All posts by Giles Edwards

Film major & would-be writer. 6'3". @gilesforyou (TwT)

CAPSULE: HANKY PANKY (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: , Nick Roth

FEATURING: Jacob DeMonte-Finn, Christina Laskay, Ashley Holliday Tavares, Clare Grant, Lindsey Haun, voices of

PLOT: Sam is mistakenly invited to a remote weekend reunion and people begin dying off.

COMMENTS: Hanging out in the dark basement, with fan full blast, empty soda cans piling up, and a low light pulsing from the 17″ cathode-ray television, Cannibal! the Musical hangs out with “The Mighty Boosh“. Hanky Panky enters, and Boosh gives Musical the old, Oooh boy, it’s the new guy-look. “Hey, HP, it’s… uh, great to see you!” (End scene on awkward silence.)

For dirt-cheap, you can fill your awkward silence right now for 86 minutes of “Umm…”, “Heh, uh.”, and “Bwah! What the—?”, among other remarks elicited by this, er, horror-science-fiction thingy. Sam (an awkward, civil, moustachioed Jacob DeMonte-Finn) has been mistakenly invited to a remote cabin for the weekend by Rebecca, who for reasons revealed earlier has assembled her sisters and their hangers-on. But unbeknownst to Rebecca, Sam comes with a secret—and powerful—friend in the form of a talking handkerchief named “Woody” who loves lapping up liquids.

Those of you who have read this far and gone, “Oh-ho, really?,” be well advised herewith: returning to the “basement” symbolism, the foley, practical effects, and much else in Hanky Panky are bargain-basement level. But what bargains! What mystery! What fascinating chunks of offal! And where did this melange of unpleasant and sympathetic characters come from? The directors do us the favor of killing them off in order from most annoying to least (which helps a good deal), with the final victim performing with such eccentric, jerky hamminess that I can’t help but respect the actress in question for the sheer force of her chutzpah.

The script must have seemed good enough to rope in Seth Green—as villainous alien, Harry the Hat—but while that actor fills me with the warmest of indifference, Hanky Panky is, happily, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. I could Recommend(ed)! it, but my boss would fire me for journalistic malpractice; I could tag it Weirdest, but my fellow reviewers would punch me in the mouth for raising their hopes. This is a paean to DIY daftness—or to phrase it as Woody might prefer, it is a moronic, masterful mess.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a stoner lo-fi sci-fi slasher comedy that starts off weird, gets a little off-putting, and then just blasts off into insanity from there.”–Douglas Davidson, Elements of Madness (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE TUNE (1992)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

FEATURING: Voices of Daniel Neiden, , Marty Nelson, Emily Bindiger, Chris Hoffman

PLOT: A tunesmith on a tight deadline races to make a meeting with an impatient music producer, but gets lost in the wacky town of Flooby Nooby en route.

Still from The Tune (1992)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: In Flooby Nooby you can enjoy love-struck food pairings, consult with a macrocephalic metamorphing wise man (named “Gus”), check into a heartsick hotel staffed by a bell-boy-cum-suicide-assistant, ride with a cabbie suffering the “No Nose Blues,” and learn a jig or two from eternally dancing surfers. Is that enough?

COMMENTS: From nothing, comes the great hand of the Creator. It rises through the beigeful void and crashes toward us, blackening the screen. And then,

.

.

.

*THUNK*. We are grounded by a discordant slam of notes, and who do you think we see? Whose mighty hand have we witnessed? Why, it’s none other than Del, a love-smitten schlub trying to noodle out the final line of his number-one hit tune. So begins the eccentric, caricaturist charm of The Tune, as Bill Plympton bangs out an oddball voyage for his oh-so-mild-mannered protagonist.

What little narrative there is in The Tune exists to permit Plympton to dig deeply into his bag of tricks. After Del travels the crazy nested loops of highway on his way to his boss, the few nods to mundane reality are cast aside in favor of eccentric characters, daffy tunes, and the awe-inspiring power of an animator’s pencil.

Del’s surreal encounters never let up upon arrival in the unlikely town of Flooby Nooby, where he is greeted by the mayor with a zingy song expounding the virtues of this small town (accompanied by some horrible whistling, no less). Del meets a wary dog—doesn’t trust out of town folk, you see, with their heartless ways—who eventually morphs into a crooning Elvis canine belting out a stomping rock number about his improbably tall hairdo. Perspective comes and goes as trees shrink along a path, or as Del climbs a set of stairs and encounters a gentleman traveling downwards, walking along the steps’ rise. Heads (so many heads) morph to the point of breaking, but seamlessly pop back into form. “Gus” the Wise One suffers more than most—trains travel in and around it, burgers fly forth from his mouth, a fish is drawn from a forehead drawer, and so on—when his idiotic truisms go a step too far: “Just as a slice into a loaf of bread makes two pieces, you must multiply your wisdom.”

