Miss-ed Opportunities: Girls Who Should Have Had Guns…

I have lost count of the number of movies in which I’ve been disappointed by the female characters. Often they seemed to be added as an afterthought, a “love interest” for the hero, or just as eye candy. In particular, there is a shortage of them in action movies: it’s strange that, so often, an all powerful crime boss is expected to live the life of a monk. But even when all the elements are put in place, there are many that then proceed to mess up the climax. At the other end of the scale, are films where the characters are completely wrong for the situation in which they are placed.

To illustrate these points, I have taken a closer look at four films, and come up with alternative scenes, characters or sequences which might have been an improvement. Although as they were made, they were all a personal disappointment to me, I should say that I have seen worse, and selected them to make a point, rather than to put them down. At least they tried

Wild Wild West (1999)
Don’t just stand there, do something!

Before getting on to the actions – or rather, the lack – of the female lead in this movie, I feel it only fair to say, she was not the main problem. That dubious honour goes to a plot, which was so lame that if it had been a horse, it would have been shot. And while they were in the process of rewriting the script, particular attention could then have been paid to the part played by Selma Hayek. Because, to me it’s ridiculous to have a female lead in an action movie, whose only purpose seems to be standing around and looking decorative. She should be a participant in the action, not a spectator, but at no time in this endeavour did she fire a gun, ride a horse or fight anybody. She was there solely for the two male leads to argue over, and show off her underwear…OK, not totally a bad thing, but there were some bad girls too, equally underemployed. With only a little imagination, a revised version could have a scene something like this:

Our intrepid trio are riding along on horseback and get ambushed. They dive for cover as the bullets start flying. The men return fire and exchange words to the effect that since there are four attackers, they are outnumbered two to one. They are interrupted by the crash of a gun firing just behind them, and a cry of pain, as a bad guy bite the dust. They turn to see Selma holding a rifle, and she says calmly, “I don’t why you’re complaining about the odds. By my count, it’s three against three.”

Simple but effective. Instead, this movie demonstrates what happens when the producers concentrate more on special effects than they do on telling a story. This can only result in characters that are not used to their full potential.

Austin Powers: Goldmember (2002)
Where’s the bad girl?

The original was fine, but by the third, I was getting tired of the recycled jokes. The one thing I did like, however, was the inclusion of Beyonce as Austin’s partner, Foxxy Cleopatra, and I would like to have seen more of her and less of Mike Myers [I admire the man’s talent, but the novelty of playing both hero and villain does wear off eventually]. On a more specific note, I found Dr Evil was starting to get really irritating, and the inclusion of a bad girl might have helped, giving somebody else to bounce jokes off. And there was no shortage of suitable candidates: when the audience was first introduced to Goldmember, beautiful girls surrounded him, and I have never understood why he didn’t take one of them with him.

She should, of course, be an active participant in the action sequences. This would be more important than great acting talent, as the entire series involves overacting and hamming it up, rather than trying for an Oscar. It’d give scope for things such as her and Foxxy having a running-gag, in which they compete as to who can hide the biggest gun in the sexiest outfit. [See Undercover Brother for an example of what can be done] An increase in Beyonce’s part is certainly something that many would welcome: she has real potential as an action heroine and I hope, someday, gets a part that gives her a better chance to show her talents. I don’t really care if she plays the good girl or bad girl – just so long as there is one of each

Torque (2004)
If they’re going to fight, get it right.

I rather enjoyed this movie. It is a lighthearted, testosterone-fuelled, action flick that has no pretensions about being anything else, is full of stunts and, apart from the ending, delivered everything it promised. Early on in the film, there is a confrontation between Shane (Monet Mazur) and China (Jaime Pressly). It’s apparent that they are ordained enemies and their mutual hatred is personal, going far beyond them being the respective girlfriends of the hero and chief villain. It’s made clear to the audience that by the end of the movie, there will be a reckoning between them. This is definitely something to look forward to, as they are beautiful and physically well matched.

And so it comes to pass. At the end of the movie, the villains get busted; China makes a break for it, jumps on a motorcycle and rides off. Shane also mounts up and goes after her. So far, so good, but this is when it starts to get goofy. For some strange reason, they try to have a martial arts fight from the back of their bikes. Unfortunately this just doesn’t work on any level, and I would have liked it done a lot differently.

