18 posts categorized "Social Satire"

November 29, 2018


House_that_jack_builtIt isn’t so much that Lars Von Trier a gifted filmmaker, which he is, that makes his films singular for their thick layers of political and social satire, but rather that Von Trier has so little competition in this realm. Yorgos Lanthimos is an avant-garde filmmaker who wins overpraise for satirical films, such as “Dogtooth” or “The Lobster,” that come nowhere near the level of filmic and allegorical sophistication that Von Trier achieves.

The House That Jack Built Movie Review

Lanthimos isn’t anywhere near as rigorous as Von Trier. He doesn’t work as hard, or have so much skin in the game. You’d have to look to Paul Verhoeven (“Elle”) for a peer Von Trier. As for intellectual sophistication, Von Trier isn’t above poking fun at himself; “Mr. Sophistication” is the oh-so-clever moniker that this film’s main character gives himself. Naturally, the character is anything but sophisticated.   


“The House That Jack Built” is a methodically crafted social satire that pokes at the emptiness of social media mob rule, Globalization, and the intimate connection between guns, war, and capitalism. That’s just scratching the surface. Von Trier compartmentalizes his latest film in fluid dramatic depths that the audience experiences as if submerging and resurfacing in an intellectual, emotional and visceral cinematic vessel.


Matt Dillon plays the title character, an architect who wishes he was an engineer. Jack is like the bass player who wants to play lead guitar. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Jack is obsessed with artistry; unlike Wright, he isn’t very good. Jack owns a plot of lakeside land where he continuously begins building a self-designed home that he tears down only to start over from scratch with a less inspired design. Von Trier cleverly creates this building allegory to underpin his narrative about a would-be/could-be/isn’t really serial killer engaged in an ongoing therapy session with a largely unseen shrink played by the legendary Bruno Ganz. Jack brags about five of the 60 murders he has supposedly committed. The snag is that Jack is far too lazy and dumb to steal a beer from a gas station without being caught.  


The audience has to play along with Von Trier’s artistic narrative mechanics to extract his or her own ideas or questions about a violent world where some people are considered heroic if not iconic for murdering fellow human beings, while some are not. If you’ve never seen a Lars Von Trier film before, you will be thrown into the deep end of the pool and probably not be able to come up for air. Too bad.


Here is a brilliant satirical film bathed in touches of Buñuel, Greenaway, Hitchcock, and Lynch that contextualizes the nature of cruelty within the context of the power of persuasion. Art informs reality. Is it ethically correct for Jack to spend so much energy and thought imagining the ways he would like to kill people. It is after all a primary occupation of the American government and its militarized police.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (2018): An Essay on the Themes in Lars von  Trier's House of Corpses – This Is Your Brain On Film

How complicit is the audience in such a toxic social atmosphere where we wait with baited breath to witness the murders that Jack could or might commit in “The House That Jack Built”? The film raises as many answers as it does questions. Yes, you read that right. Reading this film is up to you if you think you’re sophisticated enough for the task.    


Unrated version. 152 mins. (A+)

Five Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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November 19, 2017


Three_billboards_outside_ebbing_missouri_ver3The title “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” sounds like an oh-so-earnest independent movie based on [ostensibly] real life events that NPR would rally around as a true-to-life depiction of a small town community in the Midwest. It's a clever hook because it fits the deceptive tone of this hilarious satire so well.

And, indeed, that is exactly what NPR’s tone-deaf film critic Bob Mondello took away from this cleverly concealed pitch black comedy based on the age old thesis that “violence begets violence.” Of course, the movie is anything but a fact-based rendition of an actual location in America. Oh the beauty of a well-made allegory.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review – darkly hilarious  portrait of disenfranchised USA | Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  | The Guardian

Well-crafted filmic satires, such as this one from writer/director Martin McDonagh, can sail over the heads of viewers such as Mondello, and still land heads-up every time because they subvert cinematic clichés and dyed-in-the-wool social mores.


Martin McDonagh’s 2008 debut feature “In Bruges” made a splash for its self-referential setting — not unlike “Three Billboards” — that the sharp witted filmmaker utilized to maximum dramatic, and humorous, effect. Since then, McDonagh has made only one other movie (the over-cooked “Seven Psychopaths”) before creating a satire so scathing and cynical that many audiences will take the film’s sucker-punches without even knowing where, why, or even that they’ve been hit.

Francis McDormand

A key element of McDonagh’s subversive success lies in the equal balance he gives to his characters. Each one is revealed in fully formed ways that allow the audience to feel connected to his or her personal perspective without being expected to judge them beyond their immediate actions. For all of its anger and violence, this movie is filled with love.


Frances McDormand’s Mildred is a single mother to a teenaged son (played by Lucas Hedges) and to Angela (Kathryn Newton), a similarly aged daughter who was “raped while dying” seven months prior to where our story begins. Understandably distraught over the local police department’s inability to track down her daughter’s killer, Mildred decides to rent out three dilapidated billboards that sit 100 yards from her front door, on a rural backroad that few people travel on anymore. A giant black font on a bright red background connects the three billboards in a unifying all-cap message of furious discontent. In close succession the billboards tell the story. “RAPED WHILE DYING” leads to “AND STILL NO ARRESTS” before attacking Woody Harrelson’s local police chief with, “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY.”


