Archives for posts with tag: FBI

Anthony Summers, on page 160 of his book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, relates this amusing anecdote about the meticulous scrutiny the FBI director devoted to representations of the Bureau in popular entertainment – while, of course, ignoring the rise and reign of organized crime in the U.S.:

HooverEdgar was suddenly the hero of 1947. His face, framed by the Stars and Stripes, stared from the cover of Newsweek, telling the nation “How to Fight Communism.” He was being taken seriously, and taking himself much too seriously.

[…] Edgar learned that Love for Three Oranges, the theme tune for two films and a radio show about the FBI, had been written by the Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev. “We ought to be able to utilize music by someone other than a well-known Communist,” Edgar scrawled on a memorandum. “Please get together on this, and quickly.” Aides scrambled to oblige, solemnly probing Prokofiev’s background and holding high-level conferences. There is not a glimmer of a sign that anyone realized how silly it all was.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Black Mass poster

A decidedly drab and unglamorous but still magnetic Johnny Depp appears as South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass, a true crime film from Scott Cooper, the director of the excellent Out of the Furnace. As much as it constitutes a crime saga, however, Black Mass is also a cautionary study of ethnonationalism. The film’s handling of the material is mostly sober, but veers dangerously close to the glorification of violence in more than one sequence – with, for instance, dance floor booty intercut with the discovery of a body in the trunk of a car. Depp maintains a controlled burn throughout, and the other players – Joel Edgerton, Rory Cochrane, and Dakota Johnson among them – are also commendably strong. Definitely worthwhile for crime film fans.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Black Mass is:

6. Pro-miscegenation. Joel Edgerton enjoys a lewd dance with a black woman.

5. Anti-Christian, but not as vociferously so as one might be led to expect by the film’s title and the promotional trailer. Christian paraphernalia loses its meaning in the context of remorseless murderer Bulger’s participation in empty rituals.

4. Anti-drug. Aspirin doses debilitate Bulger’s son (Luke Ryan) with Reye’s Syndrome, which leaves him braindead. Bulger, while heartbroken by this, shows no concern for the neighborhood kids who buy his drugs. Learning that Bulger participated in government LSD experiments, the viewer is left to speculate that this might have exacerbated his madness and criminal inclinations.

3. Euthanasist. Bulger’s wife (Johnson) prefers to take their son off life support rather than see him continue as a vegetable. “He’s never gonna be our little boy again, ever. […] He’s braindead. He’s on life support. He can’t move, and I don’t want him like that. I can’t have my little boy be like that. I’ll pull the plug myself. I will.” Clashing with the mother’s reasonable assessment of the situation is Bulger’s irrational anger as he curses his wife, kicks over a chair, and knocks a table on its side, with the heavy irony here being that a gangster and murderer, of all people, has become the advocate for the sanctity of human life.

2. State-skeptical. Government is only as worthy as the men who fill the responsible posts. The Winter Hill Gang bribes “local street cops, feds, whatever” in exchange for the cooperation of authorities.

1. Anti-white. Black Mass opens with an interrogation conducted by a federal agent resembling Eric Holder. James “Whitey” Bulger’s nickname is highly significant, as well, as is brought to the fore in a brief scene in which a black man tells him, “This ain’t your neighborhood, Whitey,” and receives a brutal beating in reply. Bulger is an Irish nationalist determined to retake territory from Boston’s “oppressor” Italians, and he and his gang have nothing but contempt for an Irish-American “turncoat motherfucker” like Officer Flynn (David Conley), who works for the other side. Bulger, as his empire grows with the help of childhood acquaintance and FBI investigator John Connolly (Edgerton), who sees to it that the Bureau overlooks his activities, even assists the IRA with shipments of arms. “What is written on a piece of paper [i.e., law] is less important than blood,” Connolly excuses his actions.

“The only time he ever seemed happy was when he was talking about the IRA,” one of Bulger’s associates remembers – the implication being that European ethnic exclusiveness holds a special attraction for gloomy people with unsatisfying lives. The name of the boat, the “Valhalla”, used to transport the weapons, carries associations with Nordicism and Nazism, and that Black Mass should be largely concerned with discrediting ethnonationalism is hardly surprising when Hollywood Zionist sleazoid Brett Ratner’s name shows up in the end credits as an executive producer. Ethnic solidarity is framed as a hollow ideology providing protection for white crime and terrorism. Bulger’s “code of honor”, furthermore, does not prevent him from introducing drugs into his own neighborhood. A Jewish actor, Corey Stoll, plays the upstanding FBI investigator who finally brings “Whitey” Bulger to justice.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Cold in July

