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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.

by Bill Gibron

22 May 2009

The romantic effort - literary, cinematic, or otherwise - typically gets a raw deal, and with good reason. The story of boy meeting girl, boy wooing girl, girl accepting boy, boy and girl having fun (and perhaps something more), boy and girl breaking it off and then attempting some kind of reconciliation has been the bread and butter for filmmakers, songwriters, and novelists alike. No matter the twists and turns in the paradigm, the formula stays pretty much the same - and that’s part of the problem. Decades of derivative, similarly styled offerings have taken all the heart out of the genre. Even with the occasional narrative twist, the same old stuff happens to a very familiar group of people. Not in Giuseppe Andrews world, of course. The provocateur of the impoverished has taken the moldy old format and shown all wannabe auteurs how to bring the heart - and the humanity - back to the typical couples skate. In Our Garden is the amazing result.

Daisy is devastated. Her boyfriend recently committed suicide in their “garden” - a loving reference to the beach volleyball court where they first met. Unable to find happiness, she’s lost in a world of borderline insanity. One day, police officer Rick stops by her trailer. He is the one who found her dead lover, and hopes he can make a connection with the grieving gal. Sure enough, they become an item, which irks toupee-wearing Bill to no end. He’s the father of the man who killed himself, and he wants Daisy as well. As the suitors maneuver for her affections, our heroine is confused. She has strong feelings for both of them. Then Rick drops a personal bombshell which violates her ever-present trust issues. As Bill moves in, our former cop turns to the bottle, and then crack cocaine. All he wants is a chance to get back into Daisy’s good graces. But unless something happens to Bill, that seems unlikely.

Leave it to the man who singlehandedly rewrote the rulebook on homemade cinema as art to take one of the most tired, derivative narrative archetypes in all of prose and punk it past the point of recognition. Long rumored to be an unflappable masterpiece, In Our Garden is all that - and much, much more. It’s an elegy to love lost, a sonnet to the simple pleasures of finding someone to share your life with. It’s not afraid of the physical and clearly in touch with the spiritual. With a limited cast that includes the sensational Gayle Wells, the brilliant Bill Nowlin, and the always engaging Walt Dongo, Andrews narrows his scope, the result being something overflowing with universal truths and wholly unique insights. Though his actors frequently do little more than read off intricate litanies to scatology and sin, the words paint painful pictures we usually don’t see in such Moon/June sputum.

For Andrews, the entire process of film is about realism - and not just because he uses the actual residents of a trailer park as his creative company. No, what fuels this fascinating artist is his direct connection to what makes people truly what they are. When Daisy explains what the word “crabs” means to her, we initially balk at the disgusting sexual sleaze. But as the monologue continues, we forget the freak show sentiments and start to see the accurate feelings beneath. Andrews is truly a genius of the written word, his scripts like beat poetry set to the tune of scandalous toilet humor frat rap. He’s dirty, but outwardly so, never avoiding a random call out of body parts and positions to keep his audience engaged and entertained. Then, just as we think he can’t get any more revolting, he twists the material to expose the real human emotions underneath.

It helps that In Our Garden offers three of his best double wide DeNiros. Dongo is always reliable, his hound dog haplessness covered nicely by a desire to be direct and honest. Similarly, Nowlin (even in an obviously inebriated state) spits out his anger in tiny little balls of bristling bile. As the man who helped Andrews become the living legend he is, his presence today is sorely missed. But it’s Ms. Wells who steps up and becomes this film’s levelheaded foundation. Having to carry most of the dialogue herself (especially when her co-stars are too tanked up to talk) and also hampered with carrying the conventional parts of the narrative, she delivers a turn so devastating in its poignancy that it’s hard to believe she is merely mimicking Andrews oddball screenplay. There is real genuineness in her elf-eared effigy, something that many Hollywood romances clearly lack.

