“Cold Moon” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Cold Moon (2016), from co-writer-director Griff Furst, is an absolute joy to sit through and contemplate. This is for both the avid cinephile and fellow thriller fanatic. Based on Michael McDowell’s novel Cold Moon Over Babylon (1980), the eighty-eighty-minute venture has a delightfully unyielding, bleak atmosphere. It also exploits a simultaneously ominous and elegiac veneer. Such a look is much in the vein of a skillfully polished, yet appropriately gritty, piece of celluloid from the 1970’s–early 80’s. Additionally, there are subtle Hitchcockian touches delicately placed throughout the affair. Hitchcock’s immortal adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1960), my personal favorite work from the master of suspense, frequently came to mind. Furthermore, there is a tremendously executed sequence of death in the first ten minutes. It is so visually stunning and mesmerizing that one cannot help but draw comparisons to Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. This sentiment is held onto and echoed in many other similar moments throughout the arrangement. Likewise, the supernatural episodes that occur later in the configuration are handled just as deftly and effectively. A hypnotic scene in a graveyard near the one hour mark is surefire evidence of such an assessment. This previously mentioned bit also slyly brings forth a snake-like creature. This entity is reminiscent of an otherworldly beast spied in another ethereal masterpiece McDowell co-authored. Such is the Tim Burton helmed Beetlejuice (1988).

Correspondingly, Furst toys with gothic genre sensibilities in a manner that is worthy of an alignment to a Hammer Film Productions release from the 1960’s. The characters, most of whom are small-town archetypes, are wonderfully realized and credible. Jack Snyder, Furst and McDowell’s highly-intelligent, gorgeously mounted and impressively structured script, which is full of life-mirroring dialogue, remembers the cardinal rule of the most enduring scary stories. In so doing, Furst keeps the personalities on-screen at the forefront. All of this is worthy of top-tier praise and recommendation. Regardless, one of the most striking components on display is how our villain, when revealed, isn’t shone exclusively in a wholly loathsome light. This is an error far too many features highlight and proudly display in their protagonist. This is again another telltale aspect of Furst’s ability to allow audiences to understand the motivations and inner-mechanisms of even the most sinister of those who dominate the narrative.

Recorded in Louisiana, Furst chronicles a fatal tragedy in a southern municipality. It is one which interrupts the daily goings-on of the Larkins. While local law enforcement attempts to solve this murder, the victim returns as a ghostly presence. Albeit, one that is bent on serving up her own sense of post-death vengeance. This is to the individual responsible for her demise.

It’s a naturally intriguing concept. Such is one that Furst makes increasingly terrific. This is with his enigmatic and quietly unnerving treatment of the material. Even if the plot is familiar in hindsight, Furst avoids traditional trappings of dread at nearly every avenue. As the picture plays, it becomes gradually darker. Nonetheless, it also amplifies its inventiveness. But, it never loses its genre-mashing style and boldness.

Relatedly, Furst’s opus never becomes desperate to augment or cheaply punctuate its scares with unnecessary jumps. Because of this, Furst establishes a perfect symmetry of plot and organically erected instances of fear. The endeavor could easily have become overblown. This is especially true of the finale. Instead, the exercise utilizes this aforesaid balance to grand consequence. This is until the eye-popping imagery which commences the concluding credits is spied. The saga also ends on a perfect note. It is one that brings about as many questions as it does answers.

What also adds to the sheer brilliance of the demonstration is the all-around exceptional performances. Christopher Lloyd steals the show as the wheelchair-bound James Redfield. Candy Clark as Evelyn and Chester Rushing as Jerry Larkin are both captivating. They fit comfortably into their roles. This is while making them distinct. Madison Wolfe as Mandy, Josh Stewart as Nathan Redfield and Laura Cayouette as Ginny Darrish are also magnificent.

The movie also benefits from Thomas L. Callaway’s astonishing, mood-laced cinematography. Furst’s editing is seamless. His overall guidance of the project is inspired. It is also refined and mature. This can also be said of Nathan Furst’s haunting, proficient and remarkable original music. The effects, make-up and sound are spectacular. Jayme Bohn’s costume design is superb.