Cold in July is the story of a man who, having once peered into the rabbit hole and inadvertently set one foot inside it, cannot bring himself to turn away. Michael C. Hall stars as Richard Dane, a Texas everyman who shoots an intruder into his home and is subsequently terrorized by the dead man’s ex-con father, Russel (Sam Shepard). But is the dead man really dead? If not, who occupies the coffin, and why would the authorities assign a false identity to the corpse? Dane and Russel discover together that the world is not as it seems; and, teaming with earthy private detective (and pig farmer) Jim Bob (Don Johnson), they set out on a western-flavored, neo-noir odyssey in search of the truth – and, ultimately, violently ironic justice.

Notwithstanding its humor and undisguised pop flourishes, Cold in July is a serious film with strong performances all around. Johnson’s screen presence particularly, far from having faded in the years since Miami Vice, has taken on a new depth and authenticity, so that he brings a great deal of color and masculine clout to the film. Hall is 100% convincing as the man in over his head, while Shepard’s turn is comparatively understated but no less essential to the success of the whole. Pleasantly, an attempt has been made to match the film stylistically with its 1980s setting, so that viewers are treated to a period-faithful electronic score and some elegant, crowd-pleasing slow-motion shots.

Highly recommended. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cold in July is:

5. Anti-porn. Young women pursuing this trade place their lives at considerable risk.

4. Pro-immigration. “Prostitutes cross the border illegally and nobody cares” – after which they are lured into starring in snuff films, the presumptive implication being that if America had a compassionate immigration policy that was not so “broken”, Mexican women would not be forced to demean and endanger themselves in order to access the American Dream. Mariachi musicians illustrate the vibrant diversity Mexicans offer.

3. Gun-ambivalent. The film strongly suggests that Dane would be a happier man had he not shot the burglar invading his home, and he subsequently disapproves of his young son’s toy gun play. A pistol also appears as a danger and liability in the hands of the emotionally distraught. Guns feature prominently and excitingly in the vigilante action of the conclusion, however.

2. State-skeptical. Part of Dane’s journey of discovery is the realization that his government is not what he imagined. In this context, Russel’s line “All I know is what I’m told” carries more than a surface resonance. In a minor, local way, Dane is initiated into the ugly reality of conspiracy. Scenes deleted from the final cut of the film show FBI agents tailing him. In one scene, a drive-in is playing Night of the Living Dead, a reference which reinforces the themes of paranoia and government cover-ups.

1. Pro-family. Dane is a committed father and husband. Discounting Jim Bob’s diagnosis of married men as “poor bastards”, Cold in July communicates the necessity of the intact family for the well-adjusted existence of an individual or a society. Without obnoxiously articulating the point, the film suggests that Russel’s son has chosen a path of evil as a result of not having had a father during his developmental years.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

American Hustle poster

To be perfectly honest, this reviewer was bored for lengthy portions of American Hustle, David O. Russell’s unaccountably lauded opus about the Abscam scandal. Like too many period pieces set in fashion-distinctive epochs, Hustle evinces an overly polished and inorganic quality, more concerned with fussing about its garish clothing, bizarre hairstyles, and flaunting an unwarranted sense of its own super-coolness than with the development of characters deserving of the audience’s interest. As with the less inspired moments in Scorsese’s oeuvre, American Hustle is too content to slide by on the likability of its vintage pop soundtrack and slick but empty visual flair, with – of course! – the obligatory trip to a decadent discotheque.

The performances of Bale, Cooper, and others are fine, but hardly career highlights. Russell’s unconvincing dialogue, co-credited to Eric Warren Singer, bears much of the blame for the film’s lifelessness. Actors can hardly be blamed for failing to salvage compelling drama out of the likes of the following yawners: “This is bullshit. We are bullshit. You were bullshit. You were bullshit.” While no character in American Hustle is particularly sympathetic, there are some affecting moments toward the end of the film when flimflam man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) begins to feel guilty about misleading and ruining a mark he has come to view as his friend. This in no way justifies a run time in excess of two hours, however – leaving the viewer to wonder whether the tale of this potbellied, philandering Jew con artist with a heart of gold needed to be told at all.

ICA’s advice: For a 70s con game period piece, see Richard Gere in The Hoax instead.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that American Hustle is:

8. Pro-drug. Nothing sells marijuana like the sight of a beautiful temptress (Amy Adams) smoking a joint.

7. Anti-American. Check the title.

6. Multiculturalist. Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) maintains friendly relations with the minority community and even adopts a black kid to show what a great guy he is.

