Archives for posts with tag: obesity-ambivalent

Michael Bay is a filmmaker famous for his slick style-over-substance approach to the medium, and in Pain and Gain, a vibrant, blackly humorous meditation on the American dream by way of an injection of style steroids gouged straight into the audience’s eyeballs, the Bay formula pays entertainment dividends.  Mark Wahlberg plays Danny Lugo, an ambitious bodybuilder with an unhealthy fixation on self-improvement.  He claims to approve of the meritocracy that has made America great, but unfortunately finds exemplars of Americanism in figures like Michael Corleone and Tony Montana.  Consequently, he sees crime and not legitimate business success as the most promising road to riches, and recruits fellow bodybuilders Paul (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian (Anthony Mackie) to kidnap oily Schlotzky’s proprietor Victor Kershaw (Monk‘s Tony Shalhoub) in the hope of getting him to sign over to them his home and all of his possessions.

Mark Wahlberg is intense as musclebound loser Danny Lugo, and Dwayne Johnson, who demonstrated a knack for comedy even as a professional wrestler, here delivers a hilarious performance to rival Arnold Schwarzenegger’s versatility as an action hero equally adept at goofiness.  As with much of Tarantino’s work, Bay’s film constantly runs the dangerous risk of glorifying or trivializing its subject matter by making its criminals such funny and charismatic characters.  The misadventures of Wahlberg and company are so exciting, fun, and involving that someone could almost forget that these likable bunglers, for all their charm, are really just murderers and thieves.  In the end, however, those who do wrong are punished in this grotesque and shockingly true crime story based on events that occurred in Miami in the mid-90s.  The use of period-faithful tunes from C+C Music Factory, Bon Jovi, and Coolio give an added nostalgic kick to this punchy, pleasantly gross, and perfectly edited dark comedy.

4.5 of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Pain and Gain is:

11. Anti-gay.  Paul, seeing a warehouse full of gay sex toys, expresses discomfort with “homo stuff”.  He deals viciously with a gay come-on (see no. 4).  Danny makes a pejorative reference to “pickle-licking”.

10. Arguably anti-Semitic.  The oily, irascible Kershaw’s Star of David pendant hangs conspicuously as he prattles and makes a sleazy annoyance of himself at the gym.

9. Gun-ambivalent.  Men with criminal records have no difficulty buying weapons from an effeminate and masochistic gun dealer (and Stryper fan) who enjoys being stunned with a taser.  A Confederate flag hanging in his store is probably intended for this film’s purposes to associate gun ownership not with liberty, but with racism.  A woman attempts unsuccessfully to defend herself in her home with a gun.

8. Obesity-ambivalent.  As in Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson plays the shameless tubby sexpot.  Other tubs of lard are featured in the film strictly for gross-out humor and audience derision, however.

7. Misogynistic.  Apart from one character, women are in the main represented in Pain and Gain as sluts and slobs.

6. State-skeptical.  Miami police are at first uninterested in investigating Kershaw’s story of how he was kidnapped and dispossessed, citing his Colombian origins as cause for skepticism.  They later admit their mistake.

5. Anti-drug.  Steroids render Adrian impotent.  Paul blows his cut of the loot on cocaine and starts to lose what limited wits he has.

4. Anti-Christian.  Paul’s religious beliefs, which vie with his cocaine problem for possession of his soul, make him susceptible to manipulation.  His professions of Christian devotion constantly clash with his criminal projects and outbursts of violent temper.  Furthermore, the judgmental attitude he derives from his faith finds expression in his belief that he might cure Kershaw of his Judaism.  A homosexual Catholic priest compliments Paul’s physique and tries to put the moves on him.

3. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation/anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Adrian, a black man, marries Robin (Wilson), a fat white woman, who recounts at their wedding how her racist grandfather had warned her against black men.  (Ironically, the grandfather’s advice proves to have been valid at least in Adrian’s case.)  Nasty interracial dancing disgraces the screen.  Kershaw, half Colombian and half Jewish, likes Cuban women.

2. Immigration-ambivalent.  Victor Kershaw is the old type of coarse but fiercely entrepreneurial immigrant who through his own talent and efforts has become wealthy.  Two Slav women are depicted as oversexed ditzes.  The fact that one of these entered the country illegally through Mexico highlights America’s border insecurity.

1. Capitalist.  The unsung protagonist of Pain and Gain is Kershaw, the self-made man who, while less handsome and likable than his victimizers, is in the right in seeking lawful revenge against Lugo and his collaborators.  Lugo believes in the American dream and understands that meritocracy plays a role in this; but like others who would redistribute wealth, he is motivated by envy and spite.  This derives from his mistaken notion that all people are equal at birth, the implication of which belief for his type of mentality is that unequal distribution of wealth must be some kind of injustice if two people’s apparently equal origins and efforts result in inconveniently unequal outcomes.  Ed Harris represents the private sector positively as a private investigator who comes to Kershaw’s aid when police fail to act on his client’s allegations.

[UPDATE (8/14/13): A Christian YouTuber offers his disapproving observations on Pain and Gain‘s detrimental cultural significance here.]

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.