By following a recognizable story structure (there is none of the William Burroughs inspired cut and paste editing from previous outings here) and letting the characters develop organically, Andrews turns the maudlin and mushy into something quite meaningful. Even a last act rape-reenactment - a bizarre attempt by Bill to win Daisy’s affections - has a symbolic statement to make. In essence, In Our Garden is about the lasting memories of love lost, love found, and love never meant to be. Daisy is clearly longing for some companionship, but it’s unclear if either Rick or Bill can provide it. They both seem so selfish, so insular in their affections that it’s hard to balance their profane poetics with the truth. It’s only after the inevitable break-up, where Rick descends into a horrific drug-fueled Hell (including a surreal stretch with a couple of friendly dealers) that we can see who truly carried the torch.

By including moments of sexual openness, including full frontal nudity and frank reproductive discussions, In Our Garden becomes a complete deconstruction of the foibles present in interpersonal relationships. It doesn’t shy away from the dealing with all aspects of affairs - the joy and the sorrow, the tenderness and the jealousy. By taking a well honed formula and tweaking its tired tenets, he creates yet another amazing statement in his considered creative canon. For someone so prolific to be so diverse in his talent targets speaks volumes for his continued relevance within the medium. Movies about love are a dime a dozen. In Our Garden takes those sentimentalized coins and actually buys something brave and unique. It’s a great, great film.

by Bill Gibron

22 May 2009

Sex in the cinema is always so clean. Even when it’s given a patina of perversion, it’s still played mostly for mild mainstream enjoyment. No film wants to show the truth about interpersonal pyrotechnics, especially in a wholly realistic and authentic manner. Even XXX pornography cleans up the copulation with actors and actresses who fuel the fantasy of, not the facts about, f*cking. But not Giuseppe Andrews. As the king of uber-contemporary cinema, the man who has made the trailer park the last bastion for true motion picture art, screwing around needs to be dirty, disquieting, uncomfortable, and most of all, hilarious. As part of his Bathrobe Homeschool Box Set, The Date Movie delivers on such soiled, sullied dispositions. It proves that physical contact between human beings is not always pretty. In fact, most of the time, it’s downright disgusting.

Two wannabe ‘gansta’ white boys share a trailer - and a case of squirrel-influenced stomach flu. An old man channels the spirit of a horse known as Mr. Ted and writes a hate-filled tome in the steed’s name. Two meth dealers discover a rat in their lab and one adopts it as his very own pet. A young man must face the fact that his mother is a whore and his father is her pimp. A middle aged man must face the fact that his mother is dying of emphysema and losing her marbles. And what do they all have in common, aside from an addictive need to drink the latest alcohol-laced specialty beverage, Pussy Juice? Why, it’s the unending craving for sex and/or sexual fulfillment - and sometimes, not in the way “normal” people view such biological and physiological desires.

Here it is - the Giuseppe Andrews we’ve all grown to love, the Giuseppe Andrews with a pixie like spring in his cinematic step and a thesaurus of lickety lewd crude talk. This ADD inspired journey into the heart of human darkness, a Eisenstein edited romp across shit, piss, and any other bodily fluid you can think of has little or no narrative logic. As he does with his frequently feverish dream, Andrews sets up a group of compelling creeps and lets us watch as they interact, interject, and interfere with each others battered lives. Every once in a while, the implied action will stop so that someone can go off on a several page rant, complete with risqué commandments and horndog demands. Andrews is best known for these dirty word dialectics, juvenile jousts at reproductive served up as satiric stand-up riffs. That they always work is a testament to his talent both behind the camera and in front of the typewriter.

The main theme here is one of longing and desire. Indeed, what The Date Movie seems to be saying about people is that when they aren’t having sex (and there is little actual aardvarking presented here), they’re thinking about it. They’re obsessed with it, allowing its pleasures and pains to influence their entire life. If you look closely, you can see it in the hip hop hokum of the wannabes, trading barbs with ventriloquist dummies as substitutes for actual conversation. You can definitely see it in the meth heads, a lifetime of cooking and snorting drugs leading them to channel their needs elsewhere. And as usual, a very brave (and very naked) Tyree takes us through the daily ritual of a lonely lunatic who doesn’t mind pleasuring himself to anything (and EVERYTHING) he has around the house.

