Archives for posts with tag: Paul Giamatti

Straight Outta Compton

In the opening moment of Straight Outta Compton, the street thug who would one day win fame as Eazy-E is seen retrieving a pistol hidden in a speaker in the trunk of his car. The image perfectly captures the unapologetic essence of Niggaz wit Attitudes, the hip-hop supergroup E would form with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, and which famously made music that packed a nasty and influentially lethal punch. N.W.A. were the founding fathers of gangsta rap, and Straight Outta Compton traces their sordid story from inauspicious ghetto beginnings through celebrity, infighting, dissolution, and Eazy-E’s untimely demise from AIDS. Raw and angry but intelligent lyricist Ice Cube is portrayed in the film by his son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., while the surprisingly mild-mannered Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins. Jason Mitchell is believably street as the devious Eazy-E, and R. Marcos Taylor is positively savage as brutal Death Row Records kingpin Suge Knight. It is Paul Giamatti, however, who steals the show as the group’s super-sleazy Jewish promoter, Jerry Heller.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Straight Outta Compton is:

7. Pro-gay. Two women kiss during a threesome.

6. Sexist! “Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money.” Jiggly booties abound.

5. Anti-white. Eazy-E is afraid to tour the South, where rednecks are “waitin’ to lynch niggers”. He therefore insists on taking a machine gun with him on the tour bus. To its dishonor, Straight Outta Compton perpetuates the myth of the unprovoked police attack on Rodney King, thereby pouring more synthetic fuel onto the ongoing black radical agitation of the Obama years.

4. Pro-gun. In one crowd-pleasing scene, the N.W.A. boys grab their gats to scare away a disgruntled cuckold.

3. Pro-drug. The “chronic” reignites Dr. Dre’s genius after a bout of doldrums and rapper’s block. The War on Drugs, furthermore, is a hypocritical and oppressive failure.

2. Libertarian/anti-police. “Fuck tha police!” Racist white cops hassle Ice Cube and call him a “nigger”. “I’m the only gangster around here,” one of them tells him. Others, including one black cop, have the rudeness to slap hamburgers out of the rappers’ hands for no reason. “Fuck the law enforcement community,” Ice Cube challenges those who would censor the group’s message. “We got freedom of speech, man.” Striking a relativistic note, the film opens with a sound montage containing a snippet of Oliver North, reminding the audience of the American deep state’s role in the importation of the cocaine that would come to define the thug life glorified by gangsta rap.

1. Anti-Semitic! Straight Outta Compton does not flinch from the truth that Jews played a decisive role in taking gangsta rap out of the ghetto and thrusting it into white people’s living rooms. Heller appears as a stereotypically seedy and greedy Jewish wheeler-dealer and propagator of cultural degeneracy. In Straight Outta Compton’s funniest scene, Heller throws a fit when he hears Ice Cube’s post-breakup diss track “No Vaseline”, containing the line, “You let a Jew break up my crew.” “I’m callin’ my friends at the JDL!” Heller snarls, referring to the violent Jewish Defense League.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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All Is Bright

Paul Giamatti daringly essays his umpteenth grumpy, disgruntled crumb-bum role in the sarcastically titled seasonal feature All Is Bright, a film which might more descriptively, memorably, and profitably be retitled The Grouch Who Stole Christmas.

Giamatti stars as Dennis Girard, a Canadian thief released from prison only to find that his wife, Therese (Amy Landecker), has given him up for an old friend, reformed crook Rene, played by Paul Rudd. Even more humiliating for Dennis is that Therese, hoping to shelter her daughter (Tatyana Richaud) from the unpleasant truth about her father, has told her that Dennis is dead so as to bar him from having any place in his daughter’s life. Out of work, at loose ends, and nearly at the end of his tether, Dennis bullies Rene into taking him along on his annual trip to New York to hawk exotic Canadian tannenbaums.

