Archives for posts with tag: slut-ambivalent

Men Women and Children

This ensemble film follows the interrelated lives of a set of high school students and their parents in the context of twenty-first century connectedness that paradoxically has resulted in a profound disconnect for them all. Jennifer Garner plays a paranoid mother obsessed with controlling and filtering her daughter’s online activities. The daughter, Kaitlyn Dever, strikes up a friendship-cum-romance with Ansel Elgort, a sensitive, gloomy boy who quits the school football team after realizing that sports are meaningless. Meanwhile Elgort’s gruff football enthusiast father, played by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, attempts to cope with his wife’s abandonment of the family. Norris thinks he may have found a new love with Judy Greer, whose trampy daughter, played by Olivia Crocicchia, aspires to become an actress and promotes herself online with risqué photographs. Adam Sandler, meanwhile, adds another “serious” role to his résumé as a dull accountant whose marriage to Rosemarie DeWitt has lost its magic, with both seeking sexual satisfaction on an extramarital basis.

On the whole, Men, Women and Children makes for an engrossing and mildly artsy Hollywood social commentary, but some threads of the story are definitely more rewarding than others. The insights about the debilitating effects of online pornography are welcome, and the portions of the film concerning young lovers Dever and Elgort are touching and nicely played; but the story about the straying spouses takes Men, Women and Children into regions of moral repugnancy too extreme to qualify as entertainment – a circumstance that militates against what otherwise might have been this critic’s unmitigated recommendation. The film does, however, have much to say about the consequences of living in a deracinated, nihilistic, high-tech society centered on empty civic nationalism and in which “football served as a common language for which they [i.e., father and son] had no substitute.”

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Men, Women and Children is:

6. Anti-Christian. The actions of Jesus Christ mean “absolutely nothing”.

5. State-skeptical. Garner’s surveillance of her daughter’s devices, while attacking the “helicopter parent” phenomenon as a sort of irrational paranoia, also serves as an allegory about the post-9/11 regime of domestic spying as the norm. The flaw in the analogy, of course, is that it suggests domestic surveillance is motivated by a misguided maternal devotion rather than a hostile mania for control.

4. Anti-porn. Sandler’s imagination has been vitiated by the instant gratification of online pornography. His computer, as a result, is also riddled with malware. His son, played by Travis Tope, has been rendered sexually dysfunctional by his own pornography habit. “By age 15,” narrator Emma Thompson informs the viewer, “Chris found it difficult to achieve an erection without viewing a level of deviance that fell well outside societal norms.” Now only the idea of female sexual domination arouses him, and he is incapable of performing with an actual girl. One wonders if Hollywood’s anti-porn stance as articulated in this film and in Don Jon (2013) is motivated by genuine concern for the public health or by worry about online pornography’s competing share of its target audience’s disposable time and income.

3. Slut-ambivalent. Elena Kampouris plays a girl who gets pregnant and has a miscarriage after losing her virginity in a sordid episode in the home of a friend. The audience is invited to hold blonde “bitch” Crocicchia in contempt when she says, “It’s a new era for women, okay? Just because I’m comfortable with my body and enjoy hooking up doesn’t make me a slut.” The film’s anti-slut credentials are, however, undermined by its comparatively casual treatment of marital infidelity.

2. Anti-marriage, pro-miscegenation, and anti-white. Sleazebag Sandler seeks and finds sexual gratification with a prostitute while his shiksa wife, Rosemarie DeWitt, signs up for an account with the Jewish homewrecking site AshleyMadison.com and takes the Allstate congoid, Dennis Haysbert, for her lover. DeWitt is eventually embarrassed to be found out by Sandler when he catches the witch in a bar with still another man, so that the film ostensibly shows that cheating carries risks; but Sandler’s response is tolerance, and his wife evinces embarrassment rather than actual regret. She clearly enjoys what she is doing, and Men, Women and Children makes a great to-do of eroticizing her first encounter with Haysbert. “I’m excited,” she says as she straddles the hulking, gorilla-faced lothario. “I want it […] in my mouth. I want that big penis of yours. I want it. I want your dick. I want you to destroy me with your big fucking cock.” The film, furthermore, could be argued to constitute de facto product placement for AshleyMadison.com’s AIDS-procurement service, suggesting as it does that women of Rosemarie DeWitt’s level of physical attractiveness can actually be met through the site. The viewer is left to assume, too, that, had Sandler’s wife not been caught in her infidelities, she blithely would have continued enjoying her shameless escapades.

