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by Bill Gibron

6 Jun 2009


Martin Scorsese has his Robert DeNiro. Tony Scott has Denzel Washington. In fact, there are a lot of directors who single out a certain actor to realize their particular vision. Even in the independent and outsider markets, filmmakers rely on specific performers to “sync up” with what they have to say and make it happen. This is certainly true of the Pasolini of the Trailer Park, Giuseppe Andrews. With his company of real life mobile home residents, the actor turned auteur has had the pleasure of working with some amazing talents - Bill Nowlin, Tyree, Walter Patterson, Walt Dongo, and little person Karen Bo Baron. But no one has been better, more consistently creative and iconic than Vietnam Ron. Scraggly bearded and mop haired, this wide-eyed acid casualty from decades gone by is Andrews ace in the a-hole, a demented center of crazed calm in the maelstrom of maladjusted fringe dwellers - and his latest starring vehicle, Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences, is a titanic tour de force.

Doily lives with his psychic wife Haley Comet. She does readings, and has sex with clients on the side. He spends his days dishing with his friends Terrace and Sabado. At the beginning of one memorable summer, Doily is chased by a bee. The insect eventually hunts down and kills his buddy Terrace, who is then brought back to life by a mysterious alien object. Next, a client of Haley finds his hair cut and shampooed - and he didn’t do it. Then a dinner party at friend Colby Jack’s turns weird when the host is transformed into a giant pot pie. In between, our hero is attacked by a monster and a household slipper, and rediscovers his love for crystal meth. But when buddy Terrace turns up again, this time as a talking VCR, Doily starts getting scared. While Haley considers all these events mere “freak occurrences”, her lover man is convinced they are signs that someone is trying to kill him.

As a showcase for Vietnam Ron and his silent movie star acumen, Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences is fantastic. It’s like a day in the life documentary except the subject here is a fragile little man being targeted by the more maniacal aspects of fate. When our lead goes gonzo while being chased by a bee, we can instantly see the appeal. Vietnam Ron, for all his aging ambiguity, it so gosh-darn likeable, so intensely loveable and entertaining that he can read the phone book for an hour and we’d believe it to be genius. There is nothing mannered or put on with this true-to-life character. What you see is (presumably) what you get. Ron often represents Andrews at his most unhinged. Unlike Tyree, who tackles the tawdry sex talk the director excels in, or Dongo who delivers his lines within a haze of permanent alcohol intake, this wiry wonder is all facial hair and freak out attitude.

All of which makes his leading role presence all the more important to Andrews’ sunny comedy. This is really nothing more than a series of sensational set-ups, situations waiting for Ron and his comely co-star Marybeth Spychalski to react to - and both definitely deliver. Andrews is also using them as the means to some evocative cinematic ends. He experiments with the lens, giving us an insect-eye view of the opening bee attack, while adding some gloriously amateur special effects to the alien/slipper sequences. While the strange occurrences seem to have no legitimate symbolism or theme, one can easily see Andrews evoking the nonsensical traumas of a typical life. It’s even Haley’s excuse for everything that’s happening. But because of Doily’s insistence that there is more to it than happenstance, we look deeper into the delirium - and therein lies the movie’s magic.

Like the protracted puzzles he often creates with his screenplays, Doily’s issues can be chalked up to emotional and environmental faults. He loves Haley so much that he tolerates her occasional affairs. She also has a deep and never-ending affection for her man, since she is also willing to forgive his equally selfish sins. He’s also a recovering meth addict - though, in reality, he’s more like a junkie who has his cravings under some manner of control. The brain baffling side effects of living in a narcotic haze could explain many of the oddball things that happen here, but Andrews doesn’t make the connections clear. Instead, he uses the drugs and the drain of relationships as the dragons Doily must slay simply to survive. In the end, when it looks like life will consume him, our hero simply recognizes his devotion to Haley, and their precious “pillow talk” leaves the movie on a memorable last (and legitimate) beat.

