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snowflake

Realized through a mixture of live action and computer-generated animation, this Spanish-produced film follows the fortunes of Snowflake, the world’s only albino gorilla, who as a child is taken by force from her parents in Spain’s colony of Equatorial Guinea and sold to a zoologist, who gives Snowflake to his daughter Wendy (Claudia Abate) as a pet. Wendy and Snowflake become bosom companions, but Snowflake’s life is again upturned when Wendy’s father deems her too old and troublesome to be kept as a pet and sends her to live instead in a zoo with other gorillas.

Unfortunately for Snowflake, the papa gorilla is prejudiced, takes an immediate disliking to her, and would rather his two children, Petunia and Elvis, had no association with her. Snowflake is understandably ashamed at being different, and sets out with friendly red panda Jenga to find the Witch of the North (Elsa Pataky), who can turn Snowflake into a normal, black gorilla so she can fit in with her peers. Meanwhile, the evil and superstitious Dr. Archibald Pepper (Pere Ponce) has designs on Snowflake’s heart, not in the emotional sense, but as an ingredient in a potion he hopes will give him eternal life.

Children will enjoy this simple story, the innocent Snowflake being an impossible heroine to dislike. The animation ranges from tolerable to excellent, and the jokes, of the “monkeying around” variety of wordplay, are hit-and-miss; but the film is sufficiently fast-paced to keep both young and old from falling asleep. Voice-over actors in the English-dubbed version include Christopher Lloyd as the goofy Dr. Pepper, David Spade as zen-aspiring red panda Jenga, and Keith David as the father gorilla. Surprisingly, the English version even includes an allusion to David’s role in John Carpenter’s alien invasion classic They Live, when, aping (no pun intended) Roddy Piper’s character in that film, he says, “I do two things: eat bananas and kick butt. Looks like we’re almost out of bananas.”

Jenga sums up the movie’s lesson when he says, “At the end of the day, being yourself always means being a little different.” In addition to the prevailing messages of tolerance and self-esteem, young audiences are also reminded of stranger danger and of the value of family. Mildly gross humor includes nose-picking, with cartoonish violence fairly frequent. Potentially objectionable moments include Dr. Pepper chasing Snowflake with an axe and brandishing a machete as he threatens the beautiful Witch of the North, “You won’t be pretty when I’m done with you.” Mothers may also want to be aware of one borderline raunchy scene in which Jenga, understandably eyeing the Witch’s shapely rump, observes, “Ooh, you know I might be missing out on some stuff with all this purification.”

3 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Snowflake the White Gorilla is:

11. Class-conscious. Dr. Pepper, though wealthy, is a miserly tipper.

10. Media-critical. Media reliability is implicitly questioned when a news broadcast about Snowflake erroneously uses footage of Petunia instead.

9. Pro-police. Cops, after catching Pepper, flash peace signs.

8. Secularist/skeptical. Reason is more valuable than superstition or new age spiritual notions of karma and meditation, Jenga’s jargon stock-in-trade.

7. Animal rights militant. Hunters, ivory collectors, and other victimizers of animals are depicted negatively.

6. Anti-colonial. Just as progressivist wisdom dictates that the Third World must liberate itself from its western masters (even when, as in the case of Equatorial Guinea, this invariably results in terror, tyranny, and a degraded standard of living), it is part of Snowflake’s coming of age that she separates from her adoptive family of humans and self-actualizes among her own kind. (To the extent that the representative of the colonized country is an animal, the film is perhaps unintentionally racist.)

5. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger. Jenga, making the racial subtext of the film explicit, says, “She wants to be black, you moron. It’s actually not uncommon in teenagers.” Snowflake and friends, during the end festivities, do a negroid dance to kiddie hip-hop. Jenga sassily calls Snowflake “girlfriend”.

4. Mildly feminist. Snowflake is tough and adventurous. Wendy’s mother, though the typical homemaker of Franco’s traditionalist Spain, perhaps hints at the advantages of sexual equality and women in the workplace when she observes, “It’s not easy living off of one income.”

3. Arguably irreligious, specifically constituting a coded attack on Catholicism. Dr. Pepper derives his outmoded superstitions from an ancient Latin text full of arcane lore and prescriptions, and his devotions include the lighting of candles on an altar. His beliefs and his yearning for eternal life are psychologically unhealthy “childhood hangups”, the viewer is told. Jenga mocks him and possibly alludes to Jehovah’s Witnesses when he says, “Shouldn’t you be going door to door telling people about your weird obsession?” The Witch of the North, looking into Dr. Pepper’s favorite book and seeing what it has to say on the subject of white gorillas, objects, “Oh, my God, that must be a mistake.” Religion, Snowflake the White Gorilla teaches, must be bent to accord with social progress. Subversively, the Witch is the more likable character.

2. Pro-family. Families, though not perfect, are generally useful and loving units. Wendy, thinking she might die, reflects, “I should have been nicer to my parents.”

1. Pro-miscegenation and anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn). The film ends with a white gorilla/black gorilla kiss. A red panda may also have the hots for a human.

Baseball’s black deity, Jackie Robinson, gets the big screen treatment again in 42; and, with the exception of some suspensefully staged ball-playing sequences, it is a thoroughly pedestrian, by-the-numbers portrait of an uninteresting but inspirational figure who is less a living, breathing human being than the inspirational embodiment of an inspirational ideal.  For the most part, this inspirational film is a repetitive series of inspirational scenes in which whites express schock, hostility, and ultimately admiration as the inspirational Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) encounters and inspirationally overcomes racist adversity; provides inspiration to fellow blacks; or inspirationally embraces his wife (Nicole Beharie) and tells her he loves her – all as the mandatory inspirational strings and brass inspirationally swell and soar at appropriately inspirational moments.

