“One Last Coin” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

“One Last Coin” (2016), from writer-director Skip Shea, is achingly beautiful. The seven-minute and fourteen-second short film, a case of neorealism that would fit perfectly alongside the associated developments of such masters of Italian cinema as Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini, is especially gorgeous in its profundity. More precisely, that which it derives from everyday simplicity. For example, the endeavor is content to merely showcase the breathtaking natural elegance and allure of the streets of Rome (where Shea recorded the article entirely on his iPhone 6). Such occurs as we follow an individual who decides what to do with his title object. This is right before Christmastime.

As the wordless tale unfolds, the piece speaks emotive volumes. This is largely a courtesy of Shea’s indelible imagery. Such a facet becomes collectively brilliant when glimpsed through the marvelous black and white cinematography he incorporates into the labor. These triumphant qualities are made increasingly potent by Shea’s decision to score the exertion with a single lovely and evocative piece of music. It plays to grand consequence throughout the undertaking. The gentle sound of water heard in the final moments enhance the Zen-like sense of calm and first-person perspective which ultimately courses throughout the production. These touches also spectacularly augment the previously addressed notion of authenticity and finding poetry in the commonplace.

What also strengthens the piece, and further helps it to become such an unforgettable opus, is that Shea offers no background information about his unnamed lead character. Is he homeless? Is he merely a curious visitor in Italy’s capital city? Maybe he could be a bit of both. Either way, the audience is forced to relate. In so doing, we see the lovely vistas Shea stunningly brings to the screen through the visage of our own thoughts and experience. This also makes the haunting sights spied along the way, such as a few instances around the mid-section where we spy crowds of people walking past those who appear lifeless on the ground, evermore effective. These quick bits, as well as the unique storytelling elements Shea integrates into the affair, make for an illustration of moving art that is as credible as it is unforgettable.

Another item that is equally astonishing, aside from the high-quality of the chronicle itself, is that Shea is a one-man moviemaking crew on this venture. In turn, the narrative has the sharp focus and radiate intimacy of a passion project. Shea’s editing is stalwart. Additionally, his sound work is crisp and incredible. It compliments the components of realism and quiet splendor that are in perfect symmetry through every frame of the effort.

“One Last Coin” is a masterpiece. It is impossible to not be moved.

“Undatement Center” – (Short Film Review)

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

“Undatement Center” (2017), a nine-minute short film from writer-director Chris Esper, is effortlessly charming, consistently humorous and always likable. It carries on the same seamless marriage of upbeat and hopelessly romantic tones that made his prior inventions Please Punish Me (2015) and The Deja Vuers (2016) such an incredible success. This Stories by the River and Stories in Motion co-production is also a fantastic showcase of Esper’s ability, which has been ever-present throughout his career, to project fully fleshed-out, relatable characters. Such transpires in a heartwarming and enchanting, yet undeniably human, manner. This detail is made increasingly admirable with the incorporation of a pace that is as breakneck as view of the world of dating that is the focal point of Esper’s endeavor. Yet, none of the sequences, even the laughter-fueled montage that takes over the mid-section, feels rushed or superficial. There is a breezy demeanor to the proceedings that even makes the most familiar beats of the plot triumphantly sing. This is apparent in the relationship that forms between our twenty-six-year old lead, Jack (in a phenomenal turn from Trevor Duke), who turns to the title corporation in hopes of finding love after a twelve-year hiatus, and Lindsey (in a depiction by J.D. Achille that is consistently marvelous, engaging and authentic). The opening and concluding notes are also evidence of Esper’s mastery in this aforesaid department. Yet, these segments ring with a sweetness, an earnest simplicity and lack of pretension that is genuine and captivating. Despite its often-modern attitude (reflected most readily in the intriguing plot itself), the project feels wonderfully old-fashioned. Such only increases its amiability. Randy Veraguas’ depiction of the quirky desk clerk, Shelley, as well as Shandy Monte’s enactment of the similarly positioned Jennifer enhance the agreeable nature of the picture. Christie Devine is also stalwart in her quick role as Annie. Acei Martin, in a brief part dubbed “Urine Sample Woman”, is also stellar. When combined with the masterful moviemaking and deftly constructed literary contributions Esper incites herein, with his ear for often clever dialogue being another high-quality trait, it’s becomes immediately evident that the Secaucus, New Jersey born maestro has delivered another all-around winner.

This Quincy, Massachusetts recorded endeavor is also graced with illustrious cinematography from Mikel J. Wisler. Such a veneer reiterates the sunny atmosphere of the piece fantastically. Wisler’s seamless and sharp editing fares just as well. Also, assisting matters is Steven-Lanning Cafaro’s cheery and deeply cinematic music. Dominic Kaiser’s sound issuance is spectacular. J.L. Major and Rich Simpson’s assistant camera work is equally proficient.

Esper intends to comment on how intimate associations have become more akin to a business transaction, a one-sided meeting that is based on quick facts and reams of paper, than a personal experience. The conclusion, which hints at the latter method as the more beneficial, is evidence of this bitingly brilliant, but undeniably true, observation. In less capable hands, this is a storyline akin to this could’ve become a bitter, somber experience. But, Esper keeps the jokes cracking and the smiles brimming on our faces throughout. This is without ever diminishing the impact of his thesis statement. Such is, like the totality of “Undatement Center” itself, a tremendous accomplishment. Esper’s latest, an extension of many of the themes present in his earlier photoplays, is an all-out confirmation of his continually broadening talent. It is also a testament to his exceptional skill as a photographic craftsman. The result is side-splitting and deeply transcendent; an endlessly entertaining, quietly emotive must-see!

Premiered on April 1st, 2017.

(Unrated). Contains brief language and some sexual humor.