First of all, they both would have grabbed guns before riding off – this makes more sense. They would have started firing at each other while riding, perhaps ending when Shane shoots out the bad girl’s back tire. Abandoning her bike, China is now able to aim more effectively and nearly takes out her pursuer. Sliding to a stop, the good girl ducks for cover, and resumes what is now a running gun battle. Shane chases her rival down and traps her. With nowhere to run, China prepares to make her last stand, when something almost unheard of in action movies happens: her gun runs out of ammo.

Shane advances from behind cover, her own gun aimed at her rival, smiling happily as she says, “Give it up, bitch. It’s over now, and I don’t want to have to shoot you.” China sneers at her foe, drops to a fighting crouch and clenches her fists as she replies. “Well, in that case put the gun down and try and take me without it, if you have the guts.” This suits our good girl just fine. She has no desire to shoot an unarmed foe, but likes the idea of beating her up…

The two actresses concerned did some of the film fight themselves, and would likely have welcomed the chance to do more. They had some martial arts training for their roles so a reasonable skill level could be expected. Ideally it would not be a classic martial arts fight, but an all-out, back alley brawl. Mazur and Jamie should have been given the opportunity to put on a great fight, getting back to basics.

A quick side-note. Too often, film-makers forget that the human face is the most expressive part of us. A display of emotion can be used to draw the audience into the fight, and make a commitment into caring who wins. This is especially so when a girl is fighting as a hero: you feel her pain as her enemy lands a blow, will her on as she strains for dominance, and enjoy with her the fierce pleasure of victory. This is something difficult to do when using stuntwomen, for obvious reasons: I have a lot of admiration for them, but feel in many cases they should stay in the background, helping with the fight chorography.

Troy (2004)
Sorry, Homer – they lost the plot.

The inclusion of this particular movie will surprise many, but think along the lines of, “girls who should have been armed and dangerous”, and I will explain. The movie’s publicity proudly claims that it is “inspired by Homer’s Iliad” – rather than based on – and the differences are too numerous to list here. So I’ll concentrate on those affecting my own topic.

Three of the strongest characters in the Iliad are female. It is the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite who set the whole thing off, by arguing and then fighting over, a present addressed to “the most beautiful goddess” of them all. Zeus, all-powerful King of the Gods intervenes but is not prepared to pick a winner. The reason why is quite simple: he’s not stupid. He knows that the two he doesn’t pick, will resent it and even the most powerful being on the planet has no desire to face the fury of two such formidable females.

In a manoeuvre worthy of a politician, he delegates the decision to somebody else. Paris gets the job and all three try to bribe him. He chooses Aphrodite, who offers him any woman he wants, over the other two who only offer him power over men. He wants Helen, so she organises it – and from then on the mortals are part of a giant war game as the gods and goddesses interfere with what is happening on Earth.

[This is of course a very brief summary and will probably offend any scholar reading it! But it won’t matter to the filmmakers, since they eliminated the whole thing and started with the humans having free will. Hence, when things go wrong, it can no longer be blamed on “the will of the gods.” With all the powerful female characters eliminated, the ones left should step up to fill the void. The game is still on, but they are no longer pawns – they are queens, and should act accordingly. Not doing so, results in what I consider to be an absurd situation. Helen puts her own personal happiness over that of the fate of nations, but is not portrayed as being arrogant. You gotta be kidding – as Homer probably wouldn’t have said.

Then there is also Andromache, wife of Prince Hector to consider. She has a wonderful life until Helen arrives at Troy. Her husband will be the next King of Troy, she will be its Queen, and they have a baby they both love. But because of Helen, her husband is killed, Troy is destroyed and she and baby are forced to flee in fear of their lives. Despite this, not once in the whole movie does she get the least bit annoyed with the person responsible. I just don’t see how any woman destined to rule could be that much of a wimp. I think their first meeting should have been a moment of high dramatic tension – something which in the movie is sadly lacking.

At the welcome home reception, eyes meet across a crowded room, and it’s hate at first sight. Helen is being shunned by the women of Troy and knows she must deal with their leader. Unlike the others, Andromache does not turn from her gaze, but stares back defiantly. Slowly, menacingly. Helen moves towards the Trojan Princess. Hands on hips and eyes locked with those of her approaching nemesis, Andromache stands her ground – if the Spartan Queen is looking for a fight, she won’t need a map. It is Helen who speaks first. “How dare you treat me like this, Housewife of Hector. I demand the respect that I deserve.” “That is exactly what you are getting, Helen of Whores. You are not welcome here,” replies Andromache.

