“What Jack Built” – (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

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

Director Matthew Mahler’s eleven minute short, “What Jack Built”, works tremendously well. It forces the imagination to look under its murky, brooding corners, retrace its steps and put the many enigmatic items of its narrative together themselves. The overall intensity and interest of the piece is garnered largely from the craftsmanship of the mystery at hand. This is just as true of Mahler’s skillful handling of the material. Such is a brilliant manner to tell a tale like this. Mahler provides a dialogue free composition. This is another smart move. It heightens the intrigue immensely.

We watch the cigar-smoking and brooding, Jack (Timothy J. Cox, in another mesmerizing and masterful enactment), as he puts together blueprints in a secluded basement. He is also seen laboring over a trapping device. This is for the wholly concealed fiend lurking in the woods as well as inspecting his security cameras. Audience patrons view the succession of these immersive, hypnotically constructed and intriguing sequences of the affair’s arc in wonder. They are forced to uncover the meaning behind Jack’s actions themselves. This just adds to the appeal and quality of the item immensely.

What is going on inside of his psyche? How did he come to think of this device? What is its purpose? How did he put it together? Since he is the only one we meet, is he the only one left alive? What is exactly is this creature in the woods, if that is in fact what it is, he appears to be combating? Are they truly at war with one another? Are they linked somehow? It’s fascinating to ponder and assess these questions, left unanswered by the actual account, and come to our own conclusions based on the wisely sparse bits of details Mahler provides. These lack of particulars are a deliberate inclusion on Mahler’s behalf. Such is a bold choice that pays off handsomely. The result of this already attention-garnering saga is amplified by the minimalistic approach. The consequence is elevated far more than it would be if it was told in a traditionally straight-forward manner. This is not only thanks to Mahler’s taut direction, but also the cleverly paced, electrifying and meditative screenplay. This was penned by Matthew and Ross Mahler.

The title alone suggests a bit of a parallel to the popular British nursery rhyme, “This is the House That Jack Built”. In retrospect, it can even be perceived as an apocalyptic aftermath of the absurdly comic events that transpired in that tale. Yet, with a far more mature tone. “The man all tattered and torn”, as the folktale states, certainly applies to the brooding Jack realized in Mahler’s fabrication. He appears haunted, as if by the measures transcribed in the poem. Cox portrays this excellently. Not to mention, there is an underlying aggression to his motions. It is one which backs up the previously stated line splendidly. It is grasped in the various facial expressions Cox so expertly instills into the protagonist. Maybe this all circumstantial. It could be that this theory has nothing to do with its similarly captioned brute. But, it is this uncertainty, the many ‘what-ifs’ the endeavor captivatingly radiates, that makes it so thought-provoking and endlessly stirring.

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Matthew Mahler also issues music which is as spellbinding and ominous as the article itself. He utilizes a creaking soundtrack, reminiscent of one conventionally heard in a feature by Dario Argento, to chilling effect. It also sonically re-instates the endless atmospheric of the exertion beautifully. It makes the moments in the depths of the secluded area where Jack is hiding, as well as the ventures into the outside, all the more fearful and suspenseful. Adding further technical success to the project is Mahler’s sharp editing. There is also an inspired flare to the chronicle. The instances the smartly never spied beast is sensed creeping through the surrounding landscapes is reminiscent of the recurring shot which opens Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1982) is where this is most evident. Even the setting itself calls this comparison to mind. Yet, Mahler’s attempt is far more than a simple homage. It is entirely its own entity.

In scenes such as the one recently addressed, Mahler’s aforesaid sonic contribution is most proficient. Yet, his appropriately dark, gorgeously honed cinematography drives this magnificent attribute home all the more victoriously. He also instates a credible, well-done input to the costume and wardrobe department. John Heirlein’s art department influence strengthens the believability and stalwart nature of the proceedings just as well.

This 8mm Films production is a true marvel. In an era where so much of cinema goes out of its way to show and tell, in excruciating specificity, its spectators what is hidden behind every door and explain every secret within a moving picture, “What Jack Built” is all the more necessary and refreshing. Those who expect everything ushered there way as far as a fully-fleshed out yarn, character development and all of the other trademark tools of the storytelling trade may find themselves frustrated. Such would be in the manner in which Mahler ceaselessly defies these expectations. They are assuredly the ones who will be put off by the undefined sum of the effort. Yet, those of us who like a new experience, one which gives us more inquiries than responses, will feel liberated.

Mahler drops us immediately into the exploits as if in the middle of a fiction already in progress. From herein, we are with Jack, hanging on his every motion, riveted through the duration. Despite the intentional vagueness of much of what we encounter, this can also be understood as an admirable experiment. This test concerns how much can be stated without a single word. Yet, the investigative nature reaches far beyond this single boundary. There is genuine risk-taking incorporated at nearly every turn. It makes the outcome all the more harrowing. For those of us who enjoy innovation as well as an adventurous take on the thriller, Mahler’s undertaking is a mandatory dose of adrenaline. It is a fantastic, illuminating, nail-biting spectacle which demands to be witnessed.

