Cinepocalypse 2018: The Secret Poppo (2018 - dir. Nevi Cline, Zach Harris, Sean Pierce)

review by Patrick Ripoll

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Full Disclosure: I have a personal relationship with Sean Pierce, one of the three members of Punctuation Films.

It's a year of unspeakable systemic cruelty at large with no psychic relief from the unspeakable systemic apathy at the cinema. We sat through Insidious 4, Liam Neeson Punches 7, Maze Runner 3, Cloverfield 3, Fifty Shades 3, Tomb Raider 3, The Strangers 2, Pacific Rim 2, Gnomes 2, Super Troopers 2, Star Wars 11, Ocean's 4, Jurassic Park 5, Purge 4, Sicario 2, and four more blows to our morale from the infinitely wearying Superhero Movie Dispenser. They even made God's Not Dead 3. Even motherfucking Evangelicals can't catch a break at the theater in 2018. We go to film festivals like Cinepocalypse seeking alternatives, praying low budgets equal bigger risks and, potentially, maybe, even an original idea now and then. The films we see are fun but generic as a rule. Another found footage spook-em-up, another post-apocalyptic shoot-em-up, another haunted house boo-em-up and, Jesus Christ, is that Puppet Master 12? From this darkness, a brilliant hot pink light emerges: The Secret Poppo.

The Secret Poppo, a shaggy semi-improvised sci-fi comedy detective whatsit, is gloriously free from the grind of indie film conventions for two important reasons: it is cheap and it doesn't care about being cool. It's the work of Punctuation Films (Nevi Kline, Zach Harris, and Sean Pierce who all split writer/director duty in addition to working basically every other behind the camera role), the wild minds behind minor cult hit Meathead Goes Hogwild who find an ideal creative partner in the equally wild Nick Luzietti, who acts as the film's lead actor and muse. In a past life Luzietti was a prominent Chicago architect but here he is Jonald Byron, a singular screen presence, a disheveled Muppet with Einstein hair and a constant running commentary of only sporadic lucidity.

The plot follows Jonald as he scours the Chicago underworld (read: farmer's markets and dance clubs) to find his missing granddaughter but by the end of the film a talking animal says "Your granddaughter will join us as the first true Krummeshi to ever cross the Zemmaflug Terraflabba. You must be overwhelmed with pride of your spawn." and you realize that, actually, it's OK that you couldn't follow the story. The draw is the time you get to spend with Luzietti, and the way his unique energy infects the very fabric of the film. The cheap green-screen effects and public-access music cues may remind you of Tim & Eric but the sneering Adult Swim nihilism has been entirely cut out, replaced with warmth and openness. There is no posturing or hipness to The Secret Poppo's energy. All are welcome.

It's a complete mess. Is it a sci-fi thriller or a neo-noir mystery or a counter-cultural comedy or simply a love story between a man and a laminating machine? Even in the tradition of films like Inherent Vice, The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski, films like shaggy wet dogs, The Secret Poppo is the shaggiest and the wettest. Richard Lester gets a special thanks in the credits and the influence is easy to see. You have never seen anything like this movie and, in 2018, I can't think of a better possible recommendation.

The Secret Poppo debuts in the US at the Music Box Theater as part of the Cinepocalypse Film Festival Thursday, June 28th, 6:00 PM.

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