Archives for posts with tag: movie review

Sequestrada

This is a weird one. Tim Blake Nelson, who furnished the voice of a cockroach in 1996’s Joe’s Apartment, here essays a similar role as Thomas, the representative of an American energy concern that, as the back of the Sequestrada DVD case informs us, is “building an illegal damn [sic] in the Amazon.” Thomas has come to Brazil to convince a tribe of semi-civilized jungle Indians, the Arara, to acquiesce in the face of a massive development project that threatens to displace them from their land. He encounters fiercer resistance than he bargained for, however, when Roberto (Marcelo Olinto), a local pen-pusher and liaison with the area’s Indians, frames Thomas for kidnapping a girl from the Arara. Roberto himself is the creep who is hiding the underage girl, Kamodjara (Kamodjara Xipaia), in his hotel room and preventing her from finding her way back to her family. What starts out as a pretty bland travelogue-cum-ethnography actually starts to get entertaining when Kamodjara’s incensed tribesmen abduct Thomas from a police station, haul him back to their home in a boat, and hold him as a prisoner in the jungle. Unfortunately, Sequestrada risks blurring the line between the depiction of pedophilia and the commission of child abuse in more than one scene between Roberto and his unwilling companion. In getting across that Roberto is sexually tempted by a girl who looks to be approximately twelve years old, for instance, was it really necessary for the camera to show his point of view by lingering on the girl’s rear end or to show him leering down at her as her head is in his lap?

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

Feminism-skeptical. Kamodjara, when she arrives in the big city, is interested in locating a place she heard about where women live self-sufficiently without any men, and she later recounts a myth about the pieces of a chopped-up snake transforming into men who attack a girl, men being untrustworthy and reptilian in origin. If anything, however, Kamodjara’s ordeal demonstrates a girl’s vulnerability without her father.

Anti-white. The white men in the film, whether American or Portuguese Brazilian, seek to exploit and dominate what is not theirs. Kamodjara explains that “my people tried to live with the wild beasts and the brancos [i.e., whites]. But the brancos kill our river. They created a monster wall to kill my river. They lie. I will not live with their lies.”

Green. “Hundreds more dams are planned for the Amazon, which would release a flood of toxic greenhouse gases, accelerating catastrophic climate change,” a blurb at the end of the movie alleges, adding, “The effect of Amazon rainforest being destroyed is so immense, no scientist can fully calculate it.” Sequestrada’s credits give a “Special Thanks” to “climate finance” operation the Climate Policy Initiative and acknowledge “Additional Support” from United Nations University, the Henry Luce Foundation, Tinker Foundation, and George Washington University. Whatever their ultimate agenda, it certainly wasn’t promotion of Brazilian tourism.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

Art of Racing

Not being an animal lover, I’ve never been much of a dog movie aficionado; but now and then, if I’m feeling up for some furry sentimentality, a properly heart-tugging pooch pick can hit the spot. The Art of Racing in the Rain, pleasantly, is a superior entry in the genre and distinguishes itself with a benign eccentricity. Kevin Costner furnishes the voice of Enzo, who narrates his life with his friend and master, Denny (Milo Ventimiglia), an up-and-coming race car driver and all-around likable and lickable guy. Enzo’s idylls are complicated when Denny falls in love and eventually marries and starts a family; but, even though he now has to share his best friend with these newcomers, Enzo selflessly remains his master’s devoted companion. The old dog increasingly feels a sense of helplessness as tragedy visits Denny’s household; but, though Enzo is mostly a passive observer and not an important player in the human events around him, he does get the chance to give his master a crucial nudge when it counts. With the exceptions of its abundant pee-pee-poo-poo content and Enzo’s brief, off-color remark about the plumpness of a pair of human buttocks, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a shockingly wholesome and politics-free dog-centric family drama, with no drag queens, beleaguered refugee children, or man-made climate change catastrophes to be found.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Art of Racing in the Rain is:

Media-credulous. Enzo views television as a valuable source of information and insight into human behavior.

Class-conscious. Though he never exactly articulates it, Denny’s wealthy father-in-law clearly looks down on Denny’s working-class background and ungentlemanly profession. When the father-in-law attempts to manipulate the justice system to wrest custody of Denny’s daughter away from him, the viewer is left with the impression that the rich use the courts as a venue for class-based lawfare.

