Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Acidemic Godard Reader

 Over the years I've written a lot about old Godard, and a few have written for Acidemic on him as well. Read then this curated complete collection, and weep with hilarious wonder!

(Les Carabiners - Fox Lorber DVD commentary review:
(Bright Lights film Journal 2/5/07)

"...Part of this trouble I believe lies with the vanguard cinema studies professors. Bloodied from their battles with musty-tweeded literature professors over the worthiness of “pop culture” as a field of study, they seek to deaden the levity of their material, assuming that dourness and authority go hand in hand.

Cinema writers who are deep and entertaining at the same time–Robin Wood, Kim Newman, David Thomson, etc. tend to be British. The French have their own problems but, like Godard, are funny intrinsically (as long as they don’t try to be, in other words, as long as they keep it deadpan). It seems to be endemic to the U.S., that most intellectually insecure of nations, to mistake earnestness with importance. "(more)





(7/09)
What Godard is chronicling here, then, perhaps, maybe, probably not, is the evolution of B-movie convention from The Big Sleep to Easy Rider. The exact second you realize that the hot blond waif sitting in the background at the bar looks a bit like a really young Marianne Faithful (above), she suddenly starts singing "As Tears Go By" - not lip syncing, but singing right there, a capella, trilling her voice gently and feeling every word of the song, expressing some longing we have no idea about but the mood of wistful sadness overwhelms the film in a summer of love tsunami, before it's even begun, only to resume its dry sand babbling even before she finishes the song. Compared to this bit of subdued emotionalism from a rising starlet of British rock royalty, the ensuing G. Marxist wordplay between Leaud and the bartender suddenly seems tired, yesterday's model. There's a new sincerity in town and it's cool to have feelings, or at any rate it's cool if you're Marianne Faithful. Karina, instead, is trying on the outfit of a bitchy too-cool-for-modernism contemporary diva (the host instead of the contestant on Europe's Next Top Model) for size. She's not about to pick up a flower and take off her shoes just because the other kids are doing it. So instead she just freezes from the knees down and looks at the floral arrangements like a penniless, starving lotus eater. 

(2009, Issue #8)
Trying to watch some of the extras on the Criterion DVD of Godard's Pierrot Le Fou (1965), I found a very interesting documentary: a "celebration" of Godard's films which opens on long shots of a Parisian souvenir store's postcard rack, then close-ups of postcards on display for Godard's various early movies, the ones with iconic starlets particularly: Breathless, Le Mepris and, of course Pierrot itself. You might say, ah, oui, la femme, monsieur, so what? But Godard would know so what... indeed.

The purpose of this documentarian's montage was, sadly, not to create a post-modern mirror echoing Godard's own frequent use of postcards, book stalls, and magazine covers in his films as illustrations of--among other things--the way the press caters to humanity's base desires in an effort to suppress genuine change and revolution--but to canonize Godard and his "easy, early, sexy" films, to attach iconic markers to his terrain so the bourgeoisie don't get lost in the thicket and start running for the exits. I'm reminded of Godard's phrase about the bourgeoisie seeing a Roger Vadim movie that's supposed to be Shakespeare and being very excited that they finally 'get' the immortal bard now that he's all tarted up as it were: "This is Shakespeare? But this is marvelous!" (more)

(2/28/09 - Bright Lights)

"Godard wants the youth of Paris to be mad as hell and ready to fight for causes, but he no longer believes in the causes themselves, or in causes at all, except in that fighting for them is “good for the youth” of which he is no longer part. But he’s glad they associate him with causes, because his cold old bones are warmed by their political fire; but that’s all, as soon as they leave his side to chase the next rainbow, he’s back to smoking and reading the script. This is the adult Godard; he’s switched from angry to fond of anger; emotion of any strength can be fire in which to forge liberation of the self; one can’t free a society that is nothing but shackles by definition. Always it’s back to the one, not creating as Lacan said, “new masters,” via championing some explicitly rendered social cause. For Godard, all actions and points fade fast in the lapping waves, a new idea is already coming into focus as the next one is cast off; hold onto the last wave too long and you wind up bedraggled on the shore of dour daddy dogma.? (more) 

(2/4/08)
Here's what I mean: you see a knight on a horse trying to scoop up a naked, running maiden--thunderous classical music on the soundtrack, hoofbeats, her frightened panting and shrieks--this generates a certain preconditioned response: will you see this chick being abducted? Will you see the hero ride to her rescue? Where is this hero? Your stomach might clamp in suspense. You fear and hate the knight and want to save the maiden, without even knowing the story (maybe she's a demon in disguise, who knows?) Suddenly the horse pulls up short so it doesn't bump into a moving camera, and the naked maiden runs off set and hides behind the cameraman then she goes climbing up into the lighting rigging so the knight can't reach her, so he dismounts and goes to have a smoke.

There's two ways you can react to all that: one is to be angry or frustrated, to think you are "missing" something. Are they filming a movie within a movie here, or is this real? Why is she still running if she's not on camera? Who's filming this second movie about making the movie? The other is to grasp the ambiguity, the modern art/Zen response Godard is creating, and thus to laugh at your own predisposition to get so absorbed into narrative that you fight its cessation. For this second response, you are freed by realizing that the meltdown between the film and the film-within-the-film is intended to provide this response. Can you let go of your expectations, your obsessive need for character arcs, story lines, and dramatic resolution? If you can, you begin to see the ways film tricks you. Can you stand to watch stock characters and cliche types get melted down into meaninglessness? Will this technique frustrate you beyond endurance, or set you free from your steel trap mind? (more)


(4/2010)
With an artsy self-reflexive intellectual like Godard, prostitution will naturally function as a metaphor for cinema, everything will, but prostitution is a particularly apt metaphor for the cinema. Coutard's camera leers over Karina's shoulder, sympathizing with her sadness even as it causes it, never sure what's an act and what isn't--is she just drawing us in to ask if she can borrow 2,000 francs? In a meta way, it's even true that her character's dreams of being a film star are realized, right there in the act of being in the movie you are now witnessing, and yet even that is not enough. Godard is forcing us to realize how our own hunger for cinematic beauty is itself responsible for the problems of exploitation and sexual commodification. We destroy the characters we love, our eye is the real monster here. But whereas the similarly distant Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion reacts to the encroachment of our gaze with delusional homicidal madness, Karina's prostitute just watches, almost bemused, as her freedom and life are crushed up in the jaws of the Other's tepid desire.

