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Ready 2 Die

After robbing a Federal Reserve Bank branch and leading the LAPD on a televised freeway chase (“like O.J., Holmes”), four luckless desperadoes find themselves stranded without a car in East L.A., pursued both by the authorities and – after a “ghetto APB” and word of their loot gets out – their greedy fellow gangstas as well.

Writer-director John Azpilicueta stars as the bereaved Lucky, dismissed from a SEALs training camp for “emotional problems”; Jacob Martinez is Smiley, a chubby old thug who tried in vain to go straight, but whose financial troubles have thrust him back into a life of crime; and Pablo Hernandez is Psycho, a hitman who pretty much lives up to his name. The most interesting character, dishonorably discharged Ranger and Coolio haircut hood rat Sniper, is played by Bless May, who unfortunately receives the least screen time of the foursome.

Azpilicueta’s film, typical for an Asylum release, is shoddy and rough-hewn, with crap special effects, some substandard acting, too little coverage for action scenes, and overreliance on quick cuts and shaky-cam cinematography. A series of black-and-white flashbacks, intended to humanize the leads, only succeeds in stalling the action; but sleazebags attracted to a movie as underachievingly titled as Ready 2 Die will no doubt be entertained by its ready abundance of murder, profanity, rape, and pandemic nastiness.

3.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Ready 2 Die is:

7. Anti-Christian. More than one thug is adorned with a cross, either as a necklace or a tacky tattoo.

6. Anti-marriage. A mulatto wife is a lazy, unfaithful freeloader.

5. Miscegenation-ambivalent. The aforementioned wife is, however, depicted as quite the sexual trophy and gets the hiding heroes excited as they voyeuristically enjoy the sight of her in the act of adultery.

4. Anti-bankster. The fact that the crooks attack a Federal Reserve bank makes them, if not quite sympathetic, at least not as dastardly as if they had robbed a small business like a liquor store. Ready 2 Die conveys a generalized anger at the economic plight of the country; and, without articulating any particular argument, the movie seems to be suggesting blame by flashing the Federal Reserve Bank sign during the opening robbery. Sniper is unemployed, and the fact that Smiley is behind on his house payments reminds viewers of banks’ predatory lending tactics.

3. Anti-police. Ready 2 Die evinces either indifference toward the “fucking po-po” or, if anything, actual hostility, casting them as the pesky antagonists who pursue the central characters.

2. Anti-war. Sniper expresses the nihilism of war brought home when he says that shooting at police cars and helicopters is “just like Fallujah, baby – just different motherfuckers.”

1. Racist! Ready 2 Die demonstrates as well as a movie could why even minorities have reason to fear the eventuality of their neighborhoods going majority non-white. Gangs, drugs, and scary tattoos are the norm, with mothers living in fear that their children will be murdered not by white supremacist pigs, but by members of their own wretched raza. Furthermore, blacks appear in an almost uniformly unfavorable light in the film. Sniper is one of the movie’s most coldblooded killers. “Fuck that funny-lookin’ bitch,” he excuses himself for shooting a bank teller. “She was lookin’ at me all crazy and shit.” He robs and kills because he would rather do this than “flip some burgers”. A black cop lounges around his home milking “disability”, while his misbehaving son ludicrously claims to have been suspended from school just for being black.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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out_of_the_furnace_poster

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.

American Hustle poster

To be perfectly honest, this reviewer was bored for lengthy portions of American Hustle, David O. Russell’s unaccountably lauded opus about the Abscam scandal. Like too many period pieces set in fashion-distinctive epochs, Hustle evinces an overly polished and inorganic quality, more concerned with fussing about its garish clothing, bizarre hairstyles, and flaunting an unwarranted sense of its own super-coolness than with the development of characters deserving of the audience’s interest. As with the less inspired moments in Scorsese’s oeuvre, American Hustle is too content to slide by on the likability of its vintage pop soundtrack and slick but empty visual flair, with – of course! – the obligatory trip to a decadent discotheque.

The performances of Bale, Cooper, and others are fine, but hardly career highlights. Russell’s unconvincing dialogue, co-credited to Eric Warren Singer, bears much of the blame for the film’s lifelessness. Actors can hardly be blamed for failing to salvage compelling drama out of the likes of the following yawners: “This is bullshit. We are bullshit. You were bullshit. You were bullshit.” While no character in American Hustle is particularly sympathetic, there are some affecting moments toward the end of the film when flimflam man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) begins to feel guilty about misleading and ruining a mark he has come to view as his friend. This in no way justifies a run time in excess of two hours, however – leaving the viewer to wonder whether the tale of this potbellied, philandering Jew con artist with a heart of gold needed to be told at all.

ICA’s advice: For a 70s con game period piece, see Richard Gere in The Hoax instead.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that American Hustle is:

8. Pro-drug. Nothing sells marijuana like the sight of a beautiful temptress (Amy Adams) smoking a joint.

7. Anti-American. Check the title.

6. Multiculturalist. Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) maintains friendly relations with the minority community and even adopts a black kid to show what a great guy he is.

