Archives for posts with tag: musical

The Ideological Content Analysis 30 Days Putsch:

30 Reviews in 30 Days

DAY TWENTY-ONE

Electric Boogaloo

Like most men who grew up in the eighties, this writer has a treasure trove of fond memories emblazoned with the immortal Cannon logo. Producers of everything from musicals and dance exploiters like The Apple (1980) and Breakin’ (1984) to science-fiction weirdies like Lifeforce (1985) and the remake Invaders from Mars (1986), the Israeli moviemaking duo of director-visionary-madman Menahem Golan and “shrewd businessman” Yoram Globus is most closely associated with a string of classic over-the-top action movies including Enter the Ninja (1981), Death Wish 3 (1985), American Ninja (1985), The Delta Force (1986), Cobra (1986), and Cyborg (1989). The wild variety of the Cannon output furnishes much of the wonder of this documentary.

Lightning-paced and packed to the gills with interviews with an array of writers, directors, actors, and editors who share with the viewer their first-hand memories of this crazy company, Electric Boogaloo is a feast of film clips, archival footage, and funny anecdotes. At a disastrous preview screening of The Apple, for example, the complimentary soundtracks provided to the audience ended up being angrily thrown and embedded in the screen! Actor Alex Winter describes director Michael Winner as “a pathologically brutal, sadistic, insecure, egotistical character” who delighted in depicting rape, while Sharon Stone “was hated on the set [of King Solomon’s Mines (1985)]. All the South Africans hated her. She took a milk bath [and] they peed in the water.” Meeting with Clyde the orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Golan is said to have turned to his female head of publicity and asked her, “Would you fuck this monkey?” Cannon staple Charles Bronson, meanwhile, is said to have insisted on being chauffered “about three feet from his dressing room” to the set in his personal Jaguar. “It was more like watching a man golf than act.”

Cannon catapulted to prominence (if not respect) in the industry through its formula of thriftily produced exploitation, outrageous content, and pre-sales chutzpah, the end coming when the company grew too big for its britches and tried to make extravagant special effects blockbusters conceived to rival major studio output but ended up with a list of duds like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) and Masters of the Universe (1987). Responsible for products ranging from turkeys like the midget-in-a-suit chimpanzee film Going Bananas (1987) to the highly regarded Runaway Train (1985), Golan and Globus receive praise and vitriol ranging from actress Martine Beswick’s opinion that they were manipulative, “rotten and horrid”, to director Franco Zeffirelli’s assertion that they were “the best producers I ever worked for.” It is these delicious contradictions of character and clashes of larger-than-life personalities that make the story of Cannon Films such a fascinating ride.

5 stars. Highly recommended. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Electric Boogaloo is:

3. Multiculturalist. Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones recalls with pride how the Breakin’ movies brought the races together where even the United Nations had failed.

2. Zionist, endorsing the official War on Terror narrative. “In a way, [1985’s] Invasion U.S.A. was a very prescient film,” reflects editor Daniel Loewenthal. “We didn’t really think about terrorism, the terrorism was more of an abstract idea.” In fact, Cannon had a very conscious agenda of vilifying Arabs in the American consciousness, as evidenced by the portrayals in The Delta Force. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films alludes to these unsympathetic representations, but approaches the subject with a sense of humor rather than seriousness. Menahem Golan’s birth name was Menahem Globus (he is Yoram’s cousin), but he changed it to Golan in celebration of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. They are also credited with helping to popularize the Jewish supremacist term of abuse “shiksa” with American audiences in their Elliott Gould vehicle Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984).

1. Oy vey, scratch that last one – this movie is anti-Semitic! Golan and Globus are repeatedly described in terms that reek of Jewish stereotypes. Producer Pieter Van Brugge says, “There was always that wheeling and dealing and that wheeling and dealing was very much – I mean, they were Israelis, and they were defined by that culture.” Laurene Landon, star of America 3000 (1986), excoriates: “You people have a cash register where your heart should be.” Described as being “very conservative”, both Golan and Globus thought nothing of corrupting American morals with their cultural Marxist depravity, one interviewee summarizing their winning formula as “something minus good taste”. Editor Mark Helfrich recalls of The Last American Virgin (1982), “An abortion is being played with U2 music under it, and you go from a doctor performing an abortion to some guy cutting up pizza. […] That’s insane. That’s just nuts,” he goes on, adding, “For instance, after the abortion Gary brings her a Christmas tree and a bag of oranges. That must have meant something in Israel.”

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Multiple MickBlame_It_on_the_Night_poster

Blame It on the Night (1984) ***1/2

Top arena rocker Dalton (Nick Mancuso) has his busy but more-or-less freewheeling backstage lifestyle upset when he learns he has an illegitimate son, Job (Byron Thames), now a teenager attending a military academy. Dalton desperately wants to make up for lost time and to be a real father to the boy, who, however, has been accustomed to icy military discipline and insists on acting like he has a baton stuck up his ass. The clash of their personalities and the cache of Job’s unresolved emotional suppression and resentments provide the background for this innocuous 80s movie’s conflicts.

