Tag Archives: Satire

CAPSULE: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (2018)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Sioban Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, , Jeremy Davies

PLOT: Jack (Dillon), an architect–and prolific serial killer–recounts several examples of his “work” and philosophy as Verge (Ganz) leads him on a journey to Hell.

COMMENTS: Due to controversial films like The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, and Antichrist, among others, Lars von Trier was already considered ‘problematic’ even before his infamous press faux pas at Cannes at the time of Melancholia‘s release. So it’s an interesting conundrum that, in light of his behavior over the years, his work is intellectually engaging and appears (my impression) to have a strong moral center at its core. Jack is much the same. At its Cannes premiere, it gained notoriety when over a hundred audience members walked out during the screening, as well as for for the ten minute standing ovation it received from the remaining audience when it ended.

Originally conceived by von Trier with co-writer Jenle Hallund as an eight-part television series, Jack is a treatise on serial killers and the culture of fascination regarding them. Jack sees murder as an art and himself as amongst the greatest of artists, as he argues to Verge (i.e. Virgil, the poet of “The Aeneid” and guide from “The Divine Comedy”) on their journey. He justifies himself and his acts by pointing  up examples in Nature (the Tyger and the Lamb; the “noble rot”) and Art (poetry of Blake, and the films of one Lars VonTrier).

Despite adopting the non de plume “Mr. Sophistication,” Jack, as portrayed Matt Dillon, is not the Hannibal Lecter type of cultured romantic one ends up liking despite his horrible acts. The film makes clear that Jack is a liar (not a good liar either), and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, but gets away with his horrible acts because he uses his entitlement and privilege to full advantage. People overlook his behavior until it’s far too late. He acts so obnoxiously that some who might bring him to justice get annoyed and brush him off.  He’s abetted by the naiveté  and obliviousness of his victims, and everyone else; as he yells out of an intended victim’s apartment window, “Nobody wants to help!”

Despite this “success,” Jack’s flaws eventually catch up with him. For all of his lofty pretensions as an “artist” and creator, Jack is unable to complete any sort of life-positive project. His attempts at building a house for himself end in a Sisyphean cycle of frustration; the only structure he succeeds at is a grisly sculpture made from the corpses of his victims, which serves as his literal entrance into Hell. Despite Jack’s spirited arguments and defenses on their journey, Verge isn’t buying any of Jack’s b.s. As he remarks, he’s “heard it all and there’s very little that would surprise him” at this point. Jack’s ultimate fate, likewise, is no surprise at all, though he still thinks there’s a chance he can beat the House. He learns the hard way that the House always wins.

The House that Jack Built is a bleak look at an empty soul in an empty world. It’s also very funny, among the darkest of dark comedies.

Scream Factory released Jack in a 2-disc Blu-ray set in early 2020. It includes the standard theatrical cut, and the unrated cut that played in selected theaters for one night only. Extras includes von Trier’s introduction to the unrated cut and an interview with the director conducted by University of Copenhagen Associate Professor Peter Schepelern.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As the film progresses into its last stretches, it proves itself to be bizarrely satisfying, recontextualizing itself into something much grander in sadness and scope.”–Matt Cipolla, Film Monthly (Blu-ray)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020: #SHAKESPEARE’S SHITSTORM (2020)

Shakespeare’s Sh*tstorm

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Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lloyd Kaufman, Kate McGarrigle, Erin Miller, Monique Dupree, Abraham Sparrow, Amanda Flowers

PLOT: Very loosely following the plot of ‘s “The Tempest,” the story involves a party ship packed with pharmaceutical executives washed up on the shores of Troma, New Jersey, after a storm of whale feces.

Still from #SHAKESPEARE'S SHITSTORM (2020)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: You’ll get more out of it if you know “The Tempest” (and know Troma well enough to catch Easter eggs like the “Kabuki flip”)—but, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm should shock and amaze anyone with a sense of cinematic adventure and strong stomach. It’s one long hedonistic orgy of grossout comedy and Bardic references. It’s got Lloyd Kaufman in two roles, including one in drag (in a Snow White costume, for reasons never explained); William Shakespeare telling a donkey show joke to a panel of Ph.Ds; and a climax that is accurately characterized as “like a Hieronymus Bosch painting” (if Bosch had been just a bit fonder of green slime, prosthetic boobs, and punk rock anthems). It’s the stuff that dreams are made of—at least, the kind of dreams you might have if you ate an entire herring pizza laced with ketamine as a midnight snack before going to bed.