1. Luddite. Technology has profoundly complicated the human condition, disrupting male-female relations and isolating individuals in a lonely cacophony. Like the Voyager outer space probe featured more than once in the movie, humanity has now entered treacherous “uncharted territories” thanks to technology.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Magic Mike poster

Magic Mike, along with Katy Perry: Part of Me, was one of the faith-shakingly embarrassing trailers that seemed to hound this critic every time he went to the movies during the summer of 2012. “Oh, no, not this again,” he would think to himself, slumping into his seat as his heart sank in his breast. The fact of the matter is, however, that this amusing and unassumingly sharp drama from screenwriter Reid Carolin and director Steven Soderbergh not only rises to the occasion on more than an anatomical level, but ends up as one of the most outstanding films of its year.

Channing Tatum, who actually worked as a stripper during an earlier phase of his show business career, puts his skills to productive use in Magic Mike, a role perfectly suited to the actor’s dissolute good looks, sex power, and sense of humor. Tatum’s semiautobiographical Mike is an American original, a creatively driven renaissance stud who aspires to build handcrafted furniture for a living, but works at construction, car detailing, and stripping until he can put together the venture capital he requires. Handsome Alex Pettyfer plays Adam, the fresh piece of meat Mike recruits to join the dance revue at Club Xquisite, and whose pretty but staid sister Brooke (Cody Horn) will become Mike’s reluctant romantic interest.

It is Matthew McConaughey, however, who majestically steals much of Magic Mike as the Mephistophelean Dallas, the Gordon Gekko of male strip club proprietors. In particular, the sequence in which erotic drill instructor Dallas is training greenhorn Adam for his first tour of duty under the lights provides McConaughey with the most explosive monologue of 2012. “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t,” he prods his pupil like a madman, showing him how to win over a crowd of emotionally vulnerable women by whirling and thrusting his pelvis properly. “You are the husband that they never had. You are the dreamboat guy that never came along. You are the one-night stand, that free fling of a fuck that they get to have tonight with you onstage and still go home to their hubby and not get in trouble because you, baby, you make it legal. You are the liberation!” McConaughey even gets to sing a sweet little country ditty, “Ladies of Tampa”, which he himself co-wrote.

Soderbergh again shows himself to be the consummate master, a man in complete and comfortable control of his craft. Magic Mike is a career highlight, but with no small assistance from his collaborators at every level of this nearly perfect production. From performances to editing and visual design, Magic Mike is a classy show and deserving of repeated viewings. Music also adds much to the verve of the experience, with cleverly selected songs setting the movie’s various tones and rhythms. Of special note, Win Win’s “Victim” is darkly repetitive, cock-rocking magic; Countre Black’s cover of “It’s Raining Men” is a scintillating introduction to the men of Xquisite doing a campy raincoats-and-umbrellas routine; and Chris Mitchell’s coy rendition of “Like a Virgin” is an appropriate accompaniment to Adam’s shy first appearance onstage.

Highly recommended at 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Magic Mike is:

11. Anti-Christian. A crucifix pendant and cross tattoo appear in irreverent contexts.

10. Antiwar. The troupe of strippers performs a mock-patriotic military-themed routine, firing their crotches to the sound of gunfire. While, on the one hand, this points to the warrior ideal as a perennially appealing archetype in women’s sexual fantasies, it might just as easily equate war with show business as something tawdry, phony, and whorish, or suggest that war is really a sublimation of primal, sexually motivated aggression.

9. Anti-obesity. One of the strippers hurts his back trying to lift a chubby customer.

8. Pro-gay. “I don’t care what your preferences are,” says Brooke when she discovers her brother’s dance outfits and takes these for evidence of his homosexuality. Then, as if 2005’s Brokeback Mountain had been insufficient degradation of an American movie icon, the cowboy archetype is further downgraded by a homoerotic gunfight strip routine.

