El Jardinero 2 (The Gardener 2)

starstarstarhalf

“Mexican lady mob boss runs out of steam, if not of costumes.”

Not seen part one? Never fear! Thanks to the magic of flashback, we see that Lilia Gallardo (Herrera) killed her husband, shot his son Pablo, and has now taken over their drug business. This is to the dismay of his men who, with typically Mexican machismo, feel a woman is unsuited to the role, and also Pablo, who is not dead, but is now recuperating on a nearby ranch, waiting his opportunity for revenge.

This starts in fine, trashy style. Lilia is bleached blonde, collagen-lipped, and has wildly inappropriate outfits from Sluts R Us. Her approach to treacherous henchmen is fully hands-on, not to mention fully-automatic, and transcends the lack of English subs on the DVD. The sexist bitching lends an authentic edge to the idea of a woman operating in a man’s world – and if you’re wondering, credit to Chris who translated for me, while rolling her eyes at Lilia’s clothes. Particularly the three-inch wide miniskirt…

Unfortunately, it gets bogged down and talky as things progress; the heroine recruits an assistant of somewhat alcoholic bent, and also gets involved with a South American Mr. Big. Meanwhile, Pablo is growing fond of the rancher’s daughter (Bernal), but she witnesses a shootout, and is captured by Lilia’s men. It’s all rather more plot than I wanted to see, and the hoped-for face-off between Bernal and Herrera fizzles, despite what seems like significant setting-up. You know it’s all heading towards a Pablo-Lilia showdown, and it’s giving nothing away to say that’s exactly where it ends, though even this comes off as something of a damp squib. Still, think we’ll be keeping an eye open for its predecessor.

Dir: Enrique Murillo
Star: Lorena Herrera, Eleazar Garcia, Claudia Bernal, Luis Reynoso

Don’t Play With Fire

starstarstarstarhalf

“A grim cinematic road-accident; hard to watch, yet harder to stop watching.”

This bleak, nihilist view of 1980’s Hong Kong ran into severe trouble with local censors, for its depiction of the colony as populated solely by violent brutes. Leading these is Pearl (Lin), a teenage girl who redefines the term “troubled”, and whose brother (Lo) is a cop with a short fuse. She witnesses a hit-and-run accident and browbeats the three kids involved into joining her in a relentlessly-escalating series of violent escapades. When they find themselves in possession of 800 million yen belonging to gun-smugglers, you just know things are going to go wrong. And they do: pointedly, Hark finishes the film with photos taken during the 1967 riots in the colony. Make of that what you will…

Right from the start, with Pearl sticking pins in the head of a mouse, the film doesn’t shy from depicting cruel behaviour, particularly towards animals, and there’s hardly a sympathetic character in the film. Pearl does at least have some justification for her lack of morality, and her attempts to weld her new “friends” into something like a team, or even a family are touchingly pathetic. At one point she suggests they’ll escape to Canada and live happily ever after, which is definitely not going to happen. However, the film swerves wildly around, leaping from plot to plot with little coherence, though censorship may explain why certain threads, such as the bombing campaign, seem especially underdeveloped.

Whether robbing a gang of Japanese tourists, or taking revenge on a banker who gave them bad information, Pearl is the lynch-pin who keeps the movie focused, and when she departs, the interest level drops noticeably. Still, if you’ve only seen Tsui’s subsequent, more fantastic films, the venomous realism will be a shock. Keep an eye out for him in an uncredited role as a toilet attendant(!), as well as fellow directors Ronnie Yu and Stephen Shin.

Dir: Tsui Hark
Stars: Lin Chen-chi, Lo Lieh, Albert Au, Paul Che
a.k.a. Dangerous Encounters of the 1st Kind

Monster (2003)

starstarstarstarhalf

“Powerful portrayal by Theron, but tells us little we didn’t know already.”

monsterGot to give Theron the credit she deserves here, especially since the biggest previous impression she made was probably her 2 Days in the Valley catfight with Teri Hatcher. Safe to say her performance here will lend that scene an extra chill, as she plays Aileen Wuornos, America’s best-known female serial killer, a roadside hooker who killed seven men before being caught and executed. The film depicts her life, from when she meets lesbian-wannabe Selby (Ricci), with both women looking desperately for affection of any kind. The two fall into a downward spiral; initially, Wuornos kills to escape a brutal client, but by the end, she’s doing it simply to get money and a car.

Despite Theron’s remarkable transformation – both psychological and physical – the movie seems hollow at its heart, not least because Ricci seems wildly miscast, stumbling around behind Wuornos like a bumbling puppy. Oddly, Wuornos’ real lesbian lover was a strawberry-redhead called Tyria Moore, so the film is clearly well off complete accuracy. This is perhaps for legal reasons: the dead can’t sue; the living can, and frequently do. While the film effectively ends with her capture, Nick Broomfield’s jaw-dropping documentary covers the later period of the case perfectly well.

The two central characters operate in a vacuum; there’s hardly anyone with more than one scene. As a result, the movie makes Wuornos out to be the victim of an incredibly hard life, yet an unexplained gulf still remains between that, her general hatred of humanity, and her multiple murders. While Theron’s performance is certainly worthy of praise, for a better look into the abyss, watch Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Dir: Patty Jenkins
Star: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

Wrestling Queen

starstarstar

“Great for wrestling fans, non-marks may be less impressed.”

Despite the title, and the fact that Vivian Vachon is the most featured wrestler, the portion of this film which has much to do with women’s wrestling is actually rather small. It’s more a general overview of wrestling and it’s fans, during a strangely innocent era (the early 1970’s), before Vince McMahon dominated, when it still worked to give the illusion of a genuine sport.

Vivian Vachon was one of thirteen children, and with two brothers already involved in pro wrestling, it was no surprise she followed them in. This film follows her on a tour of the States, but it also diverts into her family history, and has interviews with her relatives, fans, other wrestlers, promoters and, it seems, anyone else who happened to come within range of the cameras. There’s also a fair amount of wrestling action, but this is probably the weakest point of the film; it’s edited, removing any flow, but they also only have a single camera at ringside, often making it hard to see what’s going on.

The interviews, on the other hand, are fab, though I speak as an pro-wrestling enthusiast, and action femme enthusiasts will likely be less impressed. But I find characters like her brother Maurice ‘Mad Dog’ Vachon, endlessly interesting anyway; with a voice like Bluto, he made the leap from Olympic wrestling to the pro ring 40 years before Kurt Angle. Some of the fan insights are also priceless, not least the footage of them getting seriously carried away. As a documentary on wrestling, it’s thus a hit – as a feature on women’s wrestling, it’s less relevant, but anyone who has ever been embarrassed by what all too often passes for women’s wrestling in the WWF, will undoubtedly feel a sense of nostalgia for an era when it was every bit as legitimate as the male version.

Dir: Don Chaffey
Star: Vivan Vachon, Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, Andre the Giant