“The Confessions” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Roberto Ando’s The Confessions (2016), originally titled Le confessioni, is as riveting in its philosophical discourse as it is in its unique whodunit. Throughout the development of the masterfully paced one-hundred and three-minute runtime of the film, Ando weaves a naturally gripping tale. It concerns an enigmatic Italian monk, Roberto Salus (in a spellbinding depiction from Toni Servillo that dazzles in its underlying power and restraint), who accepts an invitation by the director of The International Monetary Fund, Daniel Roche (in a phenomenal turn from Daniel Auteuil). Such a summons leads Salus to a meeting conducted by The Group of Eight (G8), a civic-minded committee made up of governmental contacts from around the globe, at a luxury hotel on the German coast. That night, Roche asks Salus if he could discreetly engage in the title action. The next morning, Roche is discovered lifeless.

Ando brilliantly keeps an ever-accruing sense of mystery and maturity pulsating throughout the proceedings. Such is made evermore alluring when mixed with the complex political, detective and metaphysical components of the production. This is as much a courtesy of Ando’s smart, Hitchcockian direction as it is the same said screenplay he co-authored with Angelo Pasquini. Though much of the plot unfolds via character interaction, primarily intimate speeches among one another, the cerebral suspense rarely wavers. This is because Ando gives us just enough subtly placed notions, questions of personal motivations and uncertainties to keep audiences stirred for the duration of the fiction. Though the answer to whom is responsible for Roche’s demise is obvious, the various paradoxical layers Ando issues on the trail to this conclusion more than make up for this shortcoming. Ando’s ability to avoid genre trappings in so doing is also refreshing.

Alongside lavish cinematography from Maurizio Calvesi and mesmerizing music from Nicola Piovani, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is among the year’s best cinematic undertakings. The performances are rich and proficient all-around. For example, Connie Nielsen is terrific as Claire Seth. Moritz Bleibtreu is exemplary as Mark Klein. Likewise, Clelio Benevento’s editing is seamless. Maria Rita Barbera’s costume design is magnificent.

With these high-caliber attributes in mind, Ando’s effort astounds from all angles. This is even if the picture is unsure as to what it wants to be on occasion. Correspondingly, it is also hindered by being a bit one-dimensional in painting Salus as saintly. Still, the exertion is graced by an untainted atmosphere of maturity and elegance. In turn, this multi-lingual follow-up to Ando’s witty satire, Long Live Freedom (2013), remains superbly crafted and nonetheless breathtaking.

(Unrated).

Now showing in select theaters.

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A Word of Dreams Presents: The 101 Greatest Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

101. Persepolis (2007)
Directors: Vincent Paronnoud, Marjane Satrapi.
Genre: Animation, Biography, Drama.

100. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller.

99. Spotlight (2015)
Director: Tom McCarthy.
Genre: Crime, Drama, History.

98. Babel (2006)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Genre: Drama.

97. Cameraperson (2016)
Director: Kirsten Johnson.
Genre: Documentary.

96. The Counterfeiters (2007)
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky.
Genre: Crime, Drama, War.

95. Gasland (2010)
Director: Josh Fox.
Genre: Documentary.

94. The Lives of Others (2006)
Directors: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

93. The Best of Youth (2003)
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana.
Genre: Drama.

92. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Director: Andrew Jarecki.
Genre: Documentary.

91. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Director: Kenneth Lonergan.
Genre: Drama.

90. The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Genre: Drama.

89. A Prophet (2009)
Director: Jacques Audiard.
Genre: Crime, Drama.

88. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama.

87. The Secret in their Eyes (2009)
Director: Juan Jose Campenella.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance.

86. Film Socialisme (2010)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard.
Genre: Drama.

85. Flags of our Fathers (2006)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Drama, History, War.

84. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Drama, History, War.

83. The Dreamers (2003)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

82. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Director: Raoul Peck.
Genre: Documentary.

81. Stories We Tell (2013)
Director: Sarah Polley.
Genre: Documentary.

80. Love (2015)
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

79. Apocalypto (2006)
Director: Mel Gibson.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama.

78. Irreversible (2002)
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery.

77. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Director: Richard Eyre.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance.

76. Mystic River (2003)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery.

75. La Vie en Rose (2007)
Director: Olivier Dahan.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical.

74. Milk (2008)
Director: Gus Van Sant.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

73. The Departed (2006)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

72. Lion (2016)
Director: Garth Davis.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

71. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director: Ang Lee.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

70. Zodiac (2007)
Director: David Fincher.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

69. Inland Empire (2006)
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Mystery, Thriller.

68. Django Unchained (2012)
Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Genre: Drama, Western.

67. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz.
Genre: Horror, Thriller.

66. Amores Perros (2001)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

65. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Director: Michael Haneke.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

64. Room (2015)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson.
Genre: Drama.

63. Tanna (2015)
Directors: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

62. Bad Education (2004)
Director: Pedro Almodovar.
Genre: Crime, Drama.

61. Elle (2016)
Director: Paul Verhoeven.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

60. Monster (2003)
Director: Patty Jenkins.
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama.

59. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Drama, Sports.

58. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Director: Guillermo del Torro.
Genre: Fantasy, War.

57. The Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

56. Anomalisa (2015)
Directors: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman.
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama.

55. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Director: Mark Herman.
Genre: Drama, War.

54. Doubt (2008)
Director: John Patrick Shanley.
Genre: Mystery.

53. Lilith’s Awakening (2016)
Director: Monica Demes.
Genre: Horror, Thriller.

52. Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Director: Tom Ford.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

51. Amelie (2001)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Genre: Comedy, Romance.

50. Enter the Void (2009)
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy.

49. A Separation (2011)
Director: Asghar Farhadi.
Genre: Drama, Mystery.

48. Kinsey (2004)
Director: Bill Condon.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

47. North Country (2005)
Director: Niki Caro.
Genre: Drama.

46. Revolutionary Road (2008)
Director: Sam Mendes.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

45. A Man Called Ove (2015)
Director: Hannes Holm.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

43. The Salesman (2016)
Director: Asghar Farhadi.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

42. Lincoln (2012)
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

41. Shame (2011)
Director: Steve McQueen.
Genre: Drama.

40. Her (2013)
Director: Spike Jonze.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction.

39. Capote (2005)
Director: Bennett Miller.
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama.

38. Prisoners (2013)
Director: Dennis Villeneuve.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

37. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Director: Julian Schnabel.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

36. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Director: Terry George.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

35. Munich (2005)
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Genre: Crime, Drama, History.

34. Fruitvale Station (2013)
Director: Ryan Coogler.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance.

33. Ex Machina (2014)
Director: Alex Garland.
Genre: Science-Fiction.

32. Ida (2013)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski.
Genre: Drama.

31. Under the Skin (2013)
Director: Jonathan Glazer.
Genre: Science-Fiction.

30. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller.
Genre: Action, Science-Fiction.

29. The Revenant (2015)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Genre: Adventure, Thriller.

28. Gangs of New York (2002)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Crime, Drama.

27. Boyhood (2014)
Director: Richard Linklater.
Genre: Drama.

26. Fences (2016)
Director: Denzel Washington.
Genre: Drama.

25. A Serious Man (2009)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

24. Antichrist (2009)
Director: Lars von Trier.
Genre: Horror.

23. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1-2 (2013)
Director: Lars von Trier.
Genre: Drama.

22. Away from Her (2006)
Director: Sarah Polley.
Genre: Drama.

21. The King’s Speech (2010)
Director: Tom Hooper.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

20. The Aviator (2004)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

19. The Pianist (2002)
Director: Roman Polanski.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

18. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama.

17. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Director: Mel Gibson.
Genre: Action, Drama, War.

16. Amour (2012)
Director: Michael Haneke.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

15. The White Ribbon (2009)
Director: Michael Haneke.
Genre: Drama, Mystery.

14. The Great Beauty (2013)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino.
Genre: Drama.

13. The Artist (2011)
Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance.

12. Moonlight (2016)
Director: Barry Jenkins.
Genre: Drama.

11. Silence (2016)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History.

10. Life Itself (2014)
Director: Steve James.
Genre: Biography, Documentary.

9. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

8. Selma (2014)
Director: Ava DuVernay.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.
Genre: Drama, Musical.

6. Downfall (2004)
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

5. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director: Steve McQueen.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

4. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Genre: Drama, History.

3. Nightcrawler (2014)
Director: Dan Gilroy.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.
Genre: Action, Thriller.

1.The Tree of life (2011)
Director: Terrence Malick.
Genre: Drama.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

A Life Not to Follow (2015)
Director: Christopher Di Nunzio.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

Atonement (2007)
Director: Joe Wright.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance.

The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent.
Genre: Horror.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! (2012)
Director: Mike Messier.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

Casino Royale (2006)
Director: Sam Mendes.
Genre: Action, Adventure.

Chi-Raq (2015)
Director: Spike Lee.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama.

The Cove (2009)
Director: Louie Psihoyos.
Genre: Documentary.

David Lynch: The Art Life (2016)
Directors: Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm.
Genre: Drama, Documentary.

Elephant (2003)
Director: Gus Van Sant.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance.

House of Pleasures (2011)
Director: Bertrand Bonello.
Genre: Drama.

House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Director: Vadim Perelman.
Genre: Drama.

Little Children (2006)
Director: Todd Field.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

Long Night in a Dead City (2017)
Director: Richard Griffin.
Genre: Mystery.

Match Point (2005)
Director: Woody Allen.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Sports.

Mulholland Drive (2001)
Director: David Lynch.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller.

Nightmare Code (2014)
Director: Mark Netter.
Genre: Horror, Science-Fiction, Thriller.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director: Mel Gibson.
Genre: Drama.

Tangerine (2015)
Director: Sean Baker.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama.

Trespassing Bergman (2013)
Directors: Jane Magnusson, Hynek Pallas.
Genre: Documentary.

Trinity (2016)
Director: Skip Shea.
Genre: Drama, Horror.

