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24exposures

Prolific director Joe Swanberg, who had a supporting role as the philistine jerk brother in You’re Next, reunites with that film’s writer-director team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard in 24 Exposures, a low-budget postmodern murder mystery set in the world of fetish photography. Barrett plays Michael Bamfeaux, a depressed police detective investigating murders of models that mirror the gory photo shoots of artsy smut peddler Billy, effortlessly brought to life by Wingard.

Meanwhile, Billy’s bisexual live-in girlfriend Alex (photographer Caroline White) begins to be jealous of his professional interest in waitress Rebecca (Helen Rogers). Is Billy’s preoccupation with murder more than an aesthetic affinity? And what about Rebecca’s erratic and violently jealous nerd boyfriend? Could he be the fetishistic killer, or is it somebody else altogether?

24 Exposures is sexually explicit, with multiple topless photo shoots and even one girl-girl-guy interlude; but the approach to the exploitative content is so matter-of-fact as to drain most of the erotic potential from the images of degeneracy. Scenes such as Rebecca’s first lesbian experience are extremely easy on the eyes, however. Highlights or lowlights, depending upon the viewer’s taste, are a stylish opening credits series of images paying tribute to vintage pulp artwork; various actresses’ asses and breasts, sometimes pressing against each other; and also some pretty convincing gore makeup for the photo sessions.

Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, with perhaps the mild exception of unusually uncharismatic cop Bamfeaux, whose appearance onscreen is sometimes accompanied by an inexplicably tough-sounding theme. Swanberg, in a cameo as aspiring memoirist Bamfeaux’s literary agent, gives him a disapproving critique that ironically touches upon some of the reasons why 24 Exposures is ultimately a bit of a disappointment if judged as a murder mystery. The resolution, if it can be called that, simply fails to deliver on the potential promised by such a dramatic and ominous buildup, leaving the viewer unsatisfied as the credits follow an unexpectedly abrupt ending. But, imperfections aside, 24 Exposures is worth seeing if only because it is never boring.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 24 Exposures is:

5. Pro-drug. Billy and his bevy of bimbos smoke dope.

4. Pro-castration. Small-bearded, bracelet-wearing weenie Billy cooks breakfast for two women after he bangs them.

3. Pro-gay. Callie (Anna Kendrick lookalike Sophia Takal) tells the story of how her first-ever orgasm was with another girl. Alex is bisexual.

2. Pro-police. Bamfeaux, who at one point considers suicide, offers a pathetic example of what serving and protecting the public can do to a man. But he mans up and rises to the occasion when a (more or less) innocent damsel is in distress.

1. Pro-slut. There is something in 24 Exposures, thankfully not emphasized or made overly obnoxious, of the tired shtick about sexually conservative or conventional people being psychologically unhealthy or repressed, while the carefree, sexually adventurous types like Billy are better-adjusted. Fortunately for Detective Bamfeaux, hipster Billy is willing to take him under his wing and initiate him into the simple pleasures of smiling, relaxing once in a while, and bagging trashy, tattooed chicks who take off their clothes for money.

Bitch Perfect might have been a more appropriate title, given the character of the womanhood on display and the number of times the word “bitch” gets lobbed back and forth.  This is the tale of the Barden Bellas, an all-girl collegiate a cappella group looking to come back and win the championship after an unfortunate vomiting incident at last year’s big competition.  Helping them loosen up and diversify their repertoire is “alt girl” and aspiring deejay Beca (commandingly photogenic Anna Kendrick), whose hip-hop affinities and outside-the-box thinking clash with punctilious group leader Aubrey (Anna Camp), who staunchly resists any change of routine and declares, “We don’t stray from tradition.”

If Pitch Perfect has a single antagonist of note, it is not so much the arrogant but likable boy-bandish rival team the Troublemakers as the notion of uniformity.  The movie, like Beca, is at war with convention, tradition, and sameness.  Aubrey’s polite arrangement of Ace of Base’s “The Sign”, though perhaps the prettiest song as performed in the film, is derided as boring and pedestrian.  More promising, Pitch Perfect suggests, is a groan-inducing hip-hop medley mutation of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

As such atrocity amply demonstrates, Pitch Perfect‘s game never rises above spunky, outrageous cuteness for its own sake and that of the silly girls who will no doubt adore it.  For a film devoted to tawdry, innocuous shock value, however, Pitch Perfect still manages to be surprisingly disgusting in places.  The viewer is, for instance, treated not only to more than one instance of projectile vomiting, but the sight of a girl lying in a voluminous puddle of it and contentedly moving her arms and legs in snow-angel fashion.