Furst has crafted a brilliant effort. It is an astonishing exhibition of the strongest attributes of both the categories of crime, drama and paranormal revenge. The no-nonsense excursion is also layered, full of dimension and insight. It wraps bystanders up in its mysteries and memorable terrors from the first frame to the last. Having not read McDowell’s source literature, I cannot state if it is faithful to the original telling of the Florida-set endeavor. Yet, I can declare with complete certainty that the labor stands triumphantly on its own merits as one of the best white-knuckle shockers I’ve witnessed all year. I highly recommend checking out Cold Moon. It will be distributed in theaters and on video on demand October 6th, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment.

(Unrated).

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“It Comes at Night” – (Capsule Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

It Comes at Night (2017) is claustrophobic, ominous, well-acted and beautifully made. Additionally, writer-director Trey Edward Shults successfully builds an unsettling atmosphere. This he wonderfully institutes alongside a slow-burn pace that works terrifically from the first frame to the last. The problem the 91-minute horror outing faces is that the story, which concerns a man who is attempting to protect his family from an enigmatic sickness which wiped out most of the world, has become routine in recent post-apocalyptic genre offerings. This is also true of the general chain of events found in the narrative. Such tired ingredients greatly dilute the overall interest and effectiveness of this otherwise solid, character-oriented film.

(R).

Available to buy now at Amazon.

“Death Waits for No Man” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Death Waits for No Man (2017) is riveting in concept and execution. Additionally, writer-director Armin Siljkovic’s debut feature is an unpredictable, taut, stylish and endlessly intense thriller. Clocking in at a lean 77 minutes, the slow-burn picture is effective and efficient. Though the work is essentially a three-person tale, audience care and understanding is equally distributed among our leads. Such is a courtesy of the way Siljkovic slyly makes these individuals look like protagonists and antagonists of the venture. This is at differing moments throughout the effort.

The plot itself is a masterclass in storytelling. Siljkovic commences the affair on a deceptively simple note. It concerns a woman, Lily (in a layered and commanding portrayal from Angelique Pretorius), asking a man, Uzal (in an excellent enactment from Bradley Snedeker), to kill her husband, Sinclair (in a gripping depiction from Corey Rieger). To say anymore would be to give away the sheer delight of watching Siljkovic build on this idea. This is with one credible, ever-darkening twist after another. Best of all, the tale ends just as well as the rest of the largely one-room movie deserves.

This is a courtesy of Siljkovic’s sharply honed contributions to the project. His authorship of the material is every bit as skillful and harrowing as his general guidance of the endeavor. Siljkovic’s characters are initially enigmatic. This works to further erect bystander intrigue in the early passages. When the exercise concludes, the on-screen personalities arise as suitably developed. Such an attribute is even more evidence of how well Siljkovic handles the material.

Furthermore, Joseph ‘Sloe’ Slawinski offers brooding, hypnotic and emotionally resonant music. Ted Hayash’s cinematography is moody and immersive. Isabel Mandujano’s costume design is superb. The make-up and sound fare just as magnificently. The result of all these afore-mentioned components is a full-throttle masterpiece; an absolute bulls-eye.

Death Waits For no Man is scheduled for release in fall of 2017.

 

The 78 Best Horror Films of 2017 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

I am proud to present the best horror films of 2017 so far. The article contains 78 full-length titles as well as my favorite genre-related documentary. Also included herein is a section on the top-tier short films in this category. Furthermore, there is also a passage considering my highest-ranking guilty cinematic pleasures from the afore-mentioned time frame. It is my intention to continue to add to the piece until the end of the year. This is with the hopes that by December 31st I will have a complete list of 101 genre works. Please check back and see what gets added and what gets changed.

