“The Assassination of Western Civilization” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director Nathan Suher’s sophomore feature, The Assassination of Western Civilization (2020), is a brilliant political discussion wrapped-up in an effortlessly enthralling storyline. The 74-minute project is a unique, magnificent take on the idea of being easily “triggered” by the ideas, especially those of a policy-making and conspiratorial nature, of others. It is also a potent warning against the deadly consequences of such actions. These resonant intellectual threads are woven into a masterful tapestry of confident pacing, thoughtful dialogue and organic character development. This is via the efficient and effective script from Lenny Schwartz. It is based upon his successful play Newscastle (2014).

Suher’s minimalistic approach to the material, which consists of the entire picture being erected in one-shot and unfolding in a single room, beautifully compliments the stage roots of the endeavor. It also strengthens the previously stated qualities inherent in the authorship from Schwartz. The obvious inspiration from such ever-relevant governmental thrillers as All the President’s Men (1976), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975) heighten the timeless and timely tone of the narrative. Such bold decisions help fashion the foray into a triumph of independent cinema; one of the best movies of the year so far.

The plot of the IM Filmworks production revolves around tabloid reporter Mark Wallace (Phoenyx Williams). After news of a United States senator being slain comes to his attention, Wallace finds himself quickly being drawn further into the case. His professional interest in the incident takes a personal turn when he finds himself being visited by FBI agent Maccabees (Brad Kirton) near the midway mark. From herein, the tale becomes a verbal faceoff between Wallace and his visitor. It is one that is as much a social statement as it is a showcase of steadily mounting intensity. This all leads to a finale that is as evocative as it is thought-provoking.

What also helps the excursion is the all-around gripping performances from a well-chosen cast. Williams is superb as Wallace. Kirton is just as good as Maccabees. Jocelyn Padilla’s enactment of Susan, Christie Devine’s go as Mia and Sarah Reed’s brief work as Kate are all skillful and engaging. Josh Fontaine as Peter, Wendy Hartman as Alex and Sheri Lee as Gwen all offer strong portrayals. The cinematography from Ben Heald is sharp and fitting for the tone of the venture. Both the make-up and sound departments offer a commendable contribution to the overall prowess of the undertaking.

Recorded in Woodsocket, Rhode Island, Suher’s latest more than satisfies as both an intellectual exercise and as a nail-biting suspense yarn. The film has fun smartly laying down its intricate clues as to what is transpiring in the account. Regardless, it all gleams with purpose and intention. Nothing in the chronicle is unnecessary, unearned or artificially rendered to momentarily absorb audiences. Such adds immensely to my overwhelming admiration for the labor. Consequently, Suher has crafted a rare whodunit. It’s sharply-made, notion-filled and pleasantly favors speech over effects. Most importantly, it is completely riveting for the entirety of its lean runtime. I cannot recommend it enough.

Before the Night is Over – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Lean, beautiful and mysterious, Before the Night is Over (2020) is a masterful return to horror for director Richard Griffin. Stylistically reminiscent of such generally single-setting efforts from the 1960’s-70’s such as Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1963) and Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), the 73-minute film is also admirable for its subtlety and restraint. This is immediately evident in the wordless five-minute opening sequence of the picture. In this evocative and brilliantly rendered bit, a wonderfully mood-setting musical composition, facial expressions and hand gestures potently speak all that needs to be said. Griffin also ends the production on an equally quiet and poetic note. Such touches make for incredibly effective bookends to an exercise that is eloquent, classy and classic in both its narrative and in its approach. It also calls to mind the commencing section of Griffin’s equally magnificent Long Night in a Dead City (2017). Such instances are made evermore breathtaking by John Mosetich’s gorgeous, colorful, awe-inspiring cinematography.

Complimented by a superbly penned script from co-authors Griffin and Lenny Schwartz, which perfectly balances character-focus and buildup, Griffin tells the tale of Samantha (in a captivating portrayal from Samantha Acampora). Suffering from the loss of her parents, she becomes a maid at a bordello run by her aunt, Ms. Blanche DeWolfe (in a wonderful enactment by Lee Rush). Immediately intrigued by the erotically charged nature of the place, she finds herself slowly on the trail of a secret. It is one which has led before to death and, Samantha soon finds, will do so again.

With this intriguing premise, Griffin erects a surreal tour-de-force. It is one which is utilized as well in its credibly etched dramatic sequences as it does in its psychological thriller and slasher-on-the-loose instances. Griffin also keeps the project as tightly paced as possible. This is while giving his characters plenty of room to breathe and make themselves closely known to the audience. The third act also delivers quite a few twists that are genuinely surprising. Best of all, they never break the finely woven credibility or old-fashioned elegance Griffin has so delicately sewn into the endeavor. Such is just another sample of the top-notch craftsmanship that has gone into Griffin’s latest undertaking.