As with almost all his films, Andrews’ Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences is as important in its journey as its critical conclusions. The trip to Colby Jack’s home is particularly memorable, with Walt Patterson putting on his best jerk-off jackass persona. Kai Scott, as Sabado, is also a highly unique presence. Speaking in a genial, gentle tone that underlines his hefty size, he’s the esoteric voice of reason in a circumstance that has very little rationality. As usual, Sir George Bigfoot makes a memorable statement as a visiting monster, and Dongo’s discussion of his Luddite planet’s need for paper and pens is classic in its off the wall insanity. Those looking for - or used to - Andrews’ love of the scatological will be glad to know that most of Haley’s issues come from a rather burdensome period, and there is a sequence where Doily hallucinates a client’s butt singing a song about farts. But those are the rare instances of risqué content.

Indeed, Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences proves that, as a filmmaker, Giuseppe Andrews is an overflowing fount of artistic ambition and ideas. How he can go from serious dissections of human misery to goofball explorations of fate, mock Italian neo-realism to outrageous statements of psychedelic surrealism and still maintain his indie auteur cred is a lesson a few so-called outsiders could - and should - contemplate for a while. After all, here is someone who works with basically the same company of characters, uses the same backdrops and settings, explores the same elements and aspects of human nature, and yet turns in one unique gem after another. Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences is another flawless feather in the man’s already overflowing cinematic chapeau - and this time, it’s thanks to stellar star power of one Vietnam Ron. As the yokel yin to Andrews’ yang, he’s a national treasure. He’s also the reason why we come to love every minute of this memorable masterwork.

by Bill Gibron

3 Jun 2009


Change is not always for the best. On occasion, it can undermine an otherwise perfectly sound conceit. When Sid and Marty Krofft, two exceptionally successful producers of Saturday morning live action kid shows (with classics like H. R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters to their credit) wanted to branch out into a more serious action/adventure format, they hadn’t a clue what to do. All they knew was that they wanted it to deal with dinosaurs, and provide a family-oriented offering of mystery and magic. Yet after three seasons, what had started as a serious speculative thriller was turned into just another wacky Saturday morning spree. And all because the powers that be wouldn’t leave it alone.

Truth be told, Land of the Lost is not really a Krofft production in the purest sense. Sure, they masterminded the basics of the show, but they weren’t prepared to take on the challenge of creating such a structured, sci-fi universe on their own. They knew they needed serious outside help. Setting aside their own vision, which was somewhat lacking, they wisely turned to David Gerrold, member of the illustrious Star Trek writing staff and guiding force behind the animated version of the series, to develop their idea. More or less giving him free reign to conceive and create the show, is was Gerrold who fathered what would eventually be one the longest running and best remembered series to carry the Krofft name.

It was Gerrold who devised the basic premise: a park ranger named Rick Marshall (played by stage actor Spencer Milligan) and his two teenage children, Will (soap star Wesley Eure) and Holly (newcomer Kathy Coleman), are whitewater rafting when a freak earthquake sends them cascading over a mysterious waterfall. They soon find themselves in an unusual land filled with dangerous dinosaurs, chattering ape people, and evil lizard men. It was Gerrold who dubbed the monkey men “the Pakuni” and the repugnant reptiles “Sleestak”. Relying on many of his Trek buddies to pen scripts — including D.C. Fontana (“Elsewhen”), Ben Bova (“The Search”), Walter Koenig (“The Stranger”), and Larry Niven (“Hurricane,” “Circle”) — he hoped to do something unheard of in Saturday Morning TV; he wanted to make smart fantasy for the pre and tween set.

And believe it or not, he did. Season One of Land of the Lost is a true minor gem in the sci-fi genre, a show that took itself, and its premise, very seriously. Carefully balancing elements both solemn and slapstick, the series wanted to engage the juvenile while it explored a more mature message and mannerism. Using the bonds of family as its primary foundation, the first few episodes offered exploration as an excuse to focus on cultural differences (human vs. pakuni), human foibles (as expressed by an intelligent and empathetic Sleestak character, Enik) and the standard stranger in a strange land dynamic. While the F/X were as close to cutting edge as a ‘70s television budget could make them (meaning lots of now-laughable stop motion silliness), there was still a sense of fear and trepidation in the show. We wondered if the Marshall’s would ever return home, and wondered how dangerous it would be for them to try.

