Archives for posts with tag: anti-miscegenation

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The appropriately odd-looking Asa Butterfield is cast as Gardner Elliot, the first human being born on Mars, in an ultimate emo romance fantasy that might just as well have been titled The Perks of Being a Mars Baby. The loneliest teen in the universe, Gardner, orphaned when his astronaut mother (Janet Montgomery) dies giving birth to him, is restricted to the planet of his birth because his heart and bones, having developed in the gravity of Mars, are unsuited to life on Earth. Consequently, he lives and mopes among the scientists living on Mars but strikes up a touching internet correspondence with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), an alienated high school girl living back in the States. Eventually, after surgical modifications allow Gardner to make to journey to Earth, he of course rejects being grounded by NASA and hatches a plan to escape, meet Tulsa, and track down his father, about whom he knows nothing. Robertson is too attractive to be convincing as a high school outcast, but does create a tear-jerkingly irresistible chemistry with Mr. Butterfield, who is perfect as the quintessential socially awkward Gen-Z outcast hothouse flower. Gary Oldman, too, is commendably present as the complicated elder statesman of the Mars program. A sweet film, and heartily recommended to angst-ridden teens of all ages.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Space Between Us is:

5. Class-conscious. Blue-collar Tulsa steals a BMW, confident that the presumably wealthy owner can afford the loss.

4. Family-ambivalent. The horror of Sarah Elliot’s childbirth scene is arguably antinatalist; but the film is largely concerned with the hole left in young people’s lives by the absence of conventional family structures.

3. Green. The exposition suggests that the likelihood ecological catastrophe on Earth could serve as a motivator for colonization of other planets. Wind turbines, meanwhile, illustrate the availability of alternative energy sources.

2. Capital-ambivalent. Sam’s Club, Tulsa explains, is like shopping a million stores at once with a trillion dollars to spend. In other words, she appreciates the cheap goods that neoliberalism has made available to the consumer. Gardner becomes ill during a visit to Las Vegas, however, when he is confronted with the dark side of globalization. Gaudy imitations of world cities thrown together in one neon hodge-podge disorient him and prompt him to observe that these things are not supposed to exist side-by-side. During this same sequence, Gardner appears to be horrified at the sight of a mulatto child.

1. Sexist! The Space Between Us seems at first glance to be promoting feminism with its depiction of a valiant female astronaut leading a trailblazing Mars expedition. It quickly undermines this deception, however, by having her turn out to be secretly pregnant, demonstrating that men and women bring different liabilities to the workplace.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

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Contagion

Steven Soderbergh directs an ensemble cast including Laurence Fishburne (cool, calm, and collected), Matt Damon (heartbroken and desperate!), Gwyneth Paltrow (autopsied!), Kate Winslett (who, sorry to say, does not appear nude), Jennifer Ehle (scientific!), Bryan Cranston (insignificant!), Jude Law (slimy and limey), and Elliott Gould (Elliott Gould!) in this frightening film in the tradition of 1995’s Outbreak. A planet goes literally batshit crazy when a virulent new virus ravages its way from China to the U.S.A., causing a panic and the potential for societal collapse. If nothing else, the flawlessly paced Contagion demonstrates that the inevitable breakdown of civil order, whatever its cause, will not be fun. (Naturally, the disorder also provides an irresistible opportunity to depict ravenous white men rioting and robbing blacks.) A neat and polished product with an effective electronic score to match, this respectable but gruesome (and ideologically servile) entry on Soderbergh’s resume may suffer only from slight dearth of soul.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Contagion is:

9. Pro-gay. The virus at one point mutates into some funky kind of variation on AIDS, reminding viewers of how urgently the world needs a cure for gay cancer.

8. Anti-miscegenation. Unusual interspecies contact has brought the new disease into existence. “Somewhere in the world the wrong pig met up with the wrong bat.”

7. Black supremacist. The juxtaposition of a black doctor (Fishburne) and a white janitor (John Hawkes) says it all.

6. Egalitarian. Pesky “socio-economic factors” affect people’s susceptibility to the plague. When a vaccine finally becomes available, it is rationed by lottery so as to democratize the suffering.

5. Anti-slut. An adulteress (Gwyneth Paltrow) is Patient Zero.

4. Pro-family. Contagion features two touching father-daughter relationships.

3. Green and anti-capitalistic. An American corporation’s blundering program of deforestation displaces a population of oriental bats and so sets off a chain reaction that ironically takes the life of one of the company’s own executives. Black Friday crowds and confusion exacerbate the epidemic. Consumer culture must be regulated or Nature will have its vengeance! Undercutting Contagion’s environmentalist credibility, however, is its illustration of how convenient expendable laboratory monkeys can be during a catastrophic pickle.

2. Conformist. Alternative media receive a condescending send-up and a thrashing from Contagion. Decidedly de-glammed Jude Law portrays Alan Krumwiede (the name speaks for itself), a fringe blogger and crackpot conspiracy theory peddler who accuses the CDC of colluding with pharmaceuticals manufacturers, only to be exposed himself for profiteering on the crisis by stoking fears of the end of the world and defrauding the public by hyping an ineffective wonder drug called Forsythia. The lesson, one assumes, is that dissenters and those who promote distrust of government officials are not to be tolerated. Contagion is thus cronyism-tolerant in seeking to discredit those who would point out the distasteful symbioses between privileged corporations and grasping government.