Those who enjoyed the trailer – which, along with the trailers for Magic Mike and Katy Perry: Part of Me, was one of the bothersome banes of this past summer’s moviegoing experience – will probably be satisfied with Pitch Perfect.  In these clutches, however, it warrants only 2.5 of 5 possible stars, largely for the commitment of its commendable cast.  Anna Camp is a standout, as is lead Kendrick in her musical moments, particularly her take on Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”.  Even the somewhat revolting Rebel Wilson, who plays Fat Amy, is extremely memorable in her way.  These and other actors and actresses imbue this crude film with a vitality without which it would probably be unwatchable.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Pitch Perfect is:

11. Anti-marriage.  Beca’s parents are divorced, with the result that her father has married a “step-monster”.

10. Pro-miscegenation.  Multiple but unobtrusive instances.  A white girl recalls Prince’s buttocks being small enough to fit into one of her hands.

9. Anti-Christian.  Allusions to faith are mocking or trifling, such as a sign at a competition that reads, “A Cappella Is My Co-Pilot”.  Beca’s only invocation of God comes as she is crying after having finished the apparently religious experience of watching The Breakfast Club for the first time.

8. Obesity-ambivalent.  Pitch Perfect tries to have its cake and eat it, too, mocking the fat while also presenting what is presumably intended to be an attractively charismatic and (vaguely) sexually desirable slob in Fat Amy.

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Fat Amy says she sometimes thinks she might try crystal meth, but on further reflection, decides, “Nah.”  Liquor is acceptable chemical recreation and cause for humor.  “I’m not drunk at all.  You’re just blurry.”  Smoking, however, is discouraged: “You sound like you smoke three packs a day.”

6. Pro-gay.  Pitch Perfect endorses the relative normalness of homosexuality.  “So there’s like ten of us,” Fat Amy reflects; “that means one of us is probably a lesbian.”  Bellas member Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) is, as it (unsurprisingly) turns out, a lesbian.  “These girls could turn me,” a female emcee says suggestively on being impressed with their performance.

5. Diversity-skeptical.  Beca’s Asian roommate is aloof and unfriendly.  Once, returning with other Asian friends and seeing Beca with her boyfriend, the roommate expresses disappoinment that, “The white girl is back.”  She prefers to be with her own kind and joins the Korean Student Organization.  A rival a cappella group is composed overwhelmingly of blacks, so that Pitch Perfect, while seeming to celebrate multiculturalism, also acknowledges the reality that “birds of a feather flock together.”

4. Multiculturalist.  Beca’s project to deprogram and refashion the Bellas is an attempt to make them less rigid, less traditional, and less disciplined – less white, essentially.  Notwithstanding no. 5 above, the new and improved Bellas are proof of a motley crew’s ability to come together and pool their strengths in novel and profitable ways.  Included are racial minorities, gays, the plump, a nymphomaniac, and a vomit freak.  White artists’ songs need to be remixed to be competitively relevant, i.e., less white.

3. Feminist.  Women assert themselves throughout and in particular defiance of the opinion expressed by one sexist emcee that, “Women are about as good at a cappella as they are at being doctors.”  “If we let them penetrate us, we are giving them our power,” Aubrey explains to her troops.  Beca is presented with a “rape whistle” on arriving at Barden University and instructed, “Don’t use it unless it’s actually happening.”  There is no suggestion at any point in the film, however, that such a whistle is actually necessary or that men really are violently beastly toward women.  Still, “You are a misogynist at heart,” a female emcee says to her male cohost at the a cappella finals.

2. Pro-castration.  “Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man who sings like a boy.”  In Pitch Perfect‘s most bizarre and superfluous scene, a man begs Fat Amy to kick him in his testicles.  Then she grabs a trophy to ram into his anus.  “Cherry on top,” he enthuses, offering her his buttocks.

1. Pro-slut.  “He’s a hunter,” one young woman says, pointing to her vagina.  Fat Amy also enjoys pointing to her vagina, ripping open her blouse, and displaying her overgrown charms in other ways.  Gyration and shameless public grinding occur througout.

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