Tag Archives: satire

The Square

The-Square-movie-posterSometimes, I walk out of a movie and wonder why a director decided to insert a scene that didn’t seem to add anything to the film.  With The Square, I walked out wondering why the majority of the scenes had been included.  Even the film’s poster gets in on the act, blatantly photoshopping Elisabeth Moss into a scene in which she doesn’t appear.  That is a fitting allegory for her role in the film as well as for a lot of the movie’s scenes.  Moss didn’t need to be there in the poster picture but someone went to the effort of adding her anyway, for no obvious reason.  The same thing seems to have happened with many scenes in this film, the latest from Ruben Ostlund, who previously directed Force Majeure.

The Square centres around an obnoxious, entitled museum curator (Christian, played by Claes Bang) who makes more than a few mistakes in promoting his museum’s new exhibition and, on the side, searching for his stolen phone, wallet, and cufflinks.  The fact he sees himself as a pretty good guy only makes things worse for him and everyone he comes into contact with.  In between his missteps, we are treated to some truly bizarre scenes involving a human pretending to be an ape at a dinner party, a real ape acting as a third wheel at Moss’ character’s apartment, and a cheerleading performance by one of Christian’s kids, none of which advance the plot in any way, despite a lot of effort being put into staging and filming these scenes.  But to what end?  The Square repeatedly left me feeling like I had missed the point, but it happened so many times I had to conclude there was no point.

That is The Square: an overlong mess of ideas patched together into a two and a half hour long feature.  The movie starts well enough but doesn’t know where to go once it gets started, and certainly doesn’t know how to wrap up what it’s laid out.

The frustrating part is that many of the ideas in the film have the potential to make for good satire, but the movie can’t figure out how to unlock their potential or say anything meaningful, aside from pointing out how much idiocy and chaos can be created by a self-entitled boor, which we are all way too familiar with in our real lives right now.

All in all, The Square never amounts to much.  Just like its protagonist, it is aimless, clueless, and we’d be better off if it went away quietly.

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Suburbicon

Sean and I are in Venice for the Venice Film Festival. Last week we saw and loved Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which had us appreciating not only the lushness of the period (circa 1962, I believe), but also Del Toro’s refusal to completely excuse it. The 1950s are often given the nostalgia treatment in movies, coated in a thick gloss of fond memories with a healthy dose of forgetting the grim realities. This is a time period that inspires idiots to spout slogans like Make America Great Again, because that time period was actually quite bad for quite a lot of people. Del Toro’s film included some subtle nods to that fact, but Suburbicon is the movie that blows the lid right off it.

Suburbicon is the name of a town founded on the principles of an idyllic setting with all the conveniences of the city but none of the sordidness. The sprawling neighbourhoods MV5BMjExMjE5MDE4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzU0NTEwMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1449,1000_AL_are safe, the schools are good, it’s a great place to raise a family. Except if you’re the Meyerses, who just moved in. They’re not welcome (being black and all). They’re apparently the very people all these “nice” white folk have moved away from the cities to avoid. The Meyers don’t do a darn thing to incur the slightest ill will, except have a darker skin tone, but still the wrath of the townspeople is rained down upon them. Determined to force them out, their white neighbours harass them and abuse them and generally make such a ruckus that no one notices the neighbours directly behind them.

In that house, Gardner (Matt Damon), his wife (Julianne Moore), his wife’s sister (also Julianne Moore), and his young son Nicky are being held hostage in a bizarre home invasion that leaves one dead and the whole family shattered. It’s just the beginning of a bloody series of events that get more and more lurid. It’s so suspicious that an investigator (Oscar Isaac) shows up at their door. But everyone else is so busy with their unrequited race war that no attention is being paid to the white family wreaking havoc.

It’s exactly the kind of satire-caper at which the Coen brothers excel. Incompetent criminals seem to be their specialty. Frequent collaborator George Clooney joins not only as a co-writer but as the director. He’s added a layer of social consciousness with deep, resonating roots. Suburbicon is slick and it entertains you to within an inch of your life. The cast is wonderful, and Clooney, being an actor’s director, elicits a startling performance out of Matt Damon, and a sterling one out of young Noah Jupe. This black comedy earned a lot of laughs at our screening – seemingly the darker things got, the more we laughed out of anxiety and relief. But this is a brutal story that rewards people justly for their crimes. At first it may seem like we’re flipping between two different movies – the obvious and the absurd – but upon reflection, I like what Clooney’s done with the juxtaposition.

Suburbicon is a little wild, a little uneven, but a whole lot of fun. It’ll be hitting theatres late October.