Philip Norman gives the following account of the Rolling Stones frontman’s involvement with Blame It on the Night in his 2012 biography Mick Jagger. Approached with the opportunity to star in the film, “Mick was initially interested, especially when producer Gene Taft offered him a co-credit for ‘original story’ if he would provide material from his own direct experience of rock stardom. He changed his mind, however, on realizing that the estranged parent-child theme had uncomfortable parallels with himself and his daughter Karis. When the film finally came out in 1984, ‘Michael Phillip Jagger’ was still co-credited [with Gene Taft] for the story.”1

The resulting experience suffers, haunted by the absent Jagger’s specter, so that one can only wonder, while watching Blame it on the Night, what the film might have been like had Jagger actually committed to playing the lead, which instead went to handsome but comparatively colorless Nick Mancuso. Jagger’s input on the rock ‘n’ roll life would likely have lent a gritty edge to what, in the event, is an overly sanitized portrayal of the world of rockers, roadies, and floozies, so that the movie almost seems to have been made to play on the Disney Channel. Scenes of Dalton angrily telling his son to clean up his room or, worse still, engineering a cringe-inducingly forced reconciliation around a campfire, are unconvincing, to say the least. Only former Willie Nelson drummer Rex Ludwick brings an air of rock excess to the film in the role of Dalton’s hearty-partying bandmate Animal.

Perhaps to compensate for the absence of Mick, notable Rolling Stones collaborators Billy Preston and Merry Clayton (whose fiery “Rape! Murder!” vocals fans will know from “Gimme Shelter”) appear as themselves in minor roles. Unfortunately, the music, with the exception of the marginally catchy title tune, is uniformly uber-generic 80s pop cheese delivered with sappy Michael McDonald earnestness. On the plus side, Blame It on the Night is appealingly paced and goes down as smoothly (and is about as nutritious) as a spoonful of Jell-O. Nostalgia aficionados, furthermore, will appreciate that Blame It on the Night features more than one obligatory 80s rock montage sequence. Think of it as a C-grade rock ‘n’ roll Over the Top minus all the testosterone and arm-wrestling.

Running out of Luck

Running out of Luck (1986) *****

Previous to helming this epically bizarre film, Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980) director Julien Temple had also created the atmospheric music video for the Rolling Stones’ “Undercover of the Night” (1983). “For Julien Temple,” relates Philip Norman, “the filming [in Paris, passing for South America] was an experience that made the Sex Pistols seem almost a rest cure by comparison.”2 But whatever his bad experiences on that set, Temple agreed to reunite with Mick for another tropically-themed collaboration in 1985 when he jaunted to Rio de Janeiro to film the absurd rock musical Running out of Luck.

Essentially a vanity project for Mick, Running out of Luck finds the star playing his arrogant, sneering self in what amounts to a series of several music videos connected by a loose adventure narrative. After shooting a video for self-absorbed director Dennis Hopper (!) in Rio, Mick picks up three women who turn out to be transvestites (“She’s a geezer!”) and who beat him up, rob him, and stow him in a meat truck that takes him into the middle of Brazilian nowhere. After stumbling around and hallucinating in a desert, Mick gets picked up by a horny virago (Norma Bengell) who forces him to work on her banana plantation and satisfy her sexual needs. While there he hooks up with Brazilian bimbo Rae Dawn Chong (who has a steamy, bare-breasted love scene with the star) and makes his escape from the plantation only to fall into further misadventures and gets thrown into a grimy prison, which, fortunately for the viewer, is lax enough to let Mick to sing and wiggle his butt to his heart’s content. Mick’s moll Jerry Hall, who also appears in the film as herself, has meanwhile decided that Mick is deceased and entered into a tawdry affair with an American politician.

For those who feel, as this writer does, that the “Dancing in the Street” video with Jagger and David Bowie camping it up like a couple of move-busting insane asylum escapees is one of the finest slices of cinema ever broadcast, Running out of Luck is the real thing – a veritable mother lode of eccentric 80s Mickness in full-lipped snarling glory. Among the various sights and sounds and marvels awaiting the viewer of this freak show of a flick is Mick in drag, Mick getting manhandled and stepped on, Mick licked, Mick groping a tranny, Mick eating maggot-infested prison gruel, Mick playing the roulette tables like James Bond, Mick writhing with a tarantula on his back – and more! The funniest scene has him stumbling into a country store, trying to convince the proprietor that he is, in fact, Mick Jagger, and futilely jumping around, shouting, and shaking his ass to prove it. In short, any Rolling Stones or 80s obscurities fan should pounce at the chance to watch this sicko sweetness dredged from the VHS trash trove.

Mick Jagger performs “She’s the Boss” in Running out of Luck (1986)

Endnotes.

  1. Norman, Philip. Mick Jagger. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012, p. 475.
  2. Ibid., p. 526.

Katy_Perry_Part_of_Me

MTV Films’ latest project in the controlled demolition of civilization follows popular candy-coated nut Katy Perry on her California Dreams Tour of 2011, “a year filled with tremendous success and personal heartbreak” for the twinkly star. Along with seemingly interminable adulation from friends and toadies, the viewer is treated to Perry’s bouts of depression as her long-distance relationship with Russell Brand disintegrates. Even so, to be granted entry into the world of Katy Perry is to be plunged into a dazzling phantasmagoria of lollipops, hearts, balloons, confetti, and sexy, garish costumes.

