Archives for posts with tag: The Place Beyond the Pines

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Christian Bale racks up another career highlight performance as Russell Baze, a good but deeply flawed man at the end of his tether in Out of the Furnace, a strong, deeply American film from writer-director-to-watch Scott Cooper. Baze is an endearing dead-end ex-con and mill worker who, in a relationship reminiscent of that between Keitel and DeNiro in Mean Streets, attempts to look out for his war-damaged deadbeat brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). Rodney is in debt but uninterested in conventional employment, leading to his involving himself in the dangerous world of underground fighting.

Out of the Furnace stands as a stark statement that the American Dream is deceased. Its rust belt setting rings all too true, and a barroom television moment more subtle than a similar scene in 2012’s Killing Them Softly shows that Obama’s hope-and-change rhetoric has no reality for the typical working (or unemployed) stiff. Out of the Furnace is a film of its time and timely, its story enthralling, with each frame carrying fascination and a feeling of immediate importance.

Those who enjoy tense, earthy family dramas and character studies with gritty, realistic settings – movies like Sling Blade, Mud, or The Place Beyond the Pines – are certain to appreciate Out of the Furnace, which, in addition to the showcased character creation of Christian Bale, features sharp supporting performances from Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, and Willem Dafoe. Deserving special recognition, furthermore, is Woody Harrelson, frightening light-years from Cheers here as hillbilly drug kingpin Harlan DeGroat. Harrelson’s hot dog moment in the opening scene sets the grotesque, tenebrous tone of the film and constitutes the most shocking piece of fast food humiliation since the fried chicken scene in 2011’s Killer Joe.

5 stars. Highest recommendation.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Out of the Furnace is:

7. Diversity-skeptical. In one of his underground fights, Rodney is pitted against a black thug who taunts him, calling him “white boy” and mocking his military service. Pleasantly, Rodney makes a comeback and gives this rascal a vicious and racially charged beatdown.

6. Antiwar. Rodney comes back from Iraq as an angry and alienated man.

5. Protectionist. The mill is scheduled to be shut down, with American jobs exported to China.

4. Pro-miscegenation. Notwithstanding no. 7, Russell is in love with brown beauty Lena (Zoe Saldana), but loses her after his stint in the pen.

3. Anti-drug. Drunk driving lands Russell in prison. Harder stuff turns Harlan DeGroat into a maniac.

2. Anti-redneck. Harlan DeGroat is the scariest white trash bad guy since Deer Crossing‘s Lukas Walton.

1. Pro-family. Russell Baze is driven by his devotion to his family, caring as best he can for his sick father and brother while both are still alive, and diligently avenging them after they are gone.

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Mud_PosterArt

Wholly original while also echoing Stand by Me in its coming-of-age adventure and Sling Blade in its rural milieu, Mud is the story of fourteen-year-old Arkansas boy Ellis (Tye Sheridan), who, along with buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), discovers the titular fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on a little island not very far downriver from his family’s houseboat. Mud is on the run after murdering a man who threatened his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon), and Ellis and Neckbone, who are understandably fascinated by this highly unusual character, strike a deal to help him out by bringing him food and supplies.

Mud, like Luke Glanton in The Place Beyond the Pines, is a semi-mythical, romantic, rough-hewn, damaged but untamed figure whose face and tattoos tell his story. He is something out of America’s past, a sort of boy who never grew up, and locates a parallel spirit in Ellis. Matthew McConaughey, so memorable in the previous year’s Killer Joe, is perfect in this polar opposite role as the friendly and formidable but tragically naive Mud, and Tye Sheridan, too, is believably earnest in his central role as companion Ellis. Other faces enhancing the cast are Sheriff Pusser himself, Joe Don Baker, Premium Rush‘s Michael Shannon, The Right Stuff‘s Sam Shepard, and newcomer Bonnie Sturdivant as sultry teenage hussy May Pearl, Ellis’s inamorata.

5 stars. Highest recommendation. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Mud is:

6. Anti-Christian. King (Joe Don Baker) represents Christians unflatteringly when he initiates a group prayer for Mud’s imminent demise. Mud makes at least one reference to God, but comes across as more of a pagan with his wild, natural ways.

5. Gun-ambivalent. Mud’s pistol gets him into trouble, but mentor and ex-Marine Tom (Sam Shepard) comes in handy in the end with his rifle and sniper skills.

4. Anti-slut. Mud’s love is wasted on floozy Juniper (Witherspoon).

3. Anti-marriage. Ellis’s parents are getting divorced. Women are undependable.

2. Anti-vigilante. Mud’s poorly considered vengeance has made him a hunted man. King, father of the abusive lowlife Mud murdered, arranges a posse to locate and liquidate the hero, but by doing so he only succeeds bringing more woe on himself.