5. Pro-gay, with one gratuitous lesbian kiss.

4. Pro-slut. Movie stars making out in a bathroom – how glamorous! Rosenfeld does “the right thing” by marrying single mother Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

3. Zionist, calling attention to the undying bogeyman of American politicians’ insidious willingness to sell out the country’s well-being to the Arabs. Dismissive reference is also made to (Israel-hating, Palestine-loving) “fuckin’ Jimmy Carter”.

2. Relativistic. “That’s the way the world works. Not black and white like you say. Extremely gray.”

1. Obamist. In union-friendly Carmine Polito, American Hustle portrays the corrupt but humble and likable politician as tragic hero, a man of the people, a caring, avuncular figure genuinely concerned with the welfare of his constituents, and who presides over a system of corruption only so as to create new jobs. “We dream and we build,” he says. Overly zealous investigators like DiMaso (Cooper) are ruining America, Rosenfeld charges, by exposing high misdeeds and so destroying the people’s faith in their leaders. So lay off the Solyndra, Benghazi, NSA, IRS, and other scandals, American Hustle cautions, lest the spiritually vulnerable masses lose their precious hope.

PointBreak

Point Break (1991) *****  Point Break was this reviewer’s second Kathryn Bigelow movie after the underappreciated 1987 vampire horror Near Dark. Like that film, this one is a consistently inventive take on a standard genre, in this case action of the undercover and heist/caper varieties, that goes for a style-heavy approach that in no way detracts from the substance.

The cinematography, and particularly the overcranked (i.e., slow motion) work, is elegant and appropriate to the beauty the characters find in their various philosophically informed adrenaline rushes and passions of choice. The opening credits appear over intercut images of surfing and target practice – married pictures of recreation and violence – that capture the fun but dangerous tone and thematic concerns of the story as a whole. At times Point Break feels like an L.A.-flavored super-episode of Miami Vice, with its undercover operation, sun, and political cynicism – conveyed most creatively in its vision of American presidents as bank robbers, which underscores Point Break‘s constant relativistic tension.

Johnny Utah is an interesting part for Keanu Reeves, a transitional role bridging his 80s dude persona, as exemplified by Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Parenthood, with his later, more serious (but less noteworthy) turns in films like Speed and The Matrix. Reeves even does a little undercover work on the beach in Spicoli mode, acknowledging where he has been as an actor in the midst of cutting his teeth as a leading man of masculine weight.

Swayze is surprisingly scary and darkly charismatic here, and may prompt some viewers to wish he had essayed more antagonistic parts in his unfortunately short career. Busey is entertaining as always, as is Vincent Klyn (Cyborg‘s Fender) in his supporting gig as hardcore surfer hooligan Warchild.

This reviewer is tempted to place Point Break in the highest tier of 80s/early 90s action films. Point Break falls short of being a Conan the Barbarian, a First Blood, or a Running Man, but it is on a level with Red Heat or Shakedown and better than RamboCobra, or Death Wish 2. The absence of a Stallone or Norris in no way handicaps Point Break, an action-adventure-drama with a sensibility all its own. 5 stars, easy.

The_Heat_poster

“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 13,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours,” reads a message following The Heat‘s end credits, as if in apology or as an excuse for what the viewer has just experienced. Sure, that montage of McCarthy and Bullock bonding as they hip-shake to Deee Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” might have been a little pathetic and painful for you to sit through, but by purchasing that ticket, you were making a difference in the life of an underprivileged Hollywood union schlub. The product of those hundreds of thousands of schlub hours, sad to say, would appear to be something significantly less than the sum of these thousands of toilers’ efforts.

Sandra Bullock stars as anal retentive FBI agent Ashburn, who, in the course of trying to nail a Boston drug kingpin – and The Heat, make no mistake, is set in Boston solely for the opportunity this provides of including a gaggle of superfluous characters with easily ridiculed accents – is thrust into an unwelcome partnership with local slob policewoman Mullins, played with irascible gusto and admirable comic timing by husky comedienne Melissa McCarthy. The fitful joy of the film – and despite its ultimate mediocrity, there are occasional laughs to be had – derives from the epic clash of the pair’s diametrically opposed personalities.

