THE 50 BEST FEATURE FILMS OF 2021 (SO FAR)

By Andrew Buckner

*The inclusion of the films in this list is based upon the criteria of an original 2021 release date in the U.S.

50. Benny Loves You

Director: Karl Holt

49. Lucky

Director: Natasha Kermani

48. Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell

Director: Emmett Malloy

47.  Jakob’s Wife

Director: Travis Stevens

46. PG: Psycho Goreman

Director: Steven Kostanski

45. Shadow in the Cloud

Director: Roseanne Liang

44. Saint Maud

Director: Rose Glass

43. The Courier

Director: Dominic Cooke

42. Raya and the Last Dragon

Directors: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, John Ripa

41. Honeydew

Director: Devereux Milburn

40. Nobody

Director: Ilya Naishuller

39. Wrath of Man

Director: Guy Ritchie

38. Godzilla vs. Kong

Director: Adam Wingard

37. Oxygen

Director: Alexandre Aja

36. Lapsis

Director: Noah Hutton

35. In the Earth

Director: Ben Wheatley

34. Violation

Directors: Dusty Mancinelli, Madeline Sims-Fewer

33. Identifying Features

Director: Fernanda Valadez

32. Tina

Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

31. Seaspiracy

Director: Ali Tabrizi

30. Malcolm & Marie

Director: Sam Levinson

29. I Blame Society

Director: Gillian Wallace Horvat

28. 17 Blocks

Director: Davy Rothbart

27. Falling

Director: Viggo Mortensen

26. The Dig

Director: Simon Stone

25. One Night in Miami

Director: Regina King

24. Test Pattern

Director: Shatara Michelle Ford

23. Slalom

Director: Charlene Favier

22. Spoor

Directors: Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik

21. M.C. Escher – Journey to Infinity

Director: Robin Lutz

20. About Endlessness

Director: Roy Andersson

19. The Man Who Sold His Skin

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

18. Sator

Director: Jordan Graham

17. Climate of the Hunter

Director: Mickey Reese

16. Dementer

Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle

15. Jumbo

Director: Zoe Wittock

14. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

Director: Marilyn Agrelo

13. In Search of Darkness: Part II

Director: David A. Weiner

12. The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

11. Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

10. MLK/ FBI

Director: Sam Pollard

9. Nomadland

Director: Chloe Zhao

8. Wojnarowicz

Director: Chris McKim

7. A Glitch in the Matrix

Director: Rodney Ascher

6. The Father

Director: Florian Zeller

5. Quo Vadis, Aida?

Director: Jasmila Zbanic

4. Acasa, My Home

Director: Radu Ciorniciuc

3. Minari

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

2. Bring it Home

Director: Carl Kriss

1. This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection

Director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

Runners-Up:

Earwig and the Witch

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Land

Director: Robin Wright

The Night

Director: Kouroush Ahari

Son

Director: Ivan Kavanagh

The 10 Best Short Films of 2021 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

*Please note that the short films included in this list are based on an official 2021 U.S. release date.

10. “The Nurturing”

Director: Alex DiVincenzo.

9. “Meet the Author”

Director: Steve Blackwood.

8. “Heart Wreck”

Director: Gabrielle Rosson.

7. “Stay Inside, Michael”

Director: Jeremy Joseph Arruda.

6. “A Concerto is a Conversation”

Directors: Kris Bowers, Ben Proudfoot.

5. “The Present”

Director: Farah Nabulsi.

4. “Trigger Warning: The Life and Art of Chrystal”

Director: Chrystal Shofroth.

3. “The Dreamer”

Director: Jeremy Joseph Arruda.

2. “Come Rain or Come Shine”

Director: Mark Maille.

1. “The Last Cruise”

Director: Hannah Olson.

Dementer (2020) – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

Dementer (2020), from writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle, establishes an expertly crafted tone of sinister menace, most readily expressed in a perceptibly hand-drawn commencing credits segment, in its opening moments. This sense of uncomfortable, impending doom remains unbroken for every one of its eighty minutes. What also makes the masterful atmosphere that permeates the work so impressive is that it is infused with a similarly well-done air of mystery. This primarily stems from the motivations of the lead character, Katie (in a fantastic and compelling turn from Katie Groshong). It is a question that is playfully teased, with genuinely haunting bits of flashbacks which add to the enigma at hand, throughout the efficient and effective feature.