Oh, Hello on Broadway

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Remember when they used to make movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches?  Isn’t it weird how that used to be a thing?  And that one of the best of the bunch was the movie about these two guys:

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Even though I grew up during the peak of the SNL movie craze, I was still blown away to see Oh, Hello on Broadway pop up on Netflix, in a “How is this even possible?” kind of way.  But I’m so glad it did and it’s better than I could have hoped.

For the uninitiated, Oh, Hello is one of a boatload of great skits from the Kroll Show, featuring two old men who, in a way, are not that different than the Butabi Brothers.  As the unimaginative name of the Netflix special implies, Oh, Hello then became a Broadway play, because why not?  And now, Oh, Hello on Broadway is a Netflix special that is basically a full-length movie about these two guys.  A flat-out hilarious hour and 42 minutes in the company of these wacky geezers.

tuna.jpgLike Night at the Roxbury, Oh, Hello on Broadway takes a one-note premise and uses it as a gateway to a fully-fledged story that looks behind the premise to the characters themselves.  Absurd as they are, Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) are surprisingly relatable and human, as we are shown through an insane play-within-a-play structure that works far better than it should.  The background story also is far better than it needed to be, because I would have been satisfied with a few, ‘Oh, Hello’s, and ‘Too Much Tuna’s.   Which of course I got.  Kroll and Mulaney knew why I was watching, but they also showed me how much they love these characters by giving them a proper home.

Because the special is so different from the skit, I don’t think any knowledge of the skits is needed.  Feel free to jump right in, but still, you should watch the skits at some point because they’re funny as hell.

I’m so glad to see stuff like this on Netflix and I hope we get more.  Jay and I had hoped to see this on Broadway but the scheduling didn’t work out, and while seeing it on Netflix is not the same as seeing it live, it’s better than not seeing it at all.  You should definitely add this one to your list.

 

Mindhorn

mindhorn_final.jpgCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable.  So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are.  Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire.  I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours.  I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable.  Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire.   If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh.  As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use.  He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”).   But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective.  Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth.  Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then.  In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks).  So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system).  Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time.  And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious.  The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old.  So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.

Dick

I wonder why I’m so attracted to satirical political movies lately? I’m in some kind of mood I guess.

Two ditzy, boy-crazy blonde teen girls (Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) are on a field trip to the White House in 1972 when they wander away only stumble upon the President himself, Richard Nixon! This film is a parody, a not-true imagining of who and what brought down Nixon with the Watergate scandal. What if Deep Throat is actually two fifteen year old girls?

MSDDICK EC003In light of recent events, I suppose a film like Dick actually harkens back to simpler times, and I don’t just mean a time when Dunst would get top billing over Oscar-nominated  Williams. It was a time when teenaged girls had the luxury of not thinking about the president very much.

With a cast including Harry Shearer, Dave Foley, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, and Bruce McCulloch, it’s a great big serving of farce, an alternate version of history, and maybe one we could live with. I can’t help but wonder how people will rewrite the new administration, and if Trump’s legacy will eclipse Nixon’s as Biggest Joke Ever. The thing is, it seems to take at least a generation before we can find these things funny. At the time, Nixon was the guy swimming in corruption, sending your brother off to die in Vietnam. The reality of Trump as president may be even worse than that. It seems to already be inspiring some extremely  gross acts of hatred.

In order to buy the girls’ silence, Nixon appoints Arlene and Betsey dickpromo02sthe official White House dog walkers. Meanwhile, Trump’s shoe-horning his kids into his cabinet is an even scarier prospect. Since when can a 70 year old man not do business with being able to ask  his kids for advice? I guess that’s what you get for electing a dude with no experience. His kids are probably the least scary amid the many “contestants” he’s considering for staffing the White House.

As Nixon’s “secret youth advisors”, Arlene and Betsey have the president’s ear, and manage to influence a lot of his policies. Which has more positive outcomes for America than, say, Putin’s input will, or the KKK’s. And eventually it’s these sweet, optimistic young women who reveal the truth, which is a stirring reminder that the youth can indeed make a difference (whether or not they accidentally witness majorly classified evidence of wrongdoing).

Actually, I read an article recently that really broke my heart. It was about the fracture between young women and their fathers. The fathers, middle-aged white men, are the demographic who voted Trump in. Their daughters, however, not only abhor him, but will suffer the consequences of his actions for years to come. It feels like a betrayal to learn that their fathers so devalue their worth, their health, their bodies, and their prospects. That the men who raised them can also vote for a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist, a candidate who violates almost every lesson we teach our children from the youngest age. If you want to give it a read, you can find it here. And if you want to give yourself some hope that this too shall pass, watch Dick, a movie that re-writes a painful political past.