What also works is the equally deft turns given by Griffin’s performers. Bruce Church is exceptional as Ambrose. Jay Walker commands the screen as Mr. Wheatstraw. The same can be said of Terry Shea as Clay, Roberto Alexander as LaRue and Ricky Irizarry as Jameson. Victoria Paradis gives a terrific depiction of Ms. Olivia. Furthermore, Griffin’s editing is seamless.

Before the Night is Over (2020) is another winner for Griffin and The Reasonable Moving Picture Company. Reportedly made on a budget of $5,000, the feature is ambitious and hypnotic. This is while being economical and intimate. It is also deeply cinematic, while respecting the traditions of past big-screen excursions into fear. The movie also has Griffin’s unique stamp on every frame. The piece deftly addresses many of the ever-timely themes and notions from his previous creations. All of this is to grand consequence. In turn, Griffin has created a haunting and thoughtful symphony of sight and sound; a perfect storm of indelible imagery and directorial flair. Cinephiles and genre fanatics alike are destined to adore it. I know I did.

“Long Night in a Dead City” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Long Night in a Dead City (2017) is among the most accomplished works from the collaborative team of screenwriter Lenny Schwartz and director Richard Griffin. It stands as a testament to the surreal, hypnotic power derived from a largely imagery-driven narrative. This brilliantly paced and filler-less seventy-five-minute masterpiece also garners an endless mystique from this quality. What also helps matters is that it wisely never overindulges in its rhythmic and often cryptic dialogue.

This is immediately noted in the visually stunning opening arrangements. In this section, our hero, Daniel Belmont (in an ever-gripping portrayal by Aidan Laliberte), wakes up bloody and bruised. Gradually pulling himself from the middle of the road, where he either fell asleep or lost consciousness, we follow him with increasing intrigue. This is as he dazedly treads through the surrounding area. But, there is a confused impression about his movements. Such suggests an attempt at filling in gaps in his memory. What he is trying to recall becomes the impetus of this 1979-set affair. From herein, Griffin and Schwartz answer this question with an almost dream-like succession of events. All of which revolve around a film festival and Daniel’s missing brother, Charlie (Anthony Gaudette). There is also an enigmatic cult-like group. Griffin and Schwartz also incorporate into the proceedings a bar where people, all of whom are as immobile as figures in a wax museum, go before committing suicide on the last day of the year.

Such fascinating factors and clever concepts are augmented by the gorgeously constructed modern noir-like atmosphere. Yet, this Scorpio Film Releasing produced affair, originally titled Satan’s Children, refuses to settle into the tidy constraints of any genre. This is as it effortlessly juggles elements of science-fiction, horror, murder mystery and dark romance. But, there is a masterful use of recurring symbolism that fits neatly into the most prominent themes of this The Twilight Zone-like (1959-1964) undertaking. Such is manifest in the utilization of a black watch that is spied early in the endeavor.

Adding to these awe-inspiringly artistic and subtly issued attributes is a palpable love for 1970’s cinema. This is readily perceived in the terrifically designed posters for the fictional features showing at The Cine Satyrica New Year’s Eve Film Festival. It is also enhanced by the various Kubrickian shots of the inside of the theater where the aforesaid jubilee is held. There are also classically erected moments where our lead slowly treads down long, isolated hallways. They also alluringly reflect this aesthetic. Yet, this trait is most discernible in the way the sights Daniel views on-screen prompts him to piece together his fragmented recollections. Such a plot thread also seems to silently speak to the catharsis and relation to what one is seeing in a photoplay in correlation to the singular experiences of the viewer in general. This component also allows for some truly innovative, near Lynchian spectacles. Moreover, John Mosetich carries on this ardent connection. This is with cinematography that is as mesmerizing and colorful as it is reminiscent of an Italian Giallo film.

Continuing to strengthen the exertion is Griffin and Schwartz’s deliberate decision to leave the characters, even our protagonist, an enigma. In less capable hands, this would be a fatal flaw in this otherwise impressive effort. Instead, it heightens the palpable air of intrigue that pulsates throughout the entirety. It also matches the same said tone to illuminating effect. Such also allows us to get inside Daniel’s psyche with plentiful ease. In turn, the opus is more skillful and captivating because of such a choice.