1. Statist and pro-military. Self-sacrificing agents of the CDC, DHS, CIA, and other agencies contribute to the effort of saving humanity. Great pains seem to have been taken to show that the federal government has learned from the mistakes of Katrina. Laurence Fishburne’s wise technocrat even implies that the central government might do well to subsume all regional autonomies when he frets, “There are fifty different states in this country, which means there are fifty different health departments, followed by fifty different protocols.” In other words, why not just have one gigantic bureaucratized managerial leviathan to handle everything? End credits offer “special thanks” to the U.S. Department of Defense. Kate Winslet leaves the audience with the memorable image of woman-government-agent-as-Christ.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Street Wars

Originally a two-part episode of the TV series True Justice, this ersatz “movie” has over-the-hill kicker Steven Seagal playing the chief of a special sheriff’s task force in the Seattle area. He becomes concerned when clueless clubbers start dropping like flies from a new drug making the rounds of the local rave scene. (Indicative of the depressingly meager budget of Street Wars is the fact that the psychedelic effect of the drug is conveyed by choppy editing, strobe lights, and a close-up of a water bottle being shaken.) “This is gettin’ bad, man. This is gettin’ bad. We gotta do somethin’,” the enlightened law enforcer decides. The investigation will lead his team into a tangle of mob hits and federal corruption, none of it particularly interesting.

Seagal, sporting a plastic Dracula ‘do and a few extra pounds around the midsection, characteristically whispers his way through police procedural gobbledygook and action epilepsy shot nearly entirely in gimmicky ADHD jerkvision to disorient the viewer and try to shock life into this video corpse. Speed-up/slow-down annoyance, generous expenditures of ammunition, and quick cuts (to distract from Seagal’s relative lack of mobility) were never so boring. Ever. The bleak non-entertainment that is Street Wars is probably best summed up by one of the hefty, greasy-faced hero’s lines of dialogue: “I mean, you gotta be kidding me, man. I ain’t got time for this.”

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Street Wars, in addition to sucking, sends mixed political signals and that it is:

9. Sexist! Workplace flirtation (i.e., verbal RAPE) goes unprogressively unpunished.

8. Pro-wigger. Seagal is given to occasional black affectations, calling people “y’all” and saying things like, “We ain’t suppose to be babysittas.”

7. Pro-family. “If I could turn back the hands of time,” Seagal says, “I’d spend a lot more time with my wife and kids.”

6. State-ambivalent. Street Wars accepts the validity of the War on Drugs, but depicts the DEA as corrupt and favors local law enforcement as more effective, honest, and caring. “If you think you’re going to make the government care about these [impoverished] people, you’re crazy,” Juliet (Meghan Ory) says, presumably with reference to the federal government. A visit to the site of Camp Harmony, part of Uncle Sam’s system of WWII Japanese internment camps, resurrects the specter of a belligerent, racist, authoritarian state. Later, when a conflict arises between federal law and the needs of the Seattle task force’s investigation, Sarah (Sarah Lind) asks, “You know this violates half a dozen federal laws?” “Rules went out the window when they tried to kill Gates, right?” Juliet bristles. “I hate to rationalize breaking the rules,” Sarah replies, “but, yeah, you’re right.”

5. Diversity-skeptical. Seattle is racially and politically polarized. “These people, the good and the bad,” says filmmaker Savon (Byron Chan), “are products of the environment that the government created.” “But do you understand that none of this is interesting to people like me?” Juliet sasses back. “And if your audience doesn’t consist of us young white Republicans, uh, you’re not really gonna get the advertisers, right?” Savon objects, saying, “An investigative piece is made as food for the brain – not for advertisers’ dollars”, to which Juliet snaps, “Yeah, well, I guess my brain just doesn’t, uh, eat what your restaurant is serving.” (see also nos. 1 and 3)

4. Anti-slut/anti-miscegenation. A ditzy hedonist (Annette Tolar) lets a black thug (Matt Ward) stuff dope in her mouth. “One of these and your whole world will change,” he says as he removes his pooplike finger from her lips. The pair dances briefly until she collapses, foams at the mouth, and dies. Street Wars would seem to be more tolerant of white guy/Asian girl hook-ups, however. “It’s so sexy when you get all technical like that,” Gates (Kyle Cassie) tells Sparks (Elizabeth Thai).

3. Conservative. Street Wars features a caricature of a left-libertarian social justice weenie in the annoyingly named Savon, a documentarian making a propagandistic film about the homeless with the cooperation of local authorities. Savon, an Asian nerd with a pretentious British accent, is convinced that a legacy of government oppression of minorities and the poor is to blame for society’s woes. Tough cookie Juliet identifies as a Republican.

2. Anti-drug. Few will envy the brain swelling, dementia, convulsions, and death.

1. Racist! Seagal’s black lackey (William “Big Sleeps” Stewart) calls him “Boss”. “Did you see that?” Sarah asks after Seagal has subdued a mulatto culprit on the run. “That was like trying to corral a monkey on crack!”

 

 

Redlands Poster

Vienna (Nicole Fox) is a Midwestern transplant to Southern California who dreams of immortalizing herself through art as a model. Allan (Clifford Morts) is the “fat pervert” and amateur Irving Klaw who entertains her vanity. The pair’s initial collaboration sets Redlands into deliberate motion.