We, the audience, are effortlessly drawn to empathize with Mildred whose outrage seems utterly justified. Chief Willoughby’s personal visit with Mildred exposes his doomed fate with death due to a cancer that threatens to dismantle the search for Angela’s murderer even more. During the scene we get a taste of Mildred’s escalating bitterness. She doesn’t invite sheriff Willoughby inside her house. When the cop discloses his medical dilemma, Mildred callously responds that everyone is dying. Tuned-in audiences might begin to pull back from empathizing with Frances McDormand’s reliably unreliable protagonist.


After the town’s [anti-Mildred] dentist attempts to extract a tooth from Mildred without anesthetizing her first, Mildred wrangles away the drill and buries it deep into the doctor’s thumbnail. For as funny as the scene plays, the violence is disturbing, just as such a thing would be in real life.

Sam rockwell

Mildred’s mirror character is Sam Rockwell’s unhinged dumb-as-bricks police officer Dixon. Sam Rockwell’s keen performance is stunning for his unfettered ability to weave between slapstick and realism with deceptive grace. As the plot plays out, the filmmakers shore up the seeming opposites that unify Dixon and Mildred. In the end we are able to access the victims and the abusers for the harassment and violence they attract, and inflict, on themselves and those around them. This is not a true-to-life depiction of a small town community in America; it is an allegory of Western culture’s ideology of revenge that permeates everything we do in a society overrun with brutality and violence. Figuring out when to laugh or cry, and why, is what this unforgettable black comedy is all about. You'll do both. 

Rated R. 115 mins. 

5 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. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

October 31, 2017


COLESMITHEY.COMThe ongoing dumbing down of film criticism and cinematic taste rears its ugly head a lot these days, especially when it comes to that rarest of film genres, satire. Just as critical forces attempted to shame Darren Aronofsky’s excellent social satire (posing as a psychological thriller) “mother!” out of theaters, the same ones are denying that the George Clooney-Grant Heslov-Coen Brothers collaboration “Suburbicon” is anything other than a black comedy gem. How long will it be before these films receive their proper place in the Criterion Collection? Not long.

It’s telling that these sharply allegorical films are getting the shaft in an America that has descended into an uncivil war of culture under Donald Trump’s idiotic leadership. By their very nature, satires demand more from their audience than your typical dramas or superhero movies. Deeply seeded questions about which characters you can empathize with, and why, provoke intellectually demanding responses.

Oscar Isaac outstanding as sleazy insurance claim adjuster in Clooney's  Suburbicon | Filmfestivals.com

Satires contextualize widespread social norms and political behavior into stylized frameworks that allow us to inspect ulterior motivations under a specialized cinematic magnifying glass. Satire is a genre to which Cinema is ideally suited, but the form is being marginalized as never before.


The title says a lot. “Suburbicon” references the McCarthy era American Dream where diversity meant white people infiltrating formerly rural areas in bland suburban sprawls of brainwashed conformity where right-wing racists could live in safe little echo chambers of their own. A lot people are being conned, and everyone with a modicum of power is in on the con. This is one prickly con game to which billions of people have been exposed. Such capitalist (read racist) ambition is fueled by a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, just so long as the Joneses aren’t black people.  

George Clooney's Awkward White Guilt in 'Suburbicon' - The New York Times

So it is that “Suburbicon” presents a not so mythic 1959 version of homogeneity where white folk have come from as far as “Mississippi” to escape black people who they consider a burden on the society that blacks were enslaved into building. The irony is built in. When a black family named Meyers (yes, they could even be Jewish) moves in to the white bread housing project, white residents rally together in protest by gathering in front of the Meyers home to sing “We Shall Overcome,” oblivious that they’re singing a gospel song that became a protest anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Co-opting the tools of the victim is standard operating procedure.  


For those born in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, there are plenty of canny references about how America’s patriarchy spoon-feeds society justice for the entitled, greedy white rich men who still run the show. The local (clearly racist) police chief is on the lookout for Jews, regardless of how non-Jewish anyone’s name might be.

The film presents a brief allegory of post-World War II racist ideologies that have persisted as a hydra of economically-driven hatred so perverse that rational minds retreat on contact.   

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) lives with his disabled wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their 10-year-old son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Rose lost her ability to walk in a car accident where Gardner was driving. Rose still holds a grudge. Perhaps Gardner isn’t the stand-up guy he presents with pokerfaced sincerity. Rose’s identical twin sister Maggie (also played by Moore) is a constant fixture at the family’s 99% all white housing development home. Trouble ignites when Gardner awakens Nicky and brings the boy into the living room to witness a couple of mob thugs robbing the home and chloroforming the family. Bigger problems are just beginning.


Smuggled into the narrative is a dark coming-of-age story that speaks directly to the potentially abusive relationship of racist parents and their unsuspecting children. The film’s secret weapon is Nicky’s point-of-view as the film’s surprise protagonist.     

Suburbicon': A Movie with a Message? - KDHX

A mob debt and a life insurance scam are pieces in a narrative puzzle where white men set society’s ground rules with instructive hints about their prejudices and greed. When a [white] grocery store manager demands $20 per item (regardless of their actual price) from Mrs. Meyers, the harasser’s message is clear; you can’t shop here if you’re black. The indoctrination of American children via such jealously guarded entitlement equals fraud.

Film Review: Suburbicon Is Turgid and Pointless | www.splicetoday.com

The cracks in America’s longstanding patriarchal methods of intimidation and theft of life and dignity are igniting a volcanic reaction. The Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps of the world are being dumped into the trash bin of history. Their fall from a long-held stranglehold of power can’t can’t come soon enough. The poison is in their sandwich now.     


Rated R. 104 mins.

4 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. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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