Unfortunately, said potential was never really fulfilled. After Season One, Gerrold stepped down, and the untried Dick Morgan was brought in to guide the show. Right from the beginning, the changes were obvious: less overriding, serialized story arcs and more episodic installments with all dilemmas wrapped up neat and tidy in 25 minutes; greater emphasis on the ‘cute’ and ‘commercial’ Pakuni; more baby dinosaurs (Holly had a “pet” named Dopey that was a breakout character in the first series). In essence, they wanted to copy the obvious successes from the kiddie shows past. That is why we now had a new “intellectualized” evil character in the light-based bad guy, the Zarn. That is why we got Cha-ka (Philip Paley) and his parents (the only Pakuni on the planet) appearing in virtually every episode. It is also why Season Two feels like a retread, not an expansion, of Land of the Lost‘s possibilities.

This doesn’t mean the Second Season was a complete disaster (the disaster would come later). No, inside the prehistoric animal antics and claymation critters are some stellar installments. When Cha-Ka has to prove his maturing “ape-hood” by stealing an Allusaurus egg, said stunt provides “The Test” with its surefire suspense. The Zarn is responsible for a threatening shift in the planet’s particulars, creating a “Gravity Storm” and one of the show’s most inventive storylines. The Sleestak trap Rick, blaming him for the neverending sunlight of “The Longest Day”, while an accidental step inside one of the planet’s mysterious gold monoliths results in a time travel trip on “The Pylon Express”. Indeed, when viewed more closely, Season Two shines more than it shames. Though the lack of a linking plotline was problematic (the “heading for home” conceit getting lost in the shuffle), many of the shows found a way to stand out and surprise.

It was Season Three where things began to go downhill. Age was taking its toll on the performers, with stars Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman looking more mature and less childlike. For undisclosed reasons, Spencer Milligan decided to quit. Needing to replace Rick Marshall with another father figure type, new script editor Samuel Roeca (an old Hollywood stalwart — having worked on everything from The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok to Mission: Impossible) — conceived of “Uncle” Jack. He was Rick’s brother who himself got “lost” while out searching for the missing family. In one of the more convoluted conventions in the show, Jack managed to tumble through the same time hole as the family, following them directly to the exact moment when Rick “disappeared” during an earthquake. To make matters worst, Cha-Ka also lost his kinfolk during the seismic shift. Thus, this newly formed family had to regroup and find a new home to replace their now-destroyed cave enclosure.

Naturally, they ended up in part of the Lost City, near the sinister Sleestak’s temple. This allowed for a constant threat, as well as more interaction with the popular villains. The series began relying on guest stars, strange beasts, and other anomalies to keep the fantasy alive and fresh. Season Three would see Richard Kiel play a Godlike creature worshipped by the lizard men (“Survival Kit”); the random arrival of other humans, including a cavalry officer and the Indian brave he was chasing (“Medicine Man”); a hot air balloonist (“Hot Air Artist”); and a few new dino foes. Yet that wasn’t apparently good enough for the creative brass, as unicorns, dragons, and other odd beasties were brought into the mix. Chaka became less chimp-like and more an unwashed human brat, and Uncle Jack was less fatherly and more flummoxed by everything around him. There were highlights: a particularly scary outing involving the loss of the sun (“The Repairman”), and another return from everyone’s favorite cultured reptile, Enik.

