Archives for posts with tag: crony capitalism

Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey, who over the past few years has become one of this writer’s favorite actors working today, is the only reason to watch Dallas Buyers Club, the most recent attempt to subvert and metamorphose the American cowboy into a gay activism icon after the manner of Brokeback Mountain (2005). McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a narrow-minded ne’er-do-well whose life changes forever – or, anyway, for what remains of it – after he is diagnosed with what Andy Warhol called “gay cancer”.

Jennifer Garner portrays a concerned physician, while Jared Leto munches the scenery as junkie transvestite Rayon, who becomes Woodroof’s business partner in the “Dallas Buyers Club”, a grassroots enterprise designed to provide AIDS sufferers with a healthier treatment alternative than the big pharmaceutical competition. Woodroof’s drive to prolong his life and combat the establishment’s market stranglehold is fairly compelling, but squeamish viewers are forewarned that the movie contains such tacky attempts at heart-tuggery as the sight of a sick, self-pitying transvestite drooling blood and whining “I don’t wanna die . . .”

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Dallas Buyers Club is:

9. Anti-Christian. Woodroof dresses as a priest while attempting to smuggle drugs into the U.S. from Mexico. The image of an AIDS patient wearing a clerical collar is of course no sartorial accident and works as a barb directed at Catholic moral hypocrisy, so many priests being closeted homosexuals, many of whom are known to have succumbed to AIDS.

8. Anti-drug. Woodruff’s intravenous drug use, along with his inveterate whore-chasing, has put him at greater risk for contracting AIDS. Also, Rayon’s dope addiction only exacerbates his decline.

7. Anti-racist. One of the personal failings Woodroof must overcome is his racism, evidenced by his references to Asians as “chinks” and Saudis as “sand niggers”. As his drug procurement operation goes global, he learns to appreciate the profitability of doing business with foreigners. “I like your style,” he tells a Japanese doctor.

6. Feminist. In addition to overcoming his racism, Woodroof must also come to accept women’s contributions to the modern workforce. “I don’t want a nurse, I want a doctor!” he protests in one early scene.

5. Anti-redneck. The spectacle of a gun-toting “homophobic asshole” and piece of “Texas hick white trash” suffering from AIDS and lashing out in his agony as dignified professional women and minorities look on with contempt is pure political porn for liberals, the quintessence of their wishful thinking.

4. Capitalist. Dallas Buyers Club betrays a left-libertarian streak in its combination of social liberalism and celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit, attempting to illustrate how unfettered markets will serve both the small businessman and consumer. “I say what goes in my body, not you.”

3. Anti-corporatism. The IRS, DEA, and particularly the FDA appear as antagonists in the film, the cronyist footmen of big pharma monopolists looking to squeeze the competition. “Now that’s the shit that’ll rot your insides,” Woodroof avers, examining a package of meat in a grocery store. “What a surprise,” he then adds, “FDA-approved.” The FDA, Dallas Buyers Club alleges, merely functions as big pharma’s glorified street pushers.

2. Pro-gay. Through a business partnership that blossoms into a friendship, Woodroof learns to appreciate Rayon as an individual, and comes to appreciate the general plight of homosexuals as he succumbs to the disease they share. AIDS, as the great sexual-sociopolitical equalizer, almost seems to be the movie’s unsung hero. Demonstrating his transformation from homophobe to humanitarian, Woodroof in one scene grabs his bigoted friend T.J. (Kevin Rankin) and holds him in a headlock until he agrees to shake Rayon’s hand. Homosexuals appear as sensitive and nurturing throughout Dallas Buyers Club.

1. Pro-NWO. “Look at this place,” Woodroof muses, surveying the scene in a bohemian clinic south of the border. “Fuckin’ chinks, homos, herbs, hot nurses. You got a regular New World Order goin’ on here . . .”

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Nothing epitomizes the summer movie season like a big, blustering, CGI-saturated blockbuster about giant, battling, alien robots. This installment stars Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, a down-on-his-luck robotics engineer and single father living in “Texas, U.S.A.” (as a caption conveniently informs those viewers uncertain which country Texas occupies). Cade and his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), get swept up in military-industrial machinations and even intergalactic warfare when he discovers the wreck of a truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime.

