"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible" - Ram Dass

Thursday, May 19, 2016

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



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

It's fascinating and a little unnerving, that most badass foxes I know in real life are for Bernie and uninspired by warrior clan alpha Hillary. For them it's not a matter of gender but a whole new sort of post-internet age disregard for tradition, even tradition of woman empowerment--is this the long-heralded fourth wave feminism, or merely post-Christian 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. It wasn't intentional that this list includes so many badass young warriors. As always, these films are cage-free, no abductions, no HMOs or HPOs or HBOs. These women aren't waiting to be abused before fighting back, they're pro-active that way. Nor is this your subtextually clueless Jurassic World-style cinch your blouse and roll up your sleeves and pout to make nature behave feminism. This shit is gonna get bloody, and fucking fast. In the words of the Faster Pussycat opening narration: ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence. In the words of Victor Lazlo at the end of Casablanca, this time, I know our side will win.

1. BOUNTY KILLER
(2013) Dir Henry Saine
****
It's one of those cult-deserving films that is, I think, undone by its generic title and poster art. It should be called MARY DEATH, KILL! (a play on both that 'Mary, Boff, Kill' game, and 'Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!') It stars a cute badass named Christian Pitre as Mary Death, a famous bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic time when bounty hunters are the new rock stars, and the quarry: leftover corporate conspirators (identifiable by their yellow ties). Like Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2000, Mary Death is a gleaming national symbol of a new post-corporate order, one where the 99% is whittled down to about .04% and have declared open season on the corporate .001$%. And brother, that's sooo Bernie, right?  Followed by adoring photographers and magazine piece writers as she tools around the wasteland, Mary Death is just one aspect of this wildly entertaining fusion of GAS-S-S-S into THE ROAD WARRIOR via Jack Hill-directed hoot and a holler mobile. I love this movie to death, and the casual way it has with total over-the-top gore and brutality.

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 -eww gross' half-assed way that undoes countless lesser films, Pitre makes a great action heroine i our day and age. 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 the love interest, the MAX MAX-esque Aussie rival for the big bounties, Raider (Mathew Marsden) is cool. Kristina Loken is well into the full-fanged spirit of the piece as an old girlfriend, now a corporate bigwig out to headhunt him into a shave, tie, and cubicle to call his own. He needn't worry. Mary's got more tricks up her sleeve than her old crew of Post-Pagan matriarchal vehicular guerrillas has skull face tattoos. Did my higher self make this movie in heaven and send it back through time to perk my spirits up? Like Bern? (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, the golf courses and office cubicles awash in the blood of the lamb as the 99% (or the .05% that survive) inherit the radioactive wind, the antique Budweiser six packs, and the black rain.




2. HARDWARE
(1990) Dir Richard Stanley
***
It's one of those foxy red-headed metalsmith vs. murder machine type of dealies, making this somewhere between 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, and is marred only by the superfluous leering of a fat pervert and some dated haircuts. It's directed by the Peter Weir of 90s sci fi, Richard Stanley, 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 creatively (an almost outsider folk art deranged aesthetic) to fill the techno-pagan loft apartment of said metalsmith, including lots of dirty video monitors, and 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, but it is full of period new wave and punk rock and any isolating artist will relate to foxy redhead Stacey Travis in her fortress of sculptural solitude, high up in her giant, refugee and homeless-strewn building. And unlike Bounty Killer, which is perfect in every way, Hardware's all almost undone by the obscene caller fat guy. I mean, what is the need for it aside from some weird outlet for Stanley's foulmouthed misogyny? I like to give Stanley the benefit of the doubt and presume it was just stuff to take out later at the censor's insistence, in order distract them from the gore and afterwards, maybe he forgot. At any rate, it illuminates why Stanley is so often railroaded out of final cut, because this would be a great movie if one could just snip 90% of that leering, boil-faced lecher right on out. 

Luckily once sad skeeve's dispatched to the hell of a thousand eye gouges, the hero robot--every population control advocate's dream machine--resumes setting about euthanizing any human it can find as a last ditch effort to bring the human population down to sane levels (ala something referred to in a radio news broadcast as "the recent sterilization act"). Its electrokinetic ability to re-build itself makes it impossible to kill and Travis' fortress-level locks makes it impossible for people to rescue her as Travis believably rocks the seamless momentum from cool artist chick into primal savage. So Dylan McDermott's 80s hair, the gross dudes (there's another one, a junk trader), or no, Stanley delivers an item that's stood its ground against the relentless sands of time and salon trends, and the HD Netflix print is probably better than it looked on the drive-in screen. There's a great transcendental Buddhist death scene and a strange overall vibe that makes the whole thing seem like its from some parallel universe. The gore effects are solid, if a bit draggy, and the hideous drill bit phallus is like GOG gone wild, figuring in the close quarter fight scenes with lovely Stacey, her fierce determination, fiery hair and pale skin, and artistic facial blood and oil stains meshing perfectly with her pale face, green eyes and autumnal red hair. You'll want to date an Irish girl all over again. Don't! 



