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)


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 of order fade fast in the lapping waves, so focus on the waves or go down with the ship. 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) 

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)

With an artsy self-reflexive intellectual like Godard, prostitution will naturally function as a metaphor for cinema. Indeed, everything will, you point out. Prostitution, if I may return to that point, is a particularly apt metaphor for the cinema, counters JLG. This DP is Coutard's why camera leers over Karina's shoulder, sympathizing with her sadness, even as it causes the sadnesses it sympathizes with through the very nature of sympathizing. N/Ever 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 - and it's your fault for by then you are only half-paying attention. Paying full attention would be impossible. 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 wring our hands over at the bourgeois benefit. This is how we destroy the characters we love, our eye and its receptivity to light 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 our watching, almost bemused, as her freedom and life are crushed up in the jaws of the Other's tepid desire. We might enjoy standing the gaze of millions, but she could give a shit. Sure she'll hide her tobacco-stained teeth if you ask, but she won't care if you see them either. If she did care, Godard's whole house of intellectual cards would collapse. (more)

(Divinorum Psychonauticus, 2011; Acidemic #8)

There's a scene in First Name: Carmen (1983), for example, a violent shoot-out between sexy young terrorist bank robbers and French police is going on in a big hotel wherein elderly residents, ensconced in their favorite lobby and top floor armchairs, read newspapers, oblivious or at any rate barely concerned about the deliberately fake-seeming violence. They react to the bloodshed 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, JL? Which realm of belief are we on-- the cops and robbers side[narrative immersion], or the elderly hotel guests for whom it's either young people making a movie, acting out May 68-style agitprop theater, or really killing each other and what--if anything--is the difference in the long run? Banks have always made the best spots for plays about bank robbing wherein even the cops don't know if their bullets and targets are real. (more)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

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

Who'd a thunk that real-life dinosaurs would one day become so banal that the DNA designers would have to invent the NEW Indominus Rex - only from InGen - to, as the bitch-snooty feminist park executive Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) puts it, "up the wow factor" of JURASSIC WORLD (2015). And, oh wow, this baby has it all: bazooka shell-resistant teflon exteriors, heat signal-blocking chameleon camouflage, a 'raptor's agility, cup holders, a Rex's bite radius, an 'amok Ted Bundy in a sleeping sorority'-style bloodlust, and no social conditioning whatsoever. "You can't have predator features without the accompanying aggression" notes InGen gene splicer Dr. Wu (BD Wong) once the thing busts loose (which isn't long, don't worry). First though, the DNA sequencing of these films demands we bond with the main characters as they begin their arcs.

Underwriting all the laboriously fresh, overthought set-up and take-down is the filmmakers' confusion between namby-pamby finger pointing and a genuine moral: The carnage wrought upon all these extras and CGI monsters by this wow-factor Indominus Rex is, we learn with all stoic seriousness, our fault, because we're so easily jaded, as Americans, as an audience. We, the audience, made them invent this beast! By paying $$ to see this film we encourage this digital bloodlust irresponsibility! Why didn't we stay home and save the whales instead?

That old wow factor has sunk mighty low since 1993, when the first CGI Jurassic Park blew us all away, lectures this pointed finger. Before we can even defend ourselves, it switches on its headphones and starts blasting that John Williams saccharine 'sweep.' Shhhhhh. Mom! Get out of my room! PLEASE!

Naturally, we want this Indominus Rex 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 masse is a lovely Roger Corman-esque event to which we're invited to cheer and jeer as--in Harry Lime parlance--the ants stop moving. Any why wouldn't we cheer? We hate ourselves for being so bloodthirsty, so please - have at these ugly (as in unashamed of themselves) American consumers waddling away from the snow cone dispensary, alas... too slowly. 

The problem is with the leads, or how they're written:  InGen executive Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) is an uptight caricature of control-freak bitchiness who butts heads with Owen (Pratt), the raptor trainer, who we're supposed to find either hunky or cool in that older brother/Han Solo kind of raggedy man way. That's the sum of their connection. Claire expects men and monsters alike to heave to when she wrinkles her nose, and stamps her corporation-gray heels. She's the type of person who uses the royal "we" when giving Owen orders ("we'd like you to visit the tiger cage on your way out"). Her sister (Judy Greer) is the same shade of frowny face emoji, whose sent her two young boys off to the park to visit "Auntie Claire,"n. freeing Greer up to divorce their dad without having to look into her boys' wounded doe eyes (which is, it turns out, their only survival trait). Naturally busy-busy Claire fobs the boys onto an assistant and, naturally, they escape her. They break lots of rules, get lost, and Claire--dreading having to call and tell her sister she lost them (making her a de-facto dad of great adventure)--will have to kick off those grey heels and come crawling back to the one man who can find them for her  (do I even need to mention that he and Claire went on one disastrous date awhile back and her "diet wouldn't allow tequila")? 

