AWordofDreams’ 16 Favorite Rap Albums and EPs of 2019 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

16. CrasH Talk by Schoolboy Q

15. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind by Logic

14. Yuck! by ANoyd, Statik Selektah

13. Under Bad Influence 3 (EP) by Ubi

12. Ga$ Money by Lyric Jones

11. Forever (EP) by Jonezen

10. S.P. The Goat: Ghost of All Time by Styles P

9. Of Mics and Men (EP) by Wu-Tang Clan

8. Trunk Muzik 3 by Yelawolf

7. Igor by Tyler, the Creator

6. Demons by Madchild

5. N9na by Tech N9ne

4. Vernia by Erick Sermon

3. Street Urchin 2 by Sean Strange

2. Czarface Meets Ghostface by Czarface, Ghostface Killah

1. Out to Sea by Chris Orrick

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“Phoenix Forgotten” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Justin Barber’s full-length feature debut, Phoenix Forgotten (2017), does an admirable job of blending fact, the mass U.F.O. sighting that occurred in Arizona on March 13th, 1997 that became known as “The Phoenix Lights”, with fiction. This creative component is the search for three teens who vanish after encountering the afore-mentioned incident firsthand. Co-produced by Ridley Scott (1982’s Blade Runner), Barber’s exhibition also beautifully mirrors a classically styled documentary, at least until about the one hour mark, far better than most found footage films. This is with an ever-inventive use of interviews and news reports cleverly providing the exposition. There is also a constantly smirk-inducing sense of 1990’s nostalgia present. This is as Barber, who penned the formulaically structured script with T.S. Nowlin, frequently references The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016-). Moreover, the first half constantly called to mind an extended segment of the popular cold case based television show Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2010).

Additionally, the lead performances are all credibly and charismatically etched. This is especially in line with Luke Spencer Roberts’ portrayal of our relatable, and alien obsessed, hero, Josh. Such can also be said of the high-quality depiction of his secret crush, Ashley (Chelsea Lopez), and fellow journeyer Mark (Justin Matthews). The narrative also meritoriously includes a lot of circumstances, such as sudden nosebleeds, which are much in line with what those involved in real life encounters with otherworldly entities undergo. The sparsely used effects are also undeniably effective. Jay Keitel’s cinematography is superb. Congruently, Barber and Nowlin’s dialogue comes off as natural. This is a courtesy of the fine authorship of the piece. It is also a testament to the authentic fashion in which these lines are delivered.

But, this does little to mask the underwhelming sensation which sprang forth with the rolling of the end credits. This is most likely a result of the concluding sequence. Such a configuration blatantly rips off the climax of The Blair Witch Project (1999). The story, which is involving as a horror and science-fiction fusion but transparent as a mystery, is also incomplete. This is as the exertion gives us a definitive answer to what fate befell those who were lost. Yet, it fails to include a satisfactory resolve for the individual conducting the search, Sophie (Florence Hartigan). Not to mention, the affair never tops the harrowing, grainy VHS enactment of the true event, which arises during a birthday party, that it is based upon. Such is melancholy considering that this transpires within the first ten minutes of the picture.

Correspondingly, even at eighty-seven minutes in length the runtime seems overlong. This is as the first two acts, which develop characters and pace in a satisfactory, if sluggish, manner, give way to an ultimate reveal which is obvious from the start. What is just as evident is the lack of any real suspense, surprises or scares. The result is a middle of the road effort. It is one whose mileage will vary between an enjoyable, if unmemorable, experience and a hair-pulling test of patience. This is based solely on your overall fascination in the subject matter. Given that extra-terrestrial tales have always garnered my attention, I, luckily, fall into the latter category.

(PG-13). Contains language and some intense sequences.

Released exclusively in theaters on April 21st, 2017.

“Split” – (Capsule Movie Review)

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

Split (2017), a tale of three young women who find themselves kidnapped and imprisoned by a man who has twenty-three diverse personalities within him (though we only encounter nine of them), and is on the verge of unveiling his monstrous twenty-forth, is tense, tough and terrific. Though it incorporates several bits in its last act that come off as too convenient to get our heroine from point A to point B, betraying the organically built nature of the narrative, M. Night Shyamalan otherwise delivers. Much of this is courtesy of his superbly constructed, meditative, breakneck paced and character-oriented screenplay. It is one that grips us with Shyamalan’s seemingly effortless ability to generate suspense. This is even when issuing the most tried and true of thriller elements into this arrangement. Such is evident in a certainly attention-garnering, and beautifully executed, commencing sequence. This oversees the abduction of our female protagonists, who are waiting on the return of their adult driver, from the back and passenger seats of a car. Rarely in its one hundred and seventeen-minutes does this factor of unproblematic amusement waver.

