Archives for posts with tag: genetic research-ambivalent

Nazis at the Center

From They Saved Hitler’s Brain and The Frozen Dead to The Boys from Brazil and, more recently, the gotterdammerung-awful Iron Sky, B-movies have gotten a lot of mileage out of the notion of the Fourth Reich – a return to power by fugitive Nazis who, during the decades intervening since their defeat in World War 2, are supposed to have been plotting and building their organization in some secret hiding place.  Just so that the movie industry can reassure itself that all of the possible bases of Nazi resurgence are covered, Nazis at the Center of the Earth opts for the opposite approach from its cohort Iron Sky, positing that the inevitable Nazi invasion will come not from outside the Earth’s atmosphere, but from within, under Antarctica’s frozen surface.  As in The Boys from Brazil, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele (Christopher Karl Johnson) is the mastermind behind it all.

Nazis at the Center of the Earth, unfortunately, fares little better than Iron Sky; whereas that one groped for laughs with zany, unhumorous humor, Nazis at the Center of the Earth feels like a comedy with all of the jokes removed.  What funniness there is to be had from it derives from the premise, situations, and visuals: graphic but comfortingly absurd gore scenes and even a cyborg Adolf Hitler (James Maxwell Young), or at least the Fuhrer’s sneering head encased in a terrarium planted on top of a CGI robot body.  With the exception of Jake Busey’s singular turn as Antarctic bacteriological researcher Dr. Reistad, however, most of the actors play the material straight, with the result that the film has an uneven tone, ranging from the ridiculous to the incongruously serious.

Jake Busey, both physically and in his screen presence, is very much a chip off the famous old block, and one wishes he had more to do here than standing around looking odd, as Busey is easily Nazis at the Center of the Earth‘s greatest asset.  Basically competent technically, the film still comes up lacking in the entertainment department.  The gore effects are good, but not sufficiently plentiful to carry the day for horror fans; and whatever suspense is generated during the first half hour is dissipated once it becomes clear the story is going nowhere novel or fun.  The wax flake snow, the pedestrian score, the boring moralizing, and chintzy effects all might be forgiven if only this cheap exploitation effort had acknowledged its roots and gone for the throat with the gore or included some sexy material – or, better yet, some humor in the form of one-liners or comedic characters instead of a generalized, intermittent, and anticlimactic absurdism.

2 stars.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Nazis at the Center of the Earth is:

7. Conspiracy theory-friendly.  All those kooks who wrote those books about Nazi flying saucer experiments were right!

6. Euthanasist.  The unfortunate Dr. Maynard (Adam Burch) is kindly put out of his misery by one of his colleagues after being discovered with all of his skin removed.

5. Pro-life/anti-slut.  Dr. Reistad, learning from his girlfriend that she is pregnant, knocks her out and extracts the embryo for its stem cells, which are used to revive the Fuhrer’s head.

4. Zionist.  Dr. Blechman (Andre Tenerelli), captured by the Nazis and identified by Mengele as a Jew, denies this, saying, “No, I’m not religious.”  He is vaporized anyway, having failed to understand that the Nazis and probably WASPs and other gentiles generally hate Jews not because they practice Judaism, but because they are Semites and a biological abomination.  Implicit in Blechman’s punishment is a validation of militant Jewish vigilance.

3. Pro-marriage.  Dr. Morgan (Dominique Swain) accepts when Dr. Moss (Joshua Michael Allen) proposes to her.

2. Anti-Christian.  Hitler seems to be the most religious person in Nazis at the Center of the Earth.  “The Lord of the Universe has been so generous to us in recent years that we bow in gratitude before a Providence that has permitted us to be members of such a great nation,” he proclaims after coming back to life.

1. Anti-racist/anti-fascist/anti-eugenics, etc. (i.e., pro-yawn).  “Bomb every non-Aryan country!” Hitler commands, intending to wipe out the untermensch with flesh-eating bacteriological warheads.  “We are about to start a New World Order where only the strong will survive,” Dr. Mengele explains.

Appearances, as the old saying goes, can be deceiving.  A case in point is Devil’s Angel, recently retitled and rereleased after debuting in 2010 as I’m Not Jesus Mommy.  A controversy-courting film that deals with abortion, child murder, genetic engineering, the New World Order, Christianity, and the end of the world, Devil’s Angel would be an admirably ambitious undertaking regardless of budget, but is especially praiseworthy for its accomplishments on an obvious shoestring.  No less impressive and entertaining is Devil’s Angel‘s deft handling of its ideological agenda.

