Tag Archives: Fantasia Festival 2018

INTERVIEWING JOEL POTRYKUS: THE MAN BEHIND THE COUCH

A lazy man with a movie-making mission, Joel Potrykus continues to tap the deep creative vein of Grand Rapids, MI with his fourth feature, Relaxer. We sat down together, perched high above the SGWU mezzanine.

366: I’m here with Joel Potrykus whose movie Relaxer debuted at Fantasia to much laughter and applause. I’ll admit from the get-go that I’m not well prepared, so if you’re feeling chatty about anything, feel free to continue talking at me.

JPI’m never prepared, so we’re on the same page.

366: Then I’ll start with an easy question: other than the promise of fame and riches, what was it that got you into filmmaking?

JP: Shoot, well, it was really all about the fame and riches… I was a “VHS kid,” and there was one summer, when I was ten, I broke my leg playing baseball, so I had to spend the whole summer in a cast up to my hip in the basement. It was so hot, and nothing to do, and we didn’t have cable in the basement, so my dad would bring me five movies every day from the video store, whatever he picked, so I just spent a whole summer watching, like, two-hundred movies. And in there was American Werewolf in London, and that kind of changed a lot of things for me. Seeing that kind of blend of horror and comedy, and [director John] Landis going whatever direction he wanted.

Then when I was fourteen, I was really into the Doors, and I was at a birthday party where they rented that movie and ‘s at the beach saying, “Yeah, I’m going to film school right now!” When I was fourteen, I had never heard those two words connected to each-other: film cchool. And I was like, “That’s where I’m going to go.”

366: You’re from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Do you have much to recommend about that part of the world?

JP: Yeah, dude, if you want to make a feature film, and don’t want to spend a lot of money for permits, and are asking the police if it’s okay to close off the street, go to Grand Rapids, Michigan. We still make the movies there because it’s really the only place… I have a manager in LA, who’s like, “What are you doing? Come to LA and direct TV, and pitch your big ideas…”. So I guess maybe it’s not fame and fortune I was after, because then I’d be out in LA. But I prefer to just hide out, that’s the only place I know how to make films.

366: Well, maybe the fame and fortune will hunt you down. Your rep said you had big ideas to pitch. What are your big ideas?

JP: In my head they’re big ideas, but I was recently tracked down by Amazon and I pitched the ideas, and I don’t think they were very big. They’re weird and small. [Amazon had] a specific budget range they need to hit, and it was ten-million dollars. I had no idea how to Continue reading INTERVIEWING JOEL POTRYKUS: THE MAN BEHIND THE COUCH

LIST CANDIDATE: RELAXER (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , David Dastmalchian, Andre Hyland, Arin Bechdel,

PLOT: Abbie is a perennial failure at life, but he makes one final attempt to turn things around by accepting his brother’s challenge to beat the unbeatable Pac-Man score, all while never moving from his seat on the couch.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Starting with a “gallon challenge” and ending not-quite-apocalyptically, the ordeals of a seated young man unspool without him ever leaving the couch, nor us ever leaving the room. All the thirst, sweat, and odors pile on as our entrapment goes on. And on. And on. Until something cosmically mystical occurs.

COMMENTS: It seems almost a rule that the most mild-mannered directors are the ones that come up with the most eccentric movies. has his very British affability; has been a Midwestern swell-guy since childhood; and now there’s rising star Joel Potrykus with his laid-back hipster self, who is somehow responsible for the giddily grinding post-slacker comedy, Relaxer. “Gross-out comedy,” now that’s a genre I’m familiar with. But a “charming gross-out transcendental comedy”? I can only presume that Relaxer is the first of that ground-breaking genre.

Oh my dear Abbie (Joshua Burge). We only ever see him covered with sweat (and more) cowering on a couch. From the start, he’s enduring a sickening challenge, one of many put to him by his brother, which soon becomes literally sickening. The boy fails to keep the gallon of milk he’s consumed inside after a… well, best not say what he added to the mix in a bit of bathroom desperation. His brother Cam (a wonderfully nasty David Dastmalchian) leaves in disgust, but not before giving Abbie one last ultimate challenge: the Pac-Man thing. The impossible Pac-Man thing. Abbie cannot—and does not—leave his greasy spot on the leather couch during a six month ordeal in which things grow as strange as they grow unhygienic.