New Age, promoting the idea of reincarnation. Enzo hopes to experience his life so deeply that he will imprint its lessons and memories on his soul for his next life as a human. “I know death is not the end,” Enzo insists.

Pro-life and pro-family. “It must be amazing to have a body that can carry an entire creature inside,” remarks Enzo when Denny’s wife becomes pregnant. Later, after the baby is born, he reflects, “I had never encountered a creature quite so beautiful.” Denny is even forgiving of his jerk father-in-law after his ordeal in the courts, the integrity of the family bond being paramount.

Pro-white. Intraracial procreation by healthy, attractive, and intelligent white people constitutes a revolutionary act in America’s twenty-first century. In Denny, The Art of Racing in the Rain presents a positive image of a white father who even evinces a hint of the Faustian when he explains, “if you intentionally make the car do something, you don’t have to predict. You control the outcome. […] When I’m in a race car, I’m the creator of my own destiny. That which you manifest is before you. Create your own conditions and rain is just rain.” Later, Enzo observes that Denny has willed a victory into reality “because he needed one.” At the end of the movie, Denny lives happily ever after – significantly, in Europe. (Interestingly, identitarian sentiment even exerts a nagging but ineffectual pull on Enzo. “I thought about escaping,” he says. “I wanted to push everyone away and run off to live with my ancestors on the high desert plains of Mongolia.” Earlier, Enzo makes the ambiguous confession, “Sometimes I hate what I am.” It is not entirely clear from the context whether he means only that he would prefer to be a man, or whether he indicates resentment about his subservient status. Does he sometimes hate being a dog or only being a domesticated dog?)

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

Satanic Panic

Purple-haired feminist filmmaker Chelsea Stardust’s tongue-in-cheek horror outing Satanic Panic offers more or less what one would expect from the title and poster, and if anything was probably marginally better than I was expecting. The cute presence of actress Hayley Griffith in the lead goes a long way toward making this ultimately disposable movie smell a little bit less like the garbage it really is. Griffith stars as financially struggling millennial Sam Craft, who just started her new job as a pizza delivery girl and needs every penny of every tip she can get. Venturing out of the pizzeria’s delivery radius in order to score what she hopes will be a big tip in an affluent community called Mill Basin, she instead stumbles into a devil-worship cult’s human sacrifice ritual and spends the rest of the night defending herself against rich occultists and otherworldly beings – which, pleasantly, are realized without the assistance of any cheesy CGI. Gross highlights include a bloodsucking kitchen creation, a grab-happy forest monster, worm-vomiting, and the sickening sight of a man’s intestines being pulled out through his mouth – all of which ought to satisfy the fanbase of Fangoria, which produced.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Satanic Panic is:

Class-conscious, suggesting that the wealthy get rich through evil – perhaps even satanic – machinations, and meanwhile stressing the protagonist’s working-class background in her victimhood and her struggle against them. Sam’s troubles begin when one of the Satanists fails to give her a tip to cover her gas – fails to pay his fair share, in other words. A stereotypically smug and entitled frat house jerk also stiffs her for a tip.

Anti-white. All of the nasty rich people are white, and the only blacks who appear in the film work at the pizzeria. A trashy old woman to whom Sam delivers a pizza mistakes her at first for “Mexicans”. She then gives Sam a tacky sweater that, as Sam later complains, “smells like racism”. Sam finds antagonism, therefore, not only among the upper class, but among the common people whose ranks she aspires to leave behind, if only culturally.

Misandrist. No positively depicted male characters appear in the film, and Sam is first harassed, then almost raped, and finally actually raped and impregnated before successfully escaping from Mill Basin. Her boss at the pizzeria is also unfeeling, and the coworker who helped her get the job expects to be able to get into her pants in return. Still a virgin, Sam has spent her life avoiding such advances. Significantly, the only male character given favorable mention in the script is an old boyfriend who had cancer, was unable to perform sexually, and was therefore no threat to her womanly independence. The ending has Sam happily riding her motorcycle into the clueless twilight of her solitary and probably nonprocreative future.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit might be a fantastic movie; but, not belonging to the target demographic of teenage girls, I really have no idea and I don’t especially want to know. From my perspective as an irrelevant, middle-aged man, this is a pretty drab attempt at giving a new generation its Flashdance – a cultural touchstone referenced briefly in Teen Spirit. Elle Fanning does nothing to endear herself to this reviewer with her sullen, uncharismatic performance as Violet Valenski, a Polish girl who longs to escape humdrum farm life on the Isle of Wight by winning a singing contest. Supporting player Zlatko Buric is Teen Spirit’s sole saving grace as a washed-up Croatian opera singer and alcoholic, Vlad, who becomes Violet’s voice coach and manager. I suspected the movie was about to become fun and interesting when Vlad takes a shine to Violet’s stubborn mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) and tries to court her; but, alas, this little thread is abandoned in favor of several instantly forgettable Katy Perry tier synthesized musical numbers and brainless teenage drama.

