“Over Coffee” – (Short Film Review)

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

The primary joke of “Over Coffee”, a fifteen minute short from 2010 that was written and directed by Sean Meehan, is the lengths someone will go for that all-important morning cup of joe. The ticking clock motif is hilariously utilized in this situation. Such occurs as we find out that this beverage isn’t for our office laboring lead, Andrew (in a likeable performance by Erik Potempa that showcases the everyday qualities of his on-screen persona to terrific effect). It is for the imposing real-estate entrepreneur, Hamilton Rice (in another masterful portrayal by the always watchable Timothy J. Cox). He is from Rice Realty Inc. We learn in the first few minutes, in one of the many triumphantly humorous initial bits, that he has an obsessive fascination with the Post-It notes and their colors’ representational values. When a meeting that was scheduled with him at Wednesday at noon turns to “he’s on his way” the office Andrew works at descends into chaos. Andrew sees this as an opportunity to help out the girl he has unvoiced affections for: Carla (a tremendous representation by Jocelyn DeBoer that mirrors Potempa’s enactment in charisma). This is by executing an exploit he fools himself into thinking will be easy. It is to get Rice his coffee, measured out to his demanding specifications, before he shows up.

This set-up is splendidly introduced five minutes in. The last 2/3 are a cheery, light, but dead-on, parody. Such is of the maddening rush of the work-world. It is also about how, especially for those of us who are feeling the aforementioned crunch of labor and time, the simplest of tasks become the most difficult and strenuous. This pressure is perfectly realized in the opening moments. Such is a reverie of sorts involving Andrew’s run to his place of employment. This can be seen as a delightful thesis statement to the entire exertion.

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It is this allure which helps propel Meehan’s attempt to such successful heights. An early sequence between Andrew and David (in another of the many enjoyably wrought performances herein), where the duo are engaging in a conversation about cell phones and relationships that is sprinkled with one funny sexual innuendo after another, could’ve been cut from any closed door office friendship. A mid-film arrangement involving the laborious undertaking of getting a coffee order right, especially when said coded in a dense Starbucks-esque language, also adds to the breezy, slice of life comedy at hand. The romantic element also further illuminates such an aspect. It makes for a finale that is wonderfully old-fashioned in its upbeat simplicity and joviality. This makes Meehan’s work perfect viewing to break up another cloudy day of toil. This is by pointing out the absurdity of many of the situations we, the laborers, find commonplace.

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This detail is also thanks to a sharp, genuinely hilarious and character-oriented screenplay by Meehan. He gives us direction that fits the atmosphere of the material beautifully. This endeavor parallels itself to the look, luster and pace of similarly themed genre cracks well. Yet, it always feels fresh, unique and new. The Two-Five Films and A Studio in Production release benefits from vibrant music by Eric Campo. Matt Schwarz’s cinematography is exceptional. The same can be said for Meehan and Schwarz’s editing. Contributions from the five members of the sound department are also terrific. To add to the skillfulness visible throughout, Mallory Portnoy is outstanding in her representation of Laura.

Meehan aims to amuse and brighten with this venture. This he triumphs at stupendously. His exhibition is even paced and consistently entertaining throughout. The composition has just the right amount of well-timed comic moments and affectionate instances. This is utilized without ever appearing to artificially strive for either. The piece, made for $5,000, is amiable at every turn. Meehan injects the same demeanor here that made later efforts like 2015’s “Total Performance” so winning. His goal is to appeal to a mass audience by using themes we can all find applicable. This is one of the many triumphs on-screen. “Over Coffee” is a tour de force achievement. It is one which seems to have a bit of a Woody Allen spirit to the proceedings. Such makes this phenomenal accomplishment all the more endearing. This is the increasingly rare cinematic product which will be undoubtedly relevant, in some form or another, to practically everyone who crosses its merry path.

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“Hell-Bent” – (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1.2 out of *****.