“I feel a real connection to fairy tales, and I think that in some ways I live in a fairytale,” the singer confides, and one quickly sees what she means when confronted with so many sissy prancers ducking, gliding, and kicking around the stage in their candy cane pants. Even freaky Russell Brand, when he meets his lady backstage, looks embarrassed to be seen mixing with this lot of dubious company. Too much hagiography begins to wear on the viewer’s patience, and Perry minus the whorish makeup and the wardrobe is actually rather an uninteresting individual; but Katy Perry: Part of Me does feature some impressive concert cinematography and grotesque visuals aplenty.

2 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Katy Perry: Part of Me is:

10. Pro-miscegenation. Interracial couplings can be glimpsed among her backup dancers.

9. Corporate. Brand sends Katy a text message with a picture of a McDonald’s restaurant and suggests they name their firstborn Ronald.

8. Anti-Christian. Katy’s conservative Pentecostal upbringing, which forbade her to watch The Smurfs or eat Lucky Charms, definitely started to cramp her style as she discovered her inner freak. “I felt like I was never even allowed to even think for myself, and having any kind of feminist live-on-your-own independent spirit is just, ugh, the devil!” (cf. no. 5) Today Perry’s beliefs appear to drift more toward permissive New Age nebulousness: “I really do believe in God[, even if I] probably don’t believe in all the same details that my mom believes, but I have a spiritual relationship with God, and it’s one-on-one, and it’s continually evolving.”

7. Pro-drug. Katy be “sippin’ on gin and juice”.

6. Family-ambivalent. Perry is close with her grandmother, and her parents are generally supportive despite not approving of all of their daughter’s output. She is unprepared, however, to have children of her own.

5. Underachievingly feminist. “I kinda want to be a leader, but, you know, then there’s all those responsibilities.” Still, California girls like Katy are naturally “fine”, “fresh”, and “fierce”.

4. Multiculturalist. The film goes to great lengths to portray Katymania as a messianic and postracial phenomenon and opens with a series of webcam effusions from teen admirers of various races and orientations who say that Perry has shown them that “being weird is okay.”

3. Pro-gay. Perry’s breakout hit, “I Kissed a Girl”, occasions a lesbian smooch from View host Whoopi Goldberg. Among the fans who receive screen time are some Japanese drag queens.

2. Pro-wigger. One must, one supposes, muster something resembling admiration for a songwriter who rhymes “peacock” with “beyatch”. “West coast, represent!”

1. Pro-slut. In addition to her salacious booty-shakery onstage, Perry’s lyrics tend to be of the tawdry “let you put your hands on me in my skintight jeans” and “I wanna see your peacock” variety.

Lamb Chop 3

Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah (1995) ***1/2

This kooky kiddie relic of the pandemic cultural crappiness constituting the 1990s opens with sock-puppeteer Sonia Hurwitz (alias Shari Lewis) doing some last-minute Chanukah shopping in an open air produce market. Brimming with the supremacist ebullience of the season, Hurwitz launches into a song to tell her fellow shoppers how happy she is, dancing and twirling her red coattail like a vampire’s cape now that Chanukah, like some biblical plague, has finally arrived! She bumps into TV has-beens Pat Morita (Happy Days) and Alan Thicke (Growing Pains) and invites them to come to her house for dinner. That means it is up to Hurwitz and Lamb Chop to cook enough latkes (potato pancakes) to accommodate their guests – all while singing up a funky shitstorm about it, of course.

Meanwhile, Hurwitz’s mutant child, buck-toothed miniature pony Charlie Horse, is trying to win a prize by creating the greatest-ever superhero using a computer game. Thicke and Morita have dual roles as two of Charlie’s botched superhero creations, Weapons Man and Super Ninja, who proceed to tear up Hurwitz’s house like a couple of ungrateful goyische kops. Lloyd Bochner also appears as a disembodied flying head in an existential crisis. Camp factor, needless to say, is high.

Nothing captures the spirit of a Jewish holiday like a Jew with her fist stuffed up the ass of a symbol of Christ named after its own dismemberment. Christians, accustomed to celebrating the birth or resurrection of Jesus and seeing Jews constantly depicted as innocent victims in the massive ass media, are generally unaware that the Chosen, in choosing their holy days, prefer to commemorate the slaughter of gentile enemies and their children.

Chanukah, or Hanukkah, or however one attempts to express by means of the English alphabet the phlegm production signifying the name of this eight-day indulgence in ritual self-worship, celebrates the victory of Judah Maccabee, or “Judas Sledgehammer”, who defeated the gentile forces of the Greeks and the Syrians, two peoples against whom – if recent history offers any indication – the Jews still bear a bloodthirsty grudge.

3.5 out of 5 Stars of David. Lock yourself in this laughing-gas chamber and get exterminated with cuteness.

Lamb Chop 2

Shari’s Passover Surprise (1996) ***1/2

Charlie Horse is running for Fifth Grade President at his elementary school, which apparently is so progressive that disheveled Jewish ponies are permitted to enroll alongside human children. Hoping to sway his classmates’ loyalties by means of old country hospitality – and to subject them to weepy tales of Jewish woe to gain sympathy votes – Charlie invites the whole multicultural crew to the Hurwitz home for a Passover Seder. That means lots o’ matzo to make!

