“68 Kill” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

68 Kill (2017) is an instant cult classic; wild, engaging, well-acted, smartly put together and full of unpredictable narrative gear shifts. Based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Bryan Smith, writer-director Trent Haaga takes the worn heist gone wrong sub-genre to new heights. In particular, the attempts between Chip Taylor (Matthew Gray Gubler) and his girlfriend, Liza (AnnaLynne McCord), to steal $68,000 from a rich man. Such is instituted with the naive hope that it will bring the couple happiness.

Incorporating elements of darkly effective comedy, crime and romance, the ninety-five-minute endeavor, distributed through IFC Midnight, is breakneck-paced. It is also thrilling and endlessly amusing. When combined with Needham B. Smith’s sharp cinematography and Haaga’s deft contributions to the project, the effort is equal parts immersive and kinetic. This is a real bulls-eye.

(Unrated).

Now available in select theaters and on digital platforms.

“The Dark Tower” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower (2017) is too generic, polished and over-sanitized at times. It could have also benefited from higher degrees of emotional resonance. Such a factor is especially lacking in the otherwise engaging finale. The cinematic exercise might have also been strengthened by incorporating less of a young adult friendly tone. But, the ninety-five-minute film, based on a series by Stephen King which spans eight books and one novella, is so fast-moving and fun that such flaws barely register as the picture unfolds.

Additionally, Idris Elba (as Roland Deschain/ the Gunslinger) and Matthew McConaughey (as Walter O’ Dim/ the Man in Black) are terrific. McConaughey plays the antagonistic O’ Dim in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. Regardless, both performers stay true to the essence of King’s characters. All the while they deliver their own unique interpretations of the central figures. This is while visibly relishing their lead turns. Continuously, Katheryn Winnick as Laurie and Karl Thaning as Elmer Chambers also provide strong representations. Dennis Haysbert is just as proficient as Roland’s father, Steven. He is spied in the successfully utilized flashbacks. All of which are evenly dispersed throughout the undertaking. Likewise, the various nods to King’s other works, a trait prevalent in the literature itself, heightens the joy at hand.

The story revolves around the teenage Jake Chambers (in a likable enactment from Tom Taylor). He has psychic powers (King’s classic “shine”). In the opening stretches, he is suffering from nightmares of “Skin-Men”. There is also an enigmatic edifice which keeps the universe in one piece. Such is also viewed in these fearful flashes. Sights of Deschain and O’ Dim are just as widespread. These images will take on more of a pivotal role in Jake’s immediate future than he can initially imagine.

After etching a collection of drawings which concern a rugged cowboy figure in his parents’ New York City apartment, he is inadvertently pulled into an on-going combat. This is between the archetypically virtuous Gunslinger and the evil Man in Black. The latter is attempting to keep the former from reaching the title place. This is before O’ Dim destroys the building himself. Yet, Deschain’s problems with O’ Dim also resonate from a profoundly personal level. Such makes the stakes, as the fate of worlds hang in the balance, increasingly palpable. This peril is augmented as O’ Dim sets his sights on capturing Jake. Such a goal is set in motion to help the Man in Black achieve his own nefarious goals.

It would be easy to say Arcel’s opus lacks the epic scope, structure and ambition of the source material. There are only light touches of some of the author’s original springs of inspiration present in Arcel’s endeavor. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966). In Arcel’s rendition, a continuation of the events which concluded The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004), the many genres King injected into his tale have been reduced almost exclusively to fantasy, science-fiction and adventure. The mythology, themes and symbolism are also comparatively stripped down.

Correspondingly, the effects are lackluster at best. The same can be said of the screenplay from Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and Arcel. To be fair, the dialogue has its share of clever banter. Such is evident in a second act sequence where Deschain briefly becomes a patient in a hospital. It is also perceptible in a late segment which showcases Jake and Deschain eating a hot dog in “Keystone Earth”. This is the term Deschain uses for the parallel universe Jake sees as his day-to-day reality. But, there are just as many cringe-worthy instances.

Still, the cinematography from Rasmus Videbaek and the collective sound team contribution are vastly immersive. Junkie XL’s music is exciting and dramatic. The action scenes, which occasionally feel as if they are lifted from The Matrix (1999), are striking. Similarly, the exertion flows well and is largely coherent. Such is refreshing given the reports of the re-edits and re-shoots which plagued the project. Thus, the effort makes for a satisfying, if undeniably minor, slice of big-budget B-movie cinema. This is on its own accord. It’s forgettable. But, its diverting, taut and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Sometimes that’s enough.

(PG-13). Contains adult content and violence.

In theaters now.