Owen's stock 'cool' traits aren't as groan-inducing as Claire's stock bitch-in-the-boardroom control freak tics, but they're just as risible. We're regularly faced with dialogue written by people who've made no effort to learn anything about zoology or park maintenance. Though she works at a dinosaur park, Claire seems to know absolutely nothing about them other than how much they cost to incubate vs. ticket sales. Owen has to remind her that "animals raised in isolation aren't always the most sociable," which is double offensive since it's clearly some hack writer's trite inference Claire needs to get laid and so some shots.

Validating Camille Paglia's anti-3rd wave feminist theories, Claire dismisses everything Owen says as sexist dogma, as merely another skeevy male's attempt to use the sexist laws of nature to get into her pants. She calls the dinosaurs 'assets' and presumes rolling her eyes at Owen's survival tips will somehow bend the reality of nature to accommodate her. The corporate (boo!) human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to sniff out and eat the Taliban but at least he's friendly and not quite as cliche'd a characters Claire. The epitome of the successful working woman presented as a desexed ball buster, blind to the dangers of the natural world, dismissive of any man's attempt to protect her as just more sexist bullshit. Owen is given all the compassion and humanity. These creatures are not 'assets' he tells her, 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' He's the only one woke enough 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 eye-hand coordination. Considering he can't be everywhere at once, it's amazing the park has gone a single day without falling apart. 

Thank god for Chris Pratt, then, savior of three-dimensional humanity. Lord knows Hollywood's been needing a rugged but sensitive tough guy who is not Australian. Pratt offers belated proof that American masculinity is not an oxymoron.  Despite dialogue homogenized into banal bytes by legions of overpaid writers, Pratt is able to convey naturalism without crunchiness, charm without narcissism, guts without indifference, cool without callousness, sensitivity without sentiment, and self-awareness without self-absorption. No non-Australian Hollywood actor has been able to manage such a combination, except maybe Brando. And you can't even say he's sexist since he proved his ability to take orders from a bossy redhead back in 2012's Zero Dark Thirty! 

Alas, there's only so much he can do to counteract the cliche'd overkill. 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, while she's stamping her feet (sinking her heels into the mud) in an unflattering (waist-hiding?) 90s business skirt/slacks combo and rocking terrible Prince Valiant hair?

Pout at the devil: Claire demonstrates the 'hurt puppy eyes' method of leadership.
The rest of the cast of course is just another rack of digestible tourists and 'mono-quirk' staffers who somehow are even more aggravating then the self-righteous animal activists played by Vince Vaughn and Alessandro Novo in the past two films in the series, or even the sickening "life will find a way" sentiment-spewers Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill (I always cringe the way spontaneous hermaphrodite reproduction is something both these male characters 'own' through getting strangely pious and sentimental over it --"life found a wayy..." 

At least the "you're playing God!" sermonizing is all leveled at the boo-hiss military guy (hairy arms, golf shirts and a big gold watch) and the dispassionate mad scientist (Asian) gene splicer, and even there the shaming is more along the lines of animal rights, which is far easier to take (as a real man) than the 'waving baby chicks at the 4H Fair' malarkey, even if the lack of any real (as in not cliche'd 'stock') genuine character detail casts a sickly pall. One longs for at least one 'real' termite detail in at least one character!

We used to get some little bits brave actors would shoehorn in: Jeff Goldblum's relationship with his black daughter in The Lost World for example, is full of little bits of business. I also like how Neill and ex-girlfriend Laura Dern are still friends even though she's married (to a different guy) with a kid (in III). But here in the fourth film, we're at a whole new zenith of trite, as the casting director, costume dept., make-up, script, and actor are all presuming they're the only ones who are supplying the character's essence. It's not enough that the imbecilic glazed-eyed security guard doesn't notice the one dinosaur he's supposed to watch all day has disappeared from his cage, he has to be cramming a sandwich into his fat face right at the moment the dismayed visitors point it out--and he doesn't stop eating! Nor does he get his ass off his stool to check! Then there's the glassy-eyed handler who falls into the raptor cage; the guy running the hamster balls who can't just say "they're all present and accounted for," he has to add "it's my job" so you know he has not done it. Vincent D'Onofrio saying "if only we'd had these things at Tora Bora;" there's the Asian geneticist drinking green tea in a clear glass cup in a Bruce Lee style black sweater; and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion.

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

The most offensive--on my plate-- is the younger nephew of Claire, who has that face where a year ago it was cherubic (and no offense to the actor; he's great in IRON MAN 3, though he has the advantage there of Shane Black dialogue), who professes to love dinosaurs yet is clearly terrified of bending a single 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 guardianless girls. 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 a hunter. 

It's the kind of movie where the older brother has to constantly remind the younger brother that they'll always be brothers, i.e. dialogue clearly written by an only-child raised in a test tube.