But what this season showed more clearly was that Land of the Lost was resorting to gimmicks to get by. Good writing and proper production values were no longer important. When Gerrold was at the helm, he wanted the series to resonate with every age group. But by the time Roeca took over, the show was quite prepared to talk down to, and even a little bit below, its audience. It was no longer adventurous and fun — it was awkward and forced. Maybe Mulligan’s leaving was the key, or perhaps the desire to dress up every episode with as much sci-fi froufrou as possible or probable was to blame. Whatever the case, what once was a timeless classic worthy of the genre moniker was now just another Krofft experiment in speculative silliness. Its cancellation wasn’t unexpected. For some, it was merciful. Fans just couldn’t fathom another reconfiguration of what was once their weekend repast into an ethereal land of possibilities and pitfalls.

What stands out today, some 30 years later, is how good those first few shows were. Unlike Lost in Space, or other Swiss Family Crusoe’s concepts of individuals stranded in the cosmos, there was a real feeling of dread and danger, as well as a large dose of familial love. Gerrold understood that sci-fi was more than just weird looking places and strange monsters. It was about story, and characters, and audience identification. As the seasons passed, Land of the Lost got locked into its own little world, isolating itself from that which once made it great. Such insularity cost the show its creativity, and then its support. Had it simply stayed the course set out before, it could have continued on as a solid, seminal show. But every year, someone had to change something. And in the case of Land of the Lost, change was only took the show ever farther away from where it wanted to be.

by Bill Gibron

26 May 2009


Harlan Ellison makes me feel guilty for being a writer - or at the very least, for calling myself one. He’s the true scribe, the real deal, the madman Muhammad Ali of letters. Whether it’s sci-fi, or speculative fiction, or imaginative literature (his preference tends to change over time), Ellison is the standard bearer for the genre and the hateful curve breaker, the smartest kid in the class and the smart-assiest man on the planet. He has every right to be arrogant, pissy, and proud. He’s won numerous awards, crafted classic pieces of prose and commentary, lived the life that dozens of lesser men would kill for, and still finds the time to complain almost constantly about the world around him - and with good reason. In a society slowly fading into a cloud of self-inflicted illiteracy, he’s the last intellectually angry man. In essence, he’s reason in a universe racked with conformity, insipidness, and ennui.

So why does he inspire such shame in yours truly? Certainly, it has little to do with his prodigious output or cantankerous cultural perspective. It has nothing to do with the tall tales and legends legitimized as part of his already amazing history. There is no connection to his recent lack of product, since it’s crystal clear the man works when he wants and feels like it. In fact, there is nothing in the stunning, spellbinding documentary Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth, that fuels said feelings of inadequacy. No, it’s like standing in the presence of the Pope and recognizing that you will never be as pious, or well-placed, as this idolized man of the cloth. And when you consider this raging Atheist’s religion is words, the lack of faith is infinitely frustrating.

On screen, Ellison is a mesmerist. Director Erik Nelson, best known for his historical TV documentaries and producing Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, does a very smart thing here. In true talking head style, he keeps the camera centered squarely on the author. Even better, in between the ample anecdotes, he has him read from his amazing works. Whether its real life reminiscences of his time spent as a child in Ohio, or allegorical brilliance ala “Repent Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, UK author Neil Gaiman says it best when he calls everything Ellison does part of an elaborate “performance art” - with the creation known as ‘Harlan Ellison’ at the very center. There are times when you wonder whether one man can be this confrontational, this candid…this creative. And then there are moments when you wonder why other artists don’t follow his lead.

Nelson moves us through the basics of the Ellison mythology - the brutalized and bullied youth, the teen wanderlust that saw him migrate between school and odd jobs around North America, the college professor who dismissed his talent outright, the move to New York and into legitimate publishing. And all the while, we sit and stare in awe. This is just one man yet his life has contained so much adventure within his carefully measured time on this planet that it’s astounding - and Dreams with Sharp Teeth barely scratches the surface. Of course, there’s much more - some of it discussed (the Star Trek issue, The Oscar debacle), much of it missing. Indeed, the numerous love affairs and personal falling outs he’s had over the decades are swept under the rug and left to biographers and bellyachers to tackle and tame. Yet Nelson does touch on his tenuous legal battles, one of which (against AOL) nearly bankrupted him.

