Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception, for your aghast befuddlement

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Creedence and Ivy's Eco-Terrorist Revue

When it comes to environmentalism we're pretty short-sighted...we shout: Save the old growth! Save the endangered species! Make sure at least a handful of a certain frog endures and these few trees don't get cut, and then let the corporations do what they will to the rest. Man, it's way complex, mankind is odious - unchecked reproduction is turning us into Earth's own batch of malignant cancer.

But nature can be a bitch, too. Plants are nice and all but sometimes they can kill you. And maybe they should. Who has a better right?

Two hot babes in critically panned but so-bad-their-good 90s films made a bold attempt to spin us around and face the triffid, as it were. Dark funhouse mirrors to each other, they eloquently bracket the entire tree-hugger experience via nerdy hoticulturists who become dangerous eco-villains by night, their powers stemming from witchy herbalist savvy.

In TROLL 2, Deborah Reed plays Creedence Leonore Gielgud, bottlecap glasses-wearing, hair-in-a-bun horticulturist by day, super sexy purveyor of drugged popcorn cobs by night, and wild-eyed witch  when it's time to feed the kiddies. Her mission: facilitate a bunch of puny humans turning into plants via consumption of a special green toxin.

This melts them down a bit, it seems, so her troll children can eat them without getting tummy aches.

In BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) Uma Thurman plays a bottlecap glasses-wearing horticulturist who winds up buried in a bed of chemically enhanced plant neurotoxins after she spies her boss creating Bane from her assembled potions (with his inflated muscles, he's way more fun than Tom Hardy). When she rises up as if from a lonesome coffin it's as a super sexy purveyor of drugged plant powder which she blows into her foe's faces so they will do her bidding.

Her mission: 'greenify' Gotham by eliminating its pesky human residents.

In both films these sirens represent the malignant, understandably misanthropic flip side of plants. They are both gorgeous: we desire them as do the smitten males in the films. They are beautiful and have a sense of humor. We're not necessarily encouraged to root for the idiots they slaughter, turn to troll food, or seduce into becoming their pawns. Certainly the directors make no attempt to make the good guys relatable vs. the bad.

It's surely no coincidence also that critics--a notoriously reactionary lot-- would hate on both these films. Just imagine these two lovely eco-terrorists working together! An unstoppably sexy eco-terrorist force would arise! Imagine if Nolan had kept Poison Ivy for DARK NIGHT RISES! Played by Angelina Jolie, aided by a flock of third world child soldier flunkies? Our lives today would be completely different.

BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) was poorly received in its initial theatrical run but, later, catching it in a Sunday afternoon stupor on cable, and having since seen TROLL 2 twice and most of BEST WORST MOVIE (the celebration of TROLL 2's cult audience, both are on Netflix streaming), it all finally makes sense. Director Joel Schumacher's film simply fooled fans expecting more of the dark crusader who scowled through the Burton films and the BATMAN RETURNS kinkfest with Val Kilmer. But Schumacher turns out to be a fan of the original 1960s camp TV show more than the Gothic gloom of the Burton films, although like Burton he's got a penchant for referencing past horror classics, only in this case it's the classic weird Hollywood pre-codes like the 1934 Edgar G. Ulmer-directed horror classic THE BLACK CAT. Poison Ivy's big centerpiece charity auction attack also involves a clear homage to Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" sequence in BLONDE VENUS (1932 - below).

The plot involves Ivy teaming up with Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger): the deal: he will freeze zee world kill all the people and but leave her some spare earth to grow on. Most importantly, the plant-objectifying human apes will stop their tromping all over her precious earth. Gleefully shouting such lines as "Ice to see you!" in his comical accent (as per the similarly accented Otto Preminger in the TV show), stealing diamonds for his freeze ray, and keeping his ill wife in suspended animation. When Uma comes onto the scene she lifts him out of his funk. With the tacky Ventures guitar instrumental version of "Poison Ivy" accompanying her slow slinking out of a hot pink gorilla costume, Ivy is a fine candidate for the ultimate rejection of Darwinism, reversing evolution to a friendlier pre-Adam Eden. Thurman's clearly having fun, looks great and adds to the pre-code resonance by adding a Mae West impression, with double entendres ( "my garden needs tending" and "some lucky boys are bound to hit the honey pot") to her holistic Dietrich chemical combo (she could be the love child of their alleged lesbian relationship during their shared stint at pre-code Paramount).