It's Godard's most terrifyingly existentialist movie. With Blu-ray you can feel the cold chill of recognition in Karina's tears when she watches La passion de Jeanne D'Arc (1928) with some random date at the cinema. On a blurry VHS in the late 1990s I found the Jeanne D'Arc scene to be "post-modern" but uninvolving; on that Koch Lorber DVD I thought it was just a cliche' - you couldn't even tell she had a date with his arm around her in those two blurry versions. I thought she was alone! On Blu-ray, you can see some sleazy dude has accompanied her, bought her ticket, and put his arm around her. This adds immeasurably to the pain of the scene, the date's expectations for an after-film tryst mirrored in bizarre way the mix of sympathy and voyeuristic expectation in the face of Antonin Artaud onscreen as he hears the verdict Joan is to be burned at the stake. With this new clarity, both the screen within the screen and the terrible empathy and sadness in Karina's face are made terrifyingly immediate. This isn't just some 1928 silent film about an old trial for heresy, it's a staggeringly perfect moment - two brides stripped bare for their bachelor audiences, Karina's eyes mirroring every tear of the actress onscreen, and sensing not some erotic catharsis but the cold, horrific panic one experiences in early middle age as they realize their parents are getting old, their grandparents are all dead, and you are next in line, the pirates of time's inexorable progress making you walk one by one--not necessarily in genealogical order--off the mortal plank.

(Divinorum Psychonauticus, 2011; Acidemic #8)

There's a scene in First Name: Carmen (1983), for example, wherein a shoot-out between sexy young terrorist bank robbers and French police is going on in a hotel wherein elderly residents read newspapers in the various seats around the lobby, barely concerned about the deliberately fake-seeming violence, the events the way tolerant grandparents might react to their grandchildren running through the living room with toy guns. Ah, but are they supposed to be toy guns? Which realm of belief are we on, the cops and robbers side, who see the shooting as real (narrative immersion), or the elderly hotel guests who see it--if at all--as young people making a movie, or just acting out May 68-style agitprop theater? (more)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Drool in a Crisis: JURASSIC WORLD vs. the Heche VOLCANO

Who'd of thought that real life dinosaurs of JURASSIC WORLD (2015) would one day become so banal that the DNA designers would invent the NEW Indominus Rex - only from InGen. The park needs a hyper-unnatural super predator to, as the counter-feminist park executive Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) puts it, "up the wow factor." This baby has it all: bazooka shell-resistant teflon exteriors, cup holders, optional child restraints, heat sensor camouflage, 'raptor's agility, Rex's bite, 'Ted Bundy amok in a sleeping sorority'-instincts, and no social conditioning whatsoever. "You can't have predator features without the accompanying aggression" notes its Dr. Frankenstein, resident gene splicer Dr. Wu (BD Wong) once the thing busts loose, which of course it does. Somehow, the movie implies, the carnage wrought upon all these extras and CGI monsters is our fault, because we're so easily jaded. That old wow factor has sunk mighty low since 1993, when the first CGI Jurassic Park dinosaurs appeared and blew us all away.


Naturally, we want this Indominus to get loose. There wouldn't be a film without it. And having the pterodactyls and pteranodons attack the fleeing, fanny pack-bedecked tourists en mass is a lovely Roger Corman-esque touch. And the tourists may be somewhat jaded, but this is a big budget movie, so these CGI monsters aren't just video game-style chroma keyed-up overlays ala the Asylum Syfy channel monsters, but detailed creatures with perfect amounts of shade and sun glinting, And we love that, no matter how many folks get eaten due to past accidents, the monsters keep being created and the park keeps hiring bumbling morons with slippery shoes to take care of them. On this island at least, human natural selection still has a fighting chance. 

That's right, once again it's the people that aren't properly shaded and shadowed: Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), the uptight caricature of female executive control freak bitchiness ("it's all about control with you people," comments Chris Pratt. She runs some aspect or other of park operations, somehow expects men and monsters alike to snap to when she pouts and stamps her high heeled foot; and is the type of person who uses "we" when talking about the company's wishes "we'd like you to visit the tiger cage on your way out"); her sister (Judy Greer) is the same way, sending her children off to the park to visit Auntie Claire so she can divorce their dad. Naturally they'll get lost in the hot zone somehow and naturally Claire will have to, in a sense, come crawling back to the one man who can find them, hunky raptor whisperer Owen (Chris Pratt). Do I even need to mention that they went on one date awhile back and didn't get along because she brought an itinerary and her "diet wouldn't allow tequila. "Animals raised in isolation aren't almost the most sociable," he says but she's not sympathetic, presuming everything he has to say is sexist hippie drivel. The alleged human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to hunt in the Middle East but at least he tries to be friendly; she's the real villain, if you ask me. Owen notes 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' He's the only one to call the killer dinosaur hybrid a "she" instead of an "it." You get the drill. He's the only employee of the park with any balls, foresight, intelligence, knowledge of predator pack mentality, or coordination. She calls the dinosaurs 'assets' and dismisses Owen's knowledge and compassion as sexist hippie drivel. 


Thank god for Chris Pratt, then, savior of three-dimensional humanity. Lord knows Hollywood's been needing a rugged, noble, but down to earth tough guy that men and women can like who for once is not Australian and therefore proof American masculinity is not an oxymoron. He's the ultimate hybrid animal himself, able to play a range worthy of a real human: part quasi-sincere slacker/stoner comedy bro/ part hyper-competent SEAL / Ranger romantic lead, Pratt's able to convey naturalism without crunchiness, charm without narcissism, guts without indifference, and cool without shallowness, sensitivity without mawkishness, and self-awareness without condescension, in ways hitherto unknown to our homegrown big budget mega-stars. And he's already proven his ability to take orders from a cute redhead without losing face in Zero Dark Thirty. Do I need to mention that when Claire comes to his trailer to ask for help, he's outside by the river fixing his badass vintage Triumph motorcycle in a T-shirt and jeans, and she's wearing heels and an unflattering 90s business skirt slacks combo and Garbo Prince Valiant hair?

Pout at the devil: Claire assures Owen she's more than capable of leading the expedition via hurt eyes and a cinched blouse
The rest of the cast of course is just another rack of digestible tourists and 'one quirk-apiece' staff somehow even more aggravating then the self-righteous animal activists played by Vince Vaughn and Alessandro Novo in the past films, or the sickening "life will find a way" sentimentality of Attenborough (who looks scarily like a shorter version of my dad) and Sam Neill. I always cringe the way spontaneous hermaphrodite reproduction is something both men 'own' through getting strangely pious and sentimental over it --"life found a way..." -- it's downright creepy that we're supposed to bask in some kind of baby crib familial glow at these words, while John Williams' uber-trite 'sweeping' "Jurassic theme" presumes will cry and salute at the same time.


