Tag Archives: Satire

366 UNDERGROUND FROM THE READER SUGGESTION QUEUE: BHONER: THE MOVIE (2013)

Bhoner: The Movie is available to watch for free on Vimeo.

DIRECTED BY: and/or (Frank Anderson & Colin Shields)

FEATURING: Amolia Shells, Mellīza Verǎnda, Angel Gabriel, Taylor D’Andrew

PLOT: Sheltered ingenue Kisses, who lives in fear of the killer who murdered her father, is sent to a public summer school where she runs afoul of various cliques, and possibly the serial killer as well.

Still from Bhoner: The Movie (2013)

COMMENTS: In a Facebook post, the directors of Bhoner offered a simple invitation with a clear expression of their overall goal: “Help us offend a wider audience.” It honestly couldn’t be simpler. With a movie the filmmakers themselves describe as “vulgar, ugly, and stupid,” you can settle in for a straightforward effort to push the boundaries of good taste. 

The feeling from the outset is a satire of afterschool specials or parent-scare films along the lines of Go Ask Alice. The very first scene of the film shows purported innocent Kisses immediately turning to witchcraft in order to cope with the loss of her father and the restrictive atmosphere created by her holy roller mom (director Anderson in a camp drag routine). That should tell you right off the bat that none of this is to be taken seriously. No one in the cast looks remotely like a high schooler. Summer school seems to be held in one section of the cafeteria, with no teachers; students have lockers and the run of the entire building. A rich-kids-go-shopping montage takes place entirely at a thrift shop. It’s all deliberately silly. 

Along those lines, it’s only in this film’s opposite-day-logic that a child falling in with the wrong element would be sent to public school. But that development allows an introduction to a student body in the form of a parade of overinflated stereotypes, including dimwit cheerleaders, too-cool bros, and the occasional student who walks around in fetish gear. The acting runs at one of two speeds: you have a choice of either hugely low-key (such as the pair of jocks who declare they might be gay with all the enthusiasm of a light beer review) or raucously over the top (best exemplified by Verǎnda’s gratuitously evil head cheerleader Dimple). The one consistent trait is casual nastiness, snarkiness, and spouting the title word as every conceivable part of speech, a la Gretchen Wieners trying to make “fetch” happen.

The film’s greatest achievement is Shells pulling off dual roles as guileless Kisses and goth troublemaker Poppy, aided by judicious use of mascara and, ironically, haphazard edits that ensure they’re never quite in the same shot. I’m still kicking myself for how long it took me to recognize the stunt. Shells is no Tatiana Maslany, but she manages to give each of character their own spirit.

The vibe is further enhanced behind the camera, where Anderson and Shields’ directorial technique can be summed up in two words: Dutch angles. They are passionately in love with the tilted camera, and you can find one in very nearly every scene in the movie. That said, they’ve clearly never met a Dutch angle sharp enough for their tastes, so the image is constantly slanted to such an extreme that you half expect cast and props to go sliding off the edge of the screen. Their method is abetted by Gil Turetsky’s score, which consists of three or four cues which initially drop into a wryly cynical groove before becoming infuriating through endless repetition. This happens a lot in Bhoner: The Movie: an idea is treasured for being wild or unorthodox, and then the film piledrives that idea into the ground.

In a description provided for a screening at The New School, co-director Shields outlines very large ambitions for the Bhoner: The Movie. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he talks in terms of Biblical allegories and mocks the idea of the conservatively minded cautionary tale. The filmmakers want to meet over-the-top storytelling with even-more-over-the-top storytelling, but without even an ounce of subtlety to sell it, it loses any context or grounding at all. Think , but without any of the love he feels for his ridiculous characters. Instead, the film feels like a project put together by a sketch group where everybody is competing to be the most outlandish person in the movie. It’s exhausting, and not terribly funny. Bhoner: The Movie is limp.

(This movie was nominated for review by Frank—most likely co-director Frank Anderson. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Brian De Palma

FEATURING: Tom Smothers, John Astin, Katharine Ross, Orson Welles

PLOT: At his wit’s end in the fast-paced business world, a dissatisfied middle manager chucks his job to become a traveling tap-dancing magician.