7. Statist. “Fuck school altogether,” Dallas opines with reason. His idea is that children should be homeschooled with special emphasis on finance and investment strategies, but Mike, presumably from faith in the liberal public education system, dismisses this as “stupid shit”.

6. Anti-American. “That’s the state of the country, man. America. People. Stupid.”

5. Pro-wigger. Mike affects a hoodie, backwards cap, and “y’all” talk.

4. Feminist/anti-marriage/anti-family. Brooke is offended and gets defensive when she assumes Mike is suggesting that she cook breakfast for him. A woman wearing a “bride to be” sash is seen dancing uninhibitedly onstage with one of the strippers, and Dallas explains that women patronize his establishment because their marriages are unfulfilling, with nude male revues providing the psychological “liberation” women require. The institution of motherhood, meanwhile, receives grotesque parody treatment in the memorable image of pink-haired tart Nora (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough) bottle-feeding milk to a piglet.

3. Drug-ambivalent. Strippers partake of something called “hey juice” and stupid sorority girls demand to know: “Who do we have to fuck to get a fucking drink?” Joints are passed around without consequence, but drinking and harder drugging (and drug dealing) get Adam and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) into serious difficulties. Mike and Adam barely make it out of a sorority house with their lives when Adam enrages a girl’s boyfriend by slipping her some E. To its credit, Magic Mike contains a classic morning-after atrocity scene too good to spoil.

2. Slut-ambivalent. Relatively conservative Brooke regrets her adolescent decision to get tattooed. Adam is warned to avoid oral contact with customers so as to avoid contracting herpes. One laid-back dope dealer enjoys an open marriage (“My wife’s tits are awesome. Check ‘em out, man.”), but this segment, rather than serving as an endorsement of swinging lifestyles, is intended to evince the decadence and the seductive evil of the world into which Adam is being initiated. Casual orgy partner Joanna (Olivia Munn) comes across as unhappy and frightened by intimacy, with Mike ultimately realizing that what he needs is a good girl and a sexually conventional life. In the final analysis, Magic Mike is less than satisfactorily judgmental where sexual promiscuity is concerned, but does give the impression that such escapades are best suited for youth if at all necessary and better abandoned in maturity.

1. Anti-capitalistic-cum-populist. In Magic Mike’s complicated and nuanced moral universe, informed by the compassionate socialist-populist worldview of screenwriter Reid Carolin (whose nonprofit group Red Feather Development has, according to Wikipedia, been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show!) and director Steven Soderbergh (hagiographer of Che Guevara and happy producer of George Clooney’s disingenuous anti-McCarthy clunker Good Night, and Good Luck) honest toil when set to the pattern of the typical employer-employee paradigm becomes a species of semi-prostitution. “You don’t wanna know what I have to do for twenties,” Mike tells Brooke significantly. The capitalist, as exemplified by Mike’s construction foreman, is a petty exploiter who balks at the notion of paying “benefits and shit”.

It is stripper-impresario Dallas, however, who most clearly personifies capitalism in this film. Icy, dishonest, superficial, materialistic, and nihilistic, he is also a charming, seductive swaggerer whose charisma no viewer will deny. A manipulator of others, Dallas also whores himself, serenading his customers (whom he describes collectively as his “wife”) and climbing back into the saddle for an impressively sweaty farewell performance of his own, erupting a shower of crumpled dollar bills onto his naked torso. Going into business as partners with Dallas is clearly a matter of dealing with the Devil (“Nobody walks on water on my team.”), and Dallas expectedly lets Mike down, going back on his glorious promises. Commerce, for Dallas, is glorified theft. “You are worth the cash you pry out of their fuckin’ purses,” he snidely pontificates.

It is the small, honest, dream-driven entrepreneur, uncorrupted by greed and mercenary prudence, with whom these filmmakers sympathize. Mike’s desire to start his own custom furniture business is admirable and casts him as, if not a starving artist, then a creative man of principle unwilling to compromise on his vision. This type of endeavor, Magic Mike charges, is thwarted at every turn by the old boys’ club of the business and financial establishment. This becomes painfully obvious when Mike, seeking a startup loan for his venture, is turned down as a bad credit risk by a bank’s loan officer (Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt, who, this reviewer is grieved to report, is at no point in the film treated to a private dance from Mike). “The only thing that’s distressed is y’all,” Mike tells her defiantly on being refused. One of the morals of Magic Mike, then, is that self-reliance and hard work, even if it results in a less comfortable life than that of a high-class courtesan, is, albeit a more difficult one, a more dignified way to live. Magic Mike, consequently, has mostly scorn for slacker Adam, who shirks his responsibilities, sleeps on his sister’s couch, and refuses to interview for a job that requires his wearing a “fuckin’ tie”.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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.

Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling, fresh off of a revelatory turn in the excellent Place Beyond the Pines, unfortunately chooses to squander his talent in Only God Forgives, playing Julian, an American expatriate in Thailand whose boxing club fronts for a narcotics ring. When his immoral brother Billy (Tom Burke) kills a girl and is murdered in turn, Julian’s disgusting mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives from the States and insists that Julian seek revenge – even if this means eliminating a formidable police detective, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).

In a pretentious feat of style-over-substance showboating, director Nicolas Refn and his collaborators place so much emphasis on their ostentatious color schemes, self-conscious compositions, and generally gratuitous visual flourishes that they very nearly succeed in ruining what, in less limp-wristed hands, could have been a solidly gritty story of a family vendetta. Worst is that most of the actors in this nearly dialogueless drama appear to have been instructed to behave as robotically as possible, never smiling, as if every movement of every muscle is meant to convey existential angst, every second of every moment an endless Holocaust of the soul which, rather, screens as overly deliberate soullessness. The copious music of Cliff Martinez, a mixture of organic and synthesized sound, is both a blessing and a curse, as some lackluster scenes receive energy from these contributions, while others seem overly noisy where silence would be preferable.

The film does contain some very good scenes and in places achieves an adequate level of suspense. Those looking for action or for any kind of hero will be disappointed, however. An odd performance notwithstanding, the compulsively watchable presence of Ryan Gosling is, ultimately, at least half of what makes this idiosyncratic effort work to the modest extent that it does.

3.5 grudging stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Only God Forgives is:

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

6. Drug-ambivalent. The film passes no apparent judgment on the brothers’ drug trafficking. Different characters smoke in an indifferent manner, though Julian’s mother’s exhalations at a restaurant table would seem to be intended to parallel her disrespectful words.

5. Slut-ambivalent. While the film shows the physical danger that goes with a prostitute’s lifestyle, the representative whores are graceful and beautiful creatures who conduct themselves with elegant composure.

4. Pro-miscegenation. Julian engages in voyeurism and limited sexual contact with whores, not from any apparent apprehensions of disease, but out of a misplaced reverence for oriental pussy. His mother enjoys ogling Thai musclemen.

3. Pro-police. Chang, a karaoke singer, exemplifies the law enforcer as fetishized performance artist.

2. Anti-white/anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn). Several scenes juxtapose white characters’ rudeness, vulgarity, and presumption with Asians’ dignity, good manners, or superior fighting ability. Americans and Europeans, from a sense of their own superiority and Asians’ expendability, go to Thailand to exploit its people, causing them to prostitute themselves or hire themselves out as killers. Making no secret of her feelings, Julian’s mother refers to a “yellow nigger”. The film’s perpetrators also give clear expression to their European inferiority complex and belief in the awesomeness of things Asian by giving the title and credits in Thai, with subtitle-style English credits in smaller type beneath, so that no belching American privileged to enjoy Only God Forgives will get the mistaken impression that his entertainment is any more important than some Thai guy’s.

1. Anti-family. Grotesque family relationships abound in Only God Forgives. Julian, his lascivious mother relates, was envious of her sexual relationship with his brother Billy, and lives in exile after having murdered his father at her behest. A Thai man prostitutes his daughters and may be more aggrieved by the loss of revenue than the loss of his child after one of them is killed. The sight of a retarded boy, meanwhile, reminds viewers of the potential perils of unchecked procreation. Chang appears to have a loving relationship with his daughter, but the brief screen time devoted to this is too little to counterbalance the overwhelming abundance of family dysfunction. Julian acquiesces in his mother’s call for revenge only reluctantly, and with good reason, as his acknowledgment of a pointless blood obligation precipitates his downfall.