The Queen of Troy intervenes, reminding them that royalty does not brawl in public. They are both members of the same sisterhood and should take their dispute to the temple of their order. The girls agree and that night after suitable ritual and ceremony they duel with daggers, bare to the waist, until blood is spilt. After a spirited struggle between the two well-matched rivals, Helen overpowers her foe but chooses to deliver a small cut rather than a death thrust. The two fighters now have a mutual respect for each other and at the end of the movie, arm themselves with swords, and fight their way, back to back, out of the doomed city.

Okay, while this might be truer to the spirit of the original, I am prepared to concede that this version might be a little extreme for many, and that a compromise scenario would be needed for a mainstream audience. However, I’m sure that Diane Kruger and Saffron Burrows, the two actresses involved, would certainly have preferred some meaty dialogue. I found no indication from their body language that that they like each other, and may have welcomed the chance to get physical.

In addition, I also found their big scene together, after Hector is killed, most unrealistic. This is when Helen (Kruger) tries to comfort a sobbing Andromache (Burrows), although the logical person to comfort her is the Queen, who has just lost her son. I think most women in that situation would be more interested in clobbering the person responsible with a sword rather than getting a hug from them. There was a coldness about the embrace that suggested to me that they knew it was all wrong – and perhaps they would rather have fought.

On a more positive note I have seen many action movies in which a male/female partnership has worked well. This is especially true, if there is a chemistry between them, such as the combination of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner back in the 1980’s. Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile have a special, timeless quality about them, that also applies to my favourite movie of this genre, True Lies. While action packed from start to finish, it has enough humour in it to lighten the mayhem, so that it isn’t taken too seriously. Although it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, I put a lot of its success down to having Jamie Lee Curtis (good girl) and Tia Carrera (bad girl), as his two leading ladies – not that there was anything very ladylike about the way they fought over a gun in the back of the limo!

Nor am I trying to suggest that this sort of movie is a thing of the past. I enjoyed the recent Van Helsing, and thought that Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale worked well together. In the near future I intend to see National Treasure with Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger in the starring roles. So far I have only seen the trailer, but I have already seen her involved in more action than the whole of Troy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, pretty much brings me full circle, right back to missed opportunities.

Duel in the Desert: the aftermath

The communiques below were written by the two sides which took part in a somewhat abortive roller derby match in November 2004 at Glendale Arena. For a report on the game, please see here – you’d really be better off reading that first!

Alotta Trouble’s response

Alotta whizzes past a fallen T-bird [Photo courtesy Wayne Kuban] Okay, so here’s what REALLY happened. Sorry I took so long. As you can imagine, I’ve not had much time to sit at my desk lately. Also, this is a very long letter, but I promise, it contains tons of interesting information.

For the last few months, the Landsharks and I have been training hard. We’ve been waking up at obscene hours and staying late nights training for a bout we hoped and expected to be a tough match. Over these past months, our team became a very close, tight knit, cohesive unit. We are all in the best shape of our lives. We cross trained at skate parks, in rinks, on our track, in the gym, and any other way we could think of (Camelback Mountain, swimming, you name it). Dave Martinez came out from California to work with us on tricks,stunts and how to correctly skate the track. We really stuck together and created a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile, back at the office, we were in full production of our event at the Glendale Arena. **Side note: Originally, we were going to have the bout at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds, but Glendale made us a smokin’ offer we couldn’t refuse. And who wouldn’t rather play in such a fancy house?

In almost daily conversations with TBird manager, Tim Olague, I was assured that the TBirds would be tough competition and threatened that we would most likely loose. From the beginning, I was frank and clear about the new style of Roller Derby we play. (Which is ironically more like the earliest versions of the game, before it was staged.) I made sure that Tim knew how we play.

** For those who don’t know much about new school Rollergirls, our game is played for real. We do not choreograph or plan a winner. We play tough, fast and hard. We keep our fighting to a minimum and do not pull cheap shots like tripping, hair pulling, punching, etc. Our game is a sport. We train like athletes. We use body and hip checking combined with skillful jumps, turns, whips and other moves. Our bouts are full on athletic competitions between tough, sexy women who take their game seriously.

