“Fight or Play Basketball” (2022) by Mike Messier (Book Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Clocking in at a lean 158 pages, Fight or Play Basketball: every shot counts (2022) by filmmaker Mike Messier is a knockout novel. The 44-chapter project is a lot like the lead of the narrative, Jack Scratch. It’s authentic, scrappy, wide-eyed, ambitious, and filled with heart. Moreover, the exercise is elevated by the lively, clear, vivid, and to-the-point prose from Messier. Just as importantly, his paragraphs are never overwhelmed with unnecessary details or figures of speech. In short, his writing is perfect for a young adult audience. The pacing of the work is similarly brisk, efficient, and effective. There isn’t a single excessive or overlong sequence in the effort.

What also enhances the quality of both Messier’s auteurship and the piece overall are the sharply rendered central figures. For example, Scratch is a flawed yet likable and occasionally comedic high school senior that spectators of all ages should find relatable. Scratch’s energetic and defensive mother, Janet Trap, is a constant source of amusement in the fiction. The same can be said of the boxers which assist Scratch on his journey, Karl “Sweet Sugar” Brown and Paveli “Punch” Pangora. They offer elements of humor, inspiration, personality, and leadership to the material. There are even sparks of romance as the duo attempt to win over Trap. Scratch’s basketball coach, “Quick” Rick Steele, is comparatively more garden variety. Nonetheless, he is still a credible and wonderfully developed entity with a pivotal role in Scratch’s life. Such is the case with everyone in the undertaking. In so doing, Messier’s tapestry of realistic dialogue, situations, and characters, as well as their influence on one another, accentuates the richness of the design.

The plot revolves around Scratch: a player of immense skill on the North Providence Cougars basketball team. He has the potential to receive a scholarship from Providence College. There are even whispers that he may be chosen to become involved with the National Basketball Association. His daily muscle-building routines, such as riding his bike in the mornings through North Providence and shooting hoops in the nearby outdoors basketball court, have become a sturdy foundation for him. One morning, his single mother, Trap, is the victim of a failed robbery. The individuals who came to Trap’s rescue during this botched crime, Pangora and Brown, begin to assist Scratch with his boxing abilities at Sweet’s Sweat Box Gym, where they are prominent trainers. As Scratch fosters his abilities on the basketball court and in the boxing ring, he ponders if he should “fight or play basketball”.

Even if the article follows the familiar beats of related items, Messier does a brilliant job of reiterating Scratch’s title-referenced deliberation. Messier specifically addresses where this idea came from in the fascinating “About the Author” section at the end of the tome. Still, there is an intimacy to this inquiry, like all rulings that alter the course of our lives, that is universally relevant. What augments this thoughtful touch, which is so delicately composed throughout the entirety of the volume, is the organic manner with which Messier also taps into the inherent symbolism of this weighty choice.

Boosted by superb cover art design from Nadine G. Messier, which nicely evokes the classically gritty atmosphere of the arrangement, Fight or Play Basketball proudly wears its Rocky (1976) inspiration on its sleeve. This is spied in many of the explicit and indirect references to director John G. Avildsen’s academy-award-winning masterpiece, as well as connected fare, that pleasantly permeate Messier’s opus. Lovingly peppered into the proceedings, these welcome bits align beautifully with the events of Scratch’s story. They also deeply pleased the rampant cinephile in me.

Opening, continuing, and closing in equally strong ways, the latest literary achievement from Messier is excellent on all fronts. True to the spirit of the greatest sports chronicles, it is incessantly entertaining and genuinely motivational. It has a tough edge. However, it is a kind, joyous, and immersive read. Likewise, it doesn’t fully give into the tropes which are anticipated in its finale. The flirtatious relationship between Mindy Kim and Scratch, who bond over their shared interest in athletics, punctuates the emotional accessibility of the venture. It also makes the thematically time-tested yet sturdy construction even more layered. In turn, Messier has crafted a magnificent and passionate coming-of-age drama. It’s one of the best books of the year.

The 15 Best Short Films of 2022 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

*The inclusion of the short films in this list is based on an official release date of 2022.

