Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Thursday, May 26, 2016

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

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


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

That's right, once again it's the people that aren't properly shaded and shadowed: Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), the uptight caricature of female executive control freak bitchiness who runs some aspect or other of park operations, somehow expects men and monsters alike to snap to when she pouts and stamps her high heeled foot; her sister (Judy Greer) is the same way, sending her children off to the park to visit Auntie Claire so she can divorce their dad. Naturally they'll get lost in the hot zone somehow and naturally Claire will have to, in a sense, come crawling back to the one man who can find them, hunky raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt). Do I even need to mention that they went on one date awhile back and didn't get along because she control-freaked on him? The human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to hunt in the Middle East. Owen notes 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' You get the drill. He's the only employee of the park with any balls, foresight, intelligence, knowledge of predator pack mentality, or coordination. 


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

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


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


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

Maybe it just bothers me because that ex-cherub kids looks like my childhood friend from the same approx. age, Alan, who turned me onto guns and WWII. I kept imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character as it were, like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon would have done it, or Quentin, just letting the kids improvise might have done it. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore, but they can't be this square... man, what is it, growing up without secondhand smoke?



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

Others: the nerdy comic banter of two of the tech heads working the control room (he's got a big collection of plastic dinosaurs on his desk, which is such a poorly thought-out stupid detail, like having a picture of your secretary on your desk at work); the schmuck handler who falls into the 'raptor cage also has that dumb glassy-eyed slack-jawed look where you imagine him sweeping up a 7-11 and doing even that wrong. Vincent D'Onofrio as the military tech assessor wears a big gold watch and short sleeves with fat hairy arms so you make red state sheriff associations, and so forth, and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion. Wouldn't want to break a for some reason unbreakable tradition.

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

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



It's all worth it though because in the end, doused in sweat and down to her strappy tee (above), she assumes the pose of Julia Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon or a cave girl from either When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth or One Million BC that sexy curvy prone pose that helped launch the hormones of a generation of 12 year-old boys (and some girls) on TV back in the 70s.


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




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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck yeah!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

If only it was America's.
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See also:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

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



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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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


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

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

---
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

--------
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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Exit the Navel: MARON, DICE








It's a swell time to be an older, white, straight male with a giant ego, a trunk full of dues-paying and/or top-of-the-world VH1 reveries... because chances are you have your own show either on IFC, Showtime, FX, or at the very least, "the Youtubes." No matter what level of fame, micro-success, or just delusional 'web fame' the rest of us Aging SWMs may have garnered, we can all relate to these 1-2 syllable single name titles. Yo, that's us! We're detached. The Generation X kids grown grey, we've been watching as our golden age of cocksmanship, fame, and rock swagger circles down the drain into the sunset. Whether we packed stadiums or just half-filled a small local bar with our relatives once in 1985, we're glad we're not still hoisting amps in and out of bars, fighting off stage fright and anxiety no one will show, fending off a constant onslaught of angry press, slavering fans, grabby jonesers and wannabes and lapel-grabbers and bossy exes. To be still doing it would be a constant reminder none of that shit is as golden as we remember. Since it's all safely behind us now, though, man is it golden!

What most of my generation really wants now, when all's said and done, and that golden sunset is secured in our minds, is simply an outlet, some medium to express ourselves and some kind of audience on which to leave our mark, our initials carved into the bark of the tree, whether the brains of our bored children, pages our blogs such as this, or--now shows, single cam riffs aimed at the critical acclaim garnered by LOUIE. Two of them are currently fresh in the airwaves: new season of MARON (on IFC), and premiere of DICE (Showtime- AYyyy!)

I normally don't write about comedy (30s Paramount aside), the real world's funny enough, but having lived six years with a comedy journalist, who told me I reminded her of Marc Maron even before the show came out. I too am 16 years sober, bedraggled, bespectacled, misanthropic, reclusive; have no kids, date girls half my age, and think the real world is going to hell and let fame go to my head so fast I'd almost rather not have it. The small amount I've had for small amounts of time always turned me into a raving narcissistic womanizer, so needy for the next wave of adulation I could barely sleep or stand to be alone for more than a few minutes at a time, and apt to throw a tantrum if I had to pay a cover charge. Similarly, Maron's irritable and needly like a cranky child determined to keep his tantrum up until some giant mommy descends from the sky with a massive royalty check. We're supposed to somehow either sympathize with all his luxury problems, the kind of shit only Eric Schaffer, Ed Burns, Woody Allen, and Albert Brooks would relate to. But I don't like to be reminded that my grandiose schtick isn't that easy to live with day-to-day. I'd never be able to tolerate being in a room five minutes with myself. So my hostile response to Maron should maybe be considered with that disclaimer.