Gullible tub Dom DeLuise, tricked into believing himself the recipient of some enviable privilege, is persuaded to play the shabbos goy and cook supper for the bunch, and professes his eagerness to become a Seder “sadist”, while Benson‘s Robert Guillaume is also invited and sings some soulful jive about the plagues visited upon the Egyptians. Rounding out the likable cast of has-beens is Alan Thicke, putting in another brief appearance in the demanding role of himself.

The Seder is a kind of nightmarish house party, with characters crawling around looking for a hidden matzo and Lamb Chop hanging from a chandelier and screaming in vain for help from Shari. This being the 90s, when the children are told the story of the Egyptian captivity, they are told to boo when Pharaoh is mentioned and go “Woo Woo Woo!” like an Arsenio Hall audience whenever Moses gets name-dropped.

Passover occasions the Jews’ deluded gloating over their psychotic god Yahweh’s mass murder of gentile children in Egypt during the period of the Israelites’ supposed enslavement in that land. Notwithstanding the utter lack of archaeological evidence for this, however, Shari’s Passover Surprise goes whole hog and more than once trots out the ludicrous claim that Hebrew wretches were even forced to build the pyramids.

Continuing in the tradition of killing gentile children, Shari’s Passover Surprise cuts loose with a veritable enfilade of politically correct small ordnance, hitting the audience with a cheerful anti-slavery pep talk, multicultural mumbo jumbo, and even an endorsement of bestiality when Charlie Horse determines to ask a black girl out on a date – all designed to murder the mind and squash incipient self-esteem in any white children who may happen to be watching.

There is also a faint echo of Kristallnacht when Charlie Horse and a blond boy are playing catch outside Robert Guillaume’s house and break out one of his windows. The blond boy, naturally being a fink, runs away and leaves the horse to take the whole of the blame. Damn blond kids! It was a perfectly good and wholesomely diverse neighborhood until they moved in!

3.5 out of 5 Stars of David. Press play and get plagued, you hateful goyim!

Lamb Chop 1

“Come on, Bubby, light my fire!”

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Human Highway

Human Highway (1982) ****

Co-scripted and directed by eccentric rocker Neil Young (using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey), Human Highway is the weirdo sort of movie destined from its inception to become an item of cult interest. Young stars as lamebrained mechanic Lionel, who dreams of rock stardom while making a mess of his duties at Dean Stockwell’s roadside gas station and diner, where coworkers include Sally Kirkland, Russ Tamblyn, and Dennis Hopper. The diner is situated near a nuclear power plant where the boys from Devo work and are exposed to so much radiation that they actually glow with red light. Stockwell, who has inherited the diner from his father and finds it in financial disarray, gets the idea to torch his unprofitable business and be rid of it; but will he be able to hatch his plot before toxic waste, radiation poisoning, or a full-blown nuclear holocaust throws a monkey wrench into his plans?

More of a gratuitously bizarre curiosity than a genuinely admirable film, Human Highway remains a valuable document of the prevailing new wave musical sensibility of the day as applied to cinema, and also conveys the anxieties of the eighties about the possibility of nuclear holocaust and the threat to man and the environment posed by toxic waste. This black comedy’s script, unfortunately, too often aims for the random and leaves most of the ideas and characters underdeveloped, while the production values are on the order of a typical episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse – which, depending upon the viewer’s individual taste, could be a blessing or a curse. The film really starts to fall apart from a narrative standpoint during the second half, with (for some reason) a montage of Native Americans dancing around a bonfire of wooden Indians and Lionel dreaming after being knocked unconscious of rock-and-roll stardom and excess, and letting a groupie suck milk off of him with a straw. The high point of Human Highway is an extended bout of down-and-dirty, feedback-fried riffing and jamming between Neil Young and Devo, with the team totally freaking out and looking like a bunch of psychos.

4 out of 5 glass parking lots.

Incident at Channel Q

Incident at Channel Q (1986) *****

Al Corley headlines this trash heap treasure as Rick Van Ryan, a smug, sarcastic, rebel-rousing VJ at regional television station Q 23. The teenagers love him, but stick-in-the-mud suburbanite parents and Christian conservatives are all in a tizzy and picketing Rick’s unwholesome influence, demanding that his program, Heavy Metal Heaven, be taken off the air in order to save young people’s souls. Corporate sponsors are getting nervous, the old guard at Q 23 hates his guts, and the Tipper Gore ticket is getting unruly, with two right-wing brutes ambushing Rick in an alley and beating him up, after which the young radical moves to bring the cultural crisis to a head, barricading himself inside the TV station and calling on his followers to lend him support. 

