Archives for posts with tag: microcosm

It Comes at Night

A plague has decimated the United States, plunging the population into anarchy and reducing living standards to the bare rudiments. Rather than offering a panoramic view of the cataclysm, however, It Comes at Night opts instead to tell this story on an intimate level, with a minimal cast, and through the interactions of two families trying to survive in a forested wilderness.

Joel Edgerton lives in a remote house with wife Carmen Ejogo and son Kelvin Harrison. The death early on of the mother’s father, played by David Pendleton, serves as a reminder of the family’s continued vulnerability to the mysterious pestilence even in their isolation and haunts the remainder of the film.

New tensions are introduced when another family, headed by Christopher Abbott, enters their lives. Edgerton never completely trusts Abbott’s motivations, and lonely and sensitive Harrison finds himself drawn to Abbott’s attractive wife, portrayed by Riley Keough.

Highly effective moments of paranoia reminiscent of John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing enhance this morose and often oppressive horror drama, tipping this review in favor of a recommendation. 4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that It Comes at Night is:

3. Anti-gun, with firearms contributing to a tragic denouement instead of successful home defense.

2. Pro-miscegenation, with Edgerton married to a black woman and helping to raise her black son (it is never clear whether Harrison is supposed to be Edgerton’s biological or adopted son, but he looks too dark-skinned to be the former). The film includes a dream-turned-nightmare fantasy scene in which Keough grotesquely straddles and smooches the congoid boy before spewing black plague-slime into his face. Perhaps inadvertently, the scene conveys the temptation to miscegenation as well as the sense that there is something wrong and unnatural about it.

1.Borders-ambiguous. Writer-director Trey Shults has said that It Comes at Night is fundamentally about “fear of the unknown”; and one expression of this in the film is instability created by the unexpected presence of an outsider. Viewed microcosmically, It Comes at Night can be interpreted as an allegory about the immigration debate and the popular call for a wall and strong protectionist measures. Christopher Abbott, who plays the stranger, has some Italian ancestry, but could easily read visually as a mestizo. His character enters the lives of Edgerton and his family when he breaks into their home hoping to find supplies – he is, in other words, illegal and undocumented – but is allowed to move into the house with his wife and child after winning Edgerton’s trust with successful food-for-water barter. His presence, tolerated on pretexts of mutual economic benefit and universal compassion, also represents a threat to Edgerton’s family’s domestic security, however; and, just as Mexicans entering the United States have brought with them illnesses such as highly virulent strains of tuberculosis, Abbott and his family carry with them the risk of plague contagion. Perhaps endorsing this reading is Shults’s description of the climactic sequence as a “Mexican standoff” and his confession during his commentary on the film that, “I was reading books on genocide and thinking about, like, us as humans, you know, and how long we’ve been on this planet and that […] ingrained in us is tribe mentality, you know, and, like, basically, these two families are these two tribes.” The inability of the two men to maintain a peaceful collaboration is treated as a tragedy, but one that could have been avoided if their paths had never crossed – if, for example, Edgerton’s home security precautions had been more thoroughgoing and Abbott had never been able to break into his home in the first place.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Black Sea

Directed by documentarian Kevin MacDonald – no, not that Kevin MacDonald – Black Sea is a taut, gritty undersea suspense feature, a fine addition to the venerable submarine subgenre that manages to be original while also echoing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) in its story of treachery motivated by lust for gold. Jude Law, never one of this writer’s favorite actors, turns in a surprisingly masculine turn as an unemployed submariner who signs on with a ragtag, half-British, half-Russian team of dead-enders to swipe a sunken cache of Nazi gold and spite his previous employers by beating them to the punch. Black Sea also packs a major plot twist that ratchets the tension nicely. Definitely recommended.

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

4. Anti-tobacco. Peters (David Threlfall) has emphysema, reminding audiences of the dangers of smoking.

3. Anti-fascist. The backstory on the treasure is that Hitler, with Nazi Germany’s economy on the verge of collapse in 1941, extorted an exorbitant “loan” from Stalin’s “neutral” U.S.S.R. with a threat of invasion if the demanded sum was not received. The implication would seem to be that, while the communists enjoyed an ebullient economy, Hitler’s Third Reich was an inefficient basket case that could generate prosperity only through intimidation and violence. Nazis in a sunken sub are also revealed to have engaged in cannibalism.