 good taste in music, but you think Iggy ever whines about
needing to quit nicotine lozenges? (great photo though)
The IFC show MARON itself centers around our curmudgeon Marc, and involves a mix of him doing his podcast, fly-on-the-wall Grey Gardens-style messy house puttering, and show biz angst (including alledgely naughty insults like to his fey male assistant: "do you have a pussy, a little boy pussy?"), cliche'd producers with on-the-nose lines like "I'm here just to lend a little corporate support," and "I'm gong to be personally shepherding the process" and bringing in a nerdy writer for Marc to insult, fussy PR mavens, and sage counsel from the ever-tolerant Andy Richter. in his downtime he's been dealing with visits from out of town comics he knew on the way up, donating his semen to a lesbian comedian having a child, etc. (PS - never use the sperm of an alcoholic addict, that shit is hereditary). All slathered over with his alt-rock self-loathing and girly ("am I too fat?) narcissism (as they say in AA, "the piece of shit at the center of the universe.")

Sure he's on camera a lot, lives in LA, and has his own podcast, but even so, for a straight middle-aged white dude with scraggly facial hair, Marc Maron spends an awful amount of time worrying he's getting fat, or addicted to--how macho!--nicotine lozenges; constantly blaming his surly exhaustion on how he's poisoning himself with "too much caffeine too much nicotine" blah blah. Sure, we've all been there, but no straight man over the age of 45 who's not actually fat should worry about this shit anymore; or at any rate he should know himself well enough by that age to not think buying a bunch of running gear and deciding to quit caffeine and nicotine and junk food all at once right before launching a big talk show is a good idea. No way anyone stays sober 16 years not knowing basic sobriety 101 shit like that, not unless they were never alcoholics to being with.

By which I mean, as an addict myself I'd have liked to see his relapse done right. It would be a great opportunity to see Maron the actor NOT be a dick for five minutes. Imagine if getting back on the drugs made him relaxed, intelligent, confident, witty and ready to host his show with the focused charm of a Johnny Carson, but only for like, say, a couple of hours before getting all sloppy and nodding off. The next night, the time for being witty and erudite shrinking to a few minutes, and then totally gone. He could have watched, say, the "never seen a man go through a day so fast" scene where Lee Marvin first guzzles downs the whiskey in CAT BALLOU (1965). In it, Marvin arrives on the scene a shaky mess, bums a pint of whiskey, downs half-the shakes stop and for like a hot second he's a crack shot super erudite gunslinger but then a swig later and he's a boisterous mess; another swig and he's passed out again.

Fucking Lee Marvin was a drinker; you can fucking tell in his eyes. I can see it in other sober comic's eyes, like Craig Ferguson, but I don't see it in Maron's. I admit he does his nodding off super mess shit pretty well, and he's got the self-pitying atheist mopeiness down, but to not have even a single scene of focused peace and calm before complete mess relapse, I mean just enough to we see WHY he drank and did drugs in the first place, so we can think for a hot second, "hey, he's finally not an asshole, maybe drugs/booze are/is the answer" which makes his turn to asshole five minutes later all the more heartbreaking. That's the stuff Emmys are made of, and Oscars (ala Marvin's, Cage's, Coburn's, Milland's, etc.) and he'd only have to do it once.


Third, if you were really "cross-addicted" as the saying goes, but haven't done any of it for 16 years, sorry but you won't relapse on just pain pills if your back is bad enough to deserve them (presuming you don't have, like 200 pills prescribed by a dangerously incompetent doctor). I went through that shit when I busted my knee and my natural urge to horde the 20 pills I got was enough that I only took them when I needed them, and wound up needing them all. But if you take pills the way Maron does in this show, son you would be dead. Tolerance shrinks to normal schlub levels. Oxycontin tabs are NOT nicotine lozenges - you can't just guzzle them in the bathroom like M&Ms, not unless you want to die, and besides it's a huge waste of a good stash. They don't give automatic refills on Oxy anymore, and a real addict wouldn't waste them. He clearly never went to AA or he'd have realized trying to juggle pain medication with nicotine withdrawal has never worked once in all of human history. And sorry but if believing in God makes you happier, and you're currently miserable, then you're an idiot to not believe in God. It will be interesting to see him in rehab in future episodes (ONLY on IFC) and if he actually exits his navel long enough to help another alcoholic, to become selfless long enough to be a worker among workers, to genuinely open up to a sponsor, do the 12 steps sans smarminess, i.e. to grow even just long enough to learn to be nice to one other person, the way say Don Draper finally learned to do in the final episode of MAD MEN. (See 'chop wood, carry sponsors.' 

