Archives for posts with tag: xenophobic

GR Spirit of Vengeance

An impudently silly film, this fast-paced 2011 installment in the spooky Marvel Comics franchise is less fun than its predecessor, but never boring as it bowls from one preposterous action set piece into another and more or less captures the feel of a comic book, if not necessarily the grim Ghost Rider comics this reviewer remembers reading in childhood. (Did the hero really ever urinate like a flamethrower in the original stories, for instance?) Johnny Blaze, who shares his body with the titular demon, is a reluctant, tragic monster in the tradition of The Wolf Man; but Spirit of Vengeance makes clear from the outset that nobody involved in this project took it the least bit seriously.

Primarily, this film is a slick, snarling vehicle for a lot of unexceptional CGI, with an absurdly intense Nicolas Cage going bonkers in a sidecar. Cage, particularly during the comical transformation sequences, is at his manic, twitching, grimacing, growling best here, and his anguished delivery of “Scrapin’ at the door! Scrapin’ at the door!” simply has to be seen to be disbelieved. Violently beautiful Violante Placido contributes more than her share of production value as Nadya, “the devil’s baby mama”, mother to Danny (Fergus Riordan), who is being sought by devilish avatar Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) and also by a fanatical religious order led by the sinisterly tattooed Methodius (Christopher Lambert). The gimmicky, ADHD-afflicted visuals and Blade-style speed-up/slow-down action sequences get old quick, but the script contains a few laughs and the pace allows for little slack. Furthermore, Cage’s madcap performance makes this mandatory for his fans.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is:

11. Anti-green. A hippie van hypocritically expels billowing black exhaust, as does Ghost Rider’s motorcycle.

10. Gun-ambivalent. Firearms are deployed for evil, but also utilized by the heroes.  Gunrunning is mentioned as a seedy line of business (see also no. 1).

9. State-skeptical. Politicians are acolytes of the unholy.

8. Pro-drug. Johnny Blaze guzzles painkillers like jelly beans and requests morphine in a hospital. Secondary hero Moreau (Idris Elba) drinks heavily, but suffers no impairment of his combat-readiness.

7. Racist and anti-Semitic! Moreau embodies not only the magical Negro stereotype, what with his inside information on the supernatural goings-on, but also the venerable old sacrificial Negro. “The church of my masters is an ancient one,” says Moreau – but what would a modern emancipated black man be doing with “masters”? Also, Jew Jerry Springer is pictured as an incarnation of the devil. When are race-reactionary films like this one and Little Nicky going to see the light and stop stomping for the next Holocaust?

6. Antiwar. A montage evocative of the idea of corruption intercuts hundred-dollar bills with shots of soldiers, explosions, and street violence (cf. no. 3).

5. Family-ambivalent. The film’s celebration of Nadya’s choices constitutes an attack on the traditional family, with the father in this case being depicted literally as the devil. Blaze is dedicated to his father, however, and only contracted his curse to try to save the old man’s life.

4. Xenophobic. As in Cat Run (2011) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Eastern Europe is home to mystery, intrigue, mercenaries, and violence. A chaotic, layered satanic “firewall” incantation more than once includes sounds that resemble “Allah”.

3. Anti-capitalistic. The devil, who dresses like a conservative businessman, wields his greatest power through “the deal”. A sleazy businessman abortively propositions Nadya, assuming that because she is a gypsy she must also be a prostitute. She and her son work as pickpockets, feeling no shame or remorse because their need, they feel, is greater and more important than that of the more affluent people they victimize. “Everyone’s robbing me. It makes my balls hurt,” says one representative of the business community in a line which suggests that, for the affluent, money substitutes for manhood. Villains include mercenaries and gunrunners.

2. Pro-slut/pro-bastard. Spirit of Vengeance presents a heroic image of the valiant single mother in Nadya, who refers to her bastard child as “the one good thing I ever did.” Murderous Methodius judgmentally slut-shames her, however.

1. Christ-ambivalent. Spirit of Vengeance, true to its title, takes place on a battlefield of spiritual warfare. Satan (as the Louvin Brothers proclaimed) is real! – and so, therefore, are angels. Moreau “would be dead if not for the intervention of God” and wears a cross as a sign of his faith, but the film’s attitude toward organized religion is critical. “Guns and wine. Naughty priests.” The religious order’s abortive execution of Danny is vaguely pedophilic and circle-jerky. Other irreverent items of interest are the line, “Merry Christmas, you asshole!” and the fact that Blaze, taking part in an informal communion, reports that the body of Christ tastes stale.

Apropos of no. 4, note how even a superficially cute Super Bowl candy commercial can be mobilized to assist in conditioning Americans to view Slavs and Russians specifically as their enemy.

 

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Ride Along

Ice Cube plays straight man to clownish Kevin Hart in Ride Along, a decent urban action-comedy set in the mean streets of Atlanta, Georgia. School security guard and police force aspirant Ben (Hart) is in love and intends to marry his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). Unfortunately for him, Angela’s hard-nosed top cop brother James (Cube) thinks Ben is a punk with no potential. Ben hopes that admission into the police academy will change his prospective brother-in-law’s opinion of him, but James is having none of it and decides to take Ben out for a ride along, a training day of sorts, with the intention of scaring the piss out of the weasel and getting him out of his life and away from his sister for good.