15. “Bros for Life”

Director: Leo Powell

14. “New Years”

Director: Kris Salvi

13. “Heart Shot”

Director: Marielle Woods

12. “Life’s Good”

Director: Jackson Tisi

11. “Erax”

Director: Hebru Brantley

10. “When the Daemon Takes Hold”

Director: Jackson Batchelor

9. “The Time Travelers”

Director: Killarney Traynor

8. “Not Waving but Drowning”

Director: Thara Popoola

7. “Briefcase Paranoia 2”

Director: Nicholas Hatch

6. “Wanna Play a Game”

Director: Brad Case

5. “Nightcap”

Director: Sam Mason-Bell

4. “A Christmas Card from a Hit Woman in Leominster”

Director: Kris Salvi

3. “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”

Director: Ashley Eakin

2. “Scribbles After Midnight”

Director: Jeremy Arruda

1.“The Blood of the Dinosaurs”

Director: Joe Badon

Runners-Up:

“Two Wrongs”

Director: Damien Nembhard

“Yo!”

Directors: Hamed & Mal

Disorienting Dick (2022) – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

Disorienting Dick (2022), from director Richard Griffin, functions brilliantly as a witty sex comedy, a political satire, and as a quietly charming and intimate cinematic journey. More specifically, one which concerns the time-tested theme of embracing your true self. It achieves a consummate symmetry of these previously stated elements. This is while being incredibly entertaining throughout its brisk 87-minute runtime. Just as importantly, it never wavers in its ability to make us laugh at the absurd rules and regulations society puts upon its citizens. This is also true of some policies certain parties flat-out ignore. A spectacular gag near the ten-minute mark which involves Covid-19 vaccinations, Republicans, and mask wearing hilariously displays the latter. With all that has been going-on in the world the past few years alone this is something that most will agree is welcome, cathartic, and desperately needed.

What is just as admirable is the pitch-perfect pacing of the project. There is not a single scene in the entire picture which doesn’t directly affect the plot and/or the motivations of the individuals unveiled in the undertaking. With the recent trend of bloated runtimes in Hollywood photoplays that are overstuffed with unnecessary sequences and thin characterizations, Griffin’s always trustworthy aptitude to keep the narrative going without any filler whatsoever while satisfactorily fleshing-out his leads is as refreshing as ever. This is as much a courtesy of the sharp editing and direction from Griffin as it is the smart, sensitive, and superbly structured script from Griffin, Robyn Guilford, and Daniel Martens (who also briefly and confidently plays Dream Pizza Boy/Plumber). Boosted by a remarkable flare for developing the on-screen personas in a way that is graceful and wholly natural, there are just the right amount of honest and tongue-in-cheek instances woven into the consistently clever dialogue. The capacity of this speech to pepper the proceedings with puns and sly meta moments only enhance this already stalwart quality.

Opening with an appealing section that is reminiscent of a 1950’s style educational reel that immediately introduces the delightfully campy and ultimately upbeat tone of the exercise, the plot revolves around Richard “Dick” Whiteman (Graham Stokes). When the identity he is trying to conceal from his Republican Rhode Island mayoral candidate mother, Maureen (Leslie Racine Vazquez), and girlfriend, Pat (Sarah Reed), comes into question he is abducted by the wicked Hyde Hippocampus Clinic. Through their use of extreme forms of mental therapy, they intend to transform “Dick” into a model of conservative ideals. The situation appears bleak for “Dick”. That is, until another group begins to repeatedly kidnap him. This collective is focused on bringing out the side of him which is often spied in the vivid fantasies that fuel his reveries throughout the production.  

Such is a simultaneously timely and timeless storyline that will prove relatable to many spectators. From the above summary alone, it is easy to ascertain how the two establishments that are fighting to take “Dick” down their path of orientation are his own personal struggles with finding himself. This subtle yet accessible symbolism, which is fluently threaded into the fiction, makes Griffin’s venture evermore fantastic. Moreover, the well-shot and elegant erotic segments, though occupied by nudity, are more suggestive than outright explicit. In turn, audiences are offered verified proof of the tasteful and vulnerable approach Griffin injects into what could’ve quickly become raunchy material.

Though many of the central figures, particularly those in antagonistic roles, are given intentionally stock traits in an endeavor to make the humor more palpable, everyone is marvelous. They are all finely cast in what are often purposefully over the top enactments. The sheer likability of the performers and those they depict, especially the protagonists, make this attribute even more perceptible. Stokes and Reed are commanding on this front. Terry Shea is wonderful as Dr. Hyde/Jekyll Hippocampus. Such is a dual representation which showcases opposing personalities.

