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God Bless America(2011)
Loveless, jobless, possibly terminally ill, Frank has had enough of the downward spiral of America. With nothing left to lose, Frank takes his gun and offs the stupidest, cruelest, and most repellent members of society. He finds an unusual accomplice: 16-year-old Roxy, who shares his sense of rage and disenfranchisement.
For more about God Bless America and the God Bless America Blu-ray release, see God Bless America Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 28, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Melinda Page Hamilton
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
» See full cast & crew
God Bless America Blu-ray Review
"Do you remember when eating maggots and rats on Survivor was shocking? It seems almost quaint now."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 28, 2012
Comic-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait's last film, World's Greatest Dad, was a black comedy about the postmortem beatification of a horrible teenager who accidentally dies from autoerotic asphyxiation. If you thought that was dark, check out his followup, God Bless America, which opens with a dream sequence in which a screaming baby gets thrown into the air and pulped by a shotgun blast, sending blood and bits of diaper spraying down in slo-mo like a particularly gory snowfall. The material, as they say, isn't for everyone.
But this isn't some thoughtless, shock-for-the-sake-of-shock viscera-fest. God Bless America is actually a smart if blunt-forced satire, repeatedly bludgeoning junky pop-culture until it's twitching out on the floor. And by junky pop-culture, I mean vapid reality TV and glorified karaoke contests, bratty teenaged entitlement and blowhard pundits on cable news. Goldthwait's thesis, if you wanna call it that, is delivered by his schlubby protagonist Frank—played by character actor Joel Murray—right before he opens fire with an AK-47 on the live audience of a show called American Superstarz: "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 or decency. No sense of shame. No right or wrong." Of course, complaining about cultural decline while enacting bloody vigilante justice puts Frank on shaky philosophical ground, but I think most of us would at least agree with his argument, if not his methods.
Back to that shotgunned baby. It belongs to Frank's obnoxious next-door duplex neighbors, and it screams like "a nocturnal civil defense air-raid siren." Between the screeching infant and Frank's piercing headaches, he has trouble sleeping, so he keeps insomniac's hours, watching the worst that humanity has to offer on late night TV. A commercial for a pig-fart ringtone. A Glenn Beck-ish political fearmongerer. A reality TV show called Tuff Girlz where one housemate throws a used tampon at another for defecating in her dinner. Appetizing, no? On American Superstarz—a thinly veiled American Idol—the judges rip into a mentally challenged William Hung stand-in who butchers a rendition of Diana Ross' "Theme from Mahogany." At work the next morning, everyone's talking about how funny it was, and Frank—presumably speaking for Goldthwait—launches into an on-target tirade about the downfall of western civilization: "It's the same kind of freak show distraction that comes along whenever a mighty empire is collapsing. American Superstarz is the new Coliseum."
Frank gets a one-two punch of bad luck when he's fired from his job due to a harassment claim—he sent flowers to the receptionist when she wasn't feeling well—and later the same day learns that he's dying from an inoperable brain tumor. (If this stretches credulity, know that God Bless America isn't trying to be realistic. This is satire in fable form, and Goldthwait is fine with unlikely coincidence so long as it furthers the story.) Frank considers suicide, but when he sees a girl named Chloe on the show Sweet Sixteen, bitching out her parents because they bought her a Lexus instead of an Escalade, he decides to track her down and kill her before offing himself. All because "she's not a nice person." Along the way, he meets the Bonnie to his Clyde—Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a similar-minded highschooler with a list of awful people who deserve to die, including "some Kardashians, my gym coach. People who give high fives. Really, any jock. Twihards. People who talk about 'punk rock.'" Roxy talks Frank out of shooting himself and convinces him to take her across the country on a Taxi Driver-like killing spree. Only, instead of washing the streets of pimps and dealers, they plan to take out the purveyors of American unkindness and incivility—Westboro Baptist-style religious bigots and a Bill O'Reilly look-a-like, rabid Tea Partiers and teens who chat on their cell phones during movies.
