Friday, August 24, 2012

A New Fave: “God Bless America”—If Jonathan Swift can do it, so can Bobcat Goldthwaite! (And then we’ve got reality TV zombies with “Dead Set”)

God Bless America (2011; Bobcat Goldthwaite) may not be a perfect movie, but as far as I’m concerned it is certainly a great film: a pure, undiluted rant; a 200-proof “scream from the heart”—incredibly personal filmmaking that isn’t about navel-gazing or suburban ennui.

In gentler times, this film would have been an Ealing Studio comedy, with a dour Charles Laughton sneaking poison into the tea of various boors and louts.
But since these are the days we live in, Goldthwaite’s movie is a blood-splattered, sick-humor black comedy that smashes over the head with a brick because subtlety is no longer appreciated. God Bless America is a violent, angry satire lambasting the current non-existent state of civil discourse in the US—and I loved it.

Cousin to Idiocracy, They Live and The Year of the Sex Olympics (their linked message: TV is making you stupid), as well as James Gunn’s underrated Super (violent sociopath and goofy sidekick take on society’s ills)—all four of these films are highly recommended, by the way—God Bless America is a fun fantasy for those like me who are fed up with the corrosion of politeness and the infantilization of the nation via the LoComDenom of TV greed.

The film’s main character, Frank (played excellently by human Droopy Dog, Joel Murray), is completely fed up with today’s US cultural landscape.
Loudmouth shock jocks spew venom, and knuckleheads around the water cooler repeat the hatred acting as if it’s their own thoughts. Lizard-brain theatrics have taken over as every “dude” has to be “extreme to the max,” and if you’re not, you’re a pussy.
Bad taste and crudity is rewarded; yet everyone gets offended instantly taking the slightest comments as intensely personal, and people always act before they think, usually in the most aggressive and selfish way.
And reading books is for fags!
R. Crumb called them “The Ruff Tuff Cream Puffs” (blowhards that act tough 24/7, but become crybabies and crumble when genuinely confronted), and they’ve taken over the nation.

This is a film rightfully angry at a country that’s allowed itself to become so willfully stupid and mean. It’s not that people don’t talk—they don’t listen. Assholes on steroids—literally.

When Frank is diagnosed with a fatal giant brain tumor (Austin sniper Charles Whitman had one, too), our protagonist unpacks his old Army .45-calibre semiautomatic, and contemplates killing himself—but when the TV shows a 16-year-old reality-show brat berating her parents unmercifully for buying her a Lexus instead of an Escalade, Frank has a mission: this nation’s citizens need to be taught shame, decency and politeness again—even if it kills them.

After his first assassination, like all good superheroes, Frank gets a sidekick: Roxy, a hyperactive high-school girl, who at first is almost an id projection, an Imp of the Perverse goading Frank on—then his sounding board, and an intelligent and angry young voice to counter Frank’s more conservative beliefs.

Hitting the road in a stolen ugly-yellow sportscar (like a taxi cab from hell), Frank and Roxy slaughter the rude and unconscionable, and engage in smart, snappy argumentative dialogs and rants about their philosophical dilemma: Who gets killed? And why? Where do we draw the line?

The movie isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny, but I had such an evil grin on my face the whole time watching it as the smug yobs are blown away.
Unlike Idiocracy—Mike Judge’s main characters are always too middle-of-the-road nice-guy for me—the movie has the guts to be mean (Frank is, after all, an unrepentant cold-blooded mass murderer), and gorehounds will love that, unlike the similarly-themed Eating Raoul, Goldthwaite’s flick is drenched in blood.
God Bless America’s main character is going on a killing spree to prevent the world of Idiocracy from occurring—but you and I already know it’s too late. [High-Five!]

Yeah, I’d like to see these spoiled, pampered, narcissistic fame-for-fame’s-sake types, and all the stupid clods who worship them, slaughtered.
Frank’s victims have shown no shame, or even sense—you wonder how they could even feed themselves. Maybe the film is preaching to the choir, but if so, then Hallelujah! ’Cause it’s what I really needed to hear.
God Bless America is a cry in the wilderness, and it’s greatly appreciated.

Goldthwaite seems to have a sure hand, and he handles the action and comedy well. It’s not a flashy or obvious style, but an effective and propulsive one.
Meanwhile, there are some nice compositions in the directing—in the “quieter” scenes, watch the backgrounds; Bobcat’s got some interesting things going on. I especially like a scene in a diner with Frank and Roxy: Behind them is an old couple, sitting in the exact same way they are.
The killers have reached a turning point, and, to me, the old couple is the director saying if you stay right here, you could grow old together.

BTW, fans of The Coop will be glad to know that there’s lots of Alice Cooper on the soundtrack! (Whom you may recall drove prudes nuts back in the day…)

Honestly, God Bless America is one of those rare flicks, like 1953’s Inferno that seems like it was made specifically with me in mind, that my brain was scanned when I was sleeping and all points of entertainment and intellectual satisfaction were programmed into the film.

One thing this movie has done is make me want to go back and check out some of Goldthwaite’s previous films. I saw Shakes the Clown when it was first released (and don’t remember it fondly); maybe it needs a second chance, as well as the couple of comedies Bobcat made in-between, especially The World’s Greatest Dad, which John Waters called one of the best films of 2009.

God Bless America is currently available on NFlix Streamizing.

And if you really hate the Reality TV phenom, then you need to check out the 2008 BBC mini-series Dead Set. Created and written by Charlie Brooker, and directed by Yann Demange, the series isn’t available through the usual channels, but can be watched on-line HERE.
In a nutshell, it’s “Big Brother reality TV show meets zombies,” as a group of contestants in a sealed “house” with tons of surveillance cameras wind up being the sole survivors as a plague of flesh-eating ghouls sweeps the world.

Dead Set is a great entry into the Zombie Apocalypse sweepstakes, and one I prefer much more than The Walking Dead (which I stopped watching after the first season out of annoyance), or Romero’s last three “Dead” films, which while they had moments, none of which I completely enjoyed.

While broadcast as a mini-series, on-line Dead Set is about two and a half hours in length; it’s exciting and pulse-pounding, with plenty of effective gore, but ultimately depressing.
But be prepared for a BLEAK flick—remember, these reality TV shows tend to cast—and be run by—the worst sort of modern selfish dolt. (When some survivors make it to a supermarket, one grabs frozen food. When it’s pointed out they don’t have a stove, he belligerently takes it anyway.)
While their aggressive self-preservation instincts may be good for dealing with the brainless undead, with other humans, problems—big problems—arise.

BTW, I hunted down Dead Set specifically because I had been reading Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War—a highly recommended sci-fi/horror novel composed in the Studs Terkel style of unedited verbal interviews. Dead Set could be seen as happening at the same time as WWZ.


  1. Eloquently said. I really enjoyed Bobcat's latest and you have to see "World's Greatest Dad." Almost makes up for the surplus of dreck Robin Williams has been in.

  2. Yes, it was Williams' presence that kept me away from WGD initially. The man makes my skin crawl--I'm almost ashamed to admit that as a kid I was obsessed with Mork & Mindy--but after GBA, I trust Goldthwaite, until he betrays they all do...WGD is available on NFlix Streamz, so I'm there...