Archives for posts with tag: mystery

Cold in July

Cold in July is the story of a man who, having once peered into the rabbit hole and inadvertently set one foot inside it, cannot bring himself to turn away. Michael C. Hall stars as Richard Dane, a Texas everyman who shoots an intruder into his home and is subsequently terrorized by the dead man’s ex-con father, Russel (Sam Shepard). But is the dead man really dead? If not, who occupies the coffin, and why would the authorities assign a false identity to the corpse? Dane and Russel discover together that the world is not as it seems; and, teaming with earthy private detective (and pig farmer) Jim Bob (Don Johnson), they set out on a western-flavored, neo-noir odyssey in search of the truth – and, ultimately, violently ironic justice.

Notwithstanding its humor and undisguised pop flourishes, Cold in July is a serious film with strong performances all around. Johnson’s screen presence particularly, far from having faded in the years since Miami Vice, has taken on a new depth and authenticity, so that he brings a great deal of color and masculine clout to the film. Hall is 100% convincing as the man in over his head, while Shepard’s turn is comparatively understated but no less essential to the success of the whole. Pleasantly, an attempt has been made to match the film stylistically with its 1980s setting, so that viewers are treated to a period-faithful electronic score and some elegant, crowd-pleasing slow-motion shots.

Highly recommended. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cold in July is:

5. Anti-porn. Young women pursuing this trade place their lives at considerable risk.

4. Pro-immigration. “Prostitutes cross the border illegally and nobody cares” – after which they are lured into starring in snuff films, the presumptive implication being that if America had a compassionate immigration policy that was not so “broken”, Mexican women would not be forced to demean and endanger themselves in order to access the American Dream. Mariachi musicians illustrate the vibrant diversity Mexicans offer.

3. Gun-ambivalent. The film strongly suggests that Dane would be a happier man had he not shot the burglar invading his home, and he subsequently disapproves of his young son’s toy gun play. A pistol also appears as a danger and liability in the hands of the emotionally distraught. Guns feature prominently and excitingly in the vigilante action of the conclusion, however.

2. State-skeptical. Part of Dane’s journey of discovery is the realization that his government is not what he imagined. In this context, Russel’s line “All I know is what I’m told” carries more than a surface resonance. In a minor, local way, Dane is initiated into the ugly reality of conspiracy. Scenes deleted from the final cut of the film show FBI agents tailing him. In one scene, a drive-in is playing Night of the Living Dead, a reference which reinforces the themes of paranoia and government cover-ups.

1. Pro-family. Dane is a committed father and husband. Discounting Jim Bob’s diagnosis of married men as “poor bastards”, Cold in July communicates the necessity of the intact family for the well-adjusted existence of an individual or a society. Without obnoxiously articulating the point, the film suggests that Russel’s son has chosen a path of evil as a result of not having had a father during his developmental years.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Badges-of-Fury

Jet Li headlines this action comedy as “vintage” cop Huang, who, along with young comic relief partner Wang (Zhang Wen), is tasked with investigating an odd series of “smile murders”, in which each victim wears a mysterious grin at the time of his death. Moderately funny, Badges of Fury would have been strengthened by more shared screen time and bickering/bonding between mismatched partners Huang and Wang, who spend much of the film acting independently; but scenes between the comical Wang and sassy but insecure sergeant Angela (Michelle Chen) are also highly rewarding. The silly, CGI-facilitated action sequences, complete with crazy cartoon sound effects, will probably be too goofy for fight fans accustomed to western sensibilities, so these scenes are best judged by the standards of slapstick.

3.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Badges of Fury is:

4. Pro-gay, from the standpoint that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Wang has a run-in with two camp homosexuals who criticize his attire.

3. Asian supremacist. A coroner, citing the superior findings of western medicine, claims there is no such thing as an acupuncture point controlling smiling; but Wang, standing up for Eastern traditions, proves him wrong and makes a major breakthrough in the case by demonstrating that each of the victims died by strategically inserted needles.

2. Pro-family. “Cherish those closest to you,” Badges of Fury advises viewers.

1. Feminism-ambivalent. In the tradition of Hong Kong action, women cops are tough and scrappy; but a telling look on Angela’s face during an interrogation scene suggests that a woman, even an emancipated professional, needs a man in her life to make her happy. Angela is also insecure about her weight and looks. Huang injects further political incorrectness when he reacts to a suspect’s appearance. “You know why we see so many harassment cases? Look at what she’s wearing.”

 

Public Ransom

A psychological quasi-thriller for the Clerks crowd, A Public Ransom stars Carlyle Edwards as Steven, an unemployed fiction writer, self-described “twat”, and moocher who gets an idea for a story when he spots an unusual, crayon-scrawled notice about a missing child. Hoping to do some research for his fiction, Steven calls the number on the poster and gets into contact with a mysterious man named Bryant (Goodloe Byron). It never occurs to Steven, a bored and callous intellectual, that a real person might actually have been kidnapped, but that is exactly what Bryant nonchalantly admits to doing. Steven is informed that he has two weeks to produce $2,000, or else the little girl is going to be killed. Steven, preferring to believe that the whole affair is a prank – and yet perturbed by what seems to be Bryant’s story’s authenticity – sets to composing “A Public Ransom”, selfishly hoping for the best. The premise is a bit outlandish, but after all requires only the viewer’s belief in an individual of extreme eccentricity and sadistic inspiration, of which history offers more than a few examples.

