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Stray Dolls

For those who enjoy movies like Heaven Knows What (2014), American Honey (2016), and White Girl (2016), which wallow nihilistically in America’s unwiped asshole, Stray Dolls is a decent entry in the growing genre. The story centers on Riz (Geetanjali Thapa), an illegal immigrant who gets a job as a maid at the super-seedy Tides Plaza Motel. Riz, who worked with a gang of thieves in India, is attempting to start her life anew but gets drawn back into a life of crime by her lowlife roommate Dallas (Olivia DeJonge). Dallas wants to open a nail salon someday, but meanwhile spends her time doing drugs and getting screwed on bathroom sinks. Her boyfriend Jimmy (Robert Aramayo), a creep with a neck tattoo of a snake, is the Tides Plaza manager’s son and a smalltime hustler, and when Riz steals a brick of cocaine from one of the motel rooms, they think they might be able to make enough money to get out and break the cycle of humdrum degradation. Unfortunately for the two antiheroines, things get complicated and they end up having to murder a couple of people before the movie is over. Those who enjoyed the three films mentioned at the top of this review will probably appreciate Stray Dolls, as well, but it breaks no real new ground in the field of cinematic slumming.

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

Pro-miscegenation. Jimmy cheats on Dallas with a black chick named Peaches (Yvette Williams).

Pro-gay. Riz and Dallas have a sort of half-hearted sexual attraction to each other, and participate in a three-way encounter with Jimmy.

Drug-ambivalent. The argument could be made that Stray Dolls is anti-drug in that nearly everyone whose life intersects with the business is ruined: a dealer is murdered, Riz and Dallas are drawn deeper into dangerous criminal activity, and an addict mother’s children are left unsupervised. Riz, too, is vulnerable to sexual assault after Dallas drugs her. The anti-dope message of the film almost seems accidental, however, and Riz and Dallas experience no immediate repercussions after bonding over some coke they snort together.

Misandrist. All men in the movie are sleazy and ill-intentioned, and Jimmy in particular turns out to be a rat. The others are violent and/or sexually predatory.

Immigration-ambivalent. Stray Dolls attempts a sympathetic portrait of a new arrival in the character of Riz, but fumbles it in that she and the other foreigners depicted in the film are hardly credits to an open-borders agenda. One of her fellow Indians, Sal (Samrat Chakrabarti), uses the motel to move cocaine by arrangement with the manager, Una (Cynthia Nixon), who seems to be from Poland. Una shreds Riz’s Indian passport after she hires her, knowingly employing an illegal immigrant, and is a generally unsympathetic character, though she does appear to want a different and better sort of life for her son, whose lifestyle she disapproves. “You work hard, you make it here. You believe that?” Una asks Riz when she hires her. Riz claims to believe it, and whether or not the “American Dream” remains viable is at stake throughout Stray Dolls. Notwithstanding the less than wholly flattering depiction of aliens, there is an undeniable anti-American content to the film. Juxtaposed with Riz’s initial meekness and politeness, Dallas represents Americans poorly by rudely using the bathroom with the door open right after meeting her. “Are you, like, Mexican or somethin’?” she asks, indicating possible nativist residue or, at the least, a stereotypical redneck lack of culture. “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack,” one of Riz’s coworkers tells her, seeing her busily at work in the motel laundry room, thus perpetuating the meme of lazy, entitled Americans and hardworking immigrants. In one scene, Donald Trump’s inauguration speech appears on a television screen as Riz is cleaning, but the moment carries not so much an emphatic anti-Trump impact as a seemingly numbed indifference. Trump’s ineffectual pontifications are simply irrelevant to the situation on the ground in America, but the election of Trump may be added to the mix as a contributor to Riz’s anxiety about being caught by the authorities.

Irreligious. Una displays a picture of Pope John Paul II in her office, but represents Catholics rather badly. The John Paul portrait even seems to smirk knowingly as Una destroys Riz’s passport. “Jesus fuck,” her son cries repeatedly after being shot, saying little for the quality of his Christian upbringing.

