6 posts categorized "Political Satire"

July 15, 2013


The-best-years-of-our-livesThe underlying satirical nature of William Wyler’s post-war paean to American soldiers returning home from World War II lurks throughout this beloved drama.

The winner of nine Academy Awards — including the only time an actor has won two Oscars for the same role — “The Best Years of Our Lives” is such a blatant example of American-produced propaganda that its blunt elements serve opposing purposes to its detailed context of approved social behavior, realities, and identities.

Samuel Goldwyn first commissioned the script from war correspondent MacKinlay Kantor, whose blank verse novella “Glory for Me” informed the finished product — written by Robert E. Sherwood. When Sherwood allows the story’s brimming social subtext to overflow with regularity, the complex scenes strike enduring dissonant chords that contradict every bit of gung-ho nostalgia and political brainwashing that the movie seems to parade.


Each of the film’s ex-military protagonists carries his battle scars differently. Emotionally insecure bombardier Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) disregards his marriage to a local trollop. Rather, Fred woos Peggy (Teresa Wright), the vulnerable daughter of Sargent Al Stephenson, a 40-year-old soldier Derry meets on his way back to the same Midwest town, Boone City. Also present is Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), a Navy man who lost both hands in an explosion. Homer has since mastered use of the hooks that attach from below his elbows.
Economic realities are on prominent display.

Well-off family man Sargent Stephenson takes refuge in alcohol to numb his post-war depression. His patient wife Milly (Myrna Loy) is her husband’s loyal keeper.
Al’s longtime mentor, and bank owner, Mr. Milton (Ray Collins) gives Al a promotion from his former desk job to “vice president in charge of small of loans” — “at a salary of $12,000 a year.” Mr. Milton comes to regret his generosity in light of Al’s favoritism toward fellow veterans with “no collateral.”

Best Years of Our Lives

Al publically breaks company rank at a dinner hosted by Mr. Milton. The inebriated civilian professes love for his bank before representing it as a generous investor “in the future of this country.” During the speech William Wyler keeps the camera on Al with a deep focus on Milly’s telling facial expressions that translate her husband’s intentionality to the other dinner guests. The distraction works, for the film audience at least. Still, Al Sharpton’s days of gainful employment at Cornbelt Trust Company may be numbered.

The scene that scratches the heavily music-queued movie sparks its inciting incident. Fred Derry works as a “soda jerk” at a local department store. A well-dressed gentleman wearing a ring on his left pinky orders a sandwich. Homer stops by for a chocolate sundae. The stranger wants to “ask a personal question.” Homer answers out of turn, giving his well-rehearsed explanation of how he uses his “hooks.” The stranger compliments Homer’s braveness before expressing an unconventional opinion of the war.

“You got plenty of guts. It’s terrible when you see a guy like you that had to sacrifice himself, and for what.”

Homer is confused.

“We let ourselves get sold down the river. We were pushed into war.” The “leftist” at the counter believes that “the Germans and the Japs had nothing against us. They just wanted to fight the Limeys and the Reds.”

The opinionated stranger talks about the American people being “deceived” into war by “radicals” in Washington. 

A fight ensues that directly addresses everything the wounded soldiers have been hiding. They must fight forevermore. 

The Best Years Of Our Lives 2

Not Rated. 168 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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April 05, 2013


There's Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," and then there's everything else. Kubrick's 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess's complex literary satire of crime and punishment is an earth-shattering cinematic experience that elicits an unprecedented visceral response from its audience. Malcolm McDowell plays British thug and sociopath Alex De Large, who wanders around a futuristic, economically ravished Britain where trash fills the streets. It’s a spitting image of the bleak socio-political landscape that gave rise to the British punk rock movement of the late ‘70s.


Alex lends friendly narration to the audience that he calls "brothers" as he incites violence with a band of delinquent misfits (called "droogs") at his command. Alex gets imprisoned after viciously raping and murdering an upper-class woman in her home with a large plastic phallus intended as an ironic piece of modern art.

Kubrick’s sense of visual irony is spectacular. Rather than go to prison Alex opts to undergo a torturous rehabilitation therapy (the "Ludovico technique"), involving forced viewings of Nazi war films accompanied by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A scene involving Alex being "cured" with clamps holding his eyelids open, presents a fierce artistically infused portrait of torture. The proven effects of the treatment lead to Alex's release into a society where he is repeatedly punished for his past transgressions until he isn't. 