The ramble toward the climax is appropriately relaxed, and at one point Del inquires to the camera, “Why am I watching this?” The context is an extended (and gloriously masturbatory) sequence between two randos who obliterate each other’s faces through increasingly elaborate methods. Plympton more than hints at the pointlessness, but the pointlessness is the point. This is a cheery cartoon, stuffed to the gills with cheery airs, and its unceasing frivolousness underscores the sophistication of the craft. It’s a film where the line “Mr Mayor! How could you eat that adorable—and talented—hamburger?” is a sensible question. It’s got surf rock pathos and soulful noselessness. It has a Fat, Falling Pig hotel death suite and a Bad Joke Tango. The Tune is a Kantian ding an sich, hatching from nothingness and forging a wiggly world of absurdist tomfoolery.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Plympton’s first feature is a surreal surety, chock full of brilliant gags, decent tunes, and lots of unobtrusive heart: it’s 78 minutes of unrelenting fun.”–Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: FANG (2022)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Richard Burgin

FEATURING: Dylan LaRay, , Jess Paul

PLOT: Billy lives with his Parkinson’s-stricken mother; his dispiriting routine is interrupted by a rat bite which seems to catalyze an unnatural change in him.

Still from Fang (2022)

COMMENTS: Billy’s world is cramped. He sweeps a broom for nine bucks an hour on a crowded warehouse floor for Mr. Wolfson. After a short walk home, he can only look forward to his small apartment where he looks after his fading mother, Gina. On top of this dreariness, he is trapped inside his own mind, and is forced nearly every waking hour to pretend to know how to interact with all these callous normies he finds himself amongst. Daily, he faces patrician disregard from Wolfson and maternal fury from Gina. But he has a refuge.

More than ten million years in the future, the planet Graix is thriving, with wide-open spaces and a civilization descended from rats which were sent from Earth in the deep past, when a nigh-unlivable planet forced humanity into a “Noah’s Ark”-style gambit.  Billy has much more to say about this world, as it is his—the good part, at least. His mother’s caretaker, a young woman named Myra, thinks so, too. After his spiel, she looks at his drawings of this world and sincerely opines, “This is really cool.”

Richard Burgin takes great care and consideration in and for Billy’s character, and Dylan LaRay is to be commended for his spectrum-informed performance. But Burgin cannot be too kind to Billy. The protagonist’s small world looks smaller on camera, with furtive lens movements coupling with angled close-ups. The lighting is overcast. And every other character is performed, it seems to me, as slightly “too much,” as a way of capturing the daily bombardment Billy endures. (Even ignoring the confined Hell of his life with his mom.)

The supernatural element may or may not be real. We can be certain of two things: Billy is primed for a mental breakdown, and he is bitten by a small white rat. He witnesses down fur growing from an awful wound on his arm, and his hyper-perception (the foley in Fangs is not a comfortable experience) takes a tone more sinister than even his underlying circumstances should allow. While there is a facsimile of comic relief—in the form of a pair of warehouse co-workers, one of whom invariably talks about breasts, as well as a delightful scene with a zealous hardware store clerk—there is not much of it. And knowing the genre, the character’s perturbation (undiagnosed autism), the mother’s affliction (Parkinson’s disease, stage five), and observing Billy’s life in the first ten minutes, we know this will not end well.

That in mind, please take the “Recommended” notice with this warning: Fang is very painful at times; but its most painful moments are its most impressive. Billy’s encounters with his mother—sometimes with Myra bearing witness—tilt dismayingly between disturbing and sweet, cruel and caring. At times, all four, as when she condemns her boy in the most vulgar and harshest terms, and then on the heels of this excoriation mistakes him for his father and moves to seduce him. Fang is at its best when it is true to what it is at heart: a hushed, harrowing tale of mental disintegration. While some of its more overtly “Horror film” elements misfire, the genuine sadness of the son’s and mother’s experiences was enough to make me shudder.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A dash of body horror combined with a pinch of surrealism and a peck of psychological horror... Fang is a perfect midnight movie.”— Bryan Staebell, Scare Value (festival screening)

CAPSULE: SWEET DREAMS (2023)

 Zoete dromen

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DIRECTED BY: Ena Sendijarevic

FEATURING: Hayati Azis, Renée Soutendijk, Florian Myjer, Lisa Zweerman, Muhammad Khan, Rio Kaj Den Haas

PLOT: During the twilight of the Dutch empire, Cornelis is summoned to the family’s Indonesian sugar plantation after his father’s death, only to find that his illegitimate half-brother Karel is to inherit everything.

Still from Sweet Dreams (2023)

COMMENTS: Indonesia is a beautiful country, despite the Netherlands’ 19th-century imperial ambitions. Ena Sendijarevic’s Sweet Dream allows only occasional glimpses of the glorious landscape, instead trapping the viewer in a decrepit mansion peopled by tottering overseers and embittered local workers. This palatial home, its un-worked plantation, and its silent factory, hold untold secrets—and one very open one. The indigenous maid and the transplanted patriarch have a son, whose existence catalyses the unruly collapse of this microcosm of empire.