Relativistic. “We’re all just a buncha sinners doin’ the best we can,” claims Dallas, and it says quite a bit about the film’s worldview that it features not one major character who isn’t a criminal.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

The Ideological Content Analysis 30 Days Putsch:

30 Reviews in 30 Days

DAY TWENTY

Kill the Messenger

Anybody with even a casual interest in conspiracy lore knows at least the outline of the true events that inspired this worthwhile film. Released on the heels of the Ferguson unrest of 2014, Kill the Messenger tells the story of San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), who discovered that the 80s crack apocalypse epicentered in Los Angeles was facilitated by the Central Intelligence Agency through its sponsorship of the Nicaraguan contras.

Unlike any number of other media stories about police brutality, microaggressions, gentrification, hoodie scares, or other mysterious manifestations of racism and white privilege, Webb’s unsavory revelations give blacks good reason to be angry at their government’s actions. Webb made powerful enemies with his disclosures, which cut across partisan politics but incensed blacks in particular, and understandably so, given crack’s devastation of their families and neighborhoods. Kill the Messenger stops short of alleging that the CIA intentionally targeted black communities for destruction, but does highlight the particular blight these areas have endured.

Primarily, Kill the Messenger is the story of Webb the man, whose life and career were irreparably damaged by the titular smear campaign. Tastefully, but admittedly somewhat disappointingly, the movie leaves to viewers’ imaginations the question of whether Webb, as the official version goes, committed suicide by shooting himself twice (!) in the head or was murdered by some New World Order assassin. Renner is intense as Gary Webb, and the use of actual television news reportage of the day – including CIA shill (and current Ben Carson foreign policy advisor) Duane Clarridge’s jaw-droppingly stupid and smarmy reaction to Webb’s allegations: “Don’t give me that conspiracy bullshit. […] There has never been a conspiracy in this country” – does much to enhance the impression of reality.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Kill the Messenger is:

6. Non-partisan. Both Republicans and Democrats are implicated, as is indicated by the opening montage.

5. Pro-gun. Webb keeps a handgun in his home and uses it to scare a spooky prowler away from his car.

4. Drug-ambivalent. Webb and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) smoke weed, but a visit to South Central Los Angeles underscores crack’s social ravages.

3. Media-critical. After initially celebrating his breakthrough, Webb’s fellow journalists either distance themselves from him or devote themselves to discrediting his work.

2. Anti-state. This writer must not have been paying attention during his high school civics class when the teacher explained how it was the government’s responsibility to import hard drugs into the country.

1. Borderline anti-Semitic! Richard Schiff plays Richard Zuckerman, a CIA asset and shill utilizing The Washington Post to trash Webb’s credibility. Tim Blake Nelson plays sleazy attorney Alan Fenster, who, while lending crucial assistance to Webb’s investigation, comes across as the stereotypical lawyer who insists even in private conferences on referring to his client “Freeway” Rick Ross (Michael K. Williams) as merely an “alleged” drug dealer. Oliver Platt, meanwhile, appears as Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who at first defends Webb’s work but then wimps out in the face of the media firestorm. Perhaps to compensate for these unappealing characterizations, both Webb and his wife as visualized in the movie are darker, less Nordic-looking figures than the biographical subjects.

Gary Webb

Gary Webb

Jeremy Renner

Jeremy Renner

 

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Neighbors

Audiences accustomed to expect the ultimate in raunchy excess from Seth Rogen comedies ought not to be disappointed by Neighbors (2014), a highlight or lowlight of the actor’s career depending on individual taste. Rogen (The Guilt Trip) and Rose Byrne (The Internship) play recent parents whose idylls are disrupted when the rowdy Delta Psi Beta fraternity moves into the house next door. When the noise from the nearby parties becomes too much for the couple to take, a no-holds-barred feud breaks out between equally immature factions. What ensues is an hour and a half of some of the most unflinchingly filthy cultural venom this critic has tasted, and some of it is actually pretty funny. Can any doubt remain that Rogen, notwithstanding his irresistible charm and impeccable comic delivery, is for precisely these reasons one of the most dangerous men in the world today, able as he is to cajole audiences into swallowing the most murderous poison? This is the dread testament to his greatness.