2.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Teen Spirit is:

Anti-Christian. Singing in a choir is boring for Violet, who wants to be the next Gwen Stefani. Her mother gives her a crucifix that belonged to her father, warning that she is unsure whether it brings good or bad luck. Violet, who finally decides to remove it, must come to the conclusion that Jesus is fake news.

Inclusive. Whites, blacks, and mystery meats intermingle freely, and Violet recruits a rock band of odd-looking black youngsters to tour with her.

Disingenuously pro-Slav. In contrast to the villains and prostitutes typically presented by Hollywood as representative Eastern Europeans, Teen Spirit offers Slavs a path to redemption by immigrating to Western Europe and becoming global citizens – in effect, ceasing to be themselves and reproduce their own cultures. Violet does, however, at least appear to stay true to her roots in that the ugly outfit she wears for her climactic performance seems to have been a designer’s botched attempt to glamorize an Adidas tracksuit.

Globalist. The arbitrary choice of the Isle of Wight as a setting appears to have no serious purpose, apart from promoting placelessness, as Teen Spirit might just as well have been set in any other region of the neoliberal West. Like every other such locale, no matter how remote or ancient, it exists as an interchangeable piece of real estate merely waiting to be populated with increasing quantities of diversity. The island ultimately validates its existence by integrating its cultural life with glitzy globohomogeneity. Teen Spirit’s end credits roll to Elle Fanning singing “Wildflowers”, the lyrics of which celebrate lost innocence and cosmopolitan triumphalism: “Every city was our city. Every road was our road.”

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

operative

This Israeli-made thriller follows a mysterious, emotionally complicated Mossad recruit, Rachel (Diane Kruger), as she takes an undercover assignment in Iran, posing as an English teacher, and helps to subvert Iran’s nuclear ambitions as part of Israel’s Operation “Business as Usual”, which involves duping the Iranians into purchasing defective technology. Her mission leads to her sexual involvement with an Iranian electronics magnate, Farhad (Cas Anvar), prompting Rachel’s Mossad bosses to wonder whether her loyalty is divided. Martin Freeman, meanwhile, appears as Rachel’s beta orbiter Mossad handler.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Operative is:

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

Islamophobic! Islam is depicted as an oppressive force in Iranian life, with massive likenesses of Ayatollahs glaring down at Rachel when she first arrives in the country. As a woman, she has to cover her hair with a scarf in public, and the threat of Islamic rape culture is made real for Rachel when she has to hide in the secret compartment of a truck with a desert yokel who grabs her and finger-diddles her.

Sexist! Rachel, rather than embodying the female super-spy cliché that viewers are probably expecting, is instead depicted as a dishonest, undependable, and erratic liability – the Eternal Thot whose lust for an exotic, hairy-faced Iranian places Israeli security in peril.

Anti-anti-Zionist and anti-Corbynite. Rachel’s father is described as a “British liberal” who “hated Israel”, and her name, Rachel Currin, which sounds rather like Rachel Corrie, may be intended to foreshadow her eventual betrayal of the Mossad.

Pro-Israel. The Operative depicts Israelis as harboring no ill will toward the Iranian people themselves. Rather, it is the Iranian government and the threat it ostensibly poses to Israel that motivates the men and women of the Mossad to take drastic and violent measures.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

dead dont die

Did I only imagine that there was ever a certain profundity lurking behind the absurdity of Jim Jarmusch movies? As a young man, I approached the writer-director’s work with some respect; but, checking in on Jarmusch for the first time since 2005’s Broken Flowers, I just find myself wondering if there was ever a point to all this nonsense apart from propping up globohomo. Bill Murray and the other performers are always fun to watch, but I could never shake the feeling that this is a movie that should have been made fifteen years ago. A self-aware zombie-themed black comedy with a blasé approach to gore and the eerie? Is this non-novelty all that Jarmusch has left in his bag of tricks? At least he seems to be aware of his own obnoxiousness, as evidenced by the grouchy line he gives to Larry Fessenden’s motel owner: “Infernal hipsters with their irony.” Indeed.

