“The Mason Brothers” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The one-hundred and fourteen-minute debut feature from thirty-year-old writer-director Keith Sutliff, The Mason Brothers (2017), is a handsomely fashioned, if all too familiar, revenge tale. Deriving inspiration from Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987) and Quentin Tarantino’s oft-mimicked Reservoir Dogs (1992), the KS Pictures production has all the tough talk and sudden bouts of violence expected from a crime story of this ilk. In this arena, Sutliff’s endeavor soars. The opus also triumphs in its Tarantino-like ability to entertain via dialogue. A great example of this would be in the many cases throughout the exertion where Sutliff’s fictional personas describe the failed scheme that takes place immediately before the commencement of the piece. Where lesser filmmakers would punctuate such arrangements with actual flashbacks to the event out of fear of losing audience intrigue, Sutliff forces spectators to participate by imagining the episode themselves. Such occurs via the verbal illustrations painted by our central figures in their frequent discussions among one another. The backstories of our leads and related expository instances are similarly addressed to equally potent consequence in this manner.

In turn, Sutliff creates a slick, classically designed caper. It is one which is as gripping when the fists fly as it is in its quieter episodes. Yet, this otherwise engaging movie, despite its penchant for narrative, never feels as if it fleshes out its characters in any satisfactory way. Yet, this works masterfully to make those we follow on-screen enigmatic. The same can be said for the relatively routine arc of events. Correspondingly, this celluloid vehicle offers no true surprises. Still, it succeeds far more frequently than it falters.

Sutliff chronicles Ren (in an intense, commanding performance from Sutliff), Jesse (in an exceptional depiction from Brandon Sean Pearson) and Orion Mason (in a brilliant, consistently compelling representation from Michael Ryan Whelan). They are a group of close brothers and expert robbers. When their botched plan to steal $10,000,000 via a Los Angeles bank results in the death of one of the members of this outlaw clique, it becomes evident that this fatal event was anything but an accident. This soon becomes believed to be a set-up. Seeking payback, Ren, the eldest and head of the team, hires a bounty hunter, Jerry (in a captivating enactment from Tim Park). His assignment is to uncover who was involved in this tragic incident. But, these fervently sought-after answers come with unwanted results. Soon one felonious mind is battling with another. This is as a rival neighborhood gang is declared to be the guilty party.

Co-producer Sutliff augments this intriguing plot with a script that is confidently paced. Though it concludes on a predictable note, the undertaking remains an all-around solid venture. This is largely a courtesy of the plethora of brutal, deftly executed action scenes Sutliff incorporates throughout the runtime. There is also an unwavering, no-nonsense atmosphere found in the labor. Such is a signpost of Sutliff’s taut, claustrophobic and ever-stylish guidance of the project. When combined with the dark, mood-setting cinematography from Errol Webber Jr. and Federico Vaona’s immersive music, the effort continues to astonish. Complete with a magnificent portrayal from Carlotta Montanari as Allena, splendid visual effects from John Myers and sharp editing from Gio Arias, the affair endures as a consistently dazzling genre outing. I highly recommend seeking it out.

The Mason Brothers will be released on Video on Demand in the United States of America, Germany/ Austria, Japan and in the United Kingdom on August 2nd, 2017 through Adler & Associates.

(R). Contains graphic language and violence.

 

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“Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story (2013) is a riveting companion piece to Romanek’s three prior books. They are the groundbreaking Messages: The World’s Most Documented Extraterrestrial Contact Story (2009), The Orion Regressions (2011) and Answers (2012). These popular tomes, all of which I highly recommend reading, detail Romanek’s personal encounters with unearthly life forms. Needless to say, the one-hundred and five-minute documentary which reiterates the content of these penned articles is nowhere near as in-depth as Romanek’s literary compositions on the subject.

Additionally,  the style is difficult to get used to at first. There is also an overreliance on quotes from many differing sources to fill gaps in the runtime. Still, the film is nonetheless fascinating. This is especially accurate when considering the reams of video, audio and photographic evidence which is presented in Romanek’s defense. Moreover, the three main sections the piece is assembled into (“The Evidence”, “Stan and Lisa” and “Validation” respectively) create a perfectly well-rounded beginning, middle and open-ended conclusion to Romanek’s on-going communion with these highly-intelligent beings.