An uneasy study of the creative process and of the artist-model relationship as an “energy transfer”, or a form of vampirism, John Brian King’s debut directorial effort is shot almost entirely in static master shots, a choice that screams “art house” (and low budget) and will automatically alienate the easily distracted. Potential viewers are warned that this is not a film for the faint of heart and that it contains one appalling scene of physical violence in addition to multiple instances of emotional cruelty.

Redlands, owing to a shared subject matter and sensibility, would make for a complementary double feature with Gut (2012) or 24 Exposures (2013) – not that most people would want to sit through two such films in a single sitting. Those sufficiently bold to be interested, however, can screen this gross and engrossing movie via Vimeo.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Redlands is:

9. Anti-miscegenation. A freakish, infatuated Asian sidler (Connie Shin) haunts a camera shop to be near its clerk (Leland Montgomery), but he wants nothing to do with her.

8. Anti-Christian. Vienna sports a kitschy “Have Faith” t-shirt as she rambles inanely about Falco.

7. Anti-vegan. Vegans are depicted as somewhat shallow. Hitler is more than once referenced as having been a vegetarian, presumably so as to discredit the lifestyle.

6. Populist, Luddite, anti-corporate, and protectionist. Allan becomes frustrated with a credit card company’s user-unfriendly robot phone system and finally snaps when he gets through to a human customer service representative, who turns out to be an African named Chiwamba. He calls her a “black bitch” after she informs him that her predatory bankster organization has lowered his credit limit without informing him and is charging him penalty fees for exceeding his newly decapitated limit. Allan’s anger is that of the disenfranchised white male and the American who has seen his countrymen’s jobs either shipped overseas or given to cheap wetbacks and other undesirables. In a fit of impotence, he smashes his phone.

5. Un-p.c. Characters use words like “bitch” and “retard”.

4. Anti-drug. Vienna’s father was an addict.

3. Anti-Semitic! Zack (Sam Brittan) is a parasitic Jew and quasi-pimp, an abusive easy rider who leeches off of his gentile girlfriend’s earnings. “Somebody’s gotta mind the store,” he says. “Might as well be me.”

2. Anti-porn. Parallel scenes of photography sessions evoke a powerful metaphor: pornography as a body of autopsy photos of western woman.

1. Anti-feminist/anti-slut. The misogynistic behavior of the men in Redlands is unpleasant to witness and not at all condoned in the tone of the film. What is impossible to deny, however, is that the unenviable treatment of the women in Redlands results from feminism and its destabilizing effect on the family and the moral fabric of society. The importance of the father as the central figure in a woman’s life comes across very clearly.

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For those still among the uninitiated, one of the great comedy and musical treasures that the cinema has to offer is the original film adaptation of Babes in Toyland, more commonly known as March of the Wooden Soldiers. Based on a popular stage production with music by Victor Herbert and libretto by Glen MacDonough and Anna Alice Chapin, the 1934 film directed by the team of Gus Meins and Charley Rogers has, with its preoccupation with toys and even an appearance by Santa Claus (Ferdinand Munier), ensconced itself with ease in audiences’ affections and become a Christmas classic of sorts, despite the story being only tangentially Christmas-related. With beautiful songs, imaginative sets and creature creations, and hilarious star turns from Laurel and Hardy, the film is refreshingly innocent and rivals The Wizard of Oz in delightfulness and capacity to produce a smile.

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Laurel and Hardy goosestep with a wooden soldier.

What the back of the DVD case is unlikely to tell modern viewers, however, and what makes Babes in Toyland something of a forbidden treat subtextually, is that the film is positively dripping with anti-Semitism, particularly in its depiction of Toyland’s alien userer Silas Barnaby, played with hissing, insinuating glee by Henry Brandon – born in Berlin as Heinrich von Kleinbach and credited here as Henry Kleinbach.

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Henry Brandon as Jewish usurer Silas Barnaby

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Authentic Jew Lev Bronstein, alias Leon Trotsky

Barnaby, (barely) a crypto-Jew with a little Leon Trotsky goatee, dresses all in black, sneers and snivels, and creeps with a crooked cane through Toyland to the accompaniment of somber violin cues, sometimes in company with a large-nosed, depraved-looking dwarf lackey (John George) in a yarmulke. Hellbent on miscegenation and financial vulturism, Barnaby would appear to be the only thing preventing the simple and happy folk of Toyland from enjoying an essentially ideal society.

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John George as Barnaby’s Minion

Good-natured but bumbling toymakers Stannie Dum (Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Hardy) cross paths with Barnaby when the villain threatens to callously foreclose on the home of the poor Widow Peep (Florence Roberts) unless she consents to allow her daughter, Bo Peep (Charlotte Henry), to marry the parasitic rascal.

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Charlotte Henry as Bo Peep

Complicating Barnaby’s plan, however, is pretty Bo Peep’s understandable aversion to his advances and the fact that the handsome Tom Tom (Felix Knight) has already asked for her hand in marriage. Undaunted, Barnaby simply sets about framing Tom Tom for the murder of one of the Three Little Pigs (played by children, one of whom, Edward Earle Marsh, would go on to earn infamy as a director of pornographic films under the name Zebedy Colt).

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After “pignapping” Elmer the Pig and hiding him in his cellar, Barnaby produces a string of sausages that, he claims, is proof that Tom Tom did the little fellow in, with the result that the innocent Tom Tom is cast out of Toyland and into the forbidding Bogeyland. Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum exonerate Bo Peep’s beau, however, when they discover that the sausages used as evidence against Tom Tom are not pork, but beef – Barnaby’s Jewish pig meat taboo having given him away.

