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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.

don-jon-poster

Jew Joseph Gordon-Levitt has fun pretending to be a dopey blue collar Italian in Don Jon, which the multi-talented actor also scripted and directed. Jon is a bartender and ladies’ man who nonetheless prefers internet pornography to the shapely bimbos he casually beds. But this state of affairs is challenged when Jon falls for oily-lipped Jewish floozy Barbara (real-life oily-lipped and tattooed Jewish floozy Scarlett Johansson), who has the big lug hooked as soon as he lays eyes and hands on her ass. When Barbara disapproves of Jon’s pornography habit, will love be enough to make him kick it? Furthermore, will Jon’s unexpected acquaintance with Esther (Julianne Moore), a complicated and damaged older woman, affect the outcome?

Don Jon is an impressive feature debut for Gordon-Levitt as a writer-director, but the cast is what really makes it pop. Gordon-Levitt, light years from 3rd Rock from the Sun, has emerged as one of the most compelling leading men of his day, while Johansson, in addition to being a natural at playing the tramp, gives ample evidence of the electric power that was always present behind her exotic looks. Tony Danza, proving that there may yet be life after Who’s the Boss?, delivers a rowdy performance suggesting he could enjoy a late-career renaissance as a high-voltage character actor. (Scenes around the boisterous family dinner table may put some viewers in mind of the Maneros in Saturday Night Fever.) Moore is bizarre and cries as usual, while pretty Brie Larson is enigmatic in her mostly silent role as Jon’s younger sister, Monica.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt betrays a contempt for the conventional happy Hollywood ending, a bias he actually inserts into his character’s dialogue; but if Don Jon has an Achilles heel, it is its insistence on insulting and abandoning the traditional audience expectations of how a romantic comedy ought to develop and blossom. Don Jon, consequently, fails to satisfy precisely to the degree that it deviates from the time-tested narrative structure. One suspects that Gordon-Levitt may have been influenced in his decision to consciously disappoint his audience by an admiration for Woody Allen’s dramedies of the 70s and 80s, films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters, which end in messy non-resolutions which nonetheless satisfy. Before he experiments, however, Gordon-Levitt is hereby advised to be patient and master the traditional forms.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Don Jon is:

11. Un-p.c. In one of his bouts of road rage, Jon yells that another driver is “retarded”. See also no. 7.

10. Drug-ambivalent. Weed is okay, but crack and heroin are referenced derogatorily.

9. Crypto-corporate. Don Jon ostensibly criticizes commercial culture, but works in product placement for Swiffer, Coke, Carl’s Jr, and Hardee’s.

8. Class-conscious. Barbara, who has a cleaning lady, is disturbed to learn that Jon mops his own floors. She also demands that he go to night school, the vague idea being that Jon ought to be moving up in the world somehow.

7. Sexist! Jon and his buddies argue about whether or not a nightclub cutie is a “dime”, i.e., a ten. Women are, for the most part, treated as sex objects, and also present themselves that way.

6. Anti-Christian. Jon’s religion is a matter of empty ritual, with a crucifix, for instance, dangling impotently from his rear-view mirror as he curses at other drivers. He regularly reports in the confessional how many times he has masturbated or fornicated out of wedlock, but then casually goes about his business with no intention of changing his ways. The priest, for his part, sounds uninterested, prescribing his Hail Marys with robotic boredom. A montage irreverently juxtaposes the collection plate with the confessional. One church scene cuts directly to Jon’s father (Danza) exclaiming, “Holy shit!”

5. Pro-wigger. Jon calls his car his “ride”, etc. His and other young singles’ idea of rug-cutting is basically a vertical lap dance.

4. Multiculturalist, postracial, and pro-miscegenation. Jon’s club-prowling buddies include a token black (Rob Brown) and an indeterminate (Jeremy Luke). Seemingly every sexual coupling in the film is interracial in one way or another.

3. Pro-slut/anti-marriage. The only sexually well-behaved woman in the movie is Jon’s mother (Glenne Headly), who, however, appears to feel somewhat neglected in her marriage. Despite a flippant acknowledgment that “real pussy can kill you”, Jon (along with the film) appears to believe that a condom makes him invincible. Don Jon‘s idea of a girl playing hard-to-get (necessitating “long game”) is Barbara bringing Jon to orgasm by grinding her buttocks against the crotch of his pants instead of actually going to bed with him.

2. Anti-porn. To its credit, Don Jon tackles the very real problem of addiction to internet pornography, a problem which may also contribute to Jon’s difficulty with anger and impulse control behind the wheel.