Correspondingly, Romanek makes for an intriguing focal point. Likewise, the mid-section arrangements which concern the relationship between Stan and his wife, Lisa, are gripping. They are as potent as the myriad interviews from experts glimpsed in the last act. This is despite the fact that the latter component often feels as if there is too much emphasis on swaying viewers towards Romanek’s credibility. A similarly manipulative sensation is found in the brief “Prologue” situated at the commencement of the account.

Yet, the formerly addressed climactic conversations emit a refreshingly cerebral and alternately cryptic tone. Such makes these suspicious impressions easy to overlook. These profound inquiries complement the labor immeasurably. This is as these discussions turn to questions of the past, present and future of mankind itself.

From a technical standpoint, Jon Sumple provides all-around skillful work. This encapsulates his roles as director, co-writer (with Jack Roth), co-producer (with Roth and Jamie Sernoff), cinematographer and editor. Correspondingly, Anton Patzer’s intense, hypnotic original music and Patrick Lomantini’s superb visual effects enhance the quality of the effort immensely. In turn, the lingering impact of this illuminating presentation is both haunting and harrowing. Such results in a flawed, but worthwhile, production. It is one which fellow fans of true alien abduction tales will want to seek out for themselves. You can do so now on DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix and Video on Demand.

(UNRATED). Contains adult themes and situations.

Production Company: j3Films.

A Word of Dreams Recommends: “Child Eater” and “The Void”

By Andrew Buckner

Child Eater

****1/2 out of *****.

Child Eater (2016) is a terrific, no-holds-barred creature feature that will reaffirm your youthful fear of the dark. Backed by Erlingur Thoroddsen’s masterfully paced writing and mood-laced direction, the plot of this Icelandic-American photoplay, an adaptation of Thoroddsen’s short film from 2012 of the same name, centers around Helen Connolly (in a brilliant depiction from Cait Bliss). She has been handed the job of babysitting Lucas Parker (in a wonderful enactment from Colin Critchley). But, soon this simple task turns into a nightmare. This is as Connolly finds out that Parker’s  closet harbors an evil mythological entity. He is one who has an affinity for gouging out eyeballs as well as devouring the young.

Thoroddsen turns what sounds like a conventional genre storyline into a refreshingly unique, intense and beautifully made eighty-two minute presentation. The performances, especially Jason Martin as Robert Bowery and James Wilcox as Sheriff Connolly, are exceptional all around. John Wakayama-Carey’s cinematography is lush and ominous. Einar Sv. Tryggvason’s music is as haunting as the scenes they punctuate. Jonty Pressinger’s visual effects are marvelous. Best of all, Thoroddsen keeps the beast at the heart of this tale in the shadows for most of the runtime. This is with only the briefest glimpses of the fiend dominating the affair. It is a time-tested method for these types of motion pictures. With Thoroddsen’s full-length debut, it is again proven wildly effective. The same sentiment can be attached to this  Wheelhouse Creative Production Company release as a whole. Thoroddsen starts off on an atmospherically nail-biting angle. From herein, he only accelerates the suspense. This is especially punctuated by the many imaginative kill scenes herein. Such transpires until the startlingly memorable climax.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence.

Child Eater is currently screening in film festivals. It can also be seen on video on demand.

The Void

****1/2 out of *****.

Endlessly atmospheric, taut and uncompromisingly well-made, The Void (2016), from the writing and directing team of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, will assuredly go down as one of the year’s best horror films. Gillespie and Kostanski evoke a surreal, visceral experience. It is one that owes as much to the blood-soaked genre efforts of the 1980’s as it does the American author H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). The jaw-dropping special effects from Stefano Beninati, as well as  the dozen individuals who constitute the visual department of this arena, carry on both of these attributes wonderfully. Samy Inayeh’s cinematography, Aaron Poole’s lead performance as Daniel Carter and the hypnotic soundtrack make this tale all the more impactful. The plot itself, which involves a group of hooded figures gathering around a hospital after the arrival of a patient signifies increasing violence in the building, is undeniably intriguing. It is made all the more so in the breakneck, yet confident and novel-like, manner in which Gillespie and Kostanski allow the unpredictable events of their chronicle to unfold. The influences from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and the work of George Romero certainly add to the nostalgia-laden fun of the piece. This is even more amplified as the fantastically gothic final fifteen minutes definitely resonate a heavy Clive Barker feel. Though the characters themselves are a bit archetypal, the rest of this ninety-minute endeavor is so strong that you will have no problem looking past such comparatively minor faults.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence and adult language.