Boosted by a pleasantly retro commencing and closing credits bit that is eye-popping in its use of black and blue colors, the effort is constantly beautiful and immersive. This is a courtesy of the clean, colorful, inventive, and incessantly striking cinematography from Griffin. It compliments every proficient frame of the affair. The sound design from Griffin is equally crisp and all-around excellent. In related terms, the music from Kissing Contest and Kraig Jordan is catchy and tonally appropriate for the article. The work is further strengthened by the great set construction from Ted Marr. The visual effects from Torey Haas are a standout. There are also some instantly iconic sock puppets created by Margaret Wolf that, like her costume creation in the attempt, elevates the merriment at hand.  

Benefitting from guffaws that elucidate from even the smallest of details, such as names and places and even the entendre-laden title of the outing itself, Disorienting Dick is the funniest movie I have seen all year. Ambitious and layered without being overdone, it is also one of the best features of 2022. It is loving, kind, and joyous. This is despite subject matter that could’ve pointed the arrangement in other directions. The composition is also a testament to the power of film as a source of discovery, expression, and freedom. Filled with Griffin’s distinct perspective and voice, it is endlessly rewatchable and enjoyable. It is a masterpiece of independent art and another unabashedly fun yet bold and thoughtful gem in Griffin’s impressive catalogue.

Writer-Director Lenny Schwartz and Actress Sheri Lee Discuss “The Haunted and the Hunted” (2022): An Interview

By Andrew Buckner

ANDREW BUCKNER: I have the distinct pleasure today of speaking with writer-director Lenny Schwartz and actress Sheri Lee. Welcome! Can you tell us a little about yourselves?

LENNY SCHWARTZ: I was born on the streets of Cranston, RI. For me, writing came at a time when I was considering joining a gang. I was a reckless, angry youth. One day after a family drive by, I started writing plays. That led into screenplays, and here we are! In all seriousness, I am just a lucky guy who has written a lot of plays. I am fortunate enough to be able to still do them. I am lucky to have written numerous screenplays and lucky to have them produced. Now I want to take all of that, and direct my first major feature film, which is something that I have never tried before.

SHERI LEE: I’m a NH based actress (and a mom of 4!) that loves all genres, but I excel in horror. I grew up on some of the greatest horror films. I’ve been dubbed New England’s scream Queen by a few directors now, haha! I’m ecstatic to be a part of Lenny’s film and always wake up feeling honored that he reached out to me that day.

LENNY: My god, it was four years ago I reached out to Sheri. I knew she was a “Scream Queen” and I wanted to deconstruct that.

Lenny, you are currently working on a script for a film you are set to direct, The Haunted and the Hunted (2022). What inspired this work?

LENNY: I always wanted to direct a feature that was unlike anything I had seen. I gave myself some parameters and huge obstacles to put myself into a really hard corner. I kept boiling the film down to essentials, and even took some of those away.

I also wanted to direct a film that was really unexpected for people who know me. I wrote plays which have a lot of dialogue. I didn’t want that. I wanted to take this to a place that is a purely cinematic experience. Something truly horrifying and beautiful.

So, what inspired me? The ambitious idea I had and the thought that this is going to be great.

Sheri, you have a role in The Haunted and the Hunted. What can you tell us about the role?

SHERI: The role in this film is seriously like no other I have taken on before. It is going to be the most challenging, the most emotional, and the most rewarding role to date. I can’t say much about her without giving some of the story away, but I can say that this character will have your attention throughout every second…. I hope I can pull that off.

Sheri, what are you doing to prepare yourself for the role?

Preparation for the role comes with really putting myself in her world. She has a lot of layers and so does the world that you’ll see in the film. Reading the script as much as I can really helps for me to dive right into the whirlwind of her beautiful chaos.

Lenny, you have a Kickstarter campaign for your upcoming film. Can you tell us about it? Also, can you please provide a link for the campaign for those of us who would like to be a part of the project?

LENNY: Yeah, we have a Kickstarter! It is at the link below. I ask that people donate or share it. If we don’t hit our goal, we will keep trying until we do. So, if you are friends with me on social media, pledge share or block me. You’re in it with us.

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Lenny and Sheri, how does The Haunted and the Hunted differ from other productions with which you’ve been involved?

LENNY: I have worked consistently with some of the best people in the business. I am very lucky and fortunate and always have been. I wouldn’t even attempt this without the lessons they imparted upon me and the friendships forged. This will be a very small production with the highest quality possible. I have no other plans to direct anything after this. This is the one.

While it does have horror elements of it, it isn’t just straight up horror. If anything, it’s a deconstruction of genres in a sense and it’s about the dissolution of the American family.