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.

Spring_Breakers_poster

Writer-director Harmony Korine’s dope-drenched epic of college-age pagan debauchery suffers from the same fatal ailment as most other movies that insist on taking as their subjects the absolute dregs of society – namely a lack of characters worthy of the least bit of audience sympathy. The introduction of the principal quartet of spoiled and mostly indistinguishable bimbos is so icily off-putting and nonchalantly bile-provoking that it could almost be a set-up for some exercise in torture porn. College students in name only, these are pretty, pot-addled apes who, during a lecture on the civil rights movement, amuse themselves by scrawling lewd notes or drawing a picture of a penis. Where the Boys Are this is not.

Tired of what they feel to be their intolerably mundane lives, four girls determine to travel to Florida to “find” themselves on spring break. Short of funds, three of them successfully rob a restaurant, and off they and naive Christian friend Faith (Selena Gomez) head for the sun and sand, where their participation in grotesque bacchanalia rightly lands the disgusting group in jail. Coming to their aid as if by providence, revolting rapper and drug dealer Alien (James Franco, in a truly transformational character creation) bails them out and takes the girls under his demonic wing, introducing them to his gangsta friends. Faith, though stupid, retains some vague wisp of the notion of decency and so decides to go home at this point; but her three friends remain and go with Alien, who, like a thuggish Charles Manson, will usher them through an initiation into nihilistic evil.

More shocking and memorable than actually good, Spring Breakers does contain some visual coups that viewers will never forget: a man performing fellatio on two guns; three girls in pink ski masks dancing, guns in hand, in the attitude of the three Graces; and, of course, sand strewn with cheap, jiggling flesh. With the anesthetized and dreamlike shoot-out of the climax, the director walks a particularly dangerous line. Are the events at the end of the film intended to inspire audience approval or did Korine even stop to consider how these moments would be received? Is Spring Breakers really the serious social commentary it seems to pretend to be or just a tacky exploiter that points and laughs at societal disease? Is Korine documenting or actually celebrating the decline of western civilization? Either way, this vile opus has much to say about American life, and much of it is true.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Spring Breakers is:

9. State-skeptical/anti-business. “Everyone can use a little bailin’ out once in a while,” Alien says in a line that hints at a broader significance. With his neck tattoo of a dollar sign, Alien symbolizes misguided rapacity and mirrors the criminal world of big business.

8. Pro-gay. Girls frequently engage in teasing kisses, grinding, and so forth, none of it particularly sexy. The sum effect, however, is normalization. Alien clearly enjoys sucking the guns and tells the girls afterward that he loves them.

7. Media-critical. “Just fuckin’ pretend like it’s a video game. Act like you’re in a movie or somethin’,” one of the girls advises the others before they commit a robbery. “I got Scarface on repeat. Constant, y’all,” Alien boasts, contributing to the sense that these young people’s poor behavior has been programmed by their entertainment (cf. The Bling Ring).

6. Anti-American. Alien describes his materialistic gangsta lifestyle as “the American Dream” (cf. Pain and Gain). “Seeing all this money makes my pussy wet,” one of the girls says.

5. Anti-Christian. Juxtaposed scenes equate Christianity and substance abuse as means of escape from reality. Two dumb Christian friends of Faith advise her (with good reason, as it turns out) to “pray super hardcore” for her well-being in Florida. (Ironically, her religious scruples do preserve her from the danger experienced by the other girls.)

4. Diversity-skeptical and anti-wigger. “I don’t like it here,” Faith says, finding herself in the midst of a bunch of scuzzy blacks and wiggers and feeling intensely uncomfortable. This moment counterbalances the casual flashes of suggested black-white miscegenation in the film. A theme of Spring Breakers is self-destruction, and one moment in which a girl drinks from a black water pistol, a rapper’s smug face on a poster behind her, indicates the self-loathing and suicidal nature of wiggerism.