Production Companies: Cave Painting Pictures and Jo Bro Productions Film Finance.

The Void is showing in select theaters and on video on demand.

“Mom and Me” – (Capsule Movie Review)

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

Irish writer-director Ken Wardrop’s seventy-seven-minute documentary, Mom and Me (2015), is a sweet, poignant and frequently amusing love letter to the unbreakable mother-son bond. Told in a deceptively simple manner, which benefits the general demeanor of the production splendidly, Wardrop centers his action around a local radio broadcast in Oklahoma. The host of said program is the charming and earnest Joe Cristiano. As the photoplay commences, we soon learn he is doing a Mother’s Day special. Cristiano takes this as a chance to invite listeners to call and discuss their relationships with those who are celebrated on this holiday. From herein, Wardrop fashions a varied, complex, gripping and undoubtedly impactful portrait of the subject matter. This is as we meet the callers and hear their tales. Wardrop also opens the door to see even more intimately into the lives of these individuals. He does this by allowing viewers a chance to personally witness scenes between these aforesaid familial counterparts unfold.

Though every narrative is strikingly different, they are all uniquely effective. In turn, Wardrop takes us through the emotional ringer with gentle, quiet sincerity. This is especially evident as this efficient, tightly paced and beautifully fashioned chronicle alternates between themes of regret, drug addiction, imprisonment and Alzheimer’s Disease. These more wrenching episodes match the generally upbeat air of the effort masterfully. The concluding sequences are especially harrowing. They balance all the prior beats of the endeavor spectacularly well. Consequently, they bring every individual yarn to a satisfying conclusion. John E.R. Hardy and Benjamin Talbott make this arrangement all the more immersive with their phenomenal musical contributions. This can also be said of the editing from Mark Bankhead.

The result is consistently ardent and brilliant; one of the best films of the year. This is a testament to true masculinity. It is one which will undoubtedly prove relatable to  audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I whole-heartedly recommend you check out Wardrop’s latest, which is being distributed through Uncork’d Entertainment and Visit Films, when it is released theatrically and on video on demand May 5th, 2017.

Production Companies: Boom Pictures and Venom Films.

(Unrated). Contains adult themes.

 

“Beacon Point” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Beacon Point (2016), the debut feature from co-writer and director Eric Blue, is a subtle, intelligent and enigmatic alien invasion tale. Yet, there is a human center, reflected in the familial motivations ultimately unveiled in the late stretches, which becomes the most masterful element in the cinematic arsenal of this eighty-two-and a half minute long production. Such a component draws an undeniable comparison to Robert Zemeckis’ brilliant adaptation of Carl Sagan’s same said 1985 novel, Contact (1997). There is also an undeniable alignment to be found in these aforesaid traits with Denis Villeneuve’s exceptional big-screen treatment of Ted Chiang’s fantastic short literary piece, “Story of Your Life” (1988), Arrival (2016). Additionally, the calculated, slow-burn method in which the events unfold, as well as the general setting itself, calls to mind Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s ground-breaking found footage exertion, The Blair Witch Project (1999). Adding to this varied pot of movie-going ingredients is the inclusion of a brief opening, that runs approximately two minutes, which appears to mimic the beefed up, action-oriented nature of John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). Though this commencing bit feels out of place with the cerebral and dramatic turns that take place throughout the rest of the attempt, it is an intriguing, if all too familiar, way to lure audiences into the narrative at hand. The next few arrangements afterward, oddly enough, seem as if they are lifted from another entirely different category of chronicle: the buoyant comedy. Such creates a strange confection of genre beats. Yet, Blue, blends them into the arc seamlessly and sharply. This makes the overall result of the affair additionally admirable and unique.