To its further credit, the script is also undeniably clever. It is filled with believably authored dialogue. All of which is just as credibly administered by the players. Likewise, the penned piece is unafraid to go into a variety of surprisingly dark and genuinely shocking places. This is most noteworthy in its routinely dispensed back story. Such is especially praise-worthy when considering that this is a PG-13 rated venture.

Helping matters further is that Shyamalan incorporates into this Blinding Edge Pictures and Blumhouse Productions release a clearly Hitchcockian sensibility to his brilliantly tuned direction. It often stylistically and thematically holds a mirror to Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho (1960). The impressively designed and imaginative opening and closing credits sequence is potent evidence of this trait. But, the exertion is much its own entity. It doesn’t rely solely on this imitative attribute to elucidate both quality and audience appeal. Such makes the film, along with the high intrigue of the deceptively straightforward sounding plot, increasingly more triumphant. It also makes the composition easier to admire. West Dylan Thordson’s sparse, but unnerving, score along with Mike Gioulakis’ handsome, brooding cinematography only augment this detail.Relatedly, Luke Franco Ciarrocchi’s editing and Kurt Wunder’s special effects are seamless and sharp. Such also proves the technical mastery clearly visible within the presentation.

Complimenting these attributes are the magnificent lead performances. This comes foremost from James McAvoy, as the dissociative identity disorder (DID) suffering antagonist, Kevin. McAvoy shows that he is phenomenal at balancing the many successfully comedic moments his on-screen persona frequently conveys. This is without ever ignoring his ominous and menacing disposition. Such makes for a certainly rounded, oddly likable and watchable villain. Correspondingly, Anya Taylor-Joy is unflinching in her portrayal of Casey. She is our introverted, but anything but vulnerable, central figure. Moreover, Betty Buckley (2008’s The Happening) as Kevin’s psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, steals every scene she is in. Haley Lu Richardson as Claire Benoit, Brad William Henke as Uncle John, Sebastain Arcelus as Casey’s Father and Jessica Sula as Marcia are also excellent.

Yet, as undeniably entertaining as the effort is for most of the runtime, it gives way to a rather disappointing, disjointed final act. The sum of which is improved by a smirk-inducing alignment, which is more a sly reference than an all out twist, in its concluding section. Such will assuredly delight avid followers of Shyamalan’s prior work. This is while leaving casual viewers in the cold (much as it did with the theatregoers I saw it with). Shyamalan’s brief turn as the charismatic Jai is similarly enjoyable. The result is an excellent, highly recommended motion picture. It is one that, because of the previously stated shortcomings, falls just before the mark of greatness. Still, it is a journey that is well worth undergoing. With the rollercoaster ride that is Split, Shyamalan has proven that his cinematic capabilities are as stalwart and wildly unpredictable as ever.

“Where To Invade Next” – (Movie Review)

where to invade next 1

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

After a six year silence, the director whose last film was 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore,  has proven he is as subversive, hilarious and entertaining as ever. This is with his latest feature, Where to Invade Next. The one hundred and twenty minute silver screen affair, released on December 23rd of 2015 through Dog Eat Dog and IMG Films, can be seen as a grand expansion on the themes present in his previous works. Our broken health care system, education and woman’s rights get explored magnificently and illuminatingly. Additionally, he focuses a great amount of the runtime on international lifestyles. Despite this, Moore almost ceaselessly maintains an unexpectedly upbeat, often poignant atmosphere.

Such is established with special emphasis on how other countries regard their fellow neighbors. This is both in and out of the work place. A special prominence is put on this fact as designated by their employers. There is also a stirring, and undoubtedly eye-unveiling, focus on the prison complex. Primarily, its treatment of the inmates. An extended segment where Moore visits both a minimum and maximum security reformatory in Norway is especially fascinating. Yet, he focuses just as much on the mutual love and respect the many countries he visits showcase to one another. This is illuminated as well as the alterations America needs. They make a riveting assessment. Such is all the more undeniable when layered together in the manner Moore does here.

