“A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016)” – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Richard Griffin’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s circa 1590-1597 penned romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016), pulsates with magic, splendor and eloquence. It is a passion project the Providence, Rhode Island born craftsmen has been attempting to bring to fruition since 2000. This is highly visible in the final product, which burns with the ardor of a long spent wish finally realized. The Scorpio Film Releasing distribution is both a beauty of sight and of sound; a searing triumph of frisky, smoothly paced entertainment. This is as much a courtesy of Jill Poisson’s rich, hypnotic cinematography and Griffin’s lively, astonishing handling of the production as it is the unmistakable, Early Modern English language of The Bard himself. Such an element Griffin takes directly from the original work. Even though Griffin has moved the central action from Ancient Greece, in an unspecified year, to Athens, Massachusetts in 1754: the rhythm, and amusing nuance (which is often innuendo based), of Shakespeare’s opus remains intact. All of this combines to create an affectionate, faithful homage to the source material. Yet, it distinctly resonates with the core of a Griffin construction. It is both radiant, sidesplitting, cutting edge, a bit old fashioned and affecting. Regardless, there is an innocence to the labor that showcases the sheer variety Griffin, who has toiled largely in the cinematic horror genre, is more than capable of conducting. Griffin, whose first celluloid tour de force was a modernized version of Shakespeare’s roughly 1588-1593 scribed tragedy Titus Andronicus (2000), is obviously well-versed in the narrative. This knowledge accentuates the sum of the vehicle. It makes its humor even more affective. This evident wisdom makes its message all the clearer. Moreover, its dramatic intervals are increasingly stalwart and wrenching. In turn, we are amended what is a highlight in Griffin’s multi-faceted career. This is undoubtedly one of the best pictures of the year.

Heightened by a few sly modern touches, such as a quick midway gag involving our obviously enthralled characters passing along a bowl of popcorn to one another, the sum of the effort is a wholly fresh and unique experience. It is as much a testament to Shakespeare’s sustained relevance as it is a display of Griffin’s endearing charms. Moreover, the theatrical roots of the exertion are more than perceptible. It is seen in the larger than life, yet still delightfully intimate, representations from everyone involved. This is as notable in Anna Rizzo’s riveting portrayal of the Queen of the Fairies, Titania, as it is with Johnny Sederquist’s punk rock take on the English mythology based elf, Puck (who is also known by the moniker of Robin Goodfellow). The more straight-forward presentations, such as Steven O’ Broin’s terrific and mature depiction of Theseus, balance out pleasantly the plethora of more light-hearted entities which dominate the affair.

midsummer pic 1

There is a wide range of categorical beats and themes, with the reversal of gender roles, transformation, the supernatural and the pursuit and nature of amour being at the forefront, that must be successfully orchestrated. Yet, the entire cast pulls it all off as if it as natural as breathing. Jamie Dufault as Demetrius, Laura Pepper as Robin Starveling, Aaron Andrade as the comical Snout and Elizabeth Loranth as Helena are especially good. The same can be said for Alexander Platt as Oberon, Josh Fontaine as the man turned donkey, Nick Bottom, Lee Rush as Hippolyta, Lydea Irwin as Mustardseed, Bruce Church as Egeus, Christin Goff as Rita Quince and Ashley Harmon as Hermia. She is the conflicted admirer of both Lysander (in an entrancing turn from Charlie Ferguson) and Demetrius. These stretches mechanize terrifically due, in part, to the fact that the chemistry between Harmon and Ferguson is palpable. This makes the numerous sequences revolving around their relationship even more hypnotic, wrenching and stunning.