“Colossal” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Successfully spanning many genres and moods, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal (2016) is one of the most fiercely original takes on the traditional monster at large tale that I’ve seen. Anne Hathaway is perfect as Gloria; the lead of Vigalondo’s 109-minute project. She lends likability, as well as wounded anger and vulnerability, to her on-screen persona; an unemployed alcoholic who, after her sudden return to the small town of Maidenhead, finds out that she has a direct connection to a rampaging beast. More specifically, a gargantuan brute who intermittently attacks Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. As the chronicle unfolds, Oscar (in a spectacular turn from Jason Sudeikis), a local bar owner and long-time friend of Gloria, becomes more involved in the plight of Vigalondo’s protagonist than he could’ve ever imagined.

It’s a terrific set-up. Such a promising plot becomes increasingly enthralling when orchestrated alongside Vigalondo’s deft balance of intimate character focus, credible narrative shifts and abundant creativity. The pace is just as form-fitting. It is gradual and natural. This allows for an uncluttered, thorough and satisfying examination of the various storytelling ingredients of the production. Such only makes the endeavor evermore admirable.

Additionally, the afore-mentioned contributions from Vigalondo are just as proficient. These qualities are gloriously framed by a climax that brings a refreshing and emotionally resonant spin on the routine clashing titans finale. Such has become a staple in related kaiju ventures. Correspondingly, the last sequence, especially the concluding bits of dialogue, tie many of the main elements of the account together. This is in an efficient, deceptively simple and extraordinarily clever fashion.

The effects, which Vigalondo’s opus doesn’t heavily rely on, are magnificent. They are also reminiscent of what one might see in one of the numerous Godzilla style pictures from which Vigalondo’s destructive creature clearly derives inspiration. This only heightens the underlying wit of the composition. Simultaneously, the make-up and sound department work is splendid. When combined with Bear McCreary’s immersive music and Eric Kress’ masterful cinematography, this alternately light-hearted comedy, sobering drama and flat-out enjoyable science-fiction saga hits all the right notes. It seamlessly blends these categories into a brilliant concoction.

Vigalondo’s latest is an all-around triumphant coming of age spectacle. It further benefits from its on-going commentary on human interactions. This Neon distribution release is also striking for its delicately threaded layers of symbolism. The beast being an extension of Gloria’s personal problems is the most prominent. Such results in a wholly unique experience. This is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

(R). Contains adult language and some violence.

Colossal is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and to rent or buy on digital platforms.

“VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Kenneth Powell and Thomas Edward Seymour’s VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media (2016) is a riveting exploration of the effects of VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, downloading and streaming on independent photoplays. The subject matter alone is naturally fascinating. Yet, Powell and Seymour’s documentary benefits from a variety of insightful interviews from cinematic insiders and commentators. They include the head of Troma Entertainment, Llyoyd Kaufman, actress Debbie Rochon and legendary critic and author John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs). Clocking in at a lean seventy-two minutes, the consistently absorbing and nostalgia-inducing project also benefits from the sheer likability of all those on-screen.

What is just as gripping are the many scenes where the crew of the venture go to different video stores. This is to record their experience. It is also to reminisce on the days when such establishments were thriving. Such bits are mesmerizing. The fun of that era, where previously unknown movies were fighting for patrons’ dollars mainly through the eye-popping nature of their cover art, is sent up well. This is most evident in a game spied throughout the duration. It ardently showcases those involved with the exercise going to various VHS sellers. Upon doing so, they see who can bring home the most interesting program. This is based solely on the above-mentioned criteria.

The obvious love for cinema that stems throughout, especially in the aforesaid segments, further heightens the delight at hand. This makes the times when the endeavor feels a bit like an advertisement for Rudyard Kipling’s Mark of the Beast (2012), which Seymour co-directed with Jonathan Gorman, easy to overlook. This can be exemplified during a mid-point intermission. At this juncture, the trailer for the formerly addressed presentation is shown. What also helps these minor flaws are that such episodes, as is true of the entirety of the exertion, are erected with cleverness, sincerity and good humor. These passages also potently reflect the underlying message and thesis statement of the affair.

Powell and Seymour, though utilizing an approach to the material that is routine, have crafted a work that is as much a love letter to technology as it is a warning against such advancements. This balance is spellbinding. Such makes this New York Cine Productions related effort evermore endearing. The result is as immediate as it is immersive. Augmented by outstanding editing, music and cinematography, this ambitious item is essential to understanding both the past, present and potential future of motion pictures.

(Unrated).

Available now on Blu-ray.