A Public Ransom is as dark a film as one is likely to see this year. The viewer must endure the uncomfortable tactile presence of waste and moral grime and spend time with unappealing characters. The film makes other demands of its audience, as well: to be patient, enjoy joylessness, and find entertainment and tension in such sights as a guy in a t-shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; a guy in a plaid shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; and a guy who, to the untrained eye, appears to be sitting at a table, doing absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Carlyle Edwards is an actor who can make such moments not only tolerable but interesting. The strongest, most haunting scene in A Public Ransom has solitary Steven waiting at a bus stop in the middle of the night, with nothing but the sound of the void around him.

A Public Ransom advertises the influence of Jim Jarmusch, with the poster for Stranger than Paradise visible on Steven’s wall. Like Jarmusch, director Pablo D’Stair’s film shows a fondness for static shots and the intermingling of the strange and mundane; but it is not nearly as outsized or as affected in its weirdness. The sharp, icy exchanges between Steven and Bryant are highlights and filled with the loudest silence. Elsewhere, music is superfluous and annoying and hurts scenes that would have been better served without adornment. One crucial dialogue at the end of the film is damaged by the less-than-convincing performance of Helen Bonaparte, who plays Steven’s platonic friend Rene. These failings, however, temporarily mitigate rather than sabotage the story’s overall effectiveness. Never in recent memory has the disclaimer that “The preceding film is a work of fiction” been so reassuring. Or is it?

4 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Public Ransom is:

3. Tobacco-ambivalent. A cigarette serves as the death-teasing prop of a vulgar and frustrated ne’er-do-well who nevertheless cuts a sophisticated figure while smoking and gesticulating with it.

2. Un-p.c. Steven makes liberal use of words like “cunt”, “bitch”, and “slut”, and says that Bryant looks “retarded”.

1. Anti-feminist. Rene’s “militant feminism”, Steven informs her, “keeps the elusive gentleman caller from the doorknocker – that, you know, long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” The fact that the creepy Bryant is apparently representative of the sort of men who make themselves available to Rene would seem to corroborate Steven’s claim. Even more devastatingly, Steven himself, in his worthlessness, illustrates the undying crime done to this civilization by feminism. In the absence of actual ladies (i.e., women of decent behavior, moral merit, and femininity), men have much less motivation and warrant to be polite, to advance themselves (“Work is a cunt,” Steven gripes), or to give the weaker sex the respect they have come to demand instead of earn. Women no longer inspire in men (as Jack Nicholson’s character puts it in As Good as It Gets) the necessary desire to become better men. The result, of course, is suggested by the working title of Steven’s story: “A Society of Fiends”.

[A Public Ransom can be seen at Vimeo, and more information is available here.]

Odd Thomas

Anton Yelchin stars as Odd Thomas – which, the hero informs the audience, is actually the name on his birth certificate – a pleasant young man with an unfortunately morbid paranormal vocation. An “undercover detective for dead people”, he is able to see and receive communications from the deceased, who look to Odd for otherwise unforthcoming justice. Thus, Odd is able not only to assist Police Chief Porter (Willem Defoe) with the occasional murder investigation, but to attempt to prevent violent crimes from ever occurring. Odd alone is able to perceive the otherdimensional demons, called Bodachs, which congregate like tasteless tourists among the living just prior to a murder or some other evil event or catastrophe.

Odd knows something horrible is about to happen in his town of Pico Mundo, California, when swarms of Bodachs appear in conjunction with the arrival of Robert Robertson (Shuler Hensley), or “Fungus Bob”, or “Fungus Man”, as Odd alternately nicknames him. Odd is certain Robertson is up to no good, but he and Chief Porter are limited in what they can legally accomplish until more of Robertson’s plan materializes.

While the film’s computer-generated visual effects, including a bit of that irksome Blade-style speed-up/slow-down action, only range from good to tolerable, the central mystery confronting Odd is sufficiently interesting to sustain the 100-minute run time. The Bodach concept is exploited to taut effect in more than one suspenseful sequence, and the combination of the protagonist’s wholesomeness with the general unsavoriness of the subject matter makes for a winningly offbeat formula. Yelchin is amiable as Odd, while Addison Timlin, too, adds appeal as his bedroom-eyed companion Stormy.

3.5 stars. Worth a rental.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Odd Thomas is:

8. Class-conscious. The psychotic Robertson “inherited a shitload” from his mother.

7. Multiculturalist (i.e., pro-yawn).

6. Sexist! “I’m a woman. We all have issues,” Stormy explains. Later, loading a gun, she objects, “I don’t need protecting” – a pretense given the lie when she dies at the end.