At least here in the JURASSIC WORLD the pro-life sermonizing is all leveled at the boo-hiss military guy (fat in ill-fitting khakis with big gold watch  and BD Wong's dispassionate mad scientist splicer and it's more along the lines of animal rights rather than gooey eyes looking down at the 4H Fair chicks. It's not just their cliche litanies and lack of any real (as in not cliche'd 'stock') genuine character detail that casts a sickly pall, it's the lack of any non-cliche'd quality or detail in anyone. In the second film, Jeff Goldblum had a black daughter, for example, a detail that seemed pandering at the time but has proven trenchant (three of my white friends have adopted black babies and it's become more of a familiar, and oddly moving, sight). In III, Neill and ex-girlfriend Laura Dern are still friends even though she's married (to a different guy) with a kid. But here in the fourth film, it's at a new zenith of trite, as the casting director, costume dept, make-up, script, and actor all gives us way too much muchness. So it's not enough that the imbecilic glazed-eyed security guard doesn't notice the one dinosaur he's supposed to watch has slipped away from him, he's cramming a sandwich into his face right at the moment the visitors point it out and even then doesn't stop eating. That's just one example, but the most offensive is the younger nephew of Claire, who has that face where a year ago it was cherubic and now it's time to kick him out the door so stops hanging out with mom instead of playing with boys his own age; he professes to love dinosaurs but he's a color between-the-lines coward terrified of bending a rule, even in the company of his 'cool' older brother, whose smoky eyes (new from Coverboy mascara?) keep playing tag with gaggles of conveniently cute and similarly parentless girls, to whom, rather than try to play along and pick up a girl himself OR get shy and blush, the younger kid acts like Bambi watching his mom flirt with the hunters. In other words, they have to constantly remind themselves they'll always be brothers, they're more like step siblings from long-divorced parents who now only ever meet at weddings.


I'm not asking for the two brothers in LONG DAY's JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, but it's not that fucking hard to write good brotherly dialogue, or even let them improvise a bit. Corman would just have them maybe rehearse and go see movies together or something, so they could improv decent dialogue (what about, say, talking about how cool the last ride was while the next one is getting started?). But that's the problem with 'big' movies like this, the director is rarely even in the same room or even square mile, unions forbid touching dialogue written long ago by teams of hacks better at talking their way into conversations than actually listening to what real people say. A good writer (or even producer) knows the more specific you are with lived-in detail, the more universal the appeal; generalities such as they say here cross country and age lines only in how much they bore audiences into a stupor.

Maybe it just bothers me because that ex-cherub kids looks like my childhood friend from the same approx. age, Alan, who turned me onto guns and WWII. I kept imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character as it were, like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon would have done it, or Quentin, just letting the kids improvise might have done it. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore, but they can't be this square... man. Just can't be.... but when they finally overcome their terror and feel exhilaration through zapping an attacking raptor as it tries to climb in the back of their SWAT vehicle, the kid's first exclamation is "I can't wait to tell mom!" What is he gonna run in and tell her after he smokes his first joint... when he's 45?



Maybe their arrested maturity can be explained by the way mom Judy Greer calls them on the phone constantly, nagging them for not calling her the minute they got off the plane, the minute they got to the park, etc., asking if they're having fun while trying to guilt trip them at the same time with her unflattering pouty spoiled brat frown (above) presumed to translate across the phone lines to kill any shred of childhood mischief, i.e. she wants them to have fun in that oppressive sort of way where no matter what level of fun they do have, it's not enough and/or too much. If they enjoy the park without her, they're bad children, if they don't, well why not? They must not be trying, in order to piss her off.

Other examples of this too-muchness swamping bit characters in million dollar bilge: the nerdy comic banter of two of the tech heads working the control room (he's got a big collection of plastic dinosaurs on his desk, which is such a poorly thought-out stupid detail, like having a picture of your secretary on your desk at work); the schmuck handler who falls into the 'raptor cage also has that dumb glassy-eyed "aww gee boss" slack-jawed look where you imagine him sweeping up a 7-11 and doing even that wrong. The guy running the hamster balls can't just say "they're all present and accounted for," he has to add "it's my job." Vincent D'Onofrio as the military tech assessor wears a big gold watch and short sleeves with fat hairy arms and says shit like "if only we'd had these things at Tora Bora." The Asian geneticist drink green tea in a clear glass cup and wears a Bruce Lee style black sweater, and so forth, and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion. Wouldn't want to break some reason unbreakable tradition, even as you try to up the wow factor.

Latinos: first in the field, first to be eaten.

But as feminist critics have noted, the bitchy stereotyping of old Claire here is the worst of all: the most dated and cookie cutter trite 'bitchy exec' in the history of Jurassic Park series, and even of movies in general. Void of anything remotely like survival instincts, when flying dinosaurs are carrying women and children off to their deaths all around her she figures the time is right to stand up on top of a jeep and shout for the boys' attention. While her and Owen are hiding from the Indominus she shouts at the top of her lungs to see if the kids can hear. "The kids are still alive, but you and I will not be if you keep shouting like that," he tersely whispers. She glares at him, too caught in that zone Camille Paglia writes about in Sexual Personae, the presumption that somehow wild animal nature can be brought to heel simply by making a sour face at the man trying to tell her it can't. And if the man tells her stomping her feet and calling him sexist won't help, that she needs to be quiet to survive, then he's being a misogynist. Naturally she does the opposite of what he says, and then when she winds up in jeopardy he must risk his life to save her while she waves her arms and screams "Do something!!"



It's all worth it though because in the end, doused in sweat and down to her strappy tee (above), she finds a pose she can assume without looking hippy (presumably why in all her shots she has jackets tied around her waist and/or is shot from the navel up, though far be it from me to be genuinely sexist about pointing such things out, but maybe foxy broads undone by big lower halves could use a role model, and by hiding her wideness the film undoes the one genuinely uncliche'd thing about her). Assuming the pose of Julia Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon or a cave girl from either When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth or One Million BC, that sexy curvy prone pose that helped launch the hormones of a generation of 12 year-old boys (and some girls) on TV back in the 70s, Opie's little girl doth rock it at last.