What is just as incredible is that the 105-minute feature, despite its $25,000 price tag, remarkably comes off as if its budget is as gargantuan as its upbeat, often seductive, spirit. This manifests immediately in an impressively showcased, 65 second opening credits arrangement. With its cheery palette and blue lettering, it quickly captures the mystical disposition at the center of the narrative. Everything in this section seems bathed in moonlight. This integral ingredient is a mood-setting fixture in the initial literature itself. The plentiful shots of this aforesaid nighttime glimmer hovering above the forest in the presentation are equally intoxicating throughout. This commencing scene also comes across as strikingly retro. Such a visage could easily fit within the confines of a 1980’s style photographic opus. Given Griffin’s penchant for mirroring the look and feel of silver screen marvels from past decades, this similarity could be intentional.

midsummer pic 2

Advancing the overall appeal is the extraordinary effects from Torey Haas and John Dusek. They backup these prior addressed, bygone qualities spectacularly. Simultaneously, Griffin’s editing is top notch. Chad Kaplan’s Cupid animation is sensational. Margaret Wolf provides stellar, era appropriate costume design. Furthermore, the makeup from Jaquelyn Fabian, Scott C. Miller and Sissy O’ Hara is phenomenal. The Shakespeare writ “Lullaby”, wonderfully composed by Mark Cutler and captivatingly performed by Rizzo, Irwin and Harmon, is elegantly designed and delivered. Likewise, both the gentle and emotive Cutler authored, put together and sung “In My Dreams” as well as Daniel Hildreth’s ambient music augments perpetual lavishness to the project.

Griffin, whose script for this crowd-funded undertaking is both robust and brilliant, handles the various interconnected plotlines of this complex affair splendidly. The first of these are Hermia’s refusal to marry Demetrius. Such transpires due to her strong affinity for Lysander. Additionally, there is the creation of the play Nick Bottom, Snug (in a bravura role from Christian Masters), Tom Snout, Robin Starverling and Francis Flute (in a terrific enactment by Ryan Hanley) plan to act in for the Duke and Queen’s wedding. Many of the early guffaws triumphantly derive from this account. King of the Fairies, Oberon, and his  summoning of Puck to concoct a love potion, which gradually goes out of control, is spectacularly issued. Some of the most visually and sentimentally dazzling bits in the fabrication stem from these segments. Hermia and Lysander’s escape into the same area where Titania resides becomes a focal point. This is for the assembly of all these previously stated anecdotes into one setting. It is all punctuated by a final monologue by Puck that is assuredly smirk-inducing. Such also offers a grand climactic point. This instant reiterates the enchanted atmosphere of the undertaking masterfully.

In a filmography that ranges from fun, 1950’s modeled alien invasion illustrations (2010’s nostalgia fueled Atomic Brain Invasion), John Waters Reminiscent comedies (2014’s ingenious Accidental Incest) and 1970’s grindhouse brand B-movies (2011’s The Disco Exorcist), Griffin’s vision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream fits comfortably in the inarguably varied body of his career. His stamp is on every achingly alluring frame of his latest endeavor. There is also a delicate gentleness to the proceedings, an attention to detail and an admiration and pride for the centuries old text which pulsates proudly through the duration. Such helps bring the composition to life in a way unseen in preceding interpretations of the fiction. This is as much a thanks to his cast of frequent collaborators, all of whom continue to prove their flexibility and variability with the diversity of roles Griffin has handed them throughout the years, as it is solid proof of Griffin’s own multi-faceted talents. With his latest contribution, Griffin soars and astounds. All the while, he also makes us laugh, contemplate and reflect. Though the words and events may be that of Shakespeare, the voice we hear radiating through the entirety is distinctly that of Griffin. What Griffin provides here, besides another example of his absolute command of form, is a masterclass in how to take an oft told tale and make it solely your own.

midsummer-pic-3

 

Richard Griffin Releases “A Misdummer Night’s Dream” Trailer

By Andrew Buckner

A mere three days after its wrap-up of filming On July 30th, the official trailer for acclaimed writer and director Richard Griffin’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s timeless comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has arrived. At precisely 7 p.m. on August 2nd, 2016, Griffin gave a seventy-second glimpse into the twenty-first full-length feature under the Scorpio Film Releasing banner via Facebook. The motion picture, scheduled to be released on January 14th, 2017, promises to be a take on the immortal Bard’s oft tackled play, which was first published in 1596, as never spied before. With an incredible cast led by Anna Rizzo as Titania and Jamie Dufault as Demetrius, along with Griffin’s uncanny knack for comic timing, such is a promise the talent at hand is more than capable of delivering upon. There is also a true sense of magic clearly evident. Such is only made all the more palpable and vibrant by Jill Poisson’s lush, gorgeous cinematography. This is another spectacular characteristic which is proudly at the forefront throughout the hypnotic preview.