Ride Along benefits immensely from stone-faced, masculine Cube’s presence in the driver’s seat, while his smoldering, in-yo-face attitude makes the perfect foil for Hart’s lightweight ridiculousness. The latter’s antics grow on the viewer over the course of the film; but Hart still comes across as something like a poor man’s Chris Tucker, so that one wishes a livelier, more monkey-like, and facially animated performer like Tucker or Marlon Wayans had been cast in the key comic role. Laurence Fishburne collects a paycheck in a smallish part as crime kingpin Omar, while third-billed John Leguizamo (thankfully) has even less screen time.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Ride Along gets extra brownie points for including an Action Jackson reference and that it is:

7. Pro-family. James is fond of his sister and puts Ben through hell only out of a sense of protectiveness.

6. Drug-ambivalent. The morphine pumped into Ben to treat his gunshot wound is played for laughs, and Cheech and Chong are visible on a television screen in another scene. Alcohol, however, is bad news and could prevent a brother from playing basketball.

5. Feminist. Damsel-in-distress Angela frees herself from her bonds and gives some assistance to the boys with her frying pan. She also proves to be a natural at Ben’s first-person shooter game.

4. Neoconservative and anti-Slav. Ben does his part for the War on Terror by fighting the Taliban in his favorite video game. James is out to stop some Serbian gunrunners from providing Omar with the firepower he needs to take over Atlanta.

3. Statist/anti-gun. Ben, demonstrating Hollywood’s contention that the average Joe has no business with a gun in his hand, makes a fool of himself with a shotgun, giving the lie to the pro-gun poster behind him at the firing range. Security at the range is overly lax and Ben walks out with one of their guns. James, presumably the sort of government agent who, in Ride Along‘s view, should have the benevolently despotic monopoly on firearms, does his badge proud by engaging in a bit of glorified police brutality, slamming a shopkeeper’s head into a counter for no good reason.

2. Anti-police. Half the Atlanta police force is crooked, which would seem to conflict with the message intimated in no. 3.

1. Black supremacist. “I’m the brains. You’re the brawns,” James informs two fellow officers. White kids are a bad influence on an impressionable black youth, who could easily grow up to be a wino just by hanging out with them, Ben admonishes.

The_Heat_poster

“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 13,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours,” reads a message following The Heat‘s end credits, as if in apology or as an excuse for what the viewer has just experienced. Sure, that montage of McCarthy and Bullock bonding as they hip-shake to Deee Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” might have been a little pathetic and painful for you to sit through, but by purchasing that ticket, you were making a difference in the life of an underprivileged Hollywood union schlub. The product of those hundreds of thousands of schlub hours, sad to say, would appear to be something significantly less than the sum of these thousands of toilers’ efforts.

Sandra Bullock stars as anal retentive FBI agent Ashburn, who, in the course of trying to nail a Boston drug kingpin – and The Heat, make no mistake, is set in Boston solely for the opportunity this provides of including a gaggle of superfluous characters with easily ridiculed accents – is thrust into an unwelcome partnership with local slob policewoman Mullins, played with irascible gusto and admirable comic timing by husky comedienne Melissa McCarthy. The fitful joy of the film – and despite its ultimate mediocrity, there are occasional laughs to be had – derives from the epic clash of the pair’s diametrically opposed personalities.

The boring displays of womanly courage, physical might, and weapons prowess; the endless, prideless parade of wimpy and contemptible men; the open, obsessively unabashed discussions of anatomy; the entertainment-deficient moments of earnestness and emotional searching; and, last but not least, some execrable slapstick – all of these are to be expected in a film of this type; but what finally puts the damper on The Heat is its unwieldy length and uneven pacing, with the movie overstaying its lukewarm welcome by at least 40 draggy minutes. If there is a reason to endure The Heat, however, it is easily Melissa McCarthy, who, as big, jiggly, probably smelly ball of charisma Mullins, should fill a screen of any size with little difficulty.

2.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Heat is:

13. Anti-Slav. As in Pain and Gain and A Good Day to Die Hard, the Slavic female is an exotic, shady, kinky, inferior creature.

12. Anti-Christian. “That’s one of the better Jesus-sports-themed paintings I’ve seen,” Ashburn observes uncomfortably, indicating a kitschy picture in the Mullins family’s home.

11. Anti-white male. An insecure, misogynistic, loud-mouthed albino (Dan Bakkedahl) says it all.

10. Pro-gay. Lesbians cavort on a dance floor.

9. Racism-skeptical. The albino’s whining about the heroines’ “albino prejudice” parodies race hustlers’ constant harping about whites’ racial insensitivity. (Either that, or it mocks whites’ complaints of reverse racism.) “Don’t play that race bullshit card with me,” Mullins gripes in a bizarre encounter with a black man (“Spoken Reasons”, a.k.a. John A. Baker, Jr.) who accuses her of racism after she hurls a watermelon at him. Unfortunately, given the convoluted nature of this film’s moral universe, Mullins may receive a pass to balk at hackneyed victimologies only because she has already taken the litmus test and desegregated her vagina (see no. 5).

8. Drug-ambivalent. Ashburn and Mullins bond over drinks and enjoy a rowdy evening; but the hangover and the knowledge of how she behaved kills Ashburn’s buzz the following morning. A peaceable pot smoker (Reasons) minds his own business until hassled by Mullins, while her brother (Michael Rapaport) gets into more serious trouble through hard drugs. About regular old tobacco, Mullins recommends quitting because she “had a great aunt who lost most of her teeth to smoking.”

7. Multiculturalist. Federal agents contributing to the law enforcement effort include blacks, whites, and Hispanics. Even street gangs and organized crime are multiracial concerns.

