“What Jack Built” – (Short Film Review)

what jack built 2

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.

what jack built

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)

here lies poster

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.

hi joe bottom

 

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.

“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.

“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.

“Still Life”- (Short Film Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner

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

Most of the routes of dreams branch out maddeningly into avenues of failure so varied that we often lose sight of the sharply focused paths ahead. They are departures that can be falsely perceived as permanent. Yet, those who find themselves off-road, staring wide-eyed into the obvious sign posts of their addressed defects, especially if it is engraved in their ultimate ambition, often lose hope altogether.

Soon they find their feet sinking into the mire of abandoned hopes when such an incident transpires. With this they are wrought in disillusionment. This is rooted in what he or she believes to be the reality that they will never rise up. Furthermore, they feel as if they will never better these errors.

They become stuck, some momentarily and most others indefinitely, as the voices of those who pointed out their shortcomings ring forever in a cacophony of eternal humiliation. For many of us, artists especially, such small criticisms cause silent wounds. These forever inwardly scar. They make our once swift movement towards personal reveries immobile.

This is the focus of the 2012 short “Still Life”, a cinematic composition worthy of Ingmar Bergman, by writer and director Chris Esper. It concerns a student of photography, Martin (Timothy Bonavita in a part that perfectly conveys all the layers of vulnerability, intelligence and sentiment his character demands). He wants to be a photographer.

Yet, as we learn in a beautifully wrought early scene, the world around our wide-eyed and ambitious lead puts him in the line of fire for constant criticism. Still, he is devastated yet, optimistic.

The tale walks this fine line of emotion in a realistic, understated manner. It is done in a conscientiously ardent and understanding way. With this modus anyone who has felt defeated by negativity after it is cast at his or her aspirations will undoubtedly find liberating.

An early segment showcases him being criticized in front of his peers. This is done in a manner that suggests he just needs slight improvement to be where he needs to be to achieve the first steps of his intended success.

It is a sequence that is an analogy for how our main character is feeling. This also communicates his own contemplations about himself through emotion and action.

This draws us instantly into Martin’s existence. To further add to this intimacy the camera surrounds Martin like a close friend; one who should speak up in defense. Regardless, he never finds the strength to do so.

“Still Life”, made for only $500, finds the right note and atmosphere instantly and never departs from it. To its further credit, the pace is meditative and cerebral. Still, it is always fascinating.

This characteristic is, like the rest of the tale, appropriate. It also gives us the necessary time to learn and reflect on Martin’s situation. Such is done without the proceedings ever feeling as if it is ignoring the act of moving the story along rapidly.

Esper’s brief film never once steps away from following our starry-eyed persona as he continues on despite a succession of letdowns. The crisp and intimate largely black and white cinematography by Mark Phillips adds to the haunting, downtrodden yet inspiring poetry of this massive achievement. It also heightens the previously stated sense of luminosity amid darkness.

One especially poignant moment involving Young Martin (Charles Everett Tacker) and Martin’s Mother (Carlyne Fournier) are in color. This segment is highlighted by aching reminiscence. It is only amplified by the  stupendous caliber of the aforementioned portrayals.

The gorgeously gentle drive of Ryan Campos’ beautiful score is perfectly in sync with the sentiment expressed on-screen. Jill Poisson’s editing is terrific.

This also issues exemplary acting turns from David Graziano, as Professor Lynch, and Mike Daniels, as Josh. The rest of the cast fares just as well.

All of these elements make “Still Life” a contemplative, deeply felt masterpiece. In but eleven scant, but quietly harrowing, minutes Esper and his filmmaking crew triumphantly executes introspection, drama and sorrow.

These elements all unify in a silent cry to love and understand those around us. Also, it assures us to that defeat is but a temporary obstacle meant to be overcome.

Martin states about a flower he photographed in the first few minutes of this heart-wrenching work that he wanted to “convey a solidarity of loneliness”. That is exactly what Esper and his crew have done.

They have framed the chief protagonist as the lone blossom. His seclusion is the focus of what lies enclosed in the picture. In turn, the work itself and the character radiate a melancholy splendor.

It illuminates the moving photograph it is contained in. From here it touches our core. In turn, we relate and feel unified with the central figure of the narrative.

Maybe Martin isn’t so alone after all.

“Right There”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The beauty of the silent film era lies primarily in the actuality that the actors had to use facial expressions to supplant the sentiment that would later be inserted into dialogue. This was usually accompanied by either recorded or live music being played in the theater the work was being projected in to punctuate the emotions glimmering through actions and countenances on-screen.