1. Libertarian. The River Authority callously threatens to order the family out of their houseboat. Neckbone dismisses the legislation sanctioning such an action as “bullshit”. Ellis’s father (Ray McKinnon), meanwhile, voices strong propertarian views when his son is caught in a theft. The police are susceptible to corruption.

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.

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.

“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story,” writer John Barth has said.  Not everyone can be Cary Grant or Arnold Schwarzenegger, however.  Real people tend to be more complicated, less successful, and make terrible mistakes that dog them for the rest of their lives – which can nonetheless be heroic within the context of their lives-as-films.  The ragged, damaged life of carnival stunt rider Luke Glanton is one such story of tragic heroism, and his film, appropriately, is as beautiful, messy, epic, haunting, and asymmetrical as is life itself.

Audaciously and frustratingly structured as a triptych, Derek Cianfrance’s new film The Place Beyond the Pines is really three interdependent stories, beginning with that of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), who as Handsome Luke and the Heartthrobs – his name echoing Paul Newman’s irrepressible, self-destructive rebel in Cool Hand Luke – risks his life on a regular basis for the amusement of strangers at carnivals.  When, during a sojourn in Schenectady, New York, he learns that one year previously a local waitress (Eva Mendes) conceived his child, Luke’s life is pitched into crisis as he yearns to play some part in the life of his infant son and the mother, who, however, is now involved with a black man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who has adopted the child.

Luke Glanton immediately takes his place among the great character creations of the cinema, and Gosling is ideally cast to capture his combination of a wild, mythical quality with a naked humanity that touches the viewer from his first troubling, fascinating appearance onscreen.  Luke is a study in contradictions, of shadow and light, violence and love, with his brooding dark eyes and pretty blonde hair, his playboy looks and body scarred with tattoos telling the story of a lifetime’s worth of poor decisions.  A dripping dagger tear tattoo suggests both the sadness of the character and his mysterious criminal past.

Luke is absent after the first third of the film, replaced as protagonist by other, intersecting characters’ lives, but to tell too much about the stories in The Place Beyond the Pines would be to deprive the audience of the revelatory experience.  The succeeding segments of the film may not carry the same impact or immediacy of interest, but are definitely compelling, particularly insofar as these are informed and darkened or brightened in turn by Luke’s paternal and criminal legacy.  Flawed though it arguably is, The Place Beyond the Pines is a triumph for Gosling and Cianfrance, rich in atmosphere and unique music, and is one of the most striking films of the year – one that should be seen on the big screen while possible.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Place Beyond the Pines is:

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) gets high with the disgusting AJ (Emory Cohen), who also bullies him into stealing drugs for a party.  No definite judgment or consequences are attached to these behaviors apart from the threat of police interference and jail time, but the film does nothing really to glorify substance abuse – with, however, the possible exception of alcohol, when Luke’s old associate Robin (Killing Them Softly‘s Ben Mendelsohn, in a small but meaty role one wishes had been expanded) offers underaged Jason a beer in camaraderie.  Smoking, too, arguably receives an endorsement.

6. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn) – and yet surprisingly anti-wigger.  The revolting AJ, though a wigger himself, seems uneasy and put off by Jason’s mixed parentage.

5. Christian.  Luke has a tattoo of a Bible on one of his hands.  His religious views are never articulated, but one assumes that something approximating Christian morality motivates him to take responsibility for the child he has fathered.  Kofi attends church with Romina (Mendes) and sees to it that Luke’s son is baptized.

4. Anti-state.  Politicians are phony, opportunistic careerists, a mentality illustrated by one candidate’s itinerary cynically making room for visits to black churches.  Nor does the law apply equally when the perpetrator happens to be a politician or his relative.  Jason’s black market purchase of a pistol demonstrates the futility of gun control measures.

3. Family-ambivalent.  The film offers both positive and negative examples.

2. Pro-miscegenation/multiculturalist/pro-slut/pro-bastard.  Single mother Romina has no qualms about carrying on with two different men of different races while ostensibly committed to one.  Race realists and race deniers will, however, come away from The Place Beyond the Pines with totally different interpretations of the interracial triangle central to its story.  Progressives will see in Kofi’s relationship with Romina and his adoption of her bastard child a demonstration of multiculturalist harmony in application, with Kofi showing how a black man can do the responsible thing and raise a family, even one that is not his own, in a safe and loving environment.  Racially conscious whites will find in the triangle a horrific and repugnant allegory showing how the white man’s recklessness and poor management of his affairs have resulted in his thoughtless abdication of the future, with the disconcerting outcome that unworthy others will take and stain his office and bed and even father his descendents.

1. Anti-police/relativist.  The police, as typified by veteran Deluca (Ray Liotta), are corrupt and no better than the robbers and drug dealers they catch and whose families they harass.

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