78. The Atoning
Director: Michael Williams.

77. Ghost Witch
Director: Joseph Lavender.

76. The Gracefield Incident
Director: Matthieu Ratthe.

75. Sacrilege
Director: Paul Catalanatto.

74. Gremlin
Director: Ryan Bellgardt.

73. Phoenix Forgotten
Director: Justin Barber.

72. Don’t Knock Twice
Director: Caradog W. James

71. Psychos
Director: Sandy Chukhadarian.

70. Galaxy of Horrors
Directors: Dennis Cabella, Javier Chillon, Todd Cobery, Andrew Desmond, Benni Diez, Marcello Ercole, Richard Karpala, Justin McConnell, Antonio Padovan, Fabio Prati, Ethan Shaftel, Marinko Spahic.

69. The 13th Friday
Director: Justin Price.

68. Demons
Director: Miles Doleac.

67. Patient
Director: Jason Sheedy.

66. Whispers
Director: Tammi Sutton.

65. Pool Party Massacre
Director: Drew Marvick.

64. Life
Director: Daniel Espinosa

63. The Belko Experiment
Director: Greg McLean

62. Open Water 3: Cage Dive
Director: Gerald Rascionato

61. Bornless Ones
Director: Alexander Babaev.

60. Darkness Rising
Director: Austin Reading.

59. WTF!
Director: Peter Herro.

58. XX
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St.Vincent, Jovanka Vuckovic.

57. The Wicked One
Director: Tory Jones.

56. Inner Demon
Director: Ursula Dabrowsky.

55. Hunting Grounds
Director: John Portanova.

54. Ghosts of Darkness
Director: David Ryan Keith.

53. Circus Kane
Director: Christopher Ray.

52. Ghost Note
Director: Troy Hart.

51. 7 Witches
Director: Brady Hall.

50. Pitchfork
Director: Glenn Douglas Packard.

49. Besetment
Director: Brad Douglas.

48. The Covenant
Director: Robert Conway.

47. Getting Schooled
Director: Chuck Norfolk.

46. The Creature Below
Director: Stewart Sparke.

45. Residue
Director: Rusty Nixon.

44. Jackals
Director: Kevin Greutert.

43. Watch Over
Director: F.C. Rabbath.

42. Heidi
Director: Daniel Ray.

41. Demon Hunter
Director: Zoe Kavanagh.

40. Beacon Point
Director: Eric Blue.

39. Annabelle: Creation
Director: David F. Sandberg.

38. Bonejangles
Director: Brett DeJager.

37. Bethany
Director: James Cullen Bressack.

36. The Ice Cream Truck
Director: Megan Freels Johnston.

35. Devil’s Domain
Director: Jared Cohn.

34. The Black Room
Director: Rolfe Kanefsky.

33. Split
Director: M. Night Shyamalan.

32. The Girl with All the Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy.

31. The Demonic Tapes
Director: Richard Mansfield.

30. Peelers
Director: Seve Schelenez.

29. Clowntergeist
Director: Aaron Mirtes.

28. Get Out
Director: Jordan Peele.

27. Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas.

26. It Comes At Night
Director: Trey Edward Shults.

25. We Go On
Directors: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton.

24. The Evil Within
Director: Andy Getty.

23. VooDoo
Director: Tom Costabile.

22. The Dark Tapes
Directors: Vincent J. Guastini, Michael McQuown.

21. Hounds of Love
Director: Ben Young.

20. Cold Moon
Director: Griff Furst.

19. Asylum of Darkness
Director: Jay Woefel.

18. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Director: Oz Perkins.

17. The Void
Directors: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski.

16. Prevenge
Director: Alice Lowe.

15. The Domicile
Director: Jared Cohn.

14. It Stains the Sands Red
Director: Colin Minihan.

13. It
Director: Andy Muschietti.

12. We are the Flesh
Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter.

11. Berlin Syndrome
Director: Cate Shortland.

10. The Transfiguration
Director: Michael O’ Shea.

9. The Lure
Director: Agnieska Smoczynska.

8. Alien: Covenant
Director: Ridley Scott.

7. The Devil’s Candy
Director: Sean Byrne.

6. Kuso
Director: Flying Lotus.

5. A Dark Song
Director: Liam Gavin.

4. Mother!
Director: Darren Aronofsky.

3. A Cure for Wellness
Director: Gore Verbinski.

2.Raw
Director: Julia Ducournau.

1.Long Night in a Dead City
Director: Richard Griffin.

