“Imposter” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

“Imposter” (2018) is among the most relatable, beautifully made, deeply symbolic and personal compositions yet from the incredibly talented writer-director Chris Esper. The nine-minute and fifty-four second short film is a series of three interconnected vignettes. They focus on the inward struggles of anxiety and the idea of the Imposter Syndrome. The latter concept, which was formulated by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978, concerns the idea that someone who is known for their accomplishments are afraid of being exposed as a con.

This theme is expounded upon early on in the form of an overworked man, Mike (in a powerhouse performance from Tom Mariano). During a meeting, he is plagued by visions of a young jester (in a quietly heartfelt enactment from Brendan Meehan). This figure can be seen as the adolescent side of Mike who simply wants to enjoy life. After his meeting he gets on a bus. From herein, we follow an artist (Sheetal Kelkar) and her counterpart (Jamie Braddy) to an art gallery. Here Esper wordlessly shows that both parties feel like they are embarrassed and on display. Returning to the aforementioned vehicle, Esper goes among the populace of the transport. In so doing, he often utilizes direct imagery to quickly tell many private stories of worry and woe. This ends on a highly effective note of tragedy that involves two military veterans (William DeCoff and Adam Masnyk).

Esper’s latest mechanizes tremendously well as social commentary and as an almost entirely dialogue free character study. His scripting and guidance of the project is masterful and mature at every avenue. The Stories in Motion and On Edge Productions fabrication, potently edited by Esper, is also a triumphant demonstration of Ben Alexander and Bryce Brashears’ sound. The same can be said of the lush cinematography from Rick King. This is also true of the make-up and special effects from Julianne Ross. The gently used music from Steven Lanning-Cafaro is haunting and evocative. It fits the tone of the project exceptionally.

All of these moviemaking ingredients help make “Imposter” a timely and timeless meditation on the insecurities which secretly bind so many individuals. I especially related to the first two segments. They immediately spoke to both the full-time laborer and the part-time writer within me. Yet, what is just as remarkable is how, when viewed as a whole, Esper creates a portrait of our civilization that is as intimate as it is grand. This is cinematic poetry. It is as open to interpretation as it is credible and layered. Esper wants to prove that beneath each person is an entire world of wounded self-doubt that others may never understand. He has done so with intelligence and grace. “Imposter” is a masterpiece. It is also one of the best ventures of its type I’ve seen all year.

(Unrated).

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The Best Horror and Horror/Comedy Films of 2018 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

 

The 10 Best Horror Films:

10. Winchester
Directors: Michael and Peter Spierig.

9. Tonight She Comes
Director: Matt Stuertz.

8. Unsane
Director: Steven Soderbergh.

7. Terrifier
Director: Damien Leone.

6. The Strangers: Prey at Night
Director: Johannes Roberts.

5. They Remain
Director: Philip Gelatt.

4. Revenge
Director: Coralie Fargeat.

3. Annihilation
Director: Alex Garland.

2. A Quiet Place
Director: John Krasinski.

1. Hereditary
Director: Ari Aster.

 

Runners-Up:

Cargo
Directors: Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke.

Insidious: The Last Key
Director: Adam Robitel.

Island Zero
Director: Josh Gerritsen.

The Manor
Director: Jonathan Schermerhorn.

 

The 5 Best Horror/Comedies

5. 4/20 Massacre
Director: Dylan Reynolds.

4. Mom and Dad
Director: Brian Taylor.

3. Soft Matter
Director: Jim Hickcox.

2. Bus Party to Hell
Director: Rolfe Kanefsky.

1. Hell’s Kitty
Director: Nicholas Tana.

“The Continuation of the Dance” By Andrew Buckner (Poem)

The Continuation of the Dance
By Andrew Buckner

Often the path to literary creation
Is paved with backsteps, hesitations!
Often golden cities of subplots must be destroyed
For true worth, audience immersion, to be employed.
Often the time spent
Hardly equates a new stone turned; a character’s breath lent.

Yet, there are the rare occasions
Where every word and beat has the right spin.
You are the orchestrator of the world’s most beautiful melody
And the harmony flows freely, melodically
With the perfect pitch and tone
And nothing needs to endure discarded, alone.

But, what matters in either circumstance
Is the continuation of the dance.

The patient writer, as all great artists, will find his or her way.

And, in so doing, history’s eternal remembrance
Will be the award admiring droves will gladly pay.

