Tag Archives: Satire

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, Riley Keough, 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)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: GREENER GRASS (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Beck Bennett, Neil Casey

PLOT: In the pastel roadways of an uncanny suburbia, Jill gives her baby away to a friend and then starts losing everything else she holds dear.

Still from Greener Grass (2019)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In case you were thinking that Hell Suburbia was over and done with as a genre, think again. Greener Grass piles the golf carts, dental perfection, tight-femme-mom-chic pinks, and non-sequitur Valley Girl dialogue high on a teetering mound of absurdity, satire, comedy, and dystopia.

COMMENTS: Everyone envies Jill (Joceyln DeBoer). Her best friend Lisa is jealous of her baby immediately upon belatedly noticing it for the very first time. Another friend is amazed at the canapés she brought to her daughter’s birthday party. (“They’re so small!”) Her son is in the school’s elite “Rocket Math” program. Her home is pitch-perfect “Better Homes & Gardens” elegance, complete with a new pool whose oxygen filtration system makes its water, according to her husband, delicious. Her teeth are getting better, too; like every other adult in her town, she has braces.

Beginning with an impulsive effort to please her best friend (Dawn Luebbe, all glorious awkwardness and legs), Jill’s life starts sliding downhill. Handing off her baby to its new owner (cue portentous music) we see Jill’s awkward smile, which continues during the opening credits, filling up the entire screen, the rictus grin quavering throughout, then continuing to quaver on and off through the entire movie. Greener Grass blinds us with its pink and glossy-white vision of a post-utopian Suburbia. These folks have every comfort, and so fall back on one-upmanship and staggering vapidity. Jill’s cracks at the start become fissures during her husband’s 40th birthday party, when their son, himself quavering in his awkwardness, feebly croons the “birthday song” before collapsing into the immaculate pool, emerging as an immaculate yellow retriever. (His father is thrilled at the change.)

I don’t know the history of evilly pristine suburbs, but David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet is as good a landmark as any. While his had an underside of all-too-human unpleasantness, Greener Grass doesn’t allow for a speck of what we’d recognize as genuine humanity. There is no controversy or evil, just pettiness: withering criticism of a child’s tardiness—directed against Jill; dismissiveness of a gift of bean dip (being a mere five layers instead of seven)—directed against Jill; chastisement for being “rude” at a four-way intersection—directed against Jill.

Greener Grass is something of a feminist movie, but it points out that some of women’s worst enemies can be their fellow women. Jill’s friend attempts to take over her life from the start, beginning with the baby, before moving on to subtly co-opting everything else. This Mean Girls reality—one seen through (ominously) rose-colored lenses—creates something entirely unexpected: a sympathetic character amidst the dross of upper-middle class nothings. I couldn’t describe the tone simply as being “heavy-handed”; although it’s like a shotgun to the face for ninety minutes, it’s saturated as much by weirdo, “Upright Citizens Brigade”-style comedy as it is with social criticism. “Miss Human”, the second-grade teacher, with her Oregon Trail-style lesson plans; the “French”-style bistro replete with beret-wearing waiter fops; and the father’s beaming pride at his son’s new speed and charisma as a dog: these are all odd, and well executed—and taken as far as possible without letting up. Jill’s torment never ceases, but she never stops smiling. Ever.

Greener Grass was expanded from a 15-minute short (a Saturday Short selection, natch)—you can view it here.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…future cult favorite — a fate that seems all but guaranteed for this weird and wonderful comedy of manners…” –Peter DeBruge, Variety (festival screening)

CAPSULE: TONE-DEAF (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Richard Bates Jr.

FEATURING: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Kim Delaney

PLOT: After losing her boyfriend and her job, young adult Olive takes a vacation by herself at an airbnb rental in the country; unfortunately, her landlord is a millennial-hating boomer with murder on his mind.

Still from Tone-Deaf (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A horror-comedy that’s allegedly a satire of generational conflict, Tone-Deaf is neither scary nor funny—and although it does get a little weird, it doesn’t get weird enough to overcome its other handicaps.

COMMENTS: For the record (and I don’t consider this a spoiler) the title refers to protagonist Olive’s literal tone-deafness, the source of a running joke about how she’s a terrible piano player. Since her parents and friends all tell her she’s a whiz on the ivories, she never figures out that she can’t play, despite the fact that her renditions sound only slightly better than a drunk cat crawling across the keyboard.

See the satire? Or is it too subtle?

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that, as opposed to deep-seated prejudices about race and sex, the present (and perennial) generational conflict is relatively genial and jokey: “you kids get off my lawn!,” “in my day we walked to school uphill—both ways.”1 Although there was a brief “participation trophy” furor a few years back, in general, the ribbings oldsters give youngsters, and vice-versa, aren’t taken too seriously by either side. After all, the Boomers were the “Me Generation” that the “Greatest Generation” accused of being soft; for them to turn around and make the same claims about millennials is an absurd (if inevitable) example of history repeating itself. The Boomer-millennial clash just isn’t that serious or rancorous, so satirizing it isn’t bold or dangerous; in fact, it seems like a deflection to avoid addressing the real destructive partisan divide in today’s America. And, in the end, Tone-Deaf‘s screenplay refuses to firmly commit to either side, making us wonder what the point of the entire exercise was.