Look, I'm not asking for Long Day's Journey into Night (the benchmark for great brotherly rapport) here, man, but it's not that fucking hard to write good sibling dialogue. Even simple improv exercises might help. But that's the problem with 'big' movies like this, the director is rarely even in the same square mile of cords and gaffers as the actors; unions forbid touching dialogue written long ago by teams of hacks who know more about how to schmooze their way into gigs than they do about the way real people talk. A good writer (or even producer) knows the more specific you are, the more universal; generalities work only in how equally they bore audiences of all nations and ages.

Not to harp this point but I keep imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams, Shane Black or Joss Whedon might have provided some dialogue like that or just letting the kids improvise. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore like my buddy Alan and I at the same approx. age, 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; no matter what level of fun they do have, it's not enough and/or too much of the wrong kind. If they enjoy the park without her, they're ungrateful sons. If they don't, they must not be trying to piss her off.

But as feminist critics have noted, Claire is the worst of all: the most dated and cookie cutter trite 'bitchy exec' in the history of movies. When flying dinosaurs are carrying women and children she decides to stand up on top of a jeep and shout for her nephews' attention. While she and Owen are hiding from the killer mutant 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," Owen tersely whispers. She glares back at him in the presumption that somehow wild animal nature can be brought to heel simply by making a sour face at the first man who tells her it can't. Naturally when she winds up in jeopardy, Owen must risk his life to save her. But then she's a hero because she waves her arms at a viewing screen and screams at the nerdy security tech: "For gods sake, Harry! Be a man and Do something!!"

It's all almost 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 (in the anatomical sense), 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). Assuming the sexy 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 submissive crouch 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 moments: the comical punchlines and counter bytes/bites of the flying 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 Owen's 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!). Claire's idea of parenting is to drive the kids to the dinosaur attack zone, then lock them in the back of a windowless truck and leave them there; 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 returning Vietnam vet can't get a beer because he's only 20. Actually, that the nephews can even recognize Pratt's badassery at all is testament to their resilience, not hers. If they ever piss off mom bad enough they get sent to military school, maybe they'll finally have a fighting chance to be men. If not, they'll never fight again, except with the cleaning lady when she accidentally starches their socks.


Some gals at the typing pool might argue women have to be ball-busters in order to earn men's respect at the office, but that argument evaporates when you experience the magnificence of Anne Heche in VOLCANO (1997). Full of quick-thinking expertise, geologic insight, and decisive commands that arouse only respect and affection (no male ire whatsoever) from her crisis management de facto captain (Tommy Lee Jones), Heche's dialogue is so rich that we realize inept, ditzy, bitchy, uptight or dumb professional women characters are not a reflection on women's competence in the workplace but reflections of hack, lazy screenwriters who make no attempt to understand the field they're writing about. Rather than doing some actual research and ride-alongs to absorb the way real professionals in the field they're depicting actually talk, these lazy hacks just have their female 'experts' act neurotic to hide the fact they haven't bothered to learn about the subject they've been paid to explore.

Part of the fault, naturally, falls with neopotism, the way Hollywood is staffed with coddles the children of the rich and famous. A lifetime of being beautiful, rich and very well-connected has left them with plenty of filmmaking opportunities but no real idea of what life is like. Like any child with limited world experience, they confuse adulthood with scowling and prohibition. That's how it looks on the outside, so that must be all it is. Being an adult female means keeping kids from eating candy for dinner, making them going to bed on time, and being an all-around meanie. Being a teacher means standing in front of a blackboard going 'yah-yah-yah' while you covertly try to IM your bestie. 

I say to these writers and actors tasked with creating professional working female characters: look upon Anne Heche in VOLCANO! And take some goddamned notes.

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

She's so damn good in this film she had to be demeaned by a hostile media after some mental aberrations and substance issues that would have been forgiven with a wink were she a man (or the daughter of some major power player or icon). She should be as honored and A-listed as Robert Downey Jr. If she's not, well, it's because she's crazy and because 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 of 1997, DANTE'S PEAK. They came out at the same time, though DANTE'S beat it to theaters by two months. DANTE'S follows all the rules of the Spielberg thrill ride blockbuster. VOLCANO is more a TAKE OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE / DOG DAY AFTERNOON kind of real-time 'disaster maintenance in a high population urban center' examination that would be right in step with 1978 but way too mature and complex for the average suburban mall family outing.

As a stoned consumer seeing DANTE on a bored Saturday afternoon at the (those were the days) $3 theater air-conditioned theater in midtown-NYC,  and as a fan of both Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan, I had a great time. I just rented VOLCANO and watched it on the small screen and it was kind of meh, especially the racial healing bits and other bad choices.

