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cooties

Elijah Wood, an aspiring novelist, shows up for his first day of work as an elementary school teacher only to find that the student body has been infected with a rapidly transmitted cannibal zombie plague, which complicates his hopes of sparking a geeky romance with faculty colleague Alison Pill. Cooties is a difficult film to review for the reason of the impression it gives of being two stylistically clashing stories forced into uncomfortable cohabitation. It is, on the one hand, a delightful take on the quirky romantic comedy genre and, at the same time, as repulsive a dose of dysfunction-inducement as has ever been splattered onto celluloid.

For the mostly harmless first fifteen minutes or so, the unsuspecting viewer might mistake Cooties for merely a fun but biting social commentary on various twenty-first century neuroses; but the extreme evisceration and the trivialization of violence toward children that follow steer the movie into an altogether darker and more upsetting territory. Cooties is wittily scripted and brilliantly cast, with several very memorable character turns from Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, and the other adult performers; but it is too bad that their efforts work to strengthen such a remorseless assault on already collapsing demographics.

Cooties earns 4 out of 5 stars for the fine comic talent on display, but goes onto the list of films whose producers will be interned in the pitiless gulags of an imagined moral future. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cooties is:

6. Pro-drug. Jorge Garcia gets through the ordeal with the help of a bag of psychedelic mushroom “medication”.

5. Racist! Indulging in a bit of hipster racism, the film features a Japanese janitor (Peter Kwong) who (naturally) turns out to have mad martial arts skills. In a scene that can be read more than one way, a seemingly random reference to “shekels” creates a moment of strange discomfort in the faculty lounge. Is this a sly reference to Jewish hegemony in the world of high finance, or an indication that only socially awkward types who alienate their peers take an interest in such conspiracy theories?

4. Pro-gay. Jack McBrayer appears as a screechily drawling homosexual.

3. Liberal. With one set dressed in decorations for the school’s Fourth of July pageant, Cooties advertises itself as a commentary on twenty-first century America. Conservatives and terrorists, it seems, are to blame for turning a generation of children into rabid maniacs. The snottiest of the boys (Cooper Roth) was born on 9/11 and therefore named Patriot. His aspiration, he says, is to kick “towel head ass”. Alison Pill’s perky teacher character, however, claims to have beaten the terrorists “with a positive attitude.” Nasim Pedrad plays a shrill anti-government nutcase who ridicules the idea of evolution.

2. Pro-miscegenation and anti-white. “I always wanted to have sex with a prostitute who was non-white,” confesses Leigh Whannel in the role of a socially diseased weirdo. It is also noteworthy that the only two children to survive the zombie epidemic without being affected are a white girl (Morgan Lily) and a docile mulatto (Armani Jackson). The viewer is left to assume that these two will go on to repopulate a new and more peaceful human community. As in Reclaim, whites are invited to find hope and consolation in a racially alien pseudo-posterity.

1. Antinatalist. Set in Fort Chicken, Illinois – a name suggestive of cowardice and defensiveness – Cooties both expresses and exacerbates millennials’ anxieties about procreation, casting children as monstrous annoyances fit only for extermination. Pedrad’s character wears a “rape button”. Considering her workplace and suburban location, however, it is less likely that she fears sexual assault than that she has a problem with the prospect of adult sexual intimacy and motherhood. She and other freaks in Cooties reflect a generation’s psychological immaturity. The film, however, rewards them with a tentative survival for their determination to stamp out a possible posterity. As disturbing as the savage fire-extinguisher head-smashing and other means devised to murder children in the film are the multiple verbal associations of children and sex in a context of violence. “I’m givin’ you kids an ‘F’ – for ‘Fuck you!’” declares Rainn Wilson during the climactic battle sequence. “Fuck you, mom,” a boy tells his mother earlier in the film. Most disgustingly, a child is told to “eat a cock” as a truck’s chicken-shaped bumper ornament is rammed into his face to kill him.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

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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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buzzard

Writer-director Joel Potrykus and star Joshua Burge create one of the cinema’s great characters in Marty Jackitansky, as scathing a condemnation of this critic’s generation as has yet dared to bring the pain to the screen. Jackitansky is a loser, but seemingly unaware or unconcerned by this indisputable fact. He “works” for a bank’s mortgage division, but does little to earn his pay and actually spends most of his time devising ways of clipping the company for a quick buck. He orders useless supplies just to sell these back to the vendor for a cash refund, and even thinks he can get away with signing customers’ refund checks over to himself.