The boring displays of womanly courage, physical might, and weapons prowess; the endless, prideless parade of wimpy and contemptible men; the open, obsessively unabashed discussions of anatomy; the entertainment-deficient moments of earnestness and emotional searching; and, last but not least, some execrable slapstick – all of these are to be expected in a film of this type; but what finally puts the damper on The Heat is its unwieldy length and uneven pacing, with the movie overstaying its lukewarm welcome by at least 40 draggy minutes. If there is a reason to endure The Heat, however, it is easily Melissa McCarthy, who, as big, jiggly, probably smelly ball of charisma Mullins, should fill a screen of any size with little difficulty.

2.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Heat is:

13. Anti-Slav. As in Pain and Gain and A Good Day to Die Hard, the Slavic female is an exotic, shady, kinky, inferior creature.

12. Anti-Christian. “That’s one of the better Jesus-sports-themed paintings I’ve seen,” Ashburn observes uncomfortably, indicating a kitschy picture in the Mullins family’s home.

11. Anti-white male. An insecure, misogynistic, loud-mouthed albino (Dan Bakkedahl) says it all.

10. Pro-gay. Lesbians cavort on a dance floor.

9. Racism-skeptical. The albino’s whining about the heroines’ “albino prejudice” parodies race hustlers’ constant harping about whites’ racial insensitivity. (Either that, or it mocks whites’ complaints of reverse racism.) “Don’t play that race bullshit card with me,” Mullins gripes in a bizarre encounter with a black man (“Spoken Reasons”, a.k.a. John A. Baker, Jr.) who accuses her of racism after she hurls a watermelon at him. Unfortunately, given the convoluted nature of this film’s moral universe, Mullins may receive a pass to balk at hackneyed victimologies only because she has already taken the litmus test and desegregated her vagina (see no. 5).

8. Drug-ambivalent. Ashburn and Mullins bond over drinks and enjoy a rowdy evening; but the hangover and the knowledge of how she behaved kills Ashburn’s buzz the following morning. A peaceable pot smoker (Reasons) minds his own business until hassled by Mullins, while her brother (Michael Rapaport) gets into more serious trouble through hard drugs. About regular old tobacco, Mullins recommends quitting because she “had a great aunt who lost most of her teeth to smoking.”

7. Multiculturalist. Federal agents contributing to the law enforcement effort include blacks, whites, and Hispanics. Even street gangs and organized crime are multiracial concerns.

6. Anti-family/anti-marriage. The Mullins family is of course grotesque and dysfunctional. Mullins, unsuitable for marriage or motherhood, gives vent to a petty resentment toward America’s ex-normalcy when she catches a family man in the act of cruising for hookers and tortures him before trying to ruin his marriage by phoning the man’s wife to tell her about it. The wife, appraised of the situation, encourages Mullins in further cruelty.

5. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation. Ashburn and fellow agent Levy (Marlon Wayans) engage in the obligatory interracial flirtation, while “Nine out of ten guys I fuck are black guys,” Mullins boasts.

4. Obesity-tolerant. Given that 64% of American women are now overweight, it is only natural that Hollywood, with an eye to satisfying changing demographics, should give the heavyweights movie stars of their own. Now fat women not only have characters with whom they can identify, but ones who reassure them that slovenliness is desirable. Whereas overweight women in movies and television previously filled the roles of matronly types (e.g., Hattie McDaniel or Frances Bavier) or bitchy hags (Roseanne in the Barr phase of her career), obese actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson represent a new mutant feminist temptress and fat pride pin-up ideal. Mullins, McCarthy’s character in The Heat, is more than once supplicated by ex-boyfriends, who follow her around like wounded puppies, salivating at the thought of another shot at a hop on the paunch. Her girth more than once makes things difficult for her, but that’s just the part of the price she has to pay for being a sexy bitch (cf. nos. 1 and 2).

3. Basically statist. The Heat would appear to be confused about the value of the various government agencies it portrays and the usefulness of their endeavors to the public these agencies purport to serve. At no point in all of the movie’s mayhem is there any indication, civic-minded lip service and back-patting notwithstanding, that FBI or DEA agents have accomplished anything for taxpayers by pursuing the endless War on Drugs. But the one man who dares to refer to his status as a taxpayer (“I pay taxes, so fuck the government”) is then immediately obliterated by a car bomb, so let that be a lesson to you.

Never mind that different federal agencies, even as depicted in The Heat, are mutually hostile and interfere with each other’s overlapping investigations. Nor should the viewer allow the fact that one of the federal agents is revealed to be in cahoots with the mob to reflect on the collective integrity of America’s civil servants. (USPS personnel are, however, represented rather poorly, with a post office hag in a bar mumbling, “Eat my fuckin’ Irish ass.”)

