Archives for posts with tag: Anchor Bay Films

All Is Bright

Paul Giamatti daringly essays his umpteenth grumpy, disgruntled crumb-bum role in the sarcastically titled seasonal feature All Is Bright, a film which might more descriptively, memorably, and profitably be retitled The Grouch Who Stole Christmas.

Giamatti stars as Dennis Girard, a Canadian thief released from prison only to find that his wife, Therese (Amy Landecker), has given him up for an old friend, reformed crook Rene, played by Paul Rudd. Even more humiliating for Dennis is that Therese, hoping to shelter her daughter (Tatyana Richaud) from the unpleasant truth about her father, has told her that Dennis is dead so as to bar him from having any place in his daughter’s life. Out of work, at loose ends, and nearly at the end of his tether, Dennis bullies Rene into taking him along on his annual trip to New York to hawk exotic Canadian tannenbaums.

Offering nary a likable character, All Is Bright may strain the patience of audiences in search of something funny but basically wholesome, uplifting, and appropriate to view at Christmastime. A “criminal with a small dick”, Dennis Girard is ultimately too flawed, thorny, and unpersonable a character, his choices and outlook too glum, sordid, nasty, and unrepentant, for the film to be terribly entertaining or morally rewarding. All Is Bright is marginally amusing at best, and Giamatti’s grouch card may be maxed out, so the actor is advised to seek opportunities for expanding his range beyond the apoplectic curmudgeon that made him famous.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that All Is Bright is:

9. Anti-American. A U.S. border patrol agent is unfriendly, and Dennis and Rene affect a stereotypical Doug and Bob McKenzie Canadian accent to impress gullible American tree shoppers (cf. no. 2).

8. Green. “They still don’t have stars here,” Rene says on arrival in the United States, probably with reference to air pollution.

7. Anti-drug. “You should keep lungs, yeah?”

6. Pro-slut. The viewer is presumably expected to consider the casual attitude of Russian eccentric Olga (Sally Hawkins) toward what she terms “the thing” an endearment.

5. Anti-Putin. “You have heart like Putin,” Olga says insultingly.

4. Anti-marriage, with infidelity and divorce the norm.

3. Barely Christian. Rene gives his adopted daughter an Advent calendar, but little or no other mention is made of the religious significance of Christmas. An irreverent, vulgar attitude toward the holiday prevails (“If you want to throw up, do it in the tree stand”). “There’s money in holidays.”

2. Multiculturalist, pro-immigration, and pro-wigger. All Is Bright is set in that bizarro Hollywood version of the world in which whites beg and receive cigarettes from blacks. The characters generally interact postracially. And Emory Cohen, apparently typecast as wiggers after his turn as AJ in The Place Beyond the Pines, receives a cameo as dopey but sympathetic dude “Lou, who comes to buy a tree”. (cf. no. 9)

1. Egalitarian/anti-capitalistic. Olga suggests charging more for trees bought by “haves”. While Dennis and Rene represent small-scale enterprise in a relatively positive manner, more successful entrepreneurs are vilified. Dennis, in one unfunny scene, physically intimidates a more professionally operated Christmas tree business into relocating. In an even more unlikely moment, Dennis is physically ejected from the men’s room of a restaurant by its petty proprietor for not being a paying customer. The self-pitying protagonist never abandons his thieving ways (“I will not get caught twice,” he vows), and steals a piano (among other things) from a successful dentist (cf. The Possession) as a gift for his daughter. Criminal redistribution of wealth, All Is Bright appears to argue, is fine and commendable as long as it is perpetrated for a good and heartwarming cause.

Rock DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) launches upon a series of strange and frightening experiences after mysteriously receiving a goth record credited to “The Lords”. But are her ordeals real or just hallucinations? And is the elusive tenant down the hall in apartment 5 just another figment of her imagination? Meanwhile, museum curator Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) investigates what he believes may be a link between the Lords’ surprising new hit song and the local heritage of sorcery and witch burnings. Could the eccentric old ladies living in Heidi’s building be the remnants of Salem’s seventeenth century coven, and, if so, do they have plans for their young friend?

Rob Zombie’s latest horror opus, The Lords of Salem, is impressive in a number of ways. Ambitious, consistently atmospheric, and occasionally quite unsettling, the film is filled with images that will remain with those who view it. Cinematographer Brandon Trost deserves much of the credit for the veneer, somewhat tenuous, of something approximating class, which keeps the show afloat over the stinking morass of its unsavory obsessions. The special effects and art departments are equally commendable, as are the contributions of musicians Griffin Boice and John 5.

The Lords of Salem does, however, begin to overstay its welcome as it becomes increasingly apparent that the film has little or no purpose apart from cramming as much blasphemous shock value onto the screen as possible while maintaining a stylish pretension to some kind of seriousness. Still, horror fans should find much to enjoy, and may detect and appreciate the writer-director’s indebtedness to genre classics including Black Sunday, Rosemary’s BabyThe Wicker Man, and The Fly. These same fans, unfortunately, may be disappointed to learn that familiar performers like Michael Berryman, Meg Foster, Richard Lynch, Andrew Prine, and Sid Haig are squandered in worthless, unrecognizable cameos.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Lords of Salem is:

9. Media-critical. Pop culture carries the potential for mass hypnosis. Rock in this case is literally “the Devil’s music”.

8. New age. Wicca is “a positive, earth-centered religion”.

7. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger. Heidi sports ratty dreadlocks and gets along swimmingly with her non-white coworkers.

6. Pro-miscegenation. Herman “Whitey” Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) – a white Hispanic, presumably – is something like Heidi’s occasional guyfriend. Matthias is married to a Latina (Maria Conchita Alonso).

5. Anti-family. Matthias, appalled at the thought of changing diapers, has never wanted children. An attendee at a drug rehabilitation support group recalls that his mother was also an addict and responsible for his own drug problem. (see also no. 3)

4. Drug-ambivalent. Hard drugs are a problem from which Heidi is still recovering, but cigarettes and liquor receive a free pass. Mrs. Matthias smokes marijuana.

3. Pro-choice. “Children are a bit of a waste.” Childbirth is more than once depicted horrifically. First a witch licks a newborn infant and spits on it, disgusted by the taste. Later scenes depict a human mother giving birth to inhuman invertebrate offspring. (see also no. 5)

2. Feminist/pro-slut/pro-castration. In the opening scene, a coven of seventeenth century Femen disrobe and disport without shame. “That felt good,” Sonny (Dee Wallace) says after braining Whitey with a pot, thus repurposing traditional women’s domestic wares into the means of gender retribution. Heidi, Zombie’s feminine ideal, is a tattooed eyesore who sleeps bare-bottomed and experiences sexual self-actualization with a goat. Her guyfriend Whitey, a sensitive nurturer, does a weenie dance to the Velvet Underground’s masochistic paean “Venus in Furs”.

1. Anti-Christian. The Lords of Salem is a veritable cavalcade of blasphemous celebration. Images likely to offend religious viewers include monstrous, masturbating clergymen, Christian objects juxtaposed with liquor, and a priest (Julian Acosta) forcing Heidi to give him a blowjob. Church is “slavery”. The Bible is “the Book of Lies”. “Our philosophy,” says rock musician Count Gorgann (Torsten Voges), who no doubt speaks for Zombie himself, “is to expose the lies of the Christian whores and Jesus the true bringer of death.” “God must die. God is the unholy pig,” he adds for those in need of further clarification on his views.

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