The plot revolves around Katie embarking on a job. It is one that has her taking care of individuals with special needs. She soon finds herself assisting a resident of her new occupation, Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle). Yet, there are undertones of darkness to the kindness Katie shows Stephanie. As reoccurring memories of escaping a terrifying spectacle take hold of Katie, her increasingly unpredictable actions make this unspecified wickedness more palpable. What is worse is that they seem to be directing their control over Katie to put Stephanie in danger.

This engaging and superbly developed narrative leads to a conclusion that is as unnerving and unforgettable as the film constantly leads viewers to imagine it will be. It is a powerful punctuation point. Such is one that makes this ominous puzzle-box horror outing, filled with indelible and eye-popping imagery, evermore brilliant. This is especially when considering how sharply everything has been put together.

What I also admired was the documentary-like veneer of many of the scenes. This is especially noteworthy in the stretches where Katie is going about her daily life. For example, the instances early-on where she is being interviewed by her latest employer. This is also reflected just as noticeably when she is performing her duties in her current career. It blends beautifully with the surreal glimpses of intense fear which push us to the finale.

The screenplay from Kinkle is top-notch. Continually, his direction is slyly stylish. What is evermore worthy of appreciation is that this element is never so overdone that it takes away from the admirable foremost concentration on weaving the tale at hand. Moreover, the characters from Kinkle are sufficiently developed and organic. His dialogue is also incredibly authentic and natural sounding. These ingredients certainly help make Dementer an incredibly believable and immersive experience.

This convincing quality is also reflected in the casting. Larry Fessenden is terrific, as always, as the wicked Larry. Brandy Edmiston as Brandy and Stephanie Kinkle are also excellent in this regard. The visually and tonally appropriate cinematography from Jeff Wedding is equally astounding. The music from Sean Spillane is superb. Furthermore, the same said editing from Chad Crawford Kinkle heightens these remarkable values.

In turn, the most recent cinematic exercise from Chad Crawford Kinkle is dazzling, dark, disturbing, and confidently paced. It reminded me of The Blair Witch Project (1999). This is in the way it memorably designs an all-too real feeling of foreboding and increasing underlying suspense. The effort is a knockout. It is a wonderful accumulation of talent in front of and behind the camera. Dementer is destined to endure as one of the best pictures of the year.    

“A Distance from Avalon” (2021) By Mike Messier – Book Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

A Distance from Avalon (2021), the debut novella from fellow filmmaker and critic Mike Messier, is a refreshingly subtle and philosophical take on the vampire saga. In a compact and complex ninety-seven pages, Messier weaves the tale of two educators, Joe Humble and a young music instructor by the name of Shadow. Pairing up to enjoy a late October Friday Night, the duo arrives at an ominous mansion entitled Avalon. From herein, the hosts seduce and separate the guests. Immediately afterward, the visitors willingly follow the mysterious figures to separate rooms. At a point near the central mark, the narrative crafts a superb balance of introspection and intrigue. It is one which lasts the remainder of the volume. This is as the leads and their partners for the night gradually unveil secret and sentimental elements of themselves.

What is immediately striking about the tome is that Messier’s screenwriting roots are much intact. For example, the whole book is composed of brief chapters. These sections range mainly from one to two pages. They are so vividly written, yet efficient, that they could easily be scenes in a film. Additionally, every scrap of dialogue reads like a line of poetry: Beautiful, thoughtful, and as economical as the segments in which they are unified.

Messier’s characters, all of whom are terrifically formed and whose monikers greatly enhance the figurative essence of the effort, are equally captivating. They are all distinct, yet intelligent and credible. The individuals who dominate A Distance from Avalon are also enigmatic and insightful. They are well-established components that constantly elucidate the classic, sophisticated atmosphere of the project in spellbinding fashion. Messier uses them to discourse on religion, love, time, mankind, art, and a myriad of related subjects. This is in a way that is intellectually stimulating without appearing unnatural. It is also executed via a method that does not take away from the propulsion of the smoothly paced narrative.

I admired the manner with which Messier frequently avoids the tropes often attributed to such tales of bloodthirsty creatures. What is utilized of these bits is enough to establish a knowledge of the lore of these nocturnal entities. Instead of relying on this heavily, as an easy act of recognition hinging on events the audience has perused in other such exercises, Messier uses this foundation to forge his own path. In turn, this helps build a far more surprising and satisfying story.