What passes for a story line in Incident at Channel Q is primarily a pretext for exhibiting a series of then-recent music videos in their entirety, these videos – ranging from Rush to Rainbow, KISS, Iron Maiden, and all points in between – taking up half or more of the movie and simulating the experience of watching 80 minutes or so of MTV on a typical day in the 1980s. The music, for the most part, is fantastic stuff for 80s rock buffs, with a trio of videos – Lita Ford’s “Gotta Let Go”, the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, and Motley Crue’s vicious “Looks That Kill”  – constituting some of the greatest, most outlandishly photogenic material ever committed to film. Poofy hair, horror lighting, whore makeup, chintzy sets, studded leather wristbands, tight pants, and other depravity abound, with KISS’s “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” being another fun and action-packed video, while others – Rush’s “Body Electric” and Deep Purple’s “Knocking at Your Back Door” – showcase the post-apocalyptic imagery that was popular in those years.

5 pentagrams for the rock and the morally righteous camp value. VHS copies of Incident at Channel Q are inexpensive, so readers who see one languishing on a used bookstore shelf or in a moldy box in a basement are advised to redeem it or suffer the vengeful disfavor of Satan. 

 

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The Christmas Gift (1986) ****  John Denver, who in 1972 extolled his “Rocky Mountain High”, heads back to his beloved Rockies for this decent television production. Denver plays George Billings, a New York architect and recent widower who travels to Colorado for Christmas along with his little daughter Alex (Gennie James, who appeared in another TV movie, A Smoky Mountain Christmas, that same December). Ostensibly, Billings is on vacation and only seeking a change of scenery in the rustic hamlet of Georgetown; but Billings’s callous and greedy employer, Mr. Renfield (Edward Winter), has actually sent him to scout and survey the location of a future commercial development.

Billings begins to have second thoughts about the plan, however, when he meets local beauty Susan (Jane Kaczmarek) and comes to an appreciation of Georgetown’s unspoiled small-town charm and innocence. Exactly how innocent becomes clear to Billings when he realizes that even the adults in this backwater still believe in Santa Claus. Some in the town have fallen on hard times – chief among these being rancher Jake (Kurtwood Smith, whom viewers may remember as one of the villains in the original RoboCop), who has been unable to pay his debts and faces impending foreclosure – so that the lucrative proposition of Mr. Renfield, who has the connivance of Georgetown’s well-meaning Mayor Truesdale (James T. Callahan), presents a genuine temptation to a community faced with the difficult choice of modernizing and so losing its identity or struggling on and facing a possible future as a ghost town.

John Denver is effortlessly likable in the lead, and gets to sing one of his own songs, “Love Again” (from his 1986 One World album), in addition to joining with townsfolk for a couple of Christmas carols. Gennie James is cute, Jane Kaczmarek is wholesomely sexy, and Pat Corley (Murphy Brown), who comes across as a poor man’s Jonathan Winters, is amusing in his role of daffy old taxi driver Bud, with clown-faced veteran character actress Mary Wickes adding some extra color as Bud’s hotel proprietress sister. The Christmas Gift is harmless fun and worth an unwrapping if shoppers are snowbound, particularly since (as of writing) it has been uploaded in its entirety to YouTube. The Christmas Gift gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Christmas Gift

From Rocky Mountain High to Mount Zion rock bottom . . .

Israel O Blessed Israel!Israel, O Blessed Israel! (1992) **  Subtitled A Gospel Music Journey in the Holy Land, this dogforsaken howler from the VHS ejection heap is part sermon, part cheapjack music video, part travelogue, and part symbolic act of fellatio performed for the gratification of organized Jewry. Pat Boone, who shamelessly threw in with the Zionist lot back in 1960 when he warbled the overwrought anthem to Otto Preminger’s six-million-hour Israeli epic Exodus, returns to glowingly tread the paths that Jesus Christ Himself walked, sing some hymns, and drum up tourism dollars for America’s favorite Middle Eastern welfare case.

The show opens with “Israel, O Blessed Israel”, probably the worst piece of junk Boone ever recorded, stinking up the place over images of innocent children, flowers, mountains, and the majestically fluttering Israeli flag. Has-been Boone almost seems to fancy himself a kind of peripatetic holy man as he wanders about in his clean white shirt, beige slacks, and all-American tennis shoes – with a picture of Jesus disconcertingly fading into Boone’s faintly evil features at one point. In addition to singing tepid arrangements of “How Great Thou Art” and other standards, Boone recites uplifting passages from the scriptures – promising, for instance, that Israel’s enemies “will forever be destroyed” – and, so as to drive home the all-important point of the Savior’s Jewishness, more than once makes a point of referring to Jesus as “a rabbi”.

Unintentional humor occurs as a slack-jawed camel comes lumbering into view in slow motion to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and when a fly whizzes by Boone’s head as he renders “In the Garden”. For some reason, viewers are treated to the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii also makes an unexpected appearance. The tape even takes a brief turn for the scary, slipping into gray, vague, and indiscernible visuals, when Boone recounts a hoary anecdote about reanimated skeletons. To its credit, Israel, O Blessed Israel! does provide a showcase for the country’s bountiful natural beauties and impressive air of antiquity, but let these commendations not lead prospective viewers into any undue temptation, for this VHS relic, verily, brethren, is for hardcore schlock aficionados and Zio-masochists only. 2 out of 5 blue Stars of David.

teenbeachmovie

Teenage surf enthusiasts Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell) find themselves transported into a 1962 movie musical called Wet Side Story after they catch a bogus wave and wipe out via a magical time warp, thus setting into motion Teen Beach Movie, a weak Disney Channel send-up of the classic beach party vehicles of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The two modern protagonists naturally set about infecting their more picturesque forebears with cultural Marxism, all while singing several songs, and also succeed in halting the dastardly plot of villainous real estate developer Les Camembert (Steve Valentine), who of course has no other aim in life than to rain on the fun of young, freewheeling surfers and bikers.

