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'. 


  1. Fuck the BernieBro myth (loudest voices I heard on that Nevada Convention video sounded female to me). Another good list - I'll have to go back and check out the Trump one. Too bad the others have all dropped out so you can't do more. What a Ted Cruz list look like I wonder?

    1. It would look like a Davy and Goliath marathon.

    2. Plus Zodiac of course.


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