One of the most recurring themes throughout is the age old principal of being a good neighbor. What is just as prevalent is the message, delivered by one German cop states when discussing his attitude towards his fellow citizens, “Human dignity above all.” That is certainly something America could benefit greatly, and immediately, from. This is if such a suggestion was applied more often to its residents’ demeanor. Such is just as true of their routine activities.

The movie focuses in on Moore lightheartedly ‘occupying’ other nations through interrogation. He encounters students, higher-ups, workers and an assortment of other differing personalities throughout this cinematic trip around the world. In so doing, he attempts to find out what ideas assist other principalities in getting superior results in the areas America lags behind in. Every time he finds a potential solution to our republic’s problems, he plants an American flag at the scene. Hence forth, he promises to steal the notion and bring it back to his homeland.

It’s a brilliant concept. One that mechanizes as a parody of America’s ability to take the philosophies of others and pass them off as their own. It is also an absorbing international glimpse into how others subsist. These humorous and enlightening elements, delicately woven throughout, are a perfect pulpit. It is one custom-fitted for the equal doses comedic and sobering sensibilities equated with Moore’s often imitated, trademark style.

Also true to form, the piece is briskly and expertly paced. For the most part, each issue is given well-divided intervals. Such a component is smartly utilized as to not weigh down the progression of the narrative. Because of this approach, there is no excess here. In terms of the previously stated aspect, this is especially true.

This opus begins with a perfect, immediately tone-setting introductory segment. In a sequence which plays as if it was taken directly from Moore’s own dreams, American officials summon Moore to find an answer to their states’ problems. Such is followed-up, just as smartly, with a commencing credits sequence. Moore than flashes many of these issues via news report. We are no more than five minutes into the motion picture when Moore begins his global ‘invasion’ of Italy. Yet, the breakneck movement of these early sections certainly do not undermine Moore’s stance being cemented and made distinctly evident. It also doesn’t undermine the stalwart nature of what he is showing us. These early glimpses are harrowing, and often horrific. Moore’s position towards American tribulations is clearly and evocatively sent.

This is another illuminating instance, another genius decision on Moore’s behalf. Such is because the scenes of police brutality and bloodshed which flash on-screen before Moore’s worldwide travel begins instantly give us culture shock. What follows after the grim, cringe-inducing actions of the acknowledgements is almost continuously peaceful and serene. After what graces our senses beforehand, this is a welcome atmosphere that is largely elucidated throughout. That, in itself, is one of the many successful ingredoents herein. Another is the continued range of emotion buried just beneath the surface of this boldly ambitious  Moore has undoubtedly crafted another incredible addition to his celluloid catalogue.

Also, keeping to the tradition of Moore’s previous ventures: the quiet, smaller moments are just as memorable and operative as the larger, more punctuative ones. For example, there is a sequence where a young French girl is given a sip of Coca-Cola at a school lunch table. Almost immediately she begins to fidget and shake. This is just as potent as the finale. Here, Moore reminisces with a friend from his home state of Michigan about taking down a wall in Berlin. A discussion with Krista Kiuru, the Finnish Minister of Education, and Tim Walker, a teacher who is also a representative of Finland, is just as mesmerizing. Yet, there are occasional bits, such as an instant where Moore tours a factory in Germany to see the workers relaxing in a room and merrily talking, which appears too convenient. It as if this section was established simply to help illustrate Moore’s point concerning the vastly superior treatment of laborers in realms outside of America. Mercifully, such intrusions are few.

What is just as phenomenal is that there are no repeated ideas here reintroduced to simply fill the runtime. Instead, Moore keeps the story fresh. This is with new information, thoughts and suggestions billowing from every new scene and location. Despite this, the composition never seems rushed. Furthermore, the whole never appears to be disrespecting the many personal tales and theories at hand. This is respectfully issued by giving the many personalities we encounter their due chance to make their statement and tell their tale.

There is a leisure to the narrative that is meditative but, never overwrought. This is perfect for the tourist-like aspect of the proceedings. Such is as much the courtesy of Pablo Proenze, Todd Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk’s phenomenal editing. This is also visible in Moore’s jovial, ever-likable presence. Such is also true of his style as both interviewer and documentarian.