So, for the past few months, Tim has been telling me that the “TBirds New Line-up” played in our vein. He said that they practiced together 3-4 times a week on Lou Sanchez’s banked track and later on their own banked track in their own training facility that was equipped with T.V. cameras and all kinds of multimedia equipment. He told me that they had new uniforms and a street team who were out all the time at events and getting press. Tim told me that he had all kinds of pictures and footage that I could use to add to our marketing…funny, no matter how many times I asked, he never produced. He promised me that with his connections to the Hispanic media, his girls would do interviews and appearances for the Hispanic community (who historically love Roller Derby). Tim told me that he had an Arizona Gaminglicensee and would place ads with the Native American Casinos and send his street team to pump them up. But most importantly, he assured me that the new TBirds were playing the Rollergirl game. In fact, he said that some of his girls were also Derby Dolls. NOTHING TIM OLAGUE SAID WAS TRUE. And because of his negligence, some very nice girls and women were unwittingly placed in a very dangerous situation.

Game day: The TBirds arrive at the Arena hours after we do and take the track for a work-out. Of course, we were up in the stands spying on them. L.A.’s posse consisted of 5 veterans over the age of 40 who had only played the staged version of the game. They also had 3 rookies who were teen-agers from the local skating rink. They also brought some of the rink’s jam/rhythm skating dudes along for color. They did not look like much competition, but the younger skaters were talking so much smack about their “incredible speed” that we went with it.

As the day went on, I got to talk to some of the teen-agers. They were nice kids. They told me that they had practiced together a few times, maybe 6 or 7 on the flat rink. Only Robyn Foster had been on the banked track and only a few times. They told me that they had never practiced all together as a team with the veterans. They said that Tim Olague had promised them a resort hotel and SUV’s to go around town in as well as new skates and new wheels. He told them they would be eating out in nice restaurants and get all kinds of cash. Needless to say, Tim came through with none of these promises. In fact, he had told the teen-agers that this would be a fixed game and not to worry.

Just before the game, I got together with Vicki McEwan, TBird Capt., Veteran Ref Don Lastra, New local Ref Mike Edwards and Tim Olague to discuss rules. We went over the basics… which are pretty universal and agreed that this would be a competitive game with no pre-determined winner. However, Mike, Don and I were all under the impression that Tim had filled Vicki and all the other vets in on our new, evolved style. He had not. Tim told them that we were playing their style minus the pre-determined winner.

Game time: Go Go Liz went out on the first jam. Well, we all know she is “the fastest derby girl in the west”. It was immediately evident that the TBirds were out gunned. After 90 seconds, they were winded and had trouble lining up for the 2nd jam within our allotted 7 seconds. Mayhemily went out on the second jam and was sacked by Stephanie Garcia who proceeded to pull Mayhemily kicking and screaming across the track on the floor by the hair. The refs and several Sharks worked at pulling Garcia off her and when they finally managed to, Garcia clutched a handful of Mayhemily’s hair. I took the 3rd jam. During this jam, I was put in a head-lock by 2 TBirds (I think one of them was Garcia) at the same time. Garcia also grabbed my dress at the neck line and pulled along as I skated. As the first period went on, I was kicked in the back of the knees, my hair and uniform pulled and my arms and legs were grabbed. The TBirds turned almost every jam into a totally stupid looking fake fight. Meanwhile, they were becoming so winded that they could barely line up between jams. By the 2nd period, the out of shape TBirds were taking their seats as much as they could. It was like all they knew how to do was taunt and cause fights.

Half Time: We were informed that the TBirds would not be returning for the 2nd 1/2. My husband Patrick (who built and owns our track) and I along with the refs went to the TBird dressing room to try to keep the game going. They accused us of committing all the fouls that they were so outrageously committing. The young girls said there was no way they would come back and get beat up. Sooooo, I went back out on the floor and challenged the dudes! Supposedly, the male entourage were all skaters, so bring ’em on! Well, that was a no go, they didn’t want to get spanked either.

Finally, the older women agreed to come out and finish what was left of the game. We all know the final score. There were about 1000 people in attendance, no thanks to the rain. We had over 100 people at the meet and greet and were lucky to make tons of new Derby fans. The crowd response was tremendous! We are only sorry that it was at the expense of some very nice people who, in his greed and negligence, Tim Olague really took advantage of.