Blue tells the account of a realtor, Zoe (in an unflinching, well-rounded and always captivating portrayal from Rae Oliver a.k.a. Rachel Marie Lewis). In the previously addressed early comic stages of the photoplay, we see her deliberately trying to get her potential buyers out of the house as quick as possible. This, we learn, is so that she can start a ten-day hiking trip through the Appalachian Trail. Yet, almost as soon as she departs on this journey, which promises an escape from the tribulations and stresses of the laboring world, she finds herself plagued by surreal nightmares. These are horrific visions she silently believes to be true. As those around her start to get sick and act strange, and sights lapse unexpectedly into her brain from her childhood, she soon learns that there is an extraterrestrial menace that has chosen the group. From herein, viewers are treated to a perfectly symmetrical balance of finely tuned and staged horror arrangements and personal drama. This is as we follow Zoe in her attempts to reveal why she has been  targeted in this fashion.

The plot is both bold and amusing. It is made increasingly gripping via Blue’s taut, visceral direction. The highlights of the fabrication, a terrifying flashback segment spied at the midway mark and the appropriately cryptic and beautifully made climax, are definitive proof of Blue’s abilities in this arena. Yet, the script Blue penned with Traci Carroll is just as solid. It is smartly, meticulously paced. Correspondingly, it is filled with credibly authored and delivered dialogue. Even if the twists are a mixed bag, with about half being expected and the rest a genuine surprise, this respective item is another pleasant component of the photoplay. It starts early on and is administered frequently throughout the runtime. The constant character focus is just as admirable. Likewise, the spectacular performances all around only augment this factor. Jon Briddell is excellent in his turn as the often-hostile group spearhead, Drake Jacobs. Eric Goins’ enactment of the overworked, but still frequently comical, Dan, is magnificent. Jason Burkey gives a stellar depiction of Brian. He quickly summons a flirtatious rapport with Zoe. RJ Shearer as Cheese is also wonderful in his particular representation. Furthermore, Jason MacDonald as Zoe’s Dad, Paisley Scott as Young Zoe, Jayson Warner Smith as Hunter and Randall Taylor as Phil are immensely proficient in their secondary roles.

Also, assisting matters is Kevin Riepl’s gently melodic, and ear-pleasing, musical score. Such punctuates every movement of the picture splendidly. The cinematography from Jim McKinney is illustrious and always striking. Scott Salamon’s editing is fluent. The make-up, costume, camera and sound department institute a terrific contribution. Deron Hoffmeyer’s visual effects are similarly impressive. Best of all, Blue’s flick mechanizes them in a manner that has proven most successful and effective with anecdotes of this ilk: only sparingly. Such makes this Georgia and North Carolina recorded endeavor refreshing and noteworthy. It even adds a welcome, old-fashioned touch to the proceedings. Bystanders only get the briefest glimpses of the creatively designed otherworldly entities that dominate the title area. This is with our fullest view transpires at the thirty-four minute mark to great consequence. But, what we see is certainly enough to enduringly haunt and intrigue us.

In this category, as well as many others, Blue succeeds at getting our psyches to ponder what we have seen. Yet, he doesn’t use the creature from outer space scenario purely for fear (as is the case of far too many similar efforts nowadays). There is a sense of awe; a yearning to understand what is occurring that is ever-present. This decision immerses us in Zoe’s attempts to unravel this ancient secret that has been thrust her way even more. Consequently, it makes us care. This is while giving us something to think about. Such makes Beacon Point, which will be released on video on demand and DVD through Uncork’d Entertainment on May 2nd , 2017, tower above its predecessors. In turn, Blue has crafted an illuminating and electrifying experience. This is a must-see for fanatics of thought-provoking science-fiction and horror alike.

(Unrated) Contains violence, adult themes and language.

The Facebook page for the project can be found here.