“When bad shit happens in my neighborhood, I get a little passionate about it,” Mullins proclaims, with unintentional humor deriving from the fact that much of the “bad shit” and violence that occurs in her neighborhood is of her own doing. At times, police work just seems to be an excuse for an officer to let off steam by harassing and physically abusing the common citizen. The most sinister aspect of The Heat‘s concept of law enforcement is that police brutality is treated so casually, normalized, in fact, as something perhaps lovably eccentric but wholesomely populist in its appeal. After all, “if you’re not in trouble, you’re not doin’ your job.”

2. Pro-castration. The Heat delights in depicting male suffering and humiliation. Mullins plays Russian roulette with a criminal’s dick and Ashburn shoots another offender twice in the crotch, with a seething hostility toward men’s genitalia permeating the film. Women determine the terms of their interactions with the men, who are left to beg for attention or mercy, as when Levy pitifully propositions Ashburn, “If you’re gonna boss me around, you could at least buy me dinner first.” It is this appalling exemplar of the sensitive man, however, who has the best shot at winning Ashburn’s affection (cf. nos. 1 and 4).

1. Feminist. Mullins makes repeated, obsessive references to testicles, including testicles for women, and is given to saying disgusting things like, “I’m balls-deep in boredom.” Tough but sensitive women in manface: this is The Heat‘s neurotic essence. But, “You go, girl!” the viewer presumably is expected to cheer at this spectacle of degeneracy – no matter how repulsive the heroines may be as they swagger around in men’s wear, ape masculine traits, shout at men, beat them up, and picturesquely point and shoot their government-issue penises.

Whatever screenwriter Katie Dippold’s intentions, however, her script has much to say about how unhappy women have made themselves by buying into the feminist fraud. Chief among the hallucinations propagated by the feminists is the idea that a woman, having paradoxically actualized her femaleness by disposing of her femininity, can somehow retain her worth as a woman rather than as the ersatz man she has chosen to become. “I’m a lady,” claims a deluded Mullins, giving voice to this untenable view. Ashburn’s careerism ended her marriage and she admits to being lonely. Her sleuthing skills may be Monk-like, but “being a woman in this field is hard. Men are just so intimidated by me.” Most men naturally find her mannishness unappealing. “Hard to believe she’s single,” a coworker observes sarcastically. There is a reason why Ashburn’s only romantic prospect at the end is a total weenie, and an African one at that, who expects her to pay for his meals in exchange for his company. But is it because white men are “intimidated” by her, or that they are simply disgusted by what she and her type have become? (cf. nos. 2 and 4)

the-frozen-ground-poster-artwork-nicolas-cage-john-cusack-vanessa-hudgens-small

The first half of this Nic Cage serial killer thriller is so uninspired that it comes as a bit of a shock to realize an hour or so into its run time that it actually packs some fair suspense. Cage is, as always, easy to watch and perfectly adequate in his role as an Alaskan state trooper investigating a series of gruesome hooker murders, though fans of his more outrageous performances may be disappointed by his relatively sedate turn here. It is Cage’s Con Air castmate John Cusack, however, here cast against type as the seemingly mild-mannered murderer, who constitutes the primary reason to see The Frozen Ground. The initial interrogation and confrontation between Cage and Cusack is especially electric and easily the strongest scene in the film. Also featured prominently is Vanessa Hudgens as a revolting prostitute targeted by Cusack and coddled by paternally protective Cage. Rounding out the cast are Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris in a frustratingly small supporting role and rapper 50 Cent looking somewhat out of place as a pimp on ice. The Frozen Ground is no Angel or Vice Squad, too serious in its approach to its true crime subject matter to take full advantage of exploitative potential; but, approached with appropriate expectations, it might be worth a Redbox rental one of these chilly nights.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Frozen Ground is:

6. Racist! Fiendishly perpetuating the black pimp stereotype. Even if it is based on a true story, truth is no excuse for racism!

5. Anti-gun. Cusack is a hunter and Hudgens relates that, when she saw all the animal heads mounted on his walls, she knew there was no point in begging for mercy.

4. Anti-drug. Recreational pharmaceuticals solve nobody’s problems. Cage’s sister died in an accident caused by a drunken driver.

3. Anti-Christian. The killer, whose middle name is Christian, is, appropriately enough, a Christian, as an FBI psychological profile has predicted. One senses that his family’s emotional life is stultified by the strictures of his faith, which has probably also contributed to his vicious attitude toward fallen women.