There's other good things though, too, in the comical punchlines and counter bites of the dinosaur attacks, all very indebted to Spielberg and Joe Dante. And Pratt practically does save the film as well as the day : "Your boyfriend's a badass." says the older brother. One can't deny that, what with his driving a motorcycle into battle, his raptor squad racing around him; but actually being her boyfriend seems just too dangerous, maybe worse in the long term than being torn to shreds by a pterodactyl (I'm amazed I can still spell that word, it's been at least 40 years) She's cool in a crisis sure (swings a fire extinguisher can upside a pterodactyl's head), but she's gonna be needin' a lot of crises to stay cool. Her idea of guardianship: drive the kids to the dinosaur attack zone, then lock them in the back of a windowless truck, later don't even let them watch the take-down from a remote feed, which at that point is like one of those things where the Vietnam vet kid comes home from the killing fields and mom still expects him to be in bed before Carson. One need only look at that buzzkill frown Judy Greer and/or the director mistake for genuine emotion to know that her treatment of the boys is really the worst kind of maternal manipulation, the type that breeds Normans rather than Owens. That they can even recognize Pratt's badassery is testament to their resilience, not hers. If kids of these two redheaded Tyrannosaurus Reginas ever screw up bad enough they get sent to military school then maybe they got a fighting chance; if not, they'll never fight again, except with the cleaning lady when she accidentally starches their socks.




------


One could make the excuse that this is how hot young women executive movies really always are but to them I say watch Anne Heche in VOLCANO (1997)! You could say women in fields of expertise who seem utterly clueless are common in film if not real life, but before you do, look upon Heche in VOLCANO! Her dialogue is so full of quick-thinking expertise in her field and decisive commands, all so expertly, beautifully, naturally delivered, that we realize inept, ditzy, bitchy, uptight or dumb professional women characters are more the weakness of lazy screenwriters who make no attempt to understand what the field they're writing about is really like, and rather than doing some actual research, just write neurotic female experts who don't know either.

Part of the fault, naturally, falls with the actress. A lifetime of being beautiful has left her accustomed to getting praise and promotion just by biting her lip and wearing short skirts, leaving her with no real idea of what life is like off the silver platter. Naturally she confuses seriousness for buzzkill scowling. That's how it looks on the outside, so that must be all it is.

I see the these actresses, look upon Anne Heche in VOLCANO! And take goddamned notes.


If you've already seen it and thought 'meh' due to some of its more groan-inducing Crash-esque post-King healing incidents and, especially, the dimwit clingy daughter played Gaby Hoffmann, then I say look again, and ignore everything but the Heche.

She's so good she had to be taken down by a hostile media after some mental aberrations and substance issues that would have been forgiven with a wink were she a man. Not that she's not regularly working, but she should be as honored and pervasive as Robert Downey Jr. is today. It's just the man is scared of her. And you can see why when you watch VOLCANO.

If the time frame between JURASSIC WORLD and VOLCANO is too great for you, consider it against the 'other' volcano movie if 1997, DANTE'S PEAK. They came out at the same time, though DANTE'S beat it to theaters by two months, and it's hack shiite, while VOLCANO which kind of pancaked on release due to the same reason OBSERVE AND REPORT pancaked because of PAUL BLART. And like the latter, DANTE'S is shiite and VOLCANO endures.

A quick thinking big canvas disaster movie that tears through the real Los Angeles, in practically real time, VOLCANO has enough well researched cliche-free back and forth between city department heads that it touches the rattatat genius of Paddy Chayefsky or 70s films that know the subject they're exploring inside and out; the writers and actors have spent time in the company of firemen and relief coordinators, they know the way experts and officials have to become quick thinking order-givers, promoted by their ability to stay cool in a crisis and mobilize team heads and be constantly inputting and computing results rather than freaking out while the fireballs fly. It's a script rich with mature people and overlapping dialogue flowing in real time, rather than the DANTE's majestic adventure sweep, where every emotion we're to feel is broadly choreographed, VOLCANO's got that 'just another fucked day in NYC' kind of blue collar guy professionalism (transplanted to LA). The bits of character business feel real, ala (the original) TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and DOG DAY AFTERNOON rather than the broad strokes of the DANTE's 'types.'

There's only one or two weak points in VOLCANO and alas, they're what most people remember: 1) An absurd (but effective) bit of Rodney King commentary as a cop tries to arrest a guy for being black while downtown LA is erupting around him, then they work together to halt the flow, etc. 2) Jones' simpering little brat daughter who drags herself along in the car while he juggles the madness at ground zero. Neither has bupkis to do with Heche's character, the city's national geologist spokesperson, mature, gutsy, innovatively written and acted, she's sexy and in the moment, loose and joyous and above all, competent.

DANTE'S PEAK however, has no idea what competence really is, and relies on its quaint isolated setting to avoid having to find out. It's far worse even than JURASSIC WORLD as far as lazily etched characters. As if they're afraid Pierce Brosnan's shaky geologist widower and local mayor Linda Hamilton (right) wont't shine bejeweled enough unless surrounded by evil toadlike greedheads and/or nerds. Two attractive smart people in a world tossed with ugly idiot characters copied off TWISTER's math test, they meet and smolder and their quiet scenes together are the best part of the film, but almost immediately their almost-kiss is interrupted by volcanic shizzz.  Meanwhile the burly bear guy in charge cautions the town about evacuation as it hurts tourism (I forget if there's some big event, the tulip festival or something on which the town depends for tourists, schedule to go on in a few days, there usually is); the tweaker little shrimp tech has his one 'quirk' a limp bid at Tarantino chatter as he won't shut up about gourmet coffee and on and on. Their banter is so hack it actually reverses character development rather than enhances it. This vulcanologist team make the storm chaster posse in Twister (upon whom they're clearly styled) seem like the goddamned Wild Bunch.

While VOLCANO provides an unavoidable, sudden calamity that feels like it's bringing out the best in people over an approx. 48 hour period, all the events in DANTE'S hinge on greed and stupidity (in everyone but Brosnan and Hamilton) over a poorly etched out week of research, as if the mayoral greed of JAWS has been watered down and spread around to poison all the children on Harry Lime's hospital list. The town leaders won't evacuate despite the ominous portents, as if they can argue fiscal deadlines with a volcano; Hamilton's kids put her and Brosnan in danger by driving themselves up the mountain to get grandma while the ash from the eruption rains down on the road, the grandma puts them all in danger by being too stubborn to at least drive down the mountain to their house. Rather than in-the-moment quick thinking of the type we see in VOLCANO, the adventure in PEAK hinges on the kind of stupidity chains by which emotional thinking, what I call 'proximal responsibility' trumps basic human survival.

I can't tell you if this shit ever happens in real life. I'm sure it does, but it's lazy writing that relies on idiocy of stock types to avoid having to do some research (by, say finding out personal stories of what the survivors did and who died in the St. Helen's eruption and why, or visiting a real vulcanologist team and actually listening to the rhythm and substance of their dialogue).

