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Street Wars

Originally a two-part episode of the TV series True Justice, this ersatz “movie” has over-the-hill kicker Steven Seagal playing the chief of a special sheriff’s task force in the Seattle area. He becomes concerned when clueless clubbers start dropping like flies from a new drug making the rounds of the local rave scene. (Indicative of the depressingly meager budget of Street Wars is the fact that the psychedelic effect of the drug is conveyed by choppy editing, strobe lights, and a close-up of a water bottle being shaken.) “This is gettin’ bad, man. This is gettin’ bad. We gotta do somethin’,” the enlightened law enforcer decides. The investigation will lead his team into a tangle of mob hits and federal corruption, none of it particularly interesting.

Seagal, sporting a plastic Dracula ‘do and a few extra pounds around the midsection, characteristically whispers his way through police procedural gobbledygook and action epilepsy shot nearly entirely in gimmicky ADHD jerkvision to disorient the viewer and try to shock life into this video corpse. Speed-up/slow-down annoyance, generous expenditures of ammunition, and quick cuts (to distract from Seagal’s relative lack of mobility) were never so boring. Ever. The bleak non-entertainment that is Street Wars is probably best summed up by one of the hefty, greasy-faced hero’s lines of dialogue: “I mean, you gotta be kidding me, man. I ain’t got time for this.”

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Street Wars, in addition to sucking, sends mixed political signals and that it is:

9. Sexist! Workplace flirtation (i.e., verbal RAPE) goes unprogressively unpunished.

8. Pro-wigger. Seagal is given to occasional black affectations, calling people “y’all” and saying things like, “We ain’t suppose to be babysittas.”

7. Pro-family. “If I could turn back the hands of time,” Seagal says, “I’d spend a lot more time with my wife and kids.”

6. State-ambivalent. Street Wars accepts the validity of the War on Drugs, but depicts the DEA as corrupt and favors local law enforcement as more effective, honest, and caring. “If you think you’re going to make the government care about these [impoverished] people, you’re crazy,” Juliet (Meghan Ory) says, presumably with reference to the federal government. A visit to the site of Camp Harmony, part of Uncle Sam’s system of WWII Japanese internment camps, resurrects the specter of a belligerent, racist, authoritarian state. Later, when a conflict arises between federal law and the needs of the Seattle task force’s investigation, Sarah (Sarah Lind) asks, “You know this violates half a dozen federal laws?” “Rules went out the window when they tried to kill Gates, right?” Juliet bristles. “I hate to rationalize breaking the rules,” Sarah replies, “but, yeah, you’re right.”

5. Diversity-skeptical. Seattle is racially and politically polarized. “These people, the good and the bad,” says filmmaker Savon (Byron Chan), “are products of the environment that the government created.” “But do you understand that none of this is interesting to people like me?” Juliet sasses back. “And if your audience doesn’t consist of us young white Republicans, uh, you’re not really gonna get the advertisers, right?” Savon objects, saying, “An investigative piece is made as food for the brain – not for advertisers’ dollars”, to which Juliet snaps, “Yeah, well, I guess my brain just doesn’t, uh, eat what your restaurant is serving.” (see also nos. 1 and 3)

4. Anti-slut/anti-miscegenation. A ditzy hedonist (Annette Tolar) lets a black thug (Matt Ward) stuff dope in her mouth. “One of these and your whole world will change,” he says as he removes his pooplike finger from her lips. The pair dances briefly until she collapses, foams at the mouth, and dies. Street Wars would seem to be more tolerant of white guy/Asian girl hook-ups, however. “It’s so sexy when you get all technical like that,” Gates (Kyle Cassie) tells Sparks (Elizabeth Thai).

3. Conservative. Street Wars features a caricature of a left-libertarian social justice weenie in the annoyingly named Savon, a documentarian making a propagandistic film about the homeless with the cooperation of local authorities. Savon, an Asian nerd with a pretentious British accent, is convinced that a legacy of government oppression of minorities and the poor is to blame for society’s woes. Tough cookie Juliet identifies as a Republican.