Like any great propagandist, Ellison wants to make sure we get his side of the story - and his side alone. One imagines a ban on naysayers being part of his contractual obligation to participate. Of course, he would probably argue that few if any stepped up to the challenge. Granted, he has outlived many of his staunchest critics, but there are some who will still take him to task. Having them present would have provided a buffer to a few of the more egregious backslappings. Ellison is painted in a troubling light more than once (a standoff with a college kid at M.I.T. combines the best of his curse-laden ranting and post-paternal instincts), but he’s never put in the same critical light as others he lambasts. Sure, Gaiman can give a cursory quip meant to knock him down a notch, or childhood friends can undercut his outcast claims, but Ellison is his own best defense. Instead of using truth, however, he removes slander by merely amplifying the war of words.

This is why the question of his posthumous legacy gets continual play here. Some see Ellison - rightfully so, it must be said - as being one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, someone who took genre fiction and “fixed” it, forever yanking it away from the obsessive and giving it to the learned and the literate. His short stories sing with undeniable imagination, and the more formal aspects of his craft transcend teaching to become something akin to magic. But there are those who infer that Ellison could be so much more - more famous, more accepted, more mainstream - if he just didn’t spout off so often. The man himself concedes to some of this critique, arguing that his own personal demands and desire to have things “his way” burns more bridges than it builds. Still, he’s not about to change his well-earned cynic’s spots to suit an ever dimming media demographic.

So the reason I feel guilty about being a writer is all but manifest in Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth. I will never have this man’s integrity - be it well earned or abjectly coerced. I will never have his talent - his is a muse so rare it rates its own level of attention and wonder. I will never see his type of career arc - he was born at the right time, his rambunctious vitriol a perfect antidote to ‘50s conformity, ‘60s radicalism, ‘70s pop psychology, and ‘80s corporate greed. And when I pass from this planetary realm, I will never be remembered as reverently or justifiably as he. Perhaps I don’t deserve any of it. So I call myself a writer and, for what it’s worth, recommend this remarkable and absorbing cinematic statement. As documentaries go, it’s a brilliant distillation of a figure of almost impossible scope. Here’s hoping it opens Ellison up to a whole new audience - and here’s knowing that they won’t be ready for him.

by Bill Gibron

24 May 2009


Sometimes, you have to wonder what people expect. When they see a title like Dance Flick, and read the name “Wayans” all over the credits, are they really anticipating some kind of comedy classic? Hasn’t history proven out that certain prospects will never payoff they way you want - or more realistically, that said desires will walk right up to said probabilities and shake their uninspired hand outright? If you want greatness, seek out the great. If you don’t care, then don’t despair when something like Coons!: Night of the Bandits of the Night plays out exactly like you think it will. Schlock doesn’t get any more silly then this - and no, the title is not meant as some kind of comic hate crime. We are dealing with killer raccoons here - intelligent diseased vermin with a mind for mayhem…and murder….and ringworm. Leave it to an Ohio film student and his “we think we’re funny” friends to take the man vs. nature film to foolish, amateurish (and quite fun) extremes.

In the small town of Independence, Summer means one thing - drunken college kids and camping - usually in that order. For the newly appointed Park Ranger Danger, this means keeping his eye on the tourists while making the dictatorial Mayor as happy as possible. When a pair of young lovers dies deep in the woods, the initial reaction is panic. When competing “experts” show up to shed light on the attack, the consensus is clear - the duo were killed by an angry, infected raccoon. Naturally, Ranger Danger is not happy about the verdict, especially with a campground overrun by liquored up teenagers. One by one, the youngsters are murdered, more than one rabid ‘coon responsible for the deaths. When an aging hippy and his Arab buddy decided to bomb the animal’s den, it’s up to the virgin Ty Smallwood to save the day - or something like that.