Voluptuously common-looking (executive producer) Bridget McGrath stars as Kimberly Gabriel, a doctor pioneering fertility treatments for women but who, ironically, has been unable to conceive a child with her husband (Joseph Schneider).  Enter the gauntly sinister, smiling Dr. Gibson (Charles Hubbell), a genetic researcher who drafts reluctant Dr. Gabriel to assist with his government-funded cloning project.  Dr. Gabriel harbors moral reservations about the experiment and the treatment of the embryos, but continues in Gibson’s service for reasons of her own.  Pitiably, in an access of womanly self-indulgence, she steals a vial of clone material scheduled for disposal and artificially inseminates herself in the lab bathroom and breaks the wonderful news to Hubby only have him get upset, storm out of the house, and die in an auto accident.

Flash forward seven years and the country has fallen prey to freezing climate change, crime, dictatorial rule, starvation, and a plague that evaporates people.  Dr. Gabriel is living alone in a squalid apartment with her creepy clone son, little David (beautiful Rocko Hale), and taking life one day at a time.  Dr. Gibson, meanwhile, is now flying his Jesus freak flag high and has moved in with his sister and niece, whose souls he tries his darnedest to save by reading them scary Bible stories by candlelight.  And what of little David, who talks to an imaginary friend, appears to have access to knowledge of future happenings, and can bring dead mice back to life?  What part does he have to play in the end times?  Could the fact that David’s genetic source material comes from the Shroud of Turin possibly have anything to do with any of this?

So far, so seemingly simple and straightforward, with what appears to be a melodramatic Lifetime Network original horror film with a pro-life and survivalist wacko slant.  Twenty or thirty minutes into its story of the repercussions of a cloning experiment gone wrong, however, the viewer must face a burning question.  Is all of this Apocalypse business in earnest or a joke at the expense of Christian audiences?

Clues are provided by the IMDb and Wikipedia profiles for the director, Vaughn Juares – beginning with his real name, Vaughn Garland Smith.  A creator of web videos that include a mock ad for a Jesus Christ action figure, and director of mercenary assignments ranging from spots for American Express and Nestle to Dairy Queen and Democratic  congressional campaign commercials, plus several boob-and-booty-obsessed music videos for Univision, one of which was named AOL’s “Sexiest Video of 2006”, Mr. “Juares” is a professional product hustler and is clearly no choirboy.  With this background in mind, the viewer is advised to take Devil’s Angel‘s religious content with a wafer of salt.

Put bluntly, Devil’s Angel is a con and a Trojan horse, a film that presents itself as one thing and delivers quite another.  An ostensibly Christian film about the dangers of tampering with the natural order of God’s creation actually emerges in the end as an undermining operation aimed at demolishing by sly ridicule the illusions of its probably intended audience.  It is a film, furthermore, that complicates somewhat the task of Ideological Content Analysis, which, however, indicates that Devil’s Angel is:

10. Smartass.  “No animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture.  The mouse was already dead.”

9. Feminist.  Dr. Gabriel stabs a presumptuous male assailant.  Her husband dies in a wreck as punishment for not supporting her unilateral reproductive decision.

8. Prejudiced.  A man in a hoodie attacks Dr. Gabriel, thus perpetuating the cruel stereotype that would take Trayvon Martin’s life.

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Cigarettes are a turn-off and bad for mothers and babies, but wine is sexy stuff to lick from a woman’s neck.

6. Ostensibly and deceptively critical of climate change theory, i.e., crypto-environmentalist.  Not only is the globe not warming; the fact of the matter is that it is freezing!  This is most likely a condescending sop to conservative climate change skeptics who presumably, in this film’s view, would be more likely to believe in global cooling.

5. Ostensibly and deceptively genetic research-critical.  “At some point science will go bad,” Dr. Gabriel reflects early in the film.  The ridiculousness of the religious views expressed in the film are effectively tantamount to an endorsement of mad science.