2. Anti-drug. Few will envy the brain swelling, dementia, convulsions, and death.

1. Racist! Seagal’s black lackey (William “Big Sleeps” Stewart) calls him “Boss”. “Did you see that?” Sarah asks after Seagal has subdued a mulatto culprit on the run. “That was like trying to corral a monkey on crack!”

 

 

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Gloria poster

Full disclosure. Your humble reviewer, stopping on a whim at his neighborhood Redbox machine to see what was newly available, quickly picked Gloria for no other reason than the disclaimer that it contained graphic nudity. Not realizing that this would be a serious foreign film requiring him to read subtitles, he ate his movie vegetables, as it were, by accident.

Set in Santiago, Chile, Gloria is the story of a lonely divorcee (Paulina Garcia), a professional woman and recent grandmother, who finds herself torn between dignity and sexual fulfillment. Somewhat nerdy but still shapely and graceful in her maturity, Gloria thinks she may have met the answer to her quiet yearnings in paintball park proprietor Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a man who gives increasing evidence of neurosis.

Gloria very much belongs to lead Paulina Garcia, a fascinating actress whose versatile face and nuanced expressions command the viewer’s undivided attention. Even had the script by director Sebastian Lelio and Gonzalo Maza not been so finely worked and surprising, the film would be worth seeing if only for the presence of Paulina Garcia. Eccentric, disturbing, and warmly human, Gloria gets this critic’s high recommendation.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Gloria is:

10. New Age. Gloria takes a yoga lesson.

9. Marginally pro-miscegenation. Gloria’s daughter Ana (Fabiola Zamora) is involved with a Swede (Eyal Meyer), which is arguably a mild instance of interracial relationship. However, Chileans, particularly those living in Santiago, are of predominantly European descent, and resemble Spaniards in their attractiveness.

8. Anti-Christian. Gloria tries to hide her condescension as her maid (Luz Jimenez) talks about the Genesis flood and tells a story about cats issuing from a lion.

7. Racist! Gloria and Rodolfo, practicing at a firing range, shoot at a target representing a “black figure”.

6. Drug-ambivalent. Marijuana plays a role in Gloria’s new assertiveness. Her tobacco habit takes on varying shades of character depending upon the emotional context – sultry and sophisticated smoking after sex, or an anxious person’s prop in her moments of doubt. One smoker is reminded not to light up in the presence of a pregnant woman. Humiliation, despair, and overindulgence in drink drive Gloria into the arms of a random slob for a degrading one-night stand.

5. Anti-marriage. The protagonist’s ex-husband (Alejandro Goic) is an undependable drunkard. Rodolfo, like Gloria, is relieved to “finally” be divorced. Ana, a happy tramp with a pierced nose, is unashamedly pregnant with her Swedish lover’s bastard.

4. Anti-family/antinatalist. “Don’t be born, man! Don’t be born!” despairs one of Gloria’s neighbors. Rodolfo’s wife and daughters are selfish, needy, ungrateful nuisances. Gloria’s family, too, is broken.

3. Misandrist. A vengeful Gloria appropriates her insensitive lover’s phallus by attacking him with one of his own paintball guns. The men in her life are all immature. “Grow a pair,” she tells Rodolfo.

2. Anti-capitalistic. Old Chilean radicals look to loud young rabble to effect progressive change. Gloria’s idea of excitement would be to skip work and travel to Cuba. The film also presents an unflattering portrait of an entrepreneur in Rodolfo. (see also no. 1).

1. Anti-Semitic! “What Chile used to be now seems like a ghost, as if that Chile were dead, and what was built afterwards is a kind of replica of something that’s being devised in some other part of the world, where the driving force is greed.” “There aren’t any leaders anymore [. . .] if it’s about politicians who are up there, and they’re the ones governing, the ones that were chosen.”

mischief-night-poster

Director Richard Schenkman, whose previous efforts range from Playboy documentaries to the abysmal Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, delivers a surprising winner with this tense home invasion shocker.

Mischief Night evokes immediate sympathy and concern for protagonist Emily (Noell Coet), a girl psychosomatically blinded after her mother died in a car accident. When Emily’s father (Daniel Hugh Kelly), with her encouragement, leaves her alone in the house on what happens to be her community’s annual Mischief Night – an occasion for spooky pranksterism – she finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious intruder (or is that intruders?) in a raincoat. The resulting film is a genuine tingler that raises the bar for blind girl terror, besting Wait Until Dark and Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out in terms of its sheer contagious fright.

