12 posts categorized "Satire"

February 10, 2018


Andrea RiseboroughWhile not as bawdy as it could or should have been, Armando Iannucci’s (director on "In The Loop," scriptwriter on television's "Veep") determinedly British send up of the Russian political structure at the time of Joseph Stalin’s death is a satisfying political spoof.

With no German accents anywhere in earshot, the satire kicks in with Adrian Mcloughlin’s death (as Stalin) while listening to a freshly minted radio recording by Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), a symphony pianist who sends Stalin a hate note along with the vinyl record for the Russian leader to mull over. A puddle of pee surrounds Stalin's [is-he-really-dead] corpse. Not pretty. 

This goofy cinematic vantage on petty jealousies, backstabbing, and political maneuvering of Russia’s Central Committee gives the audience a not so unrealistic sense of how politicians operate regardless of their country of origin.

Jeffrey Tambor is delightfully insufferable as Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov who wrangles to take command of Russia now that Stalin is out of the way. Malenkov has stiff competition in the likes of Lavrentiy Beria (exquisitely cast with Simon Russell Beale), the head of NKVD (Russia’s secret police called the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Steve Buscemi is predictably watchable as Nikita Khrushchev. Especially delicious is Michael Palin’s turn as Foreign Minister Vyachaslav Molotov. The former Monty Python actor and contributor hasn't lost his razor-sharp comic timing. 

Death of stalin

The Death of Stalin” plays lighter than its subject matter projects. While another trip through the editing process could have helped, this is a movie that audiences will happily discover as time goes by. It doesn’t hurt that the film was banned in Russia. I wish it had been more transgressive to warrant such an action, but it’s got plenty of laughs as it is. Motherland or Home Land, it's all the same. 


Rated R. 106 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


Groupthink doesn't live here.

February 26, 2017


Get OutJordan Peele’s directorial debut isn’t as much a horror movie as it is a scathing social satire. The film is more “Stepford Wives” than it is “Rosemary’s Baby.” The shocks and scares that come at the audience are more related to taking out the garbage on Obama-bot liberals who discovered their asses hung out to dry by Hillary Clinton’s Bernie-directed skullduggery that allowed Donald Trump’s team to win over swing-voters who have also been equally duped by a data-mining system that makes America’s bologna form of democracy obsolete.

Get Out” achieves something that no other film has so eloquently done before; it gives its audience the sense of what it is to be a black adult in a country where the liberals who pretend to stand up for blacks are just as guilty of exploiting them as their racist counterparts. There are stunning moments when Peele’s dialogue strikes unmistakable targets as when this film’s villainous white patriarch (played by Bradley Whitford made up to look strikingly like David Fincher) proudly announces that he would have “voted for Obama for a third term.” Peele is the first black person I’ve heard call out Obama as the Uncle Tom his presidency represented from the first second he took office.


While the pacing lags where it should escalate, and Peele all but abandons his film’s most fascinating aspect (the relationship between his black protagonist Chris and his white girlfriend Rose), “Get Out” is a delightful satire that knows enough to not take itself too seriously. Brain transplants give the movie an appropriately B-movie edge.

Get Out

Actor Daniel Kaluuya’s pitch-perfect performance arrives alongside Jordan Peele’s breakout as a talented filmmaker. Social satires rarely strike as cold and deep as “Get Out.” Peele’s message is clear; America is not a hospitable place for the black people it exploits from both sides. With friends like Obama-liberals, none of us need any enemies, much less the likes of the Trump administration and its legion of racist thugs. We may all need to “get out.”

Rated R. 108 mins. (B) (Three Stars — Out of five / no halves)


We're drinking SAMUEL SMITH OATMEAL OATMEAL for our discussion of Jordan Peele's GET OUT.

And don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and follow us on SOUNDCLOUD. And tell your friends! 


COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


February 10, 2015


I Stand AloneDesolation of the human soul is the provocation for Gaspar Noé’s dead-end French antihero, a nameless, broke 50-something butcher (played by the commanding Philippe Nahon). Nahon’s insidiously repulsive narcissist carries all the marks of a card-carrying right-wing extremist. Self-loathing, racist, misogynistic, and shaking with pedophiliac desires, Noé’s existential everyman of moral depravity narrates his life story. It reads like a bad acid trip.    

Growing up as an abandoned child during World War II leads to the adult butcher owning his own meat shop. His mute 13-year-old daughter appears with blood on her panties. Believing his daughter was raped, he chases the suspect with a knife, but accidentally stabs an innocent man. Several years in prison leave the butcher briefly ready to “reset the counter” on his life. It doesn’t take long for that fantasy to fade. The setting is France circa 1980. Our hateful man (with the metaphoric and literal occupation title that describes him) questions his morality while wandering Paris on the run after pummeling his pregnant girlfriend, thereby killing their baby. Noé’s dual-antagonist-protagonist earns no empathy from his audience.