“Hell-Bent” is a deliciously dark comedy from first time director Foster Vernon and writers Lorenzo Cabello and Shayne Kamat. The twenty-six minute and forty-second short film, released through MKaszuba Productions (“Inspired“) in 2016, takes full advantage of its wise-cracking demon on the loose set-up. The laughs are rapid-fire. This is thanks to the endlessly witty dialogue Cabello and Kamat have constructed. It is also courtesy of Steven Trolinger’s dead-on performance as the unholy fiend himself, Ricky. Trolinger, whose on-screen persona has a unique resemblance to Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy, brings a smirk-inducing charisma to his unkempt, obscenity spewing demeanor. It is one which is compulsively watchable. Such is unmistakably noticeable from our initial sighting of him, as he talks into a disconnected phone, at five minutes into the work. His portrayal is one of the many elements incorporated herein that make the proceedings play like an R-rated rendition of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice from 1988. Even the way Trolinger carries himself seems modeled after Michael Keaton’s timeless enactment of the title personality from the previously mentioned feature. It can also be seen as a riotous parody of the evils of the laboring world. Moreover, the malevolent beings one would call upon to get ahead in it.

The tale follows Michael (in a tremendously realized performance by Justin Andrew Davis). He is in constant competition with Beth (a well-orchestrated depiction by Ashley Kelley) at Brimstone Magazine. Michael is desperate to find a way to prove that he is the best writer at his place of employment. His options appear to be bleak. That is until he finds out that the upbeat and unassuming Agatha (a scene stealing, continually amusing enactment by Leslie Lynn Meeker), who labors alongside Michael, happens to have a summoning circle in her basement. It is than Michael becomes a curious, but confused, bystander to the act of bringing forth Ricky from his fiery resting place. Michael’s initial fear turns into optimism. This occurs as he sees Ricky as the perfect subject for what he is certain will be the article that makes his literary capabilities widely known.

Such a premise is intriguing in its own right. Yet, the filmmakers wisely know when to take chances and when to underplay the guffaws. For instance, the best sequence in this brief endeavor is erected while Michael and Ricky stand outside a church. It is than Ricky decides to play a game called “See You in Hell”. This is where he announces the sins of those who pass by as they file out of the aforementioned building. Soon he points to the structure itself and says, “Tax evasion”. Moments such as these help fashion the piece with its constantly sharp edge.

Yet, it triumphs just as well in its smaller, more understated instances. Such can be seen in the emotionally stirring typewriter shot which opens the composition. It is also visible in one of the hilarious concluding bits. In this segment, Agatha, Michael and Rickey take a picture together. This is arranged in a way that mimics the at home quaintness such arrangements often embody. It all comes together to showcase the variety at hand.

This smoothly paced effort is elevated by Kamat’s impressive, immersive cinematography. He also incorporates wonderfully done editing. Marc DeBlasi gives a crisp, skillfully issued contribution to the sound department. Kailia Bowlby’s make-up is terrific. Likewise, Kiyun Sung’s visual effects fit the atmosphere of the exertion spectacularly well. They are also astonishingly and credibly issued. Such heightens the 1980’s style charm that ebbs and flows throughout the undertaking. Vernon’s direction is stalwart and even throughout. Cabello and Kamat’s writing is brilliant in structure and in quality. Timothy J. Cox is mesmerizing in his representation of Mr. Bowers.

All of these components comes together to create a character oriented, effectively sidesplitting and engrossing product. Such is one that is as narratively intriguing as it is technically gripping. The quips and one-liners are triumphant in punchline and in execution. Yet, the exertion has as many gentle cases as it does boundary-pushing instances. This makes the affair so much more than a string of well-delivered cracks. It provides an undercurrent of heart and unbending concern for its leads. Such makes the depiction all the more even, varied and alive. What could’ve easily turned into a bitter outing becomes a resplendent balance of joviality, proficient filmmaking and depth. In turn, the promising young talents of Vernon, Cabello and Kamat shine. Their collective strengths, along with the rest of the terrific cast and crew, help make “Hell-Bent” a winner on all fronts.

You can check out the official Facebook page for “Hell-Bent” here.