“Circus Kane” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director and co-producer Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray’s Circus Kane (2017) is a grisly, claustrophobic and often imaginative fun house of cinematic horrors. Written by James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward (from a story from Sean Sellars), the eighty-eight-minute feature calls to mind William Castle’s masterpiece House on Haunted Hill (1959) and James Wan’s groundbreaking Saw (2004). There are also echoes of Tod Browning’s controversial motion picture, Freaks (1932), Herk Harvey’s brilliant Carnival of Souls (1962) and Stephen Chiodo’s cult classic, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). These latter comparisons derive from the big top related setting shared in these previously addressed fictions. It also extends to the visceral effectiveness of these exercises. This relationship can also be viewed in their communal ability to unnerve via incredible imagery.

The former parallels can be found in the plot itself. Such concerns the secluded Balthazar Kane (in a wickedly good performance from Tim Abell) sending a group of social media stars an invitation via text. This offer states that any individual who can make it through his title walk-through residence of scares will collect $250,000. With some participants thinking this is merely a publicity gimmick, Ray’s central figures quickly accept. Once inside, the alignment to Castle and Wan’s work comes to light. This is as they find out that the real reward for the lethal terrors they endure is coming out of such a psychologically grueling and dreadful experience with their lives intact.

Bressack and Ward’s perfectly paced scripting of this intriguing tale is routinely structured. Subsequently, the characters are archetypical. Yet, they are sufficiently developed. They are given continued dimension. This is by the charismatic and stellar enactments from those who embody these on-screen personalities. For instance, Jonathan Lipnicki is tremendous as Scott. Mark Christopher Lawrence as Billy, Sinjin Rosa as Jake and Nicole Fox as Carrie are all top-notch. Even the antagonists, such as Bill Voorhees’ memorable representation of The Clown, are terrific.

Likewise, the notions Kane utilizes in his sinister game with our protagonists occasionally resonates familiarity. But, the sequences involving these bits are marvelously fashioned. In turn, such criticisms do little to sway the high-engagement factor such configurations hold over audiences. What is just as amusing is the constant references to classic media which populate the endeavor. This is especially true of the first half of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release.

Correspondingly, Ray’s guidance of the project is masterful. It contains just the right amount of visual style and spine-tingling atmosphere. Such makes the variety of macabre sights and malevolent snares Kane dispenses on Ray’s protagonists evermore absorbing. Such an attribute is also assisted by Alexander Yellen’s eye-popping cinematography. Adam Oliver’s ominous music and Joseph J. Lawson’s special effects are spectacular. James Kondelik’s editing is sharp. The contribution from the sound and make-up squad fares just as triumphantly. Such details punctuate these abovementioned episodes of trepidation, as well as the excursion itself, in a manner that makes the exertion a consistently dark delight.

This foreboding allure is palpable in the arresting commencing credits arrangement. It is just as noteworthy in the expository passages located immediately afterward. These erect the foundation of the narrative. From herein, Ray crafts a gripping and haunting exercise. It is one that is augmented by its welcome attempt to understand the inner-mechanisms of the nefarious Kane. Evidence of this can be unveiled in an intimate monologue from the man himself. Such occurs in the final twenty minutes. This leads to both a tense climax and a smirk-inducing finale. The result is a B-movie gem. It is also further proof of the prowess of Ray and the collaborative abilities of authors Bressack and Ward.

Circus Kane will be available on Video on Demand September 8th, 2017.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence and profanity.

“WTF!” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

WTF! (2017), the debut feature from director and co-writer Peter Herro, is as dependent on slasher formula as it is stylistic boldness and storytelling innovation. The set-up concerns your usual assortment of cloying, drug-addled and sex obsessed teenage archetypes. Their destination is the equally garden variety isolated cabin in the woods. Tagging along is the reserved Rachel (in a solid depiction from Callie Ott); the sole survivor of a brutal massacre that occurred three years prior. She is continuing to suffer from the shock of the event. This is noted in her reaction to a graphic drawing a classmate composes in an early passage that takes place at Rachel’s high school. Herro, who penned the satisfying and aptly structured script with Adam Buchalter and Christopher Lawrence Centanni, also displays the same type of reaction in a later sequence. This is when Rachel glimpses a bloody fighting game being played by two young men. When an unknown killer begins to slaughter those around her once again, her sense of unease quickly controls her.

It’s a straight-forward concept. Yet, it comes together sufficiently well for a genre entry of this ilk. Peter Herro, whose guidance of the photoplay is riveting, makes the plot far more substantial than it is in retrospect. This is with an added police procedural component. Such oversees Rachel being interrogated about the recent carnage that has transpired. There is also the inclusion of Rachel’s flashbacks. Many of these recollections revolve around the foremost bout of murder that Rachel encountered. Though this is as much a trope as the characterizations stated above, Herro utilizes it in a manner that effectively gets viewers to understand and relate to Rachel. The bits which look beyond the terror and focus in on her relationships with others gives Ott’s persona increased dimension.

