Archives for posts with tag: drug cartel

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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The white guy/black guy buddy action movie, from 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon to The Last Boy Scout, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and Bulletproof, has for decades constituted a fine tradition within the action genre. Now Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington take their place in the squabbling but comfortingly complementary ebony-and-ivory ranks of the good guys in 2 Guns, a stylish neo-western from screenwriter Blake Masters and director Baltasar Kormakur, and based on a series of comic books by Steven Grant.

Washington and Wahlberg play an undercover DEA agent and naval intelligence officer, respectively, both thinking the other is actually a crook as they each individually target Mexican drug kingpin Edward James Olmos. Eventually, having discovered each other’s identity and not sure whether they can trust each other, the two are forced to join forces again when they find themselves caught up in a convoluted mess of Mexican cartel savagery, Navy corruption, and CIA shenanigans.

Fast-paced, explosive, and often funny, 2 Guns is the quintessential summer movie experience, but tempered by more than a little healthy cynicism. 4 of 5 possible stars.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 2 Guns is:

9. Antiwar. One veteran has a hook for a hand (see also no. 1).

8. Pro-immigration. Two representatives of a Minutemen-like group, one of them wearing a Confederate flag, are made to look foolish when they stop Denzel Washington at the border, suspecting him of being a Taliban fighter, and are easily disarmed by him. The implication appears to be that any American sufficiently worried about U.S. border security to become an activist must be a racist nitwit (cf. nos. 2, 3, 4, and 6).

7. Gun-ambivalent. Wahlberg buys black market guns, discrediting notions of “gun control”; but the humiliation of the Minutemen (see no. 8) is probably also intended to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of private gun ownership as a protection when the owners are incompetent.

6. Racist! Mexicans are corrupt and untrustworthy. They are also sadistic brutes who enjoy burying chickens up to their heads and shooting at them, decapitating enemies, or tying them upside-down in a barn, beating them with a baseball bat, and letting a bull charge at them. Obese Mexicans are more than once mocked, with their greasy diet offered as one explanation (cf. nos. 2, 3, 5, and 8).

5. Black supremacist. Washington is the senior partner, the man with the brains to make a plan. Demonstrating his mental superiority, he more than once corrects Wahlberg’s pronunciation (cf. nos. 3, 4, and 6).

4. Anti-South/anti-redneck. Bill Paxton plays a sinister CIA agent bent on retrieving the money stolen from the agency by Washington and Wahlberg. His string tie and southern accent mark him as residue of the Bush years, and the sweaty glee he derives from playing Russian roulette with Washington’s crotch suggests, as with Billy Crash in Django Unchained, that the white southerner’s insecurity and sadistic hostility toward the black man derives from his penis envy and latent homosexuality (see also no. 8).

3. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation. The interracial camaraderie of the white guy/black guy action movie might not reflect much racial reality, but it seldom fails to entertain, providing a respite from what has become the daily race-baiting of politicians and the professional victimhood industry. Initially, Washington claims to have no “people”, but by the end the protagonists identify as “family” and “brothers”. Washington is involved in a romantic triangle with mulatto Paula Patton and white James Marsden. Wahlberg flirts with women of different races.

2. Anti-capitalistic/egalitarian. “It’s the free market,” Paxton says, “not the free world.” Olmos accuses U.S. intelligence of conspiring to keep Mexico weak and addicted to dirty money (cf. no. 6). Washington and Wahlberg think nothing of the damage they cause with arson and explosives to a bank and a perfectly innocent cafe. Simple Mexican folk stoop to gather the scattered CIA dope money after the film’s climactic battle sequence, presumably with the filmmakers’ blessing.