These are easy, recognizable targets, but Goldthwait's particular success in God Bless America is making us—as an audience—uncomfortably complicit in Frank's rampage. When he rolls a Fred Phelps doppelgänger off a cliff or strangles a pedophile, some small part of us cheers, glad to see the worst of the worst get their comeuppance. But by the time Frank is pointing that AK-47 at the judges of a fake American Idol contest, we also feel a twinge of conscience that says this has gone far enough, even for a cinematic wish-fulfillment fantasy. This is the source of the film's underlying tension—we're entertained, repulsed, and guilty all at once. It's not unlike the feeling you get watching Michael Haneke's Funny Games, although God Bless America is funnier and looser, a madcap take on the lovers-on-the-lam genre of Badlands, Bonnie & Clyde, and Wild at Heart.
Frank and Roxy aren't quite lovers, however—Frank's moral fiber is flexible enough to let him murder, but not to sleep with a teenager—and the strained relationship between the two is one of the film's highlights. "So, we're platonic spree killers?" Roxy asks at one point, slightly disappointed that they don't fit the romantic stereotype. Newcomer Tara Lynne Barr is effectively chirpy and sharp tongued—her character gets pissed when Frank compares her to Juno—and Joel Murray, like his brother Bill, has the kind of sad-everyman face that instantly wins our sympathy. (You might recognize him as Mad Men's glum copywriter, Freddy Rumsen.) They're wonderful together, recalling the older man/younger woman dynamic of Lost in Translation, but with bloody vigilante murder in the place of existential ennui. As good as they are, though, this is Bobcat Goldthwait's show; you can almost hear his high-pitched smoker's voice behind every line of dialogue, and it's hard to argue with his anti-all-things-idiotic rhetoric, like when Frank observes "we've become a nation of slogan- saying, vile-spewing hate-mongers." This is an angry film, but a righteously angry one. Goldthwait doesn't want to inspire copycat killers, he just wants us to stop being rude, mindless consumers of pop-culture awfulness.
God Bless America Blu-ray, Video Quality
God Bless America was shot digitally and ports easily to a 1080p/AVC encode that's framed in the intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the image is free from distractions—no DNR, no edge enhancement, no excess filtering or oversaturation. I did spot quite a lot of blue-tinged source noise in certain scenes—which has a tendency to soften the picture somewhat—but from normal viewing distances this isn't especially apparent. Overall clarity is better than merely respectable but short of tack sharp; fine high definition textures are almost always visible—in facial and clothing details, especially—but shallow depth of field sometimes contributes to slipped focus. In his commentary, Goldthwait notes, "If any of our scenes seem a little out of focus, it's because our cinematographer was super stoned," but I doubt purple haze contributed to the picture's occasional haze. The film's color palette is often bright and gaudy and even a little ugly—see Frank's Hawaiian shirts—but I see nothing wrong with how it's presented here. Skin tones are balanced, contrast is good, and the grading has plenty of density. No overt compression problems either. Like Frank, God Bless America ain't eye candy, but it's presentable.
God Bless America Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film arrives on Blu-ray with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that's functional but not quite impressive. The dialogue in some of the outdoor scenes seems low—even slightly muffled at times—and probably should've been re-looped in an ADR booth. This isn't a widespread issue, though, and most all of the conversations between characters are capably recorded and balanced well. The mix itself is a little anemic for a film that includes such prominent gunplay. Dynamically it's punchy enough, but the rear channels surprisingly don't get much action; you'll hear some quiet environmental ambience and occasional effects from the surrounds, but that's about it. Mostly, they're used as bleeding room for Matt Kollar's excellent score, which features almost hymn-like organ arrangements that provide a somber background for the onscreen chaos. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering.
God Bless America Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
God Bless America Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What's great about writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait is that—like, say, Louis C.K.—he isn't afraid to let his comedy be dark, depressing, and brutally honest. This time around, he's taken aim squarely at pop-culture, pulling the trigger on our collective rudeness, unintelligence, and willingness to be so easily entertained. God Bless America is unavoidably controversial and certainly isn't for everyone, but if the sheer existence of Jersey Shore and toddler pageants and famous-for-being- famous celebrities drives you mad, the film will certainly deliver some cathartic carnage. Magnolia's Blu-ray release is strictly average when it comes to tech specs, but the disc includes loads of special features, including a great commentary and a lengthy behind-the-scenes piece. Recommended!
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God Bless America Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: July 3-10 - July 2, 2012
One of this week's most notable releases is God Bless America, the comedy from filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait. Goldthwait uses the film to launch a full-bore assault on contemporary society's fixation with media overexposure; his hero is a terminally ill Everyman ...
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