Stories in Motion’s page for the film can be found here.

“Fireflies” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

Often in cinema, as in life, silence is the most honest and sincere form of expression. “Fireflies” (2017), a short film of seventeen-minutes and twenty-one seconds from director Raouf Zaki and writer Charles Hall, is well-aware of the harrowing nature of such effects. It utilizes this on-screen with only the barest hint of dialogue. In turn, Zaki’s exertion magnificently demonstrates such visceral prowess. This is through many sparse, but swiftly effective, motions. For instance, a question raising glance from an employee to a customer. This arises a mere instant before the worker draws an unexplained X mark on a nearby calendar. As this bit is repeated, the meaning becomes vastly apparent. Yet, such an approach enhances audience intrigue grandly. Best of all, it also continues to project the untampered sensibility of watching life unfold. Such is pivotal. This is when maximizing the impact of a tale such as this one.

Much of the endeavor is composed of such quietly compelling and reenacted segments. Proof of this can be unveiled in a brief bit where our lead, Marwan (in an aptly honed and nuanced portrayal by Essam Ferris), wordlessly prays in a hotel room. We are also provided several cases where he appears both distant and uncomfortable. This is while being surrounded by the hushed discussion and laughter. Such erupts among others in the Boston café he frequents throughout the presentation. Zaki, via his brilliant and meticulously nuanced direction, wisely intercedes these serene circumstances. This is with a sudden terrified scream, a cry of pain or a sharp, attention-garnering explosion. These haunting flashes stem from the tragic flashbacks Marwan intermittently endures, unbeknownst to others, throughout the arrangement. Because of this, the piece becomes a rousing statement on an even larger topic. This is how the horrors of the past can shatter the presumed peace that surrounds our current state. It is also a masterclass on an entirely different plane. This is in its ability to delve intimately and authentically inside the mind-state of our protagonist. Simultaneously, the configuration operates on as a timely assessment of another psychological condition. This is that which, sadly, courses through a small fraction of the American mentality. Such is unveiled in its plotline. This concerns the suspicions cast from a headwaiter (in a terrific depiction from Mitch Fortier) towards our reserved, Middle Eastern central figure. Such transpires as he finds himself repeatedly returning to the aforesaid coffee bar.

It is a bold theme. But, it is treated organically and respectfully. Moreover, the brief exercise spellbindingly accomplishes an incredible balancing act. This is by dealing with the topic of judgment from others. Such transpires without ever becoming disapproving or overly critical itself. Such only augments the sobering, intelligent and mature traits inherent in the proceedings. This is as a courtesy of Hall’s beautiful, hauntingly penned and delicately structured screenplay. It is also just as much the consequence of Zaki’s stupendous behind the lens involvement. The result is a smooth, naturally paced endeavor. It is one that never abandons its human, character-oriented center. All the while it effortlessly culminates an emotional resonance. This is without ever being overly melodramatic or manipulative to do so. A great example of this would be the heart-wrenching, bittersweet and exuberantly made climax. The imaginative and eye-popping concluding acknowledgments section which follows only augments the wonder at hand.

These components are made even more elegiac and profound. This is when combined with combined with the cinematography from Kenn Gonneville. The editing from Paul Stamper, Steven Kaldeck and Zaki is equally proficient. The visual effects from Stamper and Kaldeck are seamless. They are also as persuasive as the meticulous manner of storytelling issued herein. Correspondingly, the sound work from Kevin Daggett and Jeff Majeau is also rousing and impressive. Kelton Vuilleiumier’s set decoration and Chirin Ashkar’s costume design is fantastic. The same can be said for Lori Grenier’s hair and make-up contribution. Outstanding input is provided from the camera and electrical crew. The art direction from Laurel Cunningham-Hill and production design from Hana Zaki are just as sensational.

This RA Vision Productions release, recorded in various areas of Massachusetts, also boasts magnificent acting all around. Nour Bittar as Syrian Mother and Rina Hassani as Syrian Daughter orchestrate top-notch representations. Their scant turns are nonetheless memorable. Kevin Daigneault as Unemployed Man, Harry McGuire as Bartender and John Melczer as Refugee Man generate a similarly terrific influence. The nine individuals credited as Restaurant Patron, Logan Raposo as Businesswoman and Brian Douglas Young as Guitarist #1 and William Bento as Guitarist #2 continue this striking trait. Additionally, Brooke Farrington as Refugee Young Girl, Christine Nordstrom as Refugee Woman, Christine Hunt as Mother and Judy Nadel as Daughter are also exceptional. Maurice Viteri as Buff Man, Yasmine Sabrah as Lead Singer Restaurant and Vanessa and Natalie Garnhum as Selfie Girl #1 and #2 respectively are also remarkable.

The outcome of these shining facets is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most impassioned presentations of 2017. This is a triumph of artistry and of inward peering life. Zaki takes imagery from the everyday, such as the constant hum and crackle we hear from a glowing red vacancy sign or a woman incessantly uttering “Check” into a microphone, and makes them perpetually mesmerizing. There is a semi-detached, thinly hallucinatory quality to these episodes. Such establishes a magnetic illustration to bystanders. It is a skillfull rendering of the way Marwan himself might be mentally perceiving such manifestations. This is as he evaluates his own existence as well as the world around him. Ultimately, this is one of the various reasons why “Fireflies” works so uncommonly well. It is because it yearns for us to look both inward and outwardly. Not only does it do this with restraint and dignity, but it does so with an unshakable, melancholy power. Such makes an already profound chronicle more insightful. Relatedly, the symbolism revealed in the appearance of the title insects heightens this factor immensely.