Technically, the rest of the project is just as striking. Rick Rowley and Jayme Roy’s cinematography is lush and gorgeous to the eye. Walter Thomson’s still photography is superb. The sound department, a collective contribution from thirteen individuals, is crisp and skillful. Likewise, Dan Evans Farkas and Heather Kreamer’s musical endowment is outstanding. But, the pinnacle of all these details is Moore’s exceptional direction. It is as commanding, welcome and attention-garnering as always.

Since it is practically impossible to review an undertaking by Michael Moore without the interference of politics, I admit that in the distance between Moore’s last feature the subject has lost its personal appeal. Perhaps the notion of difference making commonly associated with this often controversial theme is not a result I, a working class American, find plausible anymore. It could be an outcome of being weathered by age and cynicism. More than likely is that it is the product of bearing witness to one self-serving failure after another in the governmental sphere for the entirety of my adulthood. This sentiment endures in me regardless of the party associated to the individual in office. So it was out of admiration for Moore’s prior accomplishments, and not the belief that it would be able to hear concepts which America would ever dare mix into their commonplace existence, that I approached his latest offering.

The alternating doses of rage and sadness for the state of our country were still undeniably present while viewing his latest affair. It was felt as much with Where To Invade Next as it was after I initially saw 2002’s Bowling For Columbine in a college English class. These sensations also lingered and brimmed within me as much as it did after coming out of a screening of 2004’s Fahrenehit 9/11 and 2007’s Sicko during their respective theatrical runs. Yet, I didn’t initially feel the sense of empowerment that usually erupted within me during a Moore production.

That was until a pivotal, underplayed bit of information was dropped in the dialogue of the second half. Soon after this was unveiled it became a late thesis statement of the effort. Upon a follow-up sit through the movie proved to be every bit in line with the liberated impression equated to his prior on-screen journeys. In the end, this helped me realize how necessary engagements like these are. It convinced me again that it isn’t too late to re-fashion the complications America faces. This is mandatory so that we can live in a region where the reverie of tranquility and admiration for one another is as prominent here as it is in this meticulous and timely labor’s depiction of other areas.

Where To Invade Next gives us hope. Not only is that a start to a better society, it is the first necessary step to seeing this vision Moore has shown us take root. This reason alone makes Moore’s latest masterpiece a compulsively watchable, mandatory experience.

The exertion can also be defined by a casually addressed sequence where Moore declares, “My mission is to pick the flowers, not the weeds.” Ultimately, the purpose here is to communicate to all of of us, Americans especially, that we all can use a little bit more of that in our lives. Moore illustrates and drives home this proposition beautifully. The proof radiates through every shining frame of this galvanizing tour de force.

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“Choosing Sides’- (Short Film Review)

choosing sides 3

 

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.

“Socks and Cakes” – (Short Film Review)

socks and cakes poster

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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“The Witch”- (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The Witch, from first time feature director Robert Eggers, is that increasingly uncommon, and boldly unconventional, horror feature that sets its sights far beyond simple jump scares and the genre’s various tired recycled staples of fright. Instead, it is out to coil gradually beneath your skin, burrow itself into your imagination and linger there for an extended period; long after its ninety-three minute runtime is far behind you. Eggers takes the long exhausted topics of possession, necromancy, religious persecution and fear of the unknown and transforms them into a composition of endless magnificence. He appears doggedly determined to go out of his way to deliver these well-worn topics into a succession of riveting sequenceso that is, not only as believable as possible, but, unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Backed by powerhouse performances, immaculate attention to the dress (courtesy of Linda Muir’s immaculate costume design), dialogue and demeanor of its circa 1630 period detail: Eggers has crafted an instant genre classic; one where the term ‘unnerving’ and ‘spine-chilling’ seems custom made to describe its lasting impression. What is just as extraordinary is that Eggers, who also wrote the meticulously erected screenplay, delivers a slow-burn thriller whose pace only heightens the suspense to almost unbearable levels while being both confident and intelligent. The effort never talks down to its audience or goes outside the confines of what would logically occur within the narrative for an unearned scream. That, in itself, makes this more than worthy of a recommendation. Moreover, it looks and feels wonderfully old-fashioned. This cinematic experience brings to mind timeless terror masterpieces, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 magnum opus The Shining (which Eggers declared was a great inspiration for the piece), while appearing fresh and wholly original. The similarities are remarkably evident in both Mark Koven’s brilliantly sparse orchestral score, Louise Ford’s seamless film editing and Jarin Blaschke’s ominous, eerie and elegiac cinematography. This results in a tremendous achievement; one that is exceptionally well-done on all accounts.