4. Pro-immigration.  Illegals are captured and persuaded to allow themselves to be used as guinea pig host mothers for the clone project in exchange for mere “permanent resident” status and are portrayed sympathetically as victims of anglo insensitivity and cruelty, including ogling and butt-slapping.  The situation is then reversed when, seven years later, the U.S. has frozen over and Americans are now scrambling to get into Mexico, which responds by building a wall and shooting frostbacks on sight.

3. Ostensibly and deceptively anti-state, i.e., contemptuous of anti-state sentiment – which is to say that Devil’s Angel is crypto-statist in its sympathies.  The government is indirectly responsible for the Apocalypse – sounds like something those zany hard right Tea Partiers would allege, yes? “When it comes to science,” Dr. Gibson exults, “the public doesn’t have a say.”  “Thanks to a liberal president in the White House and the proliferation of broad fetal cell research,” he elaborates, “we are practically mandated to take the next steps in human cloning.”

Most outrageously, the film parodies right-wing nightmares about the New World Order in its characterization of authoritarian post-Obama America.  The new regime’s propaganda arm, the National Information Ministry, has as its symbol an abstract eagle and a paranoid eye at the center of a pyramid.  The tinnily robotic voice of a fuzzy National Information Ministry broadcast (tv reception sucks in the future) warns that the U.S.-Mexico border is a Mexican-designated kill zone for Americans and Canadians.  “Warning: do not eat food products not provided by the National Food Ministry programs.  All food must be obtained with a valid government wristband or other voucher.”  A national curfew is also in effect from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. and government services are unavailable in most areas due to the ice and severe weather ravaging vast stretches of the country.

2. Ostensibly and deceptively Christian and spiritual, i.e., anti-Christian and insultingly crypto-irreligious.  Dr. Gibson, the film’s representative religious nut, scares his sister and gives his niece nightmares with his obsessiveness.  “Jesus will take care of us,” he tells them; but after hearing and being inspired by a spooky radio sermon on Abraham, he smothers the sister with a pillow and then snuffs the little girl with her teddy bear.  Fanatically, he has cloned Jesus only to accidentally bring forth the Antichrist instead.  David’s mother disapproves of his belief in an imaginary friend, telling him, “I used to be a kid like you, imaginary friends and all” – which could be read as the film’s way of implying that religion is no better than the products of a childish imagination.

1. Ostensibly and deceptively pro-life, i.e., fundamentally crypto-pro-choice.  Try as it might to pose as a pro-life propaganda piece, the reality of Devil’s Angel‘s plot remains that the Apocalypse could have been averted by a simple abortion procedure.

I’m impressed with Andrew Garfield, who has exactly the geeky charm and wiry physique I remember Spidey having in the Marvel comic books.  The action sequences in this franchise reboot are adequate, but the Lizard, though played capably in human form by Rhys Ifans, is never quite convincing in full computerized mutation.  For the most part, though, The Amazing Spider-Man is as fun and exciting as might be hoped.  The casting of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May is inspired, and a 2012 Miniskirt Queen of Aryan Purity Award goes to Emma Stone as irresistibly cute love interest Gwen Stacy.  Denis Leary, meanwhile, seems to have made a graceful transition to playing grumpy, older authority figures.  4 of 5 stars.

The Amazing Spider-Man is mostly politics-free fun.  Ideological Content Analysis, however, indicates that this film is:

7. Multiculturalist.  A diverse team of crane operators helps Spidey at the end.  Also, we learn that his famous mask was in fact inspired by a Mexican luchador’s.

6. Antiwar.  An executive at the unscrupulous Oscorp, which is an arms manufacturer in addition to its medical interests, intends to utilize a veterans’ hospital’s patients as guinea pigs for limb regeneration experiments – a reminder of the many mutilated bodies coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.

5. Persistent in perpetuating the idea that angry white males pose a terrorist threat.

4. Anti-gun.  Guns, even when employed responsibly by police (which is not usually the case in this film), are ineffective.  One innocent character dies from a gunshot.

3. Genetic research-ambivalent.

2. Pro-vigilante/anti-police.

1. Leftist.  Uncle Ben, explaining to Peter his absent father’s moral philosophy, sums it up as, “Not choice – responsibility,” which captures the liberal mentality in a nutshell.

This has been a public service announcement of the Committee for Raising Emma Stone to a Pedestal for a Better View.

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