“King Cohen” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

King Cohen (2017), from writer-director Steve Mitchell, is a lively, charming and effortlessly entertaining tribute to the life and work of cinematic giant Larry Cohen. Yet, one of the most successful attributes of the 107-minute feature is that is filled with the ambition, charm and optimistic spirit of its focal point. This characteristic is made evermore intimate and invigorating by Cohen’s own nostalgic recollections. Early in the production they arrive as Cohen recalls his being a young cinephile and literary prodigy. More specifically, one who sold his first story to the dramatic anthology series Kraft Television Theater (1947-1958) in 1958. This was at the age of 17. As the endeavor goes on, these vividly narrated memories extend to the behind-the-scenes events and the often-impromptu creative sparks which helped fashion his early television and later movie work.

Cohen’s various relationships with his cast and crew members further flesh out the project. The sequences where Cohen and actor Fred Williamson, who appeared in a variety of Cohen’s efforts, disagree on the details of certain related situations they were both involved in are when the jovial charm of the documentary is most evident. But there is another layer of appeal to the arrangement. It is just as infectious. This is when modern moving picture masterminds such as J.J. Abrams, Joe Dante, John Landis and Martin Scorsese discuss their thoughts and personal connections to Cohen’s material. Such a sensation of motivation is further expounded upon in arrangements such as a delightful one found in the second half of the exercise. This is where fans of Cohen’s brilliant dark comedy, The Stuff (1985), speak of why the science-fiction/horror tour de force remains memorable and relevant to the culture of today. These bits add to the underlying perspective of awe, inspiration, love and endearing respect for Cohen and his contributions to the photographic art form which help make King Cohen such a resonant and deeply personal masterpiece. This is true from the engrossing commencement to its uniquely uplifting conclusion.

The segments which discuss the making of and audience reaction to the action film Black Caeser (1973) are also particularly intriguing. This interest continued during the discussion of how Cohen’s approach to the medium changed during the fabrication of Hell Up in Harlem (1973). When the eventual, though slow-going, success of Cohen’s classic monstrous baby on the loose opus, It’s Alive (1974), and terrifying tackle of theological issues, God Told Me To (1976), filled the screen I was equally riveted. The musings on the invention of Cohen’s timeless take on the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) and involvement with Bette Davis during the recording of Wicked Stepmother (1989) were equally captivating.

Mitchell’s composition earns even more acclaim for meticulously covering nearly every one of his ventures. Moreover, the affair contains terrific music from composer Joe Kraemer. It also conveys same said cinematography by David C.P. Chan. Such elements heighten the striking quality of the piece. Correspondingly, Mitchell’s pacing and style is perfectly fitting for the tone and theme of the undertaking. The sound and editing are sharp. Also, the incorporation of stills and clips from Cohen’s constructions make Mitchell’s latest more well-rounded and complete.

In turn, Mitchell offers audiences one of the best big screen entries of its type you will see all year. King Cohen is pure celluloid joy. Those of us who grew up both admiring and obsessed with Cohen’s tales owe it to themselves to see this as soon as possible. You can do so when Mitchell’s marvelous labor is released in select theaters on July 27th, 2018 through Dark Star Pictures.

(Unrated).

“My Hero’s Shadow” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

My Hero’s Shadow (2018), the debut feature from writer-director Justin Young, is a fascinating, intimate and in-depth documentary. It explores the themes of family, forgiveness, judgment and perspective to masterful effect. Utilizing one-on-one discussions and a quietly poignant style that works wonderfully for the endeavor, Young crafts an arrangement that is as thoughtful as it is absorbing. There is also a distinct message of unyielding love, and that no one is purely noble or nefarious, at the heart of the piece. Such welcome notions make the exercise evermore timely and resonant.

Young’s configuration is a meditation on the man who struck Nancy Kerrigan with a baton in 1994, Shane Stant. His private accounts, especially when addressing what led him to engage in such an action, are certainly eye-opening. Yet, the brilliance of the film emerges from the story being reflected through the compassionate viewpoint of Shane’s sister, Maile. She was only three years old when the incident took place. In so doing, her memory of her brother is shaped from who Shane became after the previously stated occurrence. The foundation of the undertaking is erected when Maile meets with Shane 20 years after the attack. This is to openly converse on what transpired that day at Cobo Arena.