Eggers’ extraordinarily mounted and intense “New England folktale”, as the opening informs us and which we uncover immediately before the end credits has portions taken directly from the diaries of 17th Century Puritans, can be seen as a precursor to the religious fervor of The Salem Witch Trials. This occurred sixty-two years after the chronicle takes flight. To accomplish this goal Eggers has constructed a piece which concerns a family who is made to leave a plantation because of the father, William (in a portrayal by Ralph Ineson that is passionate and commanding), and his severe biblical interpretation. Later, the group of seven settles down to build a new life. They construct a home with a barn in front of a strangely brooding and deeply-reaching wooded expanse. Soon William and his children seem drawn to the region and find themselves making up excuses to explore its recesses. Almost immediately afterward a series of unearthly events begin to build. These are all surrounding the forest and the strange acting animals within and around it.

The unconsecrated sensibility emanating from the area becomes all the more palpable when the youngest child, in an effectually staged first act sequence, vanishes during a game of peak-a-boo with oldest daughter, Thomasin (in a depiction by Anya Taylor-Joy which is as gripping, varied and alive as the striking images Eggers puts on-screen). The mother, Katherine (in an enactment by Kate Dickie that is successfully accomplishes turns of vulnerability and outright danger masterfully), and William are understandably grief-stricken. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), all of whom are wonderfully and uncannily played, seem to either be dealing with the loss in their own way or strangely removed from the situation altogether. Soon the presence of evil, which becomes pinpointed to a scene-stealing goat named Black Phillip, who is rumored to talk to Mercy and Jonas, grows. This existence of a malicious entity continues to steadily make itself known. Such disturbing goings-on progressively transpires until the clan is pitted against one another. From herein, the word ‘witch’ is hurled to practically everyone involved. This is distributed with increasing rapidity as the wickedness takes over.

The feature is a triumphant combination of both drama and visceral gothic horror. Most importantly, it avoids the clichés of the genre at nearly every turn. A large part of the success of this exertion derives from the factor that Eggers treats nearly every personality we encounter on-screen as if they are the lead of the tale, especially in the beginning  thirty-five minutes. Eggers builds his characters with the patience of a work by Ingmar Bergman and, simultaneously, finds the way to craft moments of menace that are sly and quietly intimidating. This balance is evoked so seamlessly that it makes the increasingly accruing evil appear all the more authentic. Initial scenes involving a rabbit with an unnerving stare, though it is initially difficult to declare exactly why it produces such an outcome, is initial proof of how meritoriously this blend of real-life and the unholy is accomplished. Often the terror is carved, just as masterfully as the more obvious jolts, from extended periods of unsettling silence.

There are moments, mostly reserved for the first and last ten minutes, which also brought to my mind thoughts of F.W. Murnau’s ground-breaking, expressionistic approach in his silent 1922 vampire masterpiece, Nosferatu. This duration also contains a sense of the abstract quality and rhythms of David Lynch’s 1977 avant-garde classic, Eraserhead. In these early and late sections, Eggers showcases terror sequences at his most grimly poetic and evidently visceral. Though these are obviously designed to chill your blood and stay with you, and they certainly achieve their intended consequence, these more obvious attempts at trepidation are just as victorious as the more subtle anxiety setting starts that take up the bulk of the picture. Moreover, Eggers never betrays the Kubrickian catalyst flowing throughout the endeavor. The result is a big-screen endeavor which commences brilliantly, grabs our attention and continues to defy our expectations just as smartly until its appropriately understated conclusion. The Witch works so well because it leaves just enough to get our imagination to fill in the blanks while it tosses one beautifully macabre image after another our way. This is an incredible feat, made all the more plausible due to the always believable credible contribution from both Luc Benning’s special and Andrew Alzner’s visual effects team, that Eggers pulls off without a hitch.

There are many other terrific technical attributes which make this endeavor such a one of a kind marvel. Christopher Guglick, Jason Perriera, Adam Stein, Orest Sushko and Robert Turi’s influence in the sound department is terrific. Mary Kirkland has issued tremendous set decoration, which only adds to the painstaking period authenticity present. The make-up department, credited to Francois Dagenais and seven others, does excellent work. These consistently high-quality markers help illuminate all that radiates from the screen and make the overall effort all the more immersive.