Zaki has a lot to say about the human condition. He transfers these ideas in a fashion that is clear and direct. This is also done without coming off as artificial or detracting from the unveiling fiction. Such makes this even more of a gripping triumph; a rousing tour de force. For both the cinephile interested in seeing an exhibition of sheer craft as well as those who want to perceive existence through someone else’s eyes: This is mandatory viewing.


“Leftovers” – (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Leftovers” (2017), an utterly absorbing twelve-minute and forty second short film from director and co-writer Tofiq Rzayev, is sobering, heart-wrenching and undeniably powerful. It brings into account a meditation on the hellfire and purgatory one must endure for atrocious actions. Namely the rape and murder of an eight-year old girl. But, it is as adamant at addressing how such measures of wickedness immediately affects those who are closely tied to the situation. This is in both a familial and occupational sense. Much in the manner Rzayev issued with his previous entries from 2016, “Nihan: The Last Page”, “In a Time for Sleep” and his dazzling debut invention with Fidan Jafarova, “Araf”, the affair focuses on grief. Yet, this is without such primary agony ever becoming the sole selling point of the composition.

We note this most evidently in the method in which Rzayev, utilizing a bold and intelligently arranged screenplay he crafted with prior literary collaborators Alsen Buse Aydin and Mehmet Faith Guven, develops the personalities of the fiction magnificently. Such transpires via their reactions and mannerisms over the horror they encounter. This now trademark Rzayev storytelling device is spellbinding. It immerses viewers in the emotion overflowing from those on-screen to captivating effect. This is while simultaneously respecting the perpetually solemn tone Rzayev has so beautifully and carefully constructed. In turn, the harrowing impression of watching real life unfold never wavers. As a matter of fact, these wise narrative choices only amplify these attributes. The result is a mesmerizing masterpiece; a harrowing cinematic glimpse into the oft gloomy mechanisms of the human spirit.

Set in the Turkish Mountains, this Angry Student Films Production concerns two civil police (in fantastic portrayals by Ismail Mermer and Erhan Sancar that further etch the rugged authenticity at hand). They are in the process of taking a highly troubled and distressed person, credited here as The Individual (in a genuinely moving and emotionally riveting performance by Gokberk Kozan), to identify a body at a crime scene. Upon stopping to allow their passenger to collect himself, a series of foreboding turns enter the narrative. From herein, sentiments, motivations and judgments take hold. This is as the drama hits a brooding zenith. Such sets the stage for a second half that unflinchingly focuses on the reactions to the abovementioned tragedy. This is with anger and heartache almost always at the forefront. The ardor-laden intensity in this section is made progressively palpable. Such transpires alongside Rzayev’s decision to keep the entirety of these measures in the confines of an isolated location.

Originally titled “Geride Kalanlar”, Rzayev weaves an increasingly gripping, brilliantly paced and executed chronicle. It begins strikingly. This is with an incredibly done shot from the backseat of a moving vehicle. Such suggests that we, the audience, are a silent passenger to the alternately poignant and unnerving circumstances which are about to occur. An immediate interest such as this only grows as the scant runtime unfolds. It is pushed to an undeniably haunting, open-ended concluding sequence. This is a perfect departure for a composition such as Rzayev’s latest creation. Such is so because it forces bystanders to become ever-involved in what is being depicted. This is a courageous, evocative choice. It is one that also pays off handsomely. In turn, the overall success of the endeavor is even more vivid and astonishing.

From a technical angle, the opus is just as mesmerizing. Rzayev, who also produced, issues masterfully constructed editing. His brooding cinematography is exceptional. It holds a mirror to the life imitating qualities of both the tone and the account itself spectacularly well. This can also be spoken of the clean, quiet, phenomenally arranged and fitfully reverential concluding credits segment. Likewise, Zahit Battal Sari demonstrates a compelling presence as the voice of The Commissioner. Additionally, the script audibly rings with ruggedly poetic dialogue that is filled with sly introspection and keen observations. All of which are cut from the everyday. These remarkable details are all perpetual evidence of the sheer craftsmanship which pulsates hypnotically throughout the exertion.

More than anything, Rzayev’s guidance of the project is utterly triumphant. “Leftovers” continues to carry on an undeniable parallel to Swedish moviemaking auteur Ingmar Bergman. Such an awe-inspiring comparison helped make his sixteen prior efforts so memorable. Yet, his style remains distinctly his own. At a mere twenty-two years of age, Rzayev has already cemented himself as a modern maestro of the moving picture form. His material is consistently central figure-oriented, meditative and unafraid to peer into the most unpleasant of social issues. Rzayev’s material, a reflection of his own personal reservations, engraves a certain wide-spread intimacy because of this factor. It is a detail that visibly resonates through one of his undertakings. He speaks to the humanity in us all. This is while simultaneously articulating to the mind. Rzayev’s most current tour de force is no exception. This is unquestionably one of the best efforts of its type of the year.


“Hand In Hand”- (Short Film Review)

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

“Hand In Hand” (2016), a six minute and fifty second short from producer-director Haley McHatton and writer Kris Salvi, is definitive proof of the high-level of dramatic tension that can still be derived from a classic thriller set-up. This design is that of an unhinged man, Mike (in an unflinching and captivating portrayal from Justin Thibault). The account finds him kidnapping his former lover, Anthony (in a gripping and ever-watchable enactment from Salvi), in a jealous rage. After doing so, Mike takes Anthony out into the most abandoned regions of the nearby woods. With a gun pointed at Mike’s head, Anthony commands him to dig his own grave. Such morphs into a fascinating, argumentative speech between the duo. This inevitably unveils pent-up emotions. With these once concealed sentiments also comes a flurry of secrets and suspicions. All of which are rivetingly administered to the audience. This is in a manner that is as cryptic as it is nail-biting. In this discourse, Anthony sees signs of potential weakness in Mike. Anthony senses this feebleness as a chance to take the upper-hand. In so doing, Anthony may have a potential chance to get out of the situation. This is with his life intact.