“Sky’s the Limit” – (Short Film Review)

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

When we first meet Jason (a charismatic, genuine and beautifully honed portrayal by Timothy J. Cox), the lead from first time writer and director April Schroer’s “Sky’s the Limit”, the balance between family man and recently widowed father is perfectly displayed. He is visibly distracted. It is easy to detect that there is a high level of stress, hints of anger even, beneath his always calm exterior. The individual is spied typing away on his laptop. He is searching online messages. All the while he is only partially listening to what his son, Frankie (a strong and vulnerable depiction, perfect for the material, by Joseph Di Stefano) is saying. The signals, cries of attention from Frankie, appear initially lost on Jason. That is until a playful, imaginative game fills the duo with joy. It is this note which makes the second half, where Jason meets Kaitlin (a sharply rounded and authentically honed representation by Monica Servellon) so quietly powerful.

As the story goes on, it is uncovered that Frankie’s babysitter, Rebecca, is unavailable. From herein, the youth tags along on his dad’s date. It is during these later scenes, both natural and skillfully executed, so pivotal. Here, the audience begins to further sense the unspoken tug of war Jason has within. This is with his decision on which priority is more important to him: the role of parent to Frankie or lover to newly met Kaitlin. His final choice is as underplayed as all that came before it. Such heightens the dramatic beauty ebbing and flowing beneath its transcendent, vibrant slice of life surface. The result is a dynamically developed, breezily paced tale. It is one complimented by genuine dialogue and same-said events. Moreover, it is graced with tremendous performances. The outcome of such is a herculean marvel. It is one that is both fully satisfying and illuminating. Ultimately, it is the consistent believability on-screen, a mirror to existence itself Schroer holds throughout the endeavor, which makes these elements all the more stalwart.

Such is the impetus which thrusts forth the everyday comedic bits. It makes them all the more engaging and likable. These are all beautifully assembled. Refreshingly, the use of humor is not so heavily applied that it ever appears forced or betrays the realism Schroer has successfully accomplished. There is also a poignant, sobering emotive resonance beneath it all. It is one which is lightly, proficiently issued.

Schroer’s fantastic direction and smartly written screenplay never demonstrates the need to underline the sentimentally intense instances. Instead, it is as if we are a silent partner. This is most noteworthy as Jason greets Kaitlin at the door to initiate their date. Such is especially accurate during the climactic movie theater sequence. This is where Jason mentally assesses which definition of love is most important to him. Additionally, this is all entertainingly and convincingly distributed. The fact that such is done in a tightly-knit runtime of seven minutes and thirty-one seconds is all the more awe-inspiring.

With an estimated budget of only $1,000, this is also a technical gem. It looks and feels like an expensive, polished big budget product. Tom Mika’s cinematography is splendid. It supplements the tangible veneer emanating from all other aspects of the effort spellbindingly. Mika and Schroer’s editing fares just as well. Georges Estrella and Filip Ilic’s sound is crisp and spectacularly fashioned. The uncredited music utilized is phenomenal. It fits the brief production’s tone gloriously. To add to the quality at hand, Ryan Moore is incredible in his quick turn as Sky King.

Filmed in Montclair, New Jersey the composition is a joy to behold. There’s a joviality, an innocence lurking beneath the frames. It is one that is as admirable as it is necessary. This is a terrific, heartfelt account. It serves as the reminder to those of us who may see some of ourselves in the rendering of Jason. Such is to disconnect from the workaday world which dominates us. Furthermore, to focus our energies where true importance lies. This message Schroer delivers in a manner that is as understated as all that is previously witnessed. Much like these other attributes, such an action makes it all the more potent, pivotal and prevailing. This is a fantastic, intelligent and masterfully constructed undertaking. It is one I highly recommend you experience yourself.

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“What Jack Built” – (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Choosing Sides’- (Short Film Review)

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

Director Lee Loechler and writer Yael Green deliver a quietly powerful statement on religious conversion with the short picture from 2013, “Choosing Sides”. Painted with several moments of genuine hilarity, mostly deriving from the aforementioned situation, the exertion defies the bitter, preachy sermon the piece could’ve easily become in less capable hands. Instead, the two frame the composition in a radiant likeability. There is a perpetual warmth throughout that walks the line between comedy and drama. Such allows the audience to pick up on its message through their own assessment of the happenstance. This is a brilliant move. Such is true in that it allows the configuration, which plays entirely as a single extended segment, to unravel naturally and believably. In turn, there is never an instant where the illusion that we are watching a scene that could have occurred over numerous dinner tables throughout the world becomes shattered. This is another fantastic element of this effort. The experience overall will be wholly unique and intimate to every one of the exertion’s patrons. Such is another wonderful turn from the filmmakers’ decision to simply show the sequence without interrupting with their own thoughts. Never do Loechler and Green add any unnecessary cues as to how they want us to feel. They are inherently confident in their vision. Such only heightens the professionalism glistening through every frame of this subtle masterwork. The result is amazing. This is pure magic.