In the work, Messier showcases a deft command of tying together all the fine details he has dispersed throughout the enterprise. This is most notable in the finale. In this climactic bit, Messier brings all the cumulative mystery, symbolism, and restraint that he exhibited throughout the endeavor to a compelling and appropriate punctuation point. It is one of the various signs ceaselessly at play of his knack for spinning an exemplary account.

There are also many sly references to the cinema of Messier expertly woven into the volume. The most obvious of these is his phenomenal forty-minute short documentary on the creative process, “Disregard the Vampire” (2017). His brief, and equally good, Fantasy tale, “The Nature of the Flame” (2014), are just as cleverly addressed. These winks at the reader are incredible. This is especially when considering how they organically derive from the attempt. They also operate just as significantly as world-building in the collective universe of Messier’s artistic ventures.

Graced by eye-popping and gorgeous cover art from Nazar Germanov, A Distance from Avalon is an all-around brilliant publication; a literary four-course meal. It is driven by a fantastic plot. Such is one that is given depth and dimension by Messier’s cerebral and refined writing abilities. The piece is intimate, open, ambitious, smartly structured, and perfectly told. Messier has constructed a sensational world of nuance and underlying fear. Masterful in all arenas, the power of this dignified beast is impossible to ignore.

A Distance from Avalon can be purchased in Kindle eBook or paperback format here.

Andrew Buckner’s 105 Favorite Films

By Andrew Buckner

105. Center Stage (1991)

Director: Stanley Kwan.

104. Red Desert (1964)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni.

103. Loving Vincent (2017)

Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman.

102. The Intruder (1962)

Director: Roger Corman.

101. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto.

100. Network (1976)

Director: Sidney Lumet.

99. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Director: Frank Capra.

98. M (1931)

Director: Fritz Lang.

97. Deep Red (1975)

Director: Dario Argento.   

96. Porcile (1969)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

95. The Changeling (1980)

Director: Peter Medak.

94.  Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Director: Steven Spielberg.

93. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Director: Michael Cimino.

92. The Great Dictator (1940)

Director: Charlie Chaplin.

91. Kwaidan (1964)

Director: Masaki Kobayashi.

90. Taxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese.

89. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Director: Isao Takahata.

88. Nostalghia (1984)

Directors: Andrei Tarkovsky.

87. Suspiria (1977)

Director: Dario Argento.

86. Q: Winged Serpent (1982)

Director: Larry Cohen.

85. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Director: Sergio Leone.

84. Persepolis (2007)

Directors: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi.

83. Blow-Up (1966)

Director: Michelangolo Antonioni.

82. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964)

Director: Jose Mojica Marins.

81. Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Director: Georges Franju.

80. Kids (1995)

Director: Larry Clark.

79. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Director: Guillermo del Toro.

78. The Lost World (1925)

Director: Harry O. Hoyt.

77. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper.

76. Lady Snowblood (1973)

Director: Fujita Toshiya.

75. My Dinner With Andre (1981)

Director: Louise Malle.

74. Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter.

73. Ikiru (1952)

Director: Akira Kurosawa.

72. Contact (1997)

Director: Robert Zemeckis.

71. The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Director: William Castle.

70. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Director: Jack Arnold.

69. The Thing from Another World (1951)

Directors: Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks.

68. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Director: Robert Wise.

67. Creepshow (1982)

Director: George A. Romero.

66. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Director: Oliver Stone.

65. The Fly (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg.

64. Begotten (1989)

Director: E. Elias Merhige.

63. Gummo (1997)

Director: Harmony Korine.

62. Teorema (1968)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

61. mother! (2017)

Director: Darren Aronofsky.

60. Freaks (1932)

Director: Tod Browning.

59. The Birds (1963)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

58. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Director: Roman Polanski.

57. Phantasm (1979)

Director: Don Coscarelli.

56. Holy Mountain (1973)

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky.

55. Onibaba (1964)

Director: Kaneto Shindo.

54. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

53.  The Best of Youth (2003)

Director: Marco Tullio Giordana.

52. Pi (1998)

Director: Darren Aronofsky.

51. The Dark Crystal (1982)

Directors: Jim Henson, Frank Oz.