Herro spends nearly forty-five of the eighty minutes of this Cthulhu Crush Productions release following the Spring Break antics of those on-screen. Given that there is nothing unique about most of the individuals Herro populates the fiction with, the endeavor occasionally feels like it is merely treading water. There are some funny moments and broad attempts at developing our central figures in this division. Such makes the wait for the horror element to kick in worthwhile. Still, the slow movement in these sections, with nary an episode of suspense or build-up induced during this expanse, seriously hinders matters. Once the picture picks up, it delivers enough grisly kills and questions of whodunit to balance out the leisurely and ultimately underwhelming former half. The final twist, though obvious in hindsight, is assembled deftly enough that one can easily admire how slyly it was hidden throughout the runtime. There is also a collection of comic book-like renderings which can be spied during the concluding credits. Such incorporates extra layers of magnificence. This is via their eye-popping flair and general creativity.

Helping matters are the previously unmentioned performances. Sarah Agor steals the show as Lisa. Nicholas James Reilly is stalwart as Toby. Andrea Hunt as Bonnie, Benjamin Norris as Jacob and Adam Foster as Bevan are all spectacular in their respective turns. Chloe Berman as Jessie and Cheyann Dillon as Carla are transcendent. Johnny James Fiore is good as Sam.

Likewise, Justin Kemper offers truly gorgeous and immersive cinematography. It is especially impressive considering the small budget of the piece. Steve Parker issues proficient editing. Sabrina Castro’s make-up is phenomenal. Natalia Zuniga exhibits skillful costume design. The sound team contribution is masterful. Adrian Sealy provides terrifically tense and dramatic music.

The result is a lean and enjoyable arrangement. Though the exercise drags now and then, it opens with a captivating and sharply executed excerpt. It ends just as triumphantly. Furthermore, the wit at hand is made immediately apparent. This impression emerges when the primary words spoken in the representation are the title initialism cried out in full. Such a realization is reiterated when the commencing acknowledgments segment proves an imaginative spin on the evidence of a crime scene.

Even if Herro’s protagonists are routinely etched, it is all part of the joyous embrace of tradition so often found in these efforts. For example, the commonplace “car that won’t start so we can escape” scenario or the obligatory first act gas station stop. These permanent fixtures in the psycho on the loose narrative comfortably find their way into Herro’s affair. But, it is all in the spirit of old-fashioned, nail-biting fun. Such is among the reasons why these movies have remained so popular with audiences over the last several decades. These trademark items are just as successful in Herro’s opus as they have been in similar sagas. Even though this attribute makes for a presentation that can never be measured as groundbreaking, it is certainly absorbing. When combined with the complex touches Herro puts on the construction of the chronicle and a lead that resonates genuine interest, WTF! endures as many cuts above average.

Herro’s excursion into fear will be available on Video on Demand August 1st, 2017.

A Brief Word on Recent/ Upcoming Releases: “Boss Baby”, “Camera Obscura”, “Camino Island”, “Charlotte”, “The Darkest Hour”, “The Dinosaur Four”, “The Drama Club”, “Flower Boy”, “4:44”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “It Stains the Sands Red”, “Killing Ground”, “Miss Sloane”, “Night of Something Strange”, “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter”, “Trespassing Bergman” and “Watch the Sunset”

By Andrew Buckner

 

BOSS BABY

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

Even though the premise of director Tom McGrath’s Boss Baby grows tiresome near the finale, it is surprisingly clever. This unique tale, based on Marla Frazee’s 2010 book of the same name, concerns a suit-clad baby (perfectly voiced by Alec Baldwin), who teams up with his older brother to unfurl the wicked schemes of the CEO of Puppy Co. The ninety-seven-minute project incorporates terrific animation. Additionally, there are a fair share of laughs. There is also just the right amount of heart. For a family film, you can certainly do worse.

(PG).

Now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming platforms.

 

CAMERA OBSCURA

Rating: * out of *****.

As an exercise in coherent storytelling and crafting a unique horror opus from an inventive idea, Camera Obscura (2017), which concerns a man with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who sees upcoming deaths in the pictures he takes, is wholly out of focus.

(Unrated).

95 minutes.

Released: 6/9/17.

Available to rent or buy at Amazon.

 

CAMINO ISLAND

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

Camino Island (2017) is among John Grisham’s greatest novels; brilliantly penned, characterized and plotted. Fellow authors will especially enjoy its insights, atmosphere and engaging central caper (which involves the theft of a handwritten J.D. Salinger manuscript). Published through Doubleday, the volume opens exhilaratingly. It closes just as successfully.

294 pages.

Released: 6/6/17 in eBook and physical copy format.