Eggers’ intentions with this project, besides scaring the hell out of us, was to understand the spiritual mania of the era and, alternately, give us a precursor to The Salem Witch Trials. Because the individuals here are so well-honed, and he elicits such concern for them, we understand William’s actions as he accuses those around him of witchcraft. Yet, we are just as sympathetic of those who are the indicted. In so doing, we often wonder if he is handling himself in such a manner as to cover up his own personal dabbling in such a field. This is because the production, true to the tradition of the best terror endeavors, effortlessly transports us inside the mind of those the tale follows. The spectacularly constructed shocks are all the more potent because Eggers and company dare to do what few horror features wish to do nowadays. This is gaze far beyond the surface and into the beating heart of those involved. Such is one of the primary reasons The Witch is so uncommonly effective. It is guaranteed to remain a favorite for both genre and art-house aficionados for years to come.

the witch poster

“Nihan: The Last Page”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Nihan poster

“Nihan: The Last Page” is an evocative, elegiac and enigmatic fourteen minute dramatic short, released through Angry Student Productions and directed with an impeccably masterful eye for communicating emotion through both sight and sound by Tofiq Rzayev. It is one which is achingly beautiful. This is true in both its plot, symbolism and execution. It addresses the wrenching transition from clinging to a painful loss, unable to let go because of the agony associated with saying farewell to a loved one, to the early stages of acceptance spectacularly well. This expressive turmoil the piece accomplishes with endless sincerity and maturity. It also elucidates an understated tone that is perfect for the material. These aforementioned characteristics are unveiled in the gorgeously honed performances. They are also erected mesmerizingly from both Rzayev’s dark, moody and glorious cinematography and smoothly fashioned editing.

The somber luster illustrated within this endeavor not only helps set the contemplative tone of the piece instantly but, also works terrifically with the sounds of an unseen storm raging off-screen. This occurs in its opening four and closing three minutes. It not only adds to the poetic sensibilities so meticulously woven throughout the endeavor but, it also evokes an intimate extension of the inner-turmoil welling within the lead of the narrative, The Man (a portrayal by Erhan Sancar that is as brilliant and riveting as Rzayev and Mustafa Erdogan Ulgur’s spectacularly crafted screenplay demands). The piece holds onto the sentimental impact it ruminates from these early instances and sharpens them greatly throughout the sparse runtime. This, along with the meticulous and stunning craftsmanship that has obviously gone into conjuring this impression, results in a composition that resonates constant endless quiet and pensive power. These merits exist on all technical and storytelling levels. Its potent effects linger with you long after its ethereal and gripping conclusion.

Nihan pic 1

This multi-layered and absorbing endeavor concerns the gentle, and previously stated, chief individual. He is on the final sheet of a volume he is penning about his deceased love, Nihan (an enactment by Sevgi Uchgayabashi, who is also credited with the original idea for this phenomenal effort, which is fittingly tender and transcendent in equal doses). The book addresses the life the two lived together, as well as their ambitions as a couple. Hearing Nihan’s tender voice from behind him, an incident which transpires on both occasions the turbulent weather is heard raging to heighten the already overwhelming emblematic and demonstrative effect, The Man fights to finish the task at hand. But, as he speaks to Sister (an outstanding depiction by Alsen Buse Aydin), as he does in the riveting mid-section sequence of this brief bit of cinema, we learn that the house once held the promise of fulfilling the numerous desires he is currently writing about. This, along with putting the romantic rapport behind him, coerces a realization that the home, as much as actual association, could be the largest obstacles present in ending his literary effort. The protagonist’s problems become all the more immediate, in both their need to be addressed and resolved, when The Man finds out that Nihan’s wishes were unwittingly disrespected. This arises when he uncovers that others will soon be moving in to the once joyous domicile.

The storyline is undoubtedly thoughtful, soul-stirring and heart-tugging. Furthermore, the sign evident in the final page, and this being aligned along the completion of an ardent affiliation cut short before it could take root, presents various layers of allegory and depth in itself. Yet, Rzayev and his filmmaking crew find a way to bring these numerous inner-meanings to the surface. Such is issued with a consistently stunning allure. This is astonishing, as it is always formulated in a fresh and continually sophisticated manner.