SHERI: This production differs from others mainly for the reason that I’ve been involved as a producer from the start. I love seeing the other side of productions and being a part of the growth.

The atmosphere that this film upholds is amazing and everyone will be in awe. I absolutely cannot wait to bring this to life and to entertain everyone with this extremely unique story.

Lenny, what are your plans for making the film?

LENNY: The plans for making the film will be to raise the most money possible to make the best possible film. I have also been assembling the best possible team for each aspect of this film. Only then, we will make it. But this year for sure.

Lenny, you have an interesting and unique approach to the dialogue and characters in the movie which should really help the work standout from related titles. Can you tell us about these aspects?

LENNY: I don’t want to give away too much except to say that I hear those things a lot. They are my crutches. For writers and directors and even performers, good or bad, we all have our crutches. I was interested in taking those crutches away. That’s all I can say.

Lenny, you’ve directed the brilliant and endlessly relatable political drama Vote M*********** (2020) and co-directed such terrific pictures as Comic Book Junkies (2020), which I have a speaking role in, and Far from Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic (2020). How will the directorial style of The Haunted and the Hunted differ from these other ventures you’ve directed? What unique challenges will the director’s chair bring forth this time around?

LENNY: Thank you for the kind words about the other projects. I think the biggest thing for me on this one is that I will be able to be on an actual, physical set for these as all of those were filmed remotely on cell phones by the performers due to pandemic. It’s going to be nice to work physically with people! But it will be a safe set, both for creating and for the pandemic we are in.

The unique challenge is that I have a clear vision for what I want to see and then realizing it the closest I can to that vision.

Lenny, what has the process of writing the script for the movie been like so far? Do you have a routine for writing you utilize when working on the screenplay?

LENNY: It’s been weird. I finished the first draft in 2015…and now coming back to it again and again over many years has been great. I never get sick of the script and it is always on my mind.

I also reached out to my female friends a ton writing this script as there are feminist themes inherent in this script. I leaned a lot onto Sheri for that as well.

This also has the most action and tension I have ever put in a script. It’s like an anxiety attack that never lets up.

That sounds terrific. I can’t wait to see it.

Lenny and Sheri, is there anything else you would like to discuss that I haven’t asked about yet?

SHERI: I want to thank everyone that has donated so far and encourage others to do so if they can.

Don’t miss out on being part of bringing a truly unique werewolf film like this to life.

LENNY: Thank you to everyone who supported us thus far. The best is yet to come.

Thank you for your time.  I appreciate it. I also wish you all the best of luck on your project.

*The poster art featured above is the work of Mark Michaelson.

The 135 Best Feature Films of 2021

By Andrew Buckner

*The criteria utilized for the inclusion of the feature films in this list is an original 2021 release date in the U.S.*

Please note: This article is a work in progress. Please check back often, as I will be adding more films to the list from the year once I have a chance to view them.

135. Parallel Mothers

Director: Pedro Almodovar

134. Acting

Director: Sam Mason-Bell

133. Red Rocket

Director: Sean Baker

132. Flee

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

131. The Year of the Everlasting Storm

Directors: Anthony Chen, David Lowery, Jafar Panahi, Laura Poitras, Malik Vitthal, Apitchatong Weerasethakul, Dominga Sotomayor Castillo.

130. Slumber Party Massacre

Director: Danishka Esterhazy

129. Come True

Director: Anthony Scott Burns

128. Fear Street Part One: 1994

Director: Leigh Janiak

127. A Journal for Jordan

Director: Denzel Washington

126. The Lost Daughter

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

125. Bergman Island

Director: Mia Hansen-Love

124. Werewolves Within

Director: Josh Ruben

123. Don’t Look Up

Director: Adam McKay

122. The Spine of Night

Director: Philip Gelatt

121. Being the Ricardos

Director: Aaron Sorkin

120. The Last Matinee

Director: Maximiliano Contenti

119. Last Night in Soho

Director: Edgar Wright

118. King Richard

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

117. Earwig and the Witch

Director: Goro Miyazaki

116. Lamb

Director: Valdimir Johannsson

115. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Director: Jonathan Cuartas