Inconveniently, CIA eminence grise Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is secretly rounding up all the Transformers he can find and delivering these to military contractor KSI, headed by arrogant weenie Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), the idea being to corner the technology and create a totally automated U.S. military. Meanwhile, Attinger’s robot co-conspirator Lockdown, along with new creation Galvatron, may not be the controllable assets Joyce and Attinger confidently believe these to be.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is exactly the explosion-packed, lightning-paced action extravaganza fans are expecting, with quite a few close shaves, noisy weapons exotica, nasty, slime-spewing creatures, and one particularly suspenseful moment with characters inching their way along cables suspended high in the air while harried by Lockdown’s robotic hell-hounds. Younger audiences are sure to be in awe. The film’s themes are, however, more adult than juvenile, and parents may be concerned to know that Age of Extinction contains several frightening incidents and one especially noteworthy death scene, that of comic relief slacker Lucas (T.J. Miller), that is too graphically disturbing to be appropriate for children. The film runs a little overlong, and the ending, reminiscent of Prometheus (2012), has Optimus Prime setting out on a new adventure and so setting up the inevitable next installment of the popular toy adaptation franchise.

4 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Transformers: Age of Extinction is:

8. Anti-torture. “This is worse than waterboarding,” robot Brains complains at being shocked by an electric jolt.

7. Pro-serfdom. Tessa aspires to do her part to inflate the American college bubble by applying for financial aid to go to university. The film attempts to milk sympathy from a rejection letter.

6. New age, lending credence to the idea that Earth was once visited by ancient aliens.

5. Corporate, featuring prominent product placement for Victoria’s Secret, Oreo, Giorgio Armani, and Red Bull.

4. Anti-slavery (i.e., pro-yawn). Negroid-voiced Transformer Brains exults at being “free at last!” Lucas, objecting to partner Cade’s cutthroat business practices, also alludes to slavery.

3. Capitalist, offering a sympathetic portrait of the struggling small business owner in Cade. Early scenes of the hero’s domestic existence convey a definite impression of an America in economic decline.

2. Pro-miscegenation. Joyce falls for the head executive of his company’s China branch (Bingbing Li).

1. Antiwar, anti-state, and anti-cronyism. Attinger, head of CIA black ops and military contractor KSI’s best customer, expects to take a seven-figure salary with the company after leaving government “service”. Since the Battle of Chicago, a cataclysmic 9/11-like event in which America was attacked by Decepticons and defended by the Autobots, a paranoid police state has taken hold, with Decepticons and Autobots alike being hunted down and neutralized by the fearmongering CIA. Transformers: Age of Extinction also gives a timely illustration of federal authoritarian overreach when CIA agents, with no warrant and no regard for human dignity or life, raid Cade’s property and threaten to murder his daughter. The movie expresses Americans’ discomfort over the advent of drones, as well.

 

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bullet_to_the_head

Action specialist Walter Hill has always had a fondness for hero odd couples, a formula the director exploited with memorably entertaining results in 48 Hrs., Red Heat, and Another 48 Hrs.; and now Hill returns to the genre in triumph with Bullet to the Head, the director’s first feature film in many years, but a worthy addition to his impressive filmography and well worth the protracted wait.

Bullet to the Head is a near-perfect showcase for the haggard and frightening gravitas of over-the-hill Sylvester Stallone, who as cynical but likable hit man Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo looks as chiseled, sleepy-eyed, and casually homicidal as ever, his voice so inhumanly deep and guttural that it sounds as if he has a football-sized phlegm wad and a few shell fragments lodged behind his chest. Veins protrude from his arms like earthworms writhing under the flesh of this man so old he seems just as likely to keel over dead from petrifaction as lash out and take off an enemy head.

But fortunately for action fans, Bobo makes it through the flick and takes out the trash in classic style, gunning for the gangsters and dirty cops who double-crossed him and killed his partner and teaming up for the purpose with D.C. detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose own investigation of a fellow officer’s murder has led him to Bobo’s own New Orleans. Sung Kang packs about as much charisma as stale tofu, but his presence allows for politically incorrect fun-poking from Stallone along the sarcastic lines of, “Nice goin’, Oddjob” and “Why don’t you go read some fuckin’ tea leaves?” The generational-technological gap between the two is also effective, recalling the dynamic between Bruce Willis and Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard.