COMMENTS: “The Tempest” was not William Shakespeare’s final play, but it was his last masterpiece. Its closing acts are widely interpreted as the Bard’s farewell to the theater. At 74 years of age, Lloyd Kaufman has already outlived Shakespeare, but the feeling that Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is intended as his final trashterpiece is inescapable.

Something about Shakespeare inspires Kaufman and his Troma team to heights of lunacy even beyond their usual excesses. Shitstorm may not be quite as surreal as Troma’s weirdest feature, Tromeo & Juliet, but it represents a capstone of their transgressive punk aesthetic. One affinity between Stratford-upon-Avon’s favorite son and New Jersey’s least reputable film studio is the large cast of characters: Troma has always favored maxamilized plots and as many odd-looking extras as they can convince to work for a mention in the rolling credits. The discipline (such as it is) imposed by being forced to parody the Bard’s sprawling plots enforces some structure on Kaufman, whose tendency is to make his movies as digressive and improvised-looking as possible. And of course, the tension between Shakespeare’s humanistic aspirations and Troma’s scurrilous antics is inherently amusing. The combination gives the studio the chance to argue, “sure, we may be lowbrow… but we’re smart lowbrow.” After all, they quote from the play’s text and throw in references to other plays and sonnets (always undercut by a corny or obscene joke), along with bits of Shelley and bawdy couplets of their own devise. It reminds us that there is an intelligence hiding under the layers of shit jokes.

Shakespeare’s Shitstorm isn’t just offensive; it’s an ode to offensiveness. It starts off with a toddler spattered with blood from her mother’s suicide. There’s a “diversity hire” stripper in a wheelchair, two separate subplots involving crack whores (including one who sings a musical number with the lines “suck her in and blow her out, my crack pipe never screams and shouts”), and bloody oral rape scene performed by an animatronic chicken. After all that, the nauseating scenes of characters getting lapdances while being showered by brownish buckets of cetacean “fecal bloom” seem positively quaint. The only real suspense is whether—or rather, when and how—they’ll drop the N-word. That’s all standard practice for Troma, though I daresay that Shitstorm breaks all previous Tromatic records for repulsion. But this time, offensiveness itself is the front-and-center theme of the movie; it makes the studio’s boldest case that causing offense is a social service. Shitstorm‘s chief satirical targets are entitled “SJW” bloggers with no sense of humor. Shitstorm‘s final moral is delivered as a string of ethnic jokes—with accompanying visual metaphor—an argument that mocking everyone and everything equally is a better route to solidarity than contorting our speech awkwardly to avoid stepping on any one group’s toes. In other words, lighten up. We’re all here to laugh, and if your in-group gets lambasted, it will be someone else’s turn in about 30 seconds.

And thankfully, the movie is funny. They even insert what I think is a joke for early reviewers only. Often, when you watch pre-release screeners, there will be a legend that periodically appears warning “for review purposes only.” In Shitstorm, that reminder instead reads “for bootlegging purposes only.”

Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is a monumental movie. When you sit through the nine minutes of end credits—taking care to watch those amazing outtakes and read the jokes hidden in the text—you’ll realize that it takes an enormous pile of money to make something that looks this cheap. We are unlikely to see a Lloyd Kaufman movie on this scale ever again, and it’s a shame that Covid-19 prevented it from having the grandiose premiere to a packed house that it deserved. Troma has worked its way up from a disreputable B-movie studio to an underground institution. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of their approach, but Kaufman and team have worked ceaselessly doing their own thing their own way for 35 years now—and that deserves a celebration. Of course, Kaufman’s Prospero might actually like it better this way. He doesn’t deal well with sudden popularity near the end of Shitstorm: “You’re supposed to be triggered! Do not put me on a pedestal!” So instead, let’s send him off with a quote from Shakespeare: “As you from crimes would pardon’d be,/Let your indulgence set me free.” We’ll indulge you, Mr. Kaufman, in one last glorious barf fest.