114. Agnes

Director: Mickey Reece

113. Extraordinary: The Revelations

Director: Jon Sumple

112. Zeros and Ones

Director: Abel Ferrara

111. Benny Loves You

Director: Karl Holt

110. Red 11

Director: Robert Rodriguez

109. The Night

Director: Kourosh Ahari

108. Siberia

Director: Abel Ferrara

107. Saint Maud

Director: Rose Glass

106. Unknown Dimension: The Story of Paranormal Activity

Director: Joe Bandelli

105. Attica

Directors: Traci Curry, Stanley Nelson

104. The Hand of God

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

103. The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord

Directors: Jared Jay Mason, Clark Runciman

102. The Courier

Director: Dominic Cooke

101. Jakob’s Wife

Director: Travis Stevens

100. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Directors: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe

99. Raya and the Last Dragon

Directors: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, John Ripa

98. Psycho Goreman

Director: Steven Kostanski

97. Honeydew

Director: Devereux Milburn

96. The Night House

Director: David Bruckner

95. Godzilla vs. Kong

Director: Adam Wingard

94. Nightbooks

Director: David Yarovesky

93. Copshop

Director: Joe Carnahan

92. Nobody

Director: Ilya Naishuller

91. The Voyeurs

Director: Michael Mohan

90. Stillwater

Director: Tom McCarthy

89. Oxygen

Director: Alexandre Aja

88. The Feast

Director: Lee Haven Jones

87. Respect

Director: Liesl Tommy

86. V/H/S/94

Directors: Simon Barrett, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, Timo Tjahjanto

85. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

84. Wrath of Man

Director: Guy Ritchie

83. We Need to Do Something

Director: Sean King O’Grady

82. Candyman

Director: Nia DaCosta

81. The Girl Who Got Away

Director: Michael Morrissey

80. Hail to the Deadites

Director: Steve Villeneuve

79. Clerk.

Director: Malcolm Ingram

78. Dune

Director: Denis Villeneuve

77. The Novice

Director: Lauren Hadaway

76. Malignant

Director: James Wan

75. The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Director: Michael Showalter

74. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed

Director: Joshua Rofe

73. Lapsis

Director: Noah Hutton

72. The Card Counter

Director: Paul Schrader

71. No Time to Die

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

70. Enemies of the State

Director: Sonia Kennebeck

69. In the Earth

Director: Ben Wheatley

68. Violation

Directors: Dusty Mancinelli, Madeline Sims-Fewer

67. In the Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

66. The Medium

Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun

65. Antlers

Director: Scott Cooper

64. Identifying Features

Director: Fernanda Valadez

63. Tina

Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

62. Seaspiracy

Director: Ali Tabrizi

61. No Sudden Move

Director: Steven Soderbergh

60. House of Gucci

Director: Ridley Scott

59. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Director: Questlove

58. Malcolm and Marie

Director: Sam Levinson

57. I Blame Society

Director: Gillian Wallace Horvat

56. Passing

Director: Rebecca Hall

55. 17 Blocks

Director: Davy Rothbart

54. Falling

Director: Viggo Mortensen

53. The Dig

Director: Simon Stone

52. One Night in Miami

Director: Regina King

51. Test Pattern

Director: Shatara Michelle Ford

50. Slalom

Director: Charlene Favier

49. Spoor

Directors: Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik

48. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Director: Morgan Neville

47. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

Director: Thomas Hamilton

46. M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity

Director: Robin Lutz

45. About Endlessness

Director: Roy Andersson

44. The Man Who Sold His Skin

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

43. Sator

Director: Jordan Graham

42. Climate of the Hunter

Director: Mickey Reece

41. Dementer

Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle

40. A Quiet Place II

Director: John Krasinski

39. The Boy Behind the Door

Directors: David Charbonier, Justin Powell

38. C’mon C’mon

Director: MIke Mills

37. Censor

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond

36. The Archivist

Director: Eric Hand

35. Jumbo

Director: Zoe Wittock

34. The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

33. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

Director: Marilyn Agrelo

32. In Search of Darkness: Part 2

Director: David A. Weiner

31. The Power of the Dog

Director: Jane Campion

30. The Last Duel

Director: Ridley Scott

29. Belfast

Director: Kenneth Branagh

28. The Green Knight

Director: David Lowery

27. Licorice Pizza

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

26. The Mad Women’s Ball

Director: Melanie Laurent

25. Benedetta

Director: Paul Verhoeven

24. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

Director: Kier-La Janisse

23. Titane

Director: Julia Ducournau

22. The Meaning of Hitler

Directors: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker

21. Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

20. MLK/ FBI

Director: Sam Pollard

19. Nomadland

Director: Chloe Zhao

18. In the Same Breath

Director: Nanfu Wang

17. Gunda

Director: Viktor Kossakovsky

16. A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks

Director: John Maggio

15. Wojnarowicz

Director: Chris McKim

14. A Glitch in the Matrix

Director: Rodney Ascher

13. West Side Story

Director: Steven Spielberg

12. Spencer

Director: Pablo Larrain

11. Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro

10. Bring it Home

Director: Carl Kriss

9. The Father

Director: Florian Zeller

8. Quo Vadis, Aida?

Director: Jasmila Zbanic

7. Acasa, My Home

Director: Radu Ciorniciuc

6. Minari

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

5. 4 Hours at the Capitol

Director: Jamie Roberts

4. The French Dispatch

Director: Wes Anderson

3. This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection

Director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

2. The Amusement Park

Director: George A. Romero

1. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Director: Jason Reitman

The 55 Best Albums/ EPs of 2021

By Andrew Buckner

 *The recordings featured in this list are included based on an official 2021 release date.*

55. 30 by Adele

54. Keys by Alicia Keys

53. Cycles (Original Score) by The Alchemist

52. Blacklight by Apollo Brown, Stalley

51. Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks

50. Yellow River Blue by Yu Su

49. Bizarre of D-12 Presents Starvin’ Artists (Mixtape) by Various Artists

48. S.O.S (EP) by Rittz

47. Turquoise Tornado by Yelawolf, Riff Raff

46. Bushido by Mello Music Group

45. Imaginary Everything by L’Orange, Namir Blade

44. If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed by Conway the Machine, Big Ghost Ltd

43. Wasteland: What Ails Our People is Clear by Lice

42. Slumafia (EP) by Yelawolf, DJ Paul

41. Squirrel Tape Instrumentals, Vol. 1 by Evidence

40. Mouse on Mars by AA1

39. Mile Zero by Yelawolf, DJ Muggs

38. Shane by Madchild

37. Gary Bartz JID006 by Gary Bartz, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad

36. Maquishta by Patricia Brennan

35. The American Negro by Adrian Younge

34. Milestones (EP) by Skyzoo

33. The Plugs I Met 2 (EP) by Benny the Butcher, Harry Fraud

32. Haram by Armand Hammer, The Alchemist

31. Throw Aways 96 by Goblin

30. Sound Ancestors by Madlib

29. Season of the Se7en by Bronze Nazareth, Recognize Ali          

28. La Maquina by Conway the Machine

27. Word? by Atmosphere

26. An Evening with Silk Sonic by Silk Sonic

25. Shane 2 by Madchild

24. The Blue of Distance by Elori Saxl

23. Lovesick by Apollo Brown, Raheem DeVaughn

22. Onyx 4 Life by Onyx

21. Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Rob Simonsen

20. Dumpster Juice by Bizarre

19. Exodus by DMX

18. All the Brilliant Things by Skyzoo

17. Autograph by Joell Ortiz

16. The Lost Themes III: Alive After Death by John Carpenter

15. The Last Ride by HRSMN

14. The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy by Rob Zombie

13. Doe or Die II by AZ

12. Big Sleepover by Big Boi, Sleepy Brown

11. Long Story Longer by Swifty McVay, Ras Kass, Yukmouth, MRK SX

10. Mudmouth by Yelawolf

9. Unlearning Vol. 1 by Evidence

8. Gotham by Talib Kweli, Diamond D

7. Super What? by Czarface, MF DOOM

6. Asin9ne by Tech N9ne

5. Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler, The Creator

4. Summer End Café by Killah Priest

3. A Beautiful Revolution, Pt. 2 by Common

2. King’s Disease II by Nas

1. Remedy Meets Wu-Tang by Remedy, Wu-Tang Clan

The 20 Best Short Films of 2021

By Andrew Buckner

*Please note that the short films included in this list are based on an official 2021 U.S. release date.

20. “Bloom”

Director: Richard M. Anthony.

19. “Us Again”

Director: Zach Parrish.

18. “Culpa”

Director: Miguel Angel Ferrer.

17. “La Deuda”

Director: Jeff Prahl.

16. “Twice as Good”

Director: Kristian King.

15. 10:59 P.M.

Director: Kris Salvi.

14. “The Nurturing”

Director: Alex DiVincenzo.

13. “Live Health”

Directors: Jamie Cox, Timothy Cox.

12. “The Flamboyant Rites of Gay Dracula”

Director: Richard Griffin.