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“Total Performance”-(Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

**** out of *****.

The seventeen minute serio-comic short film from writer-director Sean Meehan, “Total Performance”, boasts both incredible talent and a unique and intriguing narrative concept. What further strengthens this fantastic endeavor is that the people in Meehan’s screenplay are lively and endearing. Moreover, the dialogue is dripping with authentic, frequently funny and often slyly witty banter. This is interpreted with equally magnificent turns from Tory Berner as the lead, Cori Sweeney, and Steven Conroy as Tim Madsen. These tremendous enactments grandly compliment the personalities Meehan has erected. This is so largely because the main depictions are all so tremendously realized. They bring home all the multi-layered facets of those we meet in the proximity of the tale. Such is done with nuance and unwavering believability. There is an everyday likability about Sweeney and Madsen that make them immediately relatable.

Meehan’s smoothly structured and magnificently directed and penned account focuses in on Sweeney. She is a struggling actress who is employed by a company, whose name graces the title of the piece, that lends out their members to represent an individual who is about to suffer a break-up, be let go from their occupation or dealt unfortunate news. The only catch is she can’t give any advice. But, when the comfort of being out of the practiced discussion long before it occurs, as is her only rule, is unexpectedly broken she finds herself amid the chaos. This transpires as a situation she was hired to provide her particular service to manifests while she is still on the premises.

When the endeavor turns from effectively humorous and often playful to dramatic to thoughtful in the second half the transition is effortless. This is thanks to the continued character-oriented focus throughout. It is also attributed to, not only the stalwart impact of the depictions from Berner and Conroy, but a secondary cast that is equally spectacular. The on-screen depictions by Caitlin Berger as Annie Heron, Anthony Rainville as Rafi, Timothy J. Cox as Walter Baron, Paul Locke as Bruce, Phoebe Kuhlman as Lauren and Lauren B. Nelson as Susan inspire awe. They quietly captive the audience with their multi-layered, high-caliber enactments. The event that brings about the conversion in tone is harrowing and genuinely unexpected. It heightens our emotional investment in these fictional personalities even more. Furthermore, it is punctuated by a closing shot that perfectly illuminates the various questions and conflicting emotions that must be going on in Sweeney’s mind. The open- ended nature of this only makes the results all the more effective and cerebral. By doing so the spectators is boldly forced to put themselves in Sweeney’s shoes. The composition is all more potent because it asks us to figure out what decision any of us would make in the state of affairs Sweeney finds herself in.

The first sequence draws us in immediately. We see Sweeney going through a job related rehearsal. It is her approach to her profession which is naturally fascinating. Yet, it also grips us on a technical level. This is thanks to, not only a naturally innovative storyline, but also mood-catching music by Cesar Suarez. Further appreciation for this attribute is courtesy of Chris Loughran’s colorful, striking and always luminous cinematography. Meehan’s film editing and digital effects are marvelous and impressive. Hair stylist and makeup artist Maya Landi and gaffer Joe McLeish’s particular contributions are just as phenomenal. Everyone involved presents magnificent work. This factor illuminates the proceedings significantly.

“Total Performance” is magnificently orchestrated throughout. It showcases a tremendous balance of humor and heart. It is also made all the more poignant by Meehan’s ability to seamlessly fill the screen with riveting cinematic personalities that we care about. The writing is sharp and the interpretations of the individuals that populate Meehan’s script are knock-outs all around. This is a brief composition that is not only a beauty to be caught up in but to watch unfold and to meditate upon. Meehan has crafted a dazzler. It is one that is propelled by both a tremendous and original plot idea and same said execution. This is a must-see.

You can check out the Facebook page for “Total Performance” here.

“Here Lies Joe”- (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

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

From the opening moments of director Mark Battle and Sweven Films’ hauntingly beautiful twenty-three minute short, “Here Lies Joe”, a riveting tonal balance of melancholy, peppered with effective humor and an ebbing sense of optimism, is brilliantly established. We watch our lead, whose name is referenced in the title of the piece (rivetingly played by Dean Temple in a performance that is always watchable, absolutely perfect for the material and showcases his incredible abilities by speaking volumes through frequently sorrowful facial gestures) taping up the windows of his beat-up car, full of books and family photographs, in an attempt at ending his life. This sequence lasts but a minute. Regardless, it immediately pulls us into Joe’s world. This early bit is so triumphant at doing so that we instantly care for and desperately want to learn more about this lonely soul.

This segment is just the first of many such smart moves on Battle’s behalf. Such decisions result in a towering achievement. It is one which reaches its sentimental zeniths through the lens of credibility and realism. Such is presented through its continued emphasis on sheer subtlety. This occurs in both characterization and in the way the entire endeavor is crafted. These factors, thanks to the gorgeous and perfectly suited for the overall atmosphere attributes of Battle’s superb cinematography, ravishingly compliment the atmosphere and the narrative impeccably well.

The story, dazzlingly constructed by both Pamela Conway and Battle, concerns Joe meeting an unpredictable young woman known as ‘Z’ (in a portrayal by Andi Morrow that is every bit as intriguing, well-honed and fantastic as Temple’s) at a Suicide Anonymous meeting. This is one headed by Bill (Timothy J. Cox in another of the many magnificent enactments herein). He is a self-proclaimed “suicide addict”. In this same sequence we also meet several other immediately gripping personalities. For instance, Joe is confronted by Carol (a presentation by Mary Hronicek that is both exceptional and charismatic) who believes her fish is clinically depressed. Even with the brief screen time Hronicek is given she makes Carol just as absorbing as the forerunners of the account. It proves the high-caliber of both the writing and the acting talent at hand.

