Andrew Buckner’s 40 Favorite Films of 2020 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

*Please note that the inclusion of the films in this list is based on an original 2020 U.S. release date.

40. Resistance
Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz.

39. Spaceship Earth
Director: Matt Wolf.

38. Elephant
Directors: Mark Linfield, Vanessa Berlowitz.

37. Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun
Director: Michael Mazzola.

36. Why Don’t You Just Die!
Director: Kirill Sokolov.

35. An English Haunting
Director: Charlie Steeds.

34. The Gentlemen
Director: Guy Ritchie.

33. VFW
Director: Joe Begos.

32. First Love
Director: Takashi Miike.

31. Extra Ordinary
Directors: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman.

30. Bit
Director: Brad Michael Elmore.

29. Gretel & Hansel
Director: Oz Perkins.

28. The Invisible Man
Director: Leigh Whannell.

27. Come to Daddy
Director: Ant Timpson.

26. Snatchers
Directors: Stephen Cedars, Benji Kleiman.

25. We Summon the Darkness
Director: Marc Meyers.

24. 1BR
Director: David Marmor.

23. The Lodge
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz.

22. Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time Volume 1 Midnight Madness
Director: Danny Wolf.

21. Tigertail
Director: Alan Yang

20. A Secret Love
Director: Chris Bolan.

19. Beanpole
Director: Kantemir Balagov.

18. Far from Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic
Directors: Lenny Schwartz, Nathan Suher.

17. Blow the Man Down
Directors: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy.

16. The Platform
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia.

15. The Hunt
Director: Craig Zobel.

14. The Assistant
Director: Kitty Green

13. Vivarium
Director: Lorcan Finnegan.

12. Emma.
Director: Autumn de Wilde.

11. Slay the Dragon
Directors: Chris Durrance, Barak Goodman.

10. Before the Night is Over
Director: Richard Griffin.

9. The Assassination of Western Civilization
Director: Nathan Suher.

8. The Other Lamb
Director: Mlgorzata Szumowska.

7. Color Out of Space
Director: Richard Stanley.

6. Planet of the Humans
Director: Jeff Gibbs.

5. Swallow
Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis.

4. Beastie Boys Story
Director: Spike Jonze.

3. Circus of Books
Director: Rachel Mason.

2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Director: Eliza Hittman.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Director: Celine Sciamma.

Runner-Up:

Bacurau
Directors: Kleber Mendonca Filho, Juliano Dornelles.

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.

A Word of Dreams Presents: The 101 Greatest Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

101. Persepolis (2007)
Directors: Vincent Paronnoud, Marjane Satrapi.
Genre: Animation, Biography, Drama.

100. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller.

99. Spotlight (2015)
Director: Tom McCarthy.
Genre: Crime, Drama, History.

98. Babel (2006)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Genre: Drama.

97. Cameraperson (2016)
Director: Kirsten Johnson.
Genre: Documentary.

96. The Counterfeiters (2007)
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky.
Genre: Crime, Drama, War.

95. Gasland (2010)
Director: Josh Fox.
Genre: Documentary.

94. The Lives of Others (2006)
Directors: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

93. The Best of Youth (2003)
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana.
Genre: Drama.

92. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Director: Andrew Jarecki.
Genre: Documentary.

91. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Director: Kenneth Lonergan.
Genre: Drama.

90. The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Genre: Drama.

89. A Prophet (2009)
Director: Jacques Audiard.
Genre: Crime, Drama.

88. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama.

87. The Secret in their Eyes (2009)
Director: Juan Jose Campenella.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance.

86. Film Socialisme (2010)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard.
Genre: Drama.

85. Flags of our Fathers (2006)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Drama, History, War.

84. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Drama, History, War.

83. The Dreamers (2003)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

82. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Director: Raoul Peck.
Genre: Documentary.

81. Stories We Tell (2013)
Director: Sarah Polley.
Genre: Documentary.

80. Love (2015)
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

79. Apocalypto (2006)
Director: Mel Gibson.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama.

78. Irreversible (2002)
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery.

77. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Director: Richard Eyre.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance.

76. Mystic River (2003)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery.

75. La Vie en Rose (2007)
Director: Olivier Dahan.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical.

74. Milk (2008)
Director: Gus Van Sant.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

73. The Departed (2006)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

72. Lion (2016)
Director: Garth Davis.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

71. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director: Ang Lee.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

70. Zodiac (2007)
Director: David Fincher.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

69. Inland Empire (2006)
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Mystery, Thriller.

68. Django Unchained (2012)
Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Genre: Drama, Western.

67. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz.
Genre: Horror, Thriller.

66. Amores Perros (2001)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

65. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Director: Michael Haneke.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

64. Room (2015)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson.
Genre: Drama.

63. Tanna (2015)
Directors: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

62. Bad Education (2004)
Director: Pedro Almodovar.
Genre: Crime, Drama.

61. Elle (2016)
Director: Paul Verhoeven.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

60. Monster (2003)
Director: Patty Jenkins.
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama.

59. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Genre: Drama, Sports.

58. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Director: Guillermo del Torro.
Genre: Fantasy, War.