midsummer pic 2

The movie also stars Christian Masters as Snug, Steven O’ Brien as Theseus and Laura Pepper as Robin Starveling. It also oversees the incredible talents of Johnny Sederquist as Puck and Robin Goodfellow, Casey Wright as Robin Peaseblossom and Elizabeth Loranth as Helena. Aaron Andrade appears as Snout, Lee Rush as Hippolyta and Ashley Harmon as Hermia. Margaret Wolf provides the wonderful costume design. It is another astonishing attribute immediately noticeable in the above exhibited advertisement. John Dusek and Torey Haas are credited with the special effects. The editing is conducted, much in the manner of Griffin’s prior efforts, by the principal of the piece.

Bringing Griffin’s distinct version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the screen has been a passion project for the cinematic artist. He has been trying to get the endeavor to see fruition since 2000. In that year, he released his cinematic debut, Titus Andronicus. This was a modernization of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works. The original composition of which was understood to have been initially distributed circa 1588-1593. With this in mind, it is easy to see Griffin’s knowledge and respect of the literary master. Such a realization makes the excitement to see Griffin’s latest production, which he is not shy about sharing his own enthusiasm for, all the more intense. I know I greatly anticipate experiencing the sure too be masterful opus myself.

midsummer pic 1

“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.

accidntal movie picture 3

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.

accidental movie picture 2

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.

Accidental movie picture 1 Jose Gonsalez

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.

accidental movie picture 4

“Seven Dorms of Death”- (Movie Review)

seven dorms 1

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Director Richard Griffin has mastered the retro genre form. His 2008 venture, Nun of That, was a wickedly amusing take on 70’s B-movie actioners. He victoriously journeyed  back to the days of low budget monsters filling drive-in screens in the 1950’s with 2010’s spectacularly entertaining and loving homage to old-fashioned alien tales, Atomic Brain Invasion. 2011’s The Disco Exorcist took the Saturday Night Fever spirit and painted it blood red. The results were endlessly clever and uproarious. Griffin’s recent Flesh For the Inferno (2015) modeled itself after terror features from the 80’s. The outcome was every bit as terrific as his previously mentioned endeavors. Seven Dorms of Death, whose essence is rooted much in the same decade as the previously stated composition and which was shot on video, shows that after thirty-one directorial credits, Griffin’s admiration, and effective parodying, of features from a bygone age is still every bit as welcome and on target as the works he’s honed beforehand. It also proves his style behind the lens is just as fresh and imaginative as ever. Griffin brings to mind Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman. This is in the manner in which he relishes B-movies and holds dear their distinctly unique charm. Yet, there are flashes of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulcio and the Italian Giallo master himself, Dario Argento, gleaming among the bloodshed. His craftsmanship, as well as his influences, are visible and their appreciation for them courses splendidly throughout.

Presented as a vanished VHS tape of a second feature from Baron Von Blah’s Celluloid Crypt, a late-night television program which becomes a pulpit for Michael Thurber’s scene stealing and undoubtedly transformative turn as the eccentric title host, we learn immediately that Seven Dorms of Death was uncovered from the deep, forgotten recesses of a library basement. This portion of information, delivered via scrolling text, becomes the first of many successful gags aimed at the endeavor’s low-grade quality placed throughout. As the work goes further on, we learn that the narrative itself concerns a cursed stage play. When a college in New England, filled with students who listen incessantly to Judas Priest, attempts to put on a production of the work a series of brutal murders commences. Those involved in the production are killed off one by one in unique ways. Also, keeping true to the tradition of the post- modern slasher offerings, the mystery of who may be the one enacting these fatal episodes is up to a pair of unorthodox detectives. One of whom the often used term “loose cannon” is more than fitting. These are Aaron Andrade as Vargas and Dan Mauro as Sam.

seven dorms cop picture

With grandly exaggerated mannerisms aplenty, same said dialogue, facial expressions and the far over the top performances equated with a buddy cop picture from the 90’s, this aforementioned duo is a perfect personification of the hilariously exaggerated and unrestrained spirit Griffin instills into every frame of this side-splitting masterwork. Laura Pepper is just as triumphant in her portrayal of Jane Peach: a reporter lifted right from an archetypical 1930’s crime saga. Mahoney (Dave Almeida), fares just as well as the editor for Peach’s newspaper, Dunwich Penney Saver. Vincent Perrone, as Officer Kosinski, is also wonderful in his obviously tongue in cheek depiction.

