The Andrew Buckner/AWordofDreams Fall 2020 Short Film Festival- Film #2: “Scary Little F*****s (A Christmas Movie)” (2015)

By Andrew Buckner

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Fall 2020 Short Film Festival continues with the second project in the thirteen-part online collection: “Scary Little F*****s (A Christmas Movie)” (2015).

Cleverly directed by Nathan Suher and written by Lenny Schwartz, the 23-minute and 33-second work is a tremendously entertaining riff on Joe Dante’s endearing masterpiece Gremlins (1984). It features enjoyable and all-around terrific lead performances from Anna Rizzo,  Josh Fontaine and Rich Tretheway.

My full review of the film can be found here at the link below.

https://awordofdreams.com/2015/11/14/scary-little-fckers-a-christmas-movie-short-film-review

Synopsis:

It’s Christmas eve. An inebriated dad brings home to his adolescent son a gift he hopes will mend their faltering relationship, a Fookah, a devilish and disgusting creature that in turns wrecks havoc on their lives.

Official Trailer:

Vimeo Link for the Film in Full:

*All films in this festival were used with the kind permission of the filmmakers themselves.

“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.

“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.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016)” – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Richard Griffin’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s circa 1590-1597 penned romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016), pulsates with magic, splendor and eloquence. It is a passion project the Providence, Rhode Island born craftsmen has been attempting to bring to fruition since 2000. This is highly visible in the final product, which burns with the ardor of a long spent wish finally realized. The Scorpio Film Releasing distribution is both a beauty of sight and of sound; a searing triumph of frisky, smoothly paced entertainment. This is as much a courtesy of Jill Poisson’s rich, hypnotic cinematography and Griffin’s lively, astonishing handling of the production as it is the unmistakable, Early Modern English language of The Bard himself. Such an element Griffin takes directly from the original work. Even though Griffin has moved the central action from Ancient Greece, in an unspecified year, to Athens, Massachusetts in 1754: the rhythm, and amusing nuance (which is often innuendo based), of Shakespeare’s opus remains intact. All of this combines to create an affectionate, faithful homage to the source material. Yet, it distinctly resonates with the core of a Griffin construction. It is both radiant, sidesplitting, cutting edge, a bit old fashioned and affecting. Regardless, there is an innocence to the labor that showcases the sheer variety Griffin, who has toiled largely in the cinematic horror genre, is more than capable of conducting. Griffin, whose first celluloid tour de force was a modernized version of Shakespeare’s roughly 1588-1593 scribed tragedy Titus Andronicus (2000), is obviously well-versed in the narrative. This knowledge accentuates the sum of the vehicle. It makes its humor even more affective. This evident wisdom makes its message all the clearer. Moreover, its dramatic intervals are increasingly stalwart and wrenching. In turn, we are amended what is a highlight in Griffin’s multi-faceted career. This is undoubtedly one of the best pictures of the year.

Heightened by a few sly modern touches, such as a quick midway gag involving our obviously enthralled characters passing along a bowl of popcorn to one another, the sum of the effort is a wholly fresh and unique experience. It is as much a testament to Shakespeare’s sustained relevance as it is a display of Griffin’s endearing charms. Moreover, the theatrical roots of the exertion are more than perceptible. It is seen in the larger than life, yet still delightfully intimate, representations from everyone involved. This is as notable in Anna Rizzo’s riveting portrayal of the Queen of the Fairies, Titania, as it is with Johnny Sederquist’s punk rock take on the English mythology based elf, Puck (who is also known by the moniker of Robin Goodfellow). The more straight-forward presentations, such as Steven O’ Broin’s terrific and mature depiction of Theseus, balance out pleasantly the plethora of more light-hearted entities which dominate the affair.

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There is a wide range of categorical beats and themes, with the reversal of gender roles, transformation, the supernatural and the pursuit and nature of amour being at the forefront, that must be successfully orchestrated. Yet, the entire cast pulls it all off as if it as natural as breathing. Jamie Dufault as Demetrius, Laura Pepper as Robin Starveling, Aaron Andrade as the comical Snout and Elizabeth Loranth as Helena are especially good. The same can be said for Alexander Platt as Oberon, Josh Fontaine as the man turned donkey, Nick Bottom, Lee Rush as Hippolyta, Lydea Irwin as Mustardseed, Bruce Church as Egeus, Christin Goff as Rita Quince and Ashley Harmon as Hermia. She is the conflicted admirer of both Lysander (in an entrancing turn from Charlie Ferguson) and Demetrius. These stretches mechanize terrifically due, in part, to the fact that the chemistry between Harmon and Ferguson is palpable. This makes the numerous sequences revolving around their relationship even more hypnotic, wrenching and stunning.

