“68 Kill” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

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

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

(Unrated).

Now available in select theaters and on digital platforms.

A Brief Word on New Releases: “All Eyez on Me”, “The Belko Experiment”, “Darkness Rising”, “Dead Awake”, “Personal Shopper” and “Pool Party Massacre”

By Andrew Buckner

All Eyez On Me

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

All Eyez On Me (2017) is a near perfect biopic. This massive achievement is courtesy of debut actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. He is largely convincing as the iconic and controversial rapper, poet, political activist and actor Tupac Shakur. Danai Gurira is just as triumphant as Shakur’s revolutionary-minded mother, Afeni.

Though liberties have been taken with Shakur’s naturally riveting life story, the effort still stands as one of the best pictures of the year. Correspondingly, director Benny Boom’s structure and guidance of the venture is uniquely exhilarating. Likewise, Boom captures the many sides of his complex central figure masterfully. The outcome of these high-caliber traits is a film of unflinching engagement and power. It is one further punctuated by Shakur’s own brilliant and timeless music.

Released in theaters on June 16th, 2017.

Runtime: 139 minutes.

(R). Contains violence, adult language, adult themes, scenes of sexuality and nudity.

The Belko Experiment

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

Director Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment (2016) has enough moments of wit, gore, laughter, intensity and intrigue to pose as serviceable entertainment. Still, this is exactly what you’d expect from a cinematic presentation with the Saw (2004) in the workplace set-up that this movie demonstrates. Additionally, the central figures, story arc and central themes are just as commonplace. Though the last act is grim and action-packed, it all leads to a rote finale. Even with its efficient 89-minute runtime and quick pace added into the equation, this is a mixed bag at best.

(R). Contains graphic violence and adult language.

Darkness Rising

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

Darkness Rising (2017), from IFC Midnight, is lean, fast-paced and chock full of time-tested haunted house scares. Austin Reading’s direction is atmospheric. Additionally, the portrayals and special effects are deft. The result is familiar, especially when considering the personas on-screen and general plot, B-movie fun.

Released in select theaters and Video on Demand on June 30th, 2017.

Runtime: 81 minutes.

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

Dead Awake

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

Dead Awake (2016) turns the naturally unsettling topic of sleep paralysis into horror cliché. Phillip Guzman’s direction is taut and proficient. Moreover, the performers do the best they can with their one-dimensional characters. Still, the poor effects, routine scripting from Jeffrey Reddick and pained attempts to align the production to The Ring (2002) hinder the project. The result is forgettable; a missed opportunity all-around.

Runtime: 99 minutes.

(Unrated). Contains violence and adult language.

Released on May 12th, 2017 in select theaters and on Video on Demand.

Personal Shopper

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

Writer-director Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper (2017) is one of the most cerebral, satisfying and uniquely riveting ghost stories I’ve seen in years. Assayas’ latest endeavor is a layered, deftly constructed masterpiece. The 105-minute affair unravels its multi-genre tale gradually, seamlessly and with meticulous care and craftsmanship. Simultaneously a drama, thriller and mystery, the picture is also noteworthy for Kristen Stewart’s ingeniously haunting portrayal of our heroine, Maureen Cartwright. Utilizing successfully spine-tingling bits early on and ending with an equally remarkable episode of emotion and intrigue, this tale of a woman seeking to contact her deceased twin brother is as Hitchcockian as it is highly unpredictable.

(R). Contains scenes of terror, sexuality, adult language, mild violence and adult content.

Available now at Amazon.

Pool Party Massacre

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

Writer-director and co-star Drew Marvick’s Pool Party Massacre (2017) is pure fun; a delightfully tongue-in-cheek 1980’s style slasher opus that orchestrates both laughter and gore galore. The straight-forward plot, which concerns a murderous individual slaughtering a gathering of opulent young women one by one, is a terrific pulpit for an independent feature of this ilk. In the tradition of the best entries in this sub-genre, the kills are imaginative and high in number. Furthermore, the depictions, as well as the opening credits sequence, capture the tone of the piece brilliantly. The result is as much a consistently engaging midnight movie as it is a display of Marvick’s talent behind the lens.

Runtime: 81 minutes.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, adult language, nudity and scenes of sexuality.

Available now at Amazon.

“A Dark Song” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Liam Gavin’s invocation thriller A Dark Song (2016), is fascinating. This is true in the wide-spread knowledge of its subject matter that is dispensed throughout its one-hundred-minute length. Such a quality is also present in the manner Gavin keeps us questioning the motivations, actions and dedication of our credibly etched leads. These are the domineering Joseph Soloman and the vulnerable, audience sympathy-deriving Sophia Howard (Steve Oram and Catherine Walker respectively). This intriguing inquiry accrues in the deliberate lack of specifics in the early sequences. It is also spied in the authenticity of the unfolding event itself. Oram and Walker’s performances, Cathal Watters’ immersive cinematography and Ray Harman’s masterful, creaky and immediately classic score are just as riveting. Gavin’s ever-taunt guidance and meticulously crafted authorship of the project propels this factor. His dialogue is especially believable. The results are appropriately and endlessly eerie, unsettling and haunting.

In turn, Gavin’s impressive full-length feature debut calls to mind a decidedly darker version of several thematically related genre greats. These are Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) and Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others (2001). This is noteworthy in the methodical and carefully assembled structure inherent in these previously stated motion pictures. Such a comparison is also augmented in Gavin’s brilliant ability to immediately generate an unbroken mood of intensity and impending doom. This is while instilling an ever-extant sense of mystery. Best of all, Gavin avoids the easy trappings of narrative tropes, jump scares and clichés at every corner. As a matter of fact, the bulk of the nail-biting herein are held in the enigma of the unfolding plot itself. Such only immensely enhances the life-mirroring nature of the production.

Additionally, Gavin evokes an unyielding focus on characterization. Such makes this brooding, quietly tense tale of a woman who will go to great lengths to contact her deceased son again and a questionable occultist who may be manipulating her a stylistic masterclass. Correspondingly, the elegiac and engaging concluding configurations are perfect. They emotively cap off all the varied sensations that arose beforehand.

Ultimately, Gavin has provided viewers with an uncompromising, mature and unforgettable reminder of why movies such as these remain ever popular. In a year that is shaping up to be incredible for cinema of this ilk, A Dark Song, which was distributed through IFC Midnight, is certainly one of the standout entries in this category.

(Unrated). Contains brief nudity, adult themes and some gory moments.

Available today in select theaters and video on demand.