The Argentinian filmmaker uses simple but dynamic stylistic devices, such as a single gunshot sound effect, to emphasize sudden leaps in the butcher’s progressively offensive inner monologue of discontent and rage. Noé isn’t above using cheap gimmicks to toy with his audience, as when “ATTENTION” flashes across the screen before giving the audience “30 seconds to leave the screening of this film,” with only 20 minutes left. Rest assured any weak-kneed viewers would already have exited the cinema long before Noé’s tongue-in-cheek alert.


I Stand Alone” (Gaspar Noé’s feature debut) is as much a philosophical denunciation of humanity as it is a thought-provoking treatise on mental illness as a socially communicable disease. The suicidal butcher’s cynical philosophy has flashes of clarity amid bouts of violent actions and bloody fantasies. Love may be the only remedy for the butcher’s nagging death wish but even that comes as a sick travesty.

Not Rated. 81 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


Click Here to Pledge Your Support Through Patreon

August 10, 2014


MEET JOHN DOEWikipedia lists “Meet John Doe” as an “American comedy film.” How wrong they are. Frank Capra’s trenchant 1941 social satire of right-wing manipulation of American society, was released just prior to America’s involvement in World War II, at a time when the country’s anxious social climate was exacerbated by harsh economic circumstances following the Great Depression. The script is based on a story by war photographer and newspaper journalist Robert Presnell Sr.

Although the doors closed on the Group Theater’s socially conscious plays during the same year, the theater company’s influence for creating “forceful” socially provocative works is clearly on display in “Meet John Doe.” The film still retains its resonance as a lively commentary against political and corporate corruption in a capitalist system that is nothing more than another form of fascism. In hindsight, aspects of “Spartacus” and “Ace in the Hole” seem derived from “John Doe’s” socially driven plot. The film is a singular example of mainstream leftist cinema at its best.

Times are tough. Newspaper writer Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of many staff members getting the axe. A single mother of two, Ann pleads for her job before sitting down to write her final column — one she intends to provoke the kind of “fireworks” her editor is looking for to boost newspaper sales. Ann writes an editorial letter under the nom de plume of “John Doe,” protesting society’s corrupt methods that exploit American citizens from cradle to grave.


Ann’s “John Doe” promises to commit suicide on Christmas Eve by jumping from the top of the City Hall tower as "his" final act of protest against an impossible system that enslaves its populace. Ann’s phony letter strikes a nerve with the masses. To insure her continued employment, she hatches a plan for the paper to hire a “common man” to accept responsibility for writing the letter, namely a real-life John Doe. Fifty dollars is all it takes.

With his movie-star jawline, Gary Cooper underplays the downtrodden character of John Willoughby, a former minor league baseball pitcher in need of elbow surgery before he can return to his chosen profession. For the last few years, John has ridden the rails with his harmonica-playing hobo companion “The Colonel” (Walter Brennan). Although a supporting character, The Colonel is a key figure because he speaks the author’s theme lines regarding the true nature of freedom. He sees through the insidious rat race that money demands of its servants, and refuses to participate. He’s an outlier with reason and a purpose. You’d be hard-pressed to find such an ideally composed socialist character in any other film. And this is coming from Frank Capra, the man who made “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and produced US military propaganda movies. Go get ‘em cowboy.  


Newspaper publisher and right-wing political upstart D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold) plays two ends against the middle by funding the formation of hundreds of “John Doe” clubs across the country. Norton’s underhanded but obvious intent is to repurpose the club’s members as voters who will pave his way to the White House. Providing “John Doe” club members with the utopia they demand is the opposite of what Norton intends to deliver.

Barbara Stanwyck’s unreliable character Ann is revealed to be a canny opportunist with a bag of self-serving (read “survivalist”) tricks. Fainting works when sobbing doesn’t do the job.

“Meet John Doe” ends on an uncertain note. John Willoughby is left just as confused as he was when first he came to audition for the role of working-class-hero. Nothing has changed, except that John Willoughby is called something different.


Not Rated. 122 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


December 15, 2012


Funny GamesAustrian auteur Michael Haneke successfully mocks the American media’s penchant for violence by pushing the limits of cinematic sado-masochism. The film’s brutal satire, unrelenting misery and surprisingly, its restraint make it all the more demanding of its audience.

Haneke makes his intentions clear in the opening scene; opera music plays in the SUV of a married couple with their adolescent son Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) sitting contentedly in the back seat. They tow a boat. Husband Georg (Ulrich Muhe) tries to guess which Vivaldi song his wife Anna (Susanne Lothar) has put in the CD player. It’s a rich person’s diversion that identifies the family as operating smugly within a bourgeoisie paradigm of status quo tranquility.