50. Enter the Void (2009)

Director: Gaspar Noe.

49. Dead Alive (1992)

Director: Peter Jackson.

48. The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi.

47. Poltergeist (1982)

Director: Tobe Hooper.

46. Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante.

45. Ghostbusters (1984)

Director: Ivan Reitman.

44. The Omen (1976)

Director: Richard Donner.

43. Scenes from a Marriage (1974)

Director: Ingmar Bergman.

42. Amarcord (1973)

Director: Federico Fellini.

41. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Director: Robert Wiene.

40. Nosferatu (1922)

Director: F.W. Murnau.

39. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George A. Romero.

38. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino.

37. The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci.

36. Antichrist (2009)

Director: Lars von Trier.  

35. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Director: Steve McQueen.

34. Double Indemnity (1944)

Director: Billy Wilder.

33. Notorious (1946)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

32. La Dolce Vita (1960)

Director: Federico Fellini.

31. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Director: Ingmar Bergman.

30. The Conformist (1970)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci.

29. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche.

28. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

27. Stalker (1979)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky.

26. Weekend (1967)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard.

25. Persona (1966)

Director: Ingmar Bergman.

24. Haxan (1922)

Director: Benjamin Christensen.  

23. Amour (2012)

Director: Michael Haneke.

22. Away from Her (2006)

Director: Sarah Polley.

21. Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Director: Werner Herzog.

20. 8 ½ (1963)

Director: Federico Fellini.

19. Life Itself (2014)

Director: Steve James.

18. Life is Beautiful (1997)

Director: Roberto Benigni.

17. The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick.

16. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore.

15. Cries & Whispers (1972)

Director: Ingmar Bergman.

14. Seven Samurai (1954)

Director: Akira Kurosawa.

13. Eraserhead (1977)

Director: David Lynch.

12. Dekalog (1989)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski.

11. Shoah (1985)

Director: Claude Lanzmann.

10. The Tree of Life (2011)

Director: Terrence Malick.

9. The Seventh Seal (1957)

Director: Ingmar Bergman.

8. Metropolis (1927)

Director: Fritz Lang.

7. Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott.

6. King Kong (1933)

Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack.

5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg.

4. Psycho (1960)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

3. The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin.

2. Schindler’s List (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg.

1. Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg.

“VHS Forever? Psychotronic People” (2014)- Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

VHS Forever? Psychtronic People (2014) from writers and directors, Darren J. Perry and Mark Williams, is a remarkably fascinating, endlessly enjoyable, and compulsively watchable love letter to low-budget horror films, videos, video stores, and the myriad individuals who understood their endearing appeal. It is also a study in the ridiculous lengths the government, the Motion Picture Association of America, and related personages would go to conceal these daring types of art. The 110-minute documentary is filled with intriguing and intimate true life narratives that revel in the former and rightfully vilify the latter. Yet, it is just as much a riveting glimpse into what goes into the production of the title technology. It also operates just as well as a fantastic glimpse into some of the daily fears video buyers and store owners had during the days of the ‘Video Nasties’. A term coined in the United Kingdom in 1982, this refers to a list of often misunderstood terror and exploitation films, like Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981), that were banned for their graphic nature. These previously stated brilliant and bold masterpieces are frequently discussed in the picture. This docket of controversial cinema, and the attraction the record had to collectors, is a subject the bulk of the feature unveils with tremendous depth and insight.

These bits give the project a magnificent symmetry and variety. This is as it expounds upon its core theme of the interest derived from VHS. Particularly, the “dangerous” cinematic wonders that may be held within each one. Yet, what functions just as well in Perry and Williams’ endeavor are the lively and charismatic interviews from the creative minds, many of whom are fellow writers and/or moviemakers, who discourse so passionately on the topic at hand. Their stories are infectiously relatable and always engaging. This is most noteworthy in the segments involving Troma Studios co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman. His consistently amusing conversations on the various releases, promotional methods, and censorship troubles of The Toxic Avenger (1984) are a constant highlight. Another section I vastly relished occurs around the fifteen-minute mark. It is an anecdote involving a VHS copy of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s essential and unforgettable swan song, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).