What is just as incredible is that the 105-minute feature, despite its $25,000 price tag, remarkably comes off as if its budget is as gargantuan as its upbeat, often seductive, spirit. This manifests immediately in an impressively showcased, 65 second opening credits arrangement. With its cheery palette and blue lettering, it quickly captures the mystical disposition at the center of the narrative. Everything in this section seems bathed in moonlight. This integral ingredient is a mood-setting fixture in the initial literature itself. The plentiful shots of this aforesaid nighttime glimmer hovering above the forest in the presentation are equally intoxicating throughout. This commencing scene also comes across as strikingly retro. Such a visage could easily fit within the confines of a 1980’s style photographic opus. Given Griffin’s penchant for mirroring the look and feel of silver screen marvels from past decades, this similarity could be intentional.

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Advancing the overall appeal is the extraordinary effects from Torey Haas and John Dusek. They backup these prior addressed, bygone qualities spectacularly. Simultaneously, Griffin’s editing is top notch. Chad Kaplan’s Cupid animation is sensational. Margaret Wolf provides stellar, era appropriate costume design. Furthermore, the makeup from Jaquelyn Fabian, Scott C. Miller and Sissy O’ Hara is phenomenal. The Shakespeare writ “Lullaby”, wonderfully composed by Mark Cutler and captivatingly performed by Rizzo, Irwin and Harmon, is elegantly designed and delivered. Likewise, both the gentle and emotive Cutler authored, put together and sung “In My Dreams” as well as Daniel Hildreth’s ambient music augments perpetual lavishness to the project.

Griffin, whose script for this crowd-funded undertaking is both robust and brilliant, handles the various interconnected plotlines of this complex affair splendidly. The first of these are Hermia’s refusal to marry Demetrius. Such transpires due to her strong affinity for Lysander. Additionally, there is the creation of the play Nick Bottom, Snug (in a bravura role from Christian Masters), Tom Snout, Robin Starverling and Francis Flute (in a terrific enactment by Ryan Hanley) plan to act in for the Duke and Queen’s wedding. Many of the early guffaws triumphantly derive from this account. King of the Fairies, Oberon, and his  summoning of Puck to concoct a love potion, which gradually goes out of control, is spectacularly issued. Some of the most visually and sentimentally dazzling bits in the fabrication stem from these segments. Hermia and Lysander’s escape into the same area where Titania resides becomes a focal point. This is for the assembly of all these previously stated anecdotes into one setting. It is all punctuated by a final monologue by Puck that is assuredly smirk-inducing. Such also offers a grand climactic point. This instant reiterates the enchanted atmosphere of the undertaking masterfully.

In a filmography that ranges from fun, 1950’s modeled alien invasion illustrations (2010’s nostalgia fueled Atomic Brain Invasion), John Waters Reminiscent comedies (2014’s ingenious Accidental Incest) and 1970’s grindhouse brand B-movies (2011’s The Disco Exorcist), Griffin’s vision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream fits comfortably in the inarguably varied body of his career. His stamp is on every achingly alluring frame of his latest endeavor. There is also a delicate gentleness to the proceedings, an attention to detail and an admiration and pride for the centuries old text which pulsates proudly through the duration. Such helps bring the composition to life in a way unseen in preceding interpretations of the fiction. This is as much a thanks to his cast of frequent collaborators, all of whom continue to prove their flexibility and variability with the diversity of roles Griffin has handed them throughout the years, as it is solid proof of Griffin’s own multi-faceted talents. With his latest contribution, Griffin soars and astounds. All the while, he also makes us laugh, contemplate and reflect. Though the words and events may be that of Shakespeare, the voice we hear radiating through the entirety is distinctly that of Griffin. What Griffin provides here, besides another example of his absolute command of form, is a masterclass in how to take an oft told tale and make it solely your own.

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