But Andrews also goes for the throat, showing how sex can ruin relationships and compromise trust. One of the first scenes shows a wannabe arguing with a one night stand over their child producing consummation. Later, a son argues frantically with his father over his mother’s profession. In a classic bit of toilet humor burlesque, Walt Dongo plays a husband who can’t get his wife in the sack. Of course, his nonstop flatulence doesn’t help matters much. And then there are moments of sheer heartbreak, as when Tyree picks up a photo of himself from World War II (an actual image, by the way) and the camera stares endlessly at the young face, fresh and ready to take on the world. The Date Movie is indeed centered on sex, but there are also keen insights into aging, mental wellness, and death to be discovered.

Of course, there are also controversial elements that might make the uninitiated cringe. Andrews loves to provoke, and nothing will get the dander up of pro-PC complainers quicker than his use of the N-word. While never aimed at a minority, there are plenty of times in Date Movie when the epithet is spoken - in jest, in anger, for random reactionary shock value. Similarly, full frontal nudity is present and accounted for, and Tyree is the beneficiary of Andrews imposing lens. Watching a naked octogenarian slap his inert “member” with a sticky toy will not be everyone’s cup of cinematic tea, and even for a seasoned Andrews aficionado, the fetish can be much. But this is moviemaking as reality, authentic glimpses of life along the fringes. If you can’t stand the vile visual heat, then perhaps you should get out of this auteur’s soul kitchen ASAP.

This doesn’t infer, however, that everything in Date Movie is magic. Sometimes, Andrews indulges his muse to the point where it pukes up on everything he is trying to accomplish, and as with many of his more surreal outings, a certain scatological wavelength must be maintained less you find yourself feeling filthy - and completely lost - afterward. But if you peer in between the sleazy seams, if you read between the ludicrous lines of halting human misery, you will discover a film of breathtaking insight and wit. As a roadmap to where he would eventually take his incredible talent, The Date Movie is a Hellsapoppin’ journey along life’s many perverted pathways and over its many diseased potholes. Take it for what it’s worth, and you probably will be offended. Look closer and you might just see the sickening truth staring right back at you. Sex is not all rose petals and orgasms. It’s a horrific human endeavor, and only Giuseppe Andrews has the courage to call it out and complain.

by Bill Gibron

21 May 2009

Money is much more than the root of all evil. It’s the great social destabilizer, a stigma that makes the haves seem better and the have-nots hang their heads in shame. It causes people to do things, reprehensible things, just to keep from drowning in debt, and it offers the slightest glimmer of hope for those who really haven’t a chance in Hell of ever seeing a substantial payday. The crass class distinctions created, the undeniable stress of being without and the immoral drive of having too much, sets the stage for some of our most complex and compelling stories. Giuseppe Andrews clearly agrees. His amazing masterpiece, Air Conditioning, takes a neo-realistic look at how far certain citizens will go to enjoy the simple comforts of civilization - said acts including, lying, cheating, and most horrifically, murder.

Latuga is a desperate woman living a desperate life. Divorced from fancy suit store owner Classe, she is forced to live in a small studio apartment and care for the couple’s ex-heroin addict son Puzo. The boy, obsessed with a toy barbeque pit, is always on the verge of some horrific act. In order to earn money, Latuga services her ex-husband’s needs. Most of the time, that means picking up a rifle and killing the homeless bums that hang out in front of his shop. At other instances, it’s something far more perverted. Meanwhile, Frisco and his deformed brother Defetto avoid Latuga’s gunfire while coming up with a plan to get off the street. The solution? Marry someone of means and get a free pass to a place with the ultimate in live-in luxury…air conditioning. Naturally, Frisco winds up wooing Latuga, and they are quickly wed. When Classe finds out about the situation, he’s livid. Such anger sparks Puzo into an act of violence. Fate, however, has a different plan for all of them.