It's attempts to add CRASH racist LA morals or no, VOLCANO is the opposite, extremely well written and researched and, I'm guessing, rehearsed. It certainly should have put Anne Heche in the same A-list company of Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock if she wasn't already, but she got ground up in the hot button issues with Ellen and started being erratic. Hollywood gossip was on her like white on rice. It was the time when people just didn't come out very often, so we all had a hard time digesting her straight girl romance SIX DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS.
 

That's part of it, but I also feel the mainstream press is far warier of recognizing scary assertive talent in women - they like their stars to be either stunning beauties with very few lines of dialogue or else moms and/or daughters first, professionals second. They only recognize great acting if it occurs in "great" pictures of Oscar calibre (i.e. Streep's in it). If they're going to be professional career women they must be frigid bitches just waiting for the right middle-aged hero to gentle them down real nice with the right halter, or at least stay home with her kids while she's out solving the case. But this is not at all the m.o. of our cool professional Anne Heche, the geologist du jour. Thinking of her friend Rachel who just got sucked into the flaming bowels of the earth under the La Brea tar pits earlier that morning, she looks at all the erupting lava and chaos in downtown LA-- the horror and devastation--eyes wide, she says, "Rachel would have loved this!"

Fuck yeah!

I almost fell out of my chair with joy when I finally re-watched this movie last week and heard that line. Why is it that Heche is the only one cool enough to say that kind of shit? Is it any wonder male Hollywood was threatened? There hadn't been a character this resilient and ahead of the curve, beyond the banal reality created for women by writers too busy crafting grand spectacle disaster to pay attention to how actual women behave --instead just shunting them home to watch kids and make angry phone calls demanding husband return because he has "responsibilities here too. We need you here, too, David!" or else just tagging along and filling in exposition gaps, rolling their eyes like the volcano is somehow dad's fault, because he stayed out playing poker and now this natural disaster is his excuse not to come home.

Not Heche, she ain't that type. Stunned but invigorated after her near death experience in the subway tunnels below the street, she hangs around in the thick of the eruption all morning, day, and night, not whining for Tommy Lee Jones' attention like his idiot daughter does, but doing her job, improvising, finding the path of the lava by watching a ball liberated from a looted toy store window, making calculations, etc. and barking them out super fast to Jones, who doesn't question them or give her shit cuz she's a woman and he's got the biggest ranch in Texas and his pappy etc, but merely reacts and mobilizes without a second thought; there's no spare time to second guess whether her advice is just that of a girl standing in front of a man and asking him to evacuate the city blocks between La Brea and the Pacific ocean. Together they're able to convey, her understanding of the lava and his understanding of the city, combining into one fluid machine where urgent calamity is responded to lighting fast in ways their opposite numbers in DANTE'S never could... they were too busy trying to dig themselves out of stupid predicaments created by idiot grandmothers of idiot children.

But more than just being smart, capable, and able to think on her feet logically rather than getting bogged down in the tar of 'emotional conviction,' Heche is playing one of the few heroic female characters allowed to genuinely love being in the thick of danger. Usually enjoying calamity is the sole domain of villains, "sluts" femme fatales or if experts and professionals in their fields, then they're incompetent, as in their jubilance gets people killed or seems otherwise monstrous (as in she needs a man to shout: "Damnit it Kate, those aren't statistics, they're people! With families!") In other words, Heche is not the type to think shouting "Somebody DO something!" in a moment of extreme crisis qualifies as being a capable manager (or like Jones' idiot daughter, let emotional prioritizing commence a whole chain of doomed rescuers as she pursues an idiot infant into the blast zone, and dad has to go after her and risk his life as well).

But that last one has little to do with Heche, though it's cool that she's the one who rescues them more or less, and though Jones has all the earmarks of the Dad of Great Adventure (i.e. his daughter is staying with him while the ex-wife is on vacation but he keeps blowing off their days together) there's little of the annoying tics of the type, since the good aspects of Tommy Lee's character (he's able to stay cool and process loads of information during a natural disaster--and after all, it is his job) are also the bad (he can't ever just relax and let someone else take over even for an hour or two). We generally loathe micro-managerial bosses but we know Jones is cool because his staff tease him about it and he just rolls with it. As with his back-and-forth with Heche, dialogue with the staff (including second-in-command Don Cheadle) is all believable, the jokes and banter and character etching are deftly woven into the action and exposition, rather than the 'here's three pages of character banter and now three pages of exposition and now three pages of disaster management' lameness of DANTE'S PEAK, a film that can't chew gum and walk at the same time.


At the time I saw them I loved DANTE'S more, mainly due to the heat so effortlessly generated between mayor Linda Hamilton and coiffed vulcanologist Pierce Brosnan--I loved his Bond, and loved her Sarah Connor and it was the late 90s. In PEAK she made me want to date a mother of two and move to a cool house in the shadow of gorgeous Colorado mountain. VOLCANO seemed much too busy, too full of business (then again, I was probably drunk when I rented it as the second film of the night back before widescreen). At the time I didn't get it. Now I don't get how I didn't get it then, or how I let a few Rodney King hand-holding "we are the children" moments rush me to snide dismissal. But it's DANTE that now seems coy and willfully naive; Brosnan especially seems much too handsome and composed to be believable as a roving geologist; look at him up there, not a single fleck of ash in that hair, and baby that ain't snow outside. Hamilton's mayor meanwhile is strong and sweet her main assertive skill seems to be in managing to pacify the diverse townsfolk with her maternal sweetness and to blindly follow and believe everything Brosnan says, his immaculate TV looks carrying a kind of absolute law she's been waiting all these years to follow.

Heche on the other hand, makes that ash dusting work. Her character is the spokesperson for her department and she handles the press conferences with ease and poise and oomph --no bitchiness or stomach butterflies or Kathy/Lucy-like "waaahs" of exasperation. I can only imagine how great she would have been in the Bryce Dallas Howard role of JURASSIC WORLD, especially if she could have some character and wardrobe input. It would have been cool to see her get it on with Chris Pratt, that would have been innovative like the platonic post-relationship friendship in JP III and the mixed-race family of JP II. She might have even pulled it off without someone having to use the word "cougar. And her being older and more self-assured would make more sense as an executive. Is it my fault for liking Brosnan as Bond back in the 90s that characters like Heche's in VOLCANO are long gone, and feminism is in such shit straits now?

Of course not, but it does show that big budget scripts aren't necessarily worth their money, and actress legacies (as in Howard's famous power player father) don't often bring much to the table beyond being merely a good, expensively-educated actress. My guess? They haven't suffered. Even after all the bodies are hauled away Howard just seem tired from being up all night and having to run in heels, and when she cries in the arms of her sister it's only from exhaustion and relief. At the end of VOLCANO, on the other hand, Heche is exhilarated. That's my kind of crisis-handling bitch.

