Friday, July 6, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: GOD BLESS AMERICA (2012), THE HUNTER (2012)

(US - 2012)

This blistering, brutally misanthropic comedy is the latest directing effort from Bobcat Goldthwait, who's quietly fostered a new career as a filmmaker unafraid to go to the darkest places imaginable.  1991's SHAKES THE CLOWN was just a warm-up for 2006's SLEEPING DOGS LIE (about what happens when a woman confesses an instance of bestiality in her past), and 2009's WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (where grieving dad Robin Williams tries to perfect the image of his late teenage son, an awful, loathsome brat who died during a botched bout of autoerotic asphyxiation), and now there's the enraged, confrontational GOD BLESS AMERICA.  Divorced Frank (Joel Murray) suffers from migraines and can't sleep.  He watches TV and can't stomach the garbage on every channel:  banal reality shows, loudmouth political commentators, inane commercials, tabloid talk shows, YouTube clips of teenagers setting a homeless guy on fire, etc.  He's hated by his spoiled daughter, gets fired for a kind gesture that's misconstrued as harassment, and finds out he has a malignant, inoperable brain tumor.  Frank is about to kill himself when he sees a clip of teen reality TV star Chloe throwing a fit that the expensive sports car she got for her 16th birthday wasn't the Escalade that she wanted.  This moment is an epiphany for Frank, who drives to Chloe's school and kills her in the parking lot.  This is witnessed by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who then tags along with Frank and convinces him that they should just kill all the bad people in the world:  people like Chloe, people like hatemongering talk show hosts, people who talk on cell phones in movie theaters, etc. Roxy also wants to kill Diablo Cody: "She's the only former stripper with too much self-esteem!"

Comparisons were drawn with Mike Judge's IDIOCRACY, but a major difference is that the boorish societal atrocities seen in GOD BLESS AMERICA are happening--for real--every day.  Frank is particularly irked by an AMERICAN IDOL-type show called AMERICAN SUPERSTARZ, where an obviously mentally challenged contestant (Aris Alvarado), clearly patterned on William Hung (remember him?,) is mercilessly mocked and booed by the audience and laughed at by the hosts for butchering Diana Ross' "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)."  Frank is sick of it all:

"America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest. We no longer have any common sense of decency. No sense of shame. There is no right and wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated." 

GOD BLESS AMERICA finishes big, but doesn't quite have enough to sustain its entire running time (some excess could've been trimmed from the middle and it could've been even more potent at around 85 minutes), and some of Frank's diatribes can come off as a bit overwritten.  However, Goldthwait's message is loud and clear in this fearless, incendiary indictment of modern American culture.  (R, 104 mins)

(Australia - 2012)

Willem Dafoe delivers one of his best performances as mercenary hunter Martin David, who's hired by a top-secret bio-tech facility to venture deep into the Tasmanian wilderness to investigate a reported sighting of a Tasmanian tiger, thought extinct since the 1930s.  He rents a room at the home of Lucy (Frances O'Connor), whose husband went in search of the tiger and never returned.  Martin bonds with Lucy's young children, Sass (Morgana Davies), and Bike (Finn Woodlock), while the depressed Lucy usually sleeps days away with prescription meds brought by local guide Jack (Sam Neill).  Martin isn't welcomed by the local loggers, who think he's with some environmentalists trying to put them out of work.  It doesn't take long for Martin to realize that something sinister and more powerful than he initially thought is in play here and that Lucy's husband may not have fallen victim to nature, especially once he discovers his employer's reason for wanting the Tasmanian tiger.  Based on a novel by Julia Leigh, and directed by longtime Australian TV vet Daniel Nettheim, THE HUNTER showcases stunning cinematography by Robert Humphreys and outstanding work by the cast.  Martin's arc from cold, all-business hired gun to getting involved and taking a moral stand (after a tragic turn of events) is predictable, yes, but Dafoe's expertise at just the right moments really makes it work.  The leisurely pace of this environmental drama maybe make it too much of a slow burner for some, but THE HUNTER rewards the patient viewer.  I can see this developing a LAST OF THE DOGMEN-type following over time.  (R, 102 mins)

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