 

CHARLOTTE

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

Killer doll centered anthology Charlotte (2017) hits more often than it misses. Many of the plots and ideas found within its brisk 83-minute runtime are routine. Still, there is an undeniable charm found in the effects, execution, writing, direction and performances that certainly make up for such criticisms. Best of all, the project begins cleverly. It also ends just as well. This is with the most memorable and inventive tale in the entire production. The result is an enjoyable, if minor, descent into fear.

(Unrated).

Available now at Amazon Prime.

 

THE DARKEST HOUR

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

Madchild’s fourth solo album, The Darkest Hour (2017), is a 14 track knockout. Terrific imagery, wordplay and rhyme schemes; mesmerizing production.

Available now in CD and streaming format.

 

THE DINOSAUR FOUR

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

Equal parts Stephen King, Michael Chrichton and Jules Verne, The Dinosaur Four (2014) by Geoff Jones is a creative, fast-paced and thrilling debut novel. The plot, which focuses on a group of individuals at The Daily Edition Café suddenly being transported back into prehistoric times, is unique. Additionally, the central figures are lively and wide-ranging in personality. There is also an abundance of differing title creatures found throughout the project. Simultaneously, Jones’ writing is terrific. His in-depth knowledge of the extinct beasts at the center of his tale only makes the fiction even more credible and compelling. The result is an absolute bulls-eye.

290 pages.

First released: 3/25/14.

Available now in eBook and physical copy.

 

THE DRAMA CLUB

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

Writer-director Joe McLean’s The Drama Club (2017) is conventional in plot and characterization. The narrative follows the ex-members of the title high school organization as they reconvene after a twenty-year absence. Their past decisions, along with the not always wise choices they make during their reemergence, continuously challenges this group throughout the brisk eighty-seven-minute runtime. McLean’s independent feature has its share of joyous and sorrowful moments. Still, it holds too rigorously to its obvious cinematic inspirations, such as co-writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983), to be anything truly groundbreaking. This is despite strong portrayals all-around. The heavy-hitting issues McLean threads into the endeavor are also admirable.

(Unrated).

Now on Video on Demand.

 

FLOWER BOY

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

Tyler, the Creator’s fourth solo album, Flower Boy (2017), is inventive, beautifully produced and eclectic; another gem in the California born rapper’s discography.

(Parental advisory). Explicit lyrics.

14 tracks; 46 minutes.

Released on CD and digital streaming form on 7/21/17.

 

4:44

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

Jay-z’s 13th studio album, 4:44 (2017), is among his most thoughtful, concise and introspective efforts to date; remarkable production and mature flows.

(Parental advisory). Explicit lyrics.

10 tracks; 36 minutes.

Released on CD and digital streaming form on 6/30/17.

 

GHOST IN THE SHELL

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

Visually spectacular, but at its heart routine and a narrative mess, the live-action Ghost in the Shell (2017) has no real soul. It’s enactments and finale are similarly muddled.

(PG-13).

106 minutes.

Released on DVD and Blu-ray on 7/25/17. It is also available to buy or rent on digital platforms.

 

IT STAINS THE SANDS RED

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

Beautifully shot and refreshingly offbeat, Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red (2017) is one of the best zombie films of the year. The piece is centered by an excellent lead performance from Brittany Allen. There is also a great balance between dark humor and effective horror present throughout the exercise. The phenomenal make-up, character focus and genuinely tense finale only strengthen this 92-minute masterpiece. Such results in a truly original, surprisingly introspective take on a well-worn sub-genre. This is a bulls-eye.

(Unrated). Contains violence and adult language.

Available now on digital platforms.

 

KILLING GROUND

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

Painfully routine, unimaginative, slow-moving and cruel, writer-director Damien Power’s Killing Ground (2016) is a gigantic misfire; another uninspired Deliverance (1972) imitation.

(Unrated).

88 minutes.

Available now in select theaters and on Video on Demand.

 

MISS SLOANE

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

Miss Sloane (2016) is one of 2016’s unsung political masterpieces; riveting in its timely subject matter and execution. The bold script (from first-timer John Madden), direction (by Jonathan Perera) and performances (especially Jessica Chastain as our flawed title lead) overcome the weak finale.

(R).

132 minutes.

Currently on Amazon Prime.

 

NIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE

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

With gore, humor and attitude in abundance, co-writer and director Jonathan Straiton’s Night of Something Strange (2016) is a wildly enthralling B-movie. It is one which is much in the vain of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992). The piece is graced with terrific effects, pacing and depictions. Likewise, Straiton’s ability to craft one intriguing, heavily tongue-in-cheek sequence after another gives this zombie outbreak film perpetual life.