Like so many of the films and TV shows, Batman lives and dies by his villains: Jim Carrey saved the previous entry as the Riddler; DARK KNIGHT RISES would be lost without Anne Hathaway; the 60s show would have been nothing without the super sexy Julie Newmar; in BATMAN ROBIN, the black light graffiti awfulness is saved by Uma, who captures some of Newmar's litheness in addition to West's sashay and Dietrich's de-evolution.  Rolling her eyes and carrying on about the plants of Mother Nature having their day, and ridding herself of the feathered and furry caped crusaders, Thurman is at least in on the joke as well as exhibiting some sign--lacking in all the other cast members--that she's seen some of the films Schumacher is referencing. Bane is ten times more fun in this issue as a hulking, mute inflatable Mexican wrestler under her control instead of a musclebound Marxist professor, and her plan for world domination is ten times cooler, if you'll forgive the expression, than Mr. Freeze's.

Alas, the 'good' end of the cast is a mixed bag: Clooney's a one-note Batman, fussing like an old queen over Robin's impetuous risk-taking (how fun, DC's buzzkill obsequiousness in evidence) and as Batgirl, Alicia Silverstone is exhibit A in why sometimes you need those special 'slimming' amphetamines in the picture biz (you think Josef von Sternberg wouldn't have kicked Dietrich off his set if showed up looking that dumpy? Instead Schumacher's abashed PC tact falls just short of designing a bat mou-mou). But at least Arnold does recall Otto Preminger, who brought Teutonic menace aplenty to his Freeze on the 1960s TV show. Arnold's melancholy over his chilled wife Nora is palpable; tears freezing as they form in an echo of Bela's melancholy over his suspended animation wives in THE INVISIBLE GHOST, VOODOO MAN, CORPSE VANISHES and T`HE BLACK CAT (below).

But in order to savor all that high strangeness you have to embrace those Day-glo cityscape colors and huge shrugging Atlases that span hundreds of stories, skyscrapers placed atop skyscrapers with thin little roadways between them, like some kid is combining all his toys into one huge bi-level mixed-scale battlefield that starts on his bed and ends, slides down books and strings and ends in his little sister's room, and so the matchbox Batmobile would naturally go from the bed to the carpet along the cliffside of an armless plastic Shogun Warrior, like an art deco Mount Rushmore sculpted down to the shoes --and the little sister got Day-glo black light paint for X-mas and vandalized all the toy sets.

In fact, Wayne manor is the only place in Gotham not lit by green glowing fire pots, and occupied by lounging thugs too colorful (electric lime and magenta) to be threatening. So what is there left, sans menace? There is only Miss Ivy -- Uma's best work, and that bookend to....

Creedence Leonore Gielgud in TROLL 2

Creedence and her troll underlings have a strict diet and the preparations for this constitute the bulk of their eco-terrorism - rather than just wipe out humanity they long to turn them into superfood-why that's so complicated a process is merely one of the facets to this inexplicably beloved 'best worst movie'. Caught in a weird ironic limbo wherein they only eat humans but are strict vegans, these trolls have to turn the humans into plants before they can be properly digested, a long process involving getting the humans to eat some bright green food coloring, which causes them to quickly sprout branches and roots. And so the plant word has its revenge here, too, considering we feed them to animals and then cook the animals, as well as the vegetable side dish, we deserve it a few times over. Creedence then is a bit like Magneto in the first X-MEN when he turns Senator Kelly into a mutant so he can see what it's like to be the hunted. Creedence turns humans into plants for, partly, the same reason, so they can see what it's like to be treated as an object--harvested, burned, smoked, made into newspapers and/or fried or boiled (like some kind of 'super carrot.') While meat may be murder, veganism is anti-human. Aren't most apes, after all, plant eaters? Think of the sprouts!