 

366 UNDERGROUND: SMALL TALK (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Terrisha Kearse

FEATURING: Farelle Walker, Jared Benjamin, Scott St. Patrick, Kiya Roberts, Jermaine Jercox, David Chattam, Gayla Johnson, Mia Sun

PLOT: Ahmed attends a dinner party with Corah, his fiancée, to meet his prospective in-laws. Did we mention that they live in Wonderland?

COMMENTS: “Down the rabbit-hole” is as apt a phrase to use with Small Talk—literally as well as figuratively—since the film is a very clever bounce off of Carroll’s “.” The original story has been adapted and interpreted as everything from social commentary to political allegory, but writer/actor Farelle Walker uses it as a pointed and even more surreal look at information overload, behavior defined by social media, and any “ism” (race, sex, class, etc.) that she can come up with—and that’s quite a lot.

It’s a chaotic package; quite a lot is thrown at the audience, and at “Alice,” in this instance represented by Ahmed Mogadam (Jared Benjamin) as the voice of reason. He (and we) are introduced to the Hamner Family, described in the opening statement as an “interesting family of strong opinions and disturbingly small-minded chatter.” There’s Corah (Farelle Walker), Ahmed’s fiancée, an African Goddess (we meet them as they’re listening to her podcast on her “Yanniverse”; she refers to Ahmed as a “Moor”) and a conspiracy believer (trying to avoid chemtrails as planes fly overhead). Her sister, Senna (Kiya Roberts) is “White” based, having ties to the “White Lives Matter” movement. Her husband, Edwardian ‘Eddie” Licenter (Scott St. Patrick) is a “White” rabbit (“Creole,” he insists). Brother Grant (Jermaine Jercox) is a sinister Army officer, describing himself as “the Black Man They can trust.” Poppa Hamner (David Chattam) is a pig who acts and talks as a stereotypical black patriarch, and matriarch Athyna Hamner (Gayla Johnson)—The Red Queen —is a pious Christian for White Jesus, who watches all via a portrait on the wall.

Amongst all of this is the Asian housekeeper, Soon Yook (Mia Sun), who gives condescension as good as she gets it; and the constantly streaming “Wonderland News” with the Mad Hatter, Dormouse and Rabbit as news anchors in the background. It’s a dense package that might seem, at first glance, a mad cluster… but it’s a film that one needs to pay close attention to, especially the wordplay. It’s a film for smart people. Some of the banter  may go over a lot of heads, especially as far as some specific cultural aspects are concerned, but for those willing to go on the ride down the hole, they’ll have a wild time.

I set out with the intention of creating a mirror image of what I saw happening in my Social Media feed, while simultaneously shining a light into the dark corners of assimilation. As each minority group gains wealth, independence, and power there is a collective cheer amongst us. There is also a collective responsibility, which requires us to understand just how intricately racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and hatred of ‘others’ was woven into the structure of society. If we take note of how these concepts are interlaced we will start to understand why these ‘isms’ have not only outlasted their creators, but also started to be reflected in numerous people of color and minority groups. Recognition of our responsibility to be better should not make us kowtow to those that would oppress us; you will not hear a rally from me to turn the other cheek. Whether we find ourselves in opposition with a different ethnicity, opposite sex, or even a different religion; we must utilize our hard fought gains towards a higher standard in our approach to dealing with those we oppose. For if we act, problem solve and sound like those who oppressed us, are we really any different? ” – Farelle Walker

You can watch the 45 minute feature for free at www.flyrenegadeproductions.com or embedded below.

Small Talk The Movie from Farelle Walker on Vimeo.

CAPSULE: THE PLATFORM (2019)

Recommended

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El hoyo

DIRECTED BY: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

FEATURING: Ivan Massagué, Alexandra Masangkay, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale

PLOT: To qualify for an “accredited diploma,” Goreng volunteers to spend six months on “the platform”: a vertical prison with one feeding tray that allows the inmates, from floor one down to the bottom, a mere two minutes to eat their daily sustenance before it moves on, emptier and emptier as it descends.

Still from The Platform (2019)

COMMENTS: As a social experiment, watching The Platform with like-minded 366ers was a real treat. But the social experiment explored by film itself is nothing but harrowing. Though he takes some visual (and, doubtless, budgetary) inspiration from another near-future tract about human nature, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia is making his own movie, telling a story whose scale and brutality can make you lose your appetite.