Though the set-up is amusing on its own, the confidence and competence at every level adds supplemental layers of depth and profundity. They unravel as the mind meditates its instances. Such adds a perpetually immersive luster to an already memorable bit of celluloid. Aided by terrific and endlessly watchable performances from Timothy J. Cox as the Catholic father, Peter, Rachel Lynn Jackson, as the Jewish mother, Ellen, and Max Abe Plush as Mikey, this is an all- around winner.

Loechler and Green’s tale focuses largely on Peter and Ellen. A pleasant enough, if rather mundane, discourse at dinner takes a noticeably disagreeable turn. Such occurs when faith slips into the dialogue. With young Mikey in ear’s range of the pair, the duo take the opportunity to use various methods, both derogatory to the opposing side and praising their own creed, to sway the innocent child to their side of the theological argument. This becomes, in the eyes of the parents, a battle for Mike’s moral direction. It is one which ends masterfully. We are given a concluding reveal that personifies another tremendously effective narrative choice on Loechler and Green’s behalf. Not only is it surprising, but it drives home the inevitable judgment sadly cast by some when they hear your doctrines do not align with their own. The last few minutes are a wonderfully strong punctuation point. It is one which re-states all that was communicated prior with brute force. Such makes this spectacular conclusion all the more riveting.

Among contributing the finely honed and competently crafted direction of this scant journey, Loechler provides cinematography which is striking, lush and alluring. His editing is just as skillful. The same can be said for Green’s nuanced and meditative screenplay. It is filled with credible, often successfully guffaw inducing, dialogue. What makes this all more operative is that Green has penned the type of speech one can easily hear erupting from the mouths of someone in the same combat Peter and Ellen become engaged in. These round out but a few of the various accomplishments visibly radiating from this production.

“Choosing Sides” works splendidly. This is true of both its laughter oriented and more sentimentally intense components. It also excels as a utilization of both genres to create a cohesive statement on the subject matter at hand. This is a rousing, well-executed and evenly paced undergoing. Though some may leave the labor offended at the picture painted, stating that such brawls would never derive from differing dogmas, the chronicle forces us to do as the title states. Such is an example of how accessible the characterizations are on-screen. It is also evidence of the participation we are pushed into inevitably. This, in itself, is verified proof of the emotive tiers buried immediately beneath the account’s apparently straightforward surface. All of these attributes join brilliantly. The outcome lingers with us long after the bit has settled. Such is evidence of the transcendence of the endeavor. It is also consequence of the volumes spoken in such a diminutive span. What Loechler and Green have provided here is challenging cinematic art; a sum which illuminates beautifully.

“That Terrible Jazz”- (Short Film Review)

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

Inaugural writer and director Mike Falconi’s near seventeen minute short thesis film for The Art Institute of Philadelphia, “That Terrible Jazz”, is every bit as smooth, classy and elegant as its title musical genre suggests. It is complimented by the pulpy attitude one would expect from a 1930’s – 40’s noir. This Falconi has ardently fashioned his debut cinematic achievement after. Also, the narrative is similarly fitting in that it is packed with sly, diminutive, cryptic dialogue. This hallmark aspect is as intriguing, illusive and mesmerizing as ever. It is another of the fiction’s many trademark attributes. Regardless, it adds layers of additional mystery and sophistication to an already compulsively intriguing dramatic composition.

The plot concerns the chain-smoking and heavily drinking protagonist and private Investigator Sellers (Ephraim Davis in an enactment which brings to mind Humphrey Bogart with a uniquely splendid and well-executed spin) and his attempts to locate a missing saxophone player. The ticking clock motif, another common quality of similar affairs, is utilized here. This comes into play as Sellers learns that the individual needs to be uncovered before the jazz band performs that night. It is an amusing jump-off point. Such is perfect for the scant form it is presented in. Likewise, the account is punctuated with an underlying intensity throughout. Falconi and his moviemaking crew, keeping the enigmatic traits of its brood in check, frame the yarn largely as one interrogation sequence after another. This administers supplementary respect for the roots of similar entries of its ilk. It also mechanizes incredibly well as a tried and true manner of delivering exposition. With several genuinely unforeseeable twists in tow to add to the attention-garnering at hand, Falconi develops those who populate the screen in a consistently engaging, charismatic and alluring fashion.