The songs, all fairly generic, are too obviously lip-synced, and an inescapable air of the plastic prevails for Teen Beach Movie‘s grinding duration. The principals in the cast, however, are uniformly photogenic, bright, and enthusiastic, doing whatever they can with such substandard material. Top-billed Ross Lynch and super-suave Garrett Clayton, who resembles young George Hamilton in Where in the Boys Are and may have been cast as “Tanner” for that reason, definitely have the look of ascendant stars, while fathers goaded into subjecting themselves to this wacky butt-wipeout of a flick may at least console themselves that the girls on display, from Mitchell to Grace Phipps and Chrissie Fit (who does a trampy Fran Drescher impression throughout), are all pretty easy on the eyes. Barry Bostwick – who, against all odds, has managed to add to his resume a movie even gayer than The Rocky Horror Picture Show – has a minor supporting role as Big Poppa, Mack’s grandfather.

ICA’s advice: gather the family around the tube for a wholesome screening of Point Break instead.

Point Break

2.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Teen Beach Movie is:

9. Pro-gay. The aerial view of a Busby Berkeley-style surfboards-and-beach-balls dance number is vaguely homoerotic.

8. Christ-ambivalent. Big Momma (LaVon Fisher-Wilson) is given to exclamations like “Hallelujah!”, but Big Poppa’s pendant resembles an inverted crucifix.

7. Antiwar. “All fighting ever did for us was stop us from seeing what we all have in common.”

6. Pro-immigration. Territoriality and tribalism are hangups to be overcome. Mack and Brady, when they first wash up on shore, are given a chilly reception as “ho-dads” or outsiders, but the bikers and surfers all come to accept them. “You guys are strange. I like that.”

5. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation. The 1960s “gangs” are retroactively integrated, with whites, blacks, and browns intermixing in dance.

4. Green. Camembert threatens to cause party-pooping climate change with his secret weapon.

3. Anti-capitalistic. Bad guy Camembert is described as an “evil real estate mogul”. Private schools, in this case the ominously monickered “Dunwich Preparatory Academy”, are characterized derogatorily. Riot and industrial sabotage win the day.

2. Pro-castration. Brady dyes his hair. Butchy (John DeLuca), the leader of biker gang the Rodents, cries with emotion and is revealed at the end to have an irrational fear of lighthouses.

1. Feminist. That protagonist MacKenzie goes by the mannish-sounding “Mack” for short is significant, as her abrasive feminism rears its nasty snout at every turn. Mack hates Wet Side Story, objecting to all of the motivationless singing and the fact that “the girls never surf as well as the boys.” Showing her stuff, she easily out-surfs the arrogant Tanner. “Why does she need a boy to be happy?” Mack asks Brady about one of the girls. “Because it’s 1962,” he explains. “Why should a boy influence what you choose to wear? Or anything you do?” Mack exhorts her still-feminine early 60s counterparts. “We can do anything a guy can do.” She encourages them to become more sexually aggressive and generally more assertive as well as less appealing in their apparel.

Bitch Perfect might have been a more appropriate title, given the character of the womanhood on display and the number of times the word “bitch” gets lobbed back and forth.  This is the tale of the Barden Bellas, an all-girl collegiate a cappella group looking to come back and win the championship after an unfortunate vomiting incident at last year’s big competition.  Helping them loosen up and diversify their repertoire is “alt girl” and aspiring deejay Beca (commandingly photogenic Anna Kendrick), whose hip-hop affinities and outside-the-box thinking clash with punctilious group leader Aubrey (Anna Camp), who staunchly resists any change of routine and declares, “We don’t stray from tradition.”

If Pitch Perfect has a single antagonist of note, it is not so much the arrogant but likable boy-bandish rival team the Troublemakers as the notion of uniformity.  The movie, like Beca, is at war with convention, tradition, and sameness.  Aubrey’s polite arrangement of Ace of Base’s “The Sign”, though perhaps the prettiest song as performed in the film, is derided as boring and pedestrian.  More promising, Pitch Perfect suggests, is a groan-inducing hip-hop medley mutation of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

As such atrocity amply demonstrates, Pitch Perfect‘s game never rises above spunky, outrageous cuteness for its own sake and that of the silly girls who will no doubt adore it.  For a film devoted to tawdry, innocuous shock value, however, Pitch Perfect still manages to be surprisingly disgusting in places.  The viewer is, for instance, treated not only to more than one instance of projectile vomiting, but the sight of a girl lying in a voluminous puddle of it and contentedly moving her arms and legs in snow-angel fashion.