The culprits turn out to be high-rollers Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a cane-pimping African emigre with a knowledge of classical literature (of course!), and his sleazy associate Marcus Baptiste, played by Christian Slater, who seems to have transitioned gracefully enough from weaselly 80s alt-heartthrob roles to weaselly middle-aged bad guys. Bobo himself, meanwhile, is also being hunted by mercenary Keegan (Jason Momoa), a mean-eyed menace whose constant scowling is reminiscent of Ed O’Ross’s turn in Red Heat.

Bullet to the Head makes a decent (if perhaps too-obvious) effort to give its story a bit of the spice and flavor of its New Orleans setting, and a sassy blues score by Steve Mazzaro sets the unpretty tone of the film, with Sarah Shahi furnishing skank appeal as Bobo’s bastard tattoo artist daughter. But the main attraction here is always Sylvester Stallone. In addition to getting into a brutal Turkish bath fight, Stallone has a climactic, adrenaline-pumping axe duel with Momoa that earned the movie an extra half-star from this reviewer. Truly an experience to elicit affirmative Tim Allen chimp grunts from seasoned remote control warriors everywhere, Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head is aggressively recommended to proud dick owners only.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Bullet to the Head is:

11. Sexist! One of Bobo’s rules as a hit man is “no women, no children”. A modern, sexually enlightened, and gender-blind gentleman would be just as eager to kill marked women as men. The climactic confrontation involves a damsel in distress.

10. Anti-Christian. A foul-mouthed, coke-and-booze-binging jerk (Holt McCallany) wears a crucifix. One of the villains is named Baptiste.

9. Anti-redneck. “I don’t trust that redneck prick.”

8. Pro-gay. Lesbians tango at a costume ball.

7. Anti-Slav. As in Pain and Gain, The Heat, and A Good Day to Die Hard, the Slavic woman is defined by sleaze.

6. Pro-torture. Sadism is an asset in interrogating a captive.

5. Drug-ambivalent. Bobo is a heavy drinker, but is no less effective for it. His daughter’s mother is a dead junkie hooker. (see also no. 10)

4. Un-p.c. Bobo calls Kwon “Confucius”, etc.

3. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation. Kwon hooks up with Bobo’s daughter. New Orleans appears as a happy (albeit catastrophically corrupt) multiracial city, with blacks and whites mingling to hear some jazz.

2. Anti-police. Wooed by graft, cops become killers.

1. Anti-state/anti-cronyism. Motivating much of the killing is Morel’s plan to knock down poor (presumably black) people’s housing and throw up condominiums. “This goes way up, man. We’re talkin’ ’bout Washington.”

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone, who previously suffered and grunted to great effect in the excellent Lock Up (1989), gets thrown into the slammer again in Escape Plan as Ray Breslin, the Harry Houdini of incarceration. Breslin is so adept at egress from maximum security penitentiaries that he actually makes his living at it, hiring out his services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and going undercover in different correctional institutions across the country to test their tightness. Breslin finds himself in the bind of his life when he agrees to try his hand at the Tomb, a CIA-commissioned, privately operated black prison “off the grid” and designed for containing dissidents the government would prefer to see “disappeared”. This time Breslin’s sentence is more than a game.

A gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger plays second fiddle to Stallone’s hero, but does add considerably to the fun of the film. He is given one moment of greatness equal to his larger-than-life persona when, in testosterone-mainlining slow motion, he levels a machine gun and mows down a gallery of disposable baddies. Jim Caviezel, unfortunately, is inadequate to the task of furnishing proper antagonism for the likes of the two leading titans. Sam Neill collects a paycheck for playing a tiny supporting role as the prison’s doctor, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson keeps it real representin’ the African-American computer genius community as Breslin’s loyal “techno-thug” Hush.

Escape Plan has exactly two things going for it: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script is lame and about as original as the title, with typical lines of dialogue being, “You hit like a vegetarian”; “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, motherfucker!”; and, still more amazing, this brilliantly sarcastic coup of a zinger: “Have a lovely day, asshole.” Weaknesses aside, the story is fast-paced, the performances are fun, and the dynamite action combo of Stallone and Schwarzenegger will be a difficult one for fans to resist.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Escape Plan is:

7. Anti-tobacco. A guard’s routine of taking a smoke break causes him to be distracted.

6. Pro-miscegenation. The streets of New Orleans teem with interraciality.

5. Anti-Christian. Schwarzenegger, putting on a show of insanity for the guards, spouts religious nonsense in German. Stallone tears a page out of a Bible and burns it.