What also heightens my affection, as well as the sheer fun, radiating from the development is that there are even a few successful running gags throughout the venture. Among them is the wind being deemed “Psychotronic interference”. Moreover, the overall aesthetic of the exercise works perfectly in a similar regard. It calls to mind the look of early VHS. This is a dazzling touch. It is one which reiterates the distinct charm found in the cassettes so ardently touched upon in Perry and Williams’ undertaking.

In turn, VHS Forever? Psychotronic People is a must-see for anyone remotely concerned about film, its early home distribution forms, and its history. The labor has obvious esteem for its topic. Regardless, it does not shy away from stating some of the less desirable qualities of VHS with an underlying air of eager reverence. These hints make for an even more open, honest, and varied experience. This refreshing frankness helps make this gem worth seeking out with all the enthusiasm and merriment a collector would search for that one rare, elusive, uncut ‘Video Nasty’ on VHS. Perry and Williams’ feature is pure nostalgic joy.

You can purchase the Blu-ray and DVD of VHS Forever? at http://www.vipcoltd.com!

The 40 Best Albums of 2020

By Andrew Buckner

40. ADHD by Joyner Lucas

39. Detroit 2 by Big Sean

38. Evolution by Joyner Lucas

37. The Devil Hates Sundays by J’L

36. Molocular Meditation by Jan St. Werner

35. Versus (EP) by Jonezen

34. After Hours by The Weeknd

33. Mystic by Mackenzie Nicole

32. Ceremony by Phantogram

31. Closer Than They Appear by Lyric Jones

30. Cut Throat City Soundtrack (EP) by Various Artists

29. My Brother’s Keeper by Kuniva & Swifty McVay

28. The Allegory by Royce Da 5’9

27. EnterFear by Tech N9ne

26. Fear Exodus (EP) by Tech N9ne

25. Guided Meditations (EP) by RZA

24. Pray For Paris by Westside Gunn

23. Who Made the Sunshine by Westside Gunn

22. The Food Villain by The Alchemist

21. Picture Perfect by Rittz

20. Your Birthday’s Cancelled by Iron Wigs

19. RTJ4 Run The Jewels

18. Gorilla Twins by Ill Bill & Nems

17. Alfredo by Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist

16. No Hermano by Sean Strange

15. Loud Is Not Enough by Public Enemy

14. Felt 4 U by Felt

13. Detroit Life by Swifty McVay

12. Alpha Underdog by Kuniva

11. Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God by Busta Rhymes

10. Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up by Elzhi

9. What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? by Public Enemy

8. From King to a God by Conway the Machine

7. Summer of Sam by Serial Killers (Xzibit, B-Real, Demrick)

6. Flag by Kxng Crooked

5. Streams of Thought, Volume 3: Cane and Abel by Black Thought

4. King’s Disease by Nas

3. All My Heroes Are Dead by R.A. the Rugged Man

2. A Beautiful Revolution (Pt.1) by Common

  1. Music to Be Murdered By and Music to be Murdered By: Side B by Eminem

The Ten Best Books of 2020

By Andrew Buckner

10. Crooked River
     By Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child.

9. Survivor Song
    By Paul Tremblay.

8. Wonderland
    By Zoje Stage. 

7. Devoted
    By Dean Koontz.

6. The Living Dead
    By George Romero, Daniel Kraus.

5. Ready Player Two
    By Ernest Cline.

4. Home Sweet Home
    By Riley Sager.

3. Chasing the Light
    By Oliver Stone.

2. A Time for Mercy
    By John Grisham.

1. If It Bleeds
    By Stephen King

Runners-Up:

Camino Winds
   By John Grisham

Elsewhere
   By Dean Koontz

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Fall 2020 Short Film Festival – Film #12: “The Actor” (2013)

By Andrew Buckner

The twelfth film in The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Fall 2020 Short Film Festival is an emotionally gripping, beautifully acted and constructed glimpse into personal fears. It is a 14-minute and 38-second drama starring David Graziano in the title role of “The Actor” (2013). Masterfully directed by Skip Shea and Mike Messier, the project immerses the audience in its thoughtfulness, central love story and its magnificent black and white cinematography.

Short Film: The Actor (2014) |

SYNOPSIS:

“The Actor” is a story about love lost, love regained, and the regret that comes with decisions made. This is The Actor’s story, one of a struggle to come to terms with himself and the woman he loves, The Muse.  The plot is based on David Graziano, The Actor, and Christine Perla, The Muse relationship. How they met, fell in love and why David left only to begin a downward spiral. This journey comes to light in an acting lesson with The Coach, played by Diana Porter.