Offering nary a likable character, All Is Bright may strain the patience of audiences in search of something funny but basically wholesome, uplifting, and appropriate to view at Christmastime. A “criminal with a small dick”, Dennis Girard is ultimately too flawed, thorny, and unpersonable a character, his choices and outlook too glum, sordid, nasty, and unrepentant, for the film to be terribly entertaining or morally rewarding. All Is Bright is marginally amusing at best, and Giamatti’s grouch card may be maxed out, so the actor is advised to seek opportunities for expanding his range beyond the apoplectic curmudgeon that made him famous.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that All Is Bright is:

9. Anti-American. A U.S. border patrol agent is unfriendly, and Dennis and Rene affect a stereotypical Doug and Bob McKenzie Canadian accent to impress gullible American tree shoppers (cf. no. 2).

8. Green. “They still don’t have stars here,” Rene says on arrival in the United States, probably with reference to air pollution.

7. Anti-drug. “You should keep lungs, yeah?”

6. Pro-slut. The viewer is presumably expected to consider the casual attitude of Russian eccentric Olga (Sally Hawkins) toward what she terms “the thing” an endearment.

5. Anti-Putin. “You have heart like Putin,” Olga says insultingly.

4. Anti-marriage, with infidelity and divorce the norm.

3. Barely Christian. Rene gives his adopted daughter an Advent calendar, but little or no other mention is made of the religious significance of Christmas. An irreverent, vulgar attitude toward the holiday prevails (“If you want to throw up, do it in the tree stand”). “There’s money in holidays.”

2. Multiculturalist, pro-immigration, and pro-wigger. All Is Bright is set in that bizarro Hollywood version of the world in which whites beg and receive cigarettes from blacks. The characters generally interact postracially. And Emory Cohen, apparently typecast as wiggers after his turn as AJ in The Place Beyond the Pines, receives a cameo as dopey but sympathetic dude “Lou, who comes to buy a tree”. (cf. no. 9)

1. Egalitarian/anti-capitalistic. Olga suggests charging more for trees bought by “haves”. While Dennis and Rene represent small-scale enterprise in a relatively positive manner, more successful entrepreneurs are vilified. Dennis, in one unfunny scene, physically intimidates a more professionally operated Christmas tree business into relocating. In an even more unlikely moment, Dennis is physically ejected from the men’s room of a restaurant by its petty proprietor for not being a paying customer. The self-pitying protagonist never abandons his thieving ways (“I will not get caught twice,” he vows), and steals a piano (among other things) from a successful dentist (cf. The Possession) as a gift for his daughter. Criminal redistribution of wealth, All Is Bright appears to argue, is fine and commendable as long as it is perpetrated for a good and heartwarming cause.

David Cronenberg’s newest film advertises and makes a production of its overwhelming complexity, with dense and enigmatic dialogue lifted directly from Don DeLillo’s novel.  At its core, however, Cosmopolis is a simple story, following young financial demigod Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) and his wilfully unraveling fortunes as his futuristically hermetic limousine slowly snakes its way across Manhattan while anarchist protests explode in the streets.  Along the way the detached Packer has a series of philosophically loaded encounters with the other unusual types who people his life.  The ride is on one level a seemingly pointless jaunt to an inconveniently located barber shop; on another level the trip is a self-obsessed one-man funeral procession, with Packer undergoing sartorial as well as financial and mental downsizing and disintegration en route.

Money, the business of his life, has become an abstract thing; like art, it is no longer narrative and now talks to itself in mad senility.  Isolated from the real life concerns of common humans, Packer is anaesthetized and knows it and will go to bizarre lengths just to feel something.  “Stun me,” he dares his bodyguard (Patricia McKenzie) as she levels a taser at him.  Even his relationship with his wife is absurdly cold and emotionally constipated.  Like Cronenberg, he is an intellectual who intellectualizes everything, so that his “chief of theory” or financial oracle (Samantha Morton) occupies an important place in his life and gives him daily debriefings.  Is it possible that Packer will be able to liberate himself from his psychological sterility only by consciously dismantling everything he has built with such precision?