20th Century Women (2016)
Director: Mike Mills.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

“The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense” – (Book Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Hindered by a repetition of ideas and scenarios in its midsection, Dean Koontz’s latest work, The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense (2017), is at least fifty pages overlong. Likewise, it is oddly fashioned. For example, many of the sequences, especially in the second half, seem unnecessarily drawn-out. Correspondingly, the pace seems to stop and go as it pleases. In turn, the chain of events never becomes as fully encapsulating as one would hope. Furthermore, the characters, though fully realized, are archetypical to tales of this genus. This attribute also encompasses our twenty-seven-year-old heroine, Jane Hawk. Though she is painted with a plethora of engaging personality traits and is designed to make audiences cheer her along, she holds too rigorously to the worn “FBI agent on leave turned rogue” formula. The same can be said of the general story arc.

Yet, Koontz’s rich, musical prose is strikingly beautiful. It is filled with the consistent insights that audiences have come to expect from the best-selling author. Additionally, Koontz successfully keeps the sense of brooding menace, intensity and intrigue cranked up on high through most of the volume. Even when the narrative drags, Koontz does his best to keep the adrenaline-pumping. This admirable act extends to the vividly penned, if relatively underwhelming, finale.

Koontz constructs a uniquely alluring and hypnotic plot. It concerns the gun-toting and recently widowed Hawk exploring a rash of inexplicable suicides. This is after her Military Colonel husband, Nick, suffers the same fate. What is strange about these deaths is that they are all caused without any of the obvious triggers. The victims seem to be happy and well-adjusted individuals. Such a search leads Hawk down a darkening path. It is one where the timely theme of the rich using the less privileged as servants for their own whims and benefit is ever-present. The easily manipulative nature of technology is also effectively explored. Bound by her own impression of righteous duty, Hawk’s discoveries throughout Koontz’s tome are remarkable.

The four-hundred and fifty-four-page opus, published by Bantam Books on June 20th, 2017, is noteworthy for utilizing each detail and observation, however minute, Koontz administers along the way. Evidence of this is seen in how many of the tidbits mentioned early on, even fleetingly, are again addressed in an intriguing latter-presented form. Such is a wonderful display of both Koontz’s meticulous craftsmanship and attentive eye for specificity. Koontz’s effort also immerses itself in a barrage of clever, pop-culture related plot points. The references to Bill Condon’s literary political-thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1959) and John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film of the same name are among the most astute. Such results in a flawed, but challenging and rewarding, read. Ultimately, the missteps of Koontz’s chronicle are well-worth enduring. This is for the numerous passages of awe and humanity Koontz issues throughout the project.

Hawk will return in The Whispering Room (2017). It is scheduled for a November 21st, 2017 release.

A Brief Word On New/ Upcoming Releases: “Alien Convergence”, “Death Pool”, “Dragon Teeth”, “Full Wolf Moon”, “Gremlin”,”Gwendy’s Button Box”, “Karate Kill”, “Leftovers”

By Andrew Buckner

Alien Convergence

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

Alien Convergence (2017), from director Rob Pallatina, is a fun, if familiar, creature feature. The light echoes of the Godzilla films only help matters. Nonetheless, the chronicle itself, which revolves around a crew of jet fighter pilots banding together to fight a reptilian monster which is terrorizing the surrounding area, is thin. Continually, the special effects leave much to be desired. Moreover, the leads and their relationships aren’t developed in any new way. Yet, the project has an antiquated sensibility towards entertainment. Such a quality is sure to prove endearing for those of us who grew up on similar cinematic experiences. This factor, combined with its quick pace and efficient eighty-seven-minute length, is more than strong enough for us to forget its shortcomings. Now available on Video on Demand from The Asylum.

(Unrated). Contains violence.

Death Pool

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

Death Pool (2016) is another knockout thriller from writer-director Jared Cohn; tense, tough, well-made and endlessly entertaining. Randy Wayne is terrific as Johnny Taylor: a young man who evolves into a serial killer, and later a pop-culture icon in Los Angeles, after drowning his babysitter as a child. Cohn keeps the suspense hard-boiled and the stride pitch-perfect. The dialogue is also crisp and believable. He also keeps the eighty-nine-minute affair from becoming repetitive. This is by finding new ways to utilize Taylor’s obsession with murder via water. This is while avoiding many of the clichés common in related slasher fare. The result is consistently seductive and intriguing throughout the entirety. Furthermore, Josh Maas’ cinematography is gorgeous. Chase Kuker’s music punctuates the piece powerfully. Reportedly based on a true event. Releases on Video on Demand and DVD on June 20th from MTI Home Video.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, nudity and sexuality.

 

Dragon Teeth

By Michael Chrichton

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

Dragon Teeth (2017) is Michael Chrichton in top form; an irresistibly entertaining, perfectly paced and vividly written mixture of Paleontology and the Old West. It is also every bit as inventive and intellectually stimulating as you would expect from a work by Chrichton. This twist and adventure filled wonder, which concerns a thousand-dollar bet turning into a test of how far one young man will go to save a batch of recently uncovered dinosaur fossils, is an ingenious showcase for Chrichton’s cerebral and compulsively enthralling writing. This instant classic is undoubtedly one of the year’s best novels!

Length: 295 pages.

The volume was published by Harper Collins on May 23, 2017.