11. “Stay Inside, Michael”

Director: Jeremy Arruda.

10. “Heart Wreck”

Director: Gabrielle Rosson.

9. “The Death of David Cronenberg”

Directors: Caitlain Cronenberg, David Cronenberg.

8. “The Present”

Director: Farah Nabulsi.

7. “Trigger Warning: The Life and Art of Chrystal”

Director: Chrystal Shofroth.

6. “The Dreamer”

Director: Jeremy Arruda.

5. “Come Rain or Come Shine”

Director: Mark Maille.

4. “Paul Laurence Dunbar: An American Poet”

Director: Kane Stratton.

3. “The Serpent Writhes in a Glass Coffin”

Director: Richard Griffin.

2. “Undertaker”

Director: Chris Esper.

1. “The Last Cruise”

Director: Hannah Olson.

The 22 Best Books of 2021

By Andrew Buckner

*The books included in this list are based on the criteria of an original publication date in 2021.*

22. My Heart is a Chainsaw

By Stephen Graham Jones

21. The Final Girl Support Group

By Grady Hendrix

20. The Scorpion’s Tail

By Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child

19. The Plot

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

18. Getaway

By Zoje Stage

17. Rovers

By Richard Lange

16. Survive the Night

By Riley Sager

15. Sooley: A Novel

By John Grisham

14. The Other Emily

By Dean Koontz

13. Bloodless

By Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child

12. Jesus: A New Vision

By Whitley Strieber

11. Distance from Avalon: When the Dying and the Young Unite

By Mike Messier

10. Because He’s Jeff Goldblum: The Movies, Memes and Meaning of Hollywood’s Most Enigmatic Actor

By Travis M. Andrews

9. Later

By Stephen King

8. The Judge’s List

By John Grisham

7. These Fists Break Bricks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed the World

By Chris Poggiali, Grady Hendrix.

6. Starstruck: My Unlikely Road to Hollywood

By Leonard Maltin

5. Chasing the Boogeyman

By Richard Chizmar

4. Billy Summers

By Stephen King

3. A Bright Ray of Darkness

By Ethan Hawke

2. Project Hail Mary

By Andy Weir

1. Vibrate Higher: A Rap Story

By Talib Kweli

“Undertaker” (2021) – Short Film Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

“Undertaker” (2021), from director Chris Esper, is a masterful meditation on the inherent need for mankind to understand life. It also concerns the confusion that arises as we attempt to comprehend our wants, desires, and surroundings. The ten-minute short film also focuses in on how fleeting our time is on Earth. This is cleverly illustrated in the piece through several efficient and effective sequences that range from the commonplace (the search for a perfect cup of coffee) to the transformative (uncovering a key romantic relationship). Furthermore, the account can also be viewed as a singular glimpse of the world that may arise after death.

As is the core component of a great number of works by Esper, the universal relatability in these themes, as well as the compassionate and upfront manner with which they are addressed, is emotionally compelling from the first frame to the last. The same can be said of the brilliantly handled symbolism inherent in the project. Because of this connection, onlookers effortlessly comprehend the mentality of the lead of the exercise, referred to as only The Undertaker (rendered in a terrific, quietly layered, and mature portrayal by Dustin Teuber).  The gorgeous black and white cinematography from Colin Munson adds an air of nostalgia to the narrative. It beautifully compliments these qualities as well as its noirish demeanor.

The deceptively simple story, which involves a man realizing that everything around him is not what it he believes it to be, is given superb depth via the wonderfully penned, intimate yet ambitious screenplay by Kris Salvi. The script is especially striking in demonstrating sharp dialogue. Such speech capably teases the fundamental mystery The Undertaker is attempting to unlock about himself and his environment. This is without ever being wholly direct. Such measures add a heightened sense of elegant poetry to the proceedings that is simultaneously theatrical and organic. In an equally successful decision in this arena, the characters are also cryptic.

The excursion also triumphs in terms of its secondary roles. Justin Thibault is memorable in his brief turn, which occurs in the engaging opening segments, as Passenger. Salvi is equally good in the understated, yet gloriously poignant, final scene as The Driver. Teddy Pryor as The Identical, Michael Lepore as Waiter, and Jen Drummond as Customer also make a considerably indelible impression.