Such twisty, expository banter forms the pushing force of the chronicle. Credibly and powerfully issued, this item proves to be one of the most suspenseful and enthralling components in its cinematic catalogue. It also showcases how well-delivered lines, which balance unforced character development and gradually tease motivations, can be ruthlessly engaging. This is far more so than the splashy, big budget special effects and overblown action sequences that may be incorporated in a lesser effort of this ilk as a substitute for craftsmanship. A splendidly piqued attribute such as this adds an accruing element of surprise to what could’ve easily been an all too straightforward narrative. Such arrives via Salvi’s gritty, meticulously manufactured and tautly paced script. It is also a courtesy of McHatton’s masterful, wisely uncluttered and focused handling of the material.

These potent articles have an augmented luster. This is when mixed with Mitch Severt’s spectacular cinematography. Severt exposes a bravura capacity to catch the multitude of shades, primarily the dark reds and gentle yellows illuminated from the fallen leaves glimpsed in the backdrop of the exertion. Such transpires in an undeniably immersive, eye-catching and gorgeous fashion. Other natural structures casually spied in the area fare just as wonderfully. For instance, the endless rows of sinewy trees, which also can be viewed as a perfect symbol of the general seclusion of the location, visibly looming behind Mike and Anthony at most moments. Yet, Severt’s work, as beautiful as it is, never defies the no-nonsense, white knuckle atmosphere which is unwaveringly orchestrated throughout the fabrication. Such is certainly a feat worthy of praise. The piece is further enhanced by the proficient and sharp editing from the team of Steve Polakiewicz, Carlo Barbieri and McHatton. Kyle Joyce’s audio is herculean. Jeremy Arruda’s brilliant, Ennio Morricone-esque piano driven score, which sweepingly echoes through the stylish and splendidly erected concluding acknowledgments, splendidly exhibits the technical prowess at hand.

Likewise, the plot, perfect for a single location and extended solo scene undertaking such as this, grips us from Anthony’s attention-garnering, opening quip to Mike. This is: “I guess you didn’t think it  would go down like this, huh? Keep walking”. From herein, the interest and intensity amplifies continuously with each respective frame. Such gives way to a climax that is foreseeable. Yet, it is so well-engineered and resonant that it is easy to look past such comparatively miniscule details. All of this is propelled by authentic, well-etched leads. Our protagonist, Anthony, and antagonist, Mike, are amended great dimension and depth. Consequently, they avoid becoming mere genre archetypes at every turn. Based on the staggering strength of the depictions of these personas, we find ourselves readily seeing and understanding both the measures and reasoning behind the pair we follow on- screen. Such is as much a testament to Salvi’s impactful authorship as it is the same said performances themselves.

The result of this official selection of The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, and Hatt On Productions presentation, is pure magic. It is a violent tale. Yet, it doesn’t rely solely on its inherent ferocity to weave or sell the fiction. Such is as refreshing as it is rare. Moreover, the exercise organically and competently builds the intrigue of its story. This can also be stated when considering the sly unfurling of events as well as brisk runtime of the endeavor. Such is elucidated without ever overreaching in its successful attempts to convey its message. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to fluently generate intensity. Additionally, the vehicle is slick. This is without ever being so glossy in appearance as to betray the believability it calmly evokes. It is just as smart in its execution. There is a plethora of intelligent creative choices and obvious skill for making fiction demonstrated here. Because of this, “Hand In Hand” serves as an absolute bulls-eye. McHatton, Salvi and crew have constructed an awe-inspiring triumph of simultaneous entertainment value and moving picture dexterity. It is one that fellow bystanders are guaranteed to admire and reflect upon long after their sit down with the arrangement is complete.

“Kinnari”- (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

Writer-director Christopher Di Nunzio’s four minute and forty-three second short film, “Kinnari” (2016), is a powerful, gripping and abstractly eloquent meditation on the harsh, yet wondrous, journey of life into death. The latter of which is occasionally referred to throughout the affair itself as “the great nothingness”. Di Nunzio’s composition is just as adamantly concerned with how the boundaries of these two oft addressed subjects intermingle. It is as apt to ponder how these opening and closing portions of our being are frequently blurred. This is especially true when spied through a retrospective lens. Particularly, the viewpoint of a man who may be mentally peering at such sights amid his final moments. Such is illustrated as a dream-like trek to enlightenment. This overtakes the bulk of the narrative. It is sewn with a plethora of poetic wisdoms and long pined over inquiries. In turn, Di Nunzio provides an adventure of self-discovery. It is one which is steered by time cemented perspective and experience. A knowingly anti-corporate and media outlook, the basis of an enthralling monologue around the one minute mark, pushes such perceptions to tremendous effect. This emanates intriguingly from our ruggedly engaging narrator and lead, David (in a brilliant, unflinching and always watchable enactment from David Graziano). These traits he has acquired during his singular voyage through the planes of existence.

Such is perpetuated by a fateful meeting. This takes place in a stark and gorgeously realized instance near the mid-way point. It involves the rediscovery of the title entity (in a portrayal by Jamie Joshi which is quietly striking and consistently mesmerizing). She is the crucial persona in David’s illumination. Her name also shares that of a topically proper noun, largely used to describe a half-human and half-horse or half-bird hybrid, in Buddhist mythology. This is of an archetypical lover. Such is consistent with the story Di Nunzio paints. The same can be articulated for the paradigms that are encountered upon her arrival.