 

Full Wolf Moon

By Lee Child

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

Lee Child’s fifth Jeremy Logan novel, Full Wolf Moon (2017), adds nothing new to the supernatural murder mystery sub-genre. Still, it is a briskly paced, entertaining and well-written horror tale. Additionally, Logan is as likable and engaging as ever. The plot, which concerns Logan going to a wooded retreat to finish a paper and becoming entangled in a potentially werewolf related series of killings, becomes tedious in the mid-section. Regardless, there is an old-fashioned sensibility pulsating beneath the surface, common with tales from Child, that makes it easy to overlook these flaws. Such makes this detailed and character-oriented work altogether charming. Fans of Child’s prior works should certainly be satisfied.

Length: 258 pages.

The volume was published May 16th, 2017 via Doubleday Books.

Gremlin

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

Boosted by an interesting concept and some sly nods to a similarly titled Joe Dante venture from 1984, director and co-scripter Ryan Bellgardt’s Gremlin (2017) is a thoroughly engaging mini-monster movie. The moral dilemma brought forth by those who are in possession of the title creature-in-a-box, who terrorizes one family until it is passed off onto someone said kin admires in a ceaseless cycle, is especially interesting. Still, the protagonist-oriented, eighty-eight-minute photoplay is held back by less than stellar effects. It also suffers from a talkative second act and an all-too-abrupt finale. Releases July 11th, 2017 on Video on Demand.

(Unrated). Contains violence.

 

Gwendy’s Button Box

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

Gwendy’s Button Box (2017), a novella from Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, is brilliantly told. It is an engaging, inventive concept that is rich in moral message and power struggle symbolism. King and Chizmar chronicle our title heroine becoming in power of an odd contraption that is gifted to her by an unusual gentleman at an early age. At first, it seems to help her get her life on track. This is through its production of an unusually savory chocolate. This helps her diet and gain the popularity she desires. The item also disperses coins which will assist her financially as time passes. Yet, the switches, which are representative of different counties, give the object a shadowy persona. It is a means of responsibility that Gwendy only comprehends the significance of as she gets older.

Such begins a genuinely gripping narrative. It is one that is told in an unmistakably masterful manner. This is as only King and Chizmar could weave. As can also be ascertained from these two authors’ prior literary contributions, the personas found within the fiction are credible. Likewise, they are likably fashioned. The outcome is thoughtful and haunting; a must-read!

Released via Cemetery Dance Publications on May 16th, 2017.
Length: 180 pages.

Karate Kill

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

Writer-director Kurando Mitsutake’s Karate Kill (2016), which will be released in the United States on July 18th via Video on Demand and DVD/Blu-ray, isn’t quite as outrageous as its intriguing cover art and obvious grindhouse roots may suggest. Furthermore, its endless barrage of fist-flying action scenes, though accomplished, are never as jaw-dropping as one might expect. Additionally, the villains are one-dimensional archetypes. They are also underwhelming and not entirely memorable. Not to mention, the story arc and exposition are all delivered in an all-too-familiar manner. The plot is also not entirely novel. It involves our ruggedly charismatic and engaging hero, Kenji (Hayate), trying to save his kidnapped sister, Mayumi (Mana Sakura), from a cult of snuff filmmakers in Los Angeles. Still, the flick delivers just what fans of B-movie martial arts pictures demand in spades: bloody, brutal, fast-paced and occasionally hilarious fun. All of this is incorporated in a relatively brief, eighty-nine-minute runtime. Such is more than enough to make up for its former addressed shortcomings. The result is a genre entry that will assuredly please fans of similar works.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence and nudity.

Leftovers

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

Writer-director Seth Hancock’s Leftovers (2017) is an undeniably powerful, ever-fascinating and insightful eighty-minute documentary. It boldly addresses a potent and timely subject: hunger and food insecurity among senior citizens. The movie is just as much about the necessity of the Meals on Wheels program. What assists matters is that Hancock’s style and voice-over is appropriately straight-forward. As this is incorporated with a series of poignant interviews and reinstated with effective information to back up its thesis statement, the sheer impact of this unforgettable endeavor is undeniable. The result is tightly paced and endlessly moving; one of the best accounts of its type I have witnessed all year! Do yourself a favor and seek this one out! Hancock’s picture releases on Video on Demand on July 11th. It will be available on DVD on August 29th.

(Unrated). Appropriate (and recommended) for family viewing.

A Word of Dreams’ 15 Favorite Films of 2017 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

Since we are nearly halfway through 2017 already, I have decided to put together a list of my favorite films of the year so far. And the awards go to…

15. FAIRFIELD FOLLIES
Director: Laura Pepper
Genre: Comedy

14. GET OUT
Director: Jordan Peele
Genre: Horror

13. A DARK SONG
Director: Liam Gavin
Genre: Horror

12. NIGHT JOB
Director: J. Antonio
Genre: Comedy

11. MOM AND ME
Director: Ken Wardrop
Genre: Documentary

10. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Director: Bill Condon
Genre: Fantasy/ Romance/ Musical/ Family

9. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
Director: Raoul Peck
Genre: Documentary