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Though Joe is quiet and introverted, and Z is more than happy to make her presence known to the entire group upon introduction, they inexplicably find a common bond with one another. The rest of the saga focuses sharply on this relationship. The friendship between Joe and Z demonstrates their unspoken dependence upon one another. Because of this the interest initially garnered when we first see each of these characters becomes unwavering. It also increases in its stalwart nature. Such is especially true with each new breathtaking scene.

Battle and Conway’s bold screenplay takes full advantage of the differences in personality between Joe and Z. This is largely evident up until the seventeen minute mark in the composition. It is utilized as a chance to provide phenomenal discussions between the two. These often relate these differences in either a direct or ancillary fashion. This works as entertaining character development. Yet, these instances are so well-written and immersive that we find ourselves even more captivated by these opposite personalities. What is just as mesmerizing is their semi-unlikely attachment and the strange fate which has pulled them together. This prior focus only makes the last six minutes, complete with elegiac and instantly memorable lines such as Z’s: “I am an ugly thing in a beautiful world”, all the more of an emotional knockout. It all comes together to create a certainly well-rounded and touching dramatic portrait as the endeavor becomes more sentimental and heart-wrenching in this conclusive stretch.

This attribute is punctuated by a final bit of dialogue, a reference between a shared interest among Joe and Z, which, in its context, calls back to mind all of the mournful, hilarious and poignant instances which came beforehand. It makes the endeavor all the more masterful as it finds the perfect climax for such a touching, intimate and relatable effort. This is done simply in its last touch of underplayed, but smirk-inducing, dialogue. Yet, the imprint it leaves lingers, much like the sum of the material itself, long afterwards.

From a technical standpoint this often unexpectedly exuberant affair is just as impressive. Battle’s editing is seamless. It is also spectacularly orchestrated. Robert Beal III and Sean Meehan’s sound is crisp, alive and continuously striking. Hair stylist and makeup artist Nicole Celso evokes a great contribution to the overall quality of the piece in her respective arenas. This makes this short picture all the more of deft and alive.

“Here Lies Joe” is an example of how much can be done, stated, examined, as well as the lasting impact conducted, in a brief span. Battle has an incredible aptitude in his respective fields. The same is true for the rest of his moviemaking crew. The proof of such a statement is illuminated in every second of this wonderful and often unexpectedly life- affirming tour de force. This is an intelligent, meditative affair. It is one with just the right balance of heart and laughter. Furthermore, every on-screen personage herein is highly likable. Every individual we encounter throughout seems deserving of being the principal of their own cinematic endeavor. This is an exhibition of moving art that audiences can grow with as the years pass and age and accruing wisdom inevitably takes further hold. This is a visual treasure trove. One destined to bring about new pearls of insight and continue to enthrall and move moviegoers with each viewing. Because of this, Battle’s latest demands to be seen.

You can check out the website for the short here.

You can check out Sweven Films’ Facebook page here.

You can check out Timothy J. Cox’s web site here.

You can check out the IMDB page for “Here Lies Joe” here.

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The Hateful Eight- (Movie Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner

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

Quentin Tarantino remains one of the most brilliant storytellers of our time. This is especially true with his eighth film, The Hateful Eight. His unbridled passion for his craft, the saga he is weaving and the respect for the patience, maturity and intelligence of his audience is ever-present here. It also gives him a pulpit to take uncountable risks. For example, Tarantino fills our ears with his endlessly engaging, beautifully written and snappy, often oddly poetic, dialogue. In this duration there is not a single shot fired, rarely an instant of action in its most accepted respect, until one hundred and one minutes in. Despite this, the threat of violence is always present. This adds various layers of gradually building intrigue and suspense to the banter. The set-up becomes akin to a bomb that we know will explode at any moment. The question is simply when this will occur. Such provides further proof that his Best Original Screenplay win for Django Unchained in 2012 was certainly merited. This makes the proceedings unfold in the manner of a great novel: confident, bold and meticulously mounted. It is also further testament to how well-orchestrated Tarantino’s writing, direction and narrative remain throughout.

Such a large portion of the runtime, dictated on-screen as the first three ‘chapters’, gets us to intimately know the motivations, the backstory and singular personages of each individual. Few directors could pull off the feat of entertaining us as much with mere speech, especially when most features are content to give audiences exactly what they expect as soon as they sit down in the theater, in such grand fashion. It all leads to a twist-filled, irony laced and inevitably brutal succession of segments which pose well over the last hour of the endeavor. This climactic bit is just as amusing as what came before it for wholly new reasons.