Such is an undoubtedly gripping topic. It is one which Young handles in a manner that finds poetry in simple sights and communions. For instance, there is a memorable sequence where Maile speaks of an individual who found growth and tranquility in watching a sun rise for 142 days in a row. The glimpses into Shane and Maile’s childhoods that course throughout the project are just as harrowing. Such insights allow audiences to leave the 78-minute venture with a well-rounded sense of who these two people are personally. The bits that go into Shane’s public perception are just as well-done.

With its economical length, efficient pace and technically skillful construction, Young’s exertion is a surefire triumph. Its alternately melancholy and inspiring tones deepen the picture of Maile and Shane that Young thoroughly paints. This is also true of those who have impacted the lives of the duo. In turn, Young formulates an incredibly illuminating composition; a tour de force that compels viewers to see the humanity in others. My Hero’s Shadow, which is currently seeking distribution, is a must-see!

(Unrated).

“Flay” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Flay (2017), from screenwriter Matthew Daley and director Eric Pham, is an inventive, well-mounted and visually stunning exercise in paranormal fear. A dazzling sequence near the half-hour mark, which showcases a small geyser of blood slowly spiraling upwards towards a lone ceiling light bulb, splendidly backs up the effectiveness of the latter term. Yet, there is a dramatic undercurrent to the proceedings. It is one which is rigorously rooted in the familial bond. Such makes Daley and Pham’s credibly etched on-screen personas richer. This can also be said of the naturally intriguing story. It also makes the proceedings evermore plausible. These fundamentals enhance the dimension and scope of the ambitious 93-minute picture. There is also a plethora of beautifully honed, time-honored frights. Even if the exertion is a bit too reliant on the evil figure lurking in the background trope, this article helps make for an endeavor that is nail-biting fun. It is also an exceptional display of cinematic craftsmanship. From the chilling opening narration to the rousing finale, Pham imprints these assets proudly on every frame of the film.

Pham’s masterful opus chronicles the heroine of the tale, Moon Crane (in a commanding and layered portrayal from Elle LaMont) returning to her home after the sudden death of her mother, Patricia (Peggy Schott). Having alienated herself from her family for an extended period, Moon uncovers turbulence in her relationship with her younger brother, River (in an excellent turn from Dalton E. Gray). It is also reflected in her own personal dealings. Soon Moon begins having horrific visions. After a cursed object belonging to Patricia is stolen, Moon finds herself trying to stop the slaughter of the faceless title fiend (in an undeniably menacing depiction from Jordan LeuVoy). This is with the assistance of her ex-boyfriend and police officer, Tyler Foreman (in a gripping depiction by Johnny Walter).

There is a tense sense of mystery to the events that unfold in Pham’s production. This is a constant source of exhilaration. Though Daley’s confidently paced script utilizes some formulaic elements in its construction, this former stated attribute helps elevate the movie far beyond the general expectations of the genre. Such a strength is a courtesy of Pham’s claustrophobic and assuredly skillful guidance of the project. There is a grand artistry to how a great number of the scenes are shot. It heightens the buildup. Moreover, this quality often gives the proceedings a highly admirable Dario Argento-like veneer. Gary Tachell’s immersive cinematography, Adam Ketcham’s sharp editing and Akihiko Matsumoto’s music make these bits increasingly hypnotic. This can also be said of the respective contributions from the make-up, effects and sound department. All of whom offer superb work. Alessandro Sereni’s set decoration is excellent. Correspondingly, Violett Beane is riveting as Bethany. A. Michael Baldwin is terrific as Billy Salcedo. Additionally, the continually ominous tone of the piece adds to the overall enjoyment.

In turn, Pham has erected an envy-inducing effort. It is one that is punctuated by solid dialogue, challenging themes and satisfying character arcs. The scares are handled in an always welcome and refreshingly subtle way. Partially inspired by the Japanese legend of the Noppera-bo, Pham’s flick calls to mind the American remakes The Grudge (2004) and The Ring (2002). Regardless, this approach is far more successful in this more recent exertion than it was in these prior examples. Also, the post-credits scene in Pham’s feature is certainly captivating.

Pham has incredible talent. Flay, which is scheduled to be released on digital March 6th, 2018, is full-bodied proof of this statement. I look forward to seeing what future celluloid wonders he has in store.

