Archives for posts with tag: IFC Films

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

canyons poster

Paul Schrader (Hardcore; Cat People) delivers a characteristically decadent study with this, his eighteenth film as a director. Scripted by Bret Easton Ellis of Less Than Zero and American Psycho fame, The Canyons is at once tawdry, elegant, and meanspirited, and one of the most notable films of the year.

An extremely frank narrative revolves around repulsively spoiled trust fund wastrel Christian (James Deen), who whiles away his days corrupting the people around him and manipulating them like so many toys. So as to satisfy his father that he has an occupation, he dabbles in movies as a producer, which brings him into indifferent contact with handsome, aspiring actor Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk). Christian professes to like to keep his openly open marriage with slut wife Tara (Lindsay Lohan) comfortably “loose” and “complicated”, but finds more complication than he probably desires when he discovers that seemingly wholesome Ryan has a previous history with Tara.

A constant doom hangs over The Canyons, its title both geographically and thematically descriptive of this sun-baked but gloomy experience. Punctuating the film are images of the empty marquees and ruined interiors of once-glorious, now abandoned movie theaters serving at once as commentary on an industry and on the characters’ inner desolation. Hollywood’s stories about itself, from Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place, and The Bad and the Beautiful through Day of the Locust, The Player, and Hollywoodland, have tended to be downbeat affairs, and The Canyons continues in that tradition – less gothically or spectacularly, perhaps, than the more grotesque entries in the genre, but no less despairing by any measure.

Classy in execution if totally tacky in subject matter, The Canyons is well worth seeking out. James Deen is perfectly detestable as Christian, Nolan Funk’s male beauty is appropriately vapid, and luscious but fading Lindsay Lohan is exquisitely cast as jaded but sympathetic hussy Tara.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Canyons is:

5. Anti-drug. “Why are you drinking tequila at noon?” The danger of date rape drugs receives mention.

4. Anti-gay. Homosexuality appears as a predatory symptom of personal and cultural decadence.

3. Class-conscious. Inherited, unearned wealth like Christian’s gives rise to degeneracy and arrogance.

2. Technology-skeptical. Y appears as a generation rotten in inception and already gone to seed, at once precocious and empty-headed, and incapable of conversing over drinks without texting or sexting simultaneously. One suspects that Schrader holds handheld and streaming technology to be at least partly to blame for the murder of those stately old movie houses. Technology, too, has contributed to these young ones’ flippancy with regard to sexual morality. “Nobody has a private life anymore” and “We’re all actors, aren’t we?” Identity theft also looms as a threat in the world of online everything.

1. Crypto-traditionalist/anti-slut. For all its blatant depravity, male frontal nudity, and other marks of deceptively casual nihilism, The Canyons views its characters through a detached but quietly tragic, judgmental, and conservative lens. “I’m just sick of the old school shit about fuckin’ propriety, etiquette, and all that crap [. . .] It’s like when you’re at your family dinner on Sunday and everyone’s just lying, lying . . .” Christian explains – and he and his peers suffer to the degree that they deviate from the outmoded norms. Christian’s name speaks for itself as a sarcastic commentary on an utterly godless generation given to hedonistic materialism and soulless egoism. The only thing missing from The Canyons is the compounded case of venereal pestilence these little horrors would (hopefully) catch if they lived as depicted for very long.

Java Heat poster

This innocuous fix of action exotica has renegade American counterterrorism agent Jake Wilde (obnoxiously handsome model type Kellan Lutz) sojourning in Indonesia in his hunt for the culprit in a string of international terrorist bombings. In a scenario reminiscent of Red Heat and The Kingdom, the irreverent, charmingly ugly American is teamed as an action odd couple with totally serious Indonesian counterpart Lieutenant Hashim (Ario Bayu). Naturally, this far-fetched pairing allows for corny intercultural bonding and mutual respect to develop as the two must set aside their differences if they are to rescue an abducted sultana (Atiqah Hosiholan) and save Lieutenant Hashim’s family from capitalo-terrorist Malik (Mickey Rourke, who tops himself for sleazy weirdness). Java Heat milks its colorful Indonesian locations to pleasing effect, lending to every scene a degree of novelty, and never slows down long enough to be less than amusing.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Java Heat is:

10. Antiwar. Wilde’s younger brother, who joined the military to follow admiringly in his footsteps, is a casualty of the War on Terror.

9. Feminist. A female university student suggests that the sultana’s accession to the throne has been sabotaged for sexist reasons.

8. Anti-slut. Hookers are untrustworthy creatures. Their lifestyle is one of degradation, torture, and personal ruin.

7. Anti-drug. A nightclub slut slips a mickey into Wilde’s drink.

6. Anti-gay. Malik is a pederast. Wilde rebuffs the offer of ladyboy companionship.

5. State-skeptical/media-critical. A self-aggrandizing general plays to the media and stages a raid for publicity. News reports unjustly vilify Lieutenant Hashim.

4. Anti-capitalistic. Behind the highly publicized bogeymen of the War on Terror lies a cynical profit motive for conflict. Malik is the personification of western exploitation of Third World countries.

3. Pro-miscegenation. Wilde is initially a suspect in what is believed to have been the sultana’s death because he flirted with her at a royal soiree. He also has encounters with Indonesian hooker/masseuse types.

2. Pro-family. Wilde and Hashim, a model father, are both motivated by family-oriented grievances.

1. Multiculturalist. “We’re not all terrorists.” Like The Kingdom, Java Heat is at great pains to persuade western viewers that not all Muslims are evil and violent. Toward this end, the film presents an idyllic portrait of Lieutenant Hashim’s happy domestic existence and and his family’s hospitality. As always, the multicultural experience is a humbling one for the Caucasian and particularly for the American, who discovers that he is not so exceptional. “Americans. You are like children.” To Indonesians, an American is only a “bule dog”, or stupid white person. “From now on, we play by my rules. Java rules,” Hashim informs Wilde after getting the best of him in a physical altercation. Hashim embodies the film’s attempt to show that, along with the legendary corruption, the Third World also boasts truly devoted civil servants, dispelling Wilde’s colleague’s assertion that, “They’re all dirty in that country.” Indonesia, though plagued by terrorism, is depicted as representing a potentially peaceful realization of a multicultural society, with Hashim and a Christian colleague on the police force interacting as cultural equals.

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