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Stannie Dum contemplates a Final Solution as comrade-in-arms Ollie Dee, impatient for glory in blood and iron, works an interesting mustache.

Determined to have his petty revenge against the people of Toyland, Barnaby comes back with an unsightly invasion force of hirsute, subhuman Bogeymen, who, with their horrible features, nappy hair, and savage subservience, may put some viewers in mind of caricatures of Africans and of Jewish provocateurs’ agitation of American blacks through various radical front groups of the burgeoning civil “rights” movement. Thankfully, after overcoming their initial panic, the folk of Toyland rally themselves and – with no little help from Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee, who activate a phalanx of goosestepping wooden soldiers – manage to expel Barnaby and his Bogeymen, thus securing the political and genetic integrity of Toyland as a contented monarchic ethnostate.

And so Babes in Toyland happily ends – to the extent, at least, that such a story can have any reassuring closure as long as the likes of Barnaby and his Bogeymen are at large in the world.

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Brutish Babes in Toyland producer Hal Roach poses with a truckload of antlered victims of his supremacist megalomania on their way to the infamous studio furnaces – dry run for the real thing a few years later.

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Inexplicably neglected since 2011, with no wide release until now, You’re Next is not only one of the finest film surprises of 2013, but one of the greatest slasher movies ever made. Affectionately versed in its 80s genre heritage, Adam Wingard’s film is a combination slasher and downbeat, darkly comedic family melodrama, almost as if Noah Baumbach had decided to direct a horror movie.

Middle-aged couple Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their wedding anniversary, for which occasion their grown children and their significant others are gathering for a celebration at their country house. Before very long, old sibling rivalries and resentments resurface, both to the family’s chagrin and the audience’s delight; but the funny display of dysfunction at dinner is disrupted when an arrow flies through a window, lodging itself in one guest’s head, and the group realizes that the house is being attacked by an unknown entity or entities. What follows is a Straw Dogs-style siege, a tour de force of storytelling, creative suspense, and invested work from an excellent cast led by Sharni Vinson as Australian heroine Erin.

You’re Next has clearly been crafted with love by people devoted to the genre, and nearly everything in the film is perfect. From delicious moments of tension to elegant use of slow motion, unexpected bits of humor, the obligatory final girl structure, and the reverent casting of genre favorite Barbara Crampton as Aubrey, this is a film by and for those who appreciate the 80s horror inheritance. The experience is further intensified by a supremely effective soundtrack of gothic noise and energizing and inhuman electronica courtesy of scorers Mads Heldtberg, Jasper Justice Lee, and Kyle McKinnon. Director Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are also collaborators on The Guest, a film presently in production, so one can only hope for more morbid magic from that one whenever it gets its release.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that You’re Next is a horror which, in the grand old slasher tradition, has a pronounced sense of morality, and also indicates that it is:

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

11. Anti-drug. Vicodin abuse is a sure invitation to victimhood in a slasher film.

10. Anti-police. A police officer, arriving on the scene of the horror too late, gets the wrong idea of the situation in the house and makes what the audience can only view as a fatally tragic error.

9. Anti-miscegenation and anti-Arab. One of the young women is involved with a quiet (or is that aloof? – and presumably somewhat pretentious) “underground” documentary filmmaker named Tariq (Ti West), whose name (“to reek”) suggests offending armpits. These miscegenators are among the first to die. It is worthy of note, however, that this minor character seems to have been designed so as to contradict stereotypical depictions of Arabs (cf. no. 7).

8. Anti-Christian. Paul and Aubrey’s faith is formal and superficial and not shared by the younger set, who give evidence of their contempt as prayer is said at dinner.

7. Immigration-ambivalent. Erin, of tough, self-reliant Australian stock, is the sort of immigrant that the country arguably needs. Tariq’s death is undignified and will not be mourned by the audience (cf. no. 9).

6. Anti-state. The resourceful Erin, the audience learns, was raised by an extremist survivalist father in the Australian outback. Though she is somewhat embarrassed by her past, her father’s doomsday scenario teachings definitely come in handy (see also nos. 3 and 10).

5. Anti-slut. In the film’s opening scene, a couple has what is obviously loveless sex. The shameless woman then gets up and goes to a window without even bothering to cover up her semi-nudity. Naturally, this wanton specimen is the first to die. Goth girl Zee (Wendy Glenn) is a far worse degenerate and demands to have sex next to her boyfriend’s mother’s corpse.

4. Anti-weenie. Generation X/Y men are worthless and incapable of defending themselves.  Drake (Joe Swanberg) is a spoiled brat and philistine, and one senses that devious brothers Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Crispian (AJ Bowen), apart from being motivated by the fortune they stand to gain (see no. 2), are haunted by a sense of having been insufficiently nurtured as children. Both devoid of anything resembling a work ethic, neither man has the taste for doing his own dirty work. Crispian is a struggling writer who fails to meet with his father’s approval and has probably grown a beard partly to cover up his pudgy features, but also so as to seem to be more of a man, which may also explain his lame tattoo (cf. no. 1). The relativistic hypocrisy of the neutered liberal American male is also spotlighted when Crispian, after having his family slaughtered, actually claims to be a pacifist. (For more on Generation X/Y, see Creep Van)

3. Antiwar. Just as, in the years during and after the Vietnam war, movies exploited the phenomenon of psychologically scarred and dehumanized veterans taking the terror of foreign conflict back to the streets of America in Motor Psycho, Forced Entry, Rolling Thunder, First Blood, Combat Shock, and others in this vein, a wave of films including recent entries Savages, Jack Reacher, and You’re Next has emerged to continue this simultaneously salacious and critical tradition. In You’re Next, a team of coldblooded mercenaries, probably veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, have been hired to exterminate most of the family for the father’s fortune. Mild-mannered “fascist” Paul, who acquired his wealth as a public relations shill for a defense contractor, has surely guaranteed for himself a painful demise in the unforgiving moral universe of You’re Next.