There is not a moment in its one hundred and sixty-seven minutes (with the exclusive 70 millimeter roadside shows running one hundred and eighty-seven minutes and including a musical overture and intermission to add to its wonderfully vintage impression) where we are not purely entertained. Whether this arises from Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography (which takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the many moments illustrating snowfall to alluring effect), Fred Raskin’s proficient editing or Ennio Morricone’s appropriately tense and haunting score this attribute is undeniable. But, the trait that lingers with the audience the longest is the vividly developed, darkly charismatic, compulsively watchable characters themselves. These title individuals are all despicable in their own right. There is no false advertising here. Despite this, the performances are all so incredible (Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, Kurt Russell as the bounty hunter, John Ruth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the prisoner, Daisy Domergue, are especially astonishing) that we find ourselves enraptured, even caring, for at least a handful of these brash beings in some way. These personalities, as well as the piece itself, is sheer Tarantino. These elements provide further proof that he is a maestro performing at the height of his talent.

Another successful endeavor in risk- taking unveiled here is setting approximately 4/5 of this three hour epic inside the cramped confines of Minnie’s Habadashery. At first glance the setting seems quaint and sparse. It would give even the most imaginative of directors little to do after the hour and a half marker. This is when most productions, particularly the plethora of low budget horror exertions which take place in a single setting, would gracefully bow out. Yet, with Tarantino at the wheel the movie is far from long enough. Here he spins and erects one fresh idea after another. This is done to keep our interest continually blooming to new peaks. Most astonishingly, he finds ways to build up tension from everyday elements. Often this manifests itself in the form of a chair or a cup.

As this small setting becomes the stage for this post- Civil-War narrative, we find the eight assembling in this claustrophobic expanse after a fantastically done and riveting half hour long sequence exhibiting travel via stagecoach. This early bit immediately captures our attention. Moreover, it also sets the tone for the dialogue heavy emphasis of much of the picture.

Afterwards we find Ruth, alongside Warren, continuing his mission to bring Domergue to Red Rock’s hangman, who happens to be on the premises in the form of Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), is thrown off course by the wintry weather and the stay. The slimy self-proclaimed sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who we also meet during this aforementioned opening segment, finds himself in the same situation. Here we meet Bob (Damien Bichir), who claims to be watching the place for Minnie. We are also introduced to the confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the “cowboy” Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Soon secrets are revealed, prejudices rise and these individuals turn on one another.

Tarantino adds elements of mystery, action, bloodshed, dismemberment and drama to this far from traditional take on the western. It makes this genre stew all the more varied, unpredictable and savory as we watch it unravel. The secondary cast, mostly seen in flashback, of Sweet Dave (Gene Jones), the unusually upbeat Six-Horse Judy (Zoe Bell), and Jody (Channing Tatum) all add to this blend. This is done with tremendously rich performances. Furthermore, it is enhanced with characters that are all much their own entity.

The Hateful Eight is pure genius. It is a movie for movie lovers made by a man whose admiration for this particular venue pulsates through its every tremendously realized frame. Many may be put off by the effort’s almost blasé attitude toward contemporary ideologies of pace, characterization and its sheer length. But, this is what makes Tarantino and his compositions, especially this one, so special. When you purchase a ticket to a Tarantino feature it is the unknown, not the mechanisms of a mainstream product, which make his work a continual marvel; a vigorous breath of innovative fresh air to sit through. It is also the necessary reminder we all need of why so many have such an endlessly admiration and fascination with this particular creative form. Moreover, it recalls a motion picture’s ability to transport its audience to another time and place and to be enraptured in a great, well-told account. This is another sign of Tarantino as a true artist. The fact that reviews of this misunderstood masterpiece have been so largely divided only confirm this. Give Tarantino the Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture awards immediately. He sure has earned it. This is cinema at its finest.

Blood Moon- (Short Film Preview/ Review)

By Andrew Buckner

**** out of *****.

Director and screenwriter Nic Carcieri’s six minute short, Blood Moon, is a triumph of craft, storytelling and cinematic art. It is an intelligent, suspenseful, tightly paced horror endeavor credited with a sharp focus on captivating viewers through ever illusive mystery. This angle makes it immediately accessible for the audience to get into the mentality of its charismatic lead, Alex (Alexandra Cipolla in a wonderfully layered performance). Such is especially true as she finds that tragedy has befallen her husband, Zach (Topher Hansson in a strong and quietly compelling portrayal). Here the collective moments of this brief, yet sharp and undoubtedly proficient, piece come together. We feel every ounce of the increasing heart-break, sorrow and the pain Alex is going through. Moreover, this attribute heightens the intrigue.

Such is beautifully introduced in the opening seconds. During this time, Alex and Zach drive down a lonely and deserted road on their wedding night. They are blissful and visibly full of love for one another. It is the perfect set-up for the always gripping, and sentimentally varied, experience which follows. This also makes the proceedings, especially in retrospect, all the more grimly poetic, haunting and surreal.

This is just one of many wise moves on behalf of the moviemaking crew. There is also a flashback scene introduced around the two minute mark. It gorgeously illustrates Zach’s proposal to Alex. From this point the film flashes forward to exquisitely conceived glimpses into the couple’s wedding. Though this instance lasts approximately twenty seconds it succeeds as in-depth character development. This brief span is operative at getting us to know Zach and Alex. It is so efficient at this task that when she wakes up afterward, her white wedding dress covered in blood, to the unfortunate circumstances mentioned beforehand that the transition in tone becomes all the more riveting.