 

Favorite Horror Documentary of 2017:

Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Semetary
Directors: John Campopiano, Justin White.

 

Favorite Short Film of 2017

“Alone”
Director: Tofiq Rzayev.

 

Guilty Pleasures:

Evil Bong 666
Director: Charles Band.

Land Shark
Director: Mark Polonia.

Sharknado 5: Global Swarming
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante.

“Annabelle: Creation” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Annabelle: Creation (2017) is a skillfully executed bag of time-tested horror tricks. It is also carefully structured and paced. Likewise, the New Line Cinema and Atomic Monster release is character-driven and fun. This latter stated attribute is especially true of the climactic last half hour. This is when all hell breaks loose.

Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Gary Dauberman tell the origin story of the demonically manipulated title plaything. The aforesaid object spends most of the 1950’s set film terrorizing a group of children who have recently relocated from an orphanage. These young girls are now residing in a home owned by a dollmaker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), and his bed-ridden wife, Esther (Miranda Otto). With this noticeably thin plot, Sandberg and Dauberman fashion an ambitious spinoff of the Conjuring series. Though their respective contributions are certainly a case of style over substance, it works well for the material.

Correspondingly, Lulu Wilson’s turn as Linda, Talitha Bateman’s depiction of Janice and Stephanie Sigman’s embodiment of Sister Charlotte are extraordinary. They help make their lead personas unique, memorable and layered. The effects, animation and sound are just as impressive. Furthermore, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is moody and beautiful. When combined with Benjamin Wallfisch’s same said music, Sandberg’s atmosphere becomes increasingly unnerving, palpable and hypnotic.

What is just as admirable is the restraint that hurtles the 109-minute project forward. Such a factor also lends a wonderfully old-fashioned feel to the proceedings. Continually, the middle and post-credits bits implement supplementary smirks from the audience. In the end, what Sandberg’s picture lacks in imagination, it makes up for in sheer craft.

(R). Contains adult content and violence.

Annabelle: Creation is now showing exclusively in theaters.

“Anti Matter”- (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Keir Burrows’ Anti Matter (2016) is smart, credible and entertaining science based fiction. It is the type of tale those of us with a lifelong admiration for such literary masters as Ray Bradbury, Michael Chrichton and Jules Verne always find an absolute joy to sit through. This is because Burrows’ meticulously paced and structured, 106-minute project feels as if it could’ve been the brainchild of any one of these prior stated legends. This is true of both its bold, theoretical themes and its captivating execution. Such a comparison also derives from Burrows’ existence-mirroring and suitably developed characterizations. There is also a related respect Burrows has for the intelligence of his audience. This is a courtesy of Burrows’ intriguing plot. Continued thanks in this arena is also due to his sharp, layered screenplay. It is full of insightful dialogue. Praise is also mandated to his hypnotic guidance of the exercise.

Burrows’ presentation concerns Ana Carter (in a gripping portrayal by Yaiza Figueroa). She is a PhD student at Oxford University. As the saga unfolds, she finds memories impossible to erect. This is after a procedure to build and go through a wormhole. After a well-done setup, the last two acts of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release showcase Ana’s frantic cracks at understanding what transpired while conducting the experiment. Adding to the sudden stress is a lingering impression that something terrible is slowly surrounding her. Such attributes institute a ticking clock motif to the endeavor. This makes the underlying suspense evermore palpable.

Previously titled Worm, Burrows’ production is initially a bit conventional. This is in its incorporation of Ana’s inexplicable amnesia. Though Burrows works other traditional elements into the narrative afterwards, this criticism quickly diminishes. This is as Burrows goes beyond the standard employment of this oft-exploited trope. In so doing, Burrows immerses bystanders in Ana’s newfound fascination with dreams. This interest also extends to making sense of the noticeably off world around her. Best of all, Burrows provides a rousing finale. It is one that deserts the multi-million-dollar mayhem so commonly equated with far too many climaxes in this chronicle-oriented genus. This is to bring us a culmination that is harrowing, not because of explosions or endless gunfire, but because of the ideas it offers. Not to mention, the resolution beautifully ties up the details of Ana’s circumstance. The cause of which is as riveting as it is illuminating.