6. Anti-family/anti-marriage. The Mullins family is of course grotesque and dysfunctional. Mullins, unsuitable for marriage or motherhood, gives vent to a petty resentment toward America’s ex-normalcy when she catches a family man in the act of cruising for hookers and tortures him before trying to ruin his marriage by phoning the man’s wife to tell her about it. The wife, appraised of the situation, encourages Mullins in further cruelty.

5. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation. Ashburn and fellow agent Levy (Marlon Wayans) engage in the obligatory interracial flirtation, while “Nine out of ten guys I fuck are black guys,” Mullins boasts.

4. Obesity-tolerant. Given that 64% of American women are now overweight, it is only natural that Hollywood, with an eye to satisfying changing demographics, should give the heavyweights movie stars of their own. Now fat women not only have characters with whom they can identify, but ones who reassure them that slovenliness is desirable. Whereas overweight women in movies and television previously filled the roles of matronly types (e.g., Hattie McDaniel or Frances Bavier) or bitchy hags (Roseanne in the Barr phase of her career), obese actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson represent a new mutant feminist temptress and fat pride pin-up ideal. Mullins, McCarthy’s character in The Heat, is more than once supplicated by ex-boyfriends, who follow her around like wounded puppies, salivating at the thought of another shot at a hop on the paunch. Her girth more than once makes things difficult for her, but that’s just the part of the price she has to pay for being a sexy bitch (cf. nos. 1 and 2).

3. Basically statist. The Heat would appear to be confused about the value of the various government agencies it portrays and the usefulness of their endeavors to the public these agencies purport to serve. At no point in all of the movie’s mayhem is there any indication, civic-minded lip service and back-patting notwithstanding, that FBI or DEA agents have accomplished anything for taxpayers by pursuing the endless War on Drugs. But the one man who dares to refer to his status as a taxpayer (“I pay taxes, so fuck the government”) is then immediately obliterated by a car bomb, so let that be a lesson to you.

Never mind that different federal agencies, even as depicted in The Heat, are mutually hostile and interfere with each other’s overlapping investigations. Nor should the viewer allow the fact that one of the federal agents is revealed to be in cahoots with the mob to reflect on the collective integrity of America’s civil servants. (USPS personnel are, however, represented rather poorly, with a post office hag in a bar mumbling, “Eat my fuckin’ Irish ass.”)

“When bad shit happens in my neighborhood, I get a little passionate about it,” Mullins proclaims, with unintentional humor deriving from the fact that much of the “bad shit” and violence that occurs in her neighborhood is of her own doing. At times, police work just seems to be an excuse for an officer to let off steam by harassing and physically abusing the common citizen. The most sinister aspect of The Heat‘s concept of law enforcement is that police brutality is treated so casually, normalized, in fact, as something perhaps lovably eccentric but wholesomely populist in its appeal. After all, “if you’re not in trouble, you’re not doin’ your job.”

2. Pro-castration. The Heat delights in depicting male suffering and humiliation. Mullins plays Russian roulette with a criminal’s dick and Ashburn shoots another offender twice in the crotch, with a seething hostility toward men’s genitalia permeating the film. Women determine the terms of their interactions with the men, who are left to beg for attention or mercy, as when Levy pitifully propositions Ashburn, “If you’re gonna boss me around, you could at least buy me dinner first.” It is this appalling exemplar of the sensitive man, however, who has the best shot at winning Ashburn’s affection (cf. nos. 1 and 4).

1. Feminist. Mullins makes repeated, obsessive references to testicles, including testicles for women, and is given to saying disgusting things like, “I’m balls-deep in boredom.” Tough but sensitive women in manface: this is The Heat‘s neurotic essence. But, “You go, girl!” the viewer presumably is expected to cheer at this spectacle of degeneracy – no matter how repulsive the heroines may be as they swagger around in men’s wear, ape masculine traits, shout at men, beat them up, and picturesquely point and shoot their government-issue penises.

Whatever screenwriter Katie Dippold’s intentions, however, her script has much to say about how unhappy women have made themselves by buying into the feminist fraud. Chief among the hallucinations propagated by the feminists is the idea that a woman, having paradoxically actualized her femaleness by disposing of her femininity, can somehow retain her worth as a woman rather than as the ersatz man she has chosen to become. “I’m a lady,” claims a deluded Mullins, giving voice to this untenable view. Ashburn’s careerism ended her marriage and she admits to being lonely. Her sleuthing skills may be Monk-like, but “being a woman in this field is hard. Men are just so intimidated by me.” Most men naturally find her mannishness unappealing. “Hard to believe she’s single,” a coworker observes sarcastically. There is a reason why Ashburn’s only romantic prospect at the end is a total weenie, and an African one at that, who expects her to pay for his meals in exchange for his company. But is it because white men are “intimidated” by her, or that they are simply disgusted by what she and her type have become? (cf. nos. 2 and 4)

Do Not Disturb, previously released in 2010 as New Terminal Hotel (the latter version, according to IMDb, is thirteen minutes longer), marks a welcome return to the horror genre for character actor Stephen Geoffreys, who, after appearing in a handful of 80s classics like Fright Night and 976-Evil, took the (to say the least) unexpected career plunge of becoming a gay porn star and spent most of the 90s plumbing the depths of that smelly cinematic demimonde.

In Do Not Disturb, he plays Don Malek, an eccentric screenwriter living in a skid row apartment and driving his agent, Ava (Tiffany Shepis), to distraction by his refusal to do any work. She is apparently less concerned by the fact that Don is also murdering people. Malek, however, is, as it turns out, no run-of-the-mill serial killer, but an unorthodox and unusually refined variety of vigilante, taking matters into his own hands where karma would seem to have failed his sense of justice.