3.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Dead Don’t Die is:

Gun-ambivalent. Firearms come in handy in dispatching zombie attackers until the undead finally become too numerous to shoot.

Feminist. In The Dead Don’t Die’s most tiresome cliché, Tilda Swinton plays a flawlessly kickass samurai mortician whose effortless, balletic swordplay makes Uma Thurman in Kill Bill look like the Gimp.

Multiculturalist and pro-miscegenation. “That girl’s part Mexican,” Adam Driver observes approvingly of Selena Gomez. “I have an affinity for Mexicans. They’re like my favorite people. I love Mexico. I’ve been down there twice.” Gomez is one of Fessenden’s “infernal hipsters”, and the exact nature of her relationship with her two traveling companions, a white man and a black man, is never made explicit, though the trio is shown checking into a single motel room with two beds.

Pro-black, as long as the blacks are just the harmless, imaginary creatures that live in Jarmusch’s imagination. RZA appears as a magically benevolent delivery driver, while Jahi Di’Allo Winston plays an environmentally conscious juvenile delinquent.

Green. The zombie outbreak is one of a number of disturbances in the natural order resulting from polar fracking. “A change in the earth’s rotation or its spin rate?” frets Jahi. “That’d be catastrophic for sure. All the cycles of the biosphere would be affected. The natural cycles of sunlight would be disrupted, plants wouldn’t grow, wind patterns would change, and tectonic activity […]”

Irreligious. “Dear Lord in Heaven, help us,” Fessenden cries just before the zombies eat him, no divine help having been forthcoming.

Anti-Trump, featuring Steve Buscemi as the obligatory bigot in the red “Keep America White Again” cap. At “payback time”, vagrant Tom Waits enjoys eating some chicken as he watches zombies attacking the racist Buscemi. Then, after Buscemi comes back as a zombie himself, Bill Murray kills him again, telling him, “You got this comin’.”

Anti-American, but in a boring, nebulous, not particularly intelligent or articulate way. “Centerville, USA,” Tilda Swinton observes sarcastically as she cruises the modest town’s zombie-filled streets: “A real nice place.” Centerville as depicted in The Dead Don’t Die is thus intended to serve as a microcosmic diagnosis of what plagues America. But what, fundamentally, is wrong with Americans in Jim Jarmusch’s assessment? “Remnants of the materialist people,” wise drifter Waits observes of the undead. “I guess they been zombies all along.” Warmed-over remnants of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, is more like it. With everything could have been said about the United States in 2019, Jarmusch zeroes in on … people in flyover country selling their souls for kitchen appliances and new trucks. What year is Jarmusch living in? Ultimately, none of the various thematic concerns come together in a coherent way, and The Dead Don’t Die primarily exists to listlessly entertain and run out the clock on middle-aged liberals and somnambulant stoners.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

dead trigger

This campy and stupid but fun mid-budget entry in the based-on-a-video-game zombie subgenre serves as a decent geriatric Dolph Lundgren vehicle. Here he leads a team of “dead triggers” – losers and outcasts recruited by the government to take on suicide missions in zombie-infested warzones – into post-apocalyptic Terminal City, “Ground Zero” of a plague that for years has enriched monolithic arms-and-pharmaceuticals conglomerate Cyglobe. There’s nothing here that people haven’t seen before, but fans of the genre will probably like it, bad CGI and all.

3.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Dead Trigger is:

[WARNING SPOILERS]

Retro-feminist, introducing not one but several tough-girl ass-kickers of the supermodels-in-tight-outfits variety. “My father wanted me to join the military, but I always wanted to be a scientist.” Yawn. If this movie were really progressive, the representatives of womanly resourcefulness would be fat, heavily tattooed, pierced, and/or trans.

Euthanasist. People have a “right to die”, and “the more we kill, the more we set free.”