2. Anti-family/anti-marriage. A wedding anniversary is the occasion of a massacre. Parents Paul and Aubrey are self-absorbed, faintly distant, and perhaps inconsistently affectionate with their children. Felix, along with girlfriend Zee and brother Crispian, plot murder against their parents and brother Drake. The man murdered in the film’s opening scene has, it is later revealed, left his wife for a college girl.

1. Feminist. Erin is forced to lead the home defense and proves to be quite the adept at forging makeshift MacGyver-style weaponry. Of interest is that she uses kitchen wares, the trappings of traditional woman’s work, for violent self-assertion (cf. Vile). Also interesting, though, is that Erin makes a kitchen blunder that might, were she not the final girl, actually have cost her her life. Imagining she has flung boiling water on adversary Felix, she forgets that she earlier turned off the heat. “The water’s not even hot, you dumb bitch,” Felix tells her. Erin, however, quickly recovers and handily dispatches this sexist swine (with his insensitive expectation that women ought to know how to cook) with a triumph of poetic justice, taking advantage of a blender’s exposed mechanism to give him a gruesome homemade lobotomy. Zee, in a parallel characterization, is more ambitiously wicked and assertive in her villainy than wimpy co-conspirator Felix.

Those attracted by top-billed Danny Trejo, who plays a priest named Father Connely [sic], will be disappointed to learn that the haggard actor dies in the opening scene of this oddball Christian horror film. Likewise, Eric Roberts, the other celebrity name in the cast, has only a smallish role as the sinister Father Tollman. Whether or not The Cloth offers any other inducements will be a matter mainly of the individual viewer’s interest in religion, exorcism, and copious low-grade CGI.

Following the deaths of his parents and his disillusionment at the acquittal of a murderous drunk driver, young Jason (Kyler Willett) would be content to spend his life in hedonistic abandon, clubbing, drinking, and bagging chicks; but Father Diekman (Lassiter Holmes) has other plans for the lad. Diekman belongs to a secret order of special ops clergy, The Cloth, that wages Hellboyish war on the unholy through exorcism and spiritualized gunplay. Jason, though reluctant to join at first, becomes a convert when confronted with demons firsthand. Soon, with the salutary example of sexy but modest Laurel (Perla Rodriguez) and gunsmith Helix (Cameron White) to guide him, Jason is utilizing a silly array of Christian weaponry like holy water grenades, armor forged from materials in the Ark of the Covenant, and corny CGI firepower to dispatch the Devil’s minions.

Kyler Willett is handsome and likable enough as smart aleck hero Jason, but Lassiter Holmes, true to his name, tends rather too much toward lassitude as the boring Father Diekman, an uninspiring mentor to say the least. Rodriguez gets a lot of mileage from coyly brushing the hair from her eyes, and White lends just the right mix of class and kitsch with his English accent and tacky Christian t-shirts that say things like, “Exorcise regularly.” The dialogue does sometimes leave these actors in the lurch, however, and never rises above the mildly amusing level of, “That’s holy water – bitch.”

More damaging than any shortcomings of casting, however, are the filmmakers’ insistence on bringing to the screen effects-reliant phantasmagorias that are simply beyond the means of such a limited budget. The action sequences, too, are sometimes overly abrupt and insufficiently covered. The Cloth, consequently, is about as scary as the cover of the Louvin Brothers’ album Satan Is Real. Those interested in studying or actualizing the cavernous blackness of the Catholic imagination would do better to turn to the philosophical horrors of William Peter Blatty, The Ninth Configuration and Exorcist III, which rely on depth of atmosphere and the weight of ideas rather than special effects to keep audiences alert and entertained.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Cloth is:

11. Anti-state. As an unjust court decision demonstrates, justice is to be had not through secular law, but through the arms of a militant Church.

10. Anti-capitalistic. A priest taking diabolical bribes is unwilling to assist a poor parishioner whose contribution is understandably small. This venal villain is repaid handsomely when coins pour from his mouth in a torrent.

9. Pro-life. Jason’s father, Diekman relates, resisted the counsel to “terminate” Laurel’s life when she was possessed and instead chose to see the potential for good in her.

8. Anti-drug. Drinking and driving means accidents. Jason, a drinker at the beginning of the film, later fills his hip flask with holy water. The Devil’s possessed snort lines of cocaine.

7. Multiculturalist. Anglos and Hispanics work together more than once. “The very basis of our beliefs stems from the arrival of the Apostles from such places as Jerusalem, Africa, and even Asia.” (cf. no. 3)

6. Pro-gun. One gun owner standing in the way of the Cloth’s mission brandishes his weapon threateningly, but firearms are for the most part represented positively as indispensable implements of the Lord’s work.

5. Miscegenation-ambivalent. Jason and white-enough Hispanic cutie Laurel walk away hand-in-hand at the end, but interracial pairings of spicier stuff are strictly the province of the Devil.