Well.. what we wanted on the big screen in the late 90s is not the same as what endures as relevant in the 21st century post-9ll HD world. Rather than the DANTE's majestic adventure sweep, where every emotion we're meant to feel is broadly choreographed, VOLCANO's got that 'just another fucked day in NYC' kind of blue collar guy professionalism (transplanted to LA). A quick thinking big canvas disaster movie that tears through the real Los Angeles and its infrastructure, VOLCANO has enough well researched cliche-free back-and-forth between city department heads that it touches on the rattatat well-researched alive genius of Paddy Chayefsky's NETWORK or THE HOSPITAL. We get a kind of fast-thinking (or the whole thing falls apart into gridlock) curmudgeonly affection and good-natured combativeness between the officers of City Hall, Urban Planning and traffic control, fire and police department, and so forth, that feels like the result of writers and actors having clearly spent time embedded in the actual control rooms. This is an area where quick thinking order-givers are promoted due to 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. We also get to see the way their personal and family relationships suffer when there's no disaster to manage, as that same quick-thinking disaster management has trouble easing off the throttle, so to speak. But lucky for us, there's the biggest disaster ever this day, so overlapping dialogue flows past us so fast we have almost no chance to catch our breath or explain what's going on to someone else without hitting pause.

There's only one or two weak points in VOLCANO and alas, they're what most people remember: 1) a too on-the-nose (but effective) bit of Rodney King commentary as a cop tries to arrest a guy for being black while downtown LA is erupting around, then they work together...ugh. 2) Jones' simpering little brat daughter who drags herself along in the car while he juggles the madness. Neither has bupkis to do with Heche's character, though. The city's national geologist spokesperson, Heche's character is mature, gutsy, engagingly written and acted, sexy, in-the-moment, loose and joyous and above all, competent.  She's not the one fretting about some whiny brat. 

DANTE'S PEAK on the other hand, relies on its quaint isolated setting to avoid having to find out what the real world is like. And as with JURASSIC, one note overkill swamps each character: Pierce Brosnan's shaky geologist widower and local mayor Linda Hamilton (right) are the beautiful people, surrounded by toadying acne-ridden greedheads and/or adenoidal tech nerd sidekicks. Two attractive smart people in a world tossed with ugly idiot characters copied off TWISTER's math test, Brosnan and Hamilton (Bond and Sarah Connor) do have a believable chemistry (she's no bitch or cloying mother but the cool local mayor). Their mature and Bridges of Madison County pastoral romance lures us in but their almost-kiss is interrupted by volcanic shizzz; meanwhile the burly bear guy in charge of the seismograph cautions the town about ordering an evacuation as it might hurt tourism, the tweaker little shrimp tech gets a bid at TWIN PEAKS chatter as he won't shut up about gourmet coffee, and so forth. As with the TWISTER storm chasers, the clunky white elephant-in-tattered termite costume banter is so douche chill-inducing hackneyed it actually reverses character development like an overexposed negative.

While VOLCANO provides an unavoidable, sudden calamity that feels like it's bringing out the best in people over an approx. 48-hour period. It's a dense, mature text. Much easier to write, DANTE's calamity hinges on greed and stupidity (in everyone but Brosnan and Hamilton) as if the mayoral greed of JAWS has 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 the reality of boiled backpackers; Hamilton's kids put her and Brosnan in danger by driving themselves up the mountain into the ash storm to get grandma (who won't evacuate- stubborn homesteader that she is). 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 which wipe out whole communities, one rescuer chasing the other into the maelstrom until none are left but Darwin and Emerson chuckling from on high.

Hamfisted attempts racial unity and a trite daughter arc aside, VOLCANO is the opposite of that kind of dopey raison d'etre; 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 Heche got ground up in the machinery of Ellen and mysticism. None of her erratic behavior offscreen was as bad as Robert Downey Jr.'s from a similar period, but Heche is a woman, from a poor family, and 'out' (and then straight again - which pleases neither side) and suffering from a mental illness, which makes it harder to insure the production (as they don't know if you'll be able to survive the harrowing long hours, take after takes, and all the other crap that can shatter even the staunchest brains).

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 female stars to be either stunning beauties with very little range (Megan Fox, for example), or else moms and/or girls first, professionals second (Howard, for example). They only recognize great acting if it occurs in "great" pictures of Oscar calibre. In a big budget disaster film, professional career women must be frigid bitches or weary/cool widows with cute kids, just waiting for the right middle-aged hero to fill in the empty spaces. But this is not at all the m.o. of our cool professional played Anne Heche. 

Here's a small example of her character's cool: Thinking of her co-worker vulcanologist girlfriend who was sucked into the flaming bowels of the earth under the La Brea tar pits the night before, she looks at all the erupting lava and chaos in downtown LA-- the horror and devastation--and, eyes wide, declares to herself, sincerely, "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 woman cool enough to say that kind of shit, EVER? Is it any wonder male Hollywood was threatened? There hadn't been a female character this resilient and free of buzzkill feel-bad morality since FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL. Usually a woman is left at home with the kids, there to make angry phone calls demanding husband return because he has "responsibilities here too. We need you here, too, David!!!" or making angry calls to the precinct or air traffic control, or wherever, when her man is off facing danger or MIA, and demanding they do something! Lots of calling and demanding, ever trying to lure the man away from the action we came to see, as if they are the anti-movie, ever trying to turn a rowdy action adventure movie into a trite domestic drama. If these daughters or wives end up tagging along on the adventure, they certainly disprove of heroism and any display of enjoyment in courting danger. Rolling their eyes like the volcano is somehow dad's fault, his excuse not to come home, they wrinkle their noses. Come home, David! 