These well-developed cinematic dispositions themselves endure as enigmatic as the lead himself. They follow the modus impeccably well of such a classically stylized entry. Such can also be said of Ellay Watson’s brilliant embodiment of Elizabeth Alksne. Timothy J. Cox gives us another of his many masterful turns in his portrayal of the barkeeper, Nicky. Cox’s always welcome presence is reserved for a small amount of the runtime. Still, he makes a certainly memorable impression. David A. Rodriguez is exceptional as Jimmy Calder. Jim Snyder as Gregory and John Rifici as Dean fare just as well in their respective depictions. Thomas Schmitt as Dallas, Bruce Clifford as Mac and Gyasi Howard as Wynn Dumont astound. Together these performers complete a cast of characters etched with both dimension and a hard-boiled edge. We, the audience, sit spellbound by everyone we meet herein.

What also heightens and illuminates such a parallel is Stephen Grancell’s moody black and white cinematography. This is complete with beautifully done lighting that augments the visual splendor. Contributing to this appeal is Earl Stepp’s immersive, era appropriate music. Such sophisticated luster is treated by the dress of the aforementioned period. There are suits, ties and pork pie hats aplenty. With these elements in mind, this could’ve easily come off as mere imitation. Instead, the sum of this labor soars far beyond such a broad description. This is accomplished by issuing a tautly-knit, relentless pace. It is also assisted by sharp editing from Falconi and Grancell. Additionally, Falconi has crafted a screenplay that is smart, absorbing and proficient. The well-constructed piece makes exceptional use of its low-key sensibility. Furthermore, this rousing effort demonstrates phenomenal make-up work from Frances Gonzalez-Chavarria. It also exhibits incredible sound from Strepp. These jaw-dropping components illuminate this magnum opus dazzlingly. They help establish the competence resounding from every technical facet.

Among its other wise moves is opening, as if being dropped in the middle of a scene, with Watson hiding her face in a pillow. The words are uttered: “You better end this, Betty. Because you don’t want me to.” Such a display grips us immediately. It urges us to put the broken portions of this seemingly broken puzzle together quickly. This is before the actual narrative ventures in that direction. Falconi’s production is compulsively watchable from its first frame onward. As the tale moves on, the same sense only accumulates. When the end credits arrive, with a grey moniker in quotations that recollects the days when crime sagas such as these dominated movie theaters, we realize that we have been riveted in the manner this exertion commenced upon throughout.

Ending on a brilliant, suspenseful and pensive note that suggests the name of the effort represents the unpleasant goings-on of the leads’ daily lives, Falconi has given us a debut exertion that is sophisticated and clever. With a budget of only $1,000, Falconi has delivered a composition that mirrors the rugged gloss of an antiquated Hollywood production spectacularly. Falconi does this so well that one cannot help but feel awestruck by how well he creates the illusion of watching an eighty year old classic.

“That Terrible Jazz” is phenomenal. This is true as an example of old-fashioned storytelling as well as its enduring contemporary hold. It is also a promise of great things to come for Falconi. His contribution behind the lens is fantastic. Yet, this splendidly crafted love letter is striking all around. Falconi’s exertion proves that the genus it ardently models itself after needs a modern-day resurrection. It also subtly suggests that some definitions of ‘cool’ are eternal. They continue to excite and compel us as years stretch on and pass. Such is just one of the many reasons why Falconi has concocted both a wonderful love letter and a sight well worth seeing.