4. Anti-slut/anti-gay. Good girl Laurel represents sexual modesty charmingly. Laurel, initially rejecting Jason’s advances, tells him, “My beliefs come before my own personal desires.” Fornicators are more than once destroyed by demonic power or disfigured. Cohabitation is also discouraged, as Jason’s devilish ex-girlfriend leaves an odor of sulfur in his apartment. The Devil’s hos, naturally, are promiscuous lesbos. The Cloth would also appear to frown on tattoos.

3. Racist! Clearly self-loathing black writer-director Justin Price casts himself as the demon Kasdeyah, Satan’s emissary on Earth. Minorities are disproportionately represented among the possessed (cf. no. 7).

2. Traditionalist/pro-family. Jason, though he has long resented and misunderstood his father, comes to follow in his footsteps both professionally and spiritually.

1. Christian and specifically Catholic. Latin mumbo jumbo works! Laurel, explaining away the occasional bad apple in the clergy, claims, “There’s no such thing as corruption in the Church, Jason. The only Church that has ever existed lies within.”

Naturally, everyone prefers a pleasurable moviegoing experience to a sharply unpleasant one; and yet, as adventurous, seasoned, and discriminating cinephiles already know, there is something instructive and salutary in an occasional trip to cinema’s Dark Side and a philosophically minded sojourn in the Movie House of Pain.  This is the tenebrous, nightmarish place (think Hellraiser and picture hooks and chains slowly swaying and clinking in unfathomable darkness) where nothing worthwhile is ever projected, where filth alone adorns the screen, and where Boredom and Loathing wait like lewdly lip-licking Cenobites to bind and eviscerate the viewer.  These are the experiences, after all, which give good and great movies their significance, just as, without the darkness, light itself would be impossible.

A case in point is Betty and Coretta, a Canadian-made Lifetime Network movie about Betty Shabazz (Mary J. Blige) and Coretta Scott King (Angela Bassett), the respective widows of martyred rabble rousers Malcolm X and Martin King.  Superfluous beyond belief, this most recent hosanna out of the Martin King Cult is exactly the film one would expect it to be: a stoic, vapid, stylistically sterile, and self-congratulatory cardboard reenactment of highlights from the lives of two not particularly fascinating women as they bravely continue to live their lives whole decades after the touted events that made them even tangentially relevant to anyone other than themselves – much of it punctuated, of course, by a soundtrack of the obligatory soulful moaning.

Considering the inconsequential nature of the women’s stories following their husbands’ deaths, Betty and Coretta understandably suffers from a lack of interesting event or forward narrative momentum.  Follow Coretta Scott King as she boldly faces reporters who have the nerve to question her about the FBI recordings.  Follow Betty Shabazz as she bravely raises a daughter troubled by nightmares after her father’s murder. Follow Coretta Scott King as she graciously gives multiple inspiring speeches and lobbies to get a holiday named after her husband.  Follow Betty Shabazz as she boldly hosts her own radio talk show.  Follow Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz as they admirably persevere, eat lunch, exchange brave mothering insights, move on up, and boldly shop for shoes together.  Betty’s public accusation that Louis Farrakhan (Alex C. Askew) had a hand in Malcolm X’s murder is as confrontational as the movie ever gets, and even this subplot fails to engage.

Worse, screenwriters Ron Hutchinson and Shem[p?] Bitterman’s script is rock-hard stale bread all the way, with Coretta Scott King sounding every time she opens her mouth as if she suspects the pious stenographers of black historical destiny may be hiding behind a curtain and recording her every word, calling her husband a “vessel for greatness” and arguing that “we need to consecrate his legacy.”  Angela Bassett’s wooden performance perfectly mirrors the empty verbiage she recites, and Malik Yoba is just as boring as Great Doctor Junior Himself.  Mary J. Blige fares better in her role, coming across much more naturally, but the dialogue does the actress no favors.  Lindsay Owen Pierre is unworthy of note as Malcolm X, and Ruby Dee, who narrates the film as a pseudo-documentary interviewee, gives evidence of incipient senility as she delivers her lines in halting, awkward syllables and sometimes even appears to read from cue cards as her eyes dart unsettlingly from side to side.

A star and a half.  Ideological Content Analysis, after being stretchered out of the Movie House of Pain like a wounded and bloodied trooper, indicates that Betty and Coretta is:

8. Pro-bastard.  Betty’s daughter keeps it real and skips the marriage bit.

7. Anti-gun.  Betty’s daughter has nightmares about men with guns.

6. Anti-miscegenation.  Betty’s daughter’s white live-in guyfriend, as if wiping his nose before offering to shake hands with Betty is not bad news enough already, also turns out to be a dastardly spy for the FBI.

5. Selectively anti-state.  The FBI is an antagonist, as are the congressmen who oppose the creation of the national King holiday.  (All the FBI probably needs, though, is a quota system, for it to become a tool for progress.)

4. Egalitarian.  Coretta campaigns for “economic justice” and identifies poverty as one of the evils plaguing America.

3. Statist/pro-NWO.  “Can you believe it?” Betty says, exasperated.  “Another round of budget cuts.  When are taxpayers gonna learn?  Pay a little now or a whole lot later.”  The film opens with witness to history Ruby Dee gushing at the momentous dedication of a King statue by President B.O.  Coretta longs for “a new world [order], a just world, a world dedicated to fayuhness and equality for awl.”  The UN is referenced as a weapon for forcing social change in America.