2. Anti-corporate, anti-bankster. Financial elites inspire loathing and corporate players cannot be trusted.

1. Egalitarian. Robinson (Jude Law) dictates that every man in the crew is to receive an equal share of the booty regardless of his specific responsibilities or national origin. The submarine therefore functions as a microcosm of an experimental socialist society – one that sinks or floats on the strength of collective cooperation. Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn, reunited with Killing Them Softly costar Scoot McNairy, who plays corporate weasel Daniels) is the unredeemable teabagger type in the group, who thinks his ethnic cohort deserves a bigger share of the loot and refuses to share with the Russians. It is Fraser, with his combination of individualistic greed and jingoism, who will more than once put the crew in serious peril. Robinson, through his climactic demonstration of heroism, proves to be motivated more by a sense of justice and vengeance against a hostile elite than by greed or personal pettiness.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone, who previously suffered and grunted to great effect in the excellent Lock Up (1989), gets thrown into the slammer again in Escape Plan as Ray Breslin, the Harry Houdini of incarceration. Breslin is so adept at egress from maximum security penitentiaries that he actually makes his living at it, hiring out his services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and going undercover in different correctional institutions across the country to test their tightness. Breslin finds himself in the bind of his life when he agrees to try his hand at the Tomb, a CIA-commissioned, privately operated black prison “off the grid” and designed for containing dissidents the government would prefer to see “disappeared”. This time Breslin’s sentence is more than a game.

A gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger plays second fiddle to Stallone’s hero, but does add considerably to the fun of the film. He is given one moment of greatness equal to his larger-than-life persona when, in testosterone-mainlining slow motion, he levels a machine gun and mows down a gallery of disposable baddies. Jim Caviezel, unfortunately, is inadequate to the task of furnishing proper antagonism for the likes of the two leading titans. Sam Neill collects a paycheck for playing a tiny supporting role as the prison’s doctor, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson keeps it real representin’ the African-American computer genius community as Breslin’s loyal “techno-thug” Hush.

Escape Plan has exactly two things going for it: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script is lame and about as original as the title, with typical lines of dialogue being, “You hit like a vegetarian”; “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, motherfucker!”; and, still more amazing, this brilliantly sarcastic coup of a zinger: “Have a lovely day, asshole.” Weaknesses aside, the story is fast-paced, the performances are fun, and the dynamite action combo of Stallone and Schwarzenegger will be a difficult one for fans to resist.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Escape Plan is:

7. Anti-tobacco. A guard’s routine of taking a smoke break causes him to be distracted.

6. Pro-miscegenation. The streets of New Orleans teem with interraciality.

5. Anti-Christian. Schwarzenegger, putting on a show of insanity for the guards, spouts religious nonsense in German. Stallone tears a page out of a Bible and burns it.

4. Anti-torture. Guards pummel Stallone and force water down Schwarzenegger’s throat with a hose.

3. Anti-neoconservative. The Tomb, with its savagery, high-tech surveillance, and disregard for citizens’ constitutional rights, serves as a microcosm of life in post-9/11 America. Giving the lie to the Islam-bashers, Muslim prisoners are violent only when they are provoked.

2. Anti-cronyism/anti-capitalistic. The Tomb is operated by “Blackwater rejects” who do the dirty work of corrupt, authoritarian governments and international bankers. “From a financial standpoint I like it,” Breslin’s business partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) says on hearing about the Tomb and the money he stands to make by cooperating with the CIA. Schwarzenegger is an anarchist or revolutionary of some sort who seeks to bring down the financial establishment.

1. Anti-state. The Tomb is administered by the significantly monickered Mr. Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who boasts, “In here you have no control over any part of your life, except your breathing.” Of interest, too, is the deindividuated design of the brutal prison screws, who wear S.W.A.T.-flavored get-ups and charcoal-black masks with Caucasian features. Could this be a commentary on the reality of life under fake black president B.O., whose ballyhooed skin color masks exactly the same opportunism that motivated his predecessors in office?

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