PRODUCTION TEAM INFO:

Christine Perla – Executive Producer

Mike Messier – Producer

Skip Shea – Producer

Skip Shea & Mike Messier – Director

Skip Shea -Editor

William Smyth – Cinematographer

Steven Lanning-Cafaro—Original Score

Roland Khorshidianzadeh – PA

Chris Hunter – Audio Supervisor

Christine Perla – Script Supervisor

THANKS:

Loraine Craig Resniak and Tony Demings

Filmed at Courthouse Center for the Arts–West Kingston, Rhode Island

TRAILER FOR THE FILM:

YOUTUBE LINK FOR THE FILM IN FULL:

*All the films shown in this festival are used with the kind permission of the filmmakers themselves.

“Gay as the Sun” (2020) – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

“Gay as the Sun” (2020), a thirty-one-minute short film from director Richard Griffin, is a thoughtful and endlessly hilarious meditation on body shaming and acceptance. Cleverly utilizing the basis of a circa 1960’s-70’s educational documentary, the masterfully done exercise also humorously addresses themes such as women’s wage inequality, hidden knowledge, religion (wonderfully exhibited throughout the work under the guise of a randomly appearing U.F.O.) and the mania of current Republican politics. What the piece also does just as successfully through this aforesaid structure is operate as a deeply personal story. It is one regarding two different men at separate periods in history, the beginning of and modern times, who grow to feel uncertain of their forms. In turn, this makes them feel unsure of themselves. This is a topic that many audience members will immediately relate to and find cathartic as it is showcased on-screen. Such a factor heightens the immense and varied appeal of the narrative. The eye-popping visual aesthetic of the effort, immediately showcased in the opening shot of a group of large sunflowers in a field, only improves the easy joy of the endeavor. This is courtesy of the magnificent and undeniably beautiful cinematography from Griffin.

The exercise is divided into two chapters. The first of which, “In the Beginning”, is a gentle and wonderfully diverting twist on the Adam (Ricky Irizarry) and Eve (Sarah Reed) tale. It is a brisk six minutes in length. What follows this is “The Story of Billy”. Implementing the remaining runtime of the venture, the chronicle concerns the title individual (delightfully played by Graham Stokes) who, following the actions of his parents, feels as if he cannot wear enough clothes. This is out of a personal disgrace for his undressed state. Upon being sent to an all-male nudist camp, he gradually learns to embrace and find himself through the loss of this once overwhelming concern.

The constantly charming and uproarious commentary by the wittily named “Psychologist/ Notary Public” Fritz Lang, M.D. (in a standout performance by Bruce Church) is a continuous source of amusement during this concluding account. What is also just as engaging is Griffin’s deft editing and guidance of the cinematic affair. Furthermore, the smartly paced (there is not a filler scene in the entirety of the picture) and arranged screenplay by Robyn Guilford is brilliant. It is filled with sharp, occasionally tongue-in-cheek dialogue, sly and subtle references to past and present issues and people, and wall-to-wall entertaining situations. Likewise, the enactments are all incredible. For example, Alexander Willis is dazzling as Gardner. The depiction by Samantha Acampora of Beatrice, Nolan Burke as Steve and Sissy O’ Hara as Ivy are all terrific. Terry Shea is just as good as The Narrator. Irizarry and Reed are illuminating in their previously stated turns. Ninny Nothin as Snake, Jay Walker as Poet, Robert Kersey as “Gay Dracula”, and Ronald Martin as The Shirt Bandit are all memorable in their brief roles.

Ultimately, “Gay as the Sun” stands alongside “Yesteryear” (2020) by Chris Esper as the single best non-feature film I have seen this year. It is emotionally rousing in a credible and quiet way. The design is also goofy, upbeat fun for the entirety of the arrangement. Well-fashioned and likable central figures are also frequently incorporated into the latest from Griffin. There is also just the right touch of romance peppered into the proceedings. Such an element greatly augments the variety of the development. With the assistance of these highly effective ingredients, Griffin has crafted a bold, unique, and ardent comedy as only he can conceive. It is a quirky, kind, blissful and illuminating masterpiece.