2. Feminist/black uber alles.  “You don’t need a man to survive,” Betty tells a student.  “You just need some trainin’ so you can get a good job.”  Addressing herself to black women, Coretta defiantly intones, “Weeee awwww a powuhful fawss.”

1. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Imagine that.  And yet, in an unintentional irony, as soon as Betty has enough money, she gets “a nice home, away from the city [and her fellow blacks, presumably], where Betty could give her children the sheltered life she had dreamed of.”  Still, “Every time a neighbor see us, they think we gone blow somethin’ up.”  Bigots!

BettyPin2

Set aboard a melodrama-plagued pleasure cruise, writer-director Je’Caryous Johnson’s soulful examination of love among African-American couples and singles benefits in energy from being a filmed production of a live play as opposed to a conventional film.  Johnson is a talented jokester with a heart and creates compelling characters brought to vibrant life by an emotionally present and engagingly boisterous all-black cast.  Think Neil Simon keepin’ it real.

A neurotic tension and sense of panic constantly inform Love Overboard, with Johnson portraying African-Americans as a people ever prey to the supernatural forces in their lives, their bodies the eternal, intensely contested battleground of spiritual warfare as they navigate between their fear of God and obsession with sexual satisfaction.  Two types of entity, appropriately, are apostrophized in Love Overboard: Jesus Christ and the male sexual organ.  Love Overboard gets so overheated at times, with a man and woman apparently unable to stop themselves from flying into each other’s arms and grinding in public in one instance, that it starts to make Three’s Company look like I Married Joan.  “Y’all think this is a leg I’m standin’ on, dontcha?  I gotta take my shoe off every time I go pee.”

Running the gamut from shockingly crude to genuinely touching, Love Overboard front-loads most of the bawdy humor and concentrates in its second and third acts on depicting in very human terms people fraught with insecurities and struggling seriously with their relationships, their values, and faith.  The subject of marriage especially frightens and frustrates everyone on the ship.  Those who already are married wonder if staying together is worth the trouble; those unmarried fear the commitment.  Can healthy, excitingly black sex thrive within the constraining cage of a monogamous matrimony?

The ensemble cast is consistently praiseworthy in imbuing the various threads of the story with zany life.  Everyone involved in the production is either highly expressive in speech or song or excels at physical comedy.  Zacardi Cortez, who plays Big Daddy, has the most affecting musical moment; while Rhona Bennett and Tammy Townsend are probably most tender among the women as they hold their end of the line in this floating battle of the sexes.  Je’Caryous Johnson’s humor and humanity as it comes across in his writing probably has the best claim to top billing, however.  Recommended without reservation.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Love Overboard is guaranteed fun and:

6. Anti-gay.  An opening monologue mocks San Francisco Christians.

5. Black Uber Alles.  Racial solidarity seems to be of importance.  Oprah’s book recommendations are valued.  “You rollin’ with Obama?” a woman asks, hearing that one of the men works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Women want a man like Obama: “fine”, “intelligent”, and “able to protect me.”  “Chocolate’s out now that Barack is in,” a lighter-skinned man teases a darker one.  Characters enjoy their own and others’ variations of flavor and blackness.

4. Capitalist.  Despite the suggested endorsement of President Obama, the characters give every evidence of not buying into his demagogic desecration of the American dream.  These are people who, rather than playing the victim and begging for coddling by the welfare state, have succeeded or failed according to their own talents and decisions.  One runs a car dealership; another is a stripper; all work for a living or aim to do so.  “Life is what you make it,” Russell (Khalil Kain) observes; or, “Take yo ass to work,” as Johnson puts it bluntly elsewhere in his screenplay.

4. Anti-miscegenation.  Vianessa Castanos warrants special mention for her role as the Latin temptress who threatens black marital stability and wins a unique award from Ideological Content Analysis for displaying the GREATEST CLEAVAGE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

3. Traditionalist/pro-family.  “This is a family cruise,” the opening monologue explains, raunchy content notwithstanding.  A pregnant woman refrains from drinking and wants her child to have a good man for a father.  One character does, however, reveal herself to have been horribly wronged by a family member.

2. Christian.  Buck wild though they may long to get, these are people with a fear of God.  “The body according to the Word should be governed by modesty,” pious Lea (Rhona Bennett) reminds herself.

1. Pro-marriage.  Divorce is discouraged.  Couples having troubles should work it out for themselves and for their children’s sake.   The “hit it and quit it” lone wolf mentality loses its appeal with maturity.

2008’s Taken was a great neoconservative action hit and a perfect crystallization of hawkish Republican fantasy.  The marriage of the action film genre with this particular phase of American politics is natural, neoconservatism being in essence the application of the crowd-pleasing 1980s Golan-Globus sensibility to foreign policy; and Taken, with its Commando-esque story of scoundrelly Muslims kidnapping an American innocent to be auctioned as a harem slave and her father then unilaterally invading their space to raise some major havoc in retrieving her, was the ideal demonstration of the subgenre’s potential.

Now Taken 2 – or, as I prefer to dub it, Look Who’s Taken Too – takes up with the same characters having a new international adventure, but not every element that made the original work, unfortunately, is still in place.  The first sign that things have changed for the worse is that the opening credits roll (or jerk and wobble, rather) over American caskets coming back from overseas – a reminder that the War on Terror hasn’t exactly been cheap or easy.  Far from being a discouragement, however, the purpose of these death cargo shots is presumably to rouse Average Joe Republican’s xenophobic spite for proper appreciation of the white-on-brown beatdowns and bloodbaths that follow over the next hour-and-a-half.