What is all the more impressive is that the tale continously utilizes a dependably smooth, steady pace. It is one that never impresses upon the mind the idea of being anything less than the movement of life itself as we, the audience, watch it unfold before us. There is a natural progression to the proceedings which allows both engaging character-development and the necessary notes of melancholy and personal growth to take front stage without feeling either too gradual or rushed. This is achieved in a way that is striking and, simultaneously, makes the pain The Man is suffering all the more accessible to every viewer. Such makes the high sensitivity flowing throughout the affair all the more illustrious and impactful. Gergo Elekes’ luminous and memorable music, Busra Ozturk’s outstanding make-up and the sleek art direction by Zhivko Petrov only further punctuate these already palpable attributes. This results in an absolute masterpiece of short cinema; one of the most fully feeling configurations of its ilk that I have witnessed in quite some time.

Rzayev is a colossal talent. The proof shines in the credible dialogue he has given the three distinct personalities which populate his tale. It is also apparent in his visible mastery of framing and the manner in which “Nihan: The Last Page” makes you feel like a quiet witness to a succession of ravishingly done segments, all of which appear taken directly from the perpetual turmoil of human existence. What is just as remarkable is that the approach present here is reminiscent of the legendary filmic maestro, Ingmar Bergman. There is also a theatrical quality to this cinematic invention, a characteristic often present in Bergman’s material, that makes its artistic and life-imitating aspects combine marvelously. This creates a singular, and defiantly brilliant, experience. It is one that commands both multiple observances and awe from those lucky enough to be caught in its hypnotic and grandly compelling presence.

Nihan pic 3

You can check out the IMDB page for the short film here.

“Tangerine”- (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Tangerine, directed and co-written by Sean Baker (with Chris Bergoch), radiates the spirit of independent cinema. It plays like a wonderful hybrid of the rawness, and unapologetic dark humor, of John Waters. This is mixed with a sharp eye for individual depiction reminiscent of Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

The eighty-eight minute feature, shot entirely with the iPhone 5, could’ve come off as aimless. It ignores conventional ideas of pace. Moreover, the endless profanity the leads hurl at one another could’ve made this repetitive and off-putting. Instead these traits are utilized to give the proceedings a gritty credibility. This is one that is endearing. It results in, not only the best comedy of 2015, but also true slice of life filmmaking.

The story follows prostitutes, Sin- Dee (Kitana Kikee Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). They wonder the streets of Hollywood in search of Sin-Dee’s lover and pimp, Chester (James Ransone, in an always entertaining turn), during Christmas Eve. All the while a cab driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian, who is watchable and endearing throughout), indulges his own personal tastes. He does this while trying to keep it a secret from his family.

Much of the humor is derived through Baker and Bergoch’s witty observations. These come in the form of arguments, apologies, brawls and insults. There are occasions when this becomes monotonous and appears added to bulk up the runtime. But, these segments are few and far in between.

Also, it may take some time, as it did with me, to latch onto its spontaneous rhythm. Because of this the first ten minutes had me put off by the style. This is even despite its high-frequency laugh ratio. Yet, it hits a stride early on. It continues with this until the conclusion. This makes it easy to forgive the initial upset.

In so doing, this becomes a wonderfully off-key journey. It is one with characters that are rich and complex. They are also unique and varied. The fact that the on-screen personalities aren’t always likable makes them all the more human and authentic.

Though the humorous accentuation is more reserved for the first half, with the second portion being a focus on the individuals they meet along the way, it remains consistently funny. What is all the more interesting is how effortlessly it makes us roll in the aisles. Still, it never resorts to low-brow slapstick to punctuate its joviality. This is a smart move. It makes the humor all the more winning. Moreover, it makes the picture endlessly relatable.

The frantic use of the music (supervised by Matthew Smith), especially in its repetition of the same song (especially in the opening twenty minutes), while scrambling from one location to the next perfectly captures the chaos incorporated into these bits splendidly. Though the camera always seems to be whizzing around during these occasions, and incapable of settling down, it succeeds. It, inexplicably, helps illustrate the harried immediacy Sin-Dee and Alexandra impress upon themselves while they conduct their search for Chester through the city. It also provides additional guffaws at its high melodrama. This arises when these elements are all thrown into the mix together.