Carcieri lands the first of several unexpected blows here. This adds curiosity. It also brings to a zenith the evocative nature that the almost too idyllic segments that came before it seemed to hint at quietly. Furthermore, it becomes the centerpiece of the tale; an item which Carcieri utilizes to rapidly increase our concern for Alex and her situation. It is also sharply maneuvered to keep the intensity ever-mounting. This is a brilliant move. It proves a perfect example of how well-orchestrated the narrative, especially Carcieri’s spellbindingly written script, remains. Such impact comes again in a rousing finale that ends on an equally potent note. Characters we come to know as The Stranger (Michael Thurber in an ominous and commanding turn) and Kaine (Jose Gonsalves in an excellent portrayal) are especially terrific in this late section.

What also makes this composition so stalwart is that all technical facets are outstanding. The cinematography by James R. DeMello is crisp and vibrant. It perfectly captures the sunny disposition the recently wed individuals must be feeling in its early sections. When the account turns to terror in its last four minutes the veneer is endlessly atmospheric. It resonates ample beauty in both its joyous and frightening turns. The same can be said for the endeavor itself. This is further complimented by elegantly fashioned editing by DeMello. The make-up and visual effects by Christina Cook and Greg Easton are stellar. This production is further assisted by hypnotic title and end credit sequences by Marguerite Cass. Here a procession of endlessly imaginative images are summoned. This captures the enchanting, eerie and gothic impression of the exertion masterfully.

Blood Moon is genuinely effective. It gets its authoritative command as much from what it informs its spectators of as much as what it ultimately leaves unsaid. This is an example of the genre of fear working at its peak through nuance and proficient skill. There are many nods to the approach of similarly themed classics. Regardless, the effort is distinctly its own entity. It is a smart, character-driven, beautifully done and unsettling. In the tradition of the best horror works, the composition will have you mentally re-evaluating its chain of events. Most importantly, it will have you looking over your shoulder long after its shudder-inducing conclusion.

“Everest” – (Movie Review)

 

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

Everest, from director Baltasar Kormakur (2012’s fair Contraband, 2013’s disappointing 2 Guns), is a film that is every bit as generic as its title suggests. It is structured far too visibly after standard issue big-budget natural disaster works. Franc Roddam’s K2, from 1991, and Frank Marshall’s Alive, from 1993, come instantly to mind. It’s evidence that we have all seen this done far better many times beforehand.

To its credit, there are potentially interesting characters in this fact based story. The problem is that William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy’s unappealing screenplay turns them all into plot-serving conventions. They become walking genre tropes who deliver heavy doses of personal backstory when the script deems it necessary to combat its numerous lulls. One extended scene, at about thirty-five minutes in, makes this especially obvious. Predictably, the screenplay summons the cast to expose their heroism and individual weaknesses at other standard intervals. This comes off as just as calculated. It also drains the movie of any potential emotional impact it wishes to attain.

This all could’ve been compelling material. Such would’ve been the case if the endeavor wasn’t so adamant about making everything so familiar. To be fair, most of the leads are generally easy to root for. Oddly, any trace of relatability to these individuals seems to be completely removed. It spends so much of the duration forcing us to care for those who populate the screen that it never really tries to make them unique and worthy of our concern. Because of this Everest never quite gets out of the shadow of this glaring failure. This immeasurably hinders the proceedings. It also makes its shortcomings all the more visible.

The always watchable Jake Gyllenhaal provides one of the few bright spots as Scott Fischer. Though he is likeable, and captures the attention in every bit he is in, he is used sparingly. Emily Watson, as Helen Wilton, and Josh Brolin, as Beck Weathers, turn in serviceable portrayals. They go through the motions with equally bland results. They are greatly held back by the writers treating these personalities like cinematic stock. This is depressing given the high-caliber talent these A-list individuals convey. Prior roles prove this. Still, they can only do so much with such scant material. The same can be said for Sam Worthington, as Guy Cotter, and Keira Knightly as Jan Hall.

Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is undoubtedly beautiful. Still, it is no better than what can be found in similar undertakings. This is especially disappointing given that the movie seems to be often abandon characterizations to floor audiences on this aspect alone. Such is true in the uneven and unfocused second hour. Like far too many attributes in this failed attempt at making the audience hold their breath in anticipation of what will occur next: this cinematic affair plays things far too safely.

The one hundred and twenty one minute depiction attempts to portray a disaster on Mount Everest. This occurs in March, 1996. Such an event finds two expedition groups fighting for their survival. Such transpires when a snow storm threatens the title mountain. Leaders of these groups are Rob Hall, Jason Clarke in a fair enough performance, and Fischer (Gyllenhaal). As the situation becomes increasingly worse one potentially nail-biting coincidence leads to another. All the while the individuals trapped in these horrific conditions band together in hopes that they will make it through this terrifying circumstance.

Much of the second half is where the exertion makes its most obvious attempts at generating suspense. This is where the composition succeeds. It also has strong stretches of promising build-up preluding these instances. As the risks become all the more daunting, Kormakur gives us tremendously designed and credible segments of peril. They are endearing and almost always intriguing because of their understated nature. Moreover, they never abandon the dramatic origins of the tale. If only more of these words could be applied to more of the feature’s technical aspects we might’ve truly had something special here.