It turns out that the surviving relatives of the Albanian slave traders exterminated in the first film actually have the nerve to hold a grudge and resolve to exact the mother of all revenges against the perpetually squinting Neeson (who I assume has eye trouble and was therefore forgivably incapable of reading the ridiculous script before signing onto the project).  The Albanians, thankfully, are a considerate sort of terrorists, and speak to each other in English for American moviegoers’ convenience.  Their plot to capture Neeson is sweetened when his daughter and ex-wife surprise him by showing up in Istanbul where he’s been working as a security expert.  In the event, Neeson and the ex-missus are the ones who get – gasp! – Taken Too, leaving the ditzy daughter in a position to help her father escape.

All of this is interesting, at least in terms of Look Who’s Taken Too‘s politics, as the revenge scenario acknowledges the existence of the phenomenon of foreign policy blowback.  Not one to back down from a hard punch in the face from reality, however, Neeson just goes all MacGuyver and Houdini and James Bond on the bastards, using a miniature cell phone he has hidden in his pants to call his daughter and hold an extended tactical briefing, giving her a byzantine set of instructions involving a map, geometrical formulations, and grenades thrown at random onto Istanbul rooftops so they can pinpoint each other’s location – none of which raises the suspicions of his guards, most of whom are taking a break from their plot to piously watch Osama bin Laden’s favorite sport, soccer, on tv.  The biggest unintentional smirk comes when Neeson instructs his daughter to try to get to the American embassy, because (the Benghazi debacle not having occurred yet when this movie was made), he assures her, “You’ll be safe there.”

Once he’s loose there’s no stopping Neeson, the one-man shock-and-awe operation.  The small businessmen of Istanbul emerge as the real and unsung victims of the story, with self-important Americans stealing clothes and cab rides, wiping out street vendors, blowing up cars and rooftops, and generally being rude and criminally inconsiderate tourists the whole time they’re there.  The Turks have it coming, though.  Their streets and people are dim and dirty, so that it doesn’t matter so much if they get trashed; and their hotel concierges and police are corrupt and in league with the Albanian white-slavers, so that little sympathy would seem to be in order for the country as a whole.

[BEGIN SPOILER ALERT]

Neeson goes through such a gauntlet of fisticuffs and gunplay to get to his daughter that, by the end of the film, he actually appears to be experiencing War on Terror fatigue.  Having vanquished all of the grandfatherly (and not very scary) villain’s disposable brood of brown bad guys, he announces that he’s tired of all the fighting and offers the cornered top man a chance at a truce.  He will throw down his weapon and leave in peace if the man agrees to an end of the vendetta-driven cycle of killing.  But what is this?  Has Neeson seen the error of America’s ways and pussied out in favor of Ron Paul all of a sudden?  Hardly.  Naturally, the Albanian agrees to the deal, but immediately proceeds to show himself unworthy of Neeson’s disingenuous show of trust, necessitating that he, too, like his minions, be given a quick lethal dose of export democracy in action, and proving that Muslims can never, ever, under any circumstances, be trusted, and have to be monitored (or occupied, preferably) at all times.

[END SPOILER ALERT]

Easily the most ludicrous scene in Look Who’s Taken Too, the ending is unsatisfactory and anticlimactic – somewhat like the War on Terror itself: high on build-up and the body count, but pitiably low in appeal and payoff in the final analysis.  Overall, this is as worthy a sequel as probably should have been expected – particularly when considering that it was directed by someone calling himself “Olivier Megaton”.  A fundamental weakness relative to Taken is that the sequel dispenses with the urgent countdown gimmick that made the first film so suspenseful, and that the idea of a kidnapped pair of divorced parents simply isn’t quite as compelling as an imminently Arab-threatened cherry.

Much of the film, too, both action and drama, also feels less immediate and more obviously staged than Taken.  With the exception of an Albanian’s threat to deliver the daughter into “the lowest brothel”, where she will be used until she is like a piece of abused meat that even a dog wouldn’t want – I laughed at that – the dialogue is unimaginative, and the fight scenes are overly choppy, confusing, and full of disorienting quick cuts – no doubt to obscure the fact that Neeson is way too old a gent to be doing all this stuff – but Look Who’s Taken Too still manages to deliver the sorts of cheap thrills that gave the original’s fans erections.  I’ll generously grant this one 3.5 of 5 possible crypto-fascistic crescent-stars for holding my interest throughout.  Somehow, though, I’m not as eagerly anticipating the inevitable sequel, Look Who’s Taken Now, in which the family pet gets dognapped by Red Chinese restauranteurs.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Look Who’s Taken Too is:

4. Anti-miscegenation.  These ones likes it rough.

3. Pro-family.  Neeson will do whatever it takes to protect his daughter, who actually hopes to facilitate the romantic reconciliation of her parents.  The new guy in Mom’s life has turned out to be a grade-A jerk.  (Expect Look Who’s Taken Now to end or begin with a touching, tearful wedding ceremony.)

2. Neoconservative/war-ambivalent.  The impression conveyed is ultimately one of nihilistic resignation at partial foreign policy failure but overall unrepentance.

1. Xenophobic/racist/anti-Muslim.  Even the women in the streets leer sinisterly from under their head coverings.

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