Archives for posts with tag: Eastern Europe

Expendables 2

Those left craving another helping of the limp-fisted one-liners, geriatric jollies and follies and apeshit aviation stunts, the genocidal body counts, computer-generated gore, and wanton devastation of exotic locales served up by the first Expendables film will find more of the same in this second wholly superfluous jaunt from the old folks’ hangar. So much blood splatters with such fetishistic tedium during the too-slick opening raid sequence that soldiers appear to be erupting with so much crimson jizz on themselves. Should viewers really be surprised when the credits come up and attribute the script to somebody named Richard Wenk? The self-lover’s screenplay has Stallone’s ragtag team of mercenaries venturing into Eastern Europe to stop satanic jack-of-all-villainies Van Damme from getting a cache of old Soviet weapons-grade plutonium into the hands of “the wrong people” – Muslims, presumably – and avenging a fallen comrade in the process.

Unfortunately, with such a surfeit of 80s dynamite nostalgia – with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and others all crammed into Expendables 2’s star-studded cast – the result is a textbook case of a whole being less than the sum of constituent parts. The saturation of superpower, with heavyweights like Schwarzenegger and Norris confined to a couple of cameos, has the effect of mutual neutralization bordering on trivialization for all of the A-list actors involved, so that each of the heroes appears diminished and relatively dimmed. New female teammate Yu Nan, meanwhile, adds nothing of worth to the Expendables formula.

In its defense, The Expendables 2 does feature a hair-raising last-minute takeoff, a passable time bomb countdown sequence, and a brutal blade-and-chain-wielding climactic confrontation between Van Damme and Stallone. Norris, more defiantly deadpan than ever, has the only genuine laugh in the movie when he tells a campy snake attack anecdote, while the gratuity of Willis and Schwarzenegger swapping famous catch phrases with each other during a firefight holds a gay but admittedly irresistible fascination for children of the 80s – as does the sight of oldster Arnie effortlessly ripping the door off a car instead of simply opening it like a regular wimp. The CGI action sequences lack the tactile macho magic of the old days, and the forced attempts at human interest are similarly artificial, but such gripes will hardly dissuade those who already know this is their kind of film.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Expendables 2 is:

7. Anti-marriage. Jason Statham’s fiancée is a “half-cheat”.

6. Feminist. Unfeminine and consequently uninteresting Maggie (Yu Nan) is “combat-proficient”.

5. Pro-drug. Lundgren picturesquely drinks from a flask, while others opt for bottles of beer.

4. Pro-torture. “We’ll beat the truth out of ‘em,” Stallone says of a bar full of tough Slavic strangers, but surgical blades wielded with oriental prowess end up doing the job more efficiently.

3. Multiculturalist/pro-immigration. Stallone asks Maggie if she knows how to carve a turkey. In other words, all arrivals are welcome as long as they promise to ape the superficial rituals of Americanness.

2. Pro-miscegenation. Lundgren spends the movie slobbering over the homely Chinawoman, who, however (with an eye to Stallone), professes to “like Italian”. Even so, Lundgren would “really die for some Chinese.”

1. Neoconservative. As in Chernobyl Diaries, the Red Dawn remake, and the equally unworthy A Good Day to Die Hard, the Cold War’s weary specter is roused from its mothballs to put fear of the Russians back into American moviegoers. CIA operative Church (Bruce Willis) spooks in top-secret, mysterious ways, so better do what the gentleman tells you! Then, too, there is the omnipresent danger of weapons of mass destruction. Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) is a veteran of Afghanistan who expresses regret that his comrades (and dog) are “dead for nothin’”; but such brief dissimulation of antiwar sentiment serves as little more than a proprietary fig leaf for the Blackwater-as-Superman agenda of a movie determined to teach little American boys how cool it is to go off raising Cain in foreign countries in order to save and police the benighted regions of the world. One almost suspects that any disapproval Expendables 2 evinces toward the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan stems not so much from the insufficient warrant to go to war in the first place, but from the fact that America’s forces failed to splatter enough intestines loudly and brashly enough.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Chernobyl-Diaries-poster

Carefree young Americans on a European holiday disport through various photo opportunities during the opening minutes of Chernobyl Diaries. Their frivolity, however, is, as one might expect in a horror movie (or any movie set in the Ukraine, for that matter), short-lived. Impulsive Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) convinces his brother and other friends to go in for a bit of “extreme tourism” by visiting the abandoned town of Pripyat, once home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear complex – and, in a scenario reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes, the group discovers that they are not alone. The menace’s true nature is wisely withheld from the audience during the film’s first half, and shot with minimal revelation when it finally does appear, so that it never loses mystique and generates high levels of tension. Consequently, prospective trekkers on this journey into fright may prefer to watch it with all of the lights safely on.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Chernobyl Diaries is:

5. Mildly feminist. Paul is saved by one of the girls.

4. Moderately anti-family. Paul comes from a dysfunctional family. The brothers’ connection is a mutual liability.

3. Anti-state. Chernobyl is a relic of statist failure. Secretive authorities maintain a cover-up of present conditions in Pripyat.

2. Green. “Nature has reclaimed its rightful home.” The savagery experienced by the protagonists can be interpreted as an environmental revenge directed at man for his arrogant scientific meddling in fields of taboo knowledge. Vegetation and rot have overtaken Pripyat, with weeds having sprouted up in a gym and other interiors.