Geoffreys retains his familiar knack for muted, quirky intensity, his youthful impishness dampened here, however, by an air of defeat and experience that suits the characterization. The most mysterious person in Do Not Disturb, though, is not Don, the killer, but rather his agent, Ava, whose feelings and motives are questionable throughout the film. Tiffany Shepis is tough and consistently interesting as Ava, managing to make the character likable in spite of her harshness and unfeminine crudity. Ezra Buzzington, meanwhile, contributes a memorably disgusting performance as Spitz, Don’s perverted, handicapped neighbor.

BC Furtney’s direction is solidly simple, allowing the film to feel like a respectful adaptation of a stage play, with scenes consisting largely of two characters talking in a room. The strong cast, fortunately, ensures that this format is successful, maintaining tension and viewer interest. Add some nudity, gore, and squirmy, unnerving synthesizer music, and what results is a pleasant-enough black comedy suitable for late-night viewing.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

4 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Do Not Disturb is:

11. Xenophobic. An annoying Brit in a bar provides murder fodder.

10. Anti-state/anti-police. The world is an “Orwellian Babylon”. “Little cameras are watching us wherever we go now, aren’t they?” Police investigation annoys Don’s plans. The criminal justice system is unreliable. One of Don’s victims, a Hollywood bigwig, is said to have “killed that girl and we all know it.” “They don’t prosecute [rich, powerful] guys like Stanley.”

9. Anti-racist. Spitz makes a reference to a prostitute’s “nigger pimp”. His racism is presumably intended to add further justification to Don’s decision to murder him.

8. Anti-Christian. The Lord’s name is taken in vain. When Ava asks him, “Are you alone?”, Don asks, “In the universe?” It is apparently his disbelief in an afterlife or in divine retribution that drives him to vengeance (see also no. 5).

7. Media-critical. “Isn’t any press good press?” The detachment Ava displays when confronted with Don’s handiwork suggests a severe desensitization to violence. Is this the result of the industry in which she works?

6. Antiwar/anti-military. “Military service ain’t worth shit,” says wheelchair-bound Spitz, who complains about his medical expenses.

5. Subversive. “Join the workforce,” Don says sarcastically, to which Ava replies, “Be an upstanding citizen.” “God fearing,” Don adds (see also no. 8). A crummy end credits song, “Tables Turn”, threatens, presumably on behalf of degenerates everywhere, “We’re all gonna take you down.” Tattoos abound.

4. Drug-ambivalent. One writer is said to have a $400 daily drug habit. Another man’s predilection for cocaine leads to his death. Despite what is clearly the alcoholism of at least one character, Do Not Disturb buys wholly into the romance of the bottle and the picturesque hipness of drinking, with Geoffreys and Buzzington milking every drop of cool that they possibly can from the stage business of imbibing.

3. Feminist. “Don’t pull my dick,” says Ava, an exemplar of the mannish career woman. Men are more than once shown to behave as predators toward women and are, consequently, dispatched by Don.

2. Pro-vigilante. Don is a “strangely noble” murderer. The film evokes no sympathy for his victims.

1. Nihilist. Do Not Disturb, with its grim relativism, verges on the anti-human.

Viking Saga

Roving bands of foreigners ravage a seemingly helpless Britain, pillaging, raping its women, and humiliating or liquidating its men. No, this is not Woolwich in May of 2013, but the eighth century, when Norsemen subjected the island to terror even more frightening, at least in its immediate consequences, than that presented by the swarms of uncivilized welfare rats presently infesting jolly old England. Today the invaders are Third World rubbish of the British government’s own invitation, but during the Middle Ages an enemy threatened civilizational cataclysm by military means. Fortunately, back in those distant days, there were Englishmen sufficiently concerned with national survival to resist and struggle for the preservation of their culture.

The awkwardly titled A Viking Saga: The Darkest Day follows monk Hereward (Marc Pickering) as he makes his perilous way, attempting to elude the Vikings and get the Holy Book of Lindisfarne, a relic of great national and spiritual significance, to safekeeping at a northern monastery. During his journey Hereward is joined by the warrior Aethelwulf (Mark Lewis Jones) and Pictish woman Eara (Elen Rhys), who both have things to teach him about his responsibilities to his faith and his people.

The lead performances in this historical allegory, particularly Pickering’s, are passionate; and the mist-shrouded Welsh landscape, in combination with a constant sense of urgency and doom, contribute to A Viking Saga‘s air of earnestness of purpose. The artificial dialogue, always a challenge in bringing to life such a distant period, may strike some viewers as unnatural, and the film does show its budgetary limitations in the paltry smattering of actors purporting to represent a devastating Norse invasion force; but A Viking Saga is, on the whole, a better and more engrossing film than might be expected from its unfortunate title.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Viking Saga: The Darkest Day is:

10. Mildly feminist. Eara gets revenge for a rape and helps win the day.

9. Traditionalist/pro-family. “My people have used the land’s gifts for a thousand years,” Eara says. “My mother taught me as her mother taught her.”

8. Drug-ambivalent. A psychoactive plant causes Hereward to have frightening hallucinations, but this also results in his having a spiritually instructive vision.

7. Anti-capitalistic/anti-NWO. The invasion started with coastal trading, an allusion to capitalism and possibly also to the EU as sources of Britain’s degradation and loss of sovereignty.

6. Populist. “The church has seen to grow rich and fat while the country starves. Monks hold little respect in the wilds.”