If only it was America's.
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See also:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

5 Psychotronic Gems on Netflix: Badass Babes for a Bernie Nation



By popular request, here's the idealistic third entry in the Streaming Future canon, five films that reflect a grass roots toughness in places where grass is rare. Psychotronic in their outlaw spirit, these are films about tough warrior women with frank disregard for your mannish tantrums. They only on Netflix.

It's fascinating and a little unnerving even that most badass foxes I know in real life are for Bernie. and uninspired by warrior clan alpha Hillary. For them it's not a matter of gender but a whole new sort of post-internet age disregard for tradition, even tradition of woman empowerment--is this the long-heralded fourth wave feminism, or merely post-Christian? A bespectacled, hunched-over plain talking elderly Jewish senator has inspired them to vote and care the way they used to, before Obama let himself by hamstrung by his Quiet Man schoolyard pacifism. It wasn't intentional that this list includes so many badass young warriors. As always, these films are cage-free, no abductions, no HMOs or HPOs or HBOs. These women aren't waiting to be abused before fighting back, they're pro-active that way. Nor is this your subtextually clueless Jurassic World-style cinch your blouse and roll up your sleeves and pout to make nature behave feminism. This shit is gonna get bloody, ands fucking fast. In the words of the Faster Pussycat opening narration: ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence.

1. BOUNTY KILLER
(2013) Dir Henry Saine
****
It's one of those cult-deserving films that is, I think, undone by its generic title and poster art. It should be called MARY DEATH, KILL! (a play on both that 'Mary, Boff, Kill' game, and 'Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!') It stars a cute badass named Christian Pitre as Mary Death, a famous bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic time when bounty hunters are the new rock stars, and the quarry: leftover corporate conspirators (identifiable by their yellow ties). Like Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2000, Mary Death is a gleaming national symbol of a new post-corporate order, one where the 99% is whittled down to about .04% and have declared open season on big business. And brother, that's sooo Bernie, right?

Lookin' slammin' in mod dress cream-and-dark red dress and packin' guns like the little sister of Gina Carano, as in she can kick ass and not like some don't bust my nails kinda shit which the 'flix be choked on. Followed by adoring photographers and magazine piece writers as she tools around the wasteland, she's just one aspect of this wildly entertaining fusion of drive-in tropes. If GAS-S-S-S met THE ROAD WARRIOR in a Matthew Bright-scripted Sergio Leone-directed hoot and a holler... etc. Well, it's funnier. I love this movie to death, and the casual way it has with total over-the-top gore and brutality (so often girl warriors pull up short in films, as some hack screenwriter thinks maternal instincts have to trump ruthless coldness to maintain sympathy). And if you think it's easy to put a good Corman-esque babes-n-guns action film together then you've never seen SUCKER PUNCH or TANK GIRL or AEON FLUX or ULTRA-VIOLET, BITCH SLAP, CAT RUN, BARB WIRE, SALT, HANNAH or ELEKTRA. Everything those gets wrong, this gets right. Even the love interest, the MAX MAX-esque Aussie rival for the big bounties, is cool. Kristina Loken is an old girlfriend of Raider (Mathew Marsden); she's now a corporate bigwig out to headhunt him into a shave, tie, and cubicle to call his own. He needn't worry though... Mary's got more tricks up her sleeve than her old crew of Pre-Post-Pagan matriarchal vehicular guerrillas has skull face tattoos. Did I make this movie in heaven and send it back through time to perk my spirits up? Gary Busey shows in yellow tie and shades so yeah, I must have, like I did JOHN DIES AT THE END! (Pharmageddon)


Why the BERN: What part of open war against the 1% corporate raiders did you not get?! Blam Blam! Let their yellow ties be spattered in gore, the golf courses and office cubicles awash in the blood of the lamb as the 99% (or the 5% that survive) inherit the radioactive wind, the antique beer, and the black rain.




2. HARDWARE
(1990) Dir Richard Stanley
***
It's one of those foxy red-headed metalsmith vs. one of her sculptures, a reconfigured suicide machine in search of its poison-needled hand (which it can operate by remote control), making this somewhere between the last ten minutes of the Terminator and Demon Seed rolled into a Blade Runner-sque future, which sounds very erotic, I know, but instead... it's HARDWARE, and is marred by the presence of a leering pervert neighbor. All told, it's probably the best realized film from the South Africa-born Nicholas Ray of 90s sci fi, filled with the sort of weird termite detail we expect from the blighter who gave us the almost-great Peter Weir-ish Dust Devil and then was kicked off his own adaptation of Island of Dr. Moreau. As with great pastiche gems like the above Bounty Killer you can see the influences and homages from a mile off, but they're the right influences, and there's a smartness about using what's available creatively (an almost outsider folk art deranged aesthetic), the techno-pagan loft apartment interior protected by elaborate security system (lots of dusty screens) and when the erotic shower occurs, it's with Dermot Mulroney's metal hand still on.

Now, unlike Bounty Killer this isn't a great gonzo nuthouse totally bonkers film, but it is very creative, full of period new wave and punk rock and any isolating artist will relate to foxy redhead Stacey Travis in her fortress of sculptural solitude, high up in her giant, refugee and homeless-strewn building. And unlike Bounty Killer, which is perfect in every way, Hardware's all almost undone by the obscene caller fat guy. I mean, what is the need for it aside from some weird outlet for Stanley's foulmouthed misogyny? I like to give Stanley the benefit of the doubt and presume it was just stuff to take out later at the censor's insistence, in order distract them from the gore. At any rate, it illuminates why Stanley is so often railroaded out of final cut, because this would be a great movie if one could just snip that dickhead right on out. 

Luckily once sad skeeve's dispatched to the hell of a thousand eye gouges, the hero robot--every population control advocate's dream machine--resumes setting about euthanizing any human it can find as a last ditch effort to bring the human population down to sane levels (ala the recent sterilization act, which in my oponion we should have done years ago). Its electrokinetic ability to re-build itself makes it impossible to kill and Travis' fortress-level locks makes it impossible for people to rescue her as Travis believably rocks the seamless momentum from cool artist chick into primal savage, battling this thing with a ferocity both sexy and thrilling. Dylan McDermott's 80s hair, the gross dudes (there's another one, a junk trader), or no, Stanley delivers an item that's stood the sands of time and the HD Netflix print is probably better than it looked on the big screen. There's a great transcendental Buddhist death scene and a strange overall vibe that makes the whole thing seem like its from some weird genre B-film from some parallel universe where Peter Weir and Roger Corman have swapped places, figga deal me? The gore effects are solid, if a bit draggy, and the hideous drill bit phallus is like GOG gone wild, figuring in the close quarter fight scenes with lovely Stacey, her fierce determination, fiery hair and pale skin, and artistic facial blood and oil stains meshing perfectly with her pale face, green eyes and autumnal red hair. You'll want to date an Irish girl all over again! But don't do it!! 