Suddenly, the most satanic wail of anti-music interrupts the action like a dense tidal wave of toxic aural mud. John Zorn’s parody of heavy metal music boldly announces the bitter cold irony in the offing. We see the family’s calm faces like bugs under a microscope. The alienating music baptizes the audience into a distressed state of being. Already, Haneke has begun to objectify the family that will be humiliated and tortured for the remainder of the movie.

Haneke’s compositions are strictly formal. You can sense the rigor with which every long and medium shot is executed. It is a frigid distance, drained of humor. Inside the lake house the camera soaks up the interior elements, inviting the audience to take inventory of the white-walled home.

Funny Games2

Ann stocks the fridge while George greets a stiffly mannered Fred with his teenaged friend Paul (Arno Frisch) dressed in white shorts, shirt, and gloves — like some kind of germ-fearing tennis player. Alone in the house, Ann is interrupted by Paul’s similarly dressed friend Peter (Frank Giering) asking to borrow four eggs for the neighbor. Ann accommodates but Peter drops the eggs. Ever so politely Peter asks for more. On the surface, Peter and Paul are courteous to a fault. But their actions belie an illogical pretense beyond their smirking but respectful words.


Paul sends Ann on a search for the newly missing family dog. He turns directly to the camera and shares a wink with the audience. It’s the first of several opportunities Haneke takes to check in with the viewer from the bad guy’s point of view. The director lets us in on the manipulation he is committing. He wants you to know, question, and accept that you are nothing but a mere product of the way you have been conditioned by the media.

"Funny Games" represents the most indigestible and unsettling cinematic experience you could imagine. To put it in the words of the director, "It’s a film you come to if you need to see it. If you don’t need this movie, you will walk out before it’s over."

Not Rated. 108 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


Click Here to Pledge Your Support Through Patreon

March 03, 2012


NashvilleIn 1975 Robert Altman painted filmic satire on a grand scale with "Nashville." That he did so with no fewer than 25 main characters defies conventional wisdom regarding the depth of personalities possible in a movie structure. Here, drama and comedy blend in a hyped up neo-realistic environment that flirts with a carnival atmosphere. 

A constant barrage of Nashville-inspired music—most of it written by Altman’s actors for the film—holds together a cesspool community of transitory Americana wannabes and could-bes, tourists, journalists, and country music musicians. Elliot Gould and Julie Christie play themselves in quirky cameos. Jeff Goldblum is tossed in for good measure as a chopper-riding magician who never says a word. Scott Glen’s Pfc. Glenn Kelly is a soldier visiting Nashville to look after the ailing country music singer whose life his mother saved many years ago.


By exploring the humble and not so humble aspirations of his wonder-wheel of ensemble cast members, Altman expresses an organic cross-section of American mentality—dimples, warts, and all. Rather than subscribe to any stereotypes Altman has his actors create their own archetypes. The effect is absurdly seductive. Still, that’s not to say that real-life country music stars such as Loretta Lynn don’t inform certain characters, such as Ronnie Blakely’s fragile country singer Barbara Jean.


A highway pile-up, caused by a boat falling off a car trailer, introduces the hydra-like story with a touch of slapstick humor. Henry Gibson’s country music star Haven Hamilton sings with sincerity a patriotic song reinforcing his idea that America must be “doin’ something right to last 200 years.”

A Presidential candidate’s campaign interrupts the hopscotching narrative with monologue clips. The brief political messages reverberate off the personal stories of failure and success that percolate throughout the movie. Candidate Hal Phillip Walker represents the “Replacement Party” whose values includes battling big oil companies, eliminating subsidies to farmers, taxing the churches, abolishing the electoral college, and removing lawyers from government—especially from Congress.

When she isn't looking after her two deaf sons Lily Tomlin’s good-hearted family woman Linnea Reese sings with a black college gospel choir. Linnea’s attorney husband Delbert represents Haven Hamilton. He is also busy organizing Hal Philip Walker’s campaign with assistance from Michael Murphy’s dishonest campaign organizer John Triplette.


Coming on the heels of the Watergate scandal that cost Richard Nixon his presidency, Altman captures a rich assortment of willful ignorance, cynicism, optimism, and opportunism that was prevalent in Nashville at the time. Altman’s prolific ability to capture cultural and emotional scope is enhanced by his keen eye for angles and ear for truth.

Rated R. 160 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


Click Here to Pledge Your Support Through Patreon

February 02, 2011


Discreet_charm_of_the_bourgeoisieLuis Buñuel's most financially successful film is an absurdist satire that puts the strictures of upper class society under a pulverizing gaze to examine its many hypocrisies. The role of organized religion, the military, politicians, and the ruling classes are lambasted for their ambivalent attitudes, shallow values, and ritualized conventions of avoidance. Where the characters of Buñuel's 1962 film "The Exterminating Angel" were unable to leave the room of their dinner party, the well-dressed dinner guests of "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" are unable to dine regardless of where they go.