4. Anti-torture. Guards pummel Stallone and force water down Schwarzenegger’s throat with a hose.

3. Anti-neoconservative. The Tomb, with its savagery, high-tech surveillance, and disregard for citizens’ constitutional rights, serves as a microcosm of life in post-9/11 America. Giving the lie to the Islam-bashers, Muslim prisoners are violent only when they are provoked.

2. Anti-cronyism/anti-capitalistic. The Tomb is operated by “Blackwater rejects” who do the dirty work of corrupt, authoritarian governments and international bankers. “From a financial standpoint I like it,” Breslin’s business partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) says on hearing about the Tomb and the money he stands to make by cooperating with the CIA. Schwarzenegger is an anarchist or revolutionary of some sort who seeks to bring down the financial establishment.

1. Anti-state. The Tomb is administered by the significantly monickered Mr. Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who boasts, “In here you have no control over any part of your life, except your breathing.” Of interest, too, is the deindividuated design of the brutal prison screws, who wear S.W.A.T.-flavored get-ups and charcoal-black masks with Caucasian features. Could this be a commentary on the reality of life under fake black president B.O., whose ballyhooed skin color masks exactly the same opportunism that motivated his predecessors in office?

Assault-On-Wall-Street-Dominic-Purcell

Prolific writer-producer-director Uwe Boll, best known for notoriously reviled horror films like House of the Dead (2003) and Alone in the Dark (2005), now taps into understandable populist rage at the crony capitalist establishment with the depressing Assault on Wall Street. Powerfully built Dominic Purcell, something of a poor man’s Clive Owen, stars as down-on-his-luck security guard Jim Baxford, who, after losing his job and his wife (Erin Karpluk) following her protracted illness and financial anxiety suicide, decides to diversify his portfolio with a little vigilante vengeance directed at the seemingly untouchable high-rollers and bankster exploiters he holds collectively responsible for his personal tragedy.

Purcell is adequately tough and earnest, if not particularly interesting, in the lead; but it is in two key supporting roles that Assault on Wall Street shows true inspiration in casting. An aging John Heard is the perfect choice to play number one on Baxford’s hit list: selfish, nihilistic toxic investment CEO Jeremy Stancroft. Even greasier, however, in a role one wishes had been expanded, is uber-oily Eric Roberts as money-grubbing attorney Patterson. Roberts has aged, if not quite gracefully, then fascinatingly, with a uniquely silverfish-like screen presence that ideally lends itself to high villainy. Other familiar faces in the cast include Keith David, Edward Furlong, and Michael Pare as Baxford’s buddies Freddy, Sean, and Frank.

Assault on Wall Street is a decent rental, but may disappoint vigilante fans by spending too much time (nearly an hour) on the humiliating build-up and not enough on the retribution so temptingly advertised in the title. Consequently, it earns a modest 3.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Assault on Wall Street is:

11. Pro-police. Cops are depicted as human types who share in the general plight and sympathize with Baxford’s mission.

10. Anti-slut. “I’m gonna get an STD from this sandwich,” Frank teases a waitress. Corporate bigwigs consort with whores.

9. Christ-ambivalent. While a preacher attempts consolation, mouthing, “God visits us with many mysteries in life,” Baxford rather takes to heart more militant Biblical passages such as, “He trains my hands for war” (cf. nos. 1 and 7)

8. Marriage-ambivalent. Baxford’s marriage is a devoted one and would, if not for her illness and his financial worries, be happy. Friend Frank’s wife, however, is a cheater.

7. Antiwar. Baxford is a veteran forgotten in his time of need by the country that used him. In reply to the idea that violence is not a solution, a caller to a radio program asks, “Isn’t violence the official solution in Iraq and Afghanistan?” (cf. nos. 1 and 9)

6. Postracial, with blacks and whites interacting as friends irrespective of racial differences. And to demonstrate that his is an equal opportunity beef, Baxford even liquidates a few blacks along with the many white guys in suits and ties.