Our hero describes her as a “goddess”. In a manner befitting to such consecrated figures, David moves with Kinnari through a surreal landscape. These are a collection of beautifully structured, yet appropriately earthly, set-ups. They all hypnotically personify the stages of David’s physical span. As she pulls him deeper into this realm, the sum becomes progressively complex, abstract and cerebral. A staggeringly staged, near-climactic arrangement oversees David shadowing Kinnari up a winding, ostensibly endless flight of steps. Such personifies both the photographic and demonstrative core of the entire effort.

Additionally, there is a character to audience discourse which builds the foundation of the project. Such is triumphantly carried on throughout. This is a whispery, yet friendly, source of personal development. It victoriously aids in conveying a well-rounded glimpse into the inner-workings of our protagonist. Such heightens the intimacy, honesty and profundity at hand immensely.


Likewise, this fascinating plotline is given meticulous, pensive craftsmanship. Such is via Di Nunzio’s smartly paced screenplay (supervised by Christine Perla). His dialogue cracks with ingenuity, credibility and mature observations. It is also remarkably introspective. All the while, it comes across as deceptively casual. Such is much in the way of a stream of spoken conscious. Given the general format of the article, this approach is undeniably operative. This stands as an obvious signpost of Di Nunzio’s outstanding capacity for authorship. It is just as much a marker of recognition for the natural relatability inherent in Graziano’s outstanding delivery of his interchanges. Such qualities align themselves in the spectacular custom Di Nunzio displayed with the modern noir, A Life Not to Follow (2015). It was also at the at the forefront of his avant-garde horror invention Delusion (2016). In both cases, Di Nunzio scripted as well as served as administrator.

Much in line with these prior presentations, the story is smartly and smoothly paced. It is guided by Di Nunzio’s Lynchian sensibility for haunting, yet memorable and alluring, imagery. Correspondingly, the entirety of the exertion is slickly designed. This is so easily evident that even early, close-up shots of David’s coffee seem to be a mirror image of the bleak places in his soul. There are other relatively commonplace segments, such as a bit involving David walking on a presumably abandoned train track with a brick wall of graffiti looming closely behind him, that appear just as much like a grim visage. Such aspects appear as if they are taken directly from a waking nightmare. This is only amplified by Di Nunzio’s masterful framing. Such fashions an undeniably arresting style. It is one which makes the labor even more immersive and remarkable.

Such appeal is also punctuated by Di Nunzio’s seamless editing. His gently used, yet incredibly melodic and mood-setting, music also aids this factor outstandingly. Similarly, Nolan Yee’s cinematography, offered in the standard 16:9 HD aspect ratio, is somberly atmospheric. It is also elegant and thematically apt. Christopher Hallock’s astonishing assistant camera contribution is fabulous. Such augments the phenomenal nature of Di Nunzio’s expertly staged sequences. This is in terms of their stark believability and dazzlingly skillful construction. The culmination of these attributes make the sheer artistry which resonates through every frame of this Somerville, Massachusetts recorded drama increasingly palpable.


Di Nunzio issues a somber, intellectual tone that never once wavers throughout the duration. What establishes this atmosphere so immediately is the implementation of a monochrome title card. It is held on-screen for seven seconds. A single, thunderous chord is distantly heard in the background. The simplicity of this arrangement is the first of the many wise decisions and courageous moves Di Nunzio orchestrates. The final credits scene, proceeded by David’s harrowing realization that “Only me and beauty exist”, succeeds in the same arenas as those discussed above. These two sections evoke perfect bookends for the tale this item uncompromisingly and attractively tells. Moreover, Di Nunzio has an instinctive knack for what is to be glimpsed as well as left away from the eyes of onlookers. Such makes the proceedings progressively captivating. It is also proficient and enigmatic. The outcome of which makes the chain of events as unpredictable as they are perpetually enchanting.

Such creates an arc for that account which is impeccable. It is akin to a cinematic puzzle. Di Nunzio has gifted his spectators with a tour de force on all fronts. This Creepy Kid Productions release soars as an exhibition of temperament, moving picture bravura and intellectual yarn-spinning. It is also a standout performance piece for Di Nunzio’s recurrent collaborator, Graziano, as well as newcomer Joshi. Di Nunzio’s latest further astounds with the questions it poses as well as the answers it commands us to form. This is a rare work of celluloid prowess. It is one that will unveil new wonders and insights with each accruing sit through. Di Nunzio has formed an absolute bulls-eye; one of the best configurations of its type I have witnessed all year.


“Strawberry Lane” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Strawberry Lane” (2016), the outstanding and enigmatic twenty-three minute and fifteen second debut from writer-directors Jeremy Arruda and Aaron Babcock, is thematically and visually designed to unnerve. Arruda and Babcock have created a living nightmare on celluloid. This is via a collection of sinisterly striking images. All of which, even down to the otherwise simplistic visage of the child’s doll and ventriloquist’s dummy casually spied in the second half, are guaranteed to linger in the subconscious long after they are viewed. The upshot of these brilliantly delivered constituents is undoubtedly an extension of horror in its purest sense. We, the audience, are continually made to feel uncomfortable, apprehensive and alarmed. Yet, we are wholly engaged and intrigued throughout. This is by the notions and scenarios that are unfolding. Likewise, those that could potentially be right around the corner. In an era where most related yarns are more than content to go the safe route, with jump scares and routine motions galore, Arruda and Babcock give us a presentation of credible, sobering and unwavering darkness. It is one that is anything but predictable. The unsettling quote from American serial killer Albert Fish glimpsed in the opening moments set the clinical atmosphere and violent chain of events which are to follow quickly and proficiently.