5. Antiwar. The Vikings’ invasion, like so many wars, is motivated by gold and dreams of empire.

4. Conservative. Pathetic, pale-faced, defeatist victims of plunder, plague, and famine actually suffer from a mental disorder: self-loathing liberalism. “We must embrace the death He brings so we may sit at His side in paradise,” one of these medieval progressives explains.

3. Xenophobic and anti-immigration. A quotation from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles at the film’s outset reads, “The heathens trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”  Black clouds are said to have brought this human pestilence. Alcuin of York “was victorious over the darkness of his time. We shall be victorious over the darkness that threatens to engulf our time.” (Italics added)  Unfortunately, trends today in the UK and Europe, with Islam the continent’s fastest-growing religion and soon to be the dominant faith in Britain, indicate that these storm clouds of the present will not be so handily dissipated.

2. Militantly Christian. A Viking Saga opens with naked monks, beaten and humiliated by Vikings, cringing, crying, and imploring God on a beach after being kicked out of their monastery. These are flabby, undignified men, unsuited to the task of protecting the faith. (“We have seen the bravery of the Saxons here. Men who would stain their church with the stench of their own piss rather than fight.”) “There are many ways to serve Christ, boy,” Aethelwulf tells Hereward. Lifting his sword, he asks, “Does it not resemble the cross?” “Become my wrath,” Christ (Gerald Tyler) says in a vision.

1. Nationalistic. “The book isn’t everything.” The violent defense of the island and nation comes even before Christ’s teachings. “Without their book, this nation would fall,” a Viking leader observes. The perpetuation of Christianity, then, is but a means to the survival of a tribal and racial identity. “The people of England are as precious as the Word.” Jesus is more than once called the “white Christ”.

A good day to die hard poster

The Die Hard franchise, like the James Bond films that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, comprise a record of Hollywood’s search for the new enemy that would confront the free world or at least provide fear fodder for the moviegoing public.  A product of the years that witnessed the Cold War’s ragged, anticlimactic end, Die Hard points to terrorism and asymmetric conflict as the coming trend, with ostensibly idealistic but actually greedy German terrorists taking hostages in an L.A. high-rise.  Inspired by the Iran-Contra controversy, Die Hard 2 finds a threat in the Cold War residue of the mercenary anticommunist armies created to aid dictators in America’s proxy wars in the Third World, and Die Hard with a Vengeance also features directionless mercenaries as a terrorist danger.  With the rise of the internet, 9/11, the War on Terror, and the domestic police state having intervened in the decade separating the third film from the next installment in the series, the superlative Live Free or Die Hard milks suspenseful chaos from the double-edged sword of the omnipresent cyber-surveillance state, but (like the more recent Skyfall) targets hackers rather than statists as the biggest threat to America.

Now, with its latest entry, A Good Day to Die Hard, the venerable action franchise finally appears to be out of compelling ideas and steam.  Set in Russia, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) hopes to reconcile with his CIA assassin son (Jai Courtney, an uninteresting actor with an unappealing face, inexplicably being pushed in high-profile films), A Good Day to Die Hard is an undisciplined, moody, murky, disorienting, and sometimes boring whirl of mostly meaningless action sequences that sweep McClane into an international espionage imbroglio that neither he nor the audience completely understands.  Apart from the familial drama, this story lacks the immediate stakes of the previous Die Hard films, which find McClane reluctantly playing the hero to protect his fellow citizens; now the character appears content to machine-gun foreigners in their own country and wreak massive havoc on their freeways for a lark and without any insight into what he is doing apart from his hope that it will somehow impress his rogue son and restore their damaged rapport.  Astronomical destruction of property, a genocidal body count, and forced sentimentality ensue, much of it filmed with a shaky, erratic pseudodocumentary headache-inducement approach, with the result that A Good Day to Die Hard is easily the most obnoxious and least worthy of the films to bear the prestigious Die Hard banner – and, if anything, perhaps an unfortunate indicator that it is at last a good day for this series of films to just die.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Good Day to Die Hard is:

3. Xenophobic and specifically anti-Russian.  Slavs are secretive, dishonest, violent, eccentric, treacherous, and lust after their parents.

2. Family-ambivalent.  The film celebrates the father-son bond, with McClane regretful of not having played a greater role in his children’s lives.  His marriage to their mother, however, was apparently unsalvageable.

1. Statist and specifically neoconservative.  The Die Hard franchise becomes progressively more accepting of the federal government over the years.  In the first film, representative NYPD and LAPD officers are subject to human frailty and poor judgment, but are also admirable in their toughness and obvious concern for the public.  Their bureaucratic superiors are mostly worthless, however, and the FBI is depicted as incompetent and counterproductive, with one of their snipers a Vietnam veteran and death enthusiast who remembers Saigon fondly.  Bureaucrats and elements of the military are still antagonistic in Die Hard 2, and law enforcement at the local level is the most trustworthy.  This is also the case in Die Hard with a Vengeance, with federal agents depicted as conspiratorial and dopey.

Live Free or Die Hard accepts the posited benevolence of the FBI, but harbors reservations about the competence of newer federal rackets like the Department of Homeland Security.  The principal villain is a former government cyber-security expert run amuck, and the Pentagon is censured as clumsy for underestimating the vulnerability of America’s cyber-infrastructure, but the implication is that more and not less federal might is required.  At the end of that film, McClane is shown wearing an FBI jacket, signifying the oneness of his mission as a police officer with theirs at the national level.