Among the venerable sources Potrykus hijacks ideas from are Buñuel, Kubrick, and, I swear, even the New Testament. The first is obvious, and the director even admitted to ripping off a lot of The Exterminating Angel in his remarks to the audience after the screening. Unlike our heroes therein, however, Abbie makes the wrong choice of what pipe to burst open for water—wonderfully fusing gross-out with the surrealism. 2001: A Space Odyssey  necessarily comes to mind toward the end, as Abbie breaks the sequence and rises to a higher plane as the masses outside seemingly cheer him on. As for the third reference, I’m possibly stretching things, but over his ordeal Abbie grows to look like a shaggy Jesus, and Simon of Cyrene makes a cameo in the form of Arin (Adina Howard), a friend who helps Abbie on his path toward the divine. What locked it for me was the final scene when Abbie-Jesus seemingly rises from the dead to be greeted by his long-sought Father.

Potrykus stated without shame that he made Relaxer for himself, but its elements suggest that this bizarre slice of late ’90s throw-back might reach more than expected. There’s comedy, there’s cinematic dexterity (the camera stretches to most every available piece of the room without looking like it’s trying too hard), and even an epic feel to Abbie’s journey from Novice couch potato to Master couch potato. Skipping surreptitiously from Clerks-style comedy to an outer-zone of awareness, Relaxer reaches for the impossible—typically with the aid of a grabber-arm.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film takes on an element of magical realism as the days and months pass, framing Abbie as a martyr with superhuman endurance … That Relaxer is structured as a countdown to Y2K suggests that Potrykus is offering a period-specific diagnosis of technologically dependent delusion, of the hallucinations of omnipotence that spring in the minds of marathon gamers. Fuzzy as this hodgepodge of signifiers may seem, there’s a pronounced critique at the heart of Relaxer clearly aimed at young people who are perilously glued to their screens, though it’s one that feels somewhat passé alongside the meaty class commentary of Buzzard.–Carson Lund, Slant Magazine (festival screening)

2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A SLICE OF STRANGE

Arrival

Anyone traveling internationally should heed this advice: nothing hurries customs agents along faster than the phrase, “I’ll be covering a film festival.” Two years in a row now I’ve seen the Dear God, All Right, Moving on… expression at the border when explaining the reason for my trip.

So without further ado, the reason for my trip: Fantasia Festival movies!

7/12: Nightmare Cinema (Anthology)

Still from Nightmare Cinema (2018)“Horror” isn’t really my preferred genre—I either find it too pointless, or too scary (!).  “Anthology” also isn’t my preferred film format — I typically want one movie to carry itself. Combining the two, however, works out well: it allows for a taste of a director’s work without committing the viewer to overkill. Mick Garris, supervising a clutch of Horror luminaries, has put together a string of varyingly good vignettes. “The Thing in the Woods” (dir. by Alejandro Brugues) tells the tale of a handful of  twenty-somethings  making incredibly bad, incrediblier rapid-fire decisions as if they can’t get to their gruesome fates fast enough. “Mirari” (dir. by [the Legendary] Joe Dante!) deftly taps into the fears of plastic surgery gone awry. “Mashit” (dir. by Ryuhei Kitamura) is pretty ho-hum, until the very Catholic (that is to say, “Unorthodox”) slaughterhouse finale. And “Dead”(?) concerns a boy who, having been … dead … for seventeen minutes can now see the … dead.

What stood out with its bleak tone, creepy understatement, and grisly ambiance, however, was “This Way to Egress” directed by David Slade of Thirty Days of Night fame. A mother of two boys is growing increasingly unhinged after her husband leaves her, resulting in her seeing her surroundings and people she meets looking ghastlier and uglier as the hours go on. Her psychologist  just about recommends suicide before heading off to a meeting. This short stood out even moreso because, unlike Thirty Days of Night, it is well-written, very unnerving, and left me creeped the Hell out. (Somewhat appropriately.)

7/13: La Nuit a dévoré le monde (The Night Eats the World)

Still fromThe Night Eats the World (2018)If any of our readers are fans of the zombie/undead/shuffling corpse-people genre, they should check out Dominique Rocher’s directorial debut. Our hero, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), passes out in the back room of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment after an awkward encounter at a party. Upon Continue reading 2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A SLICE OF STRANGE