From a technical angle, the undertaking is also outstanding. The stylish, yet nuanced and thoughtful, direction from Esper is a highlight. His editing is also proficient. The music from Steven Lanning-Cafaro is appropriately gentle and spellbinding. It captures the spirit of the development with tremendous grace. Moreover, the score is used both delicately and sparingly. Such a method punctuates the underlying sentiment of certain instances. This is without taking away from the immersive value of the construction. Continually, the production design from Gabrielle Rosson and sound from Ryan Collins and Jay Sheehan is just as remarkable.

Playing like a condensed, yet still wildly inventive and timelessly relevant, episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), “Undertaker” is a confidently paced, smartly structured, and unforgettable example of cinematic art. The dreamlike drama once again showcases Esper as an incredible talent who consistently crafts top-tier material. His latest venture is another unique, intelligent, breathtaking, powerful, and refined achievement that will assuredly resonate with spectators of all degrees. Extraordinary on all fronts and endlessly absorbing, it is at the top of the list of my favorite short films of the year.

The Archivist (2021) – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

The Archivist (2021), the debut feature from director Eric Hand, is a glorious tribute to the distinct storytelling mechanics, characterizations, and vibrant, eye-popping style of the grindhouse motion pictures of the 1960’s–1970’s. The 109-minute creation beautifully mirrors this most cinematic of eras through its emotionally compelling, moody, and evocative music from White Noise Generator. The aforementioned time frame is also brilliantly reflected in the stunning cinematography from Hand. It is also seen in the remarkable performances, namely Emmett Corbin as Colonel Boaz and Jennifer Giles as Mother/Agent Pope, from everyone involved in the production.

This quality is immediately evident in the superb depiction from Hand as the lead of the narrative, Agent Caulder Benson. Hand’s enactment of Benson masterfully models that of Clint Eastwood as The Man With no Name in Sergio Leone’s brilliant Dollar Trilogy. This trio of western classics included A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). What also heightens this parallel is that The Archivist was shot on restored 35mm Techniscope Arriflex cameras and lenses. These were also used in the recording of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. When Hand’s effort gradually aligns itself to a series of events one would associate with the previously stated Leone/Eastwood collaborations, it naturally fits the loving homage the movie mesmerizingly crafts.

Utilizing the book burning and governmental control elements of Ray Bradbury’s tour de force, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), alongside other timeless bits of science-fiction, human horror, and fantasy, Hand, who also successfully portrays Lazarus, tells the tale of Benson: a violent man whose been given the title position by an oppressive administration. Taking place in 2070, the exercise concerns Benson destroying historical remnants which are considered forbidden. In so doing, he finds out that these items seem to have a strange power over him. Filled with sudden questions and concerns about the world around him, he steals a muscle car from the 1970’s. He then heads out into the chaos of the post-apocalyptic landscape around him. Pursued by an ominous sheriff and in constant danger of the bizarre individuals he encounters, Benson searches for answers. This is while trying to escape his own past.

The Archivist is an ambitious, layered marvel of independent filmmaking. The screenplay, co-authored by Bo Gardner and Hand, is filled with tough, organic, occasionally quippy, yet often thoughtful and poetic dialogue. Such speech, along with the on-screen personalities who speak them, fit perfectly with the ambiance of a Leone/Eastwood work from nearly six decades ago. Such a design signifies that the primary personalities that dominate the piece remain enigmatic throughout the duration of the project. Regardless, this general lack of development doesn’t hinder the proceedings.

What also further strengthens the endeavor is the exceptional visual effects from Michael Crigler and Zach Hunter. They also illuminate the 1970’s veneer of the attempt. Moreover, the editing from D. Prescott Noel and Tom Marotta, makeup from Paul Moody, and set decoration by Kendall Moody are first-rate. The art direction from Ed Amantia and stunts are just as finely honed.   

Opening with an exciting, no-nonsense first act and concluding with an engrossing and quietly moving finale, The Archivist is smart, accomplished, tonally flawless, and consistently captivating entertainment. It is guaranteed to thrill both cinephiles and casual viewers alike. The action scenes are retro excellence. They are intimate and never overdone. Continually, they are also enthralling and deftly constructed. The excursion moves at a confident pace. It is never too rushed or too slow. This is ideal for the material. Hand’s undertaking incorporates social commentary into the plot just as smoothly as it does its high-level of audience involvement. In turn, The Archivist is one of the most impressive photoplays I have seen all year. It is a true fabrication of celluloid art. Particularly, one that will prove to be as enduring as the legendary ventures from which it takes such fervent notes.

Blu-rays for The Archivist can be found at http://thearchivistmovie.com/.