2. Anti-family/anti-marriage. Like American Beauty, Breach, and countless other subversive films, The Frozen Ground is eager to reveal the conservative family man to be a closet pervert and a volatile maniac. Cusack’s wife is clearly a silent sufferer in an unhappy marriage. Hudgens, child of a teenage mother, reveals that she was molested by an uncle.

1. Slut-ambivalent. The film can hardly be accused of prettifying the life of a hooker, and it graphically illustrates the danger of hawking sloppy thousandths on the mean, moose-prowled streets of Anchorage, Alaska. The movie stumbles onto thin dramatic ice with its attempt to drum up audience sympathy over the rape of a shameless whore, however, and irritates with its perpetuation of the popular misconception that streetwalkers’ lives have value.

Naturally, everyone prefers a pleasurable moviegoing experience to a sharply unpleasant one; and yet, as adventurous, seasoned, and discriminating cinephiles already know, there is something instructive and salutary in an occasional trip to cinema’s Dark Side and a philosophically minded sojourn in the Movie House of Pain.  This is the tenebrous, nightmarish place (think Hellraiser and picture hooks and chains slowly swaying and clinking in unfathomable darkness) where nothing worthwhile is ever projected, where filth alone adorns the screen, and where Boredom and Loathing wait like lewdly lip-licking Cenobites to bind and eviscerate the viewer.  These are the experiences, after all, which give good and great movies their significance, just as, without the darkness, light itself would be impossible.

A case in point is Betty and Coretta, a Canadian-made Lifetime Network movie about Betty Shabazz (Mary J. Blige) and Coretta Scott King (Angela Bassett), the respective widows of martyred rabble rousers Malcolm X and Martin King.  Superfluous beyond belief, this most recent hosanna out of the Martin King Cult is exactly the film one would expect it to be: a stoic, vapid, stylistically sterile, and self-congratulatory cardboard reenactment of highlights from the lives of two not particularly fascinating women as they bravely continue to live their lives whole decades after the touted events that made them even tangentially relevant to anyone other than themselves – much of it punctuated, of course, by a soundtrack of the obligatory soulful moaning.

Considering the inconsequential nature of the women’s stories following their husbands’ deaths, Betty and Coretta understandably suffers from a lack of interesting event or forward narrative momentum.  Follow Coretta Scott King as she boldly faces reporters who have the nerve to question her about the FBI recordings.  Follow Betty Shabazz as she bravely raises a daughter troubled by nightmares after her father’s murder. Follow Coretta Scott King as she graciously gives multiple inspiring speeches and lobbies to get a holiday named after her husband.  Follow Betty Shabazz as she boldly hosts her own radio talk show.  Follow Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz as they admirably persevere, eat lunch, exchange brave mothering insights, move on up, and boldly shop for shoes together.  Betty’s public accusation that Louis Farrakhan (Alex C. Askew) had a hand in Malcolm X’s murder is as confrontational as the movie ever gets, and even this subplot fails to engage.

Worse, screenwriters Ron Hutchinson and Shem[p?] Bitterman’s script is rock-hard stale bread all the way, with Coretta Scott King sounding every time she opens her mouth as if she suspects the pious stenographers of black historical destiny may be hiding behind a curtain and recording her every word, calling her husband a “vessel for greatness” and arguing that “we need to consecrate his legacy.”  Angela Bassett’s wooden performance perfectly mirrors the empty verbiage she recites, and Malik Yoba is just as boring as Great Doctor Junior Himself.  Mary J. Blige fares better in her role, coming across much more naturally, but the dialogue does the actress no favors.  Lindsay Owen Pierre is unworthy of note as Malcolm X, and Ruby Dee, who narrates the film as a pseudo-documentary interviewee, gives evidence of incipient senility as she delivers her lines in halting, awkward syllables and sometimes even appears to read from cue cards as her eyes dart unsettlingly from side to side.

A star and a half.  Ideological Content Analysis, after being stretchered out of the Movie House of Pain like a wounded and bloodied trooper, indicates that Betty and Coretta is:

8. Pro-bastard.  Betty’s daughter keeps it real and skips the marriage bit.

7. Anti-gun.  Betty’s daughter has nightmares about men with guns.

6. Anti-miscegenation.  Betty’s daughter’s white live-in guyfriend, as if wiping his nose before offering to shake hands with Betty is not bad news enough already, also turns out to be a dastardly spy for the FBI.