8. ALIEN: COVENANT
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Horror/ Science-Fiction

7. THE LURE
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
Genre: Horror/ Comedy/ Musical

6.A CURE FOR WELLNESS
Director: Gore Verbinski
Genre: Horror/Drama/Fantasy

5. MY PET DINOSAUR
Director: Matt Drummond
Genre: Family/ Adventure

4. GARDEN OF STARS
Director: Pasquale Plastino, Stephane Riethauser
Genre: Documentary

3.  RAW
Director: Julia Ducournau
Genre: Horror

2. DO YOU DREAM IN COLOR?
Director: Abigail Fuller, Sarah Ivy
Genre: Documentary

1. LONG NIGHT IN A DEAD CITY
Director: Richard Griffin
Genre: Mystery

RUNNERS-UP: LEFTOVERS (Director: Seth Hancock), 7 WITCHES, SPLIT, VOODOO, THE VOID, XX.

*Please note: MOM AND ME and THE LURE premiered in 2015. GARDEN OF STARS played in Italy in 2016. Yet, these pictures were not released in the United States of America until 2017. I am utilizing this latter-stated factor in my inclusion of these movies in this list.

“Fairfield Follies” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Fairfield Follies (2017), the debut feature from writer-director Laura Pepper, is a sharp, charming and frequently funny comedy. Yet, the one-hundred-minute picture succeeds most masterfully in its humorous tackling of stereotypes. Nearly everyone we encounter in Pepper’s effort falls prey to such typecasting in one manner or another. This latter declared quality could’ve easily created overly aggressive and unlikable characterizations. Yet, Pepper reveals a child-like incredulousness in those we encounter on-screen. Such an influence shields them from such harsh criticisms. Still, it never makes any excuses for their hateful actions. Likewise, there is also an everyday value to the blemished personalities our leads exude. Such makes our resident protagonists, as well as the film itself, more mirror-like to our contemporary world. The result is a highly satisfying and memorable example of the profound depth that laughter can convey.

Pepper, via her quietly biting and brilliant screenplay and deft guidance of the project, centers the entertainingly plotted narrative around the traditional title Christmas pageant. It commences with Ms. Evans (in a stellar turn from Susanne Colle), a woman who is prone to spontaneous sickness and blackouts, taking over as administrator of the undertaking. This is in place of the elderly Mrs. Whitelove (in a bulls-eye enactment from Mary DeBerry). The latter is the most biased of those in Pepper’s affair. This detail is smartly woven in an uproarious commencing arrangement which is upbeat and joyful. That is until Mrs. Whitelove whispers a slew of derogatory terms into Ms. Evans’ ear. From herein, Ms. Evan’s idealistic notion of turning the annual sketch-driven play she is tasked with putting together into an all-inclusive holiday gala gets skewed. This is by the politically incorrect cast and crew. In so doing, Ms. Evans’ goodhearted concept is shaped into an unintentionally offensive exercise in jaw-dropping chaos.

There is a consistently breezy demeanor Pepper instills into the proceedings. It impeccably befits the well-paced material. When combined with the behind the scenes action that endures until the hour mark and the unfolding of Ms. Evans’ program in the closing forty minutes, the movie itself is ever-intriguing. It also seems to contain a wisely theatrical quality. This is much in line with the show our heroine is frantically trying to erect. It is also reflected in the deliberately straight-forward, but nonetheless effective, cinematography of Jill Poisson. This clever parallel is also spied in the often-enigmatic individuals Pepper implements in her tale. Such an aspect is also transported in the manner Pepper moves the account forward. This is with many of the passages throughout the entirety becoming itself a singular skit tied around a larger plot thread. For example, one of my favorite moments involves Max (in a standout performance from David Ryan Kopcych) practicing his dramatic, almost musical reading of the Chinese takeout menu. Such a segment transpires at around the half hour mark. This becomes a running gag which is utilized throughout the duration of the runtime. Yet, the witty section in which this initially arises has an intimate actor and audience sensibility. This certainly evokes a stagy impression. Even the smirk-inducing post-credit bit, which encompasses Pepper appearing to address unseen spectators, splendidly reinstates this factor. Such also immediately expunges the inconclusive sensation that stems from the quick final episode. This is spied before these cunningly constructed acknowledgments roll.

The two-location project, which alternates between Ms. Evans’ home and the interior of the building where the play is being honed, is also graced with skillful and endearing performances all-around. Anna Rizzo is terrific as the cellphone obsessed Kelly. The same can be said for Johnny Sederquist’s turn as Jeremy. Rosemary Pacheco is charismatic and captivating as Melissa. Correspondingly, Dan Greenleaf is especially amusing as the drunken Santa Claus of the project, Paul.

From a technical standpoint, Pepper’s editing is superb. Phillip Martin’s music is innovative and lively. It captures the spirit of the story masterfully. Pepper’s animation and Poisson’s digital effects are similarly excellent. The camera and electrical contributions, as well as Anna Goodchild’s costume design, are all magnificent. Relatedly, the sound department delivers a largely proficiently to the overall prowess of the piece. This is even if some of the songs in Ms. Evans’ fabrication come off as indecipherable because of such an attribute.