WHY THE BERN:  Like Bernie himself, it's a scrappy analog indie that makes up what it lacks in polish or budget 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; it sure gave me a melt-down this last time :)

3. THE LAST SURVIVORS
(2014) Dir. Thomas S. Hammock
***
In a world turned to desert from global warming, the once fecund fields of Oregon have withered to a parched desert, and a handful of unwashed settlers are under constant attack from the local water baron, his foxy redheaded daughter, and their gas mask-wearing goons. Finally, nearly everyone else has been killed or died of thirsty causes and one hardscrabble teenage girl (Haley Lui Richardson) decides to take the fight to the mountain, so to speak. What makes this understated, quiet film stand out from most post-apocalypse dramas is its female protagonist never hesitates to land the killing blow on a disarmed opponent. Time and again the 'good' girls in action films have to throw down their weapon at the last moment, make some remark about how there's been enough killing, turn and walk away and give the opponent a chance to reach for their gun. Only then can a girl kill someone and no offend the conscience of... whom? What 19th century censor is keeping score? Forget it, ladies. We'll still love you even if you kill them in their sleep, or because you do.

And man do I love Richardson here, more Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone than sanctimonious Lawrence of The Hunger Games). Booboo "Remember when this was all rice paddies?" she asks her boy, and that's about the extent of the exposition - no trite opening monologues about global warming or stock montages of sped-up evaporation. Her hair and clothes and skin perfectly bleached and faded to blend in with the surroundings, fearless and scrappy, sneaking across the landscape like an armed mix of sharper feral kid and less self-righteous Katniss, with impressively dark eyebrows, she's one cool lady.This bitch can shoot, sneak and stab -she doesn't miss or pretend there's some moral high ground--she knows it's all dead flat--and if she gives a passing survivor a jar of water she has no illusions he won't come back that night to steal the well. Did I mention I'm tired I am of characters with moral fortitude? The ones who have to let us know violence isn't 'cool'? So if they pick up a gun or knife, shoot once or stab once, and they drop the weapon right away, like ewwww, as if the gun or knife in saving their life has somehow sullied their innocence? I've turned off movies the minute this happens in the past (recently: American Ultra, Everly). The Netflix aisles are choked with half-measure woman on rampage films: actresses (and wusses) who seem to want people to know they, as humans who care blah blah, hate guns but they want your money anyway so they'll shoot one, but usually they only scare their target, or shoot the gun out of their hand, or drop the gun and it goes off, ricochets, and accidentally disarms their opponent. They don't want to be known as a girl who fires guns, as they're liberals blah blah. It's fucking hypocritical.

Sorry for the rant, but it's only to show one reason why I like this film, because these young characters in this here saga, they aren't like that. And actually the water baron and his cute redhead daughter are one of the more interesting and complex villain teams I've seen lately: there's just no one around to remind them it's wrong, and it's become a pretty brutal hardscrabble life, so it's understandable they don't want to share or waste water on the elderly. That's sound thinking for a viable future... for once. I like that he's impressed when Haley comes to his ranch to kill him instead of the usual vice versa. With him it's not personal or even inhumane, he's just not an idiot, and if the scrappy dame comes at him with a sword, he's going to fight her with a sword, not grab a gun. He almost welcomes death, and his daughter (Nicole from Cycle 13 of America's Next Top Model) is no slouch with the samurai blade herself. Why does everyone demonstrate at least medium proficiency with the exquisite and most deadly blade of the samurai? Who cares -is the answer. Everyone not proficient across a spectrum of weapons in this drab and very believable globally warmed future is no doubt long-since dead - is the presumption. To its infinite credit, the script feels no compulsion to exposit.

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


Nicole Fox, by the way, won that cycle of ANTM by the way, through her quiet but determined, slyly competitive spirit, 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, and this helps), so that anyone too old to carry guns and join their gas mask thug brigade (the masks are smart touches too--helping erase the emotional empathy between them and these families they grew up around) and her gradual callousing is deftly done, her vaguely sleepy voice a perfect match with the score's eerie drones. Boobo Stewart (Twilight - team Jacob) as Richardson's boyfriend, is way more capable in a crisis than Peeta in Hunger Games ever was. Even while dying of kidney failure. Booboo can take out three guys in gas masks all in different directions, and not miss.  One wonders the kind of hell Katniss might have unleashed at those Hunger Games had her moral crutch Peta died. Wonder no more, sports fans, instead... just wish it so, and let The Last Survivors be thy wish granted, quietly.