The pace is choppy. Oddly enough, the piece seems hell-bent on constantly disemboweling viewer interest as soon as it begins to become genuinely compelling. Such is done almost singularly on its bizarre structure. This is after a first hour that is desperate, lumbering and made all the more faux and painful by its constantly forced and inane dialogue. Such incorporates the many failed attempts to establish the protagonists.

Kormakur dearly wants to make us care about those who populate the screen. This is certainly admirable. He wants us to impress upon ourselves the worry, fear, heartache and sorrow that accrues once these individuals’ lives are later endangered. Such could’ve put us in the leads’ shoes easily. It could’ve also added a potency that simply is not there. The underwhelming execution, even with its well-done buildup in check, is what sinks this honest exertion.

When the focus turns to full-on intensity, as is the case in the last forty-five minutes, it accumulates attention. Sadly, this is intercepted by hackneyed attempts to keep the personal stories going. These elements are so poorly handled throughout that they always distract us when the story seems to be building momentum. If this pivotal aspect functioned better this would’ve been far more engaging and satisfactory. What’s worse is that this all leads to a finale that is glaringly obvious from its commencement. This provokes a groan where should be exhilaration. Such can also be applied when summarizing the impression of sitting through the effort itself.

The score by composer Dario Marianelli is also highly generalized. This attribute is used subtly, smartly. It gives the sequences it is administered in a quietly hypnotic power. Moreover, it isn’t overused, as is the case of many similar pictures, to heighten emotional intensity by becoming overblown. Such works to its benefit.

Mick Audsley’s editing is proficient. The sound, as well as the visual and special effects, follow suit. There are many positive traits employed throughout. But, ultimately, there just simply aren’t enough of these stalwart details to overcome its obvious shortcomings.

It all creates a motion picture which is largely stale and often seems like it is on auto-pilot. Everest is confident that it will make your jaw-drop with the veneer of the claustrophobia inducing mountains. The same conviction is unveiled in the spectacularly sweeping glean and menace of the hazardous weather hammering down upon those trapped on the elevation. Furthermore, it is just as assured that it will make your heart frenziedly beat in your chest from its various cliffhanger scenarios. Because of this it blatantly appears to all but ignore the meat, the substance which makes an otherwise mediocre exercise genuinely worthwhile.

“Love”- (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer and director Gasper Noe’s Love is nowhere near as revolutionary as what he has provided viewers beforehand. These are 1998’s excellent thriller, I Stand Alone, 2002’s Irreversible and 2009’s Enter the Void. Yet, it remains a largely satisfying expression of film as liberation and as art.

True to the form of Noe’s previous work his latest has a fearless spirit. This is a topic expressed outright in a portion of credible second act dialogue. Because of this the unrated feature displays its NC-17 equivalent proudly throughout its 135 minutes.

What we also hear rippling through the mouths of its leads is the thesis statement of the movie. This is that Noe’s endeavor wishes to be a sentimental expression of ardor. It is one fashioned through the lens of sexuality. Such an achievement certainly arises with a build-up of subtle power after a lumbering first half hour. Regardless, it is never as maudlin as such a concept could’ve easily become. Also, it is never as bitter as it appears to be in the opening sequences.

These initial thirty minutes do have moments of intrigue. This element shines even when our lead, Murphy (Karl Glusman, in a performance which gets better as the script offers him better material) is at his most loathsome. During these early segments he spends the time apparently aimless. His intent is only on elucidating a general mean-spiritedness.

Here he mumbles tired observations. This is done in a weak attempt at narration. These concern the title emotion, and his life, to the audience. It becomes grating quick. Luckily, this is largely abandoned as the composition moves on.

Even in this desperate stretch our interest is captivated. This occurs in these blind-spot moments through the gorgeous shots Noe evokes. These are made all the more jaw-dropping by his utilization of his trademark non-linear style. Such elements illuminate more than it should with a narrative as simple the one Noe gives us. This is due to the audience mentally scrambling to put the story pieces together.

What also helps us overlook these initial problems is that the cinematography by Benoit Debie is just as lush and Noe’s style dictates. This transcendent beauty makes much of Noe’s framing appear all the more masterful. It is like watching a succession of brilliant paintings brought to life in rapid succession through the medium of a moving picture.

Most intriguingly, the film’s personality often mirrors Murphy himself. At first it seems cold and distant. But, as it slowly peels away its intricate layers it gradually lets us deeper into the lives of those dominating the screen. This is proven as the chronicle slowly opens up and takes its time revealing its ardent core.

Noe’s sensual drama hits an undeniable stride of excellence. This is especially true from the hour mark until the emotionally gripping and strangely beautiful climax. The note is heightened as the last sight is frozen to over the end credits sequence. It is just one of the many wonderful tricks the director effortlessly delivers.

Love, especially in its second half, reminded me of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s work from the 60’s and 70’s. Much in this spirit, Noe slyly incorporates personal viewpoints, often regarding politics and cinema, into the discourse which ring with an everyday validity. We can easily imagine passing by these people on the streets and hearing such a conversation. It is also a clever, entertaining way of providing exposition that doesn’t seem spoon fed and unnatural.