“Don’t Be Bad” – (Movie Review)

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

Don’t Be Bad (2015), the final flick from acclaimed Italian co-writer-director Claudio Caligari, continuously calls to mind the works of legendary poet, novelist, essayist, political activist and fellow moviemaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. This is most visible in Caligari’s deft ability to muster intrigue through his deliberately aimless anecdotal sensibilities. This is inherent in both the pace and general events of the respectable, if wholly familiar, script Caligari (who also formulated the storyline) co-penned with Giordano Meacci and Francesca Serafini. Such a factor is a trait most accessibly glimpsed in Pasolini’s ground-breaking, Franco Citti starring debut picture, Accattone (1961). It is also noticeable in Pasolini’s earlier novels, Boys of Life (1955) and A Violent Life (1959). This is the tome which Accattone is rumored to be partially based upon. Besides, the character-oriented essence that bridges these earlier stated creations, there is also an emphasis on our leads being thieves that is as much a part of Accattone and Pasolini’s brilliant literary fiction, A Street Life (1955), as it is in Caligari’s Toxic Love (1983). Interestingly, the later declared construction is referenced early on in Caligari’s seventh feature, Don’t Be Bad. The exception is that Pasolini was known to fixate on pimps and prostitutes in these prior addressed classics, the central figures of Caligari’s landscape were frequently an assortment of partially misunderstood drug dealers. The hedonistic individuals unveiled in these masterpieces were frequently those who, in hindsight, yearned for a better existence. This is despite the underlying tragedy that recurrently taunted them.

There is also a detached, clinical approach, that burns with an emotion that is present but rarely expressed, to both of Pasolini’s mediums. It is much in line with Caligari’s overall narrative tactics in Don’t Be Bad. Such adds an increasingly authentic, almost ruggedly documentary-like, veneer to the proceedings. The gritty cinematography from Maurizio Calvesi, as well as the everyday, straight-forward, though intermittently comic, dialogue, further heighten this impression. Thus, when a genuinely heartfelt illustration is conveyed it makes the scenes that they occur in, such as one in the aforesaid opus that transpires at circa the one hour mark, evermore painful and powerful. In turn, these arrangements force themselves to standout and linger on in our subconscious. Yet, one can’t help but think that there is still not enough of these moments to make the entire presentation memorable. Consequently, this lack of open sentimentality, as commendable as it endures throughout, and as perfect as it is for the types of people who dominate this tour de force, makes for protagonists that come off as assuredly angry. Yet, they are undeniably cold. Furthermore, it gives them the sensation of not being sufficiently fleshed-out. This makes them appear no different than those we’ve encountered in similar ventures. Maybe this is the purpose of such an exercise. Regardless, the distance Caligari and Pasolini creates, which can also be perceived as another of the life mirroring qualities on display, is as frustrating as it is invigorating.

Set in the peripheries of Rome (another connection to the tales of Pasolini) in the 1990’s, Caligari chronicles the relationship between Vittorio (in a solid enactment from Alessandro Borghi) and Cesare (Luca Marinelli, who is quietly riveting in his portrayal). They are self-proclaimed “brothers for life”. When the depiction begins, we spy them engaging in a life of excessive alcohol and drugs. Their nights are largely spent at the local disco. They also appear to be drawn to material flash. This is with fancy automobiles being among the shared interests of the duo. When Vittorio encounters Linda (in a unflinchingly stalwart turn from Roberta Matteia), he sees this as a chance to get out of the endlessly risqué being he has erected with Cesare. Yet, where Vittorio has found love, Cesare has uncovered a world that is slowly unraveling around him. Still, the distance between the pair is not eternal. Soon Vittorio and Cesare reunite. From herein, they attempt to live a “normal” being; one that is sewn from honest labor. But, will the past catch back up with them? Or will they be able to maintain this less hazardous, more gradual, routine they are currently building?