Though the original Die Hard is distinctly Jewish in its perspective, the series has not until now embraced outright neoconservatism.  In A Good Day to Die Hard, McClane at first appears to be skeptical about the usefulness of the spy business, but is quickly persuaded to join the game when he sees what fun it offers with its license to ravage foreign lands with impunity.  The villains here are America’s old enemies, the Russians, still totalitarians at heart (as indicated by the Aeroflot airline’s hammer-and-sickle logo and the “CCCP” tattoo on one brutish thug’s back) and more dangerous than ever since criminal elements among them are peddling those dreaded and demonic “WMDs”, including the material for nuclear bombs.  (The prospective buyers, presumably, are Iran or the highest Islamic jihadist bidder.)  The home defense of previous films is no longer sufficient, and proactive overseas CIA adventurism is now the order of the day.  Early in A Good Day to Die Hard, a framed photograph of Barack Hussein Obama seems to smile on McClane from the wall behind him, bestowing on the loose cannon officer and the film itself a sort of enigmatic blessing (?).

Director Sam Mendes made his fortune with American Beauty, one of the most overrated films of the 1990s.  He did something to begin redeeming himself with Road to Perdition and now continues his foray into legitimately earned accolades with Skyfall, a solid entry in the Daniel Craig James Bond series.  The action set pieces are top-notch or close, with the opening sequence being a particular doozy; and the writing team has injected a valuable uncertainty into the story by presenting a battle-damaged Bond somewhat past his prime and perhaps in over his head in confronting a foe of similar background and prowess.

Javier Bardem has fun as Silva, a quirky, almost Batman-style supervillain and hacker extraordinaire with a private army.  Silva, a former MI6 agent, has a bone to pick with M (Judi Dench), holding his ex-boss responsible for torture he endured at enemy hands.  She is also the subject of his unhealthy mother fixation, so that 007’s current favor with her irks Silva as a kind of sibling rivalry.  M is closer to the action than usual in Skyfall and gets to play with the boys a little.

Packed with lovely ladies, unusual perils, and several exotic locations, Skyfall is a film that should satisfy spy action fans.  It also functions as an interesting character study, with Bond’s psychology and backstory receiving more attention than in most of the films.  Unfortunately, this is where Skyfall strikes its few false notes, with the masculine mystique of the character done something of a disservice in overly generous revelation.  Have any Bond fans been clamoring, for instance, to see 007’s childhood home or to meet his parents’ old groundskeeper?  Happily, Skyfall‘s many merits more than make up for the few missteps, and build solidly on the previous groundwork, ensuring future adventures.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Skyfall is:

8. Anti-family.  “Orphans always make the best recruits,” M confides (cf. no. 1).

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Bond has become an alcoholic and pill addict, but cigarette smoke retains its sexiness as blown by Severine.

6. Mildly xenophobic.  The Orient and the Middle East are, as always, the lands of mystery, danger, and intrigue.  (The Turkish government must be offering discounts on licenses for filmmakers to run roughshod over Istanbul rooftops, as Skyfall is, along with Taken 2, one of two recent movies to enjoy that privilege.  Not one, but two Third World produce stands are overturned during the opening chase.)

5. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation – a James Bond tradition.  007’s new girlfriend, fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), is black.  In addition to some lucky Turkish babe (Tonia Sotiropoulou), Bond’s other conquest of note is sultry Eurasian maneater Severine (winner of Tastiest, Scariest Seductress of Year 2012, Berenice Marlohe), who, particularly as costumed and colored in the Floating Dragon sequence, is exquisite.

4. Pro-gay.  Computer genius Silva is a mean one, admittedly; but gays have come a long way when they can give James Bond a run for his money.  Skyfall thus has its cake and eats it as well with regard to glorification and vilification of homosexuality.

3. Macho minus.  Craig plays Bond as the alpha male who can outrun a fireball, but the screenplay occasionally seems to want to undermine this familiar characterization, implying that Bond may have dabbled in homosexuality and that he is motivated partly by unresolved childhood trauma.  Oy vey . . .

2. Multiculturalist.  Skyfall acknowledges the contributions to international security of minorities, women, the elderly, and the nearsighted.  Javier Bardem’s hair has been dyed blonde (blonde being the color of evil) to mitigate the insensitivity of portraying a Hispanic homosexual as a villain.  London appears as a representative orderly multiracial society.

1. Statist.  After MI6’s headquarters are attacked, their operations move into the underground command center from which Winston Churchill’s war effort was directed, thus establishing a parallel between the “good war” and superpower intelligence agencies’ struggle with fourth generation adversaries today.  Now terrorists and hackers, not the Soviet Union or SPECTRE, are the primary threats to civilization, so that Julian Assange replaces Blofeld or Goldfinger as governments’ primier bogeyman.

State enterprise and covert intelligence agencies bring mankind salvation.  MI6 achieves its apotheosis when one of its worthies is martyred in a Scottish church, effecting a spook-as-self-sacrificing-savior conceit.  Bond has earlier referred to his own “resurrection”.

Gun control gets an endorsement when Bond is shown at a disadvantage in having to change clips when pitted against a terrorist’s high-capacity magazine.  Also, MI6 has invented for Bond a handgun that is palm-programmed so that only he can fire it – unlike the common firearm or “random killing machine”.  (Are mandatory consumer models next?)  The government-media complex receives a nod when we see that Bond gets his news from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.  Picturesque Shanghai, meanwhile, puts in a good word for state capitalism, depicting in its futuristic architecture and technology the new type of society on the rise.