These, along with tale-telling through striking camera angles, shadows, mimes and title cards, were the sparse tools of the filmmaking trade in the years from 1894-1929. It gave the cinematic compositions of this period an underlying sense of poetry, even in comic endeavors, which have proven to be forever endearing.

This time frame, more often than not, elucidates a constant sense of admiration for these aforementioned attributes alone. Such is just one of the many reasons “Right There”, a masterful eleven minute short from director Nathan Suher (2015’s “Next/ Door” and “Scary Little F*ckers”), is so immediately enjoyable and charismatic.

Suher, who wrote the delightful, well-paced script (from a story by Gregory Capello, Suher and Ian Taylor), captures the essence of Charlie Chaplin and the spirit of European cinema, which he has stated was his intention with this glorious piece, immaculately.

This wonderful, breezy homage concerns a man, The Guy (Ryan Hanley in a performance that is as energetic, endearing and enjoyable and perfectly fitting for the era Suher tributes) who tries to garner the attention of a woman, The Girl (Lauren A. Kennedy who does as phenomenal a job as Hanley, as does the entirety of the secondary cast, in conveying story through gestures).

He is drawn to her immediately. This intrigue only grows as he finds her sitting everyday on the same bench. Over the course of several weeks he tries to get her to notice him.

All the while we find ourselves riveted and wondering: “Is it his own shyness holding him back? Could he have been hurt in prior relationships? Was this pain recent? Will he get the girl?”

Because of the profoundly artistic nature of the epoch “Right There” is sending up we are drawn in by the nuance. Moreover, our intrigue is piqued by the high-caliber technical facets, the joy and broken-heartedness (sometimes in the same scene) that Suher and his filmmaking team pull off so effortlessly. Yet, because of the well-woven dramatic touches that balance the humor and heart terrifically we are forced to look deeper.

This is a testament to the profundity of the style of cinema Suher emulates so masterfully here. It is also a demonstration of the terrifically executed brilliance, the obvious admiration for the truly golden age of cinema Suher is tackling radiating on-screen. This is a gem.

The merry, often tender, and beautiful result of “Right There” is also thanks to a wonderful bit of opening animation by Dave Lubelczyk. Make-up artist Morgan Duffy captures the appearance of stars from the early 1900’s spectacularly. Chris Esper’s film editing is tremendous.

Jill Poisson’s cinematography and Kevin Keough’s score is striking and beautifully rendered. These characteristics, combine to make it all the easier to envision that we are sitting in a theater, before the age of “talkies”, and enthralled by this new invention that they call “moving pictures”.

Suher continues to showcase further range and a willingness to risk differing genres, atmospheres and approaches. The work he makes is transcendent to, not only fellow admirers of filmmaking, but everyone.

“Right There” is a sweet, lively brief work that reminds us of the tenderness, merriment, relatability and undeniable artistry the craft of unspoken big-screen storytelling can evoke.

“Dead Hearts”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

“Dead Hearts”, a sixteen minute short from director Ramzees Carvalho (2014’s “Night of the Damned”), opens with four young adults trapped in a cellar. Radio broadcasts are announcing that the reanimated are coming back to life. When a chilling chain of events transpire it is up to Dan (Carvalho himself in an impressive, spectacularly wrought performance) to take the reins of heroism. With this action he must face the ravenous hoards of the undead.

It’s a classic set-up that brings to mind visions of George A. Romero’s timeless 1968 gem, Night of the Living Dead. To further the sense of unabashed reminiscence this wonderful short (the second by Carvalho) induces is crisp, vivid and rich cinematography from Nelson Reis.

The special makeup effects by Manny Savini only heightens the appeal. The zombies, and their veneer, are stalwart, gritty and credible at every turn.

Such attributes resonate amid the numerous well-done decapitations and various other gory bits. This is because there is a palpable sense of camaraderie between all the leads.

This is most noticeable between Dan and Liz (in a performance by Alyssa Paige Moreno that is every bit as strong and understated as the role demands). Their relationship is the propelling force of most of the narrative. The work is all the more commanding because of the sheer strength of their portrayals.

Ramzees Carvalho and Moreno prove they are more than apt to take on what the taunt, intelligent script that has a Stephen King-like eye for characterizations, also by Carvalho, demands.

Cameron Perrault, as Luke, and Luke Eleuterio, as Alex, fare just as spectacularly. They further add to the sense of kinship and authenticity pulsating through every frame.

This isn’t the only factor which contributes to this triumphant success. The work constructed in all other technical arenas are phenomenal. They come together to formulate something truly special.