What is all the more tremendous is that we still feel as if we know and can relate to nearly everyone we encounter in Griffin and Schwartz’s elusive voyage. This is a major courtesy of Griffin’s ever-mature, stylish and astounding guidance of the project. It is also a consequence of Schwartz’s rich and intelligent authorship of the account. Such a triumph in this category is also related to the pitch perfect casting of the piece. For example, Sarah Reed is enthralling as the target of Daniel’s affections, Holly. Anna Rizzo is superb in her brief turn as The Bartender. Aaron Andrade is just as memorable as the shadowy individual known as The Driver. Jaquelyn Fabian as Diana, Jack Shipley as Luke and Lars Rieck as Tom are all terrific in their respective roles.

From a technical standpoint, Griffin orchestrates seamless and sharp editing. Sissy O’ Hara’s makeup and Angela Shulman’s art direction are similarly striking. Mark Cutler, Tony Milano and Daniel Hildreth all provide incredible music. Their collective participation suits the downplayed mood of the movie masterfully.

Griffin and Schwartz’s latest concludes with a sequence that turns a familiar tale-telling circumstance on its head. This is that the announcement, and the detached manner it is stated in, seems to nod to emotions and ideas far more complex than what should be brought forth from such a statement. It is one of the myriad moves of ingenuity that pushes the project. Having seen the feature twice now, I can say that upon the initial watch we are drawn in by the gloomy beauty and the puzzle-like nature of the arrangement. On the next sit-through, we note how well the clues placed before Daniel propel him to his destination. Furthermore, audience patrons are drawn in by the depth and dimension of Daniel’s journey the second time around. Such only seems to hint at a plethora of layers yet to be tapped into with ensuing observances. This, along with all the adept touches declared prior, comes together to create a well-rounded, stirring, nightmarish and unforgettable exercise in anecdotal cinema. Long Night in a Dead City is the best picture of the year.

“Accidental Incest”- (Movie Review)

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

Accidental Incest, based on the off-Broadway production (published through Indie Theater Now) by Lenny Schwartz, plays like a gloriously successful mash-up of John Waters, Kevin Smith and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker at their most riotous and wildly unhinged. Schwartz has engineered a consistently funny, beautifully constructed and intelligent screenplay adaptation. It is one that is alternately meditative and unabashed. Likewise, it is consistently cunning, engaging and conclusively uplifting in its own respect. These elements assist in making this one hundred and two minute piece undeniably bold. Not only is this visible in the taboo bridled title subject matter, with much of its humor deriving from its sexual frankness, but also in the stances it takes against religious persecution. Additionally, the faux sense of superiority instilled in those who take the reins of such facets. This is the increasingly rare feature that utilizes the comedy genre as not only an instrument to entertain but, also, to drive home its timely thematic conscience. From the first effective comic segment, a tone-setting quote by Irving Berlin that flashes over a dark screen in its initial seconds, to the splashy extravaganza marking its heaven sent conclusion: the proof of this statement reverberates through every frame of its expertly paced one hundred and two minute runtime. This audacity is also visible in the unconventional manner the endeavor is told. It is just as foreseeable in the truly impulsive chain of events which dominate the general story arc. Such makes the whole affair endlessly intriguing; a vigorous breath of fresh air for those of us who are long exhausted, dulled to fury with the timid, rote manner in which the genre of laughter is so often served up on the silver screen.

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The narrative concerns Milton and Kendra (courageous, attention-garnering enactments by Johnny Sederquist and Elyssa Baldassarri that are full of surprising dimension and heart). After an extended six-minute opening, that is just as successful in establishing Milton’s carnal promiscuity as it is the string of rousingly victorious and well-timed unorthodox gags which pop up throughout the duration of the picture, our male lead swears to better himself and absolve such sinful deeds. Cut to Kendra waking up “Somewhere in Mexico”. She is disoriented, disrobed and has little remembrance of how she got there. As can be readily anticipated, the paths of the two unite during a motel stay. A date soon ensues that pushes the promises the two have made quickly out of the way. After finding out that they have the same father, their collective passions and fleshly indiscretions heighten to new zeniths entire. Eventually,  this anything but standard issue romance is tested. Such occurrs as the outside world, especially a pair of religious fanatics that the second half of the chronicle gets to know in depth, try to enact their fervent sense of moralism upon them.