Cosmopolis is a triumph of visual design and a remarkable feat in remaining consistently sharp and compelling despite being an almost nonstop series of scenes of Packer in conversation.  The stylized dialogue, which lends Cosmopolis an air of being the film adaptation of a stage play, rewards multiple viewings in its clever, showboating complexity.  Also indispensible in keeping this tasteful freakshow afloat is the splendid cast, with Sarah Gadon, Jay Baruchel, George Touliatos, Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, and many others contributing brief but memorable characterizations that help to define Packer by way of relief and speculation.   Cosmopolis is also very funny and comes highly recommended to fans of black comedies.  5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cosmopolis is:

10. Multiculturalist.  Packer employs minorities and listens to sufi rap.

9. Faith-ambivalent.  “We don’t need God,” says the “chief of theory”.  Callous Packer’s tower has gone “unpunished by God.”  He mocks a health-conscious subordinate’s “Judeo-Christian jogging”.  He does, however, appear to long for some elusive spirituality.  He admires a sufi rapper (K’Naan) who for a time lived in a minaret, whereas Packer has lived his life in another kind of tower and in a different isolation.  He also expresses interest in buying a chapel.  The mysterious “Complex” is the closest thing to a supreme being in the film, however.

8. Pro-immigration.  Foreign cab drivers “come from horror and despair”.

7. Pro-miscegenation.  Packer avails himself of a chesty black woman.

6. Feminist.  Women are capable executives.  Packer has a female bodyguard.

5. Pro-slut.  “I am a single, struggling mother,” one mover-and-shaker pants sweatily.  Sex in this world has nearly succeeded in divorcing itself from emotion; it is now a medication, an “antidote to disillusion”.  Didi (Juliette Binoche) puts on an especially good show.

4. Anti-marriage.  In addition to Packer’s own failed union, reference is made to “some dumb wedding”.

3. Egalitarian.  Private ownership of art is questioned.  Art “belongs to the world”; and yet, “The more visionary the idea, the more people it leaves behind.”  Making money is Packer’s art.  Do his creations also belong to the people?  The precipitous crash of his portfolio makes him feel free, Packer says.

2. State-skeptical.  A financial pundit is attacked and stabbed in the eye simply for criticizing the stability of the yuan.  A finance minister’s movements are so absurdly awe-inspiring and earth-shaking that even his pauses and breaths as he speaks are studied with intense interest.

1. Anti-capitalist.  Cronenberg is reluctant to accept this label for his film, but too many elements point in this direction for Cosmopolis not to receive it.  Capitalism, not communism, is the “specter” haunting the world.  “People eat and sleep in the shadow of what we do,” Shiner (Jay Baruchel) reflects with trepidation.  “All wealth has become wealth for its own sake.”  “Foully and berserkly rich” Packer, the film’s representative magnate, is an unfeeling philanderer disrespectful of human life.  “You’re forcing me to be reasonable,” he says to a would-be assassin (Paul Giamatti).  “I don’t like that.”  “The logical extension of business is murder,” he suggests to a sexual partner; then, “Move to the left,” he instructs her, meaning physically, but unavoidably connoting the political to the viewer.

You know when a film begins with a busload of strangers joining in a corny rendition of “Sister Christian” that you’re in for a high-camp moviegoing experience, and Rock of Ages certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department.  The tale of an innocent Tulsa bimbo who casts caution to the wind to try to become a singing sensation in picturesquely sleazy L.A., Rock of Ages is definitely true to the 80s at least in its willingness to plunge into the over-the-top outbursts of feeling at any moment, and is never ashamed of being what it is: essentially a feature-length narrative music video version of a Broadway musical and a love letter to the long-gone but not forgotten hard rock and power ballads of the time.