1. Anti-state/anti-military. The CIA extorts tribute from drug cartels, offering them in return the use of CIA planes for transporting dope into America. Washington’s DEA supervisor and girlfriend is corrupt. Naval intelligence officers are no better than bandits and think nothing of using military hardware for private projects to feather their nests. An admiral (Fred Ward), learning of his subordinates’ crimes, is only interested in covering it up. Local police are fat and useless.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a trucking company owner whose inexplicably Caucasian son (Rafi Gavron) is set up, arrested for his noncommittal involvement in a friend’s ecstasy dealing, and threatened with a harsh prison sentence unless he agrees to rat out the dealers he knows.  The young man is unwilling to cooperate, but his father, the Rock, is not prepared to see his son’s best years wasted in prison and petitions federal prosecutress Susan Sarandon to allow him to use his trucking business to help her reel in a bigger fish, who turns out to be El Topo, a major player in a Mexican drug cartel.  Johnson’s decision to play the Feds’ game is more than a gamble on his personal safety; by going undercover and involving himself with gangsters, he also incriminates an ex-con employee (Jon Bernthal) attempting to go straight and endangers both men’s families in the process.

Johnson brings a great deal of monstrous manliness and gravitas to any role simply by showing his face, and has little difficulty carrying a picture on his shoulders.  Snitch‘s script, however, is nothing special, and before viewers are treated to the fantastic truck action at the climax, they must endure several mopey scenes of family anguish and of Johnson being humiliated – which, frankly, seem somewhat beneath the Rock’s dignity as a larger-than-life action commodity, attempts at faithfulness to true events notwithstanding.  Likewise, the soundtrack of melodramatic violins seems somewhat out of place in a Rock picture, which would be better served by a punchier, angrier, hip-hoppier set of sounds.  More masculine energy and more action sequences spread throughout the film would make Snitch more satisfying, but highway violence on eighteen wheels, in everything from White Line Fever to Terminator 2, has always been a blast to watch, and Snitch, too, delivers in the end, earning 3.5 of 5 possible stars.

The evidence of personal experience is that the Rock’s presence in Snitch has attracted an audience of altogether substandard human types unlikely to be interested by or even aware of meaning apart from appeal to the basest instincts; nevertheless, Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Snitch is:

7. Anti-Christian.  Sarandon’s unlikable character wears a crucifix.

6. Liberal.  “The liberals think you’re a bitch,” self-interested congressional aspirant Sarandon’s political advisor informs her.  The viewer is left to assume that she must be the film’s representative Republican.

5. Pro-miscegenation.  An outdoor barbecue social, complete with a big, squishy, interracial kiss, seems to have been inserted to show that the races can interact socially in wholesome, non-criminal contexts so as to offset the other, less optimistic depictions in the film.

4. Diversity-skeptical.  Despite nos. 5 and 6 above, America’s accelerating diversity comes across as something much less than a strength in Snitch.  Blacks and Hispanics as represented in the film are largely criminal and violent, and a significant leer from a black inmate suggests that the beatings Gavron suffers in lock-up may be the result of racial targeting.  A black receptionist is uncaring when Johnson inquires about his son; a black woman judge’s ugly face conveys naked hostility toward Gavron; and a Hispanic guard at the jail is corrupt and in league with El Topo.

3. Surprisingly pro-liberty.  Johnson buys a gun to protect himself on the climactic run.  It works.

2. Pro-family.  Johnson and Bernthal, parallel characters in their concern for their respective sons, are good fathers at least in that they want to do the best thing for their families.  Both men have regretfully failed in this in multiple instances, with Bernthal having spent time in prison and Johnson’s first marriage having ended in divorce.  Still, family bonds are of central importance and motivate both protagonists.

1. Anti-state, at least with regard to the War on Drugs.  The threatened sentence for Johnson’s son is correctly depicted as overly harsh, as minimum sentence legislation aimed at locking up drug kingpins has instead had a disproportionate impact on low-level players in the trade.  Sarandon admits that the War on Drugs has been a failure, but persists in prosecuting it with a vengeance to score political points in her congressional campaign.  She is quite prepared, furthermore, to sacrifice innocent lives in achieving her personal ambitions.  The end credits prompt viewers to visit takepart.com/snitch, which, in addition to promoting the movie, offers statistics and a petition to end the high minimum sentences for minor drug offenders.  The film also implies that prison reform is necessary.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has substandard luck with would-be blockbusters titled Last.  1993’s Last Action Hero, released a mere two years after the megahit Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is widely regarded as marking not only the end of Schwarzenegger’s reign at the box office and in audiences’ hearts and minds, but the demise of the larger-than-life 80s action film itself.  Now, in 2013, comes The Last Stand, a lively outing that ought to mark the muscleman’s triumphant return to action adoration, but which, alas, as it turns out, is just another relative flop.