Clockwork Orange McDowell

"A Clockwork Orange" proved a crucial touchstone for significant cultural shifts in music and film. '70s era filmmakers like Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese were liberated by Kubrick's visionary approach to style, form, and subject matter. As well, many aspects of the punk rock movement are directly attributable to it. The film is intoxicating in its use of atmosphere, music, and paradox to excite and inform the viewer's imagination at a palpitating tempo. Everything comes as a surprise for the voyeuristic spectator who is implicated in every criminal act of citizen and state. We are all victim, killer, police, and legislator. Sleep on that.


This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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!


October 25, 2012


Killing Them Softly

Bankers’ Penalty
Andrew Dominik’s One-Movie 
Revolution Comes Calling 

One of the ten best films of 2012, Andrew Dominik’s cold-blooded satire of American corporate-political-capitalism cuts through its subject like a freshly sharpened guillotine blade. Fortunately someone still wants retribution for the $7.77 trillion that Bush and Obama handed out to criminal banksters while ordinary Americans sank into poverty. Justice, however, has to wait. Until then: allegory.


The New Zealand auteur responsible for the magnificent neo-western “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” manipulates the crime drama genre with an irrefutable cinematic panache. Economic metaphors big and small fill the narrative about gangster vengeance set in 2008. Dominik based the script on a George V. Higgins novel — see Peter Yates’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”


Every greasy hoodlum character here represents a stratum of economic influence. Lowlife Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) brings home the nothing-to-lose emigrant faction. When Russell’s fellow immoral pal Frankie (Scoot McNairy) tries to land a card-game hold-up job from a slimy smalltime kingpin named Johnny Amato — a.k.a. Squirrel — Russell is quick to set his would-be boss man straight as to just who is doing whom a favor. Speaking truth to power comes with a thick dose of irreverent irony. The fact that Russell is a junkie with not much more on his mind than where his next fix or lay is coming from is beside the point. Russell is on the lowest rung of society’s ladder but that doesn’t prevent him from maintaining self-respect along with his hedonistic priorities.


The successful heist that follows requires a visit from a corporate-minded honcho known only as the Driver (Richard Jenkins). From his mobile office the Driver hires professional hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to settle the score. The men who orchestrated and executed the heist have to pay. No crime goes unpaid. If you’ve ever wondered about what it would look like for the banker bastards who ruined America’s economy to have to make penance with their own flesh, the filmmakers deliver a beautifully brutal vision of such a comeuppance.


The film’s evocative title stretches across the narrative like a transparent satin sheet. Brad Pitt’s character is methodical and cynical, yet he’s fully aware of the emotional burden of his deadly occupation. He says of his profession that he likes to kill from a distance; predator drones come to mind. Jackie goes so far as to ask for the assistance of a hit man he worked with several years earlier. James Gandolfini’s Mickey isn’t as together as he used to be. He’s turned into a raging alcoholic with an addiction to prostitutes. If Jackie represents a self-protective mercenary, Mickey is a cautionary vision of where Jackie could be headed if he isn’t careful. Everyone gets corrupted. It’s just a matter of time and opportunity.

“Killing Them Softly” is a stylish crime drama made up of piercing monologues and canny dialogue that reverberates with social implications. Nothing is wasted. People and places are appropriately ugly. Every performance is spot-on. That the film so effectively lashes out at economic hypocrisy in America is truly rewarding. Here is a one-movie revolution against all of the corporate-controlled two-party bullshit that has turned America into a third-world dictatorship. Brilliant is too soft a word to describe it.

Rated R. 97 mins. (A+)

Five Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) is recorded live at Blind Tiger Ale House (Once New York City's best rated craft beer bar) where we judiciously choose a beer from the Tiger's generous board that we think most appropriate for our film of choice. 

New York City cinephile Martin Keller returns for a follow-up to our Andrew Dominic's companion-piece film duo "THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD" and "KILLING THEM SOFLTY." 

Inspired be the Tiger's hearty board of beer choices, we went with Tired Hands Brewing's SEVERE HEAD WOUND — their "pink, goopy, double IPA." Poor Ray Liotta. 


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