seven dorms pepper picture

The rest of the cast mimics the varied assortment of caricatures found in teen related fright flicks, especially those in the 80’s, especially well. Lead by Anna Rizzo as the spectacled and socially awkward, Severin, Hannah Lum as Bambi, Graham King as Chad, Mike Zuccola as the undergraduate of the occult and heavy metal aficionado, Mark, and Rich Tretheway as Lumpy, every portrayal here is top notch. Evan Clinton, as the drama professor and play director, Jason, enacts his often grandiose role spectacularly. The flare Clinton puts into his every gesture and line creates a character that is consistently watchable.

The several on-screen deaths themselves also carry on these characteristics incredibly well. They lampoon the visibly second-rate effects in the B movies it mirrors itself after to an ardent and splendidly comic outcome. A drill through the head near thirty minutes in oversees its victim replaced during the goriest bits with what is discernibly a mannequin. As the sequence goes on, it drives this point home to great comic consequence. Such is one of the most interesting uses of such humor. Such occurrences, especially one such bit in the finale where a character states that his life and his death are one and the same, only punctuates the plethora of wildly well-timed, manic self-referential humor at hand. It also has intentional goofs, such as a scene where the director yells “cut” and the actors all breathe a sigh of relief and go about their normal business, which is just as effectively raucous. Yet, the cinematography by Jill Poisson, the moody music by Timothy Fife and Daniel Hildreth, sound by Anna Goodchild and David Ryan Kopcych, as well as the editing by Griffin himself, are all seriously skillful and striking. These attributes, along with Torey Haas’ stop motion animation and make-up by Jordan Pacheco and Margaret Wolf, seamlessly create the illusion that we are seeing a cult classic from the 80’s. This movie works splendidly as an extended wink at the audience. It is just as much a professional display of the talent at hand.

Likewise, the screenplay by Matthew Jason Walsh drips with giddy facetiousness and fun. It has the even pace and build-up that is much on par with the specific brand of motion picture it is modeling itself after. Michael Varrati penned some of the wonderfully entertaining fake commercial bits sprinkled in between the main program throughout. They are just as successful in celebrating past shlock, through new venues entire, as the main feature itself. Among the most memorable is the novel adaption called “Yesterday’s Winds of Tomorrow’s Fortune”, the 70’s grindhouse style Dracula’s House of Sadism and the self-explanatorily titled, “Smooth Nut and Vacuum Ads”. “1-900 Hot Link Commercial”, penned by Pepper, and Future Shock 199o, scribed by Alex Divincenzo”, are just as riotous. They are also well executed and issue the great comic timing found throughout. Varrati also contributed text for the ghoulishly delightful sequences of Baron Von Blah’s Celluloid Crypt (which sport incredible lighting work from John Mosetich). These elements are all just as winning as the feature itself. Such luminous characteristics only further heightens the script’s appeal. Varrati is just amusing on-screen as Von Blah’s off-balance puppet sidekick, Sockenstein.

seven dorms old dude picture

Seven Dorms of Death is an eighty-nine minute delight. It will appeal most readily to those of us who grew up with an unquenchable thirst for low-budget opuses. Moreover, those of us who have an unyielding esteem for the real life variations of Baron Von Blah (for me it was Joe Bob Briggs on TNT’S Monstervision) who showed a double bill of Z grade features on their respective programs every week. Griffin, as always, finds the right note to create his special blend of admiration filled genre spoof instantly. He continues on that course throughout the entirety. In turn, he delivers another deliriously innovative throwback to a time and cinematic style that we, fellow horror film and cinephiles in general, hold dear. This is an incredibly successful love letter; another fantastic addition to Griffin’s catalogue of unconventional satires. It is also a must-see for those of us who vividly recall staying up late into the night, put under a spell by Von Blah’s true life counterparts. Griffin and production company Scorpio Film Releasing’s latest is nostalgia inducing greatness of the highest order.