The most frustrating aspect of Mischief Night is the muddiness of its moral universe – and, ultimately, its consequent meaninglessness. A fun but superfluous prologue that punishes two fornicators suggests that the Mischief Night killer or killers are disgruntled moralists or judgmental fire-and-brimstone vigilantes of the type represented in The Collection. Subsequent murders, however, lack this puritanical dimension, with victim selection failing to point to any unifying principle other than maximum terror. For most of the movie, the killers function as personifications or agents of a personal Hell for Emily, taking out of commission one by one the people and things that give her a sense of security – a theme that would have been strengthened if the screenwriters had excluded some of the extraneous deaths.

Flaws aside, Mischief Night is as scary as anything the viewer is likely to find at the Redbox, and is therefore happily recommended.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Mischief Night is:

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

7. Class-conscious. Wealth and a comfortable home afford no protection from reality or from the moral ramifications of sin.

6. Pro-castration. Emily’s father, somewhat reminiscent of Henry Winkler in wimpy Waterboy mode, is a model sensitive man.

5. Liberal. An old man (Richard Riehle) listening to a conservative talk radio program is dispatched almost as soon as he appears. This might be interpreted as an indication that the old conservative certainties of traditional values and Constitutional republicanism are dead or no longer a feasible defense of America; but more likely is that this is simply gratuitous spite directed at Limbaugh listeners.

4. Anti-slut. An adulteress (Erica Leerhsen) is terrorized during the opening sequence. Emily’s physical closeness with and trust of her boyfriend (Ian Bamberg) is a source of discomfort for the viewer.

3. Anti-gun. Emily’s father accidentally shoots her boyfriend, believing him to be an intruder.

2. Feminist. Emily’s disability has caused her to become highly self-reliant in ordinary circumstances. She proves more valiant than her father in the defense of their home and even asserts an imaginary phallus in the form of a chainsaw.

1. Pro-family. Emily is close with her father, and her disturbance after her mother’s death, a rupture of the family unit, has left her blind and, if not helpless, then at a significant disadvantage. The father, however, is rather girly and ineffectual, thus mitigating the movie’s pro-family credentials.

the-frozen-ground-poster-artwork-nicolas-cage-john-cusack-vanessa-hudgens-small

The first half of this Nic Cage serial killer thriller is so uninspired that it comes as a bit of a shock to realize an hour or so into its run time that it actually packs some fair suspense. Cage is, as always, easy to watch and perfectly adequate in his role as an Alaskan state trooper investigating a series of gruesome hooker murders, though fans of his more outrageous performances may be disappointed by his relatively sedate turn here. It is Cage’s Con Air castmate John Cusack, however, here cast against type as the seemingly mild-mannered murderer, who constitutes the primary reason to see The Frozen Ground. The initial interrogation and confrontation between Cage and Cusack is especially electric and easily the strongest scene in the film. Also featured prominently is Vanessa Hudgens as a revolting prostitute targeted by Cusack and coddled by paternally protective Cage. Rounding out the cast are Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris in a frustratingly small supporting role and rapper 50 Cent looking somewhat out of place as a pimp on ice. The Frozen Ground is no Angel or Vice Squad, too serious in its approach to its true crime subject matter to take full advantage of exploitative potential; but, approached with appropriate expectations, it might be worth a Redbox rental one of these chilly nights.

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

6. Racist! Fiendishly perpetuating the black pimp stereotype. Even if it is based on a true story, truth is no excuse for racism!

5. Anti-gun. Cusack is a hunter and Hudgens relates that, when she saw all the animal heads mounted on his walls, she knew there was no point in begging for mercy.

4. Anti-drug. Recreational pharmaceuticals solve nobody’s problems. Cage’s sister died in an accident caused by a drunken driver.

3. Anti-Christian. The killer, whose middle name is Christian, is, appropriately enough, a Christian, as an FBI psychological profile has predicted. One senses that his family’s emotional life is stultified by the strictures of his faith, which has probably also contributed to his vicious attitude toward fallen women.