Combining elements of High Noon and Vanishing Point, The Last Stand, with its southwestern flavor, brings Schwarzenegger full-circle in a way, considering that one of his earliest roles was in the western comedy The Villain.  Here Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens (sic), Sheriff of Sommerton County, Arizona, on America’s southern border.  His sleepy rural community is about to get more than its usual share of excitement when escaped drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) hatches a plan to use Owens’s own unsuspecting town of Sommerton Junction as the end point of a sure-fire escape route to Mexico.  Making matters more difficult for federal and local authorities is the fact that Cortez is driving a futuristic and seemingly unstoppable thousand-horsepower Corvette.

The Last Stand is an unapologetically lightweight, nostalgic, high-testosterone crowd-pleaser, but no less pleasing for its lack of originality or depth.  Lukewarm box office notwithstanding, an Arnold Schwarzenegger gunplay-and-explosions vehicle – even a second-tier, self-consciously geriatric one – is something of a national treasure.  Schwarzenegger’s acting gives little evidence of having improved during his years in government, and may in fact have gotten worse; but nothing can mitigate the thrill of seeing this man in heroic action.

While he probably deserves a more iconic or physically imposing foe than lanky Eduardo Noriega or weird Peter Stormare (winner of this year’s Most Awkward American Accent Award), the supporting cast does much to enhance Schwarzenegger’s presence through humorous contrasts.  Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville are especially noteworthy in the comic relief department, and Forest Whitaker turns in an intensely invested performance as harried G-Man John Bannister.  The only thing The Last Stand may be missing is Schwarzenegger’s leading lady, as deputy Jaimie Alexander is too young to be the appropriate recipient of anything but his paternal affection.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Last Stand is:

6. Anti-drug.  Drug dealers, in the finest tradition of 80s action films, are the bad guys.

5. Pro-military.  An Iraq veteran ex-Marine is a key figure in the hometown defense.

4. Immigration-ambivalent.  Americans are reminded of their perilously porous border with Mexico when Cortez points out the irony of Owens trying to prevent him from returning to his own country when 12,000 Mexicans cross in the opposite direction every day.  “You make us immigrants look bad,” Owens tells Cortez.  It is unclear whether by saying “us immigrants” he identifies with the 12,000 mentioned by Cortez or only with the law-abiding variety.

3. Multiculturalist.  The Last Stand celebrates the contributions to law enforcement of blacks, Hispanics, women, Austrians, Asians, and dweebs.  Cortez, though the villain of the piece, represents Mexicans positively as a criminal mastermind and expert race car driver.

2. Pro-liberty/pro-gun.  Eccentric gun collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) provides the firepower that allows the sheriff and his deputies to defend themselves against Cortez’s private army.  Notably, Dinkum offers a very useful “Nazi killer” machine gun he has kept in working order against the wishes of the government.  Elderly citizen Mrs. Salazar (Lois Geary) picks off one of Cortez’s mercenaries with her personal firearm.  Farmer Harry Dean Stanton is also admirable in attempting to defend his property with a shotgun.

1. Localist/traditionalist.  Sommerton Junction is a friendly, wholesome, peaceful place rather than the usual rustic nest of hateful Hollywood hicks.  FBI agent John Bannister underestimates the competence of the local sheriff’s department (significantly, an Arizona sheriff’s department).  He is humbled when Owens does his job for him and when the FBI is found to have been compromised by internal corruption.

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