There are several loose ends in this Peppered Productions release. For instance, Ms. Evans’ mysterious ailment is never satisfactorily resolved. Though this holds the photoplay back from perfection, it is overshadowed by the sheer variety, inventiveness and consistent successfulness of the guffaws on hand. But, Pepper also works just as well with the notion that most of the individuals in her fiction are themselves archetypes. For hordes of cinematic craftsmen, this would be a flaw too glaring for patrons to overlook. Yet, Pepper has intentionally instilled these traits in our leads. This is to punctuate the pigeonholed categorizations that these beings often verbalize via Pepper’s ingeniously penned dialogue. It gives bystanders a method to study the theme of this tour de force from both within and without. Best of all, Pepper finds a stupendous balance between the heady subtleties of her flick and the light-hearted spirit that pulsates on the surface. Such creates a labor that is as quietly meditative as it is quirky and fun. Ultimately, Pepper doesn’t weigh down her plot in her finger-waving and lesson learning. But, such practices still illuminate the presentation. Such is just one of the numerous items which make Pepper’s effort so special. With Fairfield Follies, Pepper has given us one of the best genre concoctions of the year. I highly recommend seeking it out.

“Alien: Covenant” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Visionary director Ridley Scott continues to carry the Alien franchise along a bold and refreshingly unique route, as he last did in the criminally underrated Prometheus (2012), with the eighth entry overall in the former-stated cinematic succession, Alien: Covenant (2017). This is while respecting the foundation, the well-placed moments of terror and masterful buildup (as well as the working-class characterizations and claustrophobic cinematography), that were present in Scott’s original film in the series, Alien (1979). The satisfying and rich story, which revolves around a ship of colonists who land on a planet they believe to be habitable only to find themselves encountering a chain of deadly threats, is where the above-mentioned qualities are most evident. Such results in the rare modern science-fiction/ horror release that is as rich, challenging and cerebral as it is atmospheric and entertaining. Likewise, the finale, though a shade predictable, is still the perfect note in which to end the film.

As always with a genre feature from Scott, the sets are meticulously detailed, striking, complex and inspiring. In turn, they are almost as lively as the stars themselves. The performances, true to the Alien tradition, are gritty and credible. Katherine Waterston is especially good as Daniels: a more visibly vulnerable riff on Sigourney Weaver’s Alien heroine, Ellen Ripley. Yet, Michael Fassbender steals the show in his dual role as the identical androids David and Walter. These portrayals remain layered despite the inability of the otherwise magnificent screenplay, from John Logan and Dante Harper, to flesh-out our protagonists in any new way. This is a problem initially glimpsed in the commencing minutes of the picture. It courses throughout the duration.

Correspondingly, the pace is uneven. Still, its construction is oddly enchanting and exhilarating. Relatedly, some of the effects, the contribution from a crew of dozens of individuals, are a bit underwhelming. But, there is also plenty of excellent work provided in this arena to be seen. Furthermore, Alien: Covenant isn’t quite as philosophical, visually spectacular or ambitious as Prometheus. It also isn’t as groundbreaking or immediately terrifying as Alien. Still, Alien: Covenant remains a terrific addition to the Alien canon. The pure craft Scott showcases throughout the entirety of its one-hundred-and-twenty-two-minute runtime makes up for these comparatively minor flaws. This is especially true of Alien: Covenant‘s perpetually somber, elegiac and dread-laced tone.

Operating as both a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien, Alien: Covenant is sure to frustrate those who want only Xenomorph action. Though the sparse bits consisting of such a detail are vicious, jarring and well-done. Regardless, it will assuredly enthrall audiences who like their movie-going experiences more singular. The quietly eloquent opening sequence alerts spectators of this factor immediately.

In the end, Alien: Covenant is a brilliant signpost of the life still left in this near forty-year-old saga. It is just as much a symbol of Scott’s endlessly evolving mastery of the material. Fans intrigued by the Alien mythology will adore Scott’s most recent outing. I know I did! As a matter of fact, I look forward to absorbing its myriad wonders once more on the biggest screen possible.

(R). Contains graphic violence, language and some sexual content.

Alien: Covenant was released in U.S. theaters on May 19th, 2017.

“Long Night in a Dead City” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Long Night in a Dead City (2017) is among the most accomplished works from the collaborative team of screenwriter Lenny Schwartz and director Richard Griffin. It stands as a testament to the surreal, hypnotic power derived from a largely imagery-driven narrative. This brilliantly paced and filler-less seventy-five-minute masterpiece also garners an endless mystique from this quality. What also helps matters is that it wisely never overindulges in its rhythmic and often cryptic dialogue.

This is immediately noted in the visually stunning opening arrangements. In this section, our hero, Daniel Belmont (in an ever-gripping portrayal by Aidan Laliberte), wakes up bloody and bruised. Gradually pulling himself from the middle of the road, where he either fell asleep or lost consciousness, we follow him with increasing intrigue. This is as he dazedly treads through the surrounding area. But, there is a confused impression about his movements. Such suggests an attempt at filling in gaps in his memory. What he is trying to recall becomes the impetus of this 1979-set affair. From herein, Griffin and Schwartz answer this question with an almost dream-like succession of events. All of which revolve around a film festival and Daniel’s missing brother, Charlie (Anthony Gaudette). There is also an enigmatic cult-like group. Griffin and Schwartz also incorporate into the proceedings a bar where people, all of whom are as immobile as figures in a wax museum, go before committing suicide on the last day of the year.