But I bet he won't. Because I don't think he really is an addict as opposed to being one of those jerks (and AA is full of them) who has no will power, and overdoes everything and rather than trying to practice moderation, decides to quit just to prove he's got it together. And then he blames the jerkiness on not being able to do the drugs. In other words, he blames drugs for his prickly jerkiness, and then blames the lack of drugs for his prickly jerkiness. And in short, he is a prickly jerk either way. Rather than learn from his mistakes, his weaknesses, he blames everyone else. Sure, it's his character --the show invites us to view him with a certain amount of derision, to profit perhaps by his example. But it also expects us to identify with him to the point we share his Terry Zwigoff-esque alienation from the banal absurdities around him and think, yeah Marc - these people really are fucked up, the social order is a mess.

Even so... I'm rooting for him to get his head out of his own ass. Maybe even praying... but if Maron himself has no higher power, how will that work? Spiritual awakenings are a tough think to fake.


And then there was DICE!

Back when I was a wobbly little feminist in the 80s-90s I used to hate Andrew Dice Clay the way I hated Adam Sandler, frat boys, sports, snarky teen sex comedies, and half the kids at my very working class Italian-American Jersey High school. Badda Bing! By senior year I'd figured out they were actually cool, it was my sensitive Swedish senses were overwhelmed by their boisterousness. Still, I didn't want to be like them, and hated the perceived misogyny and monosyllabic shop kid goomba-ish Dice and Sandler represented. I became a punk kid, then I realized all my punk friends were gay and didn't tell me and I became a hippie. Then I thought the hippies were naive and that the Dead sucked.  In the 90s I was amidst the ecstasy and cocktails crowd, but they were subsumed by swing dancing and cocaine...

In short, I've wandered through many camps and hated them all sooner or later. And now more than all combined do I hate the smarmy bearded hipster co-op 20somethings of Williamsburg and car commercials (Maron types who make a big deal out of their quitting smoking rather than just dying like a MAN). I feel like they're my fault - that wobbly pre-PC feminism come home to roost. Now I miss the boisterous blue collar energy of my high school. Those kids had balls, earthy joi de vivre. And the kids today do not. Looking back on high school I realize I was the asshole, masking my snobbishness in nerdy introversion. Maron is like that too, and I'd avoid him if I saw him at a party, like he'd cancel me out, like two wrongs making a zero.

But DICE, the Tangiers Las Vegas lion, the Bickle in repose, living with girlfriend Natasha Leggero? Yeah I'll hang out with him. He reminds me of my old pal Johnny. That's a case of a wrong and another kind of a wrong making two rights. Unlike ego-paralyzed Maron, Dice throws himself forward and doesn't back down or overthink things - i'ts a kind of hangin'-brain style confidence that most guys who get their own 'this is my sadsack life at 40+' shows like this fail to deliver.

And lord we need it.

I never heard Dice's "hickory dickory dock" era cock-related bro humor, I avoided it like the plague at the time, but I can't imagine it's any more offensive or frat boy catering than anythinng else on cable. Sure he's from Brooklyn, but like Robert De Niro in Scorsese movies, he's a Jew doing an impersonation. To say he is that thing is like saying De Niro actually still has the Lufthansa heist money. I've realized over the years that the loud Italian-American working class kids I didn't like in HS weren't inordinately bad or mean (3) to me; I was just super sensitive and they spoke very loud and boisterously and I'd seen way too many movies about kids like me being bullied by kids like them not to be constantly defensive. But now that the whole of American masculinity (4) is all non-smoking gym-going beard-growing, soft effeminate voiced little bitches buying Mitsubishi Gallants on their iPads, their high little voices so geeky and soft like they're fuckin' Mr. Rogers on estrogen, they're what's wrong with this country! The bullies were RIGHT to push them in the mud back in the 80s, man. Badda Bing!