Those who enjoyed the trailer – which, along with the trailers for Magic Mike and Katy Perry: Part of Me, was one of the bothersome banes of this past summer’s moviegoing experience – will probably be satisfied with Pitch Perfect.  In these clutches, however, it warrants only 2.5 of 5 possible stars, largely for the commitment of its commendable cast.  Anna Camp is a standout, as is lead Kendrick in her musical moments, particularly her take on Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”.  Even the somewhat revolting Rebel Wilson, who plays Fat Amy, is extremely memorable in her way.  These and other actors and actresses imbue this crude film with a vitality without which it would probably be unwatchable.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Pitch Perfect is:

11. Anti-marriage.  Beca’s parents are divorced, with the result that her father has married a “step-monster”.

10. Pro-miscegenation.  Multiple but unobtrusive instances.  A white girl recalls Prince’s buttocks being small enough to fit into one of her hands.

9. Anti-Christian.  Allusions to faith are mocking or trifling, such as a sign at a competition that reads, “A Cappella Is My Co-Pilot”.  Beca’s only invocation of God comes as she is crying after having finished the apparently religious experience of watching The Breakfast Club for the first time.

8. Obesity-ambivalent.  Pitch Perfect tries to have its cake and eat it, too, mocking the fat while also presenting what is presumably intended to be an attractively charismatic and (vaguely) sexually desirable slob in Fat Amy.

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Fat Amy says she sometimes thinks she might try crystal meth, but on further reflection, decides, “Nah.”  Liquor is acceptable chemical recreation and cause for humor.  “I’m not drunk at all.  You’re just blurry.”  Smoking, however, is discouraged: “You sound like you smoke three packs a day.”

6. Pro-gay.  Pitch Perfect endorses the relative normalness of homosexuality.  “So there’s like ten of us,” Fat Amy reflects; “that means one of us is probably a lesbian.”  Bellas member Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) is, as it (unsurprisingly) turns out, a lesbian.  “These girls could turn me,” a female emcee says suggestively on being impressed with their performance.

5. Diversity-skeptical.  Beca’s Asian roommate is aloof and unfriendly.  Once, returning with other Asian friends and seeing Beca with her boyfriend, the roommate expresses disappoinment that, “The white girl is back.”  She prefers to be with her own kind and joins the Korean Student Organization.  A rival a cappella group is composed overwhelmingly of blacks, so that Pitch Perfect, while seeming to celebrate multiculturalism, also acknowledges the reality that “birds of a feather flock together.”

4. Multiculturalist.  Beca’s project to deprogram and refashion the Bellas is an attempt to make them less rigid, less traditional, and less disciplined – less white, essentially.  Notwithstanding no. 5 above, the new and improved Bellas are proof of a motley crew’s ability to come together and pool their strengths in novel and profitable ways.  Included are racial minorities, gays, the plump, a nymphomaniac, and a vomit freak.  White artists’ songs need to be remixed to be competitively relevant, i.e., less white.

3. Feminist.  Women assert themselves throughout and in particular defiance of the opinion expressed by one sexist emcee that, “Women are about as good at a cappella as they are at being doctors.”  “If we let them penetrate us, we are giving them our power,” Aubrey explains to her troops.  Beca is presented with a “rape whistle” on arriving at Barden University and instructed, “Don’t use it unless it’s actually happening.”  There is no suggestion at any point in the film, however, that such a whistle is actually necessary or that men really are violently beastly toward women.  Still, “You are a misogynist at heart,” a female emcee says to her male cohost at the a cappella finals.

2. Pro-castration.  “Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man who sings like a boy.”  In Pitch Perfect‘s most bizarre and superfluous scene, a man begs Fat Amy to kick him in his testicles.  Then she grabs a trophy to ram into his anus.  “Cherry on top,” he enthuses, offering her his buttocks.

1. Pro-slut.  “He’s a hunter,” one young woman says, pointing to her vagina.  Fat Amy also enjoys pointing to her vagina, ripping open her blouse, and displaying her overgrown charms in other ways.  Gyration and shameless public grinding occur througout.

Miserable is the word to describe the bunch of filthy French people with British accents who spend this pretentious two-and-a-half-hour musical moaning and wailing about how poor and passionate and in love they are when all they really need is a bath.  So much of the footage consists of claustrophobia-triggering close-ups of scraggly facial fur, snotty nostrils, and gaping mouths full of rotting teeth that the viewer can almost smell the sewage and revolution in the air of nineteenth (or is it twenty-first?) century France’s capital.

A handful of rousing musical numbers, notably “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Master of the House”, and “One Day More”, share the scales with a lot of filler in Les Miserables, with nearly every line in the movie quavered or belted awkwardly rather than spoken.  Make no mistake: this Les Miserables is a musical.  Anne Hathaway, sporting the worst haircut of her life, fares fairly well in her vocal contributions, with the women generally being easier on the ears than the men in the film.  In career lowlight performances, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe look dazed, confused, and as if both might just as soon tap wieners as duel while they serenade each other.  The standout scene of the film both in terms of musical enjoyment and choreography is the hilarious rendition of “Master of the House”, sung by Sacha Baron Cohen with help from Helena Bonham Carter as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier.

