Tough Broads

From a tender age I’ve always been attracted to strong women. None of those squealing, fainting damsels for me. Thinking back, it was probably Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in ALIEN that started it all. She’s gotten sexier as she’s aged, putting more meat on her tall bones, but she was all attitude in Ridley Scott’s classic horror film. The part was originally written for a man, and her husky voice and take-no-shit attitude grabbed me by the underoos and made me pay attention. She’s remained one of my favorite actresses, even when she’s played against type in the hilarious GALAXY QUEST. She’s got a smoldering glare that adds an edge to her husky voice.

Sigourney about to rip John Turturro’s arm off.

Speaking of husky voices, Kathleen Turner is the undisputed queen of that, no? She made her bones (and mine) in the excellent noir BODY HEAT directed by Lawrence Kasdan. She plays the ultimate femme fatale, a siren who can dupe even a clever man into doing her bidding. She did this again as Jessica Rabbit, but one of my favorite roles is her psycho Martgha Stewart clone in  John Waters’ hilarious SERIAL MOM, a movie more people need to see. “Is this the cocksucker residence?!” She’s been playing a tough bitch on “Californication” lately. Time hasn’t been as kind to her physically as Sigourney, but she still has the attitude that makes her believable as a vamp who can get away with saying “You aren’t too smart, are you? I like that in a man.”

Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’ 1980 film GLORIA epitomizes the term “tough broad,” and the film’s offbeat tale of a mob gun moll who takes a kid who witnessed a hit under her wing appealed to me then and now. What boy wouldn’t want to be clutched to Gena’s bosom while she cocked a magnum at bunch of goombas? She oozes old school, classy sexuality so effortlessly that even Angie Dickinson in POINT BLANK or Tuesday Weld in THIEF could learn a thing or two from her.

Now we get to the broad who inspired this post- Debbie Harry, this month’s Garden State Playmate at The Sexy Armpit– otherwise known as the lead singer of Blondie. She took off with a disco-rock aesthetic hit “Call Me,” and blasted into her own punky, glammy campy form of rock ‘n roll that’s never been duplicated. She’s covered calypso and helped put hip hop in the mainstream with “Rapture”- no joke- commercial radio wouldn’t play that “fringe” music back in the day and neither would MTV. Black and white charts- cough, I mean “pop” and “R&B”- remain segregated, but she introduced millions of white kids to hip hop. For me, that led to Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash, and culminated in blasting NWA when I went to college in Newark, even though I looked like TweedleDee with a Wopfro back then. Anyway, back to Debbie- she was a Playboy playmate with a brain, and that wry grin that punctuates much of her music is her great appeal. I liked that she voiced Angel in the ’80s rock cartoon ROCK ‘N RULE (full review) and her roles in VIDEODROME and of course, John Waters’ HAIRSPRAY – the original. With her silken voice and smart way of winking at the audience, her lyrics are deceptively simple and catchy. Between her and Chrissie Hynde, I’d give her the crown of Queen of Rock ‘n Roll.

Sorry. I didn’t notice her flagrant crack until just now.

And that crown will be passed on to Joan Jett, once those two pass into the great gig in the sky. Joan Jett is the sexiest woman in the world. How I came to this hypothesis, proven so far only in my own personal universe, begins in the year 1980 when her album “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was released. While we fondly remember the classic rock of the ’70s, we mustn’t forget that the air and our ears was heavily polluted with a substance known as Disco, which made Indians cry and men wear pants so tight you could tell if they’d been circumcised. The late ’70s rock ‘n roll and punk resurgence saved us from all that. So we need to thank Iggy Pop, the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys, Debbie Harry and of course, Joan Jett for dragging us out of it alive. Joan took the raw edge of punk and rockabilly, slammed it with a bit of Bowie’s glam for image and rocked into our world with an unapologetic tomboy swagger, leather jacket and guitar. She’s STILL sexy as hell, even when she forgoes her sneer for a light-up-the-stage smile:

The sexiest rock ‘n roll girl ever.

That’s her at the premiere of THE RUNAWAYS biopic- pronounced BIO PICK, not like bionic, Firecracker!!- which is a fine movie detailing how creepoid rock promoter Kim Fowley put together the first all-girl rock band by sexing up these rocking teenagers and exploiting the shit out of them. Joan managed to ride that wave and transcend it, getting even bigger by covering practically every inch of her body and showing us more simmering sexuality in one smoldering glare on her debut album cover:

So who are your favorite tough broads?