From a cast and crew standpoint, the feature is just as triumphant. Edwin Sykes’ regularly low-key music is terrific. The cinematography from Gerry Vasbenter is gritty and proficient. Such is perfectly fitting to Burrows’ brilliantly executed, same said tone. The editing by Rhys Barter is seamless. Correspondingly, the make-up, sound and costume design are top-notch. The formerly undeclared representations are also strong. For example, Phillipa Carson is excellent as Liv. Tom-Barber Duffy as Nate and Noah Maxwell Clarke as Stovington are just as successful.

Though not as deceptively intricate or emotionally resonant as Denis Villeneuve’s recent film, Arrival (2016), Burrows has crafted a movie that is just as unforgettable. The subject matter alone draws alignments to Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder” (1952), and Chrichton’s novel, Timeline (1999). This primarily stems from its application of connections in space-time. Likewise, the ability to get through them into other regions. Yet, Burrows’ exertion abandons the exploration of what may hypothetically be on the other side of such a construction. This is to focus in on how such travel may immediately affect the universe we call our own. It is an engaging notion; one that is marvelously put together. Simultaneously, the manner that the opening and conclusion play off one another is just as smirk-inducing. There are also some felicitous topics, such as vivisection, Burrows instills into the episode. This comes in the form of the peer protests that surround Ana. These tidbits also lend perpetual authenticity to her landscape. Such relatively quiet touches also further the depth of the venture immeasurably. The result of these qualities is the best film of its ilk I’ve seen this year.

(Unrated). Contains adult content and profanity.

Anti Matter will be available in select theaters and on Video on Demand September 8th.

 

“Open Water 3: Cage Dive” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Gerald Rascionato’s Open Water 3: Cage Dive (2017) is credible, tense, well-paced and satisfying. It stands as a worthy entry in the now 14-year-old series. The formula is familiar. Still, the eighty-minute tale, which concerns a trio of aspiring reality stars who find themselves stranded at sea and surrounded by sharks after a massive wave capsizes their boat, remains fresh and original. Best of all, the Lionsgate distribution release hardly repeats ideas. This is especially accurate when considering prior entries in the franchise.

Simultaneously, the effects, situations and performances add to the believability at hand. Megan Peta Hill is especially good as Megan Murphy. Joel Hogan as Jeff Miller and Josh Potthoff as his brother, Josh, are just as solid in their respective enactments. The Newton Brothers’ music is immersive and appropriate. The same can be said of Andrew Bambach and Rascionato’s highly-skillful cinematography.

A love triangle sub-plot, which is established in the first act, bogs down the proceedings a bit. Regardless, this detail heightens the underlying emotional intensity when necessary. This is especially true of the enjoyable, impactful and grounded finale. The consequence of these attributes is an efficient found footage film. Rascionato has administered a survival thriller with real bite.

(Unrated).

On digital platforms today.

“Demon Hunter” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Demon Hunter (2016), the feature debut of co-writer and director Zoe Kavanagh, effortlessly shifts between riveting Underworld (2003) style action and genuinely atmospheric horror. These gear changes happen spontaneously. They also arrive at generally unpredictable intervals. This is noteworthy throughout the brisk and efficient 85-minute runtime. But, they blend together seamlessly. In turn, these elements create a sleek and largely diverting endeavor. This is even if Kavangh’s otherwise sturdy exercise gives way to an all-too-familiar battle of opposing forces finale. Such an expected conclusion seems to defy the unique structure and storytelling that is evident beforehand. Nevertheless, the afore-mentioned qualities are stalwart enough to overcome such obstacles.