The plot, though sturdy, offers no real surprises. Not to mention, the otherwise well-made climax is cut from far too many similarly themed photographic entries. It also comes across as slightly overlong. But, Caligari has an eye that never leaves what should be the focus of any truly good narrative: those who dominate the presentation itself. Also, assisting matters is that none of the occurrences herein feel inorganic. Nothing in the one hundred and two minute and twenty-five second runtime of Don’t Be Bad, which has also been translated to Don’t Be Mean, comes off as placed in the invention to fashion unearned dramatic or tense instances. Such would simply be for the sake of garnering audience attention. The tone is also striking. This is especially true given the changes Vittorio and Cesare undergo throughout the affair. Yet, Caligari finds a method for the entire piece to continuously echo a tough, gritty, yet, somber and mature atmosphere. Such is a wondrous feat itself. This is made all the more awe-provoking given the fact that all of this unravels in a confident and unrushed fashion. Additionally, the performances are captivating all-around. Silvia D’Amico’s turn as Viviana is a magnificent highlight in this arena. When these exceptional constituents are combined with the consistently impressive reality that the photoplay unveils: it is all too easy to look away from the minor flaws of the application. Because of this, one cannot deny the satisfactory, ever-admirable nature of the production.

This endearing marker of quality, is made progressively evident by Caligari’s taunt, proficient direction. Co-composers Alessandro Sartini and Paolo Vivaldi offer terrific music. Their numbers marvelously illuminate all that is transpiring in Caligari’s construction. In turn, this detail augments both the beats of the exertion as well as impact of the bits they transpire within. Likewise, Mauro Bonanni offers seamless and sharp editing. Chiara Ferrantini’s costume design is superb. Paolo Soldini’ set decoration is masterful. Franco and Paolo Galiano’s special effects blend perfectly with the authenticity Caligari has meticulously carved into the effort itself. The same can be said for the team of individuals who put together the visual component of these celluloid illusions. Correspondingly, the make-up and sound squads are equally remarkable in their respective contributions.

The consequence of these elements is a reliably cinematic fabrication. This is most apparent in the quieter episodes. For example, the second act configurations which involve Vittorio and Cesare toiling alongside one another in a more commonplace location for employment. They are far more arresting than the combative notes the presentation commences upon. Yet, this Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, soars because it provides what all great works should unveil: a demanding, beautifully crafted and singular experience. There is an easy, graceful movement to both Caligari’s on-screen style that is evident in the smooth handling of the various relationships, especially that of Linda and Vittorio, in the endeavor. It is also viewable in the manner the sequences and fiction unfold. This is another of the many attributes Caligari shares with Pasolini. With Don’t Be Bad, which opens in theatres on April 7th and will be available on video on demand May 23rd, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment, Caligari has erected a satisfying, stalwart conclusion to a fantastic career.

(Unrated). Contains violence, language and adult themes.

“Lion” – (Capsule Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Lion (2016) is a harrowing, haunting, inspiring and undeniably human experience; an achingly beautiful masterpiece. This is even if the last hour cannot compete with the sheer emotional resonance and filmmaking perfection of the first. Director Garth Davis’ direction is as honest and intimate as Saroo Brierley’s autobiographical source material, A Long Way Home (2013), demands the work to be. Additionally, the lead performances, as well as Luke Davies’ academy-award nominated screenplay, are all spellbinding. In turn, Davis has delivered a debut feature that is as much a sentimental journey as the riveting plot, which concerns a young man trying to find his lost family and his way back to his childhood home after twenty-five years, is itself. The cinematography by Greg Fraser as well as the expected, though nonetheless rousing, climax of the endeavor are similarly striking, triumphant and full of life. Such results in a must-see; undoubtedly one of the best cinematic works of 2016. (PG-13) 118 minutes. Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman.

A Brief Word on New Film Releases: “Assassin’s Creed”, “The Devil’s Candy”, “The House on Willow Street” and “A Monster Calls”

By Andrew Buckner

The following is a collection of short reviews of movies that have been recently made available on video on demand. The Devil’s Candy and The House on Willow Street are, in addition to being showcased on the platform mentioned above, also currently showing in select theatres.

ASSASSIN’S CREED

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

Though the general concept is intriguing, Assassin’s Creed (2016) becomes another popular video game series adaptation that is given mediocre treatment via wooden performances, uninspired action sequences, direction and writing . The story arc is also rather by the numbers. Skip it. 115 minutes. (PG-13) Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard. Director: Justin Kurzel.