Jackitansky, a child of the 1980s, seems to have lost touch with reality sometime during the 1990s, as evidenced by the fact that he plays video games obsessively and yet refuses to use a computer because, as his even nerdier friend Derek (Potrykus) suggests, he is “scared of technology and robots and stuff.” He is young enough to suffer from the same desensitization and nihilism that characterize Generation Y, but too old to be comfortable with the personal technology that defines the social lives of those a few years younger.

Digital technology and an ineffectual public education system have left people like Jackitansky with little or no understanding of rudimentary math or economics. He blows all of his money on horror paraphernalia, and it never seems to occur to him to ration his limited resources once he goes on the run in order to elude the authorities. He thinks nothing, for instance, of eating out or throwing away the bulk of his dwindling cash on one evening in a nice hotel – and ordering room service, to boot.

Jackitansky is almost infectiously likable as an anti-heroic protagonist, his scams indicative of a creative if stupid and misguided resourcefulness and mischievously rebellious streak – at least, that is, until his anarchic revolt reveals itself to be little more than self-absorption and lack of regard for his fellow man. His intensifyingly hostile rudeness toward the admittedly goofy Derek kills any sympathy the viewer might have harbored until the point when Jackitansky finally becomes insufferable. Hoping to avoid detection by the authorities, he crashes in Derek’s father’s basement. Rather than being grateful, however, he dismisses his friend as a “fuckin’ loser” and even has the nerve to complain that his couch “sucks”. Buzzard progressively darkens in tone as the viewer begins to understand that Jackitansky is driven not by merely merry pranksterism, but by genuine junk-food-fueled psychopathy.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that this journey into the nightmare realm of cubicle jobs, adult virgins, and institutionalized alienation is:

4. Reactionary! Jackitansky, a representative socialist, has had his head filled with vague notions about the unfairness of capitalism. Consequently, he has no compunctions about cheating a “crap mortgage company” out of an honest day’s work or threatening or even attacking a small businessman (Joe Anderson), whom he accuses of “corporate thievery”, for standing in the way of one of his idiotic schemes. “I’m gonna strangle you and rape your fuckin’ face off,” Jackitansky tells him, unaccountably adding, “You’re the reason people get mad and die.” At the same time, not much can be said for an economy that reduces Derek, a man who appears to be in his late twenties or thirties, to living at home with his father. One could, if one chose to find an anti-capitalist message in Buzzard, interpret Jackitansky’s parasitic hustling as merely an echo and reflection of the unproductive vulture economy responsible for the subprime mortgage collapse.

3. Media-critical. A Freddy Krueger poster enlivens the protagonist’s apartment, the Nightmare on Elm Street films clearly furnishing the inspiration for the deadly weapon he fashions from a Nintendo Power Glove. That he chooses to make this game control into a weapon for use in the real world, too, indicates a dangerous confusion of reality and the virtual world of glorified violence. Jackitansky’s given name, Marty, carries for this reviewer associations with two other famous Marties of the American cinema: Ernest Borgnine’s conversely sympathetic role in the 1955 film of that title, and Martin Scorsese, a godfather of trivialized movie bloodshed. Jackitansky, unlike Borgnine’s Marty, allows his self-pity to drive him to lash out at others, with whom he is unable to empathize. Significantly, he wears a T-shirt advertising Demons (1985), an Italian horror classic about demonic creatures emerging from a movie screen to do their evil in actuality.