In a plot that is honed from a tried and true setup, Kavangh follows the heroine of the tale, Taryn Barker (in a captivating depiction from Niamh Hogan). Barker is still seeking answers to and suffering from the rape and murder of her pre-teen sister, Annabelle (in a stellar representation from Aisli Moran). This transpired seven years earlier. In the originating stages of the arrangement, Barker is brought into questioning. This interrogation, overseen by Detective Ray Beckett (in a solid depiction from Alan Talbot), involves a decapitated man. It is one who Barker claims was an unholy fiend. In so doing, Beckett soon realizes this is the same individual he promised he would find and incarcerate. This was in a failed attempt to bring Barker justice. When Barker warns Beckett of a brute by the name of Falstaff (in a wickedly terrific representation from Michael Parle), who is accused of trying to steal Barker’s soul, the stakes rise. It isn’t long before Falstaff makes Beckett’s dealings personal. From herein, the duo become bent on breaking up a malevolent cult. These worshippers of Satan are intent on unleashing an ancient menace on the world.

This is a solid foundation for an outing of this ilk. Kavanagh punctuates this attribute with a guidance of the piece that is claustrophobic and eye-popping. Her meticulously paced screenplay, which was co-penned by Tony Flynn, develops the archetypical characters of the account in a satisfactory manner. The structure, especially in the early moments, is alluring. This is as Kavanagh readily alternates between past and present situations. The dialogue is appropriately straight-forward. Still, it is suitably delivered by the cast.

Furthermore, the musical contribution from Scott Tobin is an overall success. This is even if it is initially off-putting in the pulse-pounding and claustrophobic opening sequences. The retro effects are charming. Luca Rocchini’s cinematography is brooding and immersive. The previously undeclared depictions, including Nic Furlong as Barnes and Saorla Wright as Jess, are just as victorious.

Correspondingly, Kavanagh has crafted an exciting bit of escapist entertainment. Those who enjoyed Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil (2002-2017) series, or any related video game to film adaptation, should also be able to appreciate Kavanagh’s latest labor. It is both visceral and visually appealing. The often gory exertion is also full of nail-biting delights. Though we have seen it all before, it is still a tough, taut and well-made entry. Audiences craving a good midnight movie should be more than satisfied.

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

Demon Hunter will be available on digital and Video on Demand platforms August 15th, 2017.

“Is This Now” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Is This Now (2017), the fourth feature from writer-director Joe Scott, is exceptional. Scott perfectly conveys the inward isolation of the socially awkward lead of the drama, Ingrid (in a transcendent and layered portrayal from Sabrina Dickens), to masterful consequence. The Ace Film production just as potently operates as an emotionally resonant observation of the healing power of art. Namely, music.

This is immediately evident in the painfully private and brooding opening moments of the 96-minute configuration. Such resounds with an edgy, almost surreal sensibility. It is one which is instantly absorbing. With the combination of song and successfully administered tone unveiled in the effort, this three-minute sequence calls to mind a grimly stylish video. This is for a number that can be easily assessed as a soul-bearing, #1 hit. As the endeavor moves forward, Scott’s photoplay becomes relatively lighter at times. Still, Ingrid’s anguish and anxiety, caused from a dark history of abuse, is always at the forefront. This gives way to a finale that is too abrupt. Nonetheless, it is genuinely shocking. Not even the conventional romantic beats and sparks of optimism that flower in the second half can dilute the sheer effectiveness of this passage.

Scott’s tale concerns Ingrid’s attempts to escape her mistreatment. In so doing, she finds a friend in Jade (in a wonderful enactment from Brigid Shine). She is a young rocker. From herein, Ingrid, whose parents died in a car crash, follows Jade and the group, JOANovArc. Such an act brings out the creative side in Ingrid. In turn, she begins to pursue formulating her own sonic compositions. This helps her to begin to obtain an internal strength. There are even flashes of trust. Yet, the conclusion suggests that this also helps reinforce another entirely different desire.

This narrative is certainly affecting. Scott, via his intelligent and meticulously paced scripting and introspective guidance of the project, treats both Ingrid and the sensitive subject matter at hand with the maturity and understanding it demands. Also, Ingrid’s gradual development throughout the exertion is believable. The same can be said of the dialogue and interactions. This is also accurate when considering the characterizations of those who share screen time with Scott’s central figure. What is just as striking is how Scott makes many of the emotive turns in the arrangement simultaneously elegiac and evermore stirring. This is via Simon Finley and Kaya-Herstad Carney’s terrific tunes.

