Tag Archives: Satire

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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Recommended

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.

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006)

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DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Allyson Sereboff, Joshua Olatunde, Robin L. Watkins

PLOT: When a ravenously capitalist fast-food chain builds a franchise on an old Indian burial ground in the fair burg of Tromaville, the spirits of dead Native Americans and dead chickens conspire to turn the poultry-eating populace into fluid-spewing zombies.

Still from Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)

COMMENTS: What are you doing out there on the front porch? Get in here, darn ya! Sit, sit, we’re just about ready to serve. The stuffing is on the table, the onions on the green bean casserole are crisp, I’ve got a spoon for the cranberry sauce… oh, and here’s the bird. Would you like to carve? Just be careful with the knife, because once you cut into that crispy seasoned flesh, you’re liable to be sprayed with an unholy onslaught of blood, bile, vomit, feces, and any number of disgusting fluids. Go on, dig in!

Yes, it’s a Thanksgiving here at 366 Weird Movies headquarters, and even though it’s chicken and not turkey on the menu in Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, the film is suffused with the spirits of the two oppressed populations who have made our modern American Thanksgiving possible: Native Americans and domesticated fowl. If Troma Entertainment has taught us anything, it’s that failure to pay the proper respects will result in terror of the most disgusting and ridiculous nature imaginable, so choose your words carefully when you say grace.

What can one say when reviewing the most review-proof organization in show business? A rave would be an endorsement, while a pan is a badge of honor. I will suggest, then, that Poultrygeist is, in Troma terms, an almost perfect object. It’s got everything you expect, by the bucketload: deep stupidity, rampant nudity, crude insults that punch up and down in equal measure, and so much fluid being sprayed like a fire hose. Consider that a character named after a certain submarine sandwich pitchman/convicted sex criminal isn’t merely fat in defiance of his processed food diet; he’s morbidly obese, and we’re treated to an in-toilet POV shot of his unfortunate encounter with a haunted meal, a sight so appalling that even the Troma braintrust has seen fit to slap “CENSORED” bars across the screen. If you have even a passing familiarity with the Troma House of Moviemaking and that’s your bag, you will not be disappointed.

Liquids aside, Poultrygeist is a satire, but of the everyone’s-a-target variety. Voracious capitalism comes under fire, but so do self-righteous protesters and mawkish bleeding hearts. The cynical people who make fast food are hardly worse than the mindless hordes who eat it. Ridicule is ladled out in copious amounts at women, gay Continue reading IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006)

FANTASIA 2023: APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: HIPPO (2023)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kimball Farley, Lilla Kizlinger, Eliza Roberts, voice of

PLOT: A nineteen-year-old boy lives a sheltered life of sugar and videogames under the guardianship of his conspiracy-obsessed mother and in the company of his adopted seventeen-year-old Hungarian sister who is obsessed with conceiving a child.

Still from Hippo (2023)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: This is a very dark, but laugh-out-loud comedy centered on a family whose dysfunction makes the viewer sympathize with a visiting sex offender. Outrageous, unsettling, and hilarious.

COMMENTS: On those rare occasions when one is smacked upside the head with such beautiful domestic horror, it pays to linger on the experience: savoring the deadpan unpleasantness that oozes a quirky charm reminiscent of Eraserhead as directed by ; contemplating the beauty of life as it emerges from horrid, gooey ingredients; and laughing your ass off at the mad, matter-of-fact insanity of a calmly self-assured beta-male psycho. Hippo feels tailor made for those happy few who can overlook sacrilege, sexual mores, and can find it in their heart to embrace a nightmare version of Thomas Kinkade.

Like his adopted Hungarian sister, Buttercup, Adam is schooled at home by a mother who has witnessed UFOs. The lad, recently turned nineteen, is called “Hippo” by his sister and mother, a pet name derived from a stuffed animal in his possession for years, and which he recently has begun humping nightly before sleep. (He does not know about “masturbation”, per se, and similarly his stepsister is wholly unaware of the facts about sex and sexuality.) As the trio go about their routines, dynamics shift as Hippo becomes more paranoid about the dangers outside the home—alien invasion and World War III among them—and Buttercup, in her own semi-detached view of this insular world, desires more and more to bear a child, preferably her stepbrother’s. A visitation by an out-of-town pervert (for a “play-date”, the drunken mother assures the group at an awkward dinner) catalyses the collapse of the old family unit, bringing Hippo and Buttercup into a strange new world.

Hippo is horror, in its way. Its depiction of a ’90s-era man-child, obsessed as much with violence as his own merits as an individual, induces both dismay and guffaws. Kimball Farley is nothing short of frightening in his depiction of Hippo, challenging viewers with his impressively crummy portrayals of masculinity through remarks like, “Quiet. You are about to witness man made horrors beyond your comprehension”, and meaning every word. I could also write that as, Kimball Farley is nothing short of hilarious in his depiction of Hippo. Such is the line being tread here, with Hippo’s aspiring-alpha-male deadpan complemented perfectly by his stepsister’s resigned deadpan (and each side glued by the unflappability of Eliza Roberts’ mother hen).

The black and white cinematography is artistic and ridiculous, in keeping with the thematic and stylistic dualities found throughout. As an exploration of extreme religion clashing with extreme modernity (vintage, in this case, as Hippo relishes a particular—and violent—new game on his N64), Rapaport shows a societal decay through a mercifully semi-detached lens. I laughed heartily, particularly at the finale’s Genesis punchline, and only felt comfortable so doing because I knew the crowd I was watching alongside. Hippo is not for the easily offended: a bouncy-dark vision with the kind of happy ending that only a Henry Spencer could relish.

Listen to our interview with star and Director of Photography William Babcock.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an exceedingly strange, quirky film meant to provoke, like the incestuous subtext of The Royal Tenenbaums restaged by way of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth a fantastically weird investigation into young manhood, one that feels like it comments on the modern ‘incel’ as much as it does on sheltered 90s kids.”–Eric Langberg, “Everything’s Interesting”