Anti-Christian. A preacher (James Chalke) is depicted as a drunkard, and a zombie outbreak in his church serves as an excuse to show Lundgren slaughtering his parishioners. Probably in an ass-covering move, this scene is then revealed to be a sequence from virtual-reality gameplay.

Anti-corporate. Cyglobe has purposefully prolonged the zombie war to profiteer. Any anti-war posturing one might discern in this movie is, however, wholly insincere. “You know, I realized something,” says Tara (Autumn Reeser). “What’s really left of our humanity. It’s us – the humans left to fight. Because despite everything, we still care.” “Humans”, as far as Saban Films is concerned, are those still willing to fight Israel’s wars.

Obama-ambivalent. Dead Trigger was released by Israeli-American Democrat megadonor Haim Saban; and, just as there was a vacillation in Saban’s attitude toward Barack Obama and his Middle East policy, so there is an ambiguity to Dead Trigger’s characters needing to reach and cross the zombie-besieged and curiously named “Obama Bridge” to make their way to safety and escape Terminal City.

Anti-Russian. Dead trigger vet Martinov (UFC fighter Oleg Taktarov) of course turns out to be a traitor who sells out his team to Cyglobe.

Neoconservative – but also playfully conspiracist, perhaps even straying into Revelation of the Method. “Ground Zero”, the designation for Terminal City, where the zombie outbreak (and hence the interminable zombie war) started, immediately calls 9/11 to mind. Linking the zombies with Muslims – rather like World War Z – one scene occurs in a zombie strip club with Arabic architectural motifs; and, again recalling 9/11, Captain Rockstock (Isaiah Washington) tells one zombie, “Have a nice flight”, before throwing it from a balcony. “Ground Zero” is said to contain secrets that could lead to a cure for the plague. In a possibly related development, two zombie-hunting characters known as the “Twins” (Alyona Chekhova and Seira Kagami) are revealed before they are killed to have been in the employ of Cyglobe all along, thus evoking the concept of the “inside job” in conjunction with potentially 9/11-relevant “Twins”. Immediately following this moment is a scene in which dead trigger Naomi (Natali Yura) recounts an Alice in Wonderland fantasy and her desire to lose herself down the “rabbit hole”.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

booksmart

Booksmart is, on the one hand, an involving study of two brainy teenage girls’ unique friendship, and, on the other, a comedy death-fart that did not make me laugh even once. Directed by Olivia Wilde and penned by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman – it apparently takes the combined creative resources of four women to put together a screenplay this unfunny – Booksmart is nothing if not a hoarse and harrowing howl of girl-power intransigence into the maelstrom of Trumpian apocalypse. Unsmiling lesbian Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and smug, RBG-venerating Jewish fatty Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are academic all-stars who reach the end of their senior year with a sudden sense of regret at not having done any partying like their cooler peers during their time in high school. With one last night in which to revel before their graduation, Amy and Molly determine to cut loose and go buck wild whatever the cost. No one can fault the ensemble cast for the energetic, fully invested maniac performances on display; one only wishes the script had given the actors something a little more dignified to do with their talents. Booksmart is fast-paced and never exactly boring, but the accidental-finger-up-the-butt hijinks, microphone fellation, and scoldings about the difference between sexual orientation and “gender performance”, etc., failed to turn the engine in my inner gay pride parade float. This is a movie that does not so much attempt to tickle audiences’ funny bone as thrust its hand down its pants Don Lemon style before rubbing its malodorous fingers under the viewer’s nose in a botched, mentally ill attempt at seduction.

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

Multicultural and pro-miscegenation. The almost uniformly brilliant student body of the girls’ Los Angeles high school seems to be comprised entirely of homosexuals and diversity. Molly’s secret crush, as it turns out, is mystery meat jock Nick (Mason Gooding). Hip black teacher Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), meanwhile, has an end-of-year fling with a Mexican student.

Anti-white. “Straight white man, your time is [over],” proclaims a graduation speaker. In one of the more grotesque expressions of the dumb blonde archetype ever to hit the screen, an athletic but spastic girl named Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) appears to be borderline retarded.

Anti-Trump. The girls’ car displays “Resist” and “Warren 2020” stickers. So brave!