2. Anti-family/anti-marriage. Like American Beauty, Breach, and countless other subversive films, The Frozen Ground is eager to reveal the conservative family man to be a closet pervert and a volatile maniac. Cusack’s wife is clearly a silent sufferer in an unhappy marriage. Hudgens, child of a teenage mother, reveals that she was molested by an uncle.

1. Slut-ambivalent. The film can hardly be accused of prettifying the life of a hooker, and it graphically illustrates the danger of hawking sloppy thousandths on the mean, moose-prowled streets of Anchorage, Alaska. The movie stumbles onto thin dramatic ice with its attempt to drum up audience sympathy over the rape of a shameless whore, however, and irritates with its perpetuation of the popular misconception that streetwalkers’ lives have value.

2platesposter

Filmed in 2010 as The Two Plates and re-released at Redboxes this week under the stronger and more attention-grabbing title Blood Red Presidents, this ghetto epic from writer-director Jonathan Straiton is well worth checking out. Nasty, raw, and uncompromising, Blood Red Presidents dispenses with the Hollywood kid gloves in the depiction of blacks and emphasizes instead the grittily real. So firm is this film’s commitment to presenting the truth, no matter how unflattering to the society it depicts, that much of it feels almost as if actual camera phone footage straight out of the ‘hood had been edited together and uploaded onto YouTube as a movie, with most of the actors mumbling and slurring their lines instead of hamming it up and projecting; but there is much audiovisual style displayed here along with the handheld and seemingly primitive, with several memorably composed frames and such tactics as split screen employed more than once and used especially effectively in a doom-laden money-counting montage and musical interlude. Hip-hop is very much a part of this film’s personality and does much to enhance its power.

The violent story has two small-time hustlers, Deshaun (Assault) and Buck (Ambush), making a play for the big-time money as counterfeiters after they steal two plates that once belonged to a Peruvian drug lord. Unfortunately for them, their scheme attracts the attention of Secret Service agent Caddell (John Patton), who, along with Richmond cops Beck (Chris Morrison) and Burnett (Wes Reid), is determined to bring Deshaun and Buck’s successful run to an end. Before the tragic but blackly humorous story has run its seedy course, many will die, families will suffer, and friends will turn against each other. Blood Red Presidents, then, lives up to its title as yet another cautionary tale about how money, the titular “presidents”, is supposedly “the root to all evil.” Buck and Deshaun are no pitiable victims of any white Man’s “system”, however; these are crude, coldblooded brutes, self-described “niggers killin’ niggers” who deserve everything they get and more.

4 out of 5 stars. Recommended.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Blood Red Presidents is:

6. Christian. “Yeah, I’m sure, man. Is Jesus black?” Director Jonathan Straiton thanks God in the credits for His “guidance”.

5. Pro-family. Straiton dedicates the film to his father. Executive producer John M. Clark, meanwhile, thanks “Gene my adopted son who I appreciate very much for helping my retarded son.”

4. Sexist and slut-ambivalent. A rap that plays over the opening credits warns of crooked lawyers and “bitches with game”. “Get the fuck off the bed,” Deshaun tells his “shorty” in one early scene. “You need to take that shit to the clinic,” one young wastrel says to her. Leaning in the pro-slut direction, however, the executive producer gives a “special thanks” to “the designer of crotchless panties and peach flavored douche.”

3. Drug-ambivalent. In the opening scene, an old-fashioned white father, no doubt intended to be laughable, is shocked that his son would use marijuana. Thugs smoke joints and blunts and drink alcohol throughout the film, but “seein’ ya mama on that glass pipe is a painful sight.” In the end credits, executive producer John M. Clark thanks “the French wheat growers for doing their part to distill Grey Goose Vodka without which I couldn’t get through a day,” while producer Mean Gene thanks Bud Light “for always being there for me in time of need.” The director, Jonathan Straiton, says, “To anyone I forgot I apologize but it’s late and I’m drunk.”