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

10. Statist, glorifying police brutality.

9. Anti-gun. Byrne shoots down Rogen’s idea of buying a gun to protect his home.

8. Green. “You better put that in a recycling bin. All of it,” Byrne insists with reference to the beer cans strewn across her lawn.

7. Multiculturalist. Delta Psi Beta includes not one, but two token blacks and even an Asian.

6. Racist! Demonstrating that Jewishness is a get-out-of-jail-free card for anything, Rogen gets to say “nigga” and even wears a hipster-racist T-shirt depicting a negroid feline eating watermelon.

5. Pro-gay. “That’s awesome,” Rogen comments when a faggot couple with a baby moves into the neighborhood. Much of the fraternity’s party culture suggests latent or even overt homosexuality. Two frat lads, instead of having a proper fist fight, grab each other’s groin. “Is that how people fight now?” Rogen asks. “What are they doing?” Rogen is shocked but not too upset at seeing his wife kiss another woman. His climactic confrontation with nemesis Zac Efron involves dueling dildos, with Rogen compelled to suck his enemy’s weapon at one point.

4. Degenerate. “I’m takin’ you to bone town, bitch,” Rogen tells his wife as he fucks her in view of their smiling mischling baby. In one graphic scene of full-frontal obscenity, a girl has an unusually long dick wrapped around her throat. “Hey, guys,” she boasts, “what do you think of my new necklace? It’s a choker.” Sundry other moments, too many to mention . . .

3. Pro-drug. Weed blazes throughout the film, with Rogen lighting up on his break at work and also smoking in the presence of his infant daughter. For the final blowout, the frat house is transformed into an epic “hotbox”, with barrels of burning marijuana getting everyone on the premises high. Neighbors also contains casual cocaine use and scenes with Rogen gobbling psychedelic mushrooms. Waxing wigger, the hero repeatedly uses the word “dope” to describe anything that meets with his approval. Drinking interferes with Rogen’s sexual performance, but he manages to parlay even this into a comedy shtick to amuse his wife. “I feel like shit, but I love it,” she says when her hangover hits. Referencing Breaking Bad, the couple dresses their daughter up in a yellow suit like Walter White and poses her for photographs with Gatorade ice cubes designed to look like the show’s “blue stuff”. “She’s a little meth head,” Rogen dotes.

2. Family-ambivalent. “We are the family you get to choose and we don’t get divorced,” explains one brother of his fraternity. A tension persists throughout Neighbors between Rogen and Byrne’s commitment to being responsible thirty-something parents and their desire to have fun and feel like freewheeling twenty-somethings. Probably only to give itself some tenuous veneer of socially redeeming value, Neighbors ends with the couple reaffirming their identity as a family. Permeating the story, however, is the sense that they seek escapism from their “boring-ass lives as parents”. “Just because I’m a mom doesn’t mean I’m going to change who I am,” insists Byrne, to which Rogen counters, “Just because I’m a father doesn’t mean I can stop doing mushrooms with teenagers.”

1. Zionist-triumphalist. Notwithstanding the disinformation it generally spews with regard to global Zionist machinations, Hollywood knows and has always known the reality of Judaic high crimes and atrocities. A long and honored Israeli tradition is comically flaunted when Rogen and company stage a false flag party of sorts, shooting fireworks from the frat house to prompt a reaction from the police. Rogen’s compatriot Isaac “Ike” Barinholtz even inserts the Hebrew expression for “Game Over” into a phony letter he crafts to trick the fraternity into misbehaving. Acknowledging Jewish supremacist attitudes toward goy cattle and “shikse” women, Neighbors includes one disgusting sequence in which Rogen milks wife Rose Byrne like a cow. “We should go mom-tipping later,” he jokes, adding, “I was just trying to lighten the mooooood.”