Such fascinating factors and clever concepts are augmented by the gorgeously constructed modern noir-like atmosphere. Yet, this Scorpio Film Releasing produced affair, originally titled Satan’s Children, refuses to settle into the tidy constraints of any genre. This is as it effortlessly juggles elements of science-fiction, horror, murder mystery and dark romance. But, there is a masterful use of recurring symbolism that fits neatly into the most prominent themes of this The Twilight Zone-like (1959-1964) undertaking. Such is manifest in the utilization of a black watch that is spied early in the endeavor.

Adding to these awe-inspiringly artistic and subtly issued attributes is a palpable love for 1970’s cinema. This is readily perceived in the terrifically designed posters for the fictional features showing at The Cine Satyrica New Year’s Eve Film Festival. It is also enhanced by the various Kubrickian shots of the inside of the theater where the aforesaid jubilee is held. There are also classically erected moments where our lead slowly treads down long, isolated hallways. They also alluringly reflect this aesthetic. Yet, this trait is most discernible in the way the sights Daniel views on-screen prompts him to piece together his fragmented recollections. Such a plot thread also seems to silently speak to the catharsis and relation to what one is seeing in a photoplay in correlation to the singular experiences of the viewer in general. This component also allows for some truly innovative, near Lynchian spectacles. Moreover, John Mosetich carries on this ardent connection. This is with cinematography that is as mesmerizing and colorful as it is reminiscent of an Italian Giallo film.

Continuing to strengthen the exertion is Griffin and Schwartz’s deliberate decision to leave the characters, even our protagonist, an enigma. In less capable hands, this would be a fatal flaw in this otherwise impressive effort. Instead, it heightens the palpable air of intrigue that pulsates throughout the entirety. It also matches the same said tone to illuminating effect. Such also allows us to get inside Daniel’s psyche with plentiful ease. In turn, the opus is more skillful and captivating because of such a choice.

What is all the more tremendous is that we still feel as if we know and can relate to nearly everyone we encounter in Griffin and Schwartz’s elusive voyage. This is a major courtesy of Griffin’s ever-mature, stylish and astounding guidance of the project. It is also a consequence of Schwartz’s rich and intelligent authorship of the account. Such a triumph in this category is also related to the pitch perfect casting of the piece. For example, Sarah Reed is enthralling as the target of Daniel’s affections, Holly. Anna Rizzo is superb in her brief turn as The Bartender. Aaron Andrade is just as memorable as the shadowy individual known as The Driver. Jaquelyn Fabian as Diana, Jack Shipley as Luke and Lars Rieck as Tom are all terrific in their respective roles.

From a technical standpoint, Griffin orchestrates seamless and sharp editing. Sissy O’ Hara’s makeup and Angela Shulman’s art direction are similarly striking. Mark Cutler, Tony Milano and Daniel Hildreth all provide incredible music. Their collective participation suits the downplayed mood of the movie masterfully.

Griffin and Schwartz’s latest concludes with a sequence that turns a familiar tale-telling circumstance on its head. This is that the announcement, and the detached manner it is stated in, seems to nod to emotions and ideas far more complex than what should be brought forth from such a statement. It is one of the myriad moves of ingenuity that pushes the project. Having seen the feature twice now, I can say that upon the initial watch we are drawn in by the gloomy beauty and the puzzle-like nature of the arrangement. On the next sit-through, we note how well the clues placed before Daniel propel him to his destination. Furthermore, audience patrons are drawn in by the depth and dimension of Daniel’s journey the second time around. Such only seems to hint at a plethora of layers yet to be tapped into with ensuing observances. This, along with all the adept touches declared prior, comes together to create a well-rounded, stirring, nightmarish and unforgettable exercise in anecdotal cinema. Long Night in a Dead City is the best picture of the year.

“Besetment” – (Movie Review)

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

Besetment (2017), from writer-director Brad Douglas, is a lean and ultimately potent horror concoction. The seventy-four-minute picture begins as a triumphant homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s quintessential psychological thriller, Psycho (1960). We note this in the relationship our antagonist, Billy Colvin (in a simultaneously tense and vulnerable, ruggedly enthralling performance from Michael Meyer), has with his domineering and equally wicked mother, Mildred (in a phenomenal portrayal from Marlyn Mason). Much of the plot, which revolves around a young woman, Amanda Millard (in a top-notch representation from Abby Wathen), who takes a job at The Oregon Hotel and later comes up missing, echoes this aforesaid similarity. Not to mention, it is even spied in one of the most quietly clever moments in the fiction. Such an arrangement arrives at nineteen minutes into the story. This sequence involves what looks like a bloody fluid building around the drain of a shower. For those who vividly recall the murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in the previously stated Hitchcock classic, especially the closing shot, Douglas’ sequence serves as an equally smart and smirk-inducing parallel. It also fits effortlessly into the context of the story.