3. Culturally and morally ambivalent. From drugs to guns and gangsterism to flippant fornication, Korine keeps such a cold, ambiguous distance that his attitude from one scene to the next is occasionally difficult to fathom. The copious casual sex and drug abuse carry surprisingly few consequences, with only a shot of a vomiter passed out by a toilet (and party-crashing by police) disrupting the flow of fun. There is nothing at all admirable in Alien or his groupie disciples, and yet the amount of time devoted to his misbehavior, his air of a tragic artist of wasted potential, and the martyrish pose pretentiously granted him at his demise would appear to give him a neon sheen of antiheroic myth. The ravages of gunplay, likewise, are mitigated by the fetishistic fascination and sexuality accorded to firepower. One of the girls determines that “being a good person” is the “secret to life”, but fails to act according to this piece of wisdom.

2. Relativistic and nurturist (i.e., anti-science). Spring Breakers points to environment as the key determiner of individual development, discrediting the role that genetics and race play in shaping human intelligence and character. “I was the only white boy in my whole neighborhood,” the worthless Alien recounts. Consequently, he grows up to be indistinguishable from the criminal blacks among whom he moves. “We met people who are just like us. Just the same as us,” one of the girls reflects in voice-over. Only the social context of their spoiled upbringing, sheltered by white privilege, has presumably prevented the girls from sinking into savagery before now. Heritability would appear to play no role in shaping these people, so that Spring Breakers works like a stock anthropology lecture to the effect that those spear-brandishing jungle natives in the National Geographic are no less civilized than the European gentleman reading poetry in his smart smoking jacket, their mating and war-making rituals being identical at bottom. The culture war does, however, appear to hold importance for Korine, even if it is not always clear on which side of the battle line he stands.

1. Anti-human. No likable characters = no reason to care.

In the wild opening scene of Drew Daywalt and David Schneider’s 2002 film Stark Raving Mad, the protagonist, Ben McGewan (cocksure, handsome American Pie alumnus Seann William Scott), is defined in a single moment.  Alone on a savannah and faced with a lion, he keeps his cool and, instead of running, he flips the savage beast the bird.  In addition to instantaneously hooking the viewer’s interest into this character’s story, the gesture also tells the viewer who he is: a masculine, confident, charming rebel with a touch of zen about him.

Stark Raving Mad, living up to its title, is a caper film about teasing the venomous snake and challenging the king of the jungle, and works the way Sexy Beast might have played if it had been a stateside story directed by Danny Boyle or Guy Ritchie: flippant, frenetic, visually inventive, and still a little psychologically pimply.  Foul-mouthed as any Tarantino film and featuring the same sorts of casual hipster criminals, gratuitous anecdotes, faux-profound contemplations, and wacky, depraved situations, Stark Raving Mad is more fun than might be expected from a film of its gimmicky, derivative type.  As in the work of Ritchie and Tarantino, violence is trivialized somewhat, but the ride is so fast and sexy that the sin of it is beside the point.

Sin does, however, figure thematically in Stark Raving Mad and help to energize it, set as it is in a decadent rave club that could double as some other movie’s futuristic Sodom, what with its lurid, luminous greens, cavernous blackness, wet trance music, neon, drugs, and hive of willing bodies.  As Ben and his motley crew of amateurish crooks are in the basement trying to break into the vaults of the bank next door, floozies and incubi rock the dance floor above, with drag queens performing an S&M show onstage with a snake and date rape drugs floating nonchalantly around the club.  At one point the python gets loose (an excuse for a bit of zippy snake-vision camera work) and wraps itself around a party-goer as a reminder that fire is hot but also burns.  It is, however, the daredevil dance around the fire that primarily concerns Stark Raving Mad.

Indicative of the film’s will to party is its decision more than once to break the fourth wall, with two characters, Ben and Rikki (Timm Sharp), addressing the viewer directly.  This gimmick, immediately calling to mind Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, complements the self-conscious mischief of the film as a whole and reinforces a parallel between Ben’s relationship with depressed buddy Rikki and Ferris’s patronage and concern for milquetoast sidekick Cameron.  Stark Raving Mad is a much sleazier entertainment experience than Ferris – to be expected in a film with a list of characters including “Seedy Guy”, “Sickly Thin Guy”, and “Trannie #3” – but also captures something of its anarchic validation of salutary revelry and rebellion for its own sake.

A little bit more than just a style-over-substance fix, this one is recommendable for its non-stop neo-disco-gothic visual sensibility, but also for its humor, some adequate suspense, and the anchoring performance of Seann William Scott and supporting players Sharp as Rikki and Lou Diamond Phillips as scary gangster Mr. Gregory.