WHY THE BERN: The world is been overpopulated and radioactive and is now trying a last ditch push for sterilization. Is Bernie's brand of arcane socialism in the cards? Like Bernie (and the next film) it's a scrappy indie that makes up what it lacks in budget with interesting, vividly realized ideas and themes far deeper than a first glance would indicate. 



PS - If you're subject to anxiety attacks or epilepsy - be warned - lots of strobes and flashing lights; it sure gave me a melt-down this last time :)

3. THE LAST SURVIVORS
(2014) Dir. Thomas S. Hammock
***
The tale of a world turned to desert from global warming, the once fecund fields of Oregon now a parched desert, settlers with shrinking wells are under constant attack from the local water baron and his foxy redheaded daughter and their pack of gas-mask wearing goons. Gradually, her boyfriend dead from kidney failure, the girl decides to fight back... etc. What makes it stand out from most is that usually, no matter how badass, women characters hesitate to land the killing blow on a disarmed opponent. 99% of the time they throw down their weapon, make some remark about how there's been enough killing, turn and walk away and give the opponent a chance to reach for their weapon again, then whip around and kill them, because otherwise killing an already-beaten beeyatch would besmirch their smug morality.

Well, none of that with Haley Lui Richardson, and this bitch can shoot, sneak and stab -she doesn't miss, or pretend there's some moral high ground--she knows it's all dead flat--and if she throws a passing survivor a jar of water she has no illusion that survivor might not be back that night for the whole well, which is already almost dry (the baron's been draining the aquifer, i.e. drinking their milkshake). And if she and her friend fire at someone, damn if they don't hit them. Wound them, maybe kill them straight up, they don't miss; shotgun shells are too precious. I'm tired of these young characters where they pick up a gun or knife, shoot once or stab once, and they drop the weapon right away, like ewwww, as if the gun or knife in saving their life has somehow sullied their innocence. I've turned off movies the minute this happens in the past (recently: American Ultra, Everly). The Netflix aisles are choked with half-measure woman on rampage films: actresses (and wusses) who seem to want people to know they, as humans who care blah blah, hate guns but they want your money anyway so they'll shoot one, but usually they only scare their target, or shoot the gun out of their hand, or drop the gun and it goes off, ricochets, and accidentally disarms their opponent. They don't want to be known as a girl who fires guns, as they're liberals blah blah. It's fucking dishonest, is what it is. If you don't want to shoot, don't do the film.

Sorry for the rant, but it's only to show why I like this film, because these young characters in this here saga, they aren't like that. And actually the water baron and his cute redhead daughter are one of the more interesting and complex villain teams I've seen lately: there's just no one around to remind them it's wrong, and it's become a pretty brutal hardscrabble life, so it's understandable they don't want to share or waste water on the elderly. I like that he's impressed when Haley comes to his ranch to kill him instead of the usual vice versa. And stealing water rights is an old west tradition -as seen lately in RANGO, and THE BOOK OF ELI, or in CHINATOWN or half the westerns ever made, and he's right --it's really mercy killing as those wells are running dry and there's nowhere to go but into slow agonizing death from thirst. With him it's not personal or even inhumane, and if the scrappy dame comes at him with a sword, he's going to fight her with a sword, not grab a gun. He almost welcomes death, and his daughter is Nicole from Cycle 13 of AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL!

Aside from those sporadic, loping cello notes evoking some kind of scarcity-based frontier dustbowl past, Craig Deleon's score's a lovely batch of drone sustains and occasional blazing raw open string electric guitar. "Remember when this all rice paddies?" she asks her boy, and that's about the extent of the exposition - no trite opening monologues about global warming or montages of sped up evaporation. Her hair and clothes and skin perfectly bleached and faded to blend in with the surroundings, fearless and scrappy, sneaking across the landscape like an armed mix of sharper feral kid and less self-righteous Katniss, with impressively dark eyebrows. Even the one child (Max Charles) is impressive; you look in his kid eyes and see a tough adult; so often, when kid actors try to play grown-up too fast toughies, it's vice versa.


Nicole Fox, by the way, won that cycle of America's Next Top Model, and deserved to: her quiet but determined, slyly competitive spirit is well used here as she initially wrestles with qualms about killing all the unarmed settlers (the priest they bring along assures her it's mercy) too old to carry guns and join their gas mask thug brigade. and her casual vaguely sleepy voice is a perfect match with the Deleon drones. Haley Lu Richardson's performance is alsospot perfect, more Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone rather than the sanctimonious buzzkill Lawrence of The Hunger Games. You can tell she really grew up in a desert NRA environment (born in AZ) and the whole thing has a cool deadpan naturalistic approach I hate in a lot of these kind of HD post-apocalyptic bleached color indies, but this one the bleached color aspect is aesthetically appropriate. All in all it's more like a low key version of Mad Max; Thunder Road rather than Mockingjay Part 2 and thank fucking god for that. Booboo Stewart (Twilight - team Jacob) is way more capable in a crisis than Pippa or whatever the hell is name was. Even hobbled with one leg he can still take out three guys in gas masks all in different directions, and not miss. One wonders the kind of hell Katniss might have unleashed had her moral crutch dear little Peta died. Wonder no more, sports fans, instead... just wish it so, and let The Last Survivors be thy wish granted.

4. CENTURION
(2010) Dir. Neil Marshall
***
I'm one of the frozen chew who adore Neil "The Descent" Marshall's expensive 2008 flop Doomsday. I missed it in theaters due to terrible advertising, this one too, tried it's best to sneak past me. It did at first, because I avoid gladiator movies as I can't get past the terrible haircuts (those short bangs), homoerotic posturing, brutal slavery, boring pomp and tiresome biblical solemnity (but mainly, those godawful bangs). To let you know how long it's taken me to finish watching this, even knowing Marshall did it: I started back before I knew or cared who Michael Fassbender was, and only came back a few weeks ago because at last I knew. I shouldn't have waited. Dominic West is good too, as the general leading the doomed 9th legion deep into Pict country with a treacherous female guide (Olga Kurylenko) setting him up, and Ulrich Thomsen as the brutal Pict chief who tortures him once captured. The eternally gorgeous Imogen Poots is a local herbalist who helps hide the few Roman survivors hide because, of course, she was scarred by Thomsen and ostracized as a witch. Really the reason is 1) every script of this sort has to have a version of her (a helpful and attractive and lonely girl who takes a shine to one of the crew and helps hide them all from the hunters, a necessity stretching back to 1958's DEFIANT ONES). 2) it's goddamned Michael Fassbender! Who wouldn't hide him?