Assisting matters is Ian Cash and Joao da Silva’s sharp cinematography. Andrew McKee’s editing is superb. The costume design from Danielle Cooper is similarly astounding. Contributions from the make-up and sound department fare just as well. Correspondingly, the previously undeclared performances are just as stalwart. For instance, Anu Hasan is excellent as Ms. Murray. Fabien Ara is incredible as Dion. Not to mention, Scott’s incorporation of flashbacks is assuredly haunting. This is especially true of the first fifty percent of the picture.

This all comes together to create a marvelously honed and meditative tour de force. Though many of the themes explored and plot points are comparable to his prior features, such as the brilliant My Lonely Me (2015), the episode never feels anything less than fresh. It’s also admirable how tightly related Scott’s works remain. Such a factor adds a consistency to his material. This is supplementary to their collective high-quality. Regardless, Scott continues to evolve as an artist. It is expressed in every frame of his latest labor. What Scott crafts in Is This Now is as challenging as it is memorable. The result is one of the best pictures of the year.

(Unrated). Contains adult content and profanity.

“Second Nature” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Michael Cross’ feature debut, Second Nature (2016), is fresh, breezy and uproarious. It is also a flat-out brilliant examination of gender roles. The eighty-minute comedy, a Cross Films and Mirror Image LTD. production, also benefits from a politically influenced, but never overdone, plot. It is one that is as inventive as it is timely.

Such an inherently enjoyable story revolves around our likeable heroine, Amanda Maxwell (in a wonderful and lively enactment from Collette Wolfe). Early on, she finds a mirror in her grandmother’s once discarded belongings. After Amanda takes the looking-glass into her hands, her town of Louisburg transforms into Ellensburg (a sly reference to the same-named city in Washington where the arrangement was recorded). Taking cues from the transitions from the masculine to the feminine found in the titles of these areas, the archetypical actions and attitudes of the men and women in Amanda’s home town switch. These alterations become increasingly interesting when Amanda decides to run against the philandering Bret Johnson (in a stellar turn from Sam Huntington) for mayor.

The efficiently paced screenplay from Cross, J.C. Ford and Edi Zanidache, utilizes this reversal to masterful effect. The jokes the trio pulls from the engaging situation at hand are constantly witty. They are also endlessly successful. Best of all, even on the rare occasion a gag misfires it doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of the humor. The variety of laughs at hand operate just as sharply at punctuating the underlying message of this potent tour de force. This is a courtesy of the scripters’ knack for offbeat dialogue. These bits further establish the authors’ capacity to set-up unique, often absurd, spins on commonplace situations.

Simultaneously, Cross’ guidance of the project is as vibrant as the suitably developed characters who populate the tale. Given the heft of the themes, Cross’ generally light-hearted tone and approach makes for a bold choice. But, such a decision pays off tremendously well. Such an atmosphere makes the balance between luminous and cerebral entertainment Cross juggles throughout the runtime evermore effortless.

Also assisting matters is Michael Boydstun’s cheery, handsome cinematography. Mateo Messina and The Filthy Hypocrites offer stellar, largely upbeat and emotive music. Such masterfully punctuates the deliberately conventional beats of the narrative. Additionally, the charmingly retro effects, sound and make-up work are just as triumphant. The previously undeclared performances are just as spectacular. For example, Carolyn Cox is terrific as Estelle Otto. The same can be said of Carollani Sandberg as Nat Jones. Correspondingly, Riley Shanahan is exceptional as Dex Gamble.

Though the finale and its expected resolutions feel a bit rushed, this does little to dilute the infectious likability, intelligence and depth of the exercise. The guffaws come almost as soon as the picture commences. They don’t let up until after the smirk-inducing concluding credits have completed their run. Relatedly, the exertion towers from a cast and crew standpoint. Yet, unlike many similar genre entries in recent memory, there is genuine thought, heart and substance to Cross’ excursion. The result of these high-functioning attributes is undoubtedly one of the best comedies of the year.

(Unrated). Contains adult content and profanity.

Second Nature will be in select theaters starting September 8th, 2017. It will be available on Blu-Ray, DVD and some digital platforms, including Amazon, September 19th.