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“Simple Mind”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

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Director and screenwriter Phil Newsom has crafted a searing portrait of admiration, obsession and psychosis with his seven minute and twenty-two second 2012 short film, “Simple Mind”. Not only does the work issue a stunning amount of story in its scant runtime but, it also succeeds immeasurably at sharpening an intimate, understanding perspective of its otherwise villainous lead, Bob. The viewpoint established is a testament to Timothy J. Cox’s fabulous, alternately vulnerable and menacing, portrayal. This is also noticeable in the claustrophobic sensibility Newsom so masterfully constructs throughout. A slow motion sequence of Bob running, heart heard hammering in the soundtrack, which opens the affair, proves such successes. The audience becomes one with the character immediately. Later moments, which seem to be gazing into his eyes as they look around at everything but the camera, as if into his soul, as well as the frequent focus on the area around such lenses of sight while he speaks are brilliant, hypnotic and haunting. These segments heighten the overall atmosphere of the piece immensely. Moreover, these instances are among the many such bits where the arrangement visually exemplifies Bob’s own personality.

On much the same note, the story, as well as the manner it is told, is certainly layered. It captures our attention immediately with its fanatical stalker/ love narrative. It only grips us all the more as it becomes gradually becomes darker, its thriller elements all the more apparent, and even more captivating. Newsom tells this story through a series of flashbacks. This decision makes the endeavor come across even more as a trip through the fractured psyche of a disturbed individual. We learn about Bob as he does, peeling away every coating with increasing interest and horror. Yet, it avoids making Bob out to be another garden-variety deviant at every turn. Because of this we find ourselves all the more sensitive to his contemplations and often greatly concerned for his well-being. This is just one example of how well Newsom defies both conventions and anticipations.

The chronicle concerns Bob’s discovery of himself through repeated therapy sessions. During this time, he confesses to a violent impulse to his counselor, Samantha (spectacularly played by Kristi McCarson). This instinct Bob attributes, in one of the most chilling scenes herein, to being his only measure of achievement. It’s delivered in a startling, mesmerizing, terrifically underplayed quip; a centerpiece in a composition where all the previously stated words apply. The final reveal is just as jarring. It commands us to reassess the package as a whole. With it we confront the Hitchockian cleverness visible in its effortless manipulation of audience expectations.

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The technical aspects are just as astounding. Paul Nameck’s cinematography and editing is gritty, raw and perfectly suited for a tale such as the one Newsom presents. Keith Campbell’s music, with additional contributions from Jeremy Gonzalez, is evocative and effective. Newsom’s screenplay is a blueprint for a well-conceived suspense yarn. Incorporating authentic dialogue that drips with intrigue, motive and exposition that is smartly woven into the fabric of the account, Newsom’s writing is just as riveting. It is on par and as unique as his directorial handling. Most impressive of all, Newsom packs an incredible amount of twists into a compact runtime. Each sequential turn being all the more surprising and delightfully macabre.

Newsom has given us a taut, fast-paced rollercoaster ride with “Simple Mind”. It fascinates viewers as much with its unsettling take on self-discovery as it does with its various, and beautifully executed, nail-biting sections. Both of the personas on-screen are equally absorbing. Bob is a bold, dynamically explored and fully fashioned individual. Samantha is enigmatic and enthralling. By keeping the characters at the forefront and giving us an effort that is full-bodied, competently done in all respects and strikingly balances both its thriller and dramatic touches: Newsom has crafted a tour de force for fellow genre addicts. This is a must-see for those who like to think as well as scream.

 

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“Socks and Cakes” – (Short Film Review)

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

Writer and director Antonio Padovan’s twelve and a half minute short, “Socks and Cakes”, produced by Kimistra Films, is exhilarating entertainment. It is a sly comedy with delicately woven dramatic touches that is stylistically and tonally reminiscent of a Woody Allen venture. The magnificent composition wins its audience over immediately. Such is accomplished with both its widely relatable characterizations as well as a deftly honed screenplay (courtesy of Padovan). It is one filled with biting observations about life itself. The clever dialogue sharply reflects this characteristic. Often, its most effective humorous bits echoes such components. We laugh with those on-screen as we nod our heads in agreement. The serious bits are just as potent. This is because they evoke these attributes and hone them in a way that is not only sentimentally riveting but, intensely credible. For example, a stirring monologue delivered near the finale regarding the drudgeries of daily labor and other responsibilities gradually replacing dreams as one ages and matures is where such qualities are most evident. The commonplace attributes of those included within make their likability all the more transcendent. In turn, this becomes all the more accessible to a wide, varied audience. The result is a delightful concoction. It is one which is well-rounded, intelligent and uniquely meditative.