The next day: Go Go Liz and I flew to California with Ref Don and Dave Martinez to play the Ralphie Valladarez game with the old schoolers. I was put on the Texas Outlaws and Go Go on the L.A. Stars. Ironically, my team Capt. was Stephanie Garcia. Several of the women who had played in AZ the night before were playing this game as well. Go Go and I went into it with the attitude that we were going to learn THEIR game. We were going to do what they told us to and just have fun. My team was AWESOME! They let me jam a whole bunch and get involved in lots of choreography. Sadly, Go Go’s team was not so cool to her. She was treated like an outsider and spoken down to. By the end, I was having a great time and she was fed up and bored. Really, we wanted to play with the men. Their game was much cooler than the womens’.(More than one Californian also told me that Tim was claiming our track belonged to him.)

Anyway, I could go on and on, but I still don’t feel like I even got a work-out. While both games were fun, it is evident that Roller Derby will not be held back. Young, strong athletes have risen to the occasion and evolved a game that has been stuck. Held back by the constraints of choreography. Performed by clowns. It’s time to move on…I can’t wait to play more Landsharks games with REAL competition. Somebody, please, come knock my ass down!

Feel free to send me any questions. I sure have learned a lot in the past few months. Believe me, this story could go on and on. I know one thing though, I love Roller Derby in all its forms and will SUPPORT ALL LEAGUES!

Alotta Trouble
PHX Landsharks #911

P.S. Martines…thanks for all your help and encouragement. You are the man!

But wait! There’s more! The T-birds who were the visiting team then issued this press release…

An Official Response From The LA T-BIRDS

The LA T-BIRDS lodged a protest with Patrick Sheehan, the AZ contractor who designed and built the track, after he stormed into the T-BIRDS locker room full of half-clad women and stated, verbatim: “I put 80 (explicate) thousand dollars into this game and I will tell Celeste Cooper she cannot (explicate) cheat!”

Celeste Cooper then skated awkwardly (her natural, duck-like style) into the locker room and her “boyfriend” Patrick yelled at her (According to Patrick, Celeste is “only” is “girfriend” and not his wife, a comment he made to the beautiful T-BIRDS women after the game). Patrick told Celeste Cooper, “Celeste, I know now that you can’t (explicate) cheat!”

Thereafter, Tim Olague, spoke through the public address system, which was videotaped. Under the condition of protest and with the understanding that the Landsharks would stop cheating, the T-BIRDS agreed to skate the second-half under protest against Celeste Cooper, the promoter of the event, whose name is on the contract she signed with the T-BIRDS.

Recognizing that there is no official governing body which oversees inter league games, we may likely see the courts hosting some more bouts between these two teams. In addition, criminal assault charges may result out of outright unsportswomen-like criminal attacks by Celeste Cooper’s hired hands, her so-called AZ Landsharks team. After all, the NHL endorses criminal assault charges when one player ‘blindsides’ another, hits them with a stick, or God-forbid, strikes an opponent with a skate.

As for the game, first and foremost, the Landsharks did not skate by their own rules. Several witnesses who were at the so-called game had to endure a repetitive and silly video explaining the rules of the AZ Landsharks, not Roller Derby. According, to the Landsharks’ own rules, as demonstrated in the video, several obvious unnecessary roughness-type tactics, outright assaults, would not be tolerated. In addition, Celeste Cooper provided the T-BIRDS with a list of the AZ rules, which Landsharks completely ignored during the first half.

In fact, the video tape of the game, which Celeste Cooper is contractually obligated to produce, unedited, to the T-BIRDS organization, shows such assaults as pushing from behind, skating across the infield to ‘blind side’ a T-BIRDS skater, and kicking downed opponents in the head with a roller skate. To protect their personal safety, the T-BIRDS women elected to skate under protest in the first half by “allowing” Celeste Cooper’s team to skate past them. After all, there were children in the crowd whose parents told them they were going to see a Roller Derby game, not “ultimate fighting,” which is illegal in AZ. So the video will indeed be telling.