But the real red meat of the thing is Kurylenko's mute huntress Pict warrior, whom the commander of the Romans trusts to lead a recon mission into Pict territory, which ain't too bright but we don't really blame her. What we do blame is the skeevy dickishness of the legion's Greek (Dave Legeno), who kills the Pict chief's son during a botched rescue (or something worse) then literally throws a fellow centurion to the wolves. And we understand their grief, these Picts, but even with such rage in his heart, the boy's father throws a knife to captured general Dominic West after he cuts his chains loose, to give him a fighting chance before killing him. Now that's a bro code.

Imogen Poots (left), j'adore
What is also shows is that Marshall refuses to judge either side--both have good and bad people and impulses within them, but the Romans are the invaders so clearly not the 'good guys' in any sense, though for some residents the Picts are as bad or worse (sort of like the Ukraine stuck between the Russians and the Nazis). Kurylenko's chief is a dick, but so is Fassbender's commander. The real one to blame is the Greek, yet in both his dick moves he did it to allegedly survive. And Romans are the invaders, after all. That makes Fassbender's party more like the German U-boat survivors fleeing across Canada in the Archers' 49TH PARALLEL as much as the lost training maneuvers National Guard members in Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT.

At any rate, on wider contextual look CENTURION fits perfectly in with the totality of Marshall's oeuvre, starting with DOG SOLDIERS then THE DESCENT then DOOMSDAY and now this, each concerning a small but tight band of explorers running afoul of the local pagans/humanoids and needing to bop their way back to Coney, so to speak, though at the end Coney might be a shady, ruthless but long-term wise government willing to sacrifice innocent lives to preserve this or that. In all of them Marshall shows he's got a thing for the fierce Pagan warrior women, and the ambivalent stoic beauty of natural forest scenery. The men are all great but Kurylenko shows herself steadily growing past her previous Russian mob party girl roles and her final battle with Fassbender is pretty badass. Men vs. women dude, to the death, that's true equality!! It's my second favorite close quarters to the death fight between Fassbender and a warrior woman (can you guess the first? Hint, he loses)

Romans during a good-natured brawl
Why the Bern? Trump, lest you forget is of the Roman lineage. the Picts represent the American youth vote, their faces painted like she got back from Burning Man (or men). Hillary is the commander back across the lines who'd rather eliminate the last survivor to hush up a defeat than risk inspiring the other tribes to rise (i.e. Bengazi). Poots and Fassbender are the hope for the future, the merging of cultures like Hippolyta and Theseus in Midsummer Night's Dream... which is as Bernie as it gets.




5. THE FURY
(1978) Dir Brian De Palma
***
De Palma's oh-so 70s telekinetic thriller  / govt. conspiracy Rollercoaster-style amusement park disaster hybrid, this stars Kirk Douglas is the CIA op dad of sequestered telekinetic subject Andrew Stevens. As always, Kirk has to appear shirtless (it is the law), so the opening finds father and son lounging on a beach in Israel, where father is finishing up his CIA tenure and son is.... swifted away by shady fellow CIA guy John Cassavetes? Damn! Agents film the water approach assassination of Douglas to show Stevens later to trigger his abilities and leave him with a murderous hatred for Arabs and thus ripe for Middle East remote control assassinations, you know how they do. Nazi commandant Kevin Bacon trained a young Magneto in X-Men First Class that way, not that you'd know, dear reader, cuz you're too artsty.

So... fire with fire: the CIA tries to assassinate one of their own in order to steal away/program his telekinetic son without dad micro-managing. Fiona Lewis is the seductive older analyst who keeps Stevens pacified with sex so he won't want to escape the confines of the safe house, but Amy Irving --never lovelier-- is the Carrie type being drawn to his power like a Scatman to the axe. Kirk Douglas keeps Irving safe, or us he using her? He sure as hell uses sexy vulnerable girlfriend material Hester (Carrie Snodgrass), a teacher at the school, so she'll help Irving escape; and in a way that echoes the way Fiona Lewis uses Stevens (and explains why so many CIA analysts are so hot in real life, charisma is as essential as paranoia and agility. Hey, old Kirk don't know about all that, but as long as he's allowed to show off that still-fit and hirsute shirtless physique and be irresistible to younger women either as father figures or lovers, Kirk's cool with whatever (see also: Saturn 3, Rain of Fire). Look quick for Daryl Hannah as a snickery student at the ESP school, though like everyone but Irving, she doesn't seem to have any ability other than sucking up to the mean girl, it's still fascinating to see a future star handle a fairly long scene as little more than an extra, especially if you're a huge fan of California Mountain Snake.


De Palma's previous hit Carrie is a better movie but this is way more enjoyable as there's less mindless teen cruelty (this one scene above aside), and less child abuse, terrifying zealotry and other bad vibes. I don't enjoy Carrie for those major bummer reasons, though the last 1/3 when the vengeance rains down is cool. The Fury, however, is good for repeat viewing, as a lot's happening, and not of all of it really connects or disturbs. In other words, it's everything that was cool about the 70s distilled and then poured indiscriminately around and set on fire. Cassavetes appears to be having fun in one of his slipperier 'doesn't consider himself a bad guy' type of villains. It's very satisfying when he's, you know.. It was given a critical drubbing in the tosh papes of the time, but Pauline Kael stuck up for its "dirty kick" like a gifted child forcing his conservative bourgeois teacher's head down an electrified toilet.

Why Bern: Bernie is Kirk Douglas rescuing the Amy Irving youth vote from the big industry same-old-same-old corrupt meat grinder, i.e. Cassavetes' employer, the '1%-er sphere of influence' - Andrew Stevens is the locked up presidency itself, fought over by both parties. Since Kirk's quest is noble (he just wants his kid back), the psychics/youth vote all sense that and his power and theirs can merge in pursuit of the presidency (Stevens). A stretch you say? Obama's head may not have exploded back when he took office, but it sure turned gray in a hurry.

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Runners up
(rating for each: ***)

BYZANTIUM
(2013) Dir. Neil Jordan

 DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD
"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola


KISS OF THE DAMNED
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes

THE FACULTY 
(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez

(2013) Dir Caradog W. James

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And in interest of dystopian fairness, Stop by..

II:  Psychotronic films on Hulu Plus... Hillary Matriarchy!

NOTES:
1. First born sons in occupied countries had to join the Roman army for two years