2. Anti-white. The Jewish-looking Jackitansky, asked about his unusual name, replies that his ethnic background is “White Russian”, an answer that verbally reinforces the character’s presumptive whiteness vis-à-vis the non-whites he encounters during the film. Blacks appear as orderly, clean-cut, honest workers, whereas whites are lazy, crazy, socially awkward, and criminal. A blond convenience store cashier (Alan Longstreet) cheats Jackitansky out of a five-spot. Others, such as Derek, who has “party-zoned” his father’s basement, or those who aimlessly vegetate at a hip-hop performance, waste their lives.

1. Anti-Y. Generation Y, as personified by Marty Jackitansky, has no work ethic whatsoever. It has been made self-absorbed and autistic by spoilage, instant gratification, and pop-cultural depravity.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Maximum Overdrive (1986) ****  Maximum Overdrive is a unique movie in that it was not only written but actually directed by author Stephen King; and, while it may have met with a less than glowing reception from critics and is not the best of the many films of the 1980s to have been inspired by the author’s work, subsequent viewings of Maximum Overdrive can reveal much more to appreciate and consider than might at first be obvious in its tale of a hostile planetary takeover by cars, trucks, radios, and other previously harmless electronic wares.

Even on the first viewing, Maximum Overdrive is a fun, somewhat silly and random speculative adventure, and perhaps a broad satire of man’s fear of technology as a potential Frankenstein’s monster that might turn against him; but further reflection concedes that King is up to more than one might at first imagine. To wit, the whole film can be seen as a commentary on the military-industrial complex and how it and war are driven and validated by America’s consumerism and debilitating reliance on labor-saving devices.

In one scene, a shady-looking young black man (Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito) appears to be seduced and hypnotized by an arcade game that flashes a series of abstract symbols at him: a star, zig-zags (like the stripes on an officer’s sleeve), and a plus sign (cross), indicating how religion and the media dupe young men into mindless stupors to make them subservient to the state and recruit them for the respectable but deceptive video game violence of military service. Christianity receives abuse throughout Maximum Overdrive, particularly through the person of a tawdry, cartoonishly hypocritical Bible salesman (Christopher Murney).

A little military wagon with a mounted machine gun appears as the director of the trucks at one point and leads them in the siege of the filling station, Gas World, a sequence that may seem somewhat dull or inconsequential on the first viewing, but which takes on greater significance as it becomes apparent that this, the need for fuel to power the trucks that deliver our consumer goods, is too often what drives the lust for conquest on this planet.  A blurb at the end credits aliens for the events of the film; but substitute the Bilderberg Group for the aliens and the story of their plot to exterminate the population of Earth with their commandeered “broom” of man’s own technological creation is straight out of Alex Jones’s worst nightmare.

Maximum Overdrive does have its failings.  After a wildly entertaining first forty or forty-five minutes, full of distinctive action set pieces, disgusting humor, and sight gags, the film slumps into a decrescendo and slows as the ensemble cast, headed by young Emilio Estevez (between That Was Then . . . This Is Now and Wisdom) and his tough romantic interest Laura Harrington, take refuge in Gas World’s diner, the Dixie Boy, where they will stay for the remainder of the story.  Enlivening the proceedings throughout, however, are a soundtrack of appropriately electric AC/DC tunes and a colorful set of character actors in the supporting roles.  Apart from the aforementioned Murney, Pat Hingle is nicely slimy as crooked, self-satisfied Dixie Boy proprietor Bubba Hendershot; and Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson) and John Short provide even greater comic relief as hick newlyweds Connie and Curtis.

The climactic action sequences, when these finally come, fall short of fulfilling the stunt-packed promise of the zany exposition, a few huge explosions notwithstanding, so that Maximum Overdrive is ultimately a flawed near-classic but still recommendable for watching and occasional rewatching.  Stephen King is commended by Ideological Content Analysis with a respectable 4 out of 5 stars.

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