5. Christian-ish. Odd believes in “a higher power” and picnics in a church’s bell tower. This church provides only the most tentative sanctuary, however, when someone or something invades its peace with malevolent intentions. Materialism is frowned upon (“It’s too bad a car can’t love you back”), as are the prevailing pop culture vanities of the age (“fame is the altar at which most people worship”).

4. Anti-family. Odd has the typical dysfunctional background, his mother having gone insane. Odd Thomas endorses the single mother in the character of Viola (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

3. Gun-ambivalent. The Robertson plot keeps the bogeyman of the crazed mass shooter phenomenon alive, but any anti-gun sentiment indicated here is undercut by the fact that Odd defensively takes down one threat with a pistol. The additional development that the police force turns out to have been infiltrated by satanists points to the danger of giving the state a monopoly on firearm ownership.

2. Police-ambivalent and generally state-skeptical. Apart from Odd’s reliable collaborator Chief Porter, police are depicted in a derogatory light. Early in the film an officer slams a culprit’s head into a car door and quips that this is “one of the perks of the job.” By the end of the film, the force has no credibility whatsoever, with false flag theories even receiving a boost. Whether Odd is more properly viewed as a vigilante or as an extra-legal police auxiliary and black-bag man for the state is open to interpretation.

1. Anti-Semitic! Principal villain Robertson, a serial killer aficionado and aspirant, has exotic hair that “looks like a yellow yarmulke”. And could this character’s nickname, “Fungus Man”, be a derogatory comment on the Jewish people’s pattern of parasitic attachment to established cultures of the West? Odd, after discovering Robertson’s corpse in a tub, chooses to hide it in a disused gas chamber. Why? Is this supposed to be funny? Let Odd Thomas author Dean Koontz, writer-director Stephen Sommers, and all other perpetrators of this hateful celluloid libel know that the Holocaust will not be mocked!

24exposures

Prolific director Joe Swanberg, who had a supporting role as the philistine jerk brother in You’re Next, reunites with that film’s writer-director team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard in 24 Exposures, a low-budget postmodern murder mystery set in the world of fetish photography. Barrett plays Michael Bamfeaux, a depressed police detective investigating murders of models that mirror the gory photo shoots of artsy smut peddler Billy, effortlessly brought to life by Wingard.

Meanwhile, Billy’s bisexual live-in girlfriend Alex (photographer Caroline White) begins to be jealous of his professional interest in waitress Rebecca (Helen Rogers). Is Billy’s preoccupation with murder more than an aesthetic affinity? And what about Rebecca’s erratic and violently jealous nerd boyfriend? Could he be the fetishistic killer, or is it somebody else altogether?

24 Exposures is sexually explicit, with multiple topless photo shoots and even one girl-girl-guy interlude; but the approach to the exploitative content is so matter-of-fact as to drain most of the erotic potential from the images of degeneracy. Scenes such as Rebecca’s first lesbian experience are extremely easy on the eyes, however. Highlights or lowlights, depending upon the viewer’s taste, are a stylish opening credits series of images paying tribute to vintage pulp artwork; various actresses’ asses and breasts, sometimes pressing against each other; and also some pretty convincing gore makeup for the photo sessions.

Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, with perhaps the mild exception of unusually uncharismatic cop Bamfeaux, whose appearance onscreen is sometimes accompanied by an inexplicably tough-sounding theme. Swanberg, in a cameo as aspiring memoirist Bamfeaux’s literary agent, gives him a disapproving critique that ironically touches upon some of the reasons why 24 Exposures is ultimately a bit of a disappointment if judged as a murder mystery. The resolution, if it can be called that, simply fails to deliver on the potential promised by such a dramatic and ominous buildup, leaving the viewer unsatisfied as the credits follow an unexpectedly abrupt ending. But, imperfections aside, 24 Exposures is worth seeing if only because it is never boring.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 24 Exposures is:

5. Pro-drug. Billy and his bevy of bimbos smoke dope.

4. Pro-castration. Small-bearded, bracelet-wearing weenie Billy cooks breakfast for two women after he bangs them.

3. Pro-gay. Callie (Anna Kendrick lookalike Sophia Takal) tells the story of how her first-ever orgasm was with another girl. Alex is bisexual.

2. Pro-police. Bamfeaux, who at one point considers suicide, offers a pathetic example of what serving and protecting the public can do to a man. But he mans up and rises to the occasion when a (more or less) innocent damsel is in distress.

1. Pro-slut. There is something in 24 Exposures, thankfully not emphasized or made overly obnoxious, of the tired shtick about sexually conservative or conventional people being psychologically unhealthy or repressed, while the carefree, sexually adventurous types like Billy are better-adjusted. Fortunately for Detective Bamfeaux, hipster Billy is willing to take him under his wing and initiate him into the simple pleasures of smiling, relaxing once in a while, and bagging trashy, tattooed chicks who take off their clothes for money.

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