Flippantly violent after the Tarantinoid tradition and frenetically ADHD-afflicted and visually gimmicky in the Guy Ritchie mold – with whooshing split screens, speed-up/slow-down action, and more than one trip to the old follow-the-bullet-in-slow-motion trough – Cat Run is a high-energy Euro-flavored action comedy graced with fine performances and a few good laughs but ultimately let down by its director, John Stockwell (Top Gun‘s Cougar, not the CIA whistleblower), its beat machine editing, and its pervading air of triviality and gratuitous vulgarity.

When upscale prostitute Cat (Paz Vega) witnesses U.S. Senator Bill Krebb (Christopher McDonald, whose face has always connoted an intelligent sleaze) murdering one of her coworkers at a decadent party thrown by arms dealer Branko Jakovic (Branko Djuric), she flees with the security footage and soon has corrupt police and ex-MI6 assassin Helen Bingham (Janet McTeer) on her trail.  Meanwhile, two dweeby American expatriates, wiz kid and bad cook Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz) and sex-obsessed Julian (Alphonso McAuley) have opened an amateur detective agency and hope to establish their credibility by locating Cat before anyone else can beat them to her.

Janet McTeer, whose Helen is a darker version of Helen Mirren’s character in Red, is, along with lovable comedic talent McAuley, one of the two biggest incentives to watch Cat Run.  Every laugh in the film belongs to McAuley, who has something of the energy of a young Michael Winslow or Richard Pryor; and McTeer is charming whenever the gruesome script and costuming allow it (with her cleavage utilized to commendable effect in the film’s climactic action sequence).  Another noteworthy component of the cast is Europe itself, with several beautiful locations lending the story a touch of class.

Ultimately neither horrible nor noteworthily good, the film earns itself a modest 3 out of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cat Run is deeply conflicted and:

12. Egalitarian.  Bleeding-hearted Anthony sympathizes when Cat steals his car, saying in earnest, “She must really need it.”

11. Anti-drug.  Amputee secretary Dexter lost his first arm after using a dirty needle.

10. Racist!  Enter into evidence the segue from Julian to a chimpanzee.

9. Anti-Christian.  “I thank God every day for what happened,” Dexter says after explaining his disabilities and recounting how his wife was eaten by a shark.  His faith fails to save him, however, when Helen lops off the arm with which he brandishes his Bible.  Schubert’s “Ave Maria” grotesquely accompanies this scene.

8. Antiwar.  Neoconservative fearmongering with respect to Iran is a scam driven by defense contractors and greedy politicians.

7. Selectively xenophobic, with Slavs depicted as seedy and untrustworthy.

6. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation.  White Anthony and black Julian are best friends, and Julian has “saved him from many brutal beatdowns.”  Julian charms European women and at one point lifts his kilt to reveal his cartoonishly gigantic penis.  All of his ex-girlfriends appear to be white.  Polyglot black amputee and communications specialist Dexter has a Purple Heart and valuable services to offer despite his disability.

5. Anti-police.  The Montenegran police are all in the employ of Branko Jakovic.  One policeman fails to report an abandoned car, hoping he can sell it instead.

4. Anti-family/anti-marriage.  Anthony has moved to Europe to avoid his meddlesome family.  “My father used to beat me with a belt and make me sleep in the barn with pigs,” Cat recalls.  Evil arms dealer Jakovic is married with children.  Julian recalls a college dean whose wife shot him in the face.

3. Feminist/pro-castration.  Cat Run appears to fancy itself highly original in repeatedly depicting a woman getting the best of the various men who confront her: kicking their testicles, shooting them, punching them, stabbing them, blowing them up, making snooty quips at their expense, amputating limbs, and even removing a penis with a cigar cutter.  Helen also effortlessly relieves an overburdened porter of one of the suitcases he is able to carry only with difficulty.  Wimpy heroes Anthony and Julian are favored over macho men, who meet with bloody and painful demise.  A pornographer is an “exploiter” of women and dies the most horrible death.

2. Pro-slut/pro-bastard.  Cat Run presents a sympathetic portrayal of whore and single mother Catalina.  “A blowjob provider?  That would be like calling Caravaggio a housepainter.”

1. State-ambivalent.  Senator Krebb is a murderous lecher, alcoholic, and warmonger.  Intelligence agents delight in torture and mayhem (“We’ll always have Angola”) – which, however, seems to be intended as entertaining, giving rise to an ambiguity in the film’s attitude toward state crimes against humanity.  Cat Run is bizarrely indulgent toward ex-MI6 psycho Helen, who wears a ghoulish pendant made from the teeth of an Arab she interrogated, but is celebrated as a sexy and empowered heroine whose sadistic mutilation and killing of innocents (and implied willingness to murder even babies) are apparently forgivable and negligible in the grand scheme of things because she is “killer cool”.

2008’s Taken was a great neoconservative action hit and a perfect crystallization of hawkish Republican fantasy.  The marriage of the action film genre with this particular phase of American politics is natural, neoconservatism being in essence the application of the crowd-pleasing 1980s Golan-Globus sensibility to foreign policy; and Taken, with its Commando-esque story of scoundrelly Muslims kidnapping an American innocent to be auctioned as a harem slave and her father then unilaterally invading their space to raise some major havoc in retrieving her, was the ideal demonstration of the subgenre’s potential.