Padovan’s tale concerns five individuals who meet at a dinner party in Greenwich Village. Discussions of the past, the present and the future inevitably intermingle as the guests await the preparation of their meal. All the while, the chief personalities attending this event try to keep about a proper, respectable air as secrets involving these individuals are released. Emotions resonate but, seem to be pushed to the side until they can no longer be contained. This is where the piece gains its hefty dramatic intensity and sentimental resonance. Such arrives as the endeavor becomes largely a succession of clandestine talks between pairings of exes, lovers and friends after its stupendously mood-setting opening credits, which is resurrected just as successfully in its end acknowledgments. These segments are complete with fitting selections of music that only enhances its warm, hypnotic effect.

The topic of the production largely concerns the various relationships of the leads. It toys with the idea that men and women can attain pure friendships. This is, of course, after an isolated incident of giving into initial passions(as the French literature professor Harry Mogulevsky, a sophisticated and outstanding enactment by Timothy J. Cox that is pitch perfect for the material, informs us in one of his several Shakespearean lectures to the audience). Not only does this provide one of the most comedic moments in the effort but, it provides a grand example of the appropriately subtle manner in which such instances are handled.

The laughs are beautifully woven into the fabric of the narrative. Such is done in a way that doesn’t take away from the overall effect. Instead, it enhances the sensibility that one is watching a collection of close-acquaintances, people we immediately sense we’ve known for a long time, gather, reminisce and indulge in great conversation. The smartly smooth pace mimics this illusion of being present to what transpires; a silent comrade as the measures of the account unfold. Yet, Padovan also concerns his brief work of cinema with decision. Primarily, the ones which existence wields at us unexpectedly. This is most notable in its open-ended resolution. Not only is this a perfect punctuation point for the endeavor but, it draws the audience in all the more. Because of this the proceedings become all the more warmly intelligent, personal and gripping.

What also makes the effort all the more impactful is that it contains beautiful performances all around. Kristy Meares embodies the character of Amanda, Mogulevsky’s ex-wife, masterfully. Jeff Moffitt is terrific as the architect, Richard, Amanda’s present spouse (who just happens to be Mogulevsky’s best friend). Ben Prayz, as jovial and joking David, (whose impeccable comedic timing is utilized to great effect throughout) and Alex Vincent, as Sophie, fare just as spectacularly.

The affair also boasts gorgeous cinematography by Alessandro Penazzi and Redmond Stevenson. The veneer found on-screen is classy, elegant and natural; creating an immaculate visualization of the demeanor and atmosphere found in both the antagonists and beneath the surface of the material. Padavan’s direction is marvelous and his editing is seamless. Jackie Caruso’s use of make-up is phenomenal. Robert Albrecht’s sound is stellar. The same can be said for the art direction from Gabriela Guidino Jaime. All these wonderful elements come together strikingly well; the charm of the composition is infectious. Because of these wonderfully constructed technical elements the composition radiates triumphantly from the screen and into our own hearts.

Among the many fantastic feats Padovan and his filmmaking crew accomplishes here is how we leave this brief bit of cinema feeling that we have known the characters on-screen intimately all our lives. Padovan provides rollicking glimpses into those who populate his story through speech that is consistently fascinating and exposition that is just as natural and engaging. The fact that the exertion is so beautifully crafted, acted and provides such an exceptional example of the power of nuance makes the effort all the more admirable. Padovan’s ambitions to discourse on the human condition in such a quaint setting is all the more awe-inspiring. The reality that this is executed as brilliantly and effortlessly as all the high-caliber herein makes the piece all the more worthy of our time and attention. “Socks and Cakes” is terrific.

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“Dirty Books”- (Short Film Review)

dirty books poster

 

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

Director and co-writer Zachary Lapierre’s sixteen minute short, “Dirty Books”, released through Fitch Fort Films, tackles the matter of the death of the printed word in an outright, yet sincere, heartfelt manner. It is one that succeeds ravishingly as an illustration of naturalism, humor and insight. The composition is consistently entertaining yet, meditative. Moreover, Lapierre finds a way to earn our emotions genuinely, without ever manipulating them. He finds an incredible balance between a tone that is pleasant, down to earth and upbeat, perfect for its more light-hearted instances, and an underlying somberness that makes its argument all the more dire. This creates the perfect stage for the wonderful, and relatable, message held in its central theme. Such is also reflected, in many ways and attitudes, in the title itself. This massive cinematic achievement speaks to its audience without ever appearing preachy or as if it is negating storytelling to do so.