THE DEVIL’S CANDY

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

A masterful melding of metal, muse and the memorably macabre, The Devil’s Candy (2015), the latest horror film from writer-director Sean Byrne, perfectly parallels the paranormal with artistry. The result is a beautifully built, stunningly stylish, efficient and effectively ghoulish gem that constantly called to mind the cinema of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Rob Zombie. Highly recommended! 79 minutes. Unrated. Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby.


THE HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET

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

The House on Willow Street (also known as From a House on Willow Street) (2017) starts out as a unique take on the abduction tale. Sadly, after an intriguing first act, the film descends into the usual barrage of cheap jump scares and garden-variety demonic possession shtick for the rest of the runtime. Making matters worse: characterizations and storyline generally get the cold shoulder during these later stages. Such gives us no reason to care and no one to root for. The ending, as well as the effects, are especially tepid. A cliché-ridden disappointment. 86 minutes. Unrated. Starring: Carlyn Burchell, Gustav Gerdener. Director: Alastair Orr.

A MONSTER CALLS

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

J.A. Bayona’s film version of A Monster Calls (2016) is a well-meaning, respectable and generally faithful adaptation of screenwriter Patrick Ness’ young adult fantasy novel of the same name. Yet, it only intermittently recaptures the narrative poetry, beauty and deeply symbolic nature that made Ness’ work such a mammoth achievement. Additionally, the cartoonish creature effects and broad characterizations further hold the production back from hitting the mark of greatness. 109 minutes. (PG-13) Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver.

“Life”- (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Life (2017) is, for better and for worse, exactly what I expected it to be. The photoplay, predictably, takes its every move from the Alien (1979) playbook. Correspondingly, the plot, which involves a space crew being systematically slaughtered by an ever-evolving extraterrestrial creature, is where this is most evident. Yet, it forgets many of the things that made Ridley Scott’s movie so legendary. This is its constant balance of the awe-inspiring and the ominous. But, what is most noticeably lacking is Scott’s well-developed, relatable characterizations. Moreover, Life is in too much of a rush to unveil its monstrous threat. The consequence of this is, besides ignoring the gradual and meticulous build-up of Scott’s classic, merely a forced attempt. This is at getting the audience to know its broadly etched leads in a wholly secondary and unoriginal fashion. Albeit, in the scant twenty-minutes of screen time allotted before the martian organism, Calvin, takes over. Such makes the endeavor ultimately feel heedless and generic. In turn, this science-fiction/ horror entry never gives its proven capable cast, helmed by Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan and Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North (both of whom deliver satisfactory, serviceable performances), a chance to really make their characters a stand-out. Additionally, Ryan Reynolds again enacts another cloying, and unnecessarily comic, variation of his usual on-screen persona. This is in his one-note representation of Rory Adams. What also hurts matters is that the sets, though detailed, and low-tech effects are mediocre at best.

Yet, there is a dogged B-movie charm to the whole endeavor. This is heightened by the competent writing from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and Daniel Espinosa’s same-said direction. Such qualities make these flaws easy to forgive. Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping cinematography, Jon Ekstrand’s score and Jenny Beavan’s costumes are also impressive. The same can be said of the sharply rendered sound department work as well as Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker’s seamless editing.

Espinosa’s endeavor is never terrifying. It also fails to sufficiently erect and maintain a genuine atmosphere of suspense. This is despite its numerous attempts. Furthermore, the majority of the scares are of a garden-variety ilk.  Yet, this Skydance Media, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and Columbia Pictures release is certainly an enjoyable, if ultimately minor, distraction.

The project undoubtedly benefits from concluding on one of the most intriguing and smirk-inducing bits in the whole production. Such is a nice send-off to a third act that is, like the movie itself, alternately amusing and absurd. A prime example of this is found in a near-climactic segment which involves Gyllenhaal tearfully reading Margaret Wise’s timeless children’s book Goodnight Moon (1947). It is clearly designed to evoke an emotive resonance with its audience. Instead it conjures laughter. As this sequence goes on, it also proves to be extraneous. Still, the overall result of this severely flawed affair is familiar, but fair, entertainment. Espinosa has constructed the type of clunky, imitative picture that is best described as “a guilty pleasure”. It is one perfectly suited for viewing on a rainy day.