5. Drug-ambivalent. Baxford smokes philosophically and his friends are enthusiastic drinkers. “Let’s go get some alcohol, make the pain go away.” Baxford, in the wake of his personal ruin, is invited to “watch the game and do some serious drinkin'” for therapeutic purposes. But a man is claimed in a news report to have died in a “drunken accident”.

4. Anti-state. The cronyist statist quo, or the “plutocratic capturing of American politics”, transcends Republican vs. Democrat squabbles, with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Chris Dodd, and Alan Greenspan getting name-dropped as culpable players. At a lower level of weaselliness, Assistant D.A. Marwood (Barclay Hope) insensitively brushes off Baxford’s concerns. That Baxford is able to purchase military wares from a black market gun dealer (Clint Howard) militates against the notion that government-mandated gun control is effective or enforceable. Betraying the movie’s mixed messages about the place of government, however, is the fact that deregulation is also blamed for the ’08 collapse.

3. Anti-corporate. “The real fuckin’ criminals –  they’re downtown [i.e., on Wall Street].” Goldman Sachs, MF Global, Cerberus Capital, JP Morgan, and Lehman Brothers are among the outfits that receive negative product placement.

2. Anti-capitalistic. “System’s rigged, motherfucker.” Told “Fuck you,” a banker calmly replies, “That’s a fair response, I suppose.” Free market talk conceals an “anything goes mentality”. “The rich still get richer and the poor get poorer.” Stancroft justifies his misdeeds with a social Darwinist outlook. “That’s the free trade system, my friend,” he says. “That’s capitalism.” “There’s not a person on this earth who’s worth over a hundred million dollars that came by that money honestly.” The film also evinces a naive sympathy for the homeless, juxtaposing their plight with the ease of the leisure class.

1. Pro-vigilante. Baxford is his own law, but also a people’s fury, and wears an Anonymous-reminiscent white mask for the final killing spree.

Macho girl Matt Damon stars as butch lesbian cyborg warrior Max Da Costa in one of this summer’s most notable movies, Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction adventure Elysium, which posits a future world in which only the teeming masses of the underprivileged are left to suffer through their miserable lives in the ruins of what once was the United States of America, while the super-rich, in the ultimate feat of white flight, have escaped to the veritable Heaven that is Elysium, basically a gigantic orbiting space station’s worth of Beverly Hills, where people are beautiful, lawns are green, and seemingly any sickness is instantly curable thanks to advanced technology. Max, a former career criminal dying from radiation poisoning, lends his services as a thief to a crew of Mexican gangsters for a shot at breaching the exclusive colony’s security system and saving not only his own life, but that of everybody on Earth.

Damon, always an unlikely star, is only tolerable in his heroic role as Max, as is Alice Braga as his attractive but uninteresting love interest. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, clearly has fun as the icy-hot Delacour, who heads Homeland Security for Elysium. Ironically, Delacour, who speaks French and was perhaps inspired by French nationalist politician Marine Le Pen, has as her job exactly the opposite of what occupies America’s Department of Homeland Security: namely, the preservation of a people, its ethnic integrity, economic well-being, and traditional way of life. And rounding out the cast is Wagner Moura, who (potentially unrecognizable to those who remember his gruff and brooding performance in the Brazilian fascist film Elite Squad) appears in a supporting role as colorful gangster, computer wizard, and space coyote service impresario Spider.

Easily the most charismatic character in Elysium, however, is the ruthless and erratic Boer mercenary Kruger, played with snarling, nasty manliness by Sharlto Copley (of Blomkamp’s District 9). The viewer can hardly help but cheer Kruger on as, after enthusiastically obliterating a target, he exults, “Thet’s wut om talkin abeut!” (Note to Hollywood: Make more movies about South African mercenaries!) Kruger’s return to the fray after what appears initially to be his demise is surely one of Elysium‘s most audience-friendly moments.

4.5 of 5 possible stars, with half a star deducted for the tasteless inclusion of hackneyed, ethereal new age moaning on the soundtrack. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Elysium is:

11. Green. Pollution is cited as one of the causes of American decline.

10. Anti-drone. Max finds himself hunted by the pesky things.

9. Anti-drug. Max refuses the pills offered by a robotic parole officer (see no. 6). Menacing Mexican thugs smoke what is presumably marijuana.