What also works in its favor is that the manner in which the chronicle unfolds is appropriately breezy and direct. It mirrors various teenage angst classics from mid-1980, namely The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but feels distinctly like its own entity. Furthermore, it triumphantly accomplishes this without giving into its wisely planted gags and comic undertones to the point that it takes away from the dramatic forefront. Because of this it never negates its sharp focus on serious characters and characterization, as well as the gravity of the subject matter. Lapierre walks a delicate line between these genres effortlessly. This is done so deftly and with such care that its gentle respect for both areas it categorizes itself within is worthy of envy. It also, in turn, makes the composition all the more varied and dimensional.

The narrative oversees David Burroughs (Noah Bailey) creating fiction and selling it as truth. This dishonesty revolves around pornographic pictures being placed by an enigmatic individual in an unspecified book in the school library. It is done to save his newspaper, for which he is both publisher and editor-in-chief, from being turned into an online blog by the end of the year. Given that the newsprint’s most intriguing tales in the past few weeks have been “retiring faculty and changes to the fitness curriculum”, as we learn early on, he comes to believe that this deception will be the spark which catches the fiery interests of all of his peers. In turn, Burroughs thinks that this will appeal to classmates and will, alternately, make Dr. Bradley (Timothy J. Cox) change his mind about the upcoming transition from page to screen. What Burroughs doesn’t expect is how this fabrication will modify his own life as well as those around him. This is when this pleasing production turns to another timely topic, which it addresses with the same quiet potency as its prime focus. This is the extent one will go for fame, notoriety and to be remembered. These concerns undoubtedly summon great emotion. The piece ends on a staggering exclamatory note that recalls these elements magnificently.

As a cinephile the high-caliber performances, especially Timothy J. Cox’s phenomenal and sophisticated turn as Dr. Bradley, helped make this an immediately absorbing watch. This is heightened by Noah Bailey’s alternately vulnerable, relatable and quietly empowering turn as the rebellious protagonist. These aspects, especially the palpable and combative chemistry between the two in the attention-garnering opening segment, where Burroughs is informed that he is “being shut down”, drew me in immediately. It made the on-screen personalities all the more rich, multi-layered, likable and alive. Ansley Berg as the sports writer, Charlotte, and Isaiah Lapierre as Owens are superb. The rest of the cast fares just as spectacularly.

What also enticed me in the aforementioned manner is that Lapierre exhibits consistently confident, and incredible, direction. The smart screenplay he has crafted with Ian Everhart, who also provides the appropriately fantastic and gratifyingly tone-setting cinematography, as well as the smooth pace and the seamless editing by Michael Kutsch made the endeavor all the more captivating. This is further aided by Megan Provencial’s vibrant graphic design. Lapierre, who also contributed the delightful sound on display, has issued music which catches the essence of the account just as phenomenally as these aforementioned attributes. These stellar characteristics come together beautifully. They assist in the creation of a labor of love that is both urgent and endearing, gorgeous in what is on the surface as well as beneath it.

But, the narrative, especially the fight David wages against the powers that be was riveting, enabling even, to me as a writer. It is an eternal issue that is presented here in a fresh, vigorous, innovative way. This brilliant approach made it easy for me to cheer for David as he combats authority, while admiring the care put into all technical aspects of the composition. The result is overwhelmingly effective. Lapierre has undoubtedly crafted a timeless masterpiece. In the space of a brief runtime, Lapierre and his moviemaking crew have concocted a terrific, charming and pensive exertion. It is one that will speak to audiences of all ages as it showcases the price one must often pay for both their treacheries and their passions. This is a lesson, a message that we all must be reminded of every now and again. “Dirty Books” does this, and much more, marvelously well.

You can check out Fitch Fort Films’ Facebook page here.

The I.M.D.B. page for “Dirty Books” can be seen here.

“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.