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This represents another show-stopping exhibition of range for both Scorpio Film Releasing and the incredibly talented and the always reliable director, Richard Griffin. Being his third collaboration with Schwartz, their first such venture was the spectacularly inventive 2012 slasher saga Murder University and the 2013 drama Normal, the duo remain a terrific creative team. Griffin, who is marked as the ‘Drunken Film Director’ in the end credits, and his behind the lens work here is the perfect combination of indie artistry and its respective spirit. In particular, his ability to bring us something wholly unique and liberated from the conventional trappings of mainstream cinema. This characteristic is visible in the ravishing manner in which it incorporates five endlessly uproarious tunes throughout. Each of these ravishing, anything but commonplace ditties are every bit as side-splitting and amusing as the one which came beforehand. Among these are the Crimson-Al Khelmia (who depicts Angel #1) penned ditty “Nicolas Cage”, which utilizes the title actor’s movies as erotic innuendos with magnificent results, and “Circuit Board Christ”. The latter track oversees The Lord, God Almighty (played with fervent relish by the author of the number, Aaron Andrade) displaying his lyrical prowess in what can be described as a dead-on parody of modern hip hop clichés. Not only are these show-stopping, off-the wall segments that represent the un-fettered spirit of the piece entire but, they are among the best moments in the entirety of the exertion. The send-off tune, “Sentimental Incest”, sung by Jesse DuFault, The Young Adults performed and co-scribed “Kill Yourself”, and the Mark Cutler authored and Patrick Keefee executed, “Next Door Neighbor”, are unswervingly adroit. Such sonic oddities, and the routines which often accompany them, simultaneously remind us of the story’s stage roots (as does the leads’ various intimate discussions with the camera as if such is a silent audience). Similarly, it succeeds as both extensions of tone and sheer entertainment. Griffin, true to the form he established in earlier endeavors, drapes the project in nods to various other genres. An example of this is seen in a repeated shot of a sign for a motel. Composed over Jill Poisson’s gorgeous and sleek black and white cinematography, this scant segment wonderfully calls to mind a noir fabrication from the 30’s. Yet, despite such occasional departures the general demeanor of the composition is rooted in our modern times. The attitudes and point of views from the personages on-screen highlight this point incessantly.

Not only is this escapade beautiful to look at, with its brief color bits as eye-catching as its aforementioned classic cinema veneer, but its allure stretches beyond the screen. There are layers of emotion to the tale that are made all the more immersive and powerful due to the sheer talent at hand. Timothy Fife’s music is brilliant. The visual effects by Jill Poisson and John Dusek are skillful and astounding. Griffin’s contribution as editor is just as exceptional here as it was in his previous escapadeses such as 2015’s similarly genius Seven Dorms of Death and Flesh for the Inferno. Angela Shulman’s art direction is astounding. Also, every cast member is spectacular in their roles and make them wholly their own. Tonya Free as the oblivious wife of a homosexual, Susan, does a fantastic job of delivering wild guffaws. This is through the medium of facial expressions and the well-hewn dialogue coursing throughout the affair. Jose Guns Alves as The Anxious Man, Anna Rizzo as Tabitha, Jamie Lyn Bagley as Jen, Jesse Dufault as Rex and Christian Masters as Alex fare just as incredibly. Laura Pepper delivers another display of her magnificent rib-tickling aptitude in her brief, but certainly memorable, part as The Brain Damaged Wife. Bernard Larrivvee Jr. is just as stupendous as the eye-patched hotel manager. Paul Lucenti as Issac, Kevin Kilavey as Tool, Dan Mauro as Bob, Sean Carufel as Wesley, Christopher L. Ferreira as Tyler, Rich Tretheway as Kevin, Ryan Hanley as St. Peter, Michael Thurber as Harrison, Rosemary Pacheco as a receptionist, Sissy O’ Hara as a landlady, James Bagley as a doctor, Mark Hutchinson as a bartender and Steven O’ Broin as Dr. Emil Locust are delightful in their corresponding depictions. Knate Higgins as Sven, Casey Wright as Ariel and Erin M. Olson as Mary also embody their portrayals just as masterfully as those mentioned previously.

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Griffin and Schwartz’s latest collaboration is an example of high-risk taking resulting in a singular, innovative and distinctively captivating experience. There is a finely etched concern for all of the individuals we meet along the way. It is both smart and exuberant. Furthermore, the arrangement entire showcases proudly the admiration for motion pictures of the past and present. This has become another of Griffin’s many charming staple attributes. In an age when mainstream romantic-comedies are so by the numbers we can predict every movement the story takes before we even sit down to view it, Accidental Incest seems determined to take these routine twists and demolish them. In turn, we are delivered a completely capricious undergoing. The result is wall to wall cackles at situations ‘polite society’ would turn their nose up at. There is also an unexpected mirth, a merriment to the proceedings that is genuine. Such is another component multi-million dollar Hollywood productions package artificially, as if via an assembly line. Griffin’s feature is a grand masterpiece; authentic, rousing and both ground and rule-breaking. For those of us who enjoy boundaries being pushed so far away from our eyes that we are capable of enjoying the briefly held sense of being truly and utterly free: this feature, along with all of Griffin’s other celluloid journeys, should go immediately to the top of your ‘must-see’ list.

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