“Vulcanizadora” and “Griffin in Summer” at Tribeca

    The two main characters in Joel Potrykus’s “Vulcanizadora” were introduced ten years ago in his hilarious 2014 film “Buzzard.” Once again Potrykus plays Marty Jackitansky and his frequent collaborator Joshua Burge (who won a “Special Jury Mention for Performance in a U.S. Feature” at Tribeca) is Derek.

    After some flash forwards of what looks like a tire factory fire (“Vulcanizadora” is Spanish for a shop that repairs or vulcanizes rubber tires) set to opera (Francis Poulenc’s 1958 one-act opera “La Voix Humaine,” whose libretto by Jean Cocteau is about a woman’s last conversation with her unfaithful lover on the telephone) we see Marty and Derek walking in the woods. The music has shifted to metal group Nail Bomb’s “For Fucks Sake.” (A “nail bomb” is an anti-personnel explosive device, like the pressure cooker ones used by terrorists.) These violent shifts in musical tone are a key ingredient to the film: we will also hear excerpts from Maria Callas (“Hamburg”), Bela Bartok (“The Miraculous Mandarin”) and Ligeti’s “Requiem for Soprano and Mezzo Soprano.”

    The balding Derek wears a camouflage bucket hat and a backpack full of survivalist gear while Marty seems ill-prepared for the camping trip. “You didn’t even bring proper pants!” Derek complains. For most of the first hour of the film, the banter between the two is comedic but vague as we try to guess what is going on. Marty is taciturn while Derek keeps a running monologue going as he demonstrates his pathetic wayfinding skills. He has a tiny compass that screws into a hunting knife!

    Derek records a “Faces of Death” video while Marty shoots a bottle rocket at him. He sets black smoke pellets on fire (like old tires were previously used, for special effects) in a sequence set to opera music in which the charcoal eruptions resemble something demonic. Derek asks Marty to help build a fire. “You know about fires–it’s kind of the reason we’re out here!” He drinks Jagermeister in a green Army canteen and calls it his “Jager Grail.”

    We learn that Marty has spent some time in prison (at the end of “Buzzard” he was arrested for attacking a payday loan officer and for passing bad checks) and that Derek may be facing some jail time now. Derek has brought a portable CD player and after much trouble plays the Godsmack song “Voodoo,” which was inspired by the film “Serpent and the Rainbow” as he paints his chest with neon ink. (This seems to be the preferred evocation of mysterious rituals nowadays; note the use of it in the current film, “I Saw The TV Glow.”) The treasure he has been looking for in the forest turns out to be a three-pack of porn magazines!

    To give anything else away would spoil the film’s amazing dark surprises and visual grammar. Pyromania is a huge theme here–why are the two of them still playing with fire at their age? Wikipedia tells me that “in popular culture [tire fire] is used to mean a horrifying mess that seems to last forever.” And that seems like a good description for the despairing hopes of these two men. This latest comic masterpiece proves that Potrykus continues to be the punk-est indie filmmaker in the United States.

    Everett Blunck

    If you are old enough like me to remember seeing “Rushmore” for the first time when it was released in the fall of 1998, and were instantly charmed–like I was–by the unique world and odd mixture of cinema and theater production of that great Wes Anderson comedy, then you may have a similar reaction to “Griffin in Summer.” No, it’s not quite as good as Anderson’s second feature film was, but it is very funny and has a similarly unique take on a highschooler fixated on play writing and production.

    Griffin Nafly is a fourteen-year-old obsessed with becoming a Broadway playwright. In the film’s opening, Nafly (played to comedy perfection by Everett Blunck) performs a dialogue (both parts) from his upcoming play at a high school talent show. The school audience doesn’t know what to make of this goofy-looking, skinny kid’s back and forth recital of very adult marital themes like day drinking and affairs at the office. But for the film audience this is comedy gold–we are instantly won over.

    It’s summer vacation and while all his friends want to get drunk or go to the beach, Griffin enlists a few of his besties to put in 60-hour weeks in his basement rehearsing his new play. “That’s the Equity standard!” he reminds them. (None of them, of course, belong to Actors’ Equity!) Meanwhile his overburdened mother (the always wonderful Melanie Lynskey) is occupied by her job and an absentee husband. She hires handyman Brad (Owen Teague) to clean the pool and do repairs around the house. Hunky but alcoholic Brad was something of a performance artist when he lived in the trendy Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

    Griffin develops a boy crush on Brad and asks for his feedback on his project. Brad misinterprets the boy’s obsession with him (he runs away to NYC after Brad’s job ends) but it is not rooted in sexuality. Brad represents the professional actor Griffin dreams of becoming.

    This is a grand comedy of errors, one that ought to make a star out of Blunck. Combining the cuteness of Billy Mumy (“Lost in Space”) and the oddness of Mad Magazine’s “What Me Worry?” Kid, there is never a moment when he disappoints. Teague shines too as the tenderhearted but kind of just stupid wannabe artist. The young actors who play Griffin’s director (Abby Ryder Fortson) and basement stars are also wonderful as is Kathryn Newton–Brad’s icky girlfriend.

    The film, which won the “Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature” and “Best Screenplay” award at Tribeca is the debut of director Nicholas Colia (winner of the “Special Jury Mention for New Narrative Director”) who based it somewhat on an earlier short film he made. I look forward to seeing more films by Colia.

    Three Tribeca Shorts

    Fuck A Fan” is, like the title says, about a contest in which a viral porn star offers to have sex with one lucky fan. But the lucky fan turns out to be so awkward and sensitive that the video of the event is an abject failure as porn, but revelatory as a human story. Alessa Savage, a real UK porn star, is excellent as Chloe Cam.

    Idiomatic” was directed by and stars Phil Dunster, who played the egotistical UK soccer star Jamie Tartt in the “Ted Lasso” television series. Here he plays a hardware store employee who discovers that he sees “metaphors.” For example, mentioning “an albatross around your neck” means a real albatross appears around his neck. This is a smart, funny conceit, realized with panache by Dunster and the others. It made me eager to see his future feature directorial debut.

    Callie Carpinteri’s short, “Dirty Towel,” follows a young woman, Charlie (Emma Parks), who has been told by her mother that sex is like having a clean towel soiled. After having intercourse for the first time the analogy sends Charlie into a state of paranoia and shame that is both funny and cautionary about how bad parental advice can damage you.

    Latest articles

    More Reviews