Additionally, the predominately T-BIRDS fans at the game (who couldn’t resist the traditional chant, “T-BIRDS, T-BIRDS”) spoke with their favorite T-BIRDS skaters during half-time, both in person and through cel-phones, proclaiming, “These AZ women do not know how to skate, when they fall down, they kick you with their skates, and when your not looking, they ‘blind-side’ you. This is not Roller Derby. Celeste Cooper skates like an awkward monkey.” [Note: I was at the game, and can state categorically, and without doubt, that the fans were not “predominately T-BIRDS”. Knowing this for a fact, severely damages the T-Birds’ credibility, with regard to their report of other events.]

Second, the track itself was unfinished. Indeed, at this very moment, Celeste Cooper, perhaps knowing that the man who denies her existence as his wife, permitted her skaters to use roller rink “toe-stomps.” Much of the video will show, T-BIRDS women skating on a NEGLIGENTLY designed track upon which Celeste Cooper contractees have to use their toe-stomps, since the track was way-too slippery for Roller Derby.

And that Rope for a rail? Again the videos exist, so do the many photographs, taken by T-BIRDS personnel. Patrick Sheehan is now convinced that he NEGLIGENTLY designed a dangerous track and contributed to the many injuries which will soon be made public. That’s why the man that denies Celeste Cooper’s existence as his wife has decided to “upgrade” his track and provide wooden rails, as opposed to ropes. The AZ Landsharks also had a move called, “rope her,” a haughtingly throwback to the days of lynching.

Robyn Foster, Denise Green and Pam Schwab were told by Patrick Sheehan that Celeste Cooper is not his wife. In other words, he totally denied his existence as a husband to a woman that the fans proclaim, skates like a “Chimp.” No doubt Patrick Sheehan is ashamed of Celeste Cooper and, moreover, was trying to “pickup” on T-BIRDS women.

As ultimate liars, the Landsharks had a chance to be honest just today. Tim Olague personally called Patrick Sheehan to advise him that he is aware of his “girlfriend’s Celeste” slanderous and libelous “spin” on the game. Tim Olague told Patrick Sheehan that the T-BIRDS spin would reflect reality, and that controversy is good for the game resulting in ticket sales.

However, when asked about the tape contractually agreed upon, which will show the UNPROFESSIONAL and NEGLIGENT skating of a bunch of stocky chicks that look unattractive in mini-dresses, Patrick Sheehan claimed Celeste Cooper owed money and she did not have a tape. Both the Glendale Arena and the TV crew at the game agree that Patrick Sheehan and Celeste Cooper received a copy of the tape the night of the game.

Under contract to receive the unedited version of the tape, Patrick Sheehan and Celeste Cooper, “friends” in Patrick’s eyes, “spouses” in Celeste’s, have undeniably elected to stomp like chimps and other ground-foraging creatures about the madness. The T-BIRDS predict, that Patrick Sheehan and Celeste Cooper shall never produce a tape because they know their team violated their own rules and are “True Losers.”

So when the bout resumes in the courtroom, we’ll hear more about Breach of Contract, Negligence, and Criminal Assault, not to mention Libel, Slander, and Tortious Interference with a Contract. The T-BIRDS record in a Federal Courtroom is well-known. Since the Celeste Cooper resides in AZ and she has engaged in interstate tortious activities, she’ll likely be summoned in accordance with Federal Jurisdiction.

Duel in the Desert

Typical. Wait ages for one roller-derby league, then two start up almost after each other. Back in June, we wrote about AZ Roller Derby, but a schism arose almost immediately, disenchanted skaters breaking off into the Renegade Rollergirls. A third group also peeled off in another direction. The reasons are not relevant: here, we don’t take sides, especially if it increases our opportunities for femayhem. Regardless, almost-certainly-not-coincidence, two of these three had their first interstate bouts within a week of each other. [While some Renegade Rollergirls took part in the second of these, it wasn’t run by them – their debut is currently scheduled for January] Here’s a comparison shoppers’ guide to events…

November 6th, Surfside Skateland, Tempe. The original federation got their skates on first, sending out an all-star team selected from the home players, called the Tent City Terrors – the name is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to local sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is nationally known…either for being tough on criminals or an incompetent publicity-whore who relies on gimmicks, depending on your viewpoint. Their opponents were the Texas Rollergirls, a group who split off last year from BGGW/TXRD; they came to take on the Phoenix ladies on Saturday, then were going down to Tucson for a match again a southern Arizona all-star team on Sunday.