8. Ostensibly Christian, promoting more Hollywood liberation theology. Max has been raised by nuns and sacrifices himself in Christlike fashion (see also no. 4).

7. Feminist/pro-slut/pro-bastard/anti-marriage/anti-family. Frey (Alice Braga) represents the single mother with pride as a capable professional with no need for a man in her life (cf. no. 4).

6. Anti-corporatist/anti-capitalistic. The government, probably in collusion with pharmaceutical manufacturers, makes free drugs readily available to the public as a means of pacification. Max’s Hispanic neighbors mock him for being dumb enough to work for a living, and they are validated when Max’s callous boss forces him either to endanger his life or be terminated, with the result that Max receives lethal exposure to radiation. The CEO (William Fichtner) of the company is actually such a snob that he obliges his underlings to cover their mouths when speaking to him so as not to expose him to their breath. He conspires with Delacour to arrange a coup d’etat on Elysium.

5. NWO-alarmist/anti-state. The space colony Elysium, with its circled starfish design, approximates a pentagram and so points to possible Illuminati orchestration. (see also no. 6)

4. Pro-miscegenation. “Always wanted a wof,” Kruger reflects as he leers at Mexican cutie Frey, who is also the object of Max’s affections. Note that marriage is only the aspiration of the vile Boer and not of the progressive, Spanish-speaking, self-loathingly tattooed Caucasian, Max, who sacrifices himself and his forebears’ and fellow whites’ culture and safety for the benefit of the dusky masses. Max thus fits the sacrificial honky archetype.

3. Pro-immigration. Steve Sailer, calling it “one of the funnier pranks played on the American culturati’s hive mind in recent decades”, has attempted to out Elysium as a crypto-conservative and race-realist film, but Gregory Hood has convincingly refuted him in an excellently written review at Counter-Currents. What both men (along with Ram Z. Paul) accurately point out, however, is that Elysium, whatever its intentions, does illustrate in depressing vividness the cultural cataclysm awaiting America as it willingly works to dissolve its border with Mexico. The dangerous, ugly, graffiti-smeared, beggar-and-thug-infested slums of futuristic Los Angeles as depicted in Elysium hardly justify the celebratory tone of the climactic moment in which, through a bit of clever computer hackery, every disgusting slob on the planet is instantaneously turned into a “citizen” of Elysium and thereby made eligible for the wonders of its exclusive health care coverage.

2. Egalitarian. Elysium, even as it illustrates the dystopian horror of the future Socialist States of America, advocates socialized medicine as a panacea. The film is able to do this because the advanced medical science of the future, like Obamanomics, is magic, and capable of infinite, Santa-style miracles that transcend cost.

1. Pro-gay. Damon, as Max, does for the dyke what Robert Carradine did for the dweeb in Revenge of the Nerds.

Spring_Breakers_poster

Writer-director Harmony Korine’s dope-drenched epic of college-age pagan debauchery suffers from the same fatal ailment as most other movies that insist on taking as their subjects the absolute dregs of society – namely a lack of characters worthy of the least bit of audience sympathy. The introduction of the principal quartet of spoiled and mostly indistinguishable bimbos is so icily off-putting and nonchalantly bile-provoking that it could almost be a set-up for some exercise in torture porn. College students in name only, these are pretty, pot-addled apes who, during a lecture on the civil rights movement, amuse themselves by scrawling lewd notes or drawing a picture of a penis. Where the Boys Are this is not.

Tired of what they feel to be their intolerably mundane lives, four girls determine to travel to Florida to “find” themselves on spring break. Short of funds, three of them successfully rob a restaurant, and off they and naive Christian friend Faith (Selena Gomez) head for the sun and sand, where their participation in grotesque bacchanalia rightly lands the disgusting group in jail. Coming to their aid as if by providence, revolting rapper and drug dealer Alien (James Franco, in a truly transformational character creation) bails them out and takes the girls under his demonic wing, introducing them to his gangsta friends. Faith, though stupid, retains some vague wisp of the notion of decency and so decides to go home at this point; but her three friends remain and go with Alien, who, like a thuggish Charles Manson, will usher them through an initiation into nihilistic evil.