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Cannibal Mercenary

Mercenary aka Cannibal Mercenary (1983) ****

This Thai film, titled to capitalize on the success of then-recent Italian gut-munching horrors Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981), finds a ragtag team of sleazy and mentally damaged mercenaries venturing into VC-infested territory to assassinate a drug kingpin who commands an army of “Draculas”, cannibal tribesmen sort of like Indochinese hillbillies.

Clearly inspired by Apocalypse Now (1979), Mercenary opens with post-traumatic battle flashbacks intermingled with a shot of a ceiling fan like the one that transfixes Martin Sheen. After a little hokey, English-dubbed melodrama to set the plot in motion, Mercenary gets down to business – and brutal, nasty business it is, with the outnumbered protagonists encountering the Viet Cong, quicksand, booby traps, and (speaking of booby traps) a treacherous, manipulative jungle bitch who threatens the cohesiveness of the group.

Idiosyncratically edited, Mercenary has scenes of high-stress, noisy, tension-ratcheting quick cuts that appear to be designed to strain the viewer’s nerves to the breaking point, such as when a henchman threatens to waste a whining kid and initiates a death countdown. Standout imagery includes a beheading, eye-gouging, maggot-eating, face-urinating, a skull being split open by a spike, and subsequent hungry brain-gobbling. Horror watchers will also enjoy the tacky, uncredited appropriation of Goblin’s music from Dawn of the Dead (1978). Recommended to cannibal movie videovores and other perverts, who, however, should not get their hopes up about seeing the pictured Aryan super soldier spring into battle, as no such figure appears in Mercenary, an all-Asian affair, alas.

4 out of 5 stars.

Devastator

The Devastator (1986) ****

Directed by low-budget action specialist Cirio H. Santiago, a master of what Joe Bob Briggs has termed the “exploding bamboo” subgenre, The Devastator is yet another generic 80s ‘Nam vet vigilante movie – or, in other words, a classic! Richard Hill, better known for playing the title part in Deathstalker (1983), stars as Deacon Porter, a vet who just wants to get on with his life, but finds himself thrust back into the fray when his old commanding officer is murdered. In the rural California community of King’s Ransom, drug lord Carey (Crofton Hardester) rules his roost with a hell-raising paramilitary force and even has the sheriff (Kaz Garas) on his payroll. When Deacon and a few of his ex-soldier buddies assemble in town, however, Carey’s days of 80s drug tyranny are numbered.

Not much in the way of plot, The Devastator is primarily wall-to-wall action – largely set to chintzy synthesizer music – with some truly impressive stunt work along the way. The most fun, however, is probably to be had from Deacon’s burly compatriot Ox (Jack Daniels!), a growling party animal who greets his old teammate by punching a hole through his door (!) and who clearly delights in over-the-top mayhem for the kicks. The villain has a healthy, thriving marijuana field, which, when Ox assaults it and sets it on fire, results in an even more humongous marijuana holocaust than the one in Up in Smoke (1978) – that, and a funny variation on Duvall’s famous line from Apocalypse Now (1979), with Ox taking big, deep breaths of the stuff and exulting like some victorious barbarian.

Rock-jawed Hill is only so-so in the charisma department, but with his muscular build the actor definitely has the look of the all-American action hero. Jack Daniels, as noted, is quite the hoot as Ox, while foxy item Katt Shea, who co-stars as Hill’s love interest, spunky gas pump attendant Audrey, would go on shortly after The Devastator to become a director of some note, creating stylish thrillers like Stripped to Kill (1987) and Streets (1990). The Devastator would make a perfect double feature with funky Gary Busey actioner Eye of the Tiger (1986), an entry to which this programmer bears a thematic resemblance. 

4 stars. Check it out!

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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.

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