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Avatar: Nature Trail to Hell… in 3-D

I’ve always liked James Cameron’s films. Even Titanic. But the commercials for his newest epic, Avatar, did not grab me. The aliens had a hint of the uncanny valley effect, due to their wide leonine noses, and the theme seemed indistinct. But after Roger Ebert- that 3-D and CG hater, gave it four stars, I decided to trust that James didn’t get nitrogen narcosis from those underwater movies he’s been making, and got tickets to a 3-D show at a real IMAX theater- not one of the many “a li’l bit bigger” IMAX screens in regular theaters that seem to be diluting the brand. I got ripped off at the AMC 25 Empire in NYC seeing The Dark Knight on a screen that didn’t wow me, and I didn’t want to get a bad impression with this film, that is supposedly set to change how we think about 3-D.
The movie starts with no credits and you’re immediately thrust into the 3-D jungle planet of Pandora, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) gives us a little history about the planet, who he is, and why he’s there. He’s a Marine who lost the use of his legs, but is being shipped out to replace his identical twin brother. The planet is so hostile that we explore it by mental link to genetically grown avatars of the local Na’vi people, 12 foot tall azure warriors who resemble Comanche meet the Maasai, and who don’t trust us, because we only want their planet for the resources. They have good instincts. Cameron gives us a bleak corporate future we’ll remember from Aliens; it’s 2134 and Jake is a paraplegic? Sure there’s a cure, he just can’t afford it on Veteran’s benefits. Sound familiar?
Earth’s presence on Pandora is corporate; led by Parker (Giovanni Ribisi), they seek an antigravity mineral called unobtainium, a reference to an old Duck Dodgers cartoon that tells us it’s a MacGuffin, it doesn’t matter; they just have something we want. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, looking as good as ever) is the science contingent, studying the Na’vi people and the planet’s complex ecology. And Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang, the bad-ass sheriff from Public Enemies) is the military arm, “defending” the construction workers as they drive huge earth movers through the Na’vi homeland. When Jake shows up, he’s meant to help repair the relationship with the Na’vi. But of course, Parker and Quaritch have deadlines to meet.
The story isn’t that complex and if you know Cameron and Screenwriting 101, it is a little bit predictable; but the richness of the world and the director’s experience in endearing characters to us through simply observing them make it remain an exciting adventure. The world of Pandora is dangerous and bizarre, and the Na’vi aren’t just “close to nature,” they’re still a part of it. They aren’t a simple allegory for American Indians, they are their own indigenous people. Their biology lets them bond with their horse-like mounts and flying dragon-like beasts without relying on hackneyed telepathy. It’s clever and thrilling, something we haven’t seen before.
Jake meets a Na’vi woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) on a mission and after proving himself against Pandora’s host of hostile wildlife, he is introduced to the tribal elders- played by Wes Studi and CCH Pounder without stereotype. He gets an exclusive access to their culture and trains to be one of them, or at least his Na’vi avatar does. And he begins to see as they do. Through purely human means. It’s been a science fiction convention that “mind melds” and what not are what changes us, but the morality is so black and white that Jake sees it on his own. I liked that.
Of course, there will be a final battle between the people of the jungle and the military, with their mecha power-suits and twin-rotor gunships. We expect nothing less. And we do not get a silly battle as in The Phantom Menace; it is brutal, and no brilliant guerrilla tactics are going to give the Na’vi a sort of Ewok invulnerability. But seeing the blue warriors ride their bat-winged saurian mounts against gunships, and fire arrows the size of spears was exhilarating. Soldiers in powersuits with bayonets the size of chainsaws in melee with huge, agile aliens had a grin plastered on my face. And since it’s Cameron, you always know what is going on in the battle and aren’t given shaky-cam headaches.
But there is more to this than an action film. I loved the richness of Pandora, the bizarre ecology down to the phosphorescent fungi and tiny floating jellyfish. It’s well planned and not a mish-mash of cool creatures. Some seem reptilian, others mammalian, and they have gills of a sort to filter the atmosphere that kills humans in minutes. There’s so much to see that Cameron had to use depth of field and objective focus to show us what to look at; apparently some are getting headaches from tryig to focus on what’s not in the field. Since he’s not throwing rocks and spears at us non-stop to show off the 3-D, try to relax and focus on what’s obvious. Then everything settles and you see the depth in the screen. One excellent example comes early, when Jake awakes from cryo-sleep in the zero gravity of a spaceship. We’ve seen zero gravity before, but it looks so real in 3-D. The detail of the CG is so crisp that not once did I balk. Beowulf it ain’t. The textures are amazing. This one lives up to the hype.

Five 3-D blue boobies out of 5
(and yes, it was really funny seeing Michelle Rodriguez run in a t-shirt in 3-D. Thanks, Mr. Cameron!)