It is this high-style which salvages the otherwise standard issue story. The exertion oversees Murphy and his lover, Electra (Aomi Muyock, in an exceptional portrayal which culminates believability at every turn). Hoping to make their fantasies become reality they add a third component to their relationship, Omi (Klara Kristen, in another well-done and charismatic performance).

Kristen’s character is used as a varied symbol throughout. This only adds to our fascination. The final use of this representation is the most interesting of them all. It adds punctuation to an already highly metaphoric, stunning climax.

In hindsight, the tale is simply a jumping off point for the experience Noe yearns to evoke. If this wasn’t so uniquely structured, uplifting and moving the familiarity of the chronicle could’ve sunk the movie down to mediocrity. Instead Noe seems intent on taking these commonplace motions as a challenge. This is one meant to break through their mundane constraints. In turn, he wishes to create something entirely new. This he succeeds in doing many times over.

Some elements do come off in a clichéd manner. These are especially evident when Noe seems to be reaching melodramatically. Regardless, the ultimate result is well-rounded, satisfying cinematic feast. It is one that both the mind and eye consumes with eager delight.

The sensual sequences are certainly well-done. They illustrate their intended effect. One extended bit, which transpires around the thirty-five minute mark, runs seven minutes. Yet, it never appears excessive. The feature continuously balances the emotional and the carnal without neglecting one for the other.

There is also often an underlying eroticism to much of the conversational moments. In turn, the instances that focus on physical intimacy never seem as if they are too far removed from the character oriented focus. It also never loses its dominant gaze on their concerns. This is what really gives the piece its heart.

Dennis Bedlow and Noe’s editing is sharp. The visual effects credited to ten individuals has rough touches of obvious C.G.I. that otherwise come off as seamless. Music supervisor Pascal Mayer gives us work that appears often conventional during the amatory sections. In its more dramatic moments the score issued seems a perfect fit. These technical aspects help propel the endeavor to its fantastic consequence.

There are a few moments which seem almost laughable. One involves a slow-motion close-up on genitalia near the ninety minute mark. They take away, however briefly, from this otherwise immersive experience. Moreover, they seem designed specifically for its 3-D format. It seems low-brow and out of place.

I have no problem calling Love one of the ten best films I have seen in the year. Regardless, it is not a full-fledged masterpiece. Furthermore, it does not approach the high benchmark Noe has set for himself in his three prior efforts.

Still, there is an admiration for the craft radiating through the emblematic and surface appeal. It endlessly garners our attention. This component is victorious even when the exertion is at its worst. Moreover, it makes the shortcomings forgivable.

Like Noe’s prior films, Love lingers in the mind long after the endeavor is finished. This is a haunting love letter to the spirit of cinema. It will merit additional watches. In turn, we may glean many new wonders, intricacies and nuances that we missed the first time around.

“What the Doctor Ordered”- (Short Film Review)

Writer and star Audrey Noone

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director Yvonne Labarge and screenwriter (and star) Audrey Noone deliver an uproarious glimpse into a decidedly unconventional relationship with the phenomenal five and a half minute short, “What the Doctor Ordered”.

The comedic endeavor concerns Sandra (Noone in a tremendously realized and well-timed performance) and Thomas (Sean McPherson in a portrayal that evokes the simultaneous confusion and varied attempts to keep the romance going in whatever manner possible his character conveys beautifully). While speaking to a psychiatrist (Jeanne Lohnes in a wonderful acting turn) the pinnacles of anger and admiration between Sandra and Thomas, and the underlying notion that these motions might all be an elaborate game between the two, are addressed in a succession of flashbacks.

These moments are always amusing. They induce a perfectly conceived atmosphere for the continuously light-hearted gaze of the narrative.

Moreover, Labarge and Noone never loses sight of their humorous intentions. Reccurring gags about food fights, and how Sandra uses the source of the combat to win Thomas over, are especially effective. It also provides a smirk-inducing punctuation mark for the story to conclude on.

These components provide verified proof that the comic nature of this brief film endures unflinchingly stalwart throughout the affair. Still, there is an innocent, caring heart beneath the joviality and the mirth that makes the leads charismatic, endearing, relatable and authentic.

The original music by Zachary Krodel is perfectly fitting for the defiantly upbeat, sitcom-like nature of this chronicle. This is what strikes us instantly in the opening instances of this exertion and it wins us over immediately.

Krodel’s immediately mood-setting, optimistic score is heard over a dark screen as the title is written out in whipped cream, in a nod to another of the numerous successful jokes, in the opening moments. Such an achievement, heightened by the fantastic sound design by Jeremy Eisener and vibrant cinematography and lighting from Mike Sun, are just a few of the many triumphs this work generates.

There is also an incredible display of animation from Danielle Lauretano. This contribution captures the spirit of the plot splendidly. It also adds considerably to the on-screen visual appeal.

The composition also victoriously settles into a rapid-fire pace. This attribute appears so casual, and is simultaneously so enthralling throughout, that the piece never feels rushed.

