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Five classic chick (action) flicks


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The term “chick flick” calls certain images to mind: moonlit kisses in the rain; awkward yet adorable first meetings between lovers; Katherine Heigl. If you’re calling something a “chick flick,” odds are you’re doing it dismissively, as in “My wife is dragging me to that new chick flick.” (NOTE: No one tell my wife I wrote that.) But “chick flick” is such a nice turn of phrase — it’s short, it’s memorable, it rhymes — that I think we ought to take it back. It should apply to all kinds of movies starring women, not just the ones featuring makeover montages or sassy best friends (or Katherine Heigl).

A perfect example is Steven Soderbergh‘s new movie, which opens in theaters this Friday. It’s called “Haywire,” but a more accurate title would be “MMA Fighter Gina Carano Beats the Shit Out of All of Hollywood’s Hottest Young Male Stars.” Carano (official MMA record: 7-1) plays Mallory, a secret agent for hire on a quest for revenge against her former employers. Getting that revenge means wiping the floor with Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, and Michael Fassbender, among others. It’s not a “chick flick” as we’ve come to know it — it’s closer to a Chuck Norris vehicle than a Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle — but maybe it should be. We could call it something like a “chick (action) flick.”

Whatever you want to call it, “Haywire” belongs to a fine tradition of action films centered around strong, sexy women. Here are five of our favorites.

“Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965)
Directed by Russ Meyer

Russ Meyer’s camp classic features a trio of busty, deadly woman on a go-go dancing, hot-rod racing rampage through the American Southwest. Meyer’s vixens — Haji, Lori Williams, and especially the voluptuous, karate-chopping Tura Santana — square off against a male cast that is clearly outmatched, both mentally and physically, by their female counterparts. The film’s opening narration, which accompanies images of bouncing sound waves (followed immediately by images of bouncing breasts) sets the tone as well as the connection between the pussycats’ power and their sexuality (“Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to violence!”). No wonder John Waters called it the best movie ever made and “possibly better than any movie that will ever be made.” Forty-five years later, I’m not sure any filmmaker has conclusively proven him wrong.

“Coffy” (1973)
Directed by Jack Hill

Male superheroes have utility belts. Coffy has an afro. She uses it to hide all sorts of useful things, mostly famously razor blades, which come quite in handy — no pun intended — when she finds herself in the middle of a catfight with some grabby prostitutes. Coffy, as played by the charming and stunningly gorgeous Pam Grier, is like the prototype of the woman Gina Carano plays in “Haywire” — beautiful, deadly, kicked around by men, and on a righteous quest for revenge. Though Grier spends a fair amount of the film nude and/or in bed with an assortment of male co-stars, director Jack Hill is actually using the framework of an exploitation film to tell a story of feminine empowerment, of a woman who uses her sexuality to her advantage, and whose enemies are all symbols of patriarchal power: pimps, cops, and, politicians.

“La Femme Nikita” (1990)
Directed by Luc Besson

A secret government agency trains a junkie and convicted cop killer (Anne Parillaud) how to be an assassin — and how to be a lady. Their classes include marksmanship, computer hacking, and grooming. “There are two things that are infinite,” Nikita’s etiquette teacher instructs her. “Femininity and means to take advantage of it.” After her training is complete, Nikita tries to balance her secret life as a deadly spy and her domestic life with a simple grocery clerk with mixed results, a nifty metaphor for the dilemma facing modern working women everywhere. Keeping the personal and the professional apart proves just as difficult as kidnapping an ambassador and stealing his secret files. The film is episodic and almost feels like the pilot of an ongoing television series, so it’s no surprise that there have already been two different “Nikita” television series.

“The Heroic Trio” (1993)
Directed by Johnnie To

This Hong Kong superhero flick gets major demerits for dodgy wirework and a laughable plot (the version available on Netflix Watch Instantly also sports some absolutely horrendous English language dubbing). But that doesn’t change the fact that it also boasts one of the greatest assemblages of woman warriors in movie history. Super-powered Shadow Fox (Anita Mui), and shotgun-toting biker chick Mercy (Maggie Cheung) team up to rescue a bunch of kidnapped babies from the hands of an evil sorcerer who wants to use them to bring about the resurrection of who the hell knows. Eventually, Shadow Fox and Mercy combine forces with the sorcerer’s right hand lady, The Invisible Woman (Michelle Yeoh) and then all three have some absolutely spectacular fight scenes with the movie’s heavy, a flying guillotine toting nutjob played by Anthony Wong. The Trio represent both beauty and brawn; after they win their climactic battle, they grab some flowing robes and do a slow-motion catwalk strut into the closing credits.

“Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2” (2003 and 2004)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

The movie with so much asskickery it had to be split in two parts, first released in the fall of 2003 and the spring of 2004, respectively. Uma Thurman’s The Bride is betrayed and left to die on her wedding day by the rest of her squad of professional assassins; over the course of Quentin Tarantino’s two-part revenge saga, she ferociously repays the favor. “Kill Bill” is, in some ways, the apotheosis of Tarantino’s film quotation aesthetic — the movie’s IMDb movie connections page is almost as long as its screenplay. It combines themes, visuals, and motifs from all these other wonderful female action films — including “Thriller: A Cruel Picture,” “Switchblade Sisters,” and “The Doll Squad” — to create an experience that is arguably more fun than all of its influences combined.

What’s your favorite chick (action) flick? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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