Such a comparison is strongly tailored until nearly the conclusion of the intriguing, if exposition heavy, first half of the movie. Once the tension becomes more palpable and the thriller elements kick into full gear, Douglas’ endeavor establishes a tone that is more along the likes of Deliverance (1972), Wolf Creek (2008) and Kevin Connor’s darkly comic cult classic, Motel Hell (1980). Yet, Douglas’ exertion has the most in common with Jim Lane’s recent gem, Betrothed (2016). This is most noteworthy once the Colvins’ intentions towards Amanda are exposed.

When this occurs, the undertaking is partially held back by the familiarity that propels the events of the last forty minutes. Furthermore, one of the most pivotal arrangements in the undertaking, which is set in a church, is too brief to be as effective as possible. Regardless, the succession that is placed immediately after this instant, which serves as an epilogue, is perfectly chill-inducing. It also garners further points for being comparable to the commencement of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Such more than makes up for the prior addressed shortcomings. Additionally, the film is consistently well-made and engaging. This formerly stated stretch also includes several episodes that are as steeped in tradition as they are memorable. The same can be said of the terrifically developed characterizations. This is most readily noted in a pair who find themselves attempting to solve the mystery of Amanda’s disappearance. They are Sheriff Joe Palin (Greg James) and Deputy Julie Nelson (Hannah Barefoot). Yet, the caliber of their depictions, sheer likability and on-screen chemistry with one another illuminate the configurations they reside within.

From a technical standpoint, Douglas’ scripting and general management of the project is skillful and captivating. Such high-quality capabilities evoke a foundation for the labor that is as gritty as it is deftly executed. Compatibly, the dialogue is credible. The actions of both the protagonist and antagonist also logically derive from the situations Douglas introduces into the tale. Best of all, Douglas just as organically builds continual suspense and audience interest. He also incorporates a masterful pace that unveils in a gradual and even fashion. These are all certainly necessary ingredients in crafting the unyielding credibility that radiates from Douglas’ undertaking.

This Barbed Wire Films co-production also sports spectacular, wonderfully claustrophobic cinematography from Chuck Greenwood. The veneer in Douglas’ latest calls to mind Daniel Pearl’s masterful work in Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaker, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Such a look, commonly attempted in grindhouse evocative exertions such as this, is more than suitable for the material. Likewise, Graham Denman and Kyle Hnedak’s music is impressive and atmospheric. The effects, sound and makeup department offer a similarly exceptional contribution.

Such results in a taut, tough genre entry. This is even if the twists in the narrative are hit and miss. Still, the general prowess of the piece keeps the movie ever-admirable. The 1970’s B-movie sensibility that courses throughout the totality also adds a consistently old-fashioned charm. This is an appeal that fellow cinephiles will certainly adore. What augments the strength of this factor is Douglas’ spellbinding construction of the terror elements. The outcome is a thoroughly solid and satisfying genre outing. Douglas’ exercise in fear is far above average.

Besetment releases on video on demand on June 6th, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment. It will be available on DVD on September 5th.

“The Black Room” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Taking cues from The Entity (1982), Insidious (2010), Wishmaster (1997) and The Evil Dead (1981), prolific writer-director Rolfe Kanefsky’s The Black Room (2016) is stylish, tense, captivating and fun; an instant classic. The project tells the tale of a married couple who discover a demon that thrives on sexual repression and desire. Such an unholy entity threatens to destroy the lives of the once happy duo. This is almost immediately upon their arrival in their new home.

In so doing, Kanefsky instills a plethora of inventive ideas. They greatly enhance the occasionally formulaic mechanics of the plot. The endeavor also benefits from solid, character-oriented writing. Kanefsky also sports an undeniable capacity for visually stunning direction. Such a trait is wonderfully reminiscent of Dario Argento. The often gooey 1980’s influenced special effects, which come courtesy of Eric Chase and Vincent J. Guastini, only augment the joyously retro feel. Such pulsates ardently through every frame of the proceedings. Correspondingly, Savant’s booming, nail-biting and grimly gorgeous music compliments Kyle Stryker’s same said cinematography brilliantly.

Furthermore, Lin Shaye as Miss Black and Tiffany Shepis as Monica, a real estate agent, shine in their brief turns. Natasha Henstridge as our heroine, Jennifer, makes for a compellingly vulnerable counterpart. This is in relation to her possessed husband, Paul (in a bulls-eye turn from Lukas Hassel). Such is especially true once his increasingly eccentric behavior kicks in near the end of the first act.

In turn, Kanefsky has created a smartly paced, joyously successful horror outing. It is one erected from the most endearing qualities of the genre. Admittedly, the creature in the basement scenario is the most charming element in this respective arsenal. Best of all, the ninety-four minute picture commences with an extended opening segment that is impressive on all accounts. From herein, this largely unpredictable presentation only continues its enjoyably atmospheric and imaginative streak. The rousing, blood-soaked climax and post-end credit scene can be viewed as one magnificent, elongated final wink at the audience. Such results in an all-around superbly done and satisfying venture. Kanefsky has delivered one of the best cinematic terrors of the year. The mysteries of The Black Room are well-worth seeking out.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, sexuality, adult themes and nudity.

Now available on video on demand.