Simplistic in its message, Les Miserables suffers from an overbearing, banner-brandishing earnestness, with insufficient comic relief or moments genuine humanity to break the bleak, seemingly unending whining and self-righteous howling of the various undesirables.  See it for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter and just hold your nose through the rest.  3 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Les Miserables is:

6.  Multiculturalist.  The teeming, nasty masses of Paris are peppered with a few conspicuously placed Africans.

5.  Pro-slut.  Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is a sympathetic single mother.  Prostitution with its profit motive is, however, discouraged.

4.  Pro-castration.  Les Miserables celebrates the cult of the womanish, sensitive man.  Jean Valjean (Jackman) vows to be both “father and mother” to young ward Cosette (Isabelle Allen).

3.  State-ambivalent.  Javert (Crowe) is an honorable man devoted to public service, but questions the correctness of his mission when it means opposing the inexorable march of Equality.

2.  Ostensibly Christian, espousing more Hollywood liberation theology.  Characters invoke God throughout, usually in the context of helpless yelping.  The Catholic Church is useful to the extent that it harbors fugitive criminals and redistributes wealth.

1.  Communard/anti-capitalist.  Young Occupy thugs waving red flags sing of “red, a world about to dawn.”  Liberty receives revolutionist lip service, but Equality is the tune they croak most enthusiastically.  Commerce is represented in Les Miserables by prostitution, dehumanizing factory work, and the Thenardiers’ tawdry inn, where, in addition to other acts of crudity and knavery, they blithely pick their customers’ pockets.

Set aboard a melodrama-plagued pleasure cruise, writer-director Je’Caryous Johnson’s soulful examination of love among African-American couples and singles benefits in energy from being a filmed production of a live play as opposed to a conventional film.  Johnson is a talented jokester with a heart and creates compelling characters brought to vibrant life by an emotionally present and engagingly boisterous all-black cast.  Think Neil Simon keepin’ it real.

A neurotic tension and sense of panic constantly inform Love Overboard, with Johnson portraying African-Americans as a people ever prey to the supernatural forces in their lives, their bodies the eternal, intensely contested battleground of spiritual warfare as they navigate between their fear of God and obsession with sexual satisfaction.  Two types of entity, appropriately, are apostrophized in Love Overboard: Jesus Christ and the male sexual organ.  Love Overboard gets so overheated at times, with a man and woman apparently unable to stop themselves from flying into each other’s arms and grinding in public in one instance, that it starts to make Three’s Company look like I Married Joan.  “Y’all think this is a leg I’m standin’ on, dontcha?  I gotta take my shoe off every time I go pee.”

Running the gamut from shockingly crude to genuinely touching, Love Overboard front-loads most of the bawdy humor and concentrates in its second and third acts on depicting in very human terms people fraught with insecurities and struggling seriously with their relationships, their values, and faith.  The subject of marriage especially frightens and frustrates everyone on the ship.  Those who already are married wonder if staying together is worth the trouble; those unmarried fear the commitment.  Can healthy, excitingly black sex thrive within the constraining cage of a monogamous matrimony?

The ensemble cast is consistently praiseworthy in imbuing the various threads of the story with zany life.  Everyone involved in the production is either highly expressive in speech or song or excels at physical comedy.  Zacardi Cortez, who plays Big Daddy, has the most affecting musical moment; while Rhona Bennett and Tammy Townsend are probably most tender among the women as they hold their end of the line in this floating battle of the sexes.  Je’Caryous Johnson’s humor and humanity as it comes across in his writing probably has the best claim to top billing, however.  Recommended without reservation.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Love Overboard is guaranteed fun and:

6. Anti-gay.  An opening monologue mocks San Francisco Christians.

5. Black Uber Alles.  Racial solidarity seems to be of importance.  Oprah’s book recommendations are valued.  “You rollin’ with Obama?” a woman asks, hearing that one of the men works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Women want a man like Obama: “fine”, “intelligent”, and “able to protect me.”  “Chocolate’s out now that Barack is in,” a lighter-skinned man teases a darker one.  Characters enjoy their own and others’ variations of flavor and blackness.

4. Capitalist.  Despite the suggested endorsement of President Obama, the characters give every evidence of not buying into his demagogic desecration of the American dream.  These are people who, rather than playing the victim and begging for coddling by the welfare state, have succeeded or failed according to their own talents and decisions.  One runs a car dealership; another is a stripper; all work for a living or aim to do so.  “Life is what you make it,” Russell (Khalil Kain) observes; or, “Take yo ass to work,” as Johnson puts it bluntly elsewhere in his screenplay.

4. Anti-miscegenation.  Vianessa Castanos warrants special mention for her role as the Latin temptress who threatens black marital stability and wins a unique award from Ideological Content Analysis for displaying the GREATEST CLEAVAGE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

3. Traditionalist/pro-family.  “This is a family cruise,” the opening monologue explains, raunchy content notwithstanding.  A pregnant woman refrains from drinking and wants her child to have a good man for a father.  One character does, however, reveal herself to have been horribly wronged by a family member.

2. Christian.  Buck wild though they may long to get, these are people with a fear of God.  “The body according to the Word should be governed by modesty,” pious Lea (Rhona Bennett) reminds herself.

1. Pro-marriage.  Divorce is discouraged.  Couples having troubles should work it out for themselves and for their children’s sake.   The “hit it and quit it” lone wolf mentality loses its appeal with maturity.

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