Such is surely an envy deriving characteristic. It is also a compliment to how apparently graceful, striking and well-done the whole endeavor remains during its runtime.

The writing by Noone and direction by Labarge, who also provides the seamless editing on display here, is brisk, sharp and vivid. They make an incredible team. This factor illuminates the final result spectacularly.

“What the Doctor Ordered” is the product of a year- long undertaking. It is a labor of love where the time, effort and commitment by all of those involved is emitted gloriously. This makes what we are given here all the more delightful to behold and wondrous to laugh along with.

Noone and Labarge have utilized all the endlessly witty and high-caliber ingredients mentioned above. This, as well as the welcome contributions from an equally capable cast, come together to craft a truly special cinematic treat.

 

Director Yvonne Labarge.

“Abandoned Dead”- (Horror Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

A film noir take on the supernatural thriller, writer and director Mark W. Curran’s Abandoned Dead, suffers from an all too familiar late twist.

Curran’s film focuses on Rachel Burke (Sarah Nicklin in a competent performance). She is a security guard for a healing facility. Called into the night shift she eventually begins sensing a terrifying presence slowly resonating about her. But, what is it? What does it want and why?

Despite an atmospheric score and mood draped cinematography by Robert Adams the seventy-seven minute feature (the DVD is reported to run eighty-five minutes) never dares peer that pensively at its narrative.

Instead Curran’s story follows suit with many horror works of our day. It does this by keeping everything on a surface level.

In turn, most of the effort is composed of many long shots. This is punctuated by the far too common sight of Nicklin pointing a flashlight into darkness. We are also handed endless walks down hallways. Alongside this we get ample doses of what could perhaps be paranormal activity.

All of these elements are well done. They provide stupendous atmosphere if that is all you wish for from a terror venture. Still, it leaves us with little to distinguish it from its genre peers.

The pace moves in much the same traditional fashion. For most of the piece Curran and his filmmakers successfully build a gradual sense of menace that, ultimately, leads nowhere new.

When Night of the Living Dead star Judith O’ Dea shows up late in the cinematic composition the sight of such a genre legend adds an element of credibility to the feature. Her performance as Doctor Pamela Myers is solid and enjoyable.

Moreover, the rest of the cast, especially Robert E. Wilhelm as Doctor Thaddeus Mayfield and Carlos Ramirez as Detective Phillip Haggis, fares just as well.

The special effects by Melanie Aksamit and Hannah Sherer are effective. They are also minimally used. This helps heighten the impact of the picture as a whole.

The nuance of these characteristics often gives the proceedings a classic thriller veneer. Such an attribute is much appreciated.

Curran’s impressive directorial flare and intriguingly constructed screenplay also help matters.

The main function of Abandoned Dead is to build an impression of unease. It does this satisfactorily.

Moreover, it incorporates a few moments that are genuinely unnerving. Regardless, it often feels as if it is going through the motions. It also appears unsure of itself at times.

This is overall fair entertainment. Still, I can’t help but think that we could’ve had something truly special.

This entry in fear evoking comes up a bit lacking in the end. Such an impression is brought upon because we leave the picture wishing that as much emphasis was put on the resolution as there was with building suspense.

Abandoned Dead is one case where the pieces are far more fascinating than the actual scene they together visualize.

Curran’s latest is more about the experience, the journey than the actual destination.

“Nature of the Flame”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

There’s an abstract beauty beneath the equally appealing visual style of writer and director Mike Messier’s 2014 short film, “Nature of the Flame”.

It is established early with shots of a body of water and feet, in a suggestion of serenity, wading in the stream. Suddenly we cut to a woman (Lindsey Elisabeth Cork in a tremendously wrought performance) sleeping.

After being told she isn’t prepared for enlightenment by an elusive figure (Jocelyn Padilla in an appropriately transcendent acting turn) in a monastery Cork wakes up in a cave.

From here the rapt audience participant wonders: “Did she die in her sleep?”, “Is this a glimpse of what awaits for her in the afterlife?”, “Is this merely a dream?”

Messier wisely gives us the room to come to our own conclusions with these inquiries. This is welcome since if concrete answers were provided it might’ve taken away from the ethereal, haunting, meditative experience at hand.

Despite these lingering questions one thing we know for certain is that Messier and company have captured the confusion and potential sense of ascension that can be tied to the narrative elements terrifically well. Furthermore, Messier evokes an even, appropriate pace throughout the endeavor.

But, the smartest move is that Messier allows the audience to attach his or her own conclusion as to the proceedings. This is done by letting a succession of gentle, intimate, ardent, and attractively executed and shot, sequences speak for itself.

There is no dialogue in the last five and a half minutes. This decision adds layers of skillfulness, invention and sentiment upon an already gripping set-up.

The musical score, along with Chris Hunter’s editing, enhances the illusion of going to what could be perceived to be a higher plane.

Moreover, Messier’s writing and directing are intelligent and illuminating.

The cinematography captures the allure and enigma of the storyline with an equally striking veneer.

“Nature of the Flame” captures all of the sentiment and drama of a full-length feature in just under eight minutes. It is always stunning to look at, to be caught up in and to think about long after its serene conclusion.

This is more than a brief fling with cinema: it is an exhibition of craft.