Heche's Anne is light years ahead of all that. 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, her career, improvising, thinking strategically and fast, 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 about woman's intuition but merely reacts and mobilizes his team to follow her instruction 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. There's not even time for her stamp her foot impatiently while he talks to someone else, "Tommy! Tommmeeee! I have something to say." Her understanding of the lava and his understanding of the city form a fluid machine where urgent calamity is responded to at a speed their opposite numbers in DANTE'S would never dream possible. 

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 whose jubilance gets people killed or seems otherwise monstrous (as in she needs a man to shout: "Damnit it Kate, those aren't statistics, numbers in a notebook, 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 a lone dumbass infant into the blast zone, and dad has to go after her and risk his life as well).

But a daughter's dumb decisions have little to do with Heche, who doesn't have a daughter to deal with. In fact, Heche is the one who rescues them all more or less, and though Jones has all the earmarks of the Dad of Great Adventure 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) 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 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.

In the 90s I loved the effortlessly generated attraction 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). 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. Now, on widescreen DVD it's DANTE that's unendurable; 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 leans on her maternal sweetness to convince the town 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 capitulate her mayoral authority to.

Heche on the other hand, makes that ash dusting on her face and clothes 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,. 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 in the 90s that characters like Heche's in VOLCANO are long gone, and feminism is in such embattled straits?

Maybe not, but it does show that big budget scripts aren't necessarily worth their money, and legacies (as in Howard's famous power player father) don't often bring much to the table beyond a tolerable actress with a pedigree (rather than a great one from a shadier background).

My guess? Heche has suffered (a rough childhood, unstable parents, etc.), Howard hasn't - that's why one is a great actress and the other just okay. Even after all the bodies are hauled away the next morning in WORLD, Howard's Claire doesn't seem changed, sharpened by trauma, adrenalin, and exaltation; she just seem tired from being up all night and when she cries in the arms of her sister it's more exhaustion and relief--take the damn kids! Now if they get eaten, it's on you.

At the end of VOLCANO, on the other hand, Heche is exhilarated, turned-on. You can feel her blood surging in her veins, singing with life. Any make-up is long gone, obscured by the ash coating, giving her a weird androgynous look one could imagine seeing out in the wilderness of a Warner Herzog or Barbet Schroder movie. That's my kind of crisis-handling bitch.

If only it was America's.
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 tales of tough warrior babes convey flagrant disregard for your mannish gaze's woeful tantrums.

It's strange to me 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 arrival of fourth wave feminism, or merely post-Christian patriarchy in a way the just bypasses fighting it and just lets it topple of its own volition, like when you're pushing against someone pushing against you and then you stop and just step out of the way and they fall over? Either way, 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 and fear of Executive Order writs. It wasn't intentional that this list includes so many badass young warriors but here they are, cage-free, no abductions, no HMOs or HPOs or HBOs. These women aren't waiting to be abused before fighting back. They're not waiting for their insurance card before collecting what is owed. These women look askance at the subtextually clueless Jurassic World-style cinch-your-blouse, roll-up-your-sleeves and pout-to-make-nature-behave feminism that passes for strength in mainstream Hollywood. This shit is gonna get bloody, and fucking fast, and as Bogart said in Cult of the Damned, screw anyone who hates killing! And that means you, mainstream Hollywood!

(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!') or something that conveys the sheer badass good-time of this film that does what TANK GIRL never could, successfully brings a graphic novel / comic to life in ways that are playful but violent, action-packed and homage-ish without being too heavy-handed. Newcomer Christian Pitre is Mary Death, a famous bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic time when bounty hunters are the new rock stars, and their quarry are the executives of now outlawed corporations (who all wear yellow ties). Mary Death is a gleaming national symbol of a new post-corporate order, followed by adoring photographers and magazine piece writers as she tools around the wasteland in search of targets. She's such a cool cat that when her lover and trainer Drifter (Matthew Marsden) tries to get serious about a house and a home away from the killing, she stabs him in his spleen and roars off on her badass bike. Think a fusion of GAS-S-S-S pumped into THE ROAD WARRIOR via a Jack Hill-directed pump. I love this movie to death, and the casual way it has with total over-the-top gore and brutality makes my heart soar like hawk. I'm sure some stuff was green-screened here and there but frankly I didn't notice, because the characters are endearing and the action refreshing, even Hawksian at times.