4 out of 5 possible stars.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Stark Raving Mad is:

9. Anti-Christian/anti-religion.  Oriental mythological beliefs, characterized as superstition, receive more attention than western spirituality.  “Help me, Jesus, help me!” a DJ (Jody Racicot) says in sarcastic despair when told to play a song he dislikes.  Ben, in a tight spot, irreverently invents a lie about a character’s religious tenets to fool an FBI agent.

8. Feminist, at least with respect to the intelligent, technologically adept Betty (Suzy Nakamura).  “Stop bustin’ my ovaries,” this probable lesbian sasses.  “I said have a seat and have some kung pao chicken,” she asserts with menace at one point, transforming hospitality into a threat.

7. Homosexuality-ambivalent.  From the standpoint that all publicity is good publicity, Stark Raving Mad gives an endorsement.  “I feel love,” pyrotechnics man Jake (John Crye) says, arms around a man and a woman, probably under the influence of ecstasy.  The transvestites, though loutish and ugly behind the scenes, put on a sexy show with their makeup masks and tacky regalia.  However, Rikki fears the inevitability of prison bitchery should he be caught by police, imagining that he would emerge from incarceration looking like a doughnut.

6. Anti-state, presenting an unflatteringly seedy portrait of one public servant.  A character eventually revealed to be an undercover FBI agent (NewsRadio‘s Dave Foley) talks about how he likes his chickens frying size.  “These dirty little meat flowers nowadays, they’ll just like strip and jump your donkey anywhere, huh?”

5. Racist!, specifically in its depictions of Asians.  Betty, while smart and confident, is also sarcastic, mannish, and unpersonable.  Most of the other Asians in the film are superstitious gangsters, the only other one being an unseen and apparently stupid or English-challenged Chinese restauranteur with whom Ben has difficulty communicating his order over the phone.  A shrilly annoying rendition of “Sayonara” plays over the denouement.  Also, “mongoloid” is employed as an insult.

4. Drug-ambivalent.  Jake is incapacitated by a drug-spiked drink.  “I work better stoned,” he says earlier in the film, but events fail to bear this out.  Cigarettes, however, lend an air of experienced toughness to Ben and Betty.

3. Family-ambivalent.  Parents receive poor representation, but Ben is motivated all along by a desire to seek revenge for his brother’s death.

2. Misogynistic, sexist, and slut-ambivalent.  With the exception of Betty, no female character in Stark Raving Mad has a shred of dignity.  Women are sluts, fickle in their affections, and exist to serve men drinks and sensual pleasure.  Ben, after describing a type of bird that eats its mate’s heart after sex, explains, “I think it’s because she’s just a bitch.”  Vanessa (Monet Mazur), a former recipient of his attentions, once broke out his windshield, cooling his desire to have a woman in his life as a permanent fixture.  Later, after telling her “Fuck you”, he has sex with her but breaks off abruptly when caper business intervenes.  At the end, after the heist is accomplished, he throws her out of the getaway van.  Hungry club cutie Kitten (Reagan Dale Neis), after settling for dweeby Rikki by default and pleasing him on a sluttish whim, only earns him a brutal beating when her father (Foley) discovers their dirty deed.  On the pro-slut side of the equation, however, is Ben letting a bevy of underage girls into the club and a scene in which one woman receives cheers for flashing her crotch to be let into this apparently very happening nightspot.

1. Outlaw/anti-capitalistic.  An announcement of “X marks the spot” serves to cast the robbers as modern-day pirates and adventurers.  Crime, fraught with danger for them though it may be, works out in the end for Ben and his friends.  “I got the money, I got revenge, and nobody got killed.  Hell, Rikki even got laid.”  Which is to say that it pays.  A nasty split-screen montage with a drill equates bank robbery with sex.  The film’s representative businessman is club proprietor Mr. Partridge (Adam Arkin), who is punished for attempting to assert his prerogatives as a property owner.  Also, Betty’s former employer at a software firm is described as “some asshole”.

Christopher Othen

Author of 'Lost Lions of Judah' and other non-fiction

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