Like the titular conveyance, The Platform begins piled on high—but with intrigue, instead of food. The (literal) platform’s food, we learn, diminishes during each section of its downward journey. Concurrently, our insight into the film’s premise increases. Goreng (Ivan Massagué, looking a bit scrawny even before his ordeal) is the lens through which we watch the system, administered, of course, by “The Administration.” He is an academic, established not only by his demeanor, but also by his sole possession: a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. His only companion is an older gentleman. He’s affable enough, to be sure, but also armed with a “SamuraiPlus”: a knife with the almost magical ability to self-sharpen with use (or so claims the advertisement). Goreng learns the hard way that an accredited diploma might not be worth this ordeal-by-privation.

Rarely have I ever seen “drab industrial” captured so well–and so simply. The Platform hinges wholly on the script and its characters, since we spend almost the entire film on a simple, concrete cell. Massagué and the rest are all top notch, imbuing a believability into what are effectively expositional conversations interspersed with some not-so-light-handed social commentary. Capitalism is skewered, then roasted to perfection by some of the top cooks in the business. Having such an obvious agenda often does a disservice to a film, but Gaztelu-Urrutia tempers the preachifying with humor, pathos, and some incredibly well maneuvered dei-ex-machina sleights-of-hand. The Platform is an impressive movie, though perhaps not best enjoyed with a good meal.

The special screening I had the good luck to attend in late March provided a much-needed change of pace. I typically approach each film in complete silence, frantically scribbling away in a notebook. I was reminded of the pleasure of viewing with friends, and the importance of cinema as a shared experience. It is only when there is a shared context that we can communicate effectively. And though The Platform couldn’t be described in any way as a “fun” movie, watching it with a gang was quite enjoyable. (Even if the food-based avatar icons most of us chose seemed a little hard-hearted by the end.)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A gnarly mash-up of midnight movie and social commentary, the picture is overly overt but undeniably effective, delivering genre jolts and broad messaging in equal measure.”–Jason Bailey, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

5*. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018)

“Well, was that weird enough for you?”–-Matt Surridge, author and festival reviewer, at Under the Silver Lake screening

“I usually like weird, but not THIS weird.”–Amazon product review for Under the Silver Lake

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Robert Mitchell

FEATURING: Andrew Garfield, , Patrick Fischler, David Yow, Jeremy Bobb

PLOT: Sam has two deadlines: first, figure out what to do about his “criminally” overdue rent before his eviction in five days; second, investigate the mysterious disappearance of the young woman he recently met in his apartment complex. Over the ensuing week, he explores East L.A.’s hidden messages in a quest of discovery, stumbling from conspiracy to conspiracy. Spoiler Alert: he does not solve his rent problem.

BACKGROUND:

  • The critical and financial success of David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 horror film It Follows gave the writer/director the clout he needed to get Under the Silver Lake, his passion project, made.
  • The film debuted at Cannes in 2018 to a cool reception. Distributor A24 had originally planned for a summer 2018 release, but pushed it back to December 2018, then again to 2019. Rumors circulated that the film would be recut in the interim to make it shorter and less confusing; thankfully, that did not happen.
  • The film was a financial flop, making back only about 2 million of its 8 million budget in its theatrical release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Spending so much time looking quietly bamboozled, any shot of Sam in “investigation mode” is memorable for its combination of mystery and listlessness. The long montage of him pursuing three young women driving a white VW Rabbit convertible nicely mirrors the audience’s journey as we follow him into a dreamland of ever-so-subtly sinister machinations.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: The Homeless King; cereal clues guide you to the tomb

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: What it may lack in specifics, Under the Silver Lake makes up for in volume. At a sprawling 2-and-1/3 hours, the narrative starts at “odd” and stacks on odder and odder. The background events (a serial dog-killer, the disappearance and death of a flamboyant billionaire) are themselves strange, but merely provide the unlikely framework on which Mitchell plasters the following: animated cult ‘zine sequences, another serial killer, a spooky old mansion hiding an existentially depressing secret, and a conspiracy wrap-up beyond our time and place.

Original trailer for Under the Silver Lake

COMMENTS: Divisiveness is a sure sign of a film’s promise. Continue reading 5*. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018)