That lack of focus wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the jokes were funny. I think I chuckled once, during an unexpected deadpan cultural appropriation joke. But for the most part you see the jabs coming; they’re all telegraphed, far too obvious to catch you off guard. Heck, Harvey even breaks the fourth wall to rant about kids today, so you couldn’t accuse the script of trusting the audience to be smart enough to get the point. And yet, Tone-Deaf isn’t a complete misfire. Although the high concept misses the mark, there’s enough going on that the movie becomes watchable. Since a feature length film has a lot of time to fill between the time Olive checks in and Harvey tries to forcibly check her out, the script has to find something else for the slasher and victim to do while waiting for the final showdown. That means some unexpected plot turns, including a Tinder date in a cowboy bar and a car wash that sells drugs. Demented killer Robert Patrick’s performance can be fun, in a crusty old fart swinging a tire iron kind of way. The best parts of the film are the left-field ian touches. Harvey has a series of psycho-sexual nightmares featuring art-installation models in blue latex body paint that are funnier parodies than anything else in the script. And a cameo by —looking a bit like the Amazing Criswell lit by a multicolored strobe light during an acid trip—is a highlight (the man’s a real pro). These bits suggest a better, wilder B-movie hiding somewhere inside this misfire.

The filmmakers had to know from the outset that reviewers were going to dub this a “Tone-Deaf satire.” (It’s probably a good thing they didn’t name it Ham-Fist, although that title would have lent itself to even more accurate critical quips).

Richard Bates, Jr. made a minor splash in the indie horror world with his 2012 debut, Excision, but has since failed to follow up on that success. Tone-Deaf won’t revive his fading reputation, but there are enough shiny baubles buried under the dross to make us not want to give up on him just yet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘Tone-Deaf’ is devilishly hilarious for the first two acts, diving into murky psychological waters to trigger some spooky and surreal stuff for genre fans, but also retaining a defined sense of humor, with amusing amplification of common generational issues, having a good time poking a stick at people of all ages.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DIAMANTINO (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Daniel Abrantes, Carl Schmidt

FEATURING: Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira

PLOT: Portuguese soccer mega star Diamantino leaves his career after a devastating failure at an important match; in his new life, he adopts a refugee and gets embroiled in an odd conspiracy involving espionage, genetic experimentation, Neo-fascism and nationalism.

Still from Diamantino (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The moment the football pitch is invaded by giant fluffy dogs and pink clouds, you’ll know this is not a conventional film. The plot continues to accumulate bizarre twists and turns, from attempts to clone Diamantino to an offbeat far-right conspiracy that almost puts Alex Jones to shame.

COMMENTS: The greatest satire is played in such a completely straight way that it could almost be taken seriously. This applies to the grandiose introductory scene to Diamantino… until the fluffy dogs pop up, that is. Our titular protagonist recalls in voiceover how his father admired the sublime paintings of Michelangelo and their ability to raise people’s faith. He then claims his son will be the next Michelangelo, not through painting, but through the art of the “new cathedrals,” the football (soccer) stadiums; as he we hear this, the camera approaches one of these in all its glory in a stately aerial shot.

We’re introduced to the heroic figure of Diamantino in a decisive moment of great distress. On the soccer field, he feels the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders; like always, the vision of giant fluffy dogs comes to aid him in his next attempt at scoring a goal. If he fails, Portugal will be eliminated from the World Cup. Despite his reputation for near infallibility, he misses it. Commentators immediately echo the tremendous shock and grief of the audience: “The greatest tragedy since the Greeks”; “Will Portugal survive this?”, they remark.

While this apotheosis of soccer may give the impression of the film’s satire being mainly directed at Portuguese society (where football has a famously disproportionate relevance), that’s only the case for this particular aspect of the plot. In the midst of the film’s zany narrative and irreverent humor (mirrored by the quirky and colorful visual style), the centerpiece is the protagonist’s journey, conveyed through an admirable and committed performance by Carloto Cotta.

As it turns out, Diamantino is “innocent,” his cognitive abilities equivalent to those of a 10 year old child. This trait is not used, however, to make him a crude caricature of celebrity soccer stardom 1; to the contrary, he is portrayed in the most sympathetic way such a satire can afford. There is a clear, strong charm to the Diamantino’s “innocence”; or, shall we say, purity. It obviously leads to comedic moments, but the film’s overall honesty and lack of cynicism provides its emotional core.

Diamantino’s childlike innocence and utter absence of malice is evident in everything he says or does. Seemingly disconnected from political reality altogether, he first learns of refugees when he sees them from his private yacht. The sight impacts him so much that, after his fall from grace and abandonment of his soccer career, he immediately decides to adopt one. In the first of the film’s twists, the refugee he adopts turns out to be a spy. Eventually, Diamantino’s cartoonishly cruel and opportunistic sisters, who treat him tyrannically and run his offshore account without his knowledge (he doesn’t even know what an offshore account is), turn to genetic experiments that are connected to a hilariously convoluted conspiracy involving the soccer star’s participation in commercials and to a (fictional) far-right political party’s plan to jettison Portugal from the European Union.

The film insists on situating its plot in today’s turbulent sociopolitical landscape. While this commentary has its relevance, it’s not developed with the detail and acidic incisiveness that would be expected from a true political satire, which will disappoint viewers craving something along these lines. The main function of these elements is to provide background for the personal story of Diamantino; they reveal how his innocence makes him a pawn of every entity willing to cash on his immense popularity, from major organizations to his own sisters, who treat him like an object through which they can attain their goals.

Not all of the film’s threads come together satisfyingly; in particular, the central relationship between Diamantino and the fake refugee/spy isn’t sufficiently fleshed out in to give the ending the punch it aims for. Due to the overall strength of the experience and the compelling portrait of its titular tragicomic figure, these inconsistencies come off as minor flaws. The film’s delightfully crazy sense of humor and surreally satirized reality, contrasted with the sincerity with which it treats its main character, makes for a definite achievement.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Part political satire, part fantasy, part I-don’t-even-know-what, Diamantino is exactly the type of surreal concoction that begs to be discovered by unsuspecting audiences.”–Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail (festival screening)