Lookin' slammin' in mod dress cream-and-dark red dress and packin' guns like the little sister of Gina Carano (as in she can believably kick ass and not like in the 'don't bust my nails' condescending heavy-handed way of action heroines in countless lesser films), Pitre is amazingly assured here in her feature debut. And if you think it's easy to put a good Corman-esque babes-n-guns action film together in our day and age 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 Marsden is cool and--as his evil corporate ex-wife-- Kristina Loken is well into the full-fanged spirit of the piece. Mary's got more tricks up her sleeve than her old crew of Post-Pagan matriarchal vehicular guerrillas have suspiciously clean-lined Mexican-style skull face tattoos. Did my higher self make this movie in heaven and send it back through time to perk my spirits up? Like the Bern was himself so sent? (See: 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, their golf courses and office cubicles awash in the blood of the surviving 1% of the .001%. And the surviving 10% of the 99% shall inherit the radioactive wind, the antique Budweiser six packs, and the black rain. 

(1990) Dir Richard Stanley
It's one of those foxy girl vs. murder machine movies --think the last ten minutes of the Terminator and Demon Seed rolled into one hell of a Blade Runner-sque future, which sounds very erotic, I know, but instead... it's Hardware. Directed by the Peter Weir of 90s sci-fi, Richard Stanley, it's filled with the sort of weird termite detail we expect from the blighter who gave us the almost-great 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 at the stereo junkyard (to a level of true outsider folk art derangement) to fill the techno-pagan loft apartment of said foxy girl, who is a crazy outsider artist with lots of dirty video monitors and drills and saws and shit. When the erotic shower occurs with boyfriend Dermot Mulroney, he keeps his metal hand still on! And that's the Stanley difference!

Now, unlike Bounty Killer, this isn't a great gonzo nuthouse totally bonkers film destined to be a classic, but it is very close. It's full of period new wave and punk rock; and any isolated NYC artist with a messy studio workshop apartment will relate to foxy redhead Stacey Travis in her fortress of sculptural solitude, her high security paradise in a fallen city. And unlike Bounty Killer, which is perfect in every way, Hardware is all almost undone by too many shots of an obscene caller fat guy. I like to give Stanley the benefit of the doubt and presume the excessive scenes of his gross face smacking his lips were meant to be removed by the censors (2), but it illuminates why Stanley is so often railroaded out of final cut, because this would be a great movie if one could just snip 90% of that leering, boil-faced lecher's reaction shot peep camera cutaways. 

Luckily, once sad skeeve is dispatched to the hell of a thousand eye gouges, the 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 something referred to in a radio news broadcast as "the recent sterilization act"). Its electrokinetic ability to re-build itself makes the robot impossible to kill and Travis' fortress-level deadbolts make it impossible for people to rescue her. All she can do is evolve her strategy and aggression. Moving in seamless momentum, from disaffected artist chick to primal savage, Travis delivers a ferocious performance. You can taste the fear and fierce determination in her jade green eyes, her tousled autumnal hair and blood and oil-spattered pale face are perfectly lit and even her blood looks good on that pale skin. She's such an arresting vision you'll want to date an Irish girl all over again. But don't! 

WHY THE BERN:  What this scrappy analog indie lacks in polish and budget it makes up with interesting, vividly realized ideas and utopian 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.

(2014) Dir. Thomas S. Hammock
In a once-fecund Oregon --now globally-warmed into parched desert--a handful of unwashed stragglers face death or eviction at the hands of the local water baron and his foxy redheaded daughter. He wants the aquifer below their feet all to himself, to ensure his daughter's survival, rather than just prolonging the inevitable for a bunch of scabby homesteaders. One hardscrabble teenage girl (Haley Lui Richardson)--her hair and clothes and skin perfectly bleached and faded to blend in with the surroundings like natural camouflage-- decides to bring the fight to them. Fearless and scrappy, sneaking across the landscape with her samurai sword and shotgun, like a mix of the Feral Kid and a less self-righteous Katniss, Richardson shoots, sneaks and stabs her way to aquifer access. Unlike so many of her girl warrior peers, she never misses her targets and always has a level head even when killing cowering disarmed opponents in cold blood. She's kind enough to give a handful of passing nomads a jar of water, but harbors no illusions that they won't circle back that night to try and steal the well. There's no right or wrong action in this future world, just stray--possibly fatal--moments of compassion spread against ever-mounting desperation just for another day's hydration.

It's in this sense, too, that we understand the enemy water baron and his daughter for being so ruthless. It's simple survival, long-term vs. short. Haley Liu should have just shot the survivors begging for water, rather than giving them just enough that they have the energy to come back that night and try to get the rest. She'd probably do the same in their shoes, but dead men steal no wells, so to speak

It's these traits that make Richardson's understated, quiet heroine stand out from most post-apocalypse dramas protagonists. She never hesitates to land the killing blow. I'm so tired of action heroines who have to let us know violence isn't 'cool' at every opportunity, so if they pick up a gun or knife, shoot once or stab, it's always because their opponent leaves them no choice, and then they have to quick drop the weapon right away and break down sobbing, as if the gun or knife has-- in saving their life --somehow sullied their innocence. I've turned off movies the minute this happens in the past (recently: American Ultra, Everly). And, even in the good ones, like Maleficent, the heroine has to first walk away from the unarmed, beaten opponent, announcing 'there's been enough killing today' as she turns her back, so said opponent can draw a gun or a hidden knife, allowing the heroine to wheel around and kill them with a clean conscience-- ugh! If someone does that again, I'll scream! Why wait?

