginative concluding credits segment. This passage also makes good use of the blood red balloons which become equated with our antagonist.

The engaging plot concerns a coulrophobic college student, Emma (Brittany Belland). After becoming the recipient of the aforesaid inflatable, which we learn early on in Mirtes’ exercise tells victims the exact date and time the demonic title fiend will attack, Emma is forced to face her worst nightmare. With two days until the unholy fiend, Ribcage the Clown (Eric Corbin), delivers his promised violence upon her, she must find out how to defeat the evil creature. As news surfaces throughout Emma’s home town of the bodies the entity has left in its wake, the anxiety within Emma only rises.

Such is a wonderful platform for a feature of this ilk. It is one which Mirtes injects with the presence of wickedness, whether in the dialogue between the central figures or in physicality, in nearly every scene of the production. The inventive means of terror Mirtes derives from the big top related nature of his villain is just as admirable. Mirtes also utilizes statements at the bottom of the screen. This is to inform viewers of the time left until the murderous beast strikes. Such is a bold decision. It is one which could’ve easily become cloying. In so doing, it might have just as readily pulled bystanders out of the entire episode. This is on each occasion that these countdowns are seen. Yet, it only adds to the deftly executed intensity. Such is another reason why the monster at the center of the tale always feels like he is watching and silently stalking Mirtes’ leads throughout the effort. Given the many haunting sensibilities of the piece, spectators may even have the same impression about their own surroundings.

Additionally, Mirtes’ editing is seamless and sharp. Karina Rivera’s costume design is spectacular. The make-up from Mirtes and Michelle Struve is similarly astonishing. Mirtes’ visual effects are just as triumphant. The sound, camera and lighting fare just as well. Likewise, Monica Baker is exceptional as Emma’s friend, Heather. Mirtes skillfully portrays Uncle Ted.

The result of these high-functioning traits is an incredibly memorable descent into fear. One of the greatest qualities of the exertion is that it doesn’t overdo it on the gore. Still, this restraint does little to dilute the wild and raw impact at hand. It’s a lot like Tobe Hooper’s magnum opus, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), in that respect. There is also a touch of Stephen King visible in the endeavor. This can be found lurking in the personalities of those who embody Mirtes’ fiction. It is just as noteworthy in the general tone. Mirtes has crafted a real winner. This High Octane Pictures distribution release is fast-paced and captivating. Genre fans will assuredly be delighted.

Clowntergeist will be available on Video on Demand September 12th, 2017.

(Unrated).

“68 Kill” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

68 Kill (2017) is an instant cult classic; wild, engaging, well-acted, smartly put together and full of unpredictable narrative gear shifts. Based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Bryan Smith, writer-director Trent Haaga takes the worn heist gone wrong sub-genre to new heights. In particular, the attempts between Chip Taylor (Matthew Gray Gubler) and his girlfriend, Liza (AnnaLynne McCord), to steal $68,000 from a rich man. Such is instituted with the naive hope that it will bring the couple happiness.

Incorporating elements of darkly effective comedy, crime and romance, the ninety-five-minute endeavor, distributed through IFC Midnight, is breakneck-paced. It is also thrilling and endlessly amusing. When combined with Needham B. Smith’s sharp cinematography and Haaga’s deft contributions to the project, the effort is equal parts immersive and kinetic. This is a real bulls-eye.

(Unrated).

Now available in select theaters and on digital platforms.

“The Dark Tower” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower (2017) is too generic, polished and over-sanitized at times. It could have also benefited from higher degrees of emotional resonance. Such a factor is especially lacking in the otherwise engaging finale. The cinematic exercise might have also been strengthened by incorporating less of a young adult friendly tone. But, the ninety-five-minute film, based on a series by Stephen King which spans eight books and one novella, is so fast-moving and fun that such flaws barely register as the picture unfolds.

Additionally, Idris Elba (as Roland Deschain/ the Gunslinger) and Matthew McConaughey (as Walter O’ Dim/ the Man in Black) are terrific. McConaughey plays the antagonistic O’ Dim in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. Regardless, both performers stay true to the essence of King’s characters. All the while they deliver their own unique interpretations of the central figures. This is while visibly relishing their lead turns. Continuously, Katheryn Winnick as Laurie and Karl Thaning as Elmer Chambers also provide strong representations. Dennis Haysbert is just as proficient as Roland’s father, Steven. He is spied in the successfully utilized flashbacks. All of which are evenly dispersed throughout the undertaking. Likewise, the various nods to King’s other works, a trait prevalent in the literature itself, heightens the joy at hand.