WHY THE BERN: A vivid tale of the youth of tomorrow paying for our parent's mistakes - the Trumpian business-over-ecology future amok capitalism promises. The water baron being the ultimate example, a Daniel Plainview meets Noah Cross ogre whose only recourse is to save his own child at the expense of all others.

4. CENTURION
(2010) Dir. Neil Marshall
***
I'm one of the frozen chew who adore Neil "The Descent" Marshall's expensive 2008 flop Doomsday though I missed it in theaters due to terrible advertising, this one too, tried it's best to sneak past me. It did at first, because I avoid gladiator movies as I can't get past the terrible haircuts (those short bangs), closeted beefcake posturing, endless brutal slavery, relentless parading and long-winded oratory. To let you know how long it's taken me to finish watching it -- I started back before I knew or cared who Michael Fassbender was, and now I'm a huge fan. He's so damn manly, Dominic West is good too, leading the doomed 9th legion deep into Pict country until a treacherous female guide (Olga Kurylenko) delivers them into bloody ambush. The inescapable Ulrich Thomsen plays the brutal Pict chief. The eternally gorgeous Imogen Poots is a local ex-Pict herbalist who helps hide the few Roman survivors because, of course, she was ostracized as a witch. She's got real chemistry with Fassbender. Together they're earth-magical like Oberon and Titania, parts I'm sure they've both played... somewhere.

Imogen Poots (left), j'adore
But the real red meat of the thing is Kurylenko's mute huntress--we don't blame her for hating the Romans, and Marshall refuses to judge either side--both have good and bad people and impulses within them and both bad; the Romans are the invaders so clearly not the 'good guys' in any sense, though they're clearly the protagonists (like The Warriors if they really did shoot Cyrus). Kurylenko's chief is a dick, but so is Fassbender's Roman commander. That makes Fassbender's survivor party 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.

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 of a small band of professionals/warriors/badass interlopers running afoul of pagan locals. CENTURION also ha my second favorite close-quarters to-the- death fight between Fassbender and a badass babe warrior (can you guess the first?) --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 --as Bernie as it gets.



5. THE FURY
(1978) Dir Brian De Palma
***
De Palma's oh-so 70s telekinetic thriller  / govt. conspiracy Rollercoaster-style amusement park disaster hybrid 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, where father is finishing up his CIA tenure and son is.... swifted away by shady fellow CIA guy John Cassavetes? Damn! Agents film the water approach assassination of Douglas to show Stevens later to trigger his abilities and leave him with a murderous hatred for Arabs and thus ripe for Middle East remote control assassinations. Nazi commandant Kevin Bacon trained a young Magneto in X-Men First Class that way, not that you'd know, dear artsy reader.

Fiona Lewis scores best as the seductive older analyst who keeps Stevens pacified with sex so he won't want to escape the confines of the luxury safe house, but Irving --never lovelier--is coming like an ESP bloodhound, with daddy Kirk at the leash, like a Scatman to the axe. Douglas keeps Irving safe, or is he using her? The script can't tell, nor the characters. He sure uses sexy vulnerable Hester (Carrie Snodgrass), a teacher at Irving's school for gifted youngsters, and then gets her killed, in a way that echoes the way Fiona Lewis uses his son, and explains why so many agency analysts are so attractive in real life (in this at least, TV doesn't lie; charisma is as essential in the CIA as it is in Hollywood). Hey, as long as Kirk's allowed to show off that still-fit chest and be irresistible to younger women, he's cool with whatever (see also: Saturn 3). 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, I personally find The Fury way more enjoyable as there's less bad vibes. 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. This micro-managing makes Kirk--for all his boyish swagger--a bizarro funhouse mirror to Piper Laurie's bible-thumping mom in Carrie. That said, The Fury, rocks on repeat viewings. Not of all of it really connects but it never disturbs or bums one out the way Carrie does. Like The Visitor, it's everything memorable about the 70s distilled and then dumped down the driveway and set on fire. Cassavetes appears to be having fun in one of his slipperier 'doesn't consider himself a bad guy'-type of villains and Shaw makes the most of one of the decade's great opportunities for sultry female villainy. Though given a critical drubbing in the tosh papers of the time, Pauline Kael stuck up for Fury's "dirty kick" like a gifted child telekinetically forcing her conservative bourgeois teacher's head 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 and luxury goods. 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 in pursuit of the presidency. A stretch you say? Alas, so is the Bern!

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Runners up
(rating for each: ***)

BYZANTIUM
(2013) Dir. Neil Jordan

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


KISS OF THE DAMNED
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes

THE FACULTY 
(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez

(2013) Dir Caradog W. James

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And in interest of dystopian fairness, Stop by..

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

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

3 comments:

  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?

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

      Delete
    2. Plus Zodiac of course.

      Delete

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