Three of Sendijarevic’s stylistic choices anchor her film’s covertly hostile tone. An opening foley creation of buzzes, rustlings, and sizzles promises sweeping jungle. Instead, we find ourselves trapped in 4:3 screen ratio of choking flora. The family home should feel voluminous, but each chamber is trapped by deep shots with tight camera edges. The coloring is delightful but blighted. Each room exhibits what was once a glorious coat of paint—a grand maroon hallway, a hunter green dining room, and a bedroom hued like the yolk of an egg—deteriorating badly from age and stifling humidity. Third, the music. Old, old classics, bubbling up time and again, like a remindful dirge.

Sweet Dreams‘ occasional twitches from traditional period piece make this film, if not outright “weird,”  then certainly eccentric. Sitti and Reza are Indonesian natives; the former works as a maid for the Dutch family (and is mother of the natural son), the latter is an erstwhile plantation worker. They share good-natured barbs, have an ebb-and-flow appreciation of the other, and are bilingual. A love scene between the two—classily shot, unlike an early encounter between Sitti and the patriarch—features a gushing synth score and a magically luminescent moon. Another night, Sitti dreams of Reza as a slumbering behemoth beneath vibrant moon, resting herself serenely in the palm of his semi-closed hand.

I found myself so wrapped up in the hazy claustrophobia and painterly images, that the title’s punnery didn’t hit me until well after the film; and, grim punning aside, a darkly humorous streak runs throughout. The mother writes to her son in the Netherlands with good news and bad: his father has died. The bad news is that he must come immediately to the plantation. The Dutch dolts spend much time ordering holes dug around the property, the location of patriarch’s corpse having slipped the mother’s mind. Dutch boy’s wife is afflicted further and further by mosquito bites. Dutch boy himself devolves mentally as he comes to know his half-brother—one for whom Papà crafted a toy by hand.

Sweet Dreams, alongside the soggy decrepitude of the manse and the eye-popping lushness of surrounding jungle, is heavily symbolic, even obviously so—though is no worse for its sleeve-worn metaphors. Like the family, the colonizers’ time is coming to an end, with strange fate and ill machinations auguring a discouraging future. But decay will be supplanted by the younger generation, the new generation, rising from the flames of the by-going era.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“More poem than conventional narrative, Sweet Dreams explores the tropes of the colonial fable with a romantic eye and a sharp wit. There is a little sympathy present even for its most monstrous characters, but very little mercy for anyone.”—Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film UK (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE PEOPLE’S JOKER (2022)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Vera Drew

FEATURING: Vera Drew, Nathan Faustyn, Lynne Downey, Kane Distler, David Liebe Hart, Griffin Kramer

PLOT: While on the pathway to becoming an Anti-Comedienne extraordinaire, the People’s Joker confronts her troubled past and her chaotic present to attain self acceptance—and dethrone the domineering normies plaguing Gotham City.

COMMENTS: It possibly says something about me that, when Vera Drew mentions early in the film about her revelatory experience “seeing the world’s favorite orphan,” I immediately thought, “Annie?” But that doesn’t say what you might think. Because I have my particularities. So does Vera. So does everyone. This film is a personal anecdote, framed within a (veerrry) loose construct of plot. The specifics of the fictional battle are moot anyway, as whatever narrative through-line is there merely acts a metaphor. Do not misunderstand me, however: this is an effervescent experience, with swirling bubbles of pathos and confession perpetually subsumed with self-aware humor.

Vera Drew has made a stylish movie, and an all-too-uncommon one. Heavy use of CGI, saturation, and stop-motion—sections hark back to flash animation of yore—combine with trashy-classy costuming for the villains (comedians and misfits all), maintaining an unreal comic book tone from start to finish. We enter Harlequin the Joker’s (Vera Drew) world through a montage of fake, early-’90s-baked advertisements and talk show clips. Vera’s narration is with us throughout, as she provides her take on the tragic life she led until she became Vera Drew, or Joker the Harlequin, or, ultimately, just “the Harlequin”: an ambition vaguely sensed when first she saw a somewhat notorious superhero film.

The motley crew of disaffected snarks who assemble in “The Red Hood Playhouse” have their Anti-comedy acts (comedy proper, in this film’s world, has been outlawed), and Vera’s act evolves from rambling obtusities to huffing Smylex on stage and guffawing mercilessly as other performers recount their own tragic back stories. But this manages somehow not to be cruel, but instead self-deprecatory. She bonds through these confessions, as the film itself connects with the viewer as a confession of misery, and hope. Her awareness broadens—particularly when she begins her romantic involvement with Mr J, a trans-man—and as she copes, both diegetic and non-diegetically, we come to understand how she is able to look back with such a probing and smiling eye.

Among the many admissions in The People’s Joker, there’s a tiny, joking aside that struck me personally, but I shall keep that to myself. The larger point is that everyone has their own history, with their own desires forming and formed by it. Gotham is, of course, the real world, writ onscreen as a ian trash parade. Vera learns, slowly and painfully—but certainly—that we must deal with reality, starting with who we are ourselves.  Presuming someone is not harming others, you should accept how they wish to be; this can go a long way to preventing them from hurting themselves.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“a weird little movie that everyone’s talking about…very experimental and odd…”–Christy Lemine and Alonso Duralde, Breakfast All Day (contemporaneous, video review)