Proving that he can work within a conventional storyline and with a normal, albeit slightly askew set of characters, Air Conditioning instantly becomes Giuseppe Andrews’ mainstream masterwork, and creative calling card for the future. It’s the kind of whacked out wonder that the Coen Brothers on peyote might dream up - that is, if they weren’t so busy reinventing old school Hollywood to find their own unique voice. It’s quirk without the self-conscious nod to same, idiosyncrasy with its abnormality cemented solidly within the confines of a recognizable world. Granted, Andrews is obviously channeling the Italian filmmakers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, his constant flights of Mediterranean tinged magic (language, names) proving that he knows from whence his artform muse derived, but he’s also avoiding most of said source’s trappings. Instead of playing it straight, he deviates from the norm to give us a unique and thoughtful perspective.

Again, this is a film firmly founded in character. Latuga and Puzo wouldn’t be out of place in Pasolini’s Momma Roma, their poverty row passions easily seen as both everyday and wholly individual. The links this woman will go to care for her son resonates with any familiar family dramatization. Similarly, the villainous Classe (a brilliant Walt Dongo) is like every silent screen bad guy ever conceived. All he needs is a waxed moustache, a mortgage, and the threat of foreclosure to seal the clichéd deal. But Andrews understands our knowledge of cinema’s past, and plays with the archetype to the point where this version of personified greed actually comes across as more pathetic than vile. In fact, the worst character here may be Frisco. Keeping his genetically mutated brother in a garbage can is one thing. Using the excuse of love as a means of moving up in the financial food chain is horrifying in its self-serving cruelty.

It’s eye-opening to watch Andrews work without his standard scatology safety net. Characters don’t break out into rude rhymes or rummage through their own feces. Romance is substituted for sex, and even when Classe humiliates Latuga with her own urine, it’s part of an interpersonal struggle that we can clearly understand. Indeed, if you took out all the inferred weirdness, if you removed the recognizable bows to planned peculiarity, Air Conditioning would be a downbeat, depressing experience. We would see how Latuga cares for her sons, strains for her living, and sacrifices for her small comforts, and wonder how anyone could survive. With a setting far removed from his typical trailer park mystique, the results are revelatory.

The acting here is once again of the highest level. Andrews is not an inventive director. He is a visionary, but not necessarily when it comes to set-ups, framing, and compositions. Instead, he relies on the expressive faces of his cast to carry the day, close-ups revealing personal experiences washed across every wrinkle, every bit of beard stubble, every spot of adolescent acne. Dongo is delightful, as is straight standby Miles Dougal. As Latuga, Andrews introduces us to a wonderful young woman who uses her comforting size and shape as a means of making the maternal vividly real. She carries the film through many of its narrative hurdles, and finds a way of delivering even the most outrageous dialogue in a down to earth and homespun manner. As with all in Andrews’ outsider theatrical troupe, she adds the perfectly complement to the auteur’s own skewed perspective.

And yet some will look at Air Conditioning and wonder where all the crudeness went. There are those who revel in the kind of adolescent pants-wetting that made Andrews the savior of cinema since the Trailer Town days. Those who favor his more foul-mouthed methodology will definitely find the lack of lewdness disconcerting. But if you recognize that Andrews’ main modus is to take the underserved, the fringe fighting along the edges of the standard social norm, and place them in a position of prominence and personal dignity, the missing miscreance is understandable. Not every story has to be about stool samples. There are things more disgusting than old people running around naked. Money is such a foul, filthy thing that when you have such a soiled sentiment at the center of your storyline, there’s no need for more nastiness. Air Conditioning may be a way to beat the heat, but in the hands of a pure maestro like Giuseppe Andrews, it’s also a salve for, and the scourge of, the human soul.

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