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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.

by Bill Gibron

19 May 2009


Addiction is a terrible thing. Not only is it damaging physically and psychologically, but it destroys aspects of one’s life that they barely have direct control over. Families suffer, as do friends, careers, and acquaintances, and while the person under the spell of their own individual affliction has no real connection to said reality, the repercussions can be powerful and last forever. Of all the filmmakers poised to make a profound statement on such a compulsion, Giuseppe Andrews would be king of the shortbus list. By utilizing a cast of trailer park residents, some of whom have their own battles with the bottle to contend with, he has an authentic source of real human misery to work with. So what does he go and do with his examination of addiction, Monkey? He makes the most literally symbolic statement on the subject ever attempted.

Apartheid has been ordered to Green Hockers Rehab Center for excessive drinking. His habit is so bad that his life has become one continuous case of the DTs. As a matter of fact, a disembodied old man with the same initials seems to be controlling his attempt at sobriety. Forced to wear a monkey around his neck to highlight his problem, said simian comes with two bags of rocks around its legs. The longer Apartheid stays, the more rocks will be removed and the less weight he will have to be subjected. Of course, DT doesn’t help. He offers disquieting visions of smiley faced stones that punch people out, remote control apes that choke people to death, and others with equally oppressive addictions of their own. As he battles with the bottle, losing most of the time, all Apartheid wants to do is get away from this abusive clinic. Little does he know that, just like Hotel California, he can check out any time he likes, but he can never, ever, ever, leave.

by Bill Gibron

17 May 2009


Until recently, David Cronenberg was known only as the king of biological horror. His brutal looks at life and the physiological foundations of fear made uncomfortable classics like Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome fright film masterworks. Today, he dabbles in all manner of contemporary drama, cruelty tingeing works as diverse as A History of Violence, eXistenZ, and his brilliant Russian mob movie Eastern Promises. As with any auteur, it’s interesting to look back on their entire career and trace the steps that brought their visionary style to the fore. And while many may laugh at the suggestion, the drag racing morality tale Fast Company is completely within his surreal sphere of aesthetic influence. Made in 1979, this fascinating film proves that Cronenberg could fetishize anything - from a deformed corpse to a shiny chrome engine.

When his prized dragster goes up in flames, renowned driver Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson appears down for the count. FastCo corporate rep Phil Adamson doesn’t want to spring for another vehicle, and besides, there’s a perfectly good automobile waiting for someone capable to pilot it to victory. Of course, this leaves funny car trainee Billy “The Kid” Brocker feeling a little unappreciated. Things get worse when Adamson demands Johnson take over the driving of the fabled asphalt fastback. Tempers flare both on and off the track, with reigning champion Gary “The Blacksmith” Black doing most of the jawing. Eventually, Adamson grows tired of Johnson’s prima donna ways, and plans of replacing him with the entire Blacksmith crew. When he discovers this, Johnson makes off with his machine, preps it for the upcoming Race of Champions, and hopes to put Adamson, Black and FastCo in their place once and for all.

by Bill Gibron

17 May 2009


Fans know you can’t create it on purpose. Aficionados recognize its rarity and embrace such scattershot infrequency. While they occasionally try, producers, writers, and directors almost never get it right, and the pathway of such good cinematic intentions is strewn with misguided attempts with names like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara and Snakes on a Plane. Of course, we are talking about schlock here, the brazen b-movie madness that arrives when a ridiculous idea is meshed with an unworkable approach to create a kind of perfect storm of celluloid patheticness. The result can almost always be counted on for a laugh or two, the entire experience chalked up to yet another case of ambition thwarted by ability. But then there are the rare exceptions where intention meets incompetence, the endgame being so insanely sublime and deliciously dumb that it’s almost impossible to drink in all at once. Lovers of such lunacy, prepare yourselves for the god-awful greatness of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. It’s everything you think it is, and much, much less.

Hoping to visit some whale pods while listening to Mozart, noted oceanographer Emma NcNeil “borrows” an expensive underwater submersible and does a bit of exploring. She unwillingly discovers something frozen beneath the Alaska ice. Before it can register, a military training exercise unleashes the prehistoric beasts. Soon thereafter, a plane is downed by a massive shark. Elsewhere, an oil platform is destroyed by a giant octopus. In an attempt to understand what she saw, Emma looks up her old professor and mentor Lamar Sanders. They then hook up with Japanese scientist Dr. Seiji Shimada who is also investigating the situation. As death and mayhem rule the sea, the American Government, under the auspices of hard-assed officer Allan Baxter, demands that our trio take on the monstrous duo. When their first plan fails, they decide to let the creatures do what they do best - destroy each other. All they have to do is lure them away from civilization and let nature take its “Thrilla in Manilla” course. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

by Bill Gibron

16 May 2009


When DVD first arrived as a home video format, the notion of added content was its biggest selling point. Fans of films that had previously been presented sans extras were now salivating - cinematically speaking - over the wealth of information this new presentation paradigm could provide. And indeed, throughout the years, companies have made it their goal to take favored titles and reissue them with a larger and larger assortment of bonus features. Now comes Blu-ray, a technology that allows even more information to be packed onto each plastic covered aluminum disc - and with it, the clear notion of digital features overkill. A prime example of this desire to overindulge comes with Lionsgate’s latest release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While this is not the first time the movie has been offered in a “special edition” package, the sheer wealth of material here is enough to make a motion picture aficionado sit up and shout “No More!”

For those unfamiliar with the genre-changing effort, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is everything writer/director James Cameron’s first installment in the burgeoning franchise offered times 20. It’s bigger, more ambitious, loaded with special effects (including the then novel seamless introduction of CGI), and takes the story of a time traveling robot bent on assassinating the man responsible for a rebellion in a future war between humans and machines and twists the allegiances and the possible outcomes. It offered bodybuilder turned cultural superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to expand on his iconic role, brought newcomers Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick into the mix, and made Linda Hamilton into a lean, mean female fighting badass. With action amped over into warp drive and stunning visual acumen, Cameron reset the standard for future shock thrillers, something follow-up filmmakers have been cribbing since its debut 18 years ago.

//Mixed media