Ten Favorite Movie Characters Meme

I didn’t get tagged in this because I smell and have no friends, but I’m doing it anyway. These are in no particular order because this isn’t MySpace.

10. Ripley

Sigourney Weaver owned this role even in Alien, long before she hopped in a powerloader and growled, “Get away from her, you bitch!” In fact, as great as she is in Aliens, Ripley is a more appealing character in the first one. She’s resourceful but still emotional, and while she’s a tall drink of water she’d still be easy on the eyes, especially after hypersleep. She can handle a flamethrower in a pinch, and doesn’t mind blowing up billion dollar star freighters to get the job done. My management style is based on Ripley.

9. Elwood P. Dowd
Sure, he’s best friends with a six foot invisible rabbit named Harvey, but Elwood is just an all around nice guy. Always ready for a drink, he’s as friendly as they come, and realizes it’s better to be pleasant than clever in the long run. You can be pleasant about being clever; no one cares how clever you are, but how pleasant you are makes a big difference in how you get along. That’s Elwood’s lesson, and it’s a good one.

8. Thulsa Doom
You gotta have a villain in here somewhere. This was a tough one, because he’s not really all that charismatic. Hannibal Lecter is an easy one to pick; you never think he’d find YOU rude and eat your thymus glands in brown butter, do you? But Clarice Starling is the only person who’s safe from his fork. With Thulsa, you know where you stand. Either you worship him, or you are an infidel defiler who will drown in lakes of blood. I’d rather know if I’m going to drown in a lake of blood up front. He’s great even when Conan the Barbarian cuts his head off and throws it down the stairs.

7. John Matrix
The greatest action hero of all time. Yep, even though he was only in Commando. He’s smart, he’s strong, he never misses, and he can jam a steam pipe through your fake chain mail sweater and out your spine. And deliver snappy one-liners the entire time! As long as you’re not a mercenary tough or a mall cop, or get in his way of rescuing “Chenny,” he’ll be on your side. Right? … RIGHT!

6. Indiana Jones
I have to admit, even after the crappy fourth movie, Indy will always be great. He’s unstoppable, he has unshakeable moral foundations, and he’s cool even when he’s bumbling. What makes Indy so great? When hes about to do something crazy, he looks scared. He’s as incredulous as we are when he jumps on the front of a truck. But he does it, because it must be done! It helps that he’s afraid of snakes. It makes him human. John Matrix would bite the head off that snake and make a garrote out of it.

5. Otto
Kevin Kline is one of the funniest guys around, but after the excellent Dave I think he got a little soft. When he was a jerk, he was even funnier. Otto of A Fish Called Wanda is one of the greatest inept villains of all time- a true vulgarian who thinks central tenet of Buddhism is “every man for himself,” who’s not afraid to sneak a gun into an airport or try unprepared sushi. He really made this movie, and he had a lot of talented company.

4. MacReady
Why this Kurt Russell role over Snake Plissken, the ultimate badass? Because he’s a regular guy who saves humanity when thrust into impossible circumstances against an otherworldly foe. You can see a bit of Snake in this character but he’s always believable, and like all heroes, he’s afraid of what he has to do, but he does it anyway. When he’s not saving the world he just wants to fly his chopper and smoke dope in his shed.

3. Bart
As a relatively unknown actor, how do you walk into a role written by and for Richard Pryor, the biggest black comedian of the time? Ask Cleavon Little. It amazed me that his career fizzled after Blazing Saddles, he was so entertaining. He had small roles as DJs in FM and Vanishing Point but never one as big as this. Bart is funny, cool, yet has just enough self-doubt to be a likeable guy. He can fool the man with shuck ‘n jive, seduce Lili Von Schtupp, and even talk the Waco Kid out of drinking himself to death. Just remember than 19 is his limit on schnitzengruben. Bitte, baby.

2. George & Marion Kerby
A high school pal of mine was obsessed with Topper but it took many years for me to watch it and see what the big deal was. Cary Grant has always been the perfect gentleman, but it’s tough to pick one role. I’m not sure I’d want to be haunted by this couple, but I’d rather party with them than Nick & Nora Charles any day.

1. Helen Tasker
This was a tough one. I went through all the women characters of cinema who made me feel like a naughty little boy, from Linda Fiorentino and Kathleen Turner’s femme fatales to bubbly Geena Davis, Marlena Dietrich and Rita Hayworth… and it came down to, who could I live with? Most of them would probably kill me for my cash, but Helen was a faithful wife who wanted a little excitement. And when it came time to serve her country, she did a hell of a striptease, and bashed someone’s head in with a phone. Plus, I had a crush on her since Trading Places. I guess it says a lot that in True Lies I’m ogling a funny redhead with some meat on her bones when Tia Carrera is in it.