(Unrated).

97 minutes.

Now available on DVD/ Blu-ray and Video on Demand.

 

ROGUE WARRIOR: ROBOT FIGHTER

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

Writer-director Neil Johnson’s Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter (2017) is terrific science-fiction. It is ambitious, exhilarating, idea-driven entertainment. The effects, writing, direction and representarions are all charming. Heavily comparable to the Star Wars films (1977-), a sense of old-fashioned fun hangs over the proceedings.

(Unrated).

101 minutes.

Currently on Blu-ray at Walmart. It will be available on DVD everywhere 8/15/17.

 

TRESPASSING BERGMAN

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

Trespassing Bergman (2013), from directors Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas, is ever-illuminating and endlessly fascinating; a true cinephiles’ delight. The 107-minute documentary is a collection of ruminations from a variety of high-pedigree filmmakers. They are seen discussing at length the influence they derived from of the all-time cinematic greats, Ingmar Bergman. This is as many of them gather to wander around Bergman’s secluded home on the Baltic Sea island of Faro. Magnusson and Pallas’ opus utilizes these intimate discourses powerfully; to a paint a thorough portrait of the Swedish maestro. This is while providing a private and movie-by-movie retrospective into Bergman’s many masterpieces. The result is an effortlessly engaging, invigorating and essential tour de force.; a must for anyone with even a passing interest in both the history and future of motion pictures.

(Unrated).

Now available at Amazon Prime.

 

WATCH THE SUNSET

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

The single take set-up legendary director Alfred Hitchcock utilized in Rope (1948) works well in Watch the Sunset (2017): a lean, effective, if familiar and routinely characterized, crime saga.

(Unrated).

79 minutes.

Premiered at the Revelation Perth International Film festival in July. No DVD/Blu-ray or Video on Demand information yet announced.

“Dunkirk” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Christopher Nolan’s World War II film, Dunkirk (2017), was a strangely distant experience; all spectacle and little heart. The photoplay ran one-hundred and six minutes. Throughout that span, I was continuously aware that I was sitting in a darkened theater. My psyche was always cognizant that the harrowing images I was being submitted to were simply vivid projections cast onto a silver screen. Therefore, I was never pulled into the intensity of combat exemplified. Such is unusual given how meticulously and intimately it is recreated in Nolan’s tenth feature.

Notwithstanding, I found myself in awe of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s eye-popping cinematography. Just as often, I appreciated the detailed build-up of the affair. The basis of which concerns the violence which ensued when members of the German army encompassed soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France. Such a hostile encounter erupted into a chaotic evacuation from the beaches and harbor of the title town in Northern France. The date this event, which became alternately known as Operation Dynamo, transpired was May 26th – June 4th, 1940. Nolan’s small-scoped, yet determined, filler-free saga is a naturally engaging chronicle. It is one that should’ve amounted to more.

The fictional, one-dimensional individuals Nolan filled this true tale with were provided solid enactments. This is granted the limited material they were given. For example, Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson and Fionn Whitehead as Tommy were adept. Tom Hardy’s turn as Barrier, a pilot, and Kenneth Branagh’s representation of Commander Bolton was memorable. The effects were a massive achievement. Lee Smith’s editing was just as beneficial. Even though the sound was poor, the make-up and costume design was stellar.

Additionally, Nolan utilized several different perspectives into the narrative. His trademark non-linear approach was also displayed to grand consequence. These elements were a source of unremitting fascination. Nolan’s stylistic approach in Dunkirk was relatively straight-forward. This became especially accurate when compared to the intricate complexity he attempted in movies such as Following (1998), Memento (2001) and Inception (2010). Nevertheless, it was a smart decision. Such fit the tone and attitude of his latest opus exceptionally. Similarly, Nolan’s direction was dazzling. This is even if his scripting only worked on a serviceable level throughout the account. Correspondingly, I embraced the old-fashioned, epic feel that coursed proudly through the exertion. Still, it failed to mask what an empty exercise Nolan’s latest proved to be.

During my sit-through with this Warner Bros. co-distribution release, I also respected how masterfully Nolan paced the piece. This esteem stemmed further when noting how magnificently he constructed the wall-to-wall scenes of peril. The same can be said of the deftness with which Nolan conveyed the confusion and totality of war. This is through the lens of a single skirmish. Other touches, such as the ticking clock sounds heard in Hans Zimmer’s sweeping (and occasionally off-putting) score, created a clever thematic bridge. This is to the connective subject unveiled in much of Nolan’s work: time itself.