There’s a running joke in Coons! , one that has self-aware irony written all over it. Whenever a character comes into contact with something salacious or scatological, they stop and say “that’s sophomoric and tasteless.” And indeed, at first glance, this giant goofball of a film certainly looks like a combination of juvenilia and calculated crudity. It reeks of the kind of humor that plays best after a couple of dozen beers, a beefy bean burrito fart or two, and a few snorts of airplane glue. But beyond the frat boy ebullience is a spoof rich in character and rife with legitimate laughs. Are there dick jokes and an obsession with homosexuality that’s almost phobic? Sure. Can these first time filmmaking missteps be overlooked in favor of a whacky work of weirdness that turns classic ‘70s titles like Grizzly and Day of the Animals into strokes of genius? You bet.

You see, one of the best things about Coons! is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows this material can’t work as legitimate horror, perhaps because of all the ratty taxidermy mistakes standing in for actual monsters. Let’s face it - when you have a molting member of the raccoon family flashing its fake teeth at an actor in some equally false facial hair, nothing you do can can create a sense of dread Instead, what writer/director Travis Irvine manages is a hackneyed homage which can stand on its own as a rightful parody - and he really does succeed. This is especially true when we get the “experts” - local know-it-all doctor, smarty pants government out of towner, psycho religious preacher, and a dull as dishwater hunter - each one drawn in the most cartoonish (and clever) of terms. Their presence takes a film that would have been a well intentioned lark and actually argues for the talent of the man behind (and the men in front of) the lens.

There is a lot of fun here, as well as a lot of incredibly bad BS. After all, musical numbers in the middle of a slapstick farce can either be terrific, or trying. Here, they’re a combination of both. Similarly, once we get the raccoon take-over and the plot to blow up the den, the movie starts to meander. Even at a swift 85 minutes, things tend to trail off as characters talk incessantly and pad out the running time. There is also a significant lack of chick in this major league cinematic sausage factory. There are just too many guys here and not enough gals eager to take of their tops and expose their critical calling cards. It’s not a personal need, mind you. Movies like this need blood and gore (there is some of that), but more importantly, they need bare breasts. Without them, they fail one of the basic b-movie mandates.

Still, it easy to fall in ‘like’ with Irvine’s insane love letter to all things rural and inbred. There’s an inherent sense of adventure here, a joy in creation that’s lacking in a lot of direct to DVD product. And the cast are completely in tune with the needs of the narrative, staying in character just long enough to get their points across before going off on unrehearsed (and frequently hilarious) tangents. Did we need the post-9/11 terrorism stuff? No. How about the obvious bow to African American sensitivity in the form of an overweight black man shocked by the locals use of the title word? Not really. Does the hippy character come in like a satiric salve, trying to infuse the film with an environmental message it never sets up in the first place? Sure. Does the entire thing drip of weekends spent hitting the bong and then storyboarding shots? Hell yes - and in some ways, that’s Coons!: Night of the Bandits of the Night’s major saving grace. Taken too sincerely, this material would melt under the scrutiny of a far more critical eye. Lightened up, it’s a likable little lampoon.

by Bill Gibron

23 May 2009


Familial dysfunction is the very foundation of independent filmmaking. Without it, wannabe auteurs would have to rely on actual imagination and invention to create their wily no budget wonders. By channeling their own Mom, Pop, and various sibling issues, they can easily crank out the crap and never once have to deal with the actual demands of the artform. But the motion picture needs more than whiny crying whelps wondering why their parents never pampered them to succeed. It mandates more than morose takes on the entire brother/sister rivalry routine to present itself properly. Just ask someone who understands this all too well. On first glance, Dad’s Chicken looks the labored offspring of John Waters and David Lynch. But in the more than capable hands of trailer park troubadour Giuseppe Andrews, it becomes a fascinating free verse free-for-all.

Black Jesus just can’t take it any more. He hates his dying wife and his transsexual son - but not for the reasons you think. She won’t let him obsessively cut coupons, and he/she fetishizes guns to the point of distraction. His other daughter is a dope fiend, and his recently deceased father was an out and out pervert. And don’t even bring up autistic child prodigy Hobie. Desperate to play the violin, the partially blind boy spends his days roaming around the city, instrument in hand and toilet paper tube up to his bad eye. When the youthful talent meets European Ernie, it seems like everything will be all right. He coaches the child, and even suggests someone who might be able to teach him a thing or two. In the meantime, Mom and the sexually confused Shamu build a bomb. With Black Jesus out of the house, they intend to avenge the cultural attacks on religion once and for all.