1. Anti-Slav. Tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) is a decent, if somewhat dishonest, man, while other representative Ukrainians include rude, sexually aggressive young Kievans and the unfriendly checkpoint sentries outside the forbidden zone. More fundamentally, the nocturnal, radioactive threat in Chernobyl Diaries hints at Hollywood’s paranoia that, somewhere under Eastern Europe’s tenuous veneer of post-Soviet reform and democratic openness, there seethes something brutal, subhuman, and probably innately anti-Semitic.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

GR Spirit of Vengeance

An impudently silly film, this fast-paced 2011 installment in the spooky Marvel Comics franchise is less fun than its predecessor, but never boring as it bowls from one preposterous action set piece into another and more or less captures the feel of a comic book, if not necessarily the grim Ghost Rider comics this reviewer remembers reading in childhood. (Did the hero really ever urinate like a flamethrower in the original stories, for instance?) Johnny Blaze, who shares his body with the titular demon, is a reluctant, tragic monster in the tradition of The Wolf Man; but Spirit of Vengeance makes clear from the outset that nobody involved in this project took it the least bit seriously.

Primarily, this film is a slick, snarling vehicle for a lot of unexceptional CGI, with an absurdly intense Nicolas Cage going bonkers in a sidecar. Cage, particularly during the comical transformation sequences, is at his manic, twitching, grimacing, growling best here, and his anguished delivery of “Scrapin’ at the door! Scrapin’ at the door!” simply has to be seen to be disbelieved. Violently beautiful Violante Placido contributes more than her share of production value as Nadya, “the devil’s baby mama”, mother to Danny (Fergus Riordan), who is being sought by devilish avatar Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) and also by a fanatical religious order led by the sinisterly tattooed Methodius (Christopher Lambert). The gimmicky, ADHD-afflicted visuals and Blade-style speed-up/slow-down action sequences get old quick, but the script contains a few laughs and the pace allows for little slack. Furthermore, Cage’s madcap performance makes this mandatory for his fans.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is:

11. Anti-green. A hippie van hypocritically expels billowing black exhaust, as does Ghost Rider’s motorcycle.

10. Gun-ambivalent. Firearms are deployed for evil, but also utilized by the heroes.  Gunrunning is mentioned as a seedy line of business (see also no. 1).

9. State-skeptical. Politicians are acolytes of the unholy.

8. Pro-drug. Johnny Blaze guzzles painkillers like jelly beans and requests morphine in a hospital. Secondary hero Moreau (Idris Elba) drinks heavily, but suffers no impairment of his combat-readiness.

7. Racist and anti-Semitic! Moreau embodies not only the magical Negro stereotype, what with his inside information on the supernatural goings-on, but also the venerable old sacrificial Negro. “The church of my masters is an ancient one,” says Moreau – but what would a modern emancipated black man be doing with “masters”? Also, Jew Jerry Springer is pictured as an incarnation of the devil. When are race-reactionary films like this one and Little Nicky going to see the light and stop stomping for the next Holocaust?

6. Antiwar. A montage evocative of the idea of corruption intercuts hundred-dollar bills with shots of soldiers, explosions, and street violence (cf. no. 3).

5. Family-ambivalent. The film’s celebration of Nadya’s choices constitutes an attack on the traditional family, with the father in this case being depicted literally as the devil. Blaze is dedicated to his father, however, and only contracted his curse to try to save the old man’s life.

4. Xenophobic. As in Cat Run (2011) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Eastern Europe is home to mystery, intrigue, mercenaries, and violence. A chaotic, layered satanic “firewall” incantation more than once includes sounds that resemble “Allah”.

3. Anti-capitalistic. The devil, who dresses like a conservative businessman, wields his greatest power through “the deal”. A sleazy businessman abortively propositions Nadya, assuming that because she is a gypsy she must also be a prostitute. She and her son work as pickpockets, feeling no shame or remorse because their need, they feel, is greater and more important than that of the more affluent people they victimize. “Everyone’s robbing me. It makes my balls hurt,” says one representative of the business community in a line which suggests that, for the affluent, money substitutes for manhood. Villains include mercenaries and gunrunners.

2. Pro-slut/pro-bastard. Spirit of Vengeance presents a heroic image of the valiant single mother in Nadya, who refers to her bastard child as “the one good thing I ever did.” Murderous Methodius judgmentally slut-shames her, however.

1. Christ-ambivalent. Spirit of Vengeance, true to its title, takes place on a battlefield of spiritual warfare. Satan (as the Louvin Brothers proclaimed) is real! – and so, therefore, are angels. Moreau “would be dead if not for the intervention of God” and wears a cross as a sign of his faith, but the film’s attitude toward organized religion is critical. “Guns and wine. Naughty priests.” The religious order’s abortive execution of Danny is vaguely pedophilic and circle-jerky. Other irreverent items of interest are the line, “Merry Christmas, you asshole!” and the fact that Blaze, taking part in an informal communion, reports that the body of Christ tastes stale.

Apropos of no. 4, note how even a superficially cute Super Bowl candy commercial can be mobilized to assist in conditioning Americans to view Slavs and Russians specifically as their enemy.

 

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