Now Taken 2 – or, as I prefer to dub it, Look Who’s Taken Too – takes up with the same characters having a new international adventure, but not every element that made the original work, unfortunately, is still in place.  The first sign that things have changed for the worse is that the opening credits roll (or jerk and wobble, rather) over American caskets coming back from overseas – a reminder that the War on Terror hasn’t exactly been cheap or easy.  Far from being a discouragement, however, the purpose of these death cargo shots is presumably to rouse Average Joe Republican’s xenophobic spite for proper appreciation of the white-on-brown beatdowns and bloodbaths that follow over the next hour-and-a-half.

It turns out that the surviving relatives of the Albanian slave traders exterminated in the first film actually have the nerve to hold a grudge and resolve to exact the mother of all revenges against the perpetually squinting Neeson (who I assume has eye trouble and was therefore forgivably incapable of reading the ridiculous script before signing onto the project).  The Albanians, thankfully, are a considerate sort of terrorists, and speak to each other in English for American moviegoers’ convenience.  Their plot to capture Neeson is sweetened when his daughter and ex-wife surprise him by showing up in Istanbul where he’s been working as a security expert.  In the event, Neeson and the ex-missus are the ones who get – gasp! – Taken Too, leaving the ditzy daughter in a position to help her father escape.

All of this is interesting, at least in terms of Look Who’s Taken Too‘s politics, as the revenge scenario acknowledges the existence of the phenomenon of foreign policy blowback.  Not one to back down from a hard punch in the face from reality, however, Neeson just goes all MacGuyver and Houdini and James Bond on the bastards, using a miniature cell phone he has hidden in his pants to call his daughter and hold an extended tactical briefing, giving her a byzantine set of instructions involving a map, geometrical formulations, and grenades thrown at random onto Istanbul rooftops so they can pinpoint each other’s location – none of which raises the suspicions of his guards, most of whom are taking a break from their plot to piously watch Osama bin Laden’s favorite sport, soccer, on tv.  The biggest unintentional smirk comes when Neeson instructs his daughter to try to get to the American embassy, because (the Benghazi debacle not having occurred yet when this movie was made), he assures her, “You’ll be safe there.”

Once he’s loose there’s no stopping Neeson, the one-man shock-and-awe operation.  The small businessmen of Istanbul emerge as the real and unsung victims of the story, with self-important Americans stealing clothes and cab rides, wiping out street vendors, blowing up cars and rooftops, and generally being rude and criminally inconsiderate tourists the whole time they’re there.  The Turks have it coming, though.  Their streets and people are dim and dirty, so that it doesn’t matter so much if they get trashed; and their hotel concierges and police are corrupt and in league with the Albanian white-slavers, so that little sympathy would seem to be in order for the country as a whole.

[BEGIN SPOILER ALERT]

Neeson goes through such a gauntlet of fisticuffs and gunplay to get to his daughter that, by the end of the film, he actually appears to be experiencing War on Terror fatigue.  Having vanquished all of the grandfatherly (and not very scary) villain’s disposable brood of brown bad guys, he announces that he’s tired of all the fighting and offers the cornered top man a chance at a truce.  He will throw down his weapon and leave in peace if the man agrees to an end of the vendetta-driven cycle of killing.  But what is this?  Has Neeson seen the error of America’s ways and pussied out in favor of Ron Paul all of a sudden?  Hardly.  Naturally, the Albanian agrees to the deal, but immediately proceeds to show himself unworthy of Neeson’s disingenuous show of trust, necessitating that he, too, like his minions, be given a quick lethal dose of export democracy in action, and proving that Muslims can never, ever, under any circumstances, be trusted, and have to be monitored (or occupied, preferably) at all times.

[END SPOILER ALERT]

Easily the most ludicrous scene in Look Who’s Taken Too, the ending is unsatisfactory and anticlimactic – somewhat like the War on Terror itself: high on build-up and the body count, but pitiably low in appeal and payoff in the final analysis.  Overall, this is as worthy a sequel as probably should have been expected – particularly when considering that it was directed by someone calling himself “Olivier Megaton”.  A fundamental weakness relative to Taken is that the sequel dispenses with the urgent countdown gimmick that made the first film so suspenseful, and that the idea of a kidnapped pair of divorced parents simply isn’t quite as compelling as an imminently Arab-threatened cherry.

Much of the film, too, both action and drama, also feels less immediate and more obviously staged than Taken.  With the exception of an Albanian’s threat to deliver the daughter into “the lowest brothel”, where she will be used until she is like a piece of abused meat that even a dog wouldn’t want – I laughed at that – the dialogue is unimaginative, and the fight scenes are overly choppy, confusing, and full of disorienting quick cuts – no doubt to obscure the fact that Neeson is way too old a gent to be doing all this stuff – but Look Who’s Taken Too still manages to deliver the sorts of cheap thrills that gave the original’s fans erections.  I’ll generously grant this one 3.5 of 5 possible crypto-fascistic crescent-stars for holding my interest throughout.  Somehow, though, I’m not as eagerly anticipating the inevitable sequel, Look Who’s Taken Now, in which the family pet gets dognapped by Red Chinese restauranteurs.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Look Who’s Taken Too is:

4. Anti-miscegenation.  These ones likes it rough.

3. Pro-family.  Neeson will do whatever it takes to protect his daughter, who actually hopes to facilitate the romantic reconciliation of her parents.  The new guy in Mom’s life has turned out to be a grade-A jerk.  (Expect Look Who’s Taken Now to end or begin with a touching, tearful wedding ceremony.)

2. Neoconservative/war-ambivalent.  The impression conveyed is ultimately one of nihilistic resignation at partial foreign policy failure but overall unrepentance.

1. Xenophobic/racist/anti-Muslim.  Even the women in the streets leer sinisterly from under their head coverings.

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