Still from Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972)

COMMENTS: The passing of Tom Smothers brought many recollections of the genuinely transgressive variety show he and his brother Dick assembled to ride the waves of the counterculture and tweak the humorless establishment. It’s part of the legend that the stuffed shirts at CBS seized upon the first opportunity to cancel the show and presumably serve the whim of newly inaugurated paranoiac president Richard Nixon. Smothers would go down in history as a First Amendment martyr, and although the brothers would eventually resume their successful career as comedians and folk-performance parodists (your reviewer still cherishes catching their act as an adolescent and meeting Tom after the show), they never again saw the lofty heights they reached when they were tweaking censors and highlighting America’s distaste for the Vietnam War.

That fall from fame was not for lack of trying. About a year after “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” got yanked off the schedule, Tom decided to take a stab at movie stardom. Get To Know Your Rabbit looks like an ideal vehicle: a satire on the numbing effect of American corporate culture. The leading role seems tailor-made to take advantage of Smothers’ carefully developed stage persona as overwhelmed and bewildered by the world, as well as his offstage passion for justice. The producers also saw an opportunity to provide a Hollywood debut for Brian De Palma, who had made a name for himself with a pair of subversive comedies, Greetings and Hi, Mom! (Our Alfred Eaker would describe De Palma’s work here as “blatantly avant-garde”.) Add in a small part for Katharine Ross (hot off the success of The Graduate) and a key role for one of De Palma’s heroes, Orson Welles (who, as we’ve already seen, was apparently willing to do any film that would let him perform some magic), and this thing can’t possibly miss.

It missed, and badly. The shoot was evidently a misery; Smothers, a controlling figure on his TV show, disapproved of many of De Palma’s choices and eventually refused to turn up for re-takes. Welles also disappointed the young filmmaker, refusing to learn his lines. Eventually, Warner Bros. fired De Palma and recut the film using discarded footage and new scenes, including a much milder ending than the one the ousted director preferred. Finally, they sat on the film for two years, throwing it into theaters for a quickie release to be rid of the thing. (An alternate strategy for the studio was still decades away at the time.) Smothers would head back to the stage, while De Palma would mostly abandon both comedy and the major studios in favor of ian thrillers and suspenseful horror shows. (De Palma avoided Warner Bros. in particular, returning only after two decades to direct The Bonfire of the Vanities, which did Continue reading CAPSULE: GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT (1972)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: THE LOVED ONE (1965)

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DIRECTED BY: Tony Richardson

FEATURING: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, , ,, Paul Williams, Milton Berle, , , Lionel Stander

PLOT: A young expatriate Englishman arrives in Los Angeles and stumbles into the funeral business, where he develops an affection for an earnest young post-mortem aesthetician.

Still from The Loved One (1965)

COMMENTS: Funerary practices are perennially strange, probably owing to the contradictory problems they seek to address: desiring to establish the memory of the departed as something that will live forever, while needing to immediately get rid of the earthly vessel left behind. So emotionally unsettling is the prospect of saying final goodbyes to a beloved family member that the standard for what is “normal” changes frequently. Today, cremation is the most common practice in America, but it was in-ground interment only a few years back, and can we honestly say either of those are less bizarre than mummification, sky burial, or post-mortem portraiture?

The Loved One has many sacred cows to skewer, but the American funeral industry and the particularly weird strain of it found in southern California are its leading targets. Although the screenplay by renowned satirist Terry Southern and Berlin Stories scribe Christopher Isherwood is based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh (of “Brideshead Revisited” fame), it owes just as much to “The American Way of Death,” Jessica Mitford’s nonfiction exposé published only two years prior. The Loved One has much to say about how obsessions with money, class, and God-given righteousness find their way into our view of the afterlife. In particular, the film’s Whispering Glades cemetery is a dead ringer for the real Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, complete with its courts of statuary, well-manicured gardens, and objectification of beauty in remembrance.