Pro-drug. A dose of psychedelic strawberries has the girls hallucinating and finding themselves in the bodies of Barbie-like dolls, precipitating the obligatory exploration of the objectification of women. Talk to the hand, W.C. Fields. This feminist comedy steamroller can’t be stopped!

Gay. “Amy, do you know how many girls are gonna be up your vagina at Columbia next year? Are you aware of it? ‘Cause I’m aware of it,” the heterosexual Molly assures her best friend. “Every time I come to visit you, you’re just gonna be scissoring a different girl.” Putting in what I suppose is intended as an endorsement of gender-neutral bathrooms, male and female students converge on the same facilities where they gossip, draw dicks, and write obscene messages on the walls. In addition, Booksmart truly puts the Globo in Globohomo by giving a shout-out to increasingly gay-friendly Botswana even as Amy laments the fact that she would be murdered in heterofascist Uganda.

Feminist. Molly aspires to be the next Ruth Bader Ginsberg, while Amy rejects male value altogether. “My Body My Choice,” booms a poster on her wall. “Honestly, ‘pushy’ is a compliment,” Molly observes. “You know who else was pushy? Diane Sawyer. Joan of Arc. Queen Noor of Jordan.” Tediously, one of the movie’s running gags is that Molly and Amy will periodically pause to give each other sassy pep talks and tell each other how hot, fabulous, and empowered they are – almost as if neither one is convinced.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

 

under

A reader suggested that I review this oddity, so it’s with a tinge of sadness that I report that I don’t like it very much. This hodgepodge of conspiracy theories, urban legends, magical realism, cult consumerism, and synchronicity is essentially a hipster version of The X-Files with a self-consciously quirky and ironic millennial spin. Ne’er-do-well protagonist Sam (Andrew Garfield) becomes obsessed with secret messages in popular culture after reading a cheesy zine called Under the Silver Lake. Strange occurrences start to haunt the befuddled hero as he combs Los Angeles hunting for clues, seeking the ultimate profundity of it all, and also tries to track down elusive inamorata Sarah (Riley Keough), who is apparently supposed to be some kind of fascinating woman of mystery but just seems like a dumb and gross pothead to me. Amplifying my annoyance with this movie is that, at 139 minutes, it’s so goddamned long and just keeps getting less and less interesting as it progresses. Maybe it’s only that I’ve become a middle-aged fogey, but fuck this movie, altogether a disappointing non-delivery on the promise of writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s previous effort, the superior horror outing It Follows (2014).

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Under the Silver Lake is:

Pro-drug. Sam and Sarah bond over weed and a movie after a meet-cute occasioned by dog poop.

Anti-Alt-Media. As much as Under the Silver Lake might like to market itself as an homage to conspiracy lore and to find an audience among extremely online devotees of hidden history and various autistica, the filmmakers’ condescension is plainly in evidence. The characterization of the pop music industry as an establishment contrivance, of course, has some validity; but, mixed as it is with whimsy about underground tunnels decorated with Egyptian ephemera and guarded by hobo initiates, the brief whiff of truth here and there in this movie is most often overpowered by the stench of bullshit. Sam – whom production designer Michael Perry describes in the DVD extras as a “conspiracy nut” – is a kidult who still plays video games and seems incapable of managing his life. Unconcerned that his rent and car payments are overdue, he instead spends his money in a bookstore or a bar or orders a pizza, the responsibilities of life apparently being beneath him. This representative conspiracy researcher is also a dope smoker for whom, in Perry’s words, “everything’s connected. So we have the Kennedy assassination, World War II, aliens” – dissident investigation of political murders or the facts of the Second World War apparently being on par status-wise with UFOlogy. The writer behind the Under the Silver Lake zine, once Sam meets him, is a bugman whose home is filled with toys, comic books, and pornography – the preoccupations of an arrested development. Even when Sam’s investigations seem to validate his suspicion that surface reality conceals a world of secret meaning, his adventures can still be interpreted as a mere satirization of what goes on inside the heads of alternative media consumers. Under the Silver Lake is not an endorsement of the work of David McGowan, for example, but a cinematic snicker at the suckers who read him. Smug liberal consumers of corporate media will be able to view this film in the comfort of bias confirmation, their point of view personified in the screenplay by Sam’s friend played by Topher Grace. “I used to think that I was gonna be someone that, like, people cared about,” Sam complains. “Maybe do something important” – which his skeptical friend diagnoses as “narcissism and entitlement” – the qualities that presumably motivate rabbit-hole explorers and dissident researchers in the opinion of David Robert Mitchell. Sam’s friend, giving voice to the TV believers, internet conspiracy pooh-poohers, and pop psychologists in the audience, dismisses Sam’s feelings of being followed as “the modern persecution complex. Who needs witches and werewolves anymore, right? Now we have computers. I swear to God, at the very least, the entire population is suffering from mild paranoia. See, our little monkey brains, they’re not comfortable knowing that they’re all interlinked and routed together now in some kind of all-knowing, alien mind hive, and that shit is a straight-up cesspool for delusion, for fear …” In another scene – one that contributes nothing obvious to the advancement of the story – Sam catches some youngsters vandalizing cars and brutally beats them; and I can’t help but wonder if this moment, like the ones I recently spotlighted in Drunk Parents and The Prodigy, speaks to a tribal industry’s anger and anxiety about trollish young white men in the era of the Alt-Right and Trump.

