“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.

“Undercover Vice: Strapped for Danger Part 2” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The world is in desperate need of laughter in our increasingly bleak times. Director Richard Griffin and screenwriter Duncan Pflaster provide just that with their latest collaborative effort: the rapid-fire hilarious Undercover Vice: Strapped for Danger Part 2 (2020). Griffin’s latest feature is on par with the massively entertaining original entry in this series, Strapped for Danger (2017), in every way. I cannot recall a single joke in the brisk 88-minute runtime of Undercover Vice that doesn’t land with either a smirk, a chuckle or a slew of knee-slapping guffaws. Even the quieter sight gags, such as one clever moment that utilizes a water cooler at twenty-six minutes into the work, are effective and well-done.

As has become a trademark with Griffin films, the piece has numerous jokes pointed at the private lives of Republicans. While this attribute is successful enough to add a personal political point-of-view to the piece, the endeavor does not linger too long on these bits. It simply adds its own perspective, as is the right of every artist, and moves forward with the tale. In an age where subtly seems to be a forgotten art, such actions are evermore admirable.

What is just as worthy of respect is that there is never a bitter flash in the entirety of the production. There are a few dramatic instances. But they play out in a manner which heightens the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, joyously campy quality of the affair. A subplot involving a central figure getting his grandfather out of a nursing home is where many of these touches are mechanized. Regardless, the unabashedly quirky tone of the picture is never broken.

The plot involves two police officers, Andy (Sean Brown) and Kevin (Chris Fisher), who pose as porn stars to stop a ring of corruption involving a local politician. Pflaster gives this story life with dialogue that is endlessly smart and witty. Furthermore, there is an enviably quick and efficient pace throughout the entirety of the silver screen opus. This is largely due to Griffin’s masterful editing. There not a single unnecessary or overlong scene in the production. Such measures greatly compliment the jovial atmosphere of the project.

What also helps this matter is that every performance herein is gleefully pitch perfect. Brown and Fisher are brilliant with their endearing lead depictions. Sarah Reed is fantastic as Zooey. The same can be said of the respective turns of Sissy O’ Hara as Sister Dymphna and Samantha Acampora as Rebecca. Johnny Sederquist is always enjoyable as the delightfully named Pinata Debris.

Undercover Vice is bigger and grander than its predecessor. Still, its wonderfully intimate with just the right amount of character focus. Every frame is a visual feast for the eye. This is a courtesy of the marvelous, colorful cinematography from John Mosetich. It is as just as much a sonic smorgasbord with some truly excellent musical selections peppering the undertaking. This is especially noteworthy during the superbly constructed end credits. Yet, Griffin’s exercise is just as brilliant in sections such as the near two-minute opener of the chronicle. This sequence uses only voiceover dialogue to describe what is transpiring and the names of those participating in the article.

These elements come together to craft another inspired and dazzling masterpiece in Griffin’s cinematic canon. Undercover Vice is one of the funniest flicks in years. It is also one of 2020’s top-tier movies. Griffin has crafted another triumph of independent storytelling via the visual medium. Strapped for Danger Part 2 is a must-see.

“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.