Adding to the tonal ingenuity at hand, this wonderfully creepy concoction derives heavy inspiration from avant-garde maestro David Lynch, most notably Eraserhead (1977), as well as the chairman of many controversial comedies, John Waters. The eerily erected commencing and closing credits, made increasingly incredible and unflinchingly bizarre by the deliberately old-fashioned music from Arruda, make this point sharply evident. Such augments an endlessly intense, marvelously macabre impression. It is one which pulsates proudly through every frame of the proceedings. Such beautifully mirrors the exploitation features of the 1970’s. This is with Tobe Hooper’s quintessential masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), frequently coming to the forefront. Yet, the anti-heroes that pose as our leads are appropriately repulsive, menacing and impossibly mesmerizing. Such is in the tradition of the best cinematic villains. The duo of murderers who form this uncommon “love story”, as it is declared in the sub-title of the depiction, Harry Meyland (in a performance by Kris Salvi that is terrific) and Billy (in an enactment by Justin Thibault that is just as accomplished as that of Salvi) summon a certain parallel to Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Such iconic entities were found in Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture Academy Award- winning  The Silence of the Lambs (1991). These aforesaid mirrors to the past also provide an undercurrent of nostalgia to the piece. Such makes the overall feel of the labor akin to watching a long-lost classic for the first time.


All of this is punctuated, memorably and appropriately, by an extended, ardently gut-wrenching and impressive finale. Such readily calls to mind the oft banned invention of fright, Nekromantik (1987), from German auteur Jorg Buttgereit. The combination of these influences results in an artistically satisfying and courageous endeavor. Such is especially true when considering that these sights are set within the haunting, gorgeously gritty cinematography conducted by Babcock. This is also an undeniably potent display of the behind the lens capabilities Arruda and Babcock encompass. Their tough, taut and meticulously paced script, co-authored by Dave Orten, compliments these attributes splendidly. Arruda and Babcock utilize a uniquely fashioned, boldly constructed narrative. It is one that wisely leaves as much to the captivated psyche to ponder as it paints explicitly blood red. The team craft sparsely delivered, but authentic, dialogue. Such casts a painstaking eye for believability in all details of the effort. The plot, which contains just a touch of pulp, is gripping. Such makes the undertaking seamless; a deft exhibition of raw, uncompromising aptitude.

Arruda and Babcock chronicle an unexpected conflict that erupts with the introverted transvestite Harry Meyland. He is a psychotic maniac. More specifically, one who abducts and slaughters the women of the local Magdalene Escort Service. This act is made more dangerous by the fact that it is where he is employed. All the while, the near demonic sounding voice of his mother (exceptionally issued by Arruda) guides him along. Yet, he encounters a grave challenge. This is as Billy, who delights in the same fatal indulgences, takes Harry’s work into his own hands. What starts as a competition between Harry and Billy soon evolves into a strange affinity; one that is as strangely absorbing and twisted as the fiction itself.


The composition also benefits from other various components that are just as attention-garnering. Crystal Correa is phenomenal as Trisha. Geneve Lanouette is just as astounding in her turn as The Captive Woman. Carlo Barbieri III, Arruda and Kristen McNulty play Masked Figure 1-3 respectively. Their presence is unforgettable. They are seen fleetingly in an assembly of surprising instances which are heavily reminiscent of Bryan Bertino’s criminally underrated The Strangers (2008). Such apparently random illustrations hypnotically reinforce the brute, jarring strength of the visuals herein. A death sequence that transpires in the beginning minutes, worthy of Hitchcock in conception and delivery, only reaffirm this trait. Such is greatly enhanced by the slickly constructed editing Arruda and Babcock invoke.

Shot over the course of two years, this Zeta Wave Productions release is guaranteed to be a new favorite of fellow genre addicts. More importantly, it signifies the arrival of a tremendous pair of filmmakers. Both of whom have an obvious admiration for and wide-reaching knowledge of the history of moving picture terror. Best of all, they are equally versed in how to evoke fear and confidently, expertly project it on-screen. “Strawberry Lane” confirms this at every turn. The outcome of this is an astonishing tour de force; a brief affair that is far more satisfying, evocative and in-depth than most full-length exertions. That only offers further proof of their photographic command. Because of this, I greatly anticipate what gruesome marvels Arruda and Babcock bring to life in upcoming collaborations.


“Araf” – (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Araf” (2016), an eight-minute and forty-five second collaborative short from writer-directors Fidan Jafarova and Tofiq Rzayev, is a masterful meditation on pain and suffering. It is also a heart-wrenching example of moving picture art beautifully evaluated through the lens of human tribulation. Such is phenomenally expressed through the underlying theme of the incredible tolls of war on mankind. This is signified by several distinctly woven personalities. The Angry Student Films, Synaps Production and Fidan Jafarova release, made for 1,000 AZM in the Eurasian country of Azerbaijan, also brilliantly elucidates echoes of Swedish cinematic auteur Ingmar Bergman’s tour de force, Cries and Whispers (1972). This is especially evident in its mature, sobering handling of grave subject matter. These are all articulated unflinchingly, yet respectfully. Such transpires with the topics of disease and dying at the forefront. Furthering this correlation, is the concentration in both endeavors on the measures and sentimental outcomes such unavoidable trials brings about on the family members which dominate each singular tale. Given that the term “araf” is often utilized to reference the Muslim borderlands between heaven and hell, instituted for neither the wholly good or wicked, there is also a religious constituent to the proceedings. This connects Bergman’s material with Jafarova and Rzayev’s latest in this respect as well. Likewise, the character-oriented emphasis is credibly etched in these accounts. This technical component is so well formulated that this quality alone carries each corresponding composition to greatness.