A wealthy couple, Alice and Henri Sénéchal (Stephane Audran and Jean-Pierre Cassel), are surprised by the arrival of their four dinner guests on the wrong night. The six friends set off together in search of a civilized meal but are thwarted at every turn. A visit to a familiar restaurant turns into a wake for the former owner, whose corpse occupies an adjacent room. At another would-be feast, a curtain is pulled back to reveal an audience watching the hungry diners who sit at a table onstage for an unannounced theatrical presentation. Buñuel blends reveries with nightmares to expose chilling realities that simmer beneath the surface of appearances of "polite society." Time-flipping segues, flashbacks, and bizarre events break up the narrative with an off-kilter sense of gallows humor. A priest taking confession from a dying man learns that the man was responsible for killing the priest's parents many years ago. Terrorist attacks are commonplace. Buñuel doesn't just take the piss out of his muted representatives of societal repression; he makes them victims of their own devices.

Buñuel signature surrealistic approach comes across in his asymmetrical juxtaposition of props, such as rubber chickens or a Napoleon-styled hat. Buñuel doesn't just ridicule, he pokes and prods at his dubious subjects with a gleeful delight until they squeal. Such priceless cynical joy you won't find anywhere else.

Discreet Charm

Rated PG. 102 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


November 26, 2010

Love & Other Drugs

Love Drawn from the same murky well of Hollywood ethical ambiguity that gave us "Thank You for Smoking" and last year's "Up In the Air," "Love & Other Drugs" audaciously defines its slick anti-hero protagonist as beyond reproach. Jake Gyllenhaal's Jamie Randall is a sex-addicted stud whose effortless ability to bed women anytime/anywhere gets him fired from his peppy job selling electronics equipment to women of all ages during the bustling economy of 1996. Landing on his feet, Jamie's seduction skills become still more useful at his new position hawking drugs for Pfizer. Partnered with old-hand Big-Pharma peddler Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), Jamie utilizes his mythical appendage to place samples of Zoloft in the stocks of doctors all over Pittsburgh. Sleeping with doctor office receptionists has fiscal benefits. He has no ethical qualms about posing as a medical intern in order to "shadow" Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), an especially hard-sell doctor who shares a similar free-spinning moral compass. It's a line-crossing stunt that introduces Jamie to early onset Parkinson's disease-suffering patient Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway) via her exposed spider-bitten breast. Jamie and Maggie are commitment-phobes whose sexual collision is articulated to preclude any actual devotion of the heart. "Love & Other Drugs" wants to lampoon the corporate milieu of the medical industry corruption that promotes and sustains America's ongoing health care crisis. But it does it all wrong. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway look too perfect naked together to be anything other than art. We accept the light-hearted entertainment like drinking spiked punch. So what if Gyllenhaal's character is a reprehensible cad? He looks great and just so happy with that health-challenged Venus.

Rated R. 113 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

May 16, 2010


TristanaLuis Buñuel's Tristana is a sly feminist treatise about an escape from patriarchal subjugation paired with its own set of physical obstacles. Revenge also plays into the stylized narrative cards that Luis Buñuel reorders from Benito Perez Galdos's 1892 novel in order to emphasize the freedom of will of his enigmatic title character (unforgettably played by Catherine Deneuve).

In Toledo, Spain, the death of Tristana's mother leaves her to be "adopted" by Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a wealthy duplicitous liberal who views Tristana as both daughter and his virginal wife-to-be. Disgusted by the elderly man's attempts to limit her freedom and curtail her education, Tristana falls for a local painter named Horacio (Franco Nero) in a love-at-first-sight meeting that catches Lope off guard. Also close by is Saturno (Jesus Fernandez), the mute teenage son of Don Lope's maid. Buñuel uses Saturno's inability to speak as a corollary thematic element of restrained desire that finds liberation late in the film, when Tristana gives herself over to a thrilling moment of erotic exhibitionism from her balcony. Two years spent living with Horacio come to an end when a terrible cyst in Tristana's foot causes Horacio to bring her back to Don Lope for the older, and ostensibly wealthier man, to care for her. Buñuel depicts the horse-trading that goes on between the men as yet another way that women are treated as possessions.


As with Buñuel's "Diary of a Chambermaid," "Tristana" (1970) carries a significant element of foot fetishism expanded into an amputee fixation, as witnessed by Tristana's prosthetic leg lying on the bed with her lingerie, or the exposed nub beneath her skirt as she plays piano. The film also contains an element of horror that rears up in Tristana's recurring nightmare about the man who attempts to control her destiny. 


To experience "Tristiana" is to walk in the veritable shoes of millions of women. The scent is intoxicating in the hands of Luis Buñuel.    

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series