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True Detective Season 2

The second season of HBO’s bleak series True Detective shifts the scene of the sickness from creepy gothic Louisiana to dystopian southern California, a setting with a more strikingly chaotic ethnic mix that lends itself to an exploration of race relations in America. The plot this time around concerns the intertwined lives and fortunes of vicious but decent-hearted gangster Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) and tortured and tarnished detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and their investigation into the convoluted circumstances of a politician’s death.

Semyon

Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon

True Detective presents a world of demographic horror, an America in which racial loyalties are nonexistent and fealty of any other kind is hard to come by. Whites, blacks, Mexicans, and Jews are all crooked. Mexicans, while distrustful and destructive of whites, also think nothing of killing each other, while whites, finding themselves marooned in an increasingly hostile and meaningless world, grasp at anything they can get. Race-based tensions nevertheless continue to simmer beneath the surface of several of the characters’ interactions. Semyon is a self-made man and a bigot, a walking contradiction who dislikes the changing demographics of the U.S. and seethes with an angry white man’s discontent but is also and at the same time cynically complicit in the smuggling of illegal aliens into his country.

Semyon is also an anti-Semite and calls Israeli gangster Osip Agronov (Timothy Murphy) a “KGB kike motherfucker”. True Detective is rather daring in identifying the true ethnic character of the “Russian” mafia. The series gives Semyon more than one moment of triumphant crowd-pleasing sadism, and it is significant that one of these is reserved not for one of the Jewish gangsters, but for an especially weaselly specimen of the Shabbos goy, or gentile who sells his treacherous services to the Jewish enemy. Leonard Cohen’s excellent theme song, “Nevermind”, is interesting in this context for featuring the lines “I was not caught, though many tried. / I live among you, well-disguised.”

Velcoro

Fred Ward as Mr. Velcoro

In another scene, Semyon pummels and then pulls out the teeth of a mouthy brown-skinned inferior (Pedro Miguel Arce) – content that serves as vicarious satisfaction for Caucasian viewers fed up with pretending to like their laughingly darkening world. Representing such viewers is Velcoro’s father (Fred Ward), a retired policeman who found he was no longer able to carry out his duties properly with the advent of the fuck-the-police zeitgeist that found its explosive expression in the 1992 L.A. riots. The U.S. as it presently stands is “no country for white men,” he observes as he enjoys a black-and-white Kirk Douglas movie. He is one of two aged policemen in True Detective who remarks that blacks’ intensifying hostility toward police made it increasingly difficult for them to do their jobs.

The audience, one suspects, is expected to feel a mingled contempt and sympathy for this old man who has given up on life and squanders what little of it is left to him getting high and living in a televised, mythologized past. A parallel character is the disgusting, whorish ex-dancer mother (Lolita Davidovich) of highway patrolman and ex-mercenary Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). Like old Mr. Velcoro, she prefers the comfort of watching old movies to doing anything productive with her years of decline. Morally and physically decrepit, her narrow, nostalgic tribalism takes the incestuous form of a selfish attachment to her son, who clearly wants nothing to do with her.

True Detective also offers multiple examples of interracial relationships, but none of these is deep, lasting, or free of damaged trust. As one of the season’s other songs suggests, “There’s no future. There’s no past.” – an assessment that could easily apply to America’s multiracial experiment as depicted in these episodes. A feeling of imminent doom pervades not just the lives of the principal characters, but the life of the proposition nation. In one episode, Detective Velcoro visits the set of a cheesy post-apocalyptic action movie – a cartoon version of the American century taking shape around those dumb enough not to notice what has been happening. Indeed, the characters who survive the final episode are those who choose to flee the country – no livable future seemingly being available to them here.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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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.

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