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

“Cold Moon” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Cold Moon (2016), from co-writer-director Griff Furst, is an absolute joy to sit through and contemplate. This is for both the avid cinephile and fellow thriller fanatic. Based on Michael McDowell’s novel Cold Moon Over Babylon (1980), the eighty-eighty-minute venture has a delightfully unyielding, bleak atmosphere. It also exploits a simultaneously ominous and elegiac veneer. Such a look is much in the vein of a skillfully polished, yet appropriately gritty, piece of celluloid from the 1970’s–early 80’s. Additionally, there are subtle Hitchcockian touches delicately placed throughout the affair. Hitchcock’s immortal adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1960), my personal favorite work from the master of suspense, frequently came to mind. Furthermore, there is a tremendously executed sequence of death in the first ten minutes. It is so visually stunning and mesmerizing that one cannot help but draw comparisons to Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. This sentiment is held onto and echoed in many other similar moments throughout the arrangement. Likewise, the supernatural episodes that occur later in the configuration are handled just as deftly and effectively. A hypnotic scene in a graveyard near the one hour mark is surefire evidence of such an assessment. This previously mentioned bit also slyly brings forth a snake-like creature. This entity is reminiscent of an otherworldly beast spied in another ethereal masterpiece McDowell co-authored. Such is the Tim Burton helmed Beetlejuice (1988).

Correspondingly, Furst toys with gothic genre sensibilities in a manner that is worthy of an alignment to a Hammer Film Productions release from the 1960’s. The characters, most of whom are small-town archetypes, are wonderfully realized and credible. Jack Snyder, Furst and McDowell’s highly-intelligent, gorgeously mounted and impressively structured script, which is full of life-mirroring dialogue, remembers the cardinal rule of the most enduring scary stories. In so doing, Furst keeps the personalities on-screen at the forefront. All of this is worthy of top-tier praise and recommendation. Regardless, one of the most striking components on display is how our villain, when revealed, isn’t shone exclusively in a wholly loathsome light. This is an error far too many features highlight and proudly display in their protagonist. This is again another telltale aspect of Furst’s ability to allow audiences to understand the motivations and inner-mechanisms of even the most sinister of those who dominate the narrative.

Recorded in Louisiana, Furst chronicles a fatal tragedy in a southern municipality. It is one which interrupts the daily goings-on of the Larkins. While local law enforcement attempts to solve this murder, the victim returns as a ghostly presence. Albeit, one that is bent on serving up her own sense of post-death vengeance. This is to the individual responsible for her demise.

It’s a naturally intriguing concept. Such is one that Furst makes increasingly terrific. This is with his enigmatic and quietly unnerving treatment of the material. Even if the plot is familiar in hindsight, Furst avoids traditional trappings of dread at nearly every avenue. As the picture plays, it becomes gradually darker. Nonetheless, it also amplifies its inventiveness. But, it never loses its genre-mashing style and boldness.

Relatedly, Furst’s opus never becomes desperate to augment or cheaply punctuate its scares with unnecessary jumps. Because of this, Furst establishes a perfect symmetry of plot and organically erected instances of fear. The endeavor could easily have become overblown. This is especially true of the finale. Instead, the exercise utilizes this aforesaid balance to grand consequence. This is until the eye-popping imagery which commences the concluding credits is spied. The saga also ends on a perfect note. It is one that brings about as many questions as it does answers.

What also adds to the sheer brilliance of the demonstration is the all-around exceptional performances. Christopher Lloyd steals the show as the wheelchair-bound James Redfield. Candy Clark as Evelyn and Chester Rushing as Jerry Larkin are both captivating. They fit comfortably into their roles. This is while making them distinct. Madison Wolfe as Mandy, Josh Stewart as Nathan Redfield and Laura Cayouette as Ginny Darrish are also magnificent.

The movie also benefits from Thomas L. Callaway’s astonishing, mood-laced cinematography. Furst’s editing is seamless. His overall guidance of the project is inspired. It is also refined and mature. This can also be said of Nathan Furst’s haunting, proficient and remarkable original music. The effects, make-up and sound are spectacular. Jayme Bohn’s costume design is superb.

Furst has crafted a brilliant effort. It is an astonishing exhibition of the strongest attributes of both the categories of crime, drama and paranormal revenge. The no-nonsense excursion is also layered, full of dimension and insight. It wraps bystanders up in its mysteries and memorable terrors from the first frame to the last. Having not read McDowell’s source literature, I cannot state if it is faithful to the original telling of the Florida-set endeavor. Yet, I can declare with complete certainty that the labor stands triumphantly on its own merits as one of the best white-knuckle shockers I’ve witnessed all year. I highly recommend checking out Cold Moon. It will be distributed in theaters and on video on demand October 6th, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment.