The problem with death, as The Loved One sees it, is the living. They’re always making it about them somehow. When renowned artist Francis Hinsley (a woefully dignified Gielgud) hangs himself after being summarily dismissed by a Hollywood studio after decades of service, his fellow British expatriates insist on a grand ceremony, not just to honor the dead but to highlight their own superiority to the land in which they’ve settled. (Notably, we learn that the cemetery is off-limits to Blacks and Jews, because even in the Great Beyond, there’s always someone to look down on.) The mortuary’s employees are committed to a theme park’s sense of last rites, with all the young women dressed in identical black lace shifts and veils. The sales associates (including one played by Liberace, in perhaps the most understated moment of his entire life) upsell every element, including caskets and mourning attire. The embalmer-in-chief Continue reading IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: THE LOVED ONE (1965)

CAPSULE: DREAM SCENARIO (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Kristoffer Borgli

FEATURING: , , Dylan Gelula, , Tim Meadows

PLOT: A mild-mannered evolutionary biology professor becomes a celebrity after appearing in the dreams of random strangers across the world.

Still from dream scenario (2023)

COMMENTS: Dream Scenario begins mid dream, as balding professor Paul Matthews, raking poolside, calmly watches his younger daughter float into the sky. This scenario is quickly revealed to be a dream: this is not a movie that plays with ambiguity between dreams and waking. Rather, it’s a magical realist fame fable about what it would be like to be a nice-enough 21st century nobody who mysteriously begins appearing in people’s dreams.

While I personally could watch 90 minutes of Nic Cage making cameo appearances in other people’s nocturnal hallucinations, Dream Scenario only enacts a smattering of the dreams themselves. One dreamer perches on a desk while a pair of crocodiles menace her and Cage watches dispassionately; another wanders through a forest with strange mushrooms growing from the trees, wearing a tux and pursued by a nightmare figure, while a distracted Paul munches on a shroom.Paul is distressed that he never takes an active part in anyone’s dream, but seems to enjoy the media attention—at first.

It’s all light comedy up until a midpoint pivot. Paul finds someone in whose dream he takes a more active part. And soon after, his mood sours, for reasons both related and unrelated to his newfound celebrity. Soon, dream-Paul starts misbehaving in dreams, in ways that turn him into a public pariah. Even if they know intellectually that Paul isn’t responsible for how he behaves inside their subconsciouses, people can’t help but be angry: his students stop attending his lectures, he’s asked to leave restaurants because he makes people uncomfortable. Of course, Paul has done nothing wrong, but every real-life mistake he makes now gets magnified and taken out of context, until he’s completely pilloried in the public mind and essentially exiled from society.

Paul’s severe change of fortune necessitates a corresponding change of tone, one that’s not quite for the better. Dream Scenario‘s second half amps up the “cancel culture” satire and critique of mob-think. It’s an obvious target that Borgli’s script handles competently, and with a few chuckles. But while it’s always fun to watch a villain, or even a charming antihero, get their comeuppance, it’s a harder ask to make us enjoy a Job scenario where we watch an innocent, generally likable character get raked over the coals repeatedly.

Dream Scenario explores the gulf between reality and public perception, a problem exponentially magnified in the TikTok era. It also posits fame as something inherently undesirable, or at least inherently dangerous, through a recurring analogy about zebra stripes: being the one who sticks out from the herd makes you into a target for predators. These are not (or at least, should not be) profound insights, which is perhaps why, by the end, the movie takes on the tone of a sad parable rather than a stern lecture. Fortunately, Cage’s balanced and committed performance buoys everything. He’s amusing in the first act, cringe-worthy in the second, and an unwilling (and unrecognized) martyr in the third. A few of the wackier dreams give him a brief chance to show off his crazy side. He’s perfect for the role. Nicolas Cage is a man who has achieved the same kind of meme-heavy, eccentric celebrity as Paul Matthews; someone who is widely known, and has been both worshiped and ridiculed, for his persona rather than his actual personality. Cage puts his soul into this one, making for a pleasant Dream.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The world has finally gotten weird enough that Nicolas Cage now makes total sense… It’s as if his movies are saying, ‘Yes, it’s bad. It’s as bad as you think. But there’s an aspect to this that’s actually funny.’ That notion that everything is both horrible and amusing all but sums up the story of ‘Dream Scenario.'”–Mick LaSalle, The San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

Dream Scenario
  • Hapless family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. But when his nighttime appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul is forced to navigate his newfound stardom, in this wickedly entertaining comedy from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) and producer Ari Aster.