In short, a blight has fallen upon the American masculine identity, and the no bullshit laid-back badass middle age badda bing of Dice is needed like King Arthur needs a slug from a grail of 121 proof Booker's before the final battle in EXCALIBUR. Iron John deep, Dice brings a no-toupee faux macho to the table that's way less misogynist-- if you just look under the hood--than the MARON type. Dice grants Leggero as much power and respect as he grants himself; he's never surly with her or trying to hide something except in a kind of roundabout playful rapport. He falls asleep going down on her, obsesses about table cloth fabric for his gay brother-in-law's wedding, and then interrupts the ceremony not for some homophobe reason but because the Elvis impersonator conducting the service is a jinx. The couple believe him because everything's been going wrong - they get a Liza impersonator and it all flows smooth. He parties with some group of affluent bachelor party hipsters and gets in a brawl with them when they dis Joan Rivers! In an effort to be more tender introduces his Jewish side into their love making (wearing a yarmulke and shyly introducing himself to her by his real name of Andrew). She's frustrated at times with his man stuff, but never caries it farther than a scene or two, never bothering with trite cliches like left-up toilet seats and oh I guess work is more important than Jimmy's soccer game and I asked you to do one thing, wear a tie for church, or zzzz. None of that shit, or if it is, it's casual bickering stuff rather than big WASPy life and death squabbles we're used to.  "I'm just bustin' your onions," she says giving him shit about his theory of why he's giving cash on her brother-in-law's gay wedding. Dice just rolls along with it. This is a couple who can bicker and cajole in an easy rhythm, without damaging their relationships or nervous systems or our eardrums. It's refreshing. Did all that negative controversy he generated from shocked women in the 80s-90s soften him up? Is this show his chance to show us Andrew? Or is it me who's hardened? When I was a squeamish feminist in the 1980s the PC movement was still young and vulnerable, but since then it's became all powerful, dogmatic, I'm still a feminist but I've come to hate academic-PC thug overreach more than I used to hate the other way around. In fact, I've come to believe that Joe McCarthy was right! Commies have been undermining America's educational system since the Cold War! But I know the me of 20 years ago would think I'm just a right wing paranoid nutcase.

I accept the charges, you time machine-travelin' bastard!

Dice tries on a chair
That said, let me again state: growing up I HATED the type of goomba that Dice Clay played. It was only be senior year I realized none of them hated me back; they thought I was funny, but I took all their friendly overtures as attempts to lure me out somewhere and beat me up. They even invited me to a party or two, and I tried to go, drove up, but didn't see anyone I knew within the first few minutes, panicked, blushed, drove around the block then drove home in shame and listened to Lou Reed's Berlin.

Unlike Maron, Dice doesn't have a drug or depression issue (at least on the show), but he's in the less narcissistic and more good time-oriented Las Vegas. In one great scene he winds up doing a bunch of blow and shots on a party bus for a high roller's bachelor party, gets in a fight defending Joan Rivers' honor, and winds up with his ass kicked.. by a goddamned hipster! That's badass on so many levels. He went to bat for his friend Joan, a woman he admired rightly, and in the context of the show presented himself as both fearless and not a great fighter, which is fine- you can lose all the fights you want as long as you have courage to throw down! Dice either does drugs or doesn't but never apologizes whines or frets or tries to quit and can't. Courage.

Dice in the end is a MAN amongst pinks, punks, and pussies. Strutting through Vegas like he's king of the forest; he's what made the hottentots so hot, even if now, eh, they've been hotter. It doesn't matter if the man he is or is playing is "Dice" or not. Courage. He knows everyone by name, from parking attendants to waiters to casino owners, treats them all with first name respect and vice versa. Courage. Sure he leans on his past glory like a crutch, but as he says many time, he was once packing stadiums for tens of thousands at a crack, but is he bitter and kvetching about not being at that level anymore? Not really. The women are safe from him, he's got a lady and his eye doesn't wander. The dudes around him are cool until proven shady (rather than vice versa). His local legend status is enough for him. As much as any fading icon can be, Dice is content.

Meanwhile Tin Man Maron is still trying to feed his squeaky wheel ego through that teensy oil can beak, out in the Hungry Ghost "I me Mine I me mine I me mine" L.A. The Woodsman forgot to carve him a heart. That hollow-chested Maron would be considered the liberal cool one and lionhearted Dice the intolerant bully instead of the opposite is endemic of the shallowness of America's post-PC masculinity.

What's Dice got that Maron ain't got?

Tolerance. Badda Boom! 

NOTES:
1. And everyone is as famous as they want to imagine (we never know who's reading us or watching us online at any time-- with the cumulative result no one actually needs to for us to feel like we're getting through.
2. . Who was the idiot creative writing teacher who first thought we should always put pet names front and center in short stories? They were an idiot. They always get a big laugh in New Yorker lit readings, but I think it's way too cheap.
3. see my rant against one of them in my Remote in Reach: The WALL
4. remember I'm only talking about trends in masculinity at least on TV and the movies; not real life except as a dim reflection.