The story revolves around the teenage Jake Chambers (in a likable enactment from Tom Taylor). He has psychic powers (King’s classic “shine”). In the opening stretches, he is suffering from nightmares of “Skin-Men”. There is also an enigmatic edifice which keeps the universe in one piece. Such is also viewed in these fearful flashes. Sights of Deschain and O’ Dim are just as widespread. These images will take on more of a pivotal role in Jake’s immediate future than he can initially imagine.

After etching a collection of drawings which concern a rugged cowboy figure in his parents’ New York City apartment, he is inadvertently pulled into an on-going combat. This is between the archetypically virtuous Gunslinger and the evil Man in Black. The latter is attempting to keep the former from reaching the title place. This is before O’ Dim destroys the building himself. Yet, Deschain’s problems with O’ Dim also resonate from a profoundly personal level. Such makes the stakes, as the fate of worlds hang in the balance, increasingly palpable. This peril is augmented as O’ Dim sets his sights on capturing Jake. Such a goal is set in motion to help the Man in Black achieve his own nefarious goals.

It would be easy to say Arcel’s opus lacks the epic scope, structure and ambition of the source material. There are only light touches of some of the author’s original springs of inspiration present in Arcel’s endeavor. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966). In Arcel’s rendition, a continuation of the events which concluded The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004), the many genres King injected into his tale have been reduced almost exclusively to fantasy, science-fiction and adventure. The mythology, themes and symbolism are also comparatively stripped down.

Correspondingly, the effects are lackluster at best. The same can be said of the screenplay from Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and Arcel. To be fair, the dialogue has its share of clever banter. Such is evident in a second act sequence where Deschain briefly becomes a patient in a hospital. It is also perceptible in a late segment which showcases Jake and Deschain eating a hot dog in “Keystone Earth”. This is the term Deschain uses for the parallel universe Jake sees as his day-to-day reality. But, there are just as many cringe-worthy instances.

Still, the cinematography from Rasmus Videbaek and the collective sound team contribution are vastly immersive. Junkie XL’s music is exciting and dramatic. The action scenes, which occasionally feel as if they are lifted from The Matrix (1999), are striking. Similarly, the exertion flows well and is largely coherent. Such is refreshing given the reports of the re-edits and re-shoots which plagued the project. Thus, the effort makes for a satisfying, if undeniably minor, slice of big-budget B-movie cinema. This is on its own accord. It’s forgettable. But, its diverting, taut and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Sometimes that’s enough.

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

In theaters now.

“Colossal” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Successfully spanning many genres and moods, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal (2016) is one of the most fiercely original takes on the traditional monster at large tale that I’ve seen. Anne Hathaway is perfect as Gloria; the lead of Vigalondo’s 109-minute project. She lends likability, as well as wounded anger and vulnerability, to her on-screen persona; an unemployed alcoholic who, after her sudden return to the small town of Maidenhead, finds out that she has a direct connection to a rampaging beast. More specifically, a gargantuan brute who intermittently attacks Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. As the chronicle unfolds, Oscar (in a spectacular turn from Jason Sudeikis), a local bar owner and long-time friend of Gloria, becomes more involved in the plight of Vigalondo’s protagonist than he could’ve ever imagined.

It’s a terrific set-up. Such a promising plot becomes increasingly enthralling when orchestrated alongside Vigalondo’s deft balance of intimate character focus, credible narrative shifts and abundant creativity. The pace is just as form-fitting. It is gradual and natural. This allows for an uncluttered, thorough and satisfying examination of the various storytelling ingredients of the production. Such only makes the endeavor evermore admirable.

Additionally, the afore-mentioned contributions from Vigalondo are just as proficient. These qualities are gloriously framed by a climax that brings a refreshing and emotionally resonant spin on the routine clashing titans finale. Such has become a staple in related kaiju ventures. Correspondingly, the last sequence, especially the concluding bits of dialogue, tie many of the main elements of the account together. This is in an efficient, deceptively simple and extraordinarily clever fashion.

The effects, which Vigalondo’s opus doesn’t heavily rely on, are magnificent. They are also reminiscent of what one might see in one of the numerous Godzilla style pictures from which Vigalondo’s destructive creature clearly derives inspiration. This only heightens the underlying wit of the composition. Simultaneously, the make-up and sound department work is splendid. When combined with Bear McCreary’s immersive music and Eric Kress’ masterful cinematography, this alternately light-hearted comedy, sobering drama and flat-out enjoyable science-fiction saga hits all the right notes. It seamlessly blends these categories into a brilliant concoction.

Vigalondo’s latest is an all-around triumphant coming of age spectacle. It further benefits from its on-going commentary on human interactions. This Neon distribution release is also striking for its delicately threaded layers of symbolism. The beast being an extension of Gloria’s personal problems is the most prominent. Such results in a wholly unique experience. This is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

(R). Contains adult language and some violence.

Colossal is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and to rent or buy on digital platforms.