Additionally, the performances in each item are exceptional all around. This is with the incorporation of a superb balance between the photographic, the everyday and the theatrical. Also, the cinematography in each respective entity, with that in “Araf” stemming from Rzayev and that from Bergman’s construction from Sven Nykvist (who won an Academy Award for his work on the aforesaid invention), is gorgeously grim and appropriately bleak. There is a brooding, meditative color palette shared between these undertakings. Such is undeniably striking and ambient throughout. Yet, in Jafarova and Rzayev’s brief effort, the general veneer arises as more shadowy, stylish and thriller oriented. The constant rumble of thunder and the highly demonstrative sights of the rain hammering outside, which creates a breathtaking image which opens and closes the piece, spectacularly heightens this attribute. Thus, when the fabrication slides into an unanswered question of actuality, ghosts or delusions, all through the eyes of daughter Feride (in a captivating enactment by Konul Iskender), the progression is simultaneously natural and complimentary. This transpires to alluring consequence in the second half. There is also a countless deal of symbolic imagery laced into practically every frame of these presentations. At the heart of this is a focus on feminine strength, vulnerability and courage amid nearly impossible circumstances. Enduring this representative correlation, there is a concentration on inner-wars. This is noticeable, in one manner or another, through every disposition dominating these already addressed exertions. These are both unspoken or verbalized. In “Araf”, this figure is physically embodied. This is via an unnamed combat with an unspecified menace. It is frequently discussed but never seen. Yet, we ceaselessly impress upon ourselves the unnerving ideology that this brutality is inching ever closer to the treacherous mountains our protagonists call home. In so doing, the incorporation of this abhorrent item akin wonderfully increases the previously mentioned allegory. It also makes it all the easier to delve into the uncertain psyches of those we follow within the chronicle.

The story, credited to Rzayev, concerns a son, Ali (in a phenomenal turn from Adil Damirov), who becomes caught up in the previously addressed violence. Early on, the plot oversees the young man’s Mother (in a gripping, quietly commanding portrayal from Basti Jafarova) tending to her sickly husband. He is credited here simply as Father (an emotionally gripping turn from Sabir Mammadov, which triumphantly communicates his anguish largely through tormented grunts and groans). Enhancing the strain upon Mother and her kin is that her blood relations are all nearing starvation. It is also an ever-present fear for Ali. With this in mind, Mother braves departing her nearby loved ones. This is after defiantly declaring to Feride: “My other child…is out there fighting against the enemy and has nothing to eat. I cannot accept them both suffering hunger. You just don’t be afraid.” Such brings Mother on a quest to uncover a source of nourishment for those she is leaving behind. Feride than takes up Mother’s position. Almost immediately, the anxiety stemming from the unseen confrontations outside is personified in increasingly unique ways. This occurs as the situation around her instantly begins to deteriorate.


Such is a genuinely intriguing premise. It is one which requires much insight into both the psychology and attitude of those living under the persistent threat of real life terror. This is to be as successful as it obviously strives to be. Jafarova and Rzayev offer exactly that with their intelligent and richly constructed screenplay. They concoct personas, situations and dialogue that are as fully-realized, elegiac and memorable as any Bergman production. Regardless, their use of deceptively straight-forward discourse is meticulously sharp and profound. For instance, the commencing narration pronounces that “In these mountains…it always rains a lot. It’s unfortunate that we cannot hear it anymore”. Such a sweeping declaration draws us in instantly. But, when contemplated in retrospect, this line exemplifies tremendously just how far-reaching the apprehension is that our leads are under. Continually, the arc is largely unpredictable. This is without ever becoming implausible. Jafarova and Rzayev also unveil a perfectly even, cerebral pace for the brief opus. It is one that compliments the atmosphere splendidly. This is without weighing down the overall progression of events. Such is an astonishing feat itself.

All of this is made progressively encapsulating and hypnotic by Gergo Elekes’ remarkably emotive, piano driven score. Simuzar Aliyeva provides fantastic costume design. Shahmal Novruzlu and Kamil Ismaylov evoke a sound department contribution that is illimitably crisp and undoubtedly attention-garnering. The same can be said for the seamless visual effects from David Kislik. Jafarova’s editing is just as stellar. Similarly, Mitch Davies’ use of premiere stock footage is thoughtfully delivered.

At only twenty-two years of age, Rzayev has reflected his big screen heroes Andrei Tarkovsky (1975’s The Mirror, 1986’s Sacrifice) and Stanley Kubrick (1971’s A Clockwork Orange, 1987’s Full Metal Jacket) with deft precision. Such is seen in the plethora of unique camera angles, the experimental nature of his celluloid catalogue and in the sheer prowess in guiding the project at hand. “Araf” is no exception. Prior depictions, such as “In a Time For Sleep” (2016) and “Nihan: The Last Page” (2016), only re-enforce this factor. With sixteen scripting and directorial recognitions already to his name in only a five- year span, he is incessantly re-affirming that he is a talent far beyond his years. The same can be spoken of twenty-one-year old, Jafarova. This is her third such labor. The $500 budgeted documentary “Nagillar Alemine Seyahet” (2016) and the autobiographical “Fidan Jafarova Film Portrait” (2016) arrived previously. Given the evident might between these moviemaking forces, and the all-around excellence of this first alliance, I sincerely hope that the ingenious “Araf” marks the commencement of many future pairings among the duo. What they have created here is enlightening, profound and engaging. It is indisputably one of the best entries in its genre of the year.