Sorry for the rant, but it's only to show why I like this film, because these young characters 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 their strategy is wrong, so they've confused mercy with self interest. Considering it's become a pretty brutal hardscrabble life, it's understandable they don't want to share or waste water on the doomed, worthless elderly. That's sound thinking for a viable future... for once, and unlike similar 'water rights' tracts in Rango and The Book of Eli, there's no Chinatown parallel, no idea all you have to do is turn the spigot and balance will be restored. There's no chance for balance, fairness, or togetherness anymore - just a waiting game until your kidneys shut down or the whole planet's a burnt-out husk. Hell, the baron isn't angry at Haley, but clearly impressed when she comes to his ranch to kill him. He knows it's not personal or even inhumane on either of their parts. He has an understanding too of honor in battle - and if this scrappy dame comes at him with a sword, he's going to fight her with a sword, not grab a gun and shoot her before she can get within swinging distance. He almost welcomes death, and his daughter (Nicole Fox from Cycle 13 of America's Next Top Model!) is no slouch with the samurai blade herself. Why does everyone in this film demonstrate at least medium proficiency with the exquisite and most deadly samurai sword? Who cares, is the question. It's awesome. Everyone not proficient across a spectrum of weapons is no doubt long-since dead in this drab and very believable globally warmed future. To its infinite credit, the script feels no compulsion to exposit this.

Other perks: Aside from sporadic, loping cello notes evoking some kind of scarcity-based frontier dustbowl past, Craig Deleon's score offers a lovely batch of drone sustains and the occasional blazing raw open string electric guitar. The one young child (Max Charles) neighbor is impressive, too; you look in his kid eyes and see a tough adult. So often, when kid actors try to play grown-up too fast thanks to a hardscrabble dustbowl style childhood, it's vice versa.

Nicole Fox, by the way, won that cycle of ANTM through her quiet but determined, slyly competitive spirit, a trait well-used here as she initially wrestles with qualms about killing all the unarmed settlers (so they bring a priest along to assure her it's mercy). The masks of their thug coterie are smart touches too--helping erase the emotional empathy between them and these families they grew up around and whom they now have to kill. And her gradual callousing over the course of the film is deftly done; her vaguely sleepy voice makes a perfect match with the score's eerie drones.

WHY THE BERN: A vivid tale of the youth of tomorrow paying for their parent's industrial hubris, Survivors presents--without preaching--the dusty future that global warming promises. A Daniel Plainview meets Noah Cross ogre determined to save his own child even at the expense of all others, the water baron makes a great example of the way conservatives fight to protect their own at the expense of everyone else's, even though the current crisis is essentially their own fault.

(2010) Dir. Neil Marshall
I'm one of the frozen chew who adore Neil "The Descent" Marshall's expensive 2008 flop Doomsdaythough I missed it in theaters due to terrible advertising. Centurion tried it's best to sneak past me, too. I avoid gladiator movies as a rule, for I can't get past the terrible haircuts, closeted beefcake posturing, endless brutality, kinky slavery fetishism, relentless triumphant parading (showing off all the expensive extras), and pompous oratory. Even writing that last sentence makes me uncomfortable! To let you know how long it's taken me to finish watching Centurion, I started back before I knew or cared who Michael Fassbender was, and now I'm a huge fan. But in 2010 not even X-Men: First Class had come out.

Dominic West stars the general leading the doomed 9th legion deep into Pict country. His treacherous Pict guide (Olga Kurylenko) delivers them into bloody ambush! Well of course she did, genius! The inescapable Ulrich Thomsen plays the brutal Pict chief, who's all too eager to subject the Roman survivors to Pict-style unpleasantry. The Centurions escape, wander the hostile landscape and then run across eternally gorgeous Imogen Poots as an ex-communicated Pict herbalist. How convenient! She helps hide them because, of course, she was ostracized as a witch by Thomsen. She's got real chemistry with Fassbender, which is the main ingredient that helps the movie work. Together they're earth-magical like Oberon and Titania, parts I'm sure they've both played in some theatrical production or past life or other sometime somehow somewhere...

But the real star of the show is Olga Kurylenko as the mute huntress, who leads a band of Picts in pursuit of the surviving Romans. We never blame her for hating or betraying them, and Marshall refuses to judge either side; both Romans and Picts have good and bad people and conflicted impulses. Heh, sound familiar? The Romans are the invaders so clearly not the 'good guys' in any sense, putting them somewhere between the German U-boat survivors fleeing across Canada in The 49th Parallel, and the National Guard members in Walter Hill's Southern Comfort (1981).