2. Police-ambivalent/anti-state. Blood Red Presidents presents a sympathetic portrait of rookie cop Burnett and his chief. “You know how the media is,” Burnett complains to his chief after being accused of police brutality. “I mean, where were they last week when I was changing that old lady’s tire?” Surprisingly, Burnett is the only character in the film who shows any remorse after committing a murder, and he even risks blowing a major investigation to try to save a criminal informant’s life. His colleague Beck is another matter. In a situation similar to that in The Place Beyond the Pines, this officer attempts to cover up for Burnett after his mistaken killing of an unarmed suspect. Meaningfully, the victim, an aspiring rapper, is found to have been holding a microphone rather than a gun. (Symbolically, this might be read as suggesting that the police state feels less threatened by black crime than by socially conscious black men’s freedom of expression.) One of the extras in the police station has clearly been cast to capture the worthless, doughnut-scarfing blob archetype.

1. Diversity-skeptical/anti-wigger. A close-up of Virginia’s state flag, with its motto, “Sic semper tyrannis”, calls to mind Lincoln’s assassination and never-completed Reconstruction. “Freedom ain’t free,” one rap number suggests, and racial resentments going back to the days of slavery inform the typical thug mindset, with the ghosts of slaves, heard from the trees, encouraging young black men to “Squeeze that tech, nigga.” White police, consequently, are vulnerable both to violence and defamation in the media. In one scene, a black man punches a white stranger on sight. Buck and Deshaun’s wigger associates, “silly-ass white boy” Chuck (Ashby Brooks) and his brother, “ol’ crazy-ass white boy” Mike (Rob Rozier), turn out to be untrustworthy. Authorities, meanwhile, are frustrated by criminals’ use of unintelligible Ebonics.

undergroundbloodred

This 2010 grade-Z kick-fest, just released to Redboxes on a double feature disc with the superior gangster study Blood Red Presidents, stars writer-director Wilbert Berthaud, Jr., as Mike, an urban martial artist who to his regret gets mixed up with an underground fighting ring to help pay the bills and support his little brothers. Berthaud might have done better to concentrate on his duties behind the camera, as, high kicks aside, the young man has little in the way of screen presence and could have spent more time developing his script. More interesting is his unkempt afro, which goes through mutations during the film and in one scene is displayed half-fluffed, the other half of his head subdued in cornrows, a rare (probably unintentional) piece of poetic imagery that captures Mike’s divided self, as he receives occasional visits from his own dark side. This and other elements make for a somewhat offbeat action picture, its oddity failing, however, to compensate for quality. The action scenes and comic relief are tolerably good, but with no compelling characters to cheer to a victory, Underground is an indie picture best left interred.

2 out of 5 possible stars. ICA’s advice: for a good underground fighting drama, check out Lorenzo Lamas in Night of the Warrior; or for decent kung fu mayhem with a black star, see any Jim Kelly movie.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Underground is:

6. Feminist. Jade (Sara Walsh) proves to be a worthy opponent for Mike and even beats him on one occasion.

5. Class-conscious/anti-business. A representative entrepreneur is a condescending slob. Businessmen throw away money “like it’s candy.” “You think because you can afford designer suits that you can tell me what to do?”

4. Anti-police. A goofy loser/small-time crook (Donald Foley in an amusing performance) turns out to be a goofy loser/undercover cop who forgets to load his gun for the final confrontation. Humorously, his ample flab makes him impervious to an assailant’s pressure point attacks. Police play an antagonistic role during the climactic sequence.

3. Pro-miscegenation. Mike has a mulatto girlfriend (Sara Rattigan). Black gangster Monro is intimate with blonde henchwoman Jade, who sits on his lap and calls him “Sir”. “Such a pretty face,” she says on meeting the star/screenwriter.

2. Multiculturalist. With important exceptions, the film takes place in what would appear to be a largely postracial society, with blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians interacting without regard for each other’s racial differences. Underground opens itself up to the charge of stereotyping, however, when Mike, channeling his inner janitor, uses a mop handle as a weapon and then, channeling his inner African cannibal, bites Monro on the ankle during their final confrontation.

1. Anti-Semitic. Mike’s exaggeratedly hook-nosed friend Jason (Mike Harb) turns out to be a Judas.

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