(Unrated).

“It Comes at Night” – (Capsule Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

It Comes at Night (2017) is claustrophobic, ominous, well-acted and beautifully made. Additionally, writer-director Trey Edward Shults successfully builds an unsettling atmosphere. This he wonderfully institutes alongside a slow-burn pace that works terrifically from the first frame to the last. The problem the 91-minute horror outing faces is that the story, which concerns a man who is attempting to protect his family from an enigmatic sickness which wiped out most of the world, has become routine in recent post-apocalyptic genre offerings. This is also true of the general chain of events found in the narrative. Such tired ingredients greatly dilute the overall interest and effectiveness of this otherwise solid, character-oriented film.

(R).

Available to buy now at Amazon.

“Death Waits for No Man” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Death Waits for No Man (2017) is riveting in concept and execution. Additionally, writer-director Armin Siljkovic’s debut feature is an unpredictable, taut, stylish and endlessly intense thriller. Clocking in at a lean 77 minutes, the slow-burn picture is effective and efficient. Though the work is essentially a three-person tale, audience care and understanding is equally distributed among our leads. Such is a courtesy of the way Siljkovic slyly makes these individuals look like protagonists and antagonists of the venture. This is at differing moments throughout the effort.

The plot itself is a masterclass in storytelling. Siljkovic commences the affair on a deceptively simple note. It concerns a woman, Lily (in a layered and commanding portrayal from Angelique Pretorius), asking a man, Uzal (in an excellent enactment from Bradley Snedeker), to kill her husband, Sinclair (in a gripping depiction from Corey Rieger). To say anymore would be to give away the sheer delight of watching Siljkovic build on this idea. This is with one credible, ever-darkening twist after another. Best of all, the tale ends just as well as the rest of the largely one-room movie deserves.

This is a courtesy of Siljkovic’s sharply honed contributions to the project. His authorship of the material is every bit as skillful and harrowing as his general guidance of the endeavor. Siljkovic’s characters are initially enigmatic. This works to further erect bystander intrigue in the early passages. When the exercise concludes, the on-screen personalities arise as suitably developed. Such an attribute is even more evidence of how well Siljkovic handles the material.

Furthermore, Joseph ‘Sloe’ Slawinski offers brooding, hypnotic and emotionally resonant music. Ted Hayash’s cinematography is moody and immersive. Isabel Mandujano’s costume design is superb. The make-up and sound fare just as magnificently. The result of all these afore-mentioned components is a full-throttle masterpiece; an absolute bulls-eye.

Death Waits For no Man is scheduled for release in fall of 2017.

 

“Annabelle: Creation” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Annabelle: Creation (2017) is a skillfully executed bag of time-tested horror tricks. It is also carefully structured and paced. Likewise, the New Line Cinema and Atomic Monster release is character-driven and fun. This latter stated attribute is especially true of the climactic last half hour. This is when all hell breaks loose.

Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Gary Dauberman tell the origin story of the demonically manipulated title plaything. The aforesaid object spends most of the 1950’s set film terrorizing a group of children who have recently relocated from an orphanage. These young girls are now residing in a home owned by a dollmaker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), and his bed-ridden wife, Esther (Miranda Otto). With this noticeably thin plot, Sandberg and Dauberman fashion an ambitious spinoff of the Conjuring series. Though their respective contributions are certainly a case of style over substance, it works well for the material.

Correspondingly, Lulu Wilson’s turn as Linda, Talitha Bateman’s depiction of Janice and Stephanie Sigman’s embodiment of Sister Charlotte are extraordinary. They help make their lead personas unique, memorable and layered. The effects, animation and sound are just as impressive. Furthermore, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is moody and beautiful. When combined with Benjamin Wallfisch’s same said music, Sandberg’s atmosphere becomes increasingly unnerving, palpable and hypnotic.

What is just as admirable is the restraint that hurtles the 109-minute project forward. Such a factor also lends a wonderfully old-fashioned feel to the proceedings. Continually, the middle and post-credits bits implement supplementary smirks from the audience. In the end, what Sandberg’s picture lacks in imagination, it makes up for in sheer craft.

(R). Contains adult content and violence.

Annabelle: Creation is now showing exclusively in theaters.