Chadwick Boseman, who resembles a young Wesley Snipes, is adequate but less than revelatory in the role of Jackie Robinson; although, to be fair, such lackluster material would probably challenge and stump any actor to make something interesting of it.  The same goes for Nicole Beharie as his wife and Andre Holland as sportswriter Wendell Smith.  Geriatric, bespectacled Harrison Ford affects (?) a raspy grumble as color-blind Branch Rickey, the lovable old voice of morality at the heart of the film, and is probably 42‘s most notable asset.

Unfortunately, writer-director Brian Helgeland has some things to learn about crafting crowd-pleasing narratives of racial emancipation in these post-Django times.  For instance, in a locker room scene, Robinson confides to fellow Dodger Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) that he waits and showers after his teammates rather than joining them because he wants to avoid making any of them uncomfortable.  Inexplicably and inexcusably omitted is what ought, again in this post-Django age, to be the obligatory reference to why Robinson defers in the matter of showers.  The truth, of course, as every intelligent viewer of 42 must know, is that the wise and humble Robinson fears frightening the scurrying whites by unparking his jurassic prick – and yet, when Branca eventually persuades Robinson to shower with them, nothing so much as a bug-eyed reaction shot or a double-take is inserted to indicate the inspirational monstrousness of our hero’s penis.

In simpler, happier, less degraded times, Helgeland penned one of this reviewer’s favorite horror films, 1988’s 976-Evil.  One can only assume that his fee for that script was an infinitesimal fraction of the price he commands as a screenwriter today in the Hollywood major leagues; and yet, to have fallen from those satanic teen horror heights of the 1980s to churning out boring p.c. fluff to indoctrinate the masses demands serious consideration of one implacably flame-engulfed question: is the money really worth it? – for what shall it profit a screenwriter if he gain Hollywood and lose his individuality in the process?

2.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 42 is:

9. Anti-Catholic.  A Catholic youth group’s sanctimonious meddling loses adulterous Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) his job.

8. Pro-marriage/pro-family.  Them was differnt times, y’understand.

7. Anti-science.  Study of human biodiversity is made the stuff of mockery when one pressman laughs at another for suggesting that blacks’ longer heel bones give them an unfair physical advantage in baseball.

6. Capitalist – albeit probably inadvertently.  42 presents a sympathetic portrait of businessman Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  While Rickey’s motive for integrating baseball is, as he explains, motivated by his desire to right a moral wrong, he is also taking the risk to satisfy the niche market of black baseball fans.  More importantly, 42 demonstrates the ability of the market to regulate civility and race relations without the interference of government agencies.  When Robinson’s old team the Kansas City Monarchs stops at a filling station and the attendant forbids him to use the whites-only restroom facilities, Robinson threatens on behalf of the club to take their business elsewhere – so that the attendant, fearful of losing the money these black customers represent, relents and allows Robinson to relieve himself.  Viewers are thus reminded that before affirmative action and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 there were healthy competition, choice, and consequently stronger private property rights.

5. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger.  In an inspirational turn, more and more whites respond positively to Robinson’s inspirational trailblazing.  Rickey relates to Robinson an anecdote about how he saw a young white boy at play and pretending he was Robinson – a white boy wanting to be like a black man!  How . . . inspirational.

4. Anti-South/anti-white.  Florida hicks threaten to attack a house where Robinson is staying.  Throughout 42, the southerner’s drawl might as well be the mark of the Beast, and there is actually a character listed in the credits as “Cracker”.

3. Black supremacist.  A previously skeptical racist, after seeing him play, concedes that Robinson might after all be a “superman”.  A reporter speculates that blacks will run whites right out of the game.  A little black boy (Dusan Brown) who shows up occasionally for cutesie points, always starry-eyed over Jackie Robinson, demonstrates blacks’ superior vocabulary by saying “discombobulated”.

2. Christian.  Rickey invokes the Bible more than once and compares the necessities of Robinson’s task to the prescriptions of Jesus Christ.  “Life Is a Ball Game”, the gospel song that plays as the credits roll, informs viewers that Jesus is waiting for Robinson at the home plate.

1. Anti-racist/anti-fascist/progressive (i.e., pro-yawn).  A trite narration opens the film, perpetuating the myth of the “greatest generation”, celebrating America’s “victory” over fascism in WW2, and explaining to the audience how blacks, despite being especially responsible for this “victory”, returned home only to face the atrocities of Jim Crow era segregation.  Rickey later equates the war against the Nazis with the civil rights struggle at home, the implication being that racist southerners and other internal opponents of integration are just like the Nazis – an enemy to be destroyed.  A group of racist teammates creates a petition objecting to Robinson’s presence in their game, dubbing this document the “Brooklyn Dodger Declaration of Independence” and in this way associating the country’s slave-owning founders with a heritage of racism shared by the KKK and the Nazis.  “A Jew probably wrote that,” racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) scoffs when confronted with an editorial scolding him for his shameful baiting of Robinson – a reminder that blacks and Jews are in it together when it comes to combating and exorcising the pale racist specter that haunts America.

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