But, my attention remained in the present. The illusion that I had been transported back to the historical episode Nolan had spun into cinema didn’t overcome me. This is even after considering the visual triumph Nolan honed. Such a deep-seated impression constantly arose within me regardless of the high-caliber success Dunkirk, which frequently reminded me of Wolfgang Petersen’s masterpiece, Das Boot (1981), generated. This is in its intended purpose to tax me as a viewer. Such is via its endless barrage of taut, death-defying instances. Even so, the lack of depth and sentimentality, combined with the utter disinterest Nolan expresses in fleshing-out those we follow through the configuration, was a problem. This sensation lingered even with the knowledge that Nolan was deliberately engaging in this developmental deficiency. Such was incorporated in an admirable effort for audiences to look at all those we come across in the labor as equals.

The result is a well-meaning and crafty excursion. The picture, which was sturdy throughout, is technically brilliant. Many of its arrangements, such as the quiet sense of isolation which punctuated the opening seconds, haunted me in retrospect. Despite its obvious prowess, it left me underwhelmed. This is because in its anticipation to stun bystanders with its phenomenal sights, it ignored two principal ingredients of storytelling. They are the concepts of caring for your characters and emotional immersion. If anything, Nolan has showcased that you need the former to get the latter. With the ever-extant shortcomings of Dunkirk, he also demonstrated that these are essential in making a rousing undertaking such as this a genuine classic. For without these items a contribution to celluloid, however skillfully made, is merely another uninvolving illustration; a motionless marvel sitting silent and forgotten in the shadows.

(PG-13). Contains violence, adult content and profanity.

Dunkirk was released in theaters on July 21st, 2017.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) is brilliant pop culture cinema; brooding, emotive, intelligent and intense. The one-hundred and forty-minute feature, a 20th Century Fox distribution release, is a triumphant marriage of state of the art effects and an unwaveringly grim tone. This is made further effective by the often bold, high-potency storyline. These components are blended seamlessly. Such makes for rousing entertainment. It also creates a singular and immersive world; one that cinema patrons will be delighted to become immersed within. The pacing is smart. Additionally, the picture benefits from Michael Seresin’s lush cinematography. Such makes the heart-tugging civility disclosed in our simian protagonists in this Apocalypse Now (1979) and Platoon (1986) inspired epic evermore stellar.

After a beautifully executed and claustrophobic opening sequence that showcases the first word in the title of the endeavor in full swing, Reeves follows our primate hero, Caeser (Andy Serkis). This is as he and his crew become imprisoned by a militant group of Caeser’s foes. The leader of this opposing power is a cruel, unsympathetic figure. He is simply named The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The treatment Caeser and his partners suffer at the hands of The Colonel and his squad compel Caeser to combat his own anger. But, soon an uprising is sparked. The outcome of which will determine who will become the dominant force on Earth.

Though not as science-minded as Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), this third entry in the rebooted series is undoubtedly the best. Serkis and Harrelson are superb. The segments they share on-screen are electric. They are palpable in their dramatic resonance. Likewise, Steve Zane’s Bad Ape character is one of the most memorable entities found herein. His presence adds welcome touches of humor to this otherwise no-nonsense affair. Amiah Miller is also a standout. This is in her powerful, wordless enactment as the deaf Nova. She is a young woman who is taken into the care of Caeser’s tribe in the initial half of the venture.

Reeves’s guidance of the project is breathtaking. The uniquely structured script Reeves penned with Mark Bomback is well-mounted, daring and thoughtful. It continues the events in Rise and its excellent follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), brilliantly. This is with little that feels like a retread. The noticeably darker lens through which Reeves tells his tale this time around lays the foundation for this assessment. The feature also ends as well as it begins. This is with a gorgeously erected scene that is as uplifting as it is sorrowful. The result is that increasingly rare Hollywood blockbuster that engages while making you think and feel. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the most human.

(PG-13). Contains violence, adult themes and disturbing images.

“The Ice Cream Truck” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Marvelously fashioned and engrossing, writer-director Megan Freels Johnston’s sophomore feature, The Ice Cream Truck (2017), succeeds as both a character study and as a slasher saga. The eighty-seven-minute venture, produced by Look at Me Films, utilizes its title vehicle driving antagonist, The Ice Cream Man (in a devilishly divine turn from Emil Johnsen), just as triumphantly. This is as an extension of the underlying apprehension of moving and being accepted into a new neighborhood. Such is an affliction Freels Johnston’s likable and credibly-etched heroine, Mary (in a spectacular, layered portrayal from Deanna Russo), endures throughout the project. Yet, some of the best segments are the variety of quietly erected, darkly humorous touches. These play phenomenally well into Freels Johnston’s nightmare in suburbia scenario.