Keep your eye on the cob, human!
The best part of the film by a mile is Deborah Reed as the troll mother, Melora. Va-vooming the roof off in three different incarnations: the librarian with bad teeth and Anne Bancroft shades; the wild-haired witch with even worse teeth and a from-the-diaphragm acting approach even Toshiro Mifune might find excessive; and the hot-to-trot TV movie seductress (with great teeth, all the better to castrate you with, my dear) who appears on the last living lunkhead's mobile camper TV screen as he sulks alone, parked way out in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason. It's like any lonesome teenager's fantasy has come true: babes are literally coming right out of the TV screen to 'do it' with him. Now all he has to do, he thinks, is keep perfectly still... It's like getting a tattoo... He just stands there, terrified, and no doubt aroused, trying not to make eye contact while Creedence musses his hair and...

Not so fast. Creedence brings a phallic corn cob, which she shoves into the mouth of this doltish bro (his lack of response even to this is hilarious) in a way that prefigures the conversion to vegetable and calls the whole issue of phalluses and penetration into turnaround. Luckily the corn is not green, if you'll forgive the expression. And--especially since the rest of the film is so aesthetically ugly. when Creedence turns hot and displays that stunning thigh (above) you swoon like you're sixteen and frozen in desire mixed with fear that any word or action on your part will blow it for you --so you keep still, like trying to catch a rabbit, or Jeeter Lester going after a bag of turnips.

In another great scene, one of the other bros is potted by Creedence and placed in amidst the other foliage in her bookstore lobby. In other words she seems to have made a lot more headway in her eco-terrorism campaign than Poison Ivy, who clearly made a mistake hooking up with the frigid Mr. F.

Like poor Ivy in BATMAN AND ROBIN, Creedence too may lose out to the human species for the nonce, but there's no doubt whose side we're on as viewers. Reed's acting varies from subtle to hysterics, wild and tame in alternating words. She's a genius, in her way, lacking perhaps Thurman's training, but less burlesque show hammy and more genuinely insane.

Neither film ends with any kind of peace or happily ever after for our eco-terrorist heroines, but at the same tim each has a final opened-up ending approach gives us hope rather than despair. Poison Ivy is locked in a cell with Mr. Freeze, which seems very inappropriate for any jail system, even a co-ed supervillain asylum, but they both are resourceful so we don't doubt they'll get out.

And TROLL 2 ends, well, I shan't spoil it, but there's nothing to worry about either way. Just see it and eat your green jello and drink your green beer and smoke your green herb; peel off your pink ape skin and stay awhile, dearie. Be rooted. Mi sofá es tu tierra.


  1. I have always been unconvinced of the mass hatred of batman and Robin, if only for the exquisite reveal of Uma Thurman slithering out of the gorilla suit with "Poison Ivy" tawngling behind her. Nicely done, yet again.

  2. Pretty brave of you to stand up for Batman & Robin, though most people will say you place it in good company in your article. I didn't like it but that never compels anyone to agree with me. The hate for B&R largely stems from the perceived homoeroticization of the heroes, but isn't that something you have to be looking for, and have to know what you're looking for, to see? I just thought the film was dumb, but dumb isn't everything. It's probably time some people learned to laugh at Batman again.

  3. Thank you Samuel... I agree on B&R having walked out on it for the first time, but just kind of checking it out accidentally on 'FX' or wherever, and presuming how bad it is in advance really helped. Bad film appreciation is a dish best served sideways, if that makes any sense. And you're so right about homoeroticism being a where you find it kind of thing.

    and thanks johnny! Uma's brilliance was unfairly ignored in the face of all the outrage and confusion and I think at the time there was a big backlash about overly synergized product tie-in enriched mega-blockbusters.


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