Baker’s editing appears ragged in spots. Regardless, it is strangely enchanting. Yet, the cinematography he issues with Radium Cheung is vibrant, ground-breaking and alive. It all comes together to give a continually fluent sense to the proceedings that is much in its favor.

This is a dialogue driven piece. In a world where special effects often replace story it is refreshing to see a production that is unafraid to engage us with long stretches of speech. For example, there is twenty minutes in the third act that take place almost entirely in one setting. This is a coffee shop called Donut Time. What is intriguing, and an example of the confident risk-taking involved, is that this is all largely conversation based. Regardless, there is not one moment we are not entertained.

But, what fares most in its favor is that there are genuine moments of heart. These are ones that can be as simple as Sin-Dee and Alexandra huddled together on a bus. It is also spied in the minimalistic final minutes inside a laundromat. Even in these more dramatic stretches Baker’s endeavor never betrays the foundation of realism set forth by the dialogue, camerawork and categorizations.

The exertion has a rowdy spirit. Still, it also has many understated instances. These create a terrific balance. It adds a ceaseless air of randomness, unpredictability and fascination. In turn, it helps make Tangerine so wonderful. This is a well-measured gem. It is a reminder that a small budget can still create a charming, full-bodied and sincere. Moreover, one that simultaneously breaks the rules while creating laws all of its own.

“Hail! Hail!” – (Short Film Review)

BY Andrew Buckner

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

Director James Russell DeMello (“Cemetery Stone”, “Captive”) and screenwriter Mike Messier (“The Nature of the Flame”, “The Actor”) have come together to showcase the aggressive and romantic extremes of a single relationship. Such is accomplished in the beautifully crafted short, “Hail! Hail!”

This is an intriguing concept. It is made all the more impressive when we realize it all takes place in a solitary basement setting.

“Hail! Hail” speaks its volumes in one beautifully execute sequence. Most astonishingly, it defines the sum of an intimate affiliation in several grand gestures. These, in turn, smartly disperse a lifetime of information about the leads quickly and believably.

What is equally fascinating, and another of many wise moves on behalf of the creative team, is that it all occurs in a breathlessly brisk four minute runtime. In this quick duration it never loses focuses of the unique connection between the pair on-screen. Moreover, it never forgets its initial concept.

When this visually crisp work (courtesy of DeMello’s rich cinematography) opens Robbie (Anna Rizzo in another terrific turn which further exhibits her great range as an actress) awaits the return of Roseanne (Jessica Rockwood in a role that captures her character’s essence terrifically).

Robbie passes this time while playing a bass guitar. Moreover, she finds herself talking to a recording camera in front of her.

This is done in an act which delivers character development in an entertaining, engaging fashion. It follows the sum of the piece by being fresh and vigorous. Also, it never feels forced.

When Roseanne arrives she brings with her an argument over fast food. This quickly escalates into a credible rollercoaster ride of realistic emotion. This is captured in an ending which signifies the cycle of the rapport either ending or beginning anew.

To compliment Messier’s well-honed screenplay there are also plenty of moments which exhibit DeMello’s directorial flare. In one case we follow Roseanne’s heels treading down the basement steps as Robbie waits. This is seen from beneath the stairway in a manner that is striking and impressive.

DeMello also ends the short with a shot that is a stunning, creative angle. It is also the perfect punctuation point to conclude on and summarize what came beforehand.

Further helping “Hail! Hail” achieve its charismatic effectiveness is the end credit sequence. It calls to mind the veneer of such segments by Italian master Pier Paolo Pasolini. This is incorporated with a wonderfully realized touch of modern music.

When “Mr. Suitcase” by Sun@ndmun (released through Hip Hop Star Inc.) arises in this final segment it give the proceedings an appropriately sensual allure. It is another act that reiterates the mood of the story remarkably.

This is all complimented further by Mark Hutchinson’s sound design. Lighting engineer Jill Poisson does a terrific job helping create the seamless tone of this piece. To its further credit, the make-up by Kaitlyn Ciampa is exemplary.

The entirety of this short was filmed in a single day. Given the impeccable professionalism radiating from every technical avenue on-screen this is especially incredible.

“Hail! Hail!” is a riveting experience. It proves how much a group of incredibly talented individuals can accomplish in a small time span.

I greatly anticipate the sight of what future marvels this gifted team has in store.