103 minutes. Rated (R) for violence and language. Opened on March 24th, 2017.

“Wicked Conclusions” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
**** out of *****.

“Wicked Conclusions” (2016), a twelve-minute and forty-four second short picture from resident Pennsylvanian and co-writer-director Phillip G. Carroll, Jr., is a tense, taunt and thoroughly satisfying horror entry. It tells the tale of Amber (in an always captivating and credible turn from Chloe Hendrickson) and Henry (in a masterful portrayal from Boy-Yo Korodan that treads effortlessly on the line of child-like naivete and unsettling menace). They are imprisoned in the basement of their captor, Ben (in a well-rounded depiction from Erik Searle that conveys the conflicts of his imagined persona in a way that colors him brilliantly as both possible protagonist and antagonist for the bulk of the piece). Such instantaneously garners our attention by opening with a disarmingly light set-up. This includes an unseen individual putting up a sign for a lost dog. During this time, a surprisingly upbeat number pours from the soundtrack. The next scene carries on this impression. Such transpires in a bit which involves Ben making pancakes while casually conversing with an unseen entity. This arrangement is interesting because of the immersive and magnificent angle in which it is shot. It is one which only shows the side of Ben’s face and focuses in mainly on his mouth. Because of this, Carroll immediately defies our expectations. Yet, when Amber and Henry are introduced in the next scene, the invention becomes increasingly engrossing for far more grim reasons. This is as Carroll smartly tackles the afore-mentioned question of Ben’s true intentions. He also engages spectators in a nail-biting tug of war. This is until the rousing, if ultimately predictable, climax. All the while, we attempt to figure out who to root for. This is by mentally reiterating the tagline of the labor: “Who’s the real monster here?”

This is as much a courtesy of Carroll and Roman James Hoffman’s breakneck paced, smartly-written screenplay as it is Carroll’s claustrophobic, stylish and accomplished direction. Carroll seems intent on taking a familiar arrangement, such as the one inherently held in his narrative, and making it rise. This is from its endlessly empathetic shifts in perspective alone. Such twists in viewpoint are administered triumphantly. Carroll and Hoffman’s dialogue also helps matters. This is by being both believably straight-forward and powerfully delivered by those on-screen. Consequentially, the illusion of watching the ghastly scenario that is unfolding before the eyes of the audience is never broken. These items, along with the clues that are casually issued early on as to what is truly transpiring, make the endeavor more clever and easy to admire. But, what works best of all is the masterful handling and staging of the fearful elements themselves. They are beautifully, seamlessly implemented into the account. This is in a manner that never feels artificial. Likewise, it is never as if these pulse-pounding constituents exist to momentarily upstage the character-oriented focus of the exertion. This act itself is something of a rarity in cinema nowadays.

Budgeted at a mere $800, this PGC Studios, Fear Crypt Productions and Frank Horror fabrication also benefits from Sasikumar B’s sharp and assuredly effective music. The cinematography from Ryan Geffert is dark, brooding and impressive. Carroll’s editing is equally striking. Samantha Morris’ sound work is crisp and remarkable. The three-person camera and electrical department further enhance the all-around quality of the enactment.

These components all come together to compliment the unbroken atmosphere of dread Carroll engineers throughout the photoplay. With his tenth stint as behind the lens administrator, Carroll has crafted a balanced, memorable and monumentally mounted fusion of talent. It is one which, in the tradition of the best brief fictions, does not have one extraneous ingredient. Everything directly correlates with the unraveling of the yarn at hand. Most importantly, it does this while being massively entertaining. Carroll has evoked a wonderfully harrowing, haunting, vivid and visceral voyage into darkness. It is one which is also noteworthy for its restraint. This is exemplified via its ability to terrify without ever dissolving into excessive violence. For this, as well as its brash displays of bravado and storytelling prowess, the Halloween day released “Wicked Conclusions” is an unshakably solid addition to Carroll’s filmography. It refreshingly enthralls from start to finish. Simultaneously, it operates as a victorious orchestration of progressively bleak tone. In so doing, it comes with my highest recommendation to genre fanatics. Carroll is a silver screen chairman to be watched.