5. Selectively anti-state.  The FBI is an antagonist, as are the congressmen who oppose the creation of the national King holiday.  (All the FBI probably needs, though, is a quota system, for it to become a tool for progress.)

4. Egalitarian.  Coretta campaigns for “economic justice” and identifies poverty as one of the evils plaguing America.

3. Statist/pro-NWO.  “Can you believe it?” Betty says, exasperated.  “Another round of budget cuts.  When are taxpayers gonna learn?  Pay a little now or a whole lot later.”  The film opens with witness to history Ruby Dee gushing at the momentous dedication of a King statue by President B.O.  Coretta longs for “a new world [order], a just world, a world dedicated to fayuhness and equality for awl.”  The UN is referenced as a weapon for forcing social change in America.

2. Feminist/black uber alles.  “You don’t need a man to survive,” Betty tells a student.  “You just need some trainin’ so you can get a good job.”  Addressing herself to black women, Coretta defiantly intones, “Weeee awwww a powuhful fawss.”

1. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Imagine that.  And yet, in an unintentional irony, as soon as Betty has enough money, she gets “a nice home, away from the city [and her fellow blacks, presumably], where Betty could give her children the sheltered life she had dreamed of.”  Still, “Every time a neighbor see us, they think we gone blow somethin’ up.”  Bigots!

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Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy (1953) ***1/2  The first of many French films in which American actor Eddie Constantine portrays hard-drinking, quick-fisted, womanizing FBI agent Lemmy Caution, Poison Ivy is an amusingly rakish contribution to hard-boiled crime cinema, with Caution coming across as a fairly lighthearted detective as far as the genre goes and giving the viewer an easy hero to like.

The story involves a sidetracked shipment of American gold in Morocco and an accumulating tally of corpses connected with the caper.  Caution is assigned to sort things out and even finds the time, naturally, to teasingly romance mysterious nightclub singer Carlotta de la Rue, “the Poison Ivy Kid” (Dominique Wilms), who inconveniently happens to be the girlfriend of Rudy Saltierra (Howard Vernon, a familiar face from the horror and sexploitation films of Jess Franco), the sinister figure at the center of the gold and murder intrigues.

Wilms is as sexy as femmes fatales get, Vernon is a natural-born villain of distinction, and craggy-faced Constantine is the personification of 1950s tough guy charm as Lemmy Caution, a character who must surely be some kind of alcoholic considering how much liquor he pours down his throat before getting around to beating the bad guy and inevitably winning the girl.  Audiences today might find Poison Ivy‘s pace a bit casual, but the film is a good time if given a chance, and benefits considerably from location shooting in Morocco.  Recommended to open-minded admirers of things hard-boiled, Poison Ivy earns 3.5 of 5 stars.

Part III of The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler

in Ideological Content Analysis:

A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective

of the ICA Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

Damon Wayans, who in 1991’s The Last Boy Scout played wisecracking sidekick to Bruce Willis’s hard-boiled but complementarily wisecracking detective, was once again teamed with a white comedy partner, this time playing a funny straight man of sorts to buffoonish Adam Sandler for another, rather less distinguished buddy action outing in 1996’s Bulletproof.

Goofy L.A. car thief Archie Moses (Sandler) has the perfect partner in streetwise Rock Keats (Wayans) – or so he thinks – until the latter turns out to be an undercover detective using him as a pawn to get close to car dealer and heroin kingpin Colton (James Caan).  In a bust gone disastrously wrong, Keats reveals himself to the outraged and heartbroken Moses only to get shot in the head by his erstwhile companion in a freak accident.  After recovering with the help of physical therapist and new girlfriend Traci (Kristen Wilson), Keats is incensed to learn that Moses, after being apprehended, has requested that Keats be the one to bring him back to Los Angeles to testify against Colton.  At issue throughout the story is whether the pair of former friends can manage to evade Colton’s killers and find their way to safety without strangling each other first.

An irrepressibly obscene film with a heart, Bulletproof succeeds through the charm of its stars and the relative clip of its silly plot.  There is, however, one particularly suspenseful sequence involving an airplane perched precariously at the edge of a cliff.  Caan is underutilized as the villain, but brings a megalomaniacal credibility to his role whenever allowed.  In the end, even the crankiest viewers are likely to begin rooting for Moses and Keats to make amends and win the day.  Bulletproof earns 3.5 of 5 stars for being a fun if disposable entry in the jokester buddy action subgenre.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Bulletproof is:

10. Egalitarian/anti-capitalistic.  “Everything we get we split down the middle, right?” Keats affirms with Moses.  “Anybody who would drop a hundred grand on a car deserves to have it stolen and then deserves to get the shit kicked out of them,” Moses says in defense of his profession.  Business owner Colton is a vicious drug lord.

