Archives for posts with tag: Florida

rough night

Aspiring state senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson) agrees to join a handful of her old college friends for one last decadent blast in Miami before tying the knot. The challenge will be to get through the debauchery of the bachelorette blowout planned by old pal Alice (Jillian Bell) without tarnishing her public image in advance of the vote. Some tension between the chubby Alice and Jess’s new Australian buddy Pippa (Kate McKinnon) notwithstanding, the getaway seems to be going well enough until the accidental death of a stripper (Ryan Cooper), which has the women scrambling to dispose of the body before their lives – and, of course, Jess’s electoral prospects – are ruined forever. Rough Night is not exactly bad in the way that being bent over a toilet vomiting is bad, for example; but it is rather bad in the sense that the feeling of having squandered an evening is arguably worse.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Rough Night is:

6. Green, with Al Gore receiving an endorsement.

5. Pro-gay, with Ilana Glazer appearing as token lesbian buddy Frankie. A black transvestite DJ also contributes to the movie’s festive atmosphere.

4. Activism-ambivalent. Frankie participates in a protest of government surveillance, but her idealism is characterized as, at best, a side-effect of the idleness of the unemployed. Hers is a loser’s pastime, a dismissive assessment reinforced when she later announces her resolution to take a “protest dump”.

3. Pro-miscegenation – and, honestly, it’s the rare Hollywood product these days that doesn’t fall into this category in one way or another. This time, it’s mystery meat lesbos.

2. Feminist/pro-slut, with Alice looking forward to “swimmin’ in dick”. Alice’s assortment of sex novelties – penis glasses and the like – is supposed to be funny, but the whole hedonistic ethos unintentionally bores and comes across as stale in this film, which surely represents peak slut and the high-water mark for blasé depravity in western civilization. Blair (Zoe Kravitz) experiences a revelatory orgasm when, as part of a plan to steal a surveillance video, she participates in a threesome with swinger Demi Moore and her husband. The consequences of promiscuity are, moreover, trivialized when one of Blair’s friends reassures her, “Whatever. We all have HPV.” Anyone, the screenplay suggests, who has had sex after 1991 has probably contracted HPV – so what’s the point of being careful, right? The stripper dies immediately after having called Jess a slut, the viewer having the impression that his death is a form of instant karma.

1.Pro-drug. In a flashback sequence to Jess’s college days, she wears a costume referencing marijuana culture. Frankie, complimented on her scent, replies that she has a pound of weed in her bra. Elsewhere, the movie promotes abuse of prescription drugs like the tranquilizer Xanax (“Oh, God, that was good”). Perhaps most disturbingly, Rough Night joins the ranks of Ted, Trainwreck, White Girl, and Office Christmas Party in rehabilitating recreational cocaine use. Coke, in Rough Night, facilitates the bonding of a girls’ night out: “It would mean so much to me if we could do a little bit of cocaine together,” Alice pleads. The filmmakers could point to the fact that Alice is under the influence of cocaine when she accidentally kills the stripper – but her sexual recklessness turns out to have been serendipitous when the stripper is revealed to have been a dangerous criminal.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

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Spring_Breakers_poster

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

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

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

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Spring Breakers is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baseball’s black deity, Jackie Robinson, gets the big screen treatment again in 42; and, with the exception of some suspensefully staged ball-playing sequences, it is a thoroughly pedestrian, by-the-numbers portrait of an uninteresting but inspirational figure who is less a living, breathing human being than the inspirational embodiment of an inspirational ideal.  For the most part, this inspirational film is a repetitive series of inspirational scenes in which whites express schock, hostility, and ultimately admiration as the inspirational Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) encounters and inspirationally overcomes racist adversity; provides inspiration to fellow blacks; or inspirationally embraces his wife (Nicole Beharie) and tells her he loves her – all as the mandatory inspirational strings and brass inspirationally swell and soar at appropriately inspirational moments.

Chadwick Boseman, who resembles a young Wesley Snipes, is adequate but less than revelatory in the role of Jackie Robinson; although, to be fair, such lackluster material would probably challenge and stump any actor to make something interesting of it.  The same goes for Nicole Beharie as his wife and Andre Holland as sportswriter Wendell Smith.  Geriatric, bespectacled Harrison Ford affects (?) a raspy grumble as color-blind Branch Rickey, the lovable old voice of morality at the heart of the film, and is probably 42‘s most notable asset.