5. Pro-gay, with one gratuitous lesbian kiss.

4. Pro-slut. Movie stars making out in a bathroom – how glamorous! Rosenfeld does “the right thing” by marrying single mother Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

3. Zionist, calling attention to the undying bogeyman of American politicians’ insidious willingness to sell out the country’s well-being to the Arabs. Dismissive reference is also made to (Israel-hating, Palestine-loving) “fuckin’ Jimmy Carter”.

2. Relativistic. “That’s the way the world works. Not black and white like you say. Extremely gray.”

1. Obamist. In union-friendly Carmine Polito, American Hustle portrays the corrupt but humble and likable politician as tragic hero, a man of the people, a caring, avuncular figure genuinely concerned with the welfare of his constituents, and who presides over a system of corruption only so as to create new jobs. “We dream and we build,” he says. Overly zealous investigators like DiMaso (Cooper) are ruining America, Rosenfeld charges, by exposing high misdeeds and so destroying the people’s faith in their leaders. So lay off the Solyndra, Benghazi, NSA, IRS, and other scandals, American Hustle cautions, lest the spiritually vulnerable masses lose their precious hope.

Public Ransom

A psychological quasi-thriller for the Clerks crowd, A Public Ransom stars Carlyle Edwards as Steven, an unemployed fiction writer, self-described “twat”, and moocher who gets an idea for a story when he spots an unusual, crayon-scrawled notice about a missing child. Hoping to do some research for his fiction, Steven calls the number on the poster and gets into contact with a mysterious man named Bryant (Goodloe Byron). It never occurs to Steven, a bored and callous intellectual, that a real person might actually have been kidnapped, but that is exactly what Bryant nonchalantly admits to doing. Steven is informed that he has two weeks to produce $2,000, or else the little girl is going to be killed. Steven, preferring to believe that the whole affair is a prank – and yet perturbed by what seems to be Bryant’s story’s authenticity – sets to composing “A Public Ransom”, selfishly hoping for the best. The premise is a bit outlandish, but after all requires only the viewer’s belief in an individual of extreme eccentricity and sadistic inspiration, of which history offers more than a few examples.

A Public Ransom is as dark a film as one is likely to see this year. The viewer must endure the uncomfortable tactile presence of waste and moral grime and spend time with unappealing characters. The film makes other demands of its audience, as well: to be patient, enjoy joylessness, and find entertainment and tension in such sights as a guy in a t-shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; a guy in a plaid shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; and a guy who, to the untrained eye, appears to be sitting at a table, doing absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Carlyle Edwards is an actor who can make such moments not only tolerable but interesting. The strongest, most haunting scene in A Public Ransom has solitary Steven waiting at a bus stop in the middle of the night, with nothing but the sound of the void around him.

A Public Ransom advertises the influence of Jim Jarmusch, with the poster for Stranger than Paradise visible on Steven’s wall. Like Jarmusch, director Pablo D’Stair’s film shows a fondness for static shots and the intermingling of the strange and mundane; but it is not nearly as outsized or as affected in its weirdness. The sharp, icy exchanges between Steven and Bryant are highlights and filled with the loudest silence. Elsewhere, music is superfluous and annoying and hurts scenes that would have been better served without adornment. One crucial dialogue at the end of the film is damaged by the less-than-convincing performance of Helen Bonaparte, who plays Steven’s platonic friend Rene. These failings, however, temporarily mitigate rather than sabotage the story’s overall effectiveness. Never in recent memory has the disclaimer that “The preceding film is a work of fiction” been so reassuring. Or is it?

4 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Public Ransom is:

3. Tobacco-ambivalent. A cigarette serves as the death-teasing prop of a vulgar and frustrated ne’er-do-well who nevertheless cuts a sophisticated figure while smoking and gesticulating with it.

2. Un-p.c. Steven makes liberal use of words like “cunt”, “bitch”, and “slut”, and says that Bryant looks “retarded”.

1. Anti-feminist. Rene’s “militant feminism”, Steven informs her, “keeps the elusive gentleman caller from the doorknocker – that, you know, long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” The fact that the creepy Bryant is apparently representative of the sort of men who make themselves available to Rene would seem to corroborate Steven’s claim. Even more devastatingly, Steven himself, in his worthlessness, illustrates the undying crime done to this civilization by feminism. In the absence of actual ladies (i.e., women of decent behavior, moral merit, and femininity), men have much less motivation and warrant to be polite, to advance themselves (“Work is a cunt,” Steven gripes), or to give the weaker sex the respect they have come to demand instead of earn. Women no longer inspire in men (as Jack Nicholson’s character puts it in As Good as It Gets) the necessary desire to become better men. The result, of course, is suggested by the working title of Steven’s story: “A Society of Fiends”.

[A Public Ransom can be seen at Vimeo, and more information is available here.]

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.

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