Nihilistic and anti-human. One of the most off-putting things about Under the Silver Lake is that its characters are so unlikably casual and desensitized. Sam absently screws some floozie, for instance, as they watch a news broadcast, and he later turns an old man’s face into a crater, smashing his head repeatedly with a guitar – all of which the filmmakers thought I needed to see in graphic detail for some reason or other – I suppose because they think it’s funny. The casualness with which Sam and the women in his life approach their sexual relationships – the screenplay seems a bit confused as to whether the character is cool or a loser – makes his infatuation with Sarah a bit of an arbitrary head-scratcher given that there’s nothing particularly intriguing about her apart from her looks; and nightmare visions of Sarah and other women barking like dogs serve to reinforce an impression of general contempt for the trainable human animal. The revelation, too, that popular culture emanates not so much from the brilliance of revolutionary artists as from a hidden establishment with ulterior motives, contributes to a feeling of futility and despair as opposed to wonderment. Give up. You can’t win!

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

Replicas

You know you’ve fallen into an awesome Keanu Reeves vehicle when one of the first lines out of the actor’s mouth is, “This man is dead, yet his neurological data is still accessible.” Reeves is bracingly earnest as William Foster, a Faustian darer in the tradition of Frankenstein as he experiments with the transferal of consciousness after death. After his wife and children die in an automobile accident, Foster enlists comic-relief dweeb friend and colleague Ed (Thomas Middleditch) to clone the deceased in order to transplant their minds into blank-slate brains. Soon – much to viewers’ suspense and amusement – Foster finds himself trapped in a “giant, sucking hole of lies” as he tries to keep his life together while concealing his activities from the mysterious medical research project that employs him. Replicas, notwithstanding its abundance of CGI, actually constitutes an exemplar of the old-fashioned mad scientist genre and ought to be remembered as one of the better sci-fi entries in the Reeves filmography.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

4.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Replicas is surprisingly poz-free and:

Miscegenation-ambivalent. After having moved his family to Puerto Rico, Foster finds that his daughter has caught the attention of a local boy named Juan. Foster impersonates his daughter in a text message, declining Juan’s invitation to meet him and claiming to be grounded until age 18; but it is unclear if Foster does this only to create a cover story for his daughter’s temporary disappearance or if he is also a dangerous bigot and Asian-Aryanist supremacist.

Anti-war. The biomedical firm employing the hero is revealed to be a front and to have other, probably military-industrial motives. “Who would spend this much money saving mortally wounded soldiers?” cynically poses Foster’s adversarial project manager, Mr. Jones (John Ortiz). “My God, man, come on. That’s not how you win wars.”

Agnostic. “We’re going straight to hell,” worries Ed; and Foster’s wife (Alice Eve) also expresses apprehensions about the morality of her husband’s research. At stake is the matter of whether human beings have souls or if humanity is “all neurochemistry” – a question never resolved in the screenplay. After the doom-laden, chaotic build-up, it is a little surprising not to see Foster meet with some form of divine retribution. Instead, the cloning of his family is successful, and the viewer is left to assume that they live happily ever after.

Transhumanist. The end of the film presents the synthetic prolongation of consciousness as a potentially ultra-lucrative business venture of the future – a prospect that the end-credits song, “I Will Live Forever”, seems to celebrate.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of the book Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.

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