57. The Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

56. Anomalisa (2015)
Directors: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman.
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama.

55. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Director: Mark Herman.
Genre: Drama, War.

54. Doubt (2008)
Director: John Patrick Shanley.
Genre: Mystery.

53. Lilith’s Awakening (2016)
Director: Monica Demes.
Genre: Horror, Thriller.

52. Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Director: Tom Ford.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

51. Amelie (2001)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Genre: Comedy, Romance.

50. Enter the Void (2009)
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy.

49. A Separation (2011)
Director: Asghar Farhadi.
Genre: Drama, Mystery.

48. Kinsey (2004)
Director: Bill Condon.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

47. North Country (2005)
Director: Niki Caro.
Genre: Drama.

46. Revolutionary Road (2008)
Director: Sam Mendes.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

45. A Man Called Ove (2015)
Director: Hannes Holm.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

43. The Salesman (2016)
Director: Asghar Farhadi.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.

42. Lincoln (2012)
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

41. Shame (2011)
Director: Steve McQueen.
Genre: Drama.

40. Her (2013)
Director: Spike Jonze.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction.

39. Capote (2005)
Director: Bennett Miller.
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama.

38. Prisoners (2013)
Director: Dennis Villeneuve.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

37. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Director: Julian Schnabel.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

36. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Director: Terry George.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

35. Munich (2005)
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Genre: Crime, Drama, History.

34. Fruitvale Station (2013)
Director: Ryan Coogler.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance.

33. Ex Machina (2014)
Director: Alex Garland.
Genre: Science-Fiction.

32. Ida (2013)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski.
Genre: Drama.

31. Under the Skin (2013)
Director: Jonathan Glazer.
Genre: Science-Fiction.

30. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller.
Genre: Action, Science-Fiction.

29. The Revenant (2015)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Genre: Adventure, Thriller.

28. Gangs of New York (2002)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Crime, Drama.

27. Boyhood (2014)
Director: Richard Linklater.
Genre: Drama.

26. Fences (2016)
Director: Denzel Washington.
Genre: Drama.

25. A Serious Man (2009)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

24. Antichrist (2009)
Director: Lars von Trier.
Genre: Horror.

23. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1-2 (2013)
Director: Lars von Trier.
Genre: Drama.

22. Away from Her (2006)
Director: Sarah Polley.
Genre: Drama.

21. The King’s Speech (2010)
Director: Tom Hooper.
Genre: Biography, Drama.

20. The Aviator (2004)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

19. The Pianist (2002)
Director: Roman Polanski.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

18. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama.

17. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Director: Mel Gibson.
Genre: Action, Drama, War.

16. Amour (2012)
Director: Michael Haneke.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

15. The White Ribbon (2009)
Director: Michael Haneke.
Genre: Drama, Mystery.

14. The Great Beauty (2013)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino.
Genre: Drama.

13. The Artist (2011)
Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance.

12. Moonlight (2016)
Director: Barry Jenkins.
Genre: Drama.

11. Silence (2016)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History.

10. Life Itself (2014)
Director: Steve James.
Genre: Biography, Documentary.

9. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

8. Selma (2014)
Director: Ava DuVernay.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.
Genre: Drama, Musical.

6. Downfall (2004)
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

5. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director: Steve McQueen.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.

4. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Genre: Drama, History.

3. Nightcrawler (2014)
Director: Dan Gilroy.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.
Genre: Action, Thriller.

1.The Tree of life (2011)
Director: Terrence Malick.
Genre: Drama.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

A Life Not to Follow (2015)
Director: Christopher Di Nunzio.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

Atonement (2007)
Director: Joe Wright.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance.

The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent.
Genre: Horror.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! (2012)
Director: Mike Messier.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

Casino Royale (2006)
Director: Sam Mendes.
Genre: Action, Adventure.

Chi-Raq (2015)
Director: Spike Lee.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama.

The Cove (2009)
Director: Louie Psihoyos.
Genre: Documentary.

David Lynch: The Art Life (2016)
Directors: Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm.
Genre: Drama, Documentary.

Elephant (2003)
Director: Gus Van Sant.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.

The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance.

House of Pleasures (2011)
Director: Bertrand Bonello.
Genre: Drama.

House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Director: Vadim Perelman.
Genre: Drama.

Little Children (2006)
Director: Todd Field.
Genre: Drama, Romance.

Long Night in a Dead City (2017)
Director: Richard Griffin.
Genre: Mystery.

Match Point (2005)
Director: Woody Allen.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Sports.

Mulholland Drive (2001)
Director: David Lynch.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller.

Nightmare Code (2014)
Director: Mark Netter.
Genre: Horror, Science-Fiction, Thriller.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director: Mel Gibson.
Genre: Drama.

Tangerine (2015)
Director: Sean Baker.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama.

Trespassing Bergman (2013)
Directors: Jane Magnusson, Hynek Pallas.
Genre: Documentary.

Trinity (2016)
Director: Skip Shea.
Genre: Drama, Horror.

20th Century Women (2016)
Director: Mike Mills.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.

“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.

“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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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“Seven Dorms of Death”- (Movie Review)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.