Besides being stated outright on the eye-popping cover art for the affair, this notion is glimpsed in the anything but normal way Mary’s neighbors listen in on her conversations. This is as they obsessively tend to their yards. Moreover, it is illustrated in the fanatical manner that they always seem to be ever-inquisitive, intrusive even, about Mary’s personal life. What is just as absorbing is how the unfamiliar males Freels Johnston’s central figure encounters early on are menacingly presented. For instance, there is a first act arrangement involving a delivery man (in a solid representation from Jeff Daniel Phillips). In this configuration, Freels Johnston frames him in an unsettling veneer. This viewpoint is comparable to that which she later employs on The Ice Cream Man. Mary’s visible abhorrence reflects the aforesaid theme to mesmerizing consequence. It also serves as a splendid confirmation of the psychologically deft details of the demonstration. This is also a testament to Freels Johnston’s skill at generating suspense from otherwise mundane events. Such a high-caliber quality, a courtesy of Freels Johnston’s prowess as a literary and cinematic storyteller, resonates incredibly throughout the exertion.

The Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is certainly effective. It blends these above-mentioned items into an authentic atmosphere of dismay. The tone is equal doses John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and co-creators Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017-). There is even much of the internal mystery of Frost and Lynch’s program present in Freels Johnston’s outing. These related traits are treated and blended seamlessly. They are applied with prowess to tremendous import. The alignment to Carpenter is most evident in the engaging opening acknowledgments sequence. This is noteworthy when considering the general orchestration of the chronicle. Such is a facet that is rousingly carried throughout the depiction. This is also heard in Michael Boateng’s chill-inducing music.

Freels Johnston’s composition concerns Mary, a struggling writer. She is settling into the previously addressed community. This is after her husband, Steve (Brett Johnston), is relocated. Such a sudden shuffle is due to the demands of his job. Arriving days before the rest of her family, who are back at her prior home concluding what business they need done before their departure, Mary tries to fit in with those that she now lives alongside. Yet, there is fear lurking in the shadows of these initially idealistic surroundings. It comes in the supposedly innocent form of The Ice Cream Man. Soon a trail of bodies become left in the wake of this murderous fiend. When Mary becomes his target, she must fight for survival.

This is an intriguing concept for a labor of this ilk. Yet, what is just as interesting is the sub-plot of Mary’s attempts to recall her youth. These bits are focused on throughout the picture. These scenes work as engaging development. They add continued dimension to the lead. Such makes Mary and her plight relatable. Simultaneously, these ingredients also help Freels Johnston’s low-budget gem, whose brilliant script was a semi-finalist in the Circus Road Screenplay Competition, from becoming another assembly of tropes. For example, there are hardly any of the illogical actions or garden-variety stalk and chase moments routinely melded into these types of terror ventures.

Still, the episodes of trepidation Freels Johnston evokes in the effort are appropriately tense and memorable. They are striking for their captivating build-up, execution and ultimate restraint. The satisfyingly lean climax is proof of the efficiency of the exploitation of this on-screen component. Such intricate structure is further elevated by Freels Johnston’s ear for realistic dialogue. It is also augmented by her ability to pull dread from a commonplace setting.

Also assisting matters is Stephen Tringali’s remarkable cinematography. Likewise, Krista Speicher’s costume design is superb. Tony Urgo’s visual effects are masterful. Eric Potter’s editing is astonishing. The make-up, lighting, sound and visual effects are just as admirable. Correspondingly, John Redlinger is magnificent as Mary’s college age acquaintance, Max. Sam Schweikert as Nick, Hilary Barraford as Jessica and Bailey Anne Borders as Tracy are especially good. The same can be said of Dan Sutter’s turn as Frank and Dana Gaier’s performance of Brie.

Freels Johnston, the granddaughter of popular crime novelist Elmore Leonard, has crafted an all-around superb undertaking. The pace is smart and pitch perfect. Similarly, it shares the reality-mirroring jolts that made Freels Johnston’s debut, Rebound (2014), terrific. The Ice Cream Truck also handles the subject of horror honed from social interaction. Such a topic was the concentration of Freels Johnston’s prior opus. The personalities that contact the protagonist of Freels Johnston’s latest may come across as archetypical. But, it is all part of the sharp sense of Mary’s perspective which gloriously courses through the piece.

In turn, Freels Johnston has constructed a truly unique vision. Such is made increasingly envy-deriving when considering that it is orchestrated around everyday people and situations. Freels Johnston’s tale is intimate, immersive, dramatic and nail-biting. Her artistry is impeccable. Best of all, the movie never resorts to cheap shock tactics, such as an overreliance on jump scares or excessive gore, to glean intensity. The result is a photoplay that is consistently successful at evoking empathy and alarming audiences. This is a must-see.

The Ice Cream Truck will be released in select theaters and on Video on Demand August 18th, 2017.