The smooth film editing by Ramzees and Luis Carvalho are further evidence of these high-quality characteristics solidifying to evoke brilliance.

In its quick-moving runtime it creates an atmospheric mood. In an exhibition of the artistry on display this is done before the story even begins to unfold.

It carries this impression out effortlessly. All the while it is constantly building upon this solid foundation. We are issued mounting trepidation throughout.

In turn, “Dead Hearts” is a persistent wall of ever-increasing suspense. It grips us with increasing intrigue until well after its elegiac, and cleverly wrought, finale.

We remain mesmerized, awe-struck by how well conceived the sum of this exertion remains. This is especially remarkable given its compact length.

The composition creates an illusion, brought forth by its genuine dialogue, performances, zombie make-up and effects, that we are with our leads.This is a credit to the incredible talent all around.

“Dead Hearts” has an obvious affection for the sub-genre it is rooted in. It showcases a knowledge of undead works of yore. Yet, there is also an abundance of originality here.

Carvalho’s brief film is distinctly its own entity. It is always fresh, vigorous and smart. Moreover, it is endlessly engaging, gripping and terrifying in ample doses.

“Dead Hearts” is riveting. It establishes Carvalho as a great new talent. Simultaneously it breathes fresh life and perspective into the much documented account of cannibalistic ghouls.

This is a must-see. It is a testament to how much can be done on a small budget. Furthermore, it proves the potency inherent when the components of affection and respect, as well as a phenomenal natural aptitude, for the craft and the composition being operated on unify among the respective contributions of all involved.

“Please Punish Me”- (Short Film Review)

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

By Andrew Buckner

We live in a world where often we become so accustomed to a certain stroke of luck, whether it be good or bad fortune, that we almost expect it, feel it and await its presence. Some of us go about our daily routines in this state.

“Please Punish Me”, from director Chris Esper (2014’s “Always a Reason”, “Steak Knives”), is a meditation on such circumstances. It is balanced with splendid performances, beautifully humanized characters and ample doses of humor and heart.

The tale it tells in its quick-moving and smartly paced thirteen and a half minutes is that of a businessman named Scottie Lee (David Sackal in a tremendous and quietly moving performance). He is having a long streak of positive events transpiring in his life.

Among these incidents is climbing the corporate ladder, which he admits in a soul-bearing scene that he hasn’t even attempted to do, and he just can’t understand why. Our lead is a man who just wants to be an artist. But, for his success he feels the need to be disciplined for what he deems to be his “curse”.

This is when he turns to a place that dispenses such treatments at a price. Here he meets the woman meant to incorporate this specific brand of punishment, Michelle (Joanna Donofrio in a role which captures all the layers of her character incredibly well).

From this point on the two find an unexpected bond. With this wells an honesty flourishing where should be an exercise in momentary pleasure.

Rich Camp’s screenplay, from a story by Tom Paolino, is tremendously done. In its sparse runtime we leave this short feeling as if we sat down and conversed with them ourselves and know them intimately.

The first half is full of winning, well-timed, delivered and genuinely side-splitting gags. When we get to the second portion of the narrative we are drawn in by the poignant turn in the chronicle.

Camp has provided a delicate balance of opposite tones. It is one that he has done a phenomenal job of bringing forth on the page.

With Esper’s talented directorial hand bringing the story to life on-screen, with help from Mark Phillips’ sharp cinematography and Steven Lanning-Cafaro’s original score, “Please Punish Me” showcases talent in all technical arenas.

This is further aided by Felipe Jorge’s film editing, Jorge Mario Tobon’s sound work and Chad Kaplan’s delightful contribution to the striking animation in the opening sequence. Make-up artist Stefani Plante and hair stylist Nicole Bertoni do a phenomenal job as well.

This is a work that is emotionally searing, illuminating and beautiful all around. It is light and breezy when it needs to be. Still, it is also ultimately tear-jerking, poetic and heartfelt.

Esper has crafted a gargantuan accomplishment. He has established a triumphant victory juggling the story’s many moods evoked with effortless gusto.

Among its various accomplishments is ending on a note that is both thought-provoking, contemplative, genuine, brilliantly understated and real.

Most full-length films would not be able to establish their characters as well as “Please Punish Me” does in under fifteen minutes. Furthermore, it would not make us feel for them the way Esper and his cinematic crew does here.

This is lively, but potent, material. It is inspiring, gentle and cathartic. Moreover, it wisely finds the right fit to execute the narrative with a sense of natural love. It also incorporates an optimism that is delicate, stalwart and frank.

“Please Punish Me” received great acclaim from the 401 Film Festival. I can see why. It is intelligent, cinematic art.