With its oblique view of the American Dream and a demented approach that takes a standard straightforward storyline and scatters it like crematory ashes to the wind, Giuseppe Andrews’ Dad’s Chicken is social satire as insane stream of consciousness. As a statement, it manages to touch on several solid topics - the role of parents in a child’s life, gun control, autism, sexual perversion and predators, fanaticism, disease, aging, death and religion - without ever overstating its obvious points. This is a complex puzzle box of a film, a movie where scenes and situations happen almost at random. It’s only later, when bits of dialogue fall into place and information is revealed that we understand the relationships involved, the problems at hand, and the potential resolutions in place. During the last ten minutes, we are so wound up in fleshing out the enigma that we barely realize that Andrews has turned the whole thing into a thriller.

This is where the Lynch connection becomes vital. Like the celluloid carnival barker who tuned INLAND EMPIRE and Muholland Dr. into ersatz Hitchcock with his knack for suspense, Andrews uses the unanswered questions as a means of making the audience jumpy. It may all seem demented and disconnected, but when European Ernie provides Hobie with a helping hand, we can’t help but feel that something sinister is afoot. A lot of Dad’s Chicken is like that, from the constant references to violence to the last act fervor of our mother and son/trannie fundamentalists. Desperate times call for desperate actions and Andrews is not afraid to add in desperate individuals as well. There isn’t a single settled member of this miserable family. Each one has their own idiosyncrasies and issues, creating a complicated world of deception, disrespect, and the direst of situational straits.

But beyond the basics, Dad’s Chicken is a coldly calculated statement about present life in these jingoistic United States. Created before Barack Obama changed the political landscape with his populist pull of “Change” and “Hope”, this is George Bush’s ‘Amurika’ gone gangrenous. Under the guidance of God, old ladies build bombs, ready to spread their faith via obvious terrorist threats. In this close-minded world, anyone with gender issues must hide the truth, less they be picked on by the public at large. Even hopelessly untalented Hobie is constantly supported by a social structure that no longer tells people they are less than everyone else. Instead, Dad’s Chicken takes oddities and celebrates them as mediocrity. Indeed, it’s one of the few Andrews films that argues that everything in the U.S. of A. is lameness masquerading as eccentricity.

In one of the rare instance where he applies actual directorial flare, we can see what Giuseppe Andrews would be like with unlimited aesthetic freedom. Someone like Christopher Nolan (creator of the masterful Memento) has nothing on this filmmaker’s psychedelic storytelling. The random jumping around can be disconcerting at first, especially when we don’t have time to get to know all the characters. But then things start falling into place and the true passion of this motion picture Picasso comes through. The one clear concept behind Andrews’ approach is that he stays true to the material. He makes the movie calibrate to the people and the circumstances he is working with. When the style needs to be simple, it is. When it needs to copy the crazy, unhinged nature of the individuals involved in the often surreal stories, he simply shoots from the hip and tells logic to take a flying leap.

Like the artist he most clearly resembles, Giuseppe Andrews takes Jean-Luc Godard’s desire to make “everything” cinema and realizes it over and over again. Dad’s Chicken, for all its cogent contemporary edge, is literally linked to the notion of putting a universe of elements in front of the lens and letting the audience make up the movie as they go along. Success derives not from shot selection of a clear sense of narrative drive. Instead, the cerebral wonder of invoking your own meaning of seemingly silly precepts turns celluloid into literature, prose into poetry, meaninglessness into myth, and finally, the miscreant into the masterful. In a world where film was not marginalized as mainstream product marketed by studio suits into perfectly calculated and focus grouped niches, Giuseppe Andrews would be his own New Wave. Instead, he is a cult survivor reinvigorating the true spirit of independent art. Dad’s Chicken explains his lasting importance all too well.

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