1. (Ironically) anti-Semitic! Barbara’s genetic impulse to dominate the gentile expresses itself in her controlling approach to her relationship with Jon, her attempted programming of his life, and her surveillance of his computer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has performed a valuable public service in exposing the bitch’s protocols.

Underground

Underground (1991) *****  “Most of the people who come here you can hardly call people,” says bartender Whitebread (credited as playing “himself”) of the clientele at the strip club that serves as the sordid setting of Bret Carr’s remarkable exploitation entry Underground. The fun begins when innocent bimbo Allison (Rachel Carr), fresh off the Greyhound bus from Nebraska, gets lured into a waitressing job, unaware that her new place of work doubles as a white slavery clearing house run by degenerate Rudy Gantz. Clement von Franckenstein delivers Underground‘s center ring performance as grime-dripping, gloriously potty-mouthed Gantz, the super-sleazy strip club proprietor who introduces himself to the viewer by unleashing a mightily sustained volley of hall of fame profanity worthy of Joe Pesci or Al Pacino as he makes a dishonest deal over the phone. The clearly psychotic Gantz spends much of the movie badgering his subordinates as he frets and mugs and arranges to rectify an unprofitable “paucity of pussy”, sending henchman Tony (Jack Savage, a poor man’s Alan Rickman) on thankless errands to procure fresh meat for his periodic auctions.

Underground is a real treat for trash aficionados, with roughly half its run time devoted to sultry strip routines, the amazing Debra Lamb being particularly praiseworthy in her balletic pole turns as “Fire Girl”. The film should please admirers of Katt Shea’s contributions to the erotic strip-thriller subgenre, especially Stripped to Kill, to which Underground bears a telling stylistic resemblance with its dark, cavernous nightclub and atmospheric use of colored lights, shadows, and smoke. Both films mythify the lowest of Los Angeles, recasting the city as a decidedly adult fairy tale universe of ogres, princesses, and spells as exemplified by juggling jester Whitebread when he says of Allison’s transformation into an LA temptress, “Hey, man. You got the magic. She ain’t the same virgin princess as last night. I think some prince fucked her and woke her up to reality.”

Bret Carr’s screenplay is just as nasty a joy as the dance routines in Underground. Other memorable lines include any number of Rudy Gantz’s utterances, such as when he barks at Allison, “I am not Dick Clark and this is not the fucking Solid Gold dancers. Now lose the top, you cunt!” Then, too, there is the appalling “Rat”, who, brandishing and licking a knife, waxes sentimental about a woman and laughs, “I loved her. All I wanted to do was cut her pussy and save it for my collection.” Even the scummy songs accompanying the strip sequences, several performed by Jean Stewart, contribute to the all-pervading perversion of the experience, with titles like “Clit Fingers” and “Panties Down”; references to bestiality and statutory rape; and such lines as, “Piss on the teacher! Shit on her desk! Rip all her clothes off! Scratch your name on her chest!” In sum, Underground is mandatory viewing for seekers after the obscene and extreme, a triumph of reverent, aesthetically piquant presentation of the female form and an LA-flavored highlight of what this reviewer likes to term the Kelly Bundy Era in movie bimbo fashions.

Tokyo Decadence

Tokyo Decadence aka Topaz (1992) ****1/2  One of the most shocking and frankly depressing films ever to emerge from Japan or anywhere else, writer-director Ryu Murakami’s Tokyo Decadence offers a chilly portrait of his country as an emotional dystopia of nihilistic sado-power relationships, sunglasses and blindfolds, rubber and plastic, sterile interiors and intimidating exteriors of steel, concrete, and glass that weigh upon the individual, in this case delicate call girl Ai (Miho Nikaido), still wounded after being jilted by a socially superior lover. Set in the ragged aftermath of Japan’s years as an economic powerhouse, the film is an exotic and more depraved cousin of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street in its message that soullessly transitory economic and earthly prosperity can come at a terrible price, at the national as well as the individual level. Japan, as depicted, is a place uprooted from tradition and morality, left to drift and divert itself in jaded, mutually degrading sadomasochistic pleasures, and Ai, as she moves from blackly absurd gig to gig, meets an array of men and women representative of the decline: gangsters, sluts, drug addicts, and a rogue’s gallery of self-loathing, degenerate johns who share what Murakami characterizes as the fatal Japanese misfortune of “wealth without pride”. Tokyo Decadence is an experience that, for better or worse, burns itself irreparably into the viewer’s memory, and is recommended more for the art house crowd than for exploitation audiences, its explicitness being more unpleasantly allegorical than erotic.

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