Unfortunately, writer-director Brian Helgeland has some things to learn about crafting crowd-pleasing narratives of racial emancipation in these post-Django times.  For instance, in a locker room scene, Robinson confides to fellow Dodger Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) that he waits and showers after his teammates rather than joining them because he wants to avoid making any of them uncomfortable.  Inexplicably and inexcusably omitted is what ought, again in this post-Django age, to be the obligatory reference to why Robinson defers in the matter of showers.  The truth, of course, as every intelligent viewer of 42 must know, is that the wise and humble Robinson fears frightening the scurrying whites by unparking his jurassic prick – and yet, when Branca eventually persuades Robinson to shower with them, nothing so much as a bug-eyed reaction shot or a double-take is inserted to indicate the inspirational monstrousness of our hero’s penis.

In simpler, happier, less degraded times, Helgeland penned one of this reviewer’s favorite horror films, 1988’s 976-Evil.  One can only assume that his fee for that script was an infinitesimal fraction of the price he commands as a screenwriter today in the Hollywood major leagues; and yet, to have fallen from those satanic teen horror heights of the 1980s to churning out boring p.c. fluff to indoctrinate the masses demands serious consideration of one implacably flame-engulfed question: is the money really worth it? – for what shall it profit a screenwriter if he gain Hollywood and lose his individuality in the process?

2.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 42 is:

9. Anti-Catholic.  A Catholic youth group’s sanctimonious meddling loses adulterous Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) his job.

8. Pro-marriage/pro-family.  Them was differnt times, y’understand.

7. Anti-science.  Study of human biodiversity is made the stuff of mockery when one pressman laughs at another for suggesting that blacks’ longer heel bones give them an unfair physical advantage in baseball.

6. Capitalist – albeit probably inadvertently.  42 presents a sympathetic portrait of businessman Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  While Rickey’s motive for integrating baseball is, as he explains, motivated by his desire to right a moral wrong, he is also taking the risk to satisfy the niche market of black baseball fans.  More importantly, 42 demonstrates the ability of the market to regulate civility and race relations without the interference of government agencies.  When Robinson’s old team the Kansas City Monarchs stops at a filling station and the attendant forbids him to use the whites-only restroom facilities, Robinson threatens on behalf of the club to take their business elsewhere – so that the attendant, fearful of losing the money these black customers represent, relents and allows Robinson to relieve himself.  Viewers are thus reminded that before affirmative action and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 there were healthy competition, choice, and consequently stronger private property rights.

5. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger.  In an inspirational turn, more and more whites respond positively to Robinson’s inspirational trailblazing.  Rickey relates to Robinson an anecdote about how he saw a young white boy at play and pretending he was Robinson – a white boy wanting to be like a black man!  How . . . inspirational.

4. Anti-South/anti-white.  Florida hicks threaten to attack a house where Robinson is staying.  Throughout 42, the southerner’s drawl might as well be the mark of the Beast, and there is actually a character listed in the credits as “Cracker”.

3. Black supremacist.  A previously skeptical racist, after seeing him play, concedes that Robinson might after all be a “superman”.  A reporter speculates that blacks will run whites right out of the game.  A little black boy (Dusan Brown) who shows up occasionally for cutesie points, always starry-eyed over Jackie Robinson, demonstrates blacks’ superior vocabulary by saying “discombobulated”.

2. Christian.  Rickey invokes the Bible more than once and compares the necessities of Robinson’s task to the prescriptions of Jesus Christ.  “Life Is a Ball Game”, the gospel song that plays as the credits roll, informs viewers that Jesus is waiting for Robinson at the home plate.

1. Anti-racist/anti-fascist/progressive (i.e., pro-yawn).  A trite narration opens the film, perpetuating the myth of the “greatest generation”, celebrating America’s “victory” over fascism in WW2, and explaining to the audience how blacks, despite being especially responsible for this “victory”, returned home only to face the atrocities of Jim Crow era segregation.  Rickey later equates the war against the Nazis with the civil rights struggle at home, the implication being that racist southerners and other internal opponents of integration are just like the Nazis – an enemy to be destroyed.  A group of racist teammates creates a petition objecting to Robinson’s presence in their game, dubbing this document the “Brooklyn Dodger Declaration of Independence” and in this way associating the country’s slave-owning founders with a heritage of racism shared by the KKK and the Nazis.  “A Jew probably wrote that,” racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) scoffs when confronted with an editorial scolding him for his shameful baiting of Robinson – a reminder that blacks and Jews are in it together when it comes to combating and exorcising the pale racist specter that haunts America.

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