More shocking and memorable than actually good, Spring Breakers does contain some visual coups that viewers will never forget: a man performing fellatio on two guns; three girls in pink ski masks dancing, guns in hand, in the attitude of the three Graces; and, of course, sand strewn with cheap, jiggling flesh. With the anesthetized and dreamlike shoot-out of the climax, the director walks a particularly dangerous line. Are the events at the end of the film intended to inspire audience approval or did Korine even stop to consider how these moments would be received? Is Spring Breakers really the serious social commentary it seems to pretend to be or just a tacky exploiter that points and laughs at societal disease? Is Korine documenting or actually celebrating the decline of western civilization? Either way, this vile opus has much to say about American life, and much of it is true.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Spring Breakers is:

9. State-skeptical/anti-business. “Everyone can use a little bailin’ out once in a while,” Alien says in a line that hints at a broader significance. With his neck tattoo of a dollar sign, Alien symbolizes misguided rapacity and mirrors the criminal world of big business.

8. Pro-gay. Girls frequently engage in teasing kisses, grinding, and so forth, none of it particularly sexy. The sum effect, however, is normalization. Alien clearly enjoys sucking the guns and tells the girls afterward that he loves them.

7. Media-critical. “Just fuckin’ pretend like it’s a video game. Act like you’re in a movie or somethin’,” one of the girls advises the others before they commit a robbery. “I got Scarface on repeat. Constant, y’all,” Alien boasts, contributing to the sense that these young people’s poor behavior has been programmed by their entertainment (cf. The Bling Ring).

6. Anti-American. Alien describes his materialistic gangsta lifestyle as “the American Dream” (cf. Pain and Gain). “Seeing all this money makes my pussy wet,” one of the girls says.

5. Anti-Christian. Juxtaposed scenes equate Christianity and substance abuse as means of escape from reality. Two dumb Christian friends of Faith advise her (with good reason, as it turns out) to “pray super hardcore” for her well-being in Florida. (Ironically, her religious scruples do preserve her from the danger experienced by the other girls.)

4. Diversity-skeptical and anti-wigger. “I don’t like it here,” Faith says, finding herself in the midst of a bunch of scuzzy blacks and wiggers and feeling intensely uncomfortable. This moment counterbalances the casual flashes of suggested black-white miscegenation in the film. A theme of Spring Breakers is self-destruction, and one moment in which a girl drinks from a black water pistol, a rapper’s smug face on a poster behind her, indicates the self-loathing and suicidal nature of wiggerism.

3. Culturally and morally ambivalent. From drugs to guns and gangsterism to flippant fornication, Korine keeps such a cold, ambiguous distance that his attitude from one scene to the next is occasionally difficult to fathom. The copious casual sex and drug abuse carry surprisingly few consequences, with only a shot of a vomiter passed out by a toilet (and party-crashing by police) disrupting the flow of fun. There is nothing at all admirable in Alien or his groupie disciples, and yet the amount of time devoted to his misbehavior, his air of a tragic artist of wasted potential, and the martyrish pose pretentiously granted him at his demise would appear to give him a neon sheen of antiheroic myth. The ravages of gunplay, likewise, are mitigated by the fetishistic fascination and sexuality accorded to firepower. One of the girls determines that “being a good person” is the “secret to life”, but fails to act according to this piece of wisdom.

2. Relativistic and nurturist (i.e., anti-science). Spring Breakers points to environment as the key determiner of individual development, discrediting the role that genetics and race play in shaping human intelligence and character. “I was the only white boy in my whole neighborhood,” the worthless Alien recounts. Consequently, he grows up to be indistinguishable from the criminal blacks among whom he moves. “We met people who are just like us. Just the same as us,” one of the girls reflects in voice-over. Only the social context of their spoiled upbringing, sheltered by white privilege, has presumably prevented the girls from sinking into savagery before now. Heritability would appear to play no role in shaping these people, so that Spring Breakers works like a stock anthropology lecture to the effect that those spear-brandishing jungle natives in the National Geographic are no less civilized than the European gentleman reading poetry in his smart smoking jacket, their mating and war-making rituals being identical at bottom. The culture war does, however, appear to hold importance for Korine, even if it is not always clear on which side of the battle line he stands.

1. Anti-human. No likable characters = no reason to care.

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