Full of energetic visual orchestration in scenes lit with wonderfully period-faithful pinks and blues, it achieves a greater emotional impact by setting itself in the late 80s, when hard hair rock was still at the top but about to go into eclipse as the 90s loomed, like a snapshot of a great civilization on the verge of collapse.  What sounds on paper like an utter waste of celluloid – and I’ll confess to having gone into this one expecting a shamelessly cutesy mercenary rock wreck – actually ends up being flawless and instantly classic.  The songs, with obvious affection, have been selected and utilized thoughtfully, contributing integrally to the storytelling and character development.  Visually as well as sonically sharp, Rock of Ages is fine-tuned cinema, so that the unsung stars of Rock of Ages are the choreography, art direction, and especially the editing, which weaves the meaningful singing, dancing, and involving melodrama into a beat-perfect winner.

The emotional centerpiece of the film may be Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman’s duet rendition of “I Want to Know What Love Is”, which manages not only to be rousing musical moment, but also a genuinely touching, sexy, and humorous lovemaking scene.  Watch it and you, too, may find yourself wanting to know what love is.  Verging on absolute crudity but simultaneously heart-stabbingly sweet, this is romance as it ought to be filmed: creatively, dangerously, and with a true sense of supernatural abandon and harmonious wonder.

So much is right with Rock of Ages that I’m willing to forgive and even embrace its various eccentricities.  For one thing, the cast down to the last man is made up of people I never would have imagined I wanted to see in a tribute to 80s rock.  A special “What Am I Doing in This Movie?” Award goes to Mary J. Blige, who  nonetheless lends vocal heft and an air of experience in her role as the manager of a strip club where Julianne Hough lands a gig.  Cruise, at least, is an iconic 80s actor, and thus would seem to be only vaguely relevant to the material; but the casting of Cruise turns out to have been the perfect choice as he channels just the right mix of cocky success and sexiness gone to seed with untapped human depth, so that his performance ends up being one of the film’s major endearments.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Paul Giamatti offer high-caliber ham antagonism of the Tipper Gore sanctimoniousness and soulless corporate parasite varieties, respectively, with Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston rounding out the villainy as L.A.’s crooked mayor determined to kill the strip at the bidding of his prudish wife.  Fresh-faced Diego Boneta, meanwhile, is cute and compelling as a bar band  singer longing for rock godhood as “Wolfgang von Colt”.  Julianne Hough’s singing may be slightly too faux-soulful and Britney-bratty to be exactly faithful to the 80s, but she’s touchingly sweet and plays a naive Oklahoma girl convincingly.

Harmless but also anachronistic and not really relevant to 80s rock as its fans would probably prefer to remember it is the wholly superfluous gay romance at the movie’s margin, inserted for nothing but cheap chuckles and propaganda apparently.  If you ever wanted to see an adorably slovenly, in-need-of-a-shave Alec Baldwin kiss a man, though, Rock of Ages is definitely your fix, with adorable Russell Brand being the lucky guy in this case.  (Oddly enough, Rock of Ages isn’t Baldwin’s first man-man mouth action, since he did the same, albeit with different motivation, in 1992’s Prelude to a Kiss.)

More dark and satanic content in this film, along the lines of Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, would have been nice, but since Rock of Ages is primarily a film about love and rock’s redemptive power, it might have been a distraction. I also would like to have seen even more and bigger big hair on the women, but that is a somewhat minor complaint.  I’ve watched Rock of Ages eight times so far and I always discover something new.  An enthusiastic 5 stars.  See it and remember: don’t stop believing!

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Rock of Ages is:

6. Drug-ambivalent

5. Proudly gay

4. Anti-state

3. Anti-Christian

2. Pro-liberty

1. Pro-rock (though the argument could be made that, by transforming heavy metal into a song-and-dance show, the film has actually neutered rock by (almost) rendering it safe for the family).

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