“The Girls Were Doing Nothing” – (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****

Thirty-something Marta (in a commanding, beautifully formed depiction from Katie Alexander-Thom), the heroine of “The Girls Were Doing Nothing” (2017), has a sharp retort concerning the debut title of writer-director Dekel David Berenson’s short film (the twenty-one minute work in progress “press preview” cut of which I base this review upon). It comes while Marta regales her similarly aged husband, Jake (in a quietly stalwart turn from Malcolm Jeffries), with a yarn from her youth. In this tale, the boys in her school would go out to play football. She goes out of her way to affirm that they would engage in such an activity in even the harshest snows of winter. While watching them busily go about their sports, Marta’s teacher would pose a question to the young ladies of the learning institution. This was why they “weren’t doing nothing.” Here the thesis statement of this slyly enigmatic, deeply meditative and highly symbolic production arrives. This is when Marta, with agitation visibly growing in both her voice and eyes, declares: “We weren’t doing nothing. We were watching”.

Such directly explains the hypnotic, subtle and clandestine tone of this erotically charged tour de force. Previously titled “The Vacation”, this presentation calls to mind Stanley Kubrick’s underrated masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Lars von Trier’s same held Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2 (2013). This parallel is visible in the sheer craftsmanship on display. It can also be spotted in its mature handling of carnal subject matter. In retrospect, Berenson is providing the audience the opportunity to tread in the footsteps personified by the young ladies in Marta’s chronicle. Yet, this accrues in an undoubtedly adult world. We view the measures of Marta’s daily life, whether she is going through photographs or trying to quietly provoke her husband’s sensual passions, without the component of clarifying precisely what is transpiring at every narrative twist. Given that this element is far too prevalent in cinema nowadays, the decision to excise what most would deem pivotal makes the proceedings even more riveting. It also comes across as refreshing and natural. Keeping true to this structure, the credible and gorgeously penned dialogue (which was partially inspired by psychologist Carol Gilligan) is kept to a minimum. Such makes the results increasingly voyeuristic and addictively appealing. The concluding sequence, which wordlessly proposes what is too come, is especially brilliant and captivating.

Despite this brave stylistic approach, another telltale sign of Berenson’s incredible risk-taking capabilities, the engaging plot thread is never lost. Even when we find ourselves unsure of why some sights are unfolding, Berenson forces our imagination to fill in the blanks. Moreover, our interest, our glimpse into Marta’s world of luxurious restaurants, private gyms and high-paying professional positions adds to the fascinating rhythm of the demonstration. All of this is punctuated further by the Marta’s inner-struggles to overcome the commonplace motions of her marriage. It makes the piece as much an exhibition of routine as it is a meditation on how to break out of such a monotonous extension of events. Marta and Jake find it in their charismatic neighbor, Andrea (a well-rounded, extraordinary enactment from Jolie Sanford). This occurs when she asks the couple to do a favor for her while she is on vacation. Such an invite becomes an unexpected chance to add both variety, spontaneity and intimacy to their lives. Yet, they soon learn the paradox of this meticulously paced fiction. This comes in the form of a quote from psychotherapist Esther Perel, which is exposed in the opening moments of the invention. This is that “Love longs for closeness, desire thrives in distance. And therein lies the rub”.


Adding to the sheer excellence at hand is the highly representative imagery. For instance, there is a shot near the commencement which also closes the effort. This is of a sugar cube absorbing. It is ultimately spied as a perfect mark of Marta’s bland, imprisoned outlook on life slowly wilting away. Additionally, it declares her willingness to find the exhilaration in being by seizing new prospects when they arise. There are several sequences involving Marta’s blood which are powerfully indicative of feminism. Aside from this, the undertaking is further graced by sensational editing from both Fabrizio Gammardella and Berenson. Phillip Quinton’s sound issuance is spectacular. The camera crew, consisting of Pete Blakemore, Melanie Jansen and Tom Blount, provides a spellbinding contribution. Elizabeth Hedley’s make-up design is stellar. Lem Lawrence’s visual effects significantly enhance the authenticity radiating from every frame. Kamil Lemie’s scant appearance in a role dubbed “1920’s Guy” and Samantha Whaley’s bit as a retail assistant are both deft and intriguing. The costumes by Britt Seel are superb. Such an ingredient fits the contemporary impression of the sum grandly. Music consultant Heather Hadar Gallar incorporates an operatic soundtrack. This only strengthens the overall imprint. It also impeccably reinforces the attitude of the exertion beautifully. Likewise, Berenson’s screenplay and guidance of the project is proficient and carefully constructed. The cinematography by Ruaraid Achilleos-Sarll is sumptuous and sweeping. These greatly piqued qualities aid mightily in making Berenson’s latest an absolute knockout. This is guaranteed to be a surefire hit with spectators once it begins its run at cinema festivals.

“The Girls Were Doing Nothing” is the first of three similarly brief, unified compositions. All of them deal with intense notions of fondness, lovemaking and personal bonds in one manner or another. These are collectively known as The Eros Trilogy. The next two labors, continuations of the account set forth with this initial undertaking, are “Borderlines” (2017) and “The Surface of All Things.” No due date has been given for the final segment.

This is more than a reason for excitement. The characters in this initiating episode are genuinely etched. Berenson is unafraid to paint real people on his celluloid canvas. Everyone we encounter, Marta and Jake especially, have flaws and likable traits woven in equal ration. Yet, the air of mystery in this 168 Wardour Filmworks, Bekke Films and Radiator IP Sales release is palpable throughout. It suggests many different directions that Berenson can pilot the opus in upcoming episodes. This is so much so that one cannot help but anticipate seeing where he takes the fabrication. What elevates this anticipation is that Berenson’s latest affair is among the most memorable and outstanding concoctions of its type I’ve witnessed all year. Berenson has an undeniable knack for storytelling. Such is boosted by his gifted team and their respective donations. These essentials fill the screen with ongoing resonance and awe. Rich in mentality, emotion and subtext, Berenson has evoked a winner on all fronts.