It seems at first incongruous at first, but on wider contextual look, Centurion fits perfectly in with the totality of Marshall's oeuvre --showing his Hawksian love of strong warrior women and the small band of professionals/warriors/badass interlopers running afoul of pagan locals subgenre (ala fellow Hawksian John Carpenter). It also has my second favorite fight scene between Fassbender and a badass woman (can you guess the first?). So few actors get to fight even one woman to the death, let alone two in so short a period. For her part, Kurylenko moves way past her previous Russian mob party girl roles, and even her Quantum Bond babe, to a whole new realm of badass.

Romans during a good-natured brawl

WHY THE BERN: Trump is of the Roman lineage, in genes and fascist temperament; the Picts represent the American youth vote, their faces painted like they just got back from Burning Man. 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 (parts I'm sure they both played, too)--in other words, they're the Bernie future.

(1978) Dir Brian De Palma
De Palma's oh-so 70s telekinetic thriller  / govt. conspiracy Rollercoaster-style amusement park disaster hybrid stars Kirk Douglas as a CIA op dad using telekinetic Amy Irving to find the safe house sequestering his telekinetic son (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. Dad's just finishing up his CIA tenure there and son is.... Ooops! Palestinian jet ski assassins come rolling in! They make off with Stevens while Kirk is (apparently) assassinated. John Cassavetes--the head of a dark ESP ops wing of the CIA--is behind it all, of course. In fact, he's staged and filmed the whole thing to screen for Stevens later, in order to both trigger his abilities and leave him with a murderous hatred for Arabs (thus ripe for Middle East remote control assassination programming).

Fiona Lewis is the seductive older woman CIA analyst who keeps young Stevens pacified with sex so he won't want to escape the confines of his luxury safe house. Sure she's hot but she's also manipulative and all the experiments are really getting on his furious nerves! Meanwhile, over on the alternating chapters, Amy Irving --never lovelier--is coming to find him, like an ESP bloodhound, with daddy Kirk at the leash.

CIA-level seduction/manipulation leaves its mark on nearly every relationship: Ex-CIA man Kirk is allegedly better than Lewis, but he also uses sex and affection as a tool, to get sweet-natured Hester (Carrie Snodgrass), a teacher at Irving's school for gifted youngsters (also operated by Cassavetes) to risk her life helping Amy Irving escape the school, then he uses paternal manipulation on Irving so she'll guide him to his son, even if it puts her in the path of being re-acquired by the CIA. Naturally this explains why so many agency analysts are so attractive in real life (as seen in recent HBO documentaries) making them perfect for shows like Homeland. But hey, as long as Kirk's allowed to show off that still-fit barrel chest and be irresistible to younger women, he's cool with whatever (see also: Saturn 3). PS - Look fast for Daryl Hannah (below, center) in a bit part as a snickering classmate of Irving's. Though she doesn't seem to have any psychic 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.

Though De Palma's previous hit Carrie is a better movie on the same topic (telekinetic teen angst), I personally find The Fury way more enjoyable as there's less sadism, snickering, maternal religious abuse, slow motion, overbearing music, and bad vibes. Everyone has motives and no one is all good or bad. On close examination Cassavetes isn't that much worse than Kirk, I mean, clearly Kirk's overbearing as a dad, and Stevens is old enough he shouldn't need to be 'rescued' from a love nest with Fiona Shaw. In fact, for all his boyish swagger, if you read the subtext, Kirk's really a bizarro funhouse mirror to Piper Laurie's bible-thumping mom in Carrie. But The Fury never disturbs or bums one out the way Carrie does. Repeat viewings are always rewarding. Like The Visitor, it's everything memorable about the telekinetic 70s, distilled and then dumped down the driveway and set on fire, and with no grim heartbreaking aftertaste. Cassavetes appears to be having fun in one of his slipperier 'doesn't consider himself a bad guy'-type of smiling villains; Shaw makes the most of one of the decade's great opportunities for sultry female evil. Though given a critical drubbing in the tosh papers of the time, Pauline Kael stuck up for Fury's "dirty kick"  with the vehemence of gifted child telekinetically forcing her conservative bourgeois classmates' heads down an electrified toilet.

WHY THE BERN:  Fiona Shaw is like some Fox News temptress, programming us to kill all Muslims on sight while keeping us pacified through sex appeal. Bernie is Kirk Douglas, a grey-haired little super-hobbit rescuing the kids of America from the tentacles of the corporate meat grinder. Since Kirk's quest is noble (he just wants his kid to have freedom to choose), the Amy Irving youth vote wants to help him to the presidency. A stretch you say? Alas, so's the Bern! Semper tyrannis, sed non hodie.

Runners up
(rating for each: ***)

(2013) Dir. Neil Jordan

"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola

(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes

(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez

(2013) Dir Caradog W. James

And in interest of dystopian fairness, Stop by..

1. First born sons in occupied countries had to join the Roman army for two years
2. -Filmmakers often overload their films with more gross misogyny and violence than they really want, so after the censor demands cuts for an R-rating, the end result will be what they wanted in the first place and the censor will feel like 'they made a difference'. 
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