9. Racist! – and specifically anti-Semitic.  “Anybody ever tell you you look like a struck match?” Keats asks a darker-skinned colleague.  Car thief and heroin smuggler Moses’s name irreverently suggests the stereotypical roles of comedian, doper, duper, and robber for Jewry.

8. State-skeptical.  Dedicated cops like Keats are honest, but the FBI is infested with crooks.

7. Pro-miscegenation.  Keats displays an easy, familiar way with white women in a bar.  High yellow Traci, however, affords the closest thing to a white girlfriend that the film could permit the character to have without technically crossing the color line. When Moses and Keats stop at a rural motel, Moses tries to convince the proprietor, seemingly slow-witted Charlie (Mark Roberts), that his wife might enjoy a threesome.  “Me, you, the old lady.  A little sandwich action? [. . .] You’re a piece of white bread, she’s a piece of white bread, I’m the salami, let’s give it a shot.”  Moses, sporting a matador’s outfit, also does his best to charm a bevy of Mexican beauties at the end.  (See also no. 1.)

6. Anti-drug.  Keats’s father died of heroin addiction and Moses’s mother smokes too much weed.  Drug kingpin Colton and his associates are murderers.  The film is ambivalent, however, to the extent that Moses suffers no repercussions from his own marijuana smoking, as that particular drug is treated as something relatively harmless and cute.

5. Anti-Christian.  Fake Bibles are used to smuggle heroin and thus literally contain the opiate of the masses.

4. Relativist.  “You don’t realize there’s a gray area in life,” Moses explains to Keats.  “That’s where most people live.”

3. Misogynistic.  From bar sluts to strippers to Moses’s dope-smoking mother, positive portrayals of women are nowhere to be found.  Worst, Keats’s girlfriend turns out to be working for Colton.  (Cf. no. 1.)

2. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger.  Keats and Moses, a black man and a Jew, are friends and learn to set aside their differences, which are never racial, to overcome adversity and work in harmony.  Keats, whose real name is Jack Carter, demonstrates his familiarity with English literature in choosing his undercover moniker.  Moses, meanwhile, earns wigger points by saying things like, “Ooh, that’s the old school shit.”

1. Pro-gay.  “I’m falling in love with you all over again,” Moses tells Keats in a line that pretty well encapsulates the subtext of the relationship between the two men.  For all their show of facetiousness and playful insult, the gay angle comes up again and again – too often to be just an occasional joke as they constantly bicker and make up like scrappy, cantankerous, loving spouses.  Earlier in the film the two check into a motel’s honeymoon suite, where Moses, while lathering himself in the shower, serenades his friend with a rendition of “I Will Always Love You” – and it is significant that Keats, though in a smug, defiant manner, later echoes the song in delayed reply.  The motel scenes are heavily laden with suggestions or near-acts of homosexuality between the two leads and the proprietor, Charlie.  Moses, before suggesting the aforementioned threesome, tries to convince Charlie that Keats is gay and feeling amorous.  “He says he’s not gay, but, uh, let’s see what a few drinks and a back massage will do to him, huh?  That might gay him up a little, don’t you think?”  “I’d like to make out with you in the dark,” Moses confides to Charlie before trying to kiss him after a narrow escape.

There is also frequently an S&M/B&D flavor to the two leads’ companionship.  Moses spends most of the film in handcuffs, submissive to the dominant will of Keats, who ties him face-down to a toilet full of his turds after sticking his pistol up Moses’s anus.  Moses talks at length about urinating on Keats.  “I want his asshole cuffed to his nuts,” Keats has threatened earlier.  Moses also betrays a potential latent desire for crime boss Colton when, vouching for Keats’s thug credibility, he avows, “If he’s a cop I’ll suck your dick, Mr. Colton.”  Colton is unsuccessful in attempting to collect on the pledge, however, when Moses punches his genitals.  Significantly, Keats’s girlfriend Traci is revealed to be working for Colton – a necessary development if she is to be removed as an obstacle to the heroes’ intimacy.  “You pretend that Archie Moses doesn’t exist, which is making you miserable twenty-four hours a day,” she tells Keats with considerable perception.  These, the viewer has always realized, are two men who cannot live without each other.

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