2007’s Superbad marked a very welcome return to form for the raunchy teen sex comedy, a genre fallen on seemingly incurable black days after its 1980s heyday.  Superbad‘s call to arms, unfortunately, seems to have gone unnoticed by any filmmakers of notable talent, with Fun Size, Nickelodeon’s foray into lightweight (PG-13) teen sex comedy territory, landing instead like something of a soggy firecracker.

Gorgeous high school students April (tv tart Jane Levy) and Wren (tv tart Victoria Justice) – a nod to Stimpy’s Nickelodeon guyfriend? – are, we are expected to believe, socially insecure and not cool enough to feel that they have a chance with the likes of studly musician classmate Aaron (tv tart Thomas McDonell, “the next Johnny Depp”, as one IMDb user salivates), whose Halloween party promises to be the social event of the season.  Unfortunately, after being invited, Wren gets saddled by her slutty single mother (Chelsea Handler) with babysitting her tubby little brother (Jackson Nicoll), who delights in torturing her with his toilet humor and pranks.  Meanwhile, nice nerdy guy Roosevelt (Thomas Mann – the actor, not the author) pines for Wren’s affection and intellectual companionship, while his token minority buddy Peng (Osric Chau) lusts after kitty-costumed April.  Will Wren’s social life survive the night?  And, more to the point, will anyone in the audience care?

What could have been a happy, human, nocturnal teen comedy after the model of Sixteen Candles or Adventures in Babysitting ends up as a plastic, calculated exercise in nasty teensploitation.  Thomas Middleditch provides some amiable amusement as wimpy convenience store clerk Fuzzy, who befriends Wren’s mischievous little brother, and there are a few moments of mild hilarity, such as a knob broken off a car radio during a particularly annoying song, and the randy giant chicken sight gag featured in the trailer.  Overall, however, Fun Size is too miserly in heart to redeem itself as it depicts a sadistic, casually tawdry, filthy suburban America full of liberal intellectuals and growling barbarians, directionless women hungry for sex, overweight slobs, Obama voters and future serfs – and finds very little amiss.  This is a rotting world where women openly chat about their mammograms without shame and as if anyone could possibly care; a self-loathing civilization in which a little black boy in a Spider-Man outfit gives audiences a chuckle by calling a white girl “bitch”.

Ultimately, though, what’s worst about Fun Size is that it simply isn’t terribly funny.  It gets a grudging 2.5 of 5 possible stars, I suppose.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Fun Size is:

11. Antiwar.  Sarcastic reference is made to “Afghan citizenship” – a reminder of neoconservative failure in the Middle East.

10. Multiculturalist.  Races mingle freely and in friendship.  Hip-hop is an educational tool.  Spider-Man “looks like a Mexican wrestler”.  And, last but not least, bow down before Ruth Bader Ginsburg, bitches!

9. Drug-ambivalent.  Fuzzy warns about the danger of smoking around children after earlier jokingly offering chewing tobacco to Wren’s little brother.  Sexy young people do shots at a club before getting hot and heavy on the dancefloor.  A thug abuses Pepto Bismol.

8. Obesity-ambivalent.  Junk food is the key to the little brother’s heart.  He’s insulted for being fat, but nobody even tries to change his sugary, greasy eating habits.  Fuzzy indulgently gives him packets of sugar.  Overweight Polynesians also provide visual comic relief.

7. Anti-gun.  As part of his Aaron Burr costume, Peng sports an antique pistol – the representative gun is thus an anachronism clashing with enlightened modernity.  He fires the weapon at one point and, though it intimidates a bully, Peng himself clearly finds the experience more frightening than fun.

6. Pro-gay.  Roosevelt was raised by caring and cultured lesbian mothers.  When Aaron, at his party, asks who would like to kiss him, one boy raises his hand along with all the girls.

5. Anti-white male/pro-castration.  Manly men are antagonistic and primitive savages and constantly raising hell whether by stealing, theatening violence, or abducting and holding a child for ransom.  Kicked testicles are an occasion for humor.  Positive portrayals of men in Fun Size are limited to sissy, skinny, sensitive types like Roosevelt and Fuzzy and nerds like Peng.

4. Statist/pro-serfdom.  Roosevelt’s new age lesbian mothers, who presumably named him after crippled American dictator and welfare state Santa Claus FDR, “evolve” spiritually and as artists as they weave a tapestry of a smiling Barack Hussein Obama.  Roosevelt, like Wren, is a “fan of the Supreme Court”.  Wren does her part to inflate the college debt bubble by applying to NYU.

3. Pro-slut/anti-family/dysfunction-tolerant.  The mother whines about how hard it is being a single mother but also seems to find unaccountable bragging rights in this.  Kids are a hassle and Trojan condoms get the appropriate product placement.

2. Pro-miscegenation.  April inadvertently catches a steamy case of yellow fever after letting Peng feel her breast at a party and goes to bed (couch, actually) with him the same night.

1. Feminist.  For Halloween, Wren considers dressing as “feminist icon” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who gets name-dropped an obscene number of times for a dumb teen comedy.  Katie Couric, meanwhile, is praised for being “so brave”.  April experiences painful burning after applying Nair to her ass – and thus is punished for wrongheadedly catering to men’s sexually domineering expectations of female hairlessness.  Wren’s mom bares her teeth and intimidates Roosevelt by boasting that she’s a single mother (and therefore a force to be reckoned with) before handily wrestling him to the ground like a pro.

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