The venue for the first bout was Surfside Skateland, a place with both benefits and limitations: you can get very close to the action, but it’s not designed for spectator sports, and the only seating was three rows of folding chairs at each end of the rink. If you didn’t get there early, audience members either have to stand or sit on the floor down in front. And if you opt for the latter, you might end up with a roller-derby girl flying into your lap – I leave it to the reader to decide whether this is good! On the definite-plus side, concessions are cheap: a bottle of water is only a buck, where they were also offering $2 beers. However, I didn’t bother, since with it being an all-ages show and a small venue, you can’t take your beer back to your seat, but have to drink it in the designated area. Of the two MC’s providing colour commentary and announcements, one seemed to think that the louder he bellowed into the mic, the better it was: he was wrong. We were far from the only people cramming fingers into our ears and wishing for a high-velocity rifle.

This match consisted of three 20-minute periods, with bands providing entertainment during the intermision. I’m aware of AZRD’s origins on azpunk.com, and roller derby’s close ties to the music scene (which appear almost compulsory nationwide). But it still feels like a clumsy mix, and few people seemed the slightest bit concerned when a power outage brought the second set to a premature close. There was also a half-time raffle for sponsors’ goody-bags – the same guy won about three, making for a good investment!

As for the game itself…we got our butts kicked. The visiting girls were simply faster and tougher, as well as more experienced (roller derby in Texas dates back to TXRD’s creation in 2001), and this disparity was painfully clear from about five minutes in. The first brawl saw AZ captain Ivanna Spankin left looking for the number of the truck that just hit her, and by the end of twenty minutes, Arizona was behind 42-18. This huge lead rendered the rest of the contest almost irrelevant: the two other periods were closer, but by the end, Texas had racked up a three-figure point tally too large for the scoreboard to handle, winning 102-60.

This was a little embarrassing, especially since cameras from the Game Show Network were there to capture the event. However, it’s about par for Phoenix: last season, our baseball, hockey, NFL and basketball teams all ended up near-last in their leagues, so we’re getting pretty used to defeat here. :-( [The Texas team then went down to Tucson, and did a number on them too, 110-70] We were left hoping for a better showing two weeks down the line, when our local heroines were flying out to Austin, to take on the Lone Star ladies on their home turf, but still had an enjoyable evening.

November 12th, Glendale Arena. The following Friday, the Phoenix Landsharks took on the LA Thunderbirds at Glendale Arena. Originally built as a home for the Phoenix Coyotes ice-hockey team, this cost $180m and seats up to 18,000. However, with the current NHL lockout, there are suddenly a lot of blank dates to fill. Hence the unexpected presence of roller derby, with advance predictions of up to 5,000 in attendance – which I have to say, seemed more than a little optimistic.

We got tickets through a contact at the Coyotes (thanks, Marissa!) for $15; if we’d gone through Ticketbastard, and paid the “building facility charge”, “convenience charges” and “order processing fee”, a single ticket would have been $26.40. We battled our way across town, through both rush-hour traffic and torrential rain, and saw the arena rising up in the middle of nowhere – while it’ll eventually be the centre of a whole complex, for the moment, it’s a long drive if you want a restaurant. As is, you pay stadium prices ($3.75 for a bottle of water), but can take beer to your seat.

It’s the first time we’ve been there, since we’re not hockey fans – actually, we used to go to Phoenix Mustangs’ games, we’re just not NHL ticket price fans. But I digress. It’s an impressive venue, with good sightlines and plenty of space: we settled in, a few rows from the front with no trouble [the crowd was nearer 500 than 5,000] The first difference from AZRD was obvious: a banked track. As an engineering feat, it certainly beat two strands of ropelights duct-taped to the floor, though I have to say, it looked a little dangerous. The outside barrier was a rope running around pillars (see photo), and that was all there was to prevent a skater flying off, and onto the unyielding concrete floor.

As we waited, promo videos played on the scoreboard, an enormous device hung from the ceiling like a cannon on the Death Star. Bonus points for production values on these films, which explained the rules and introduced the players, as well as promos for their sponsors: Dickies, the Platinum Girlz promotional company, etc. We learned they were calling the venue ‘The Shark Tank’, which is a catchy name, and that the rules were basically the same; the only major difference was there’d be four periods, each of ten 90-second jams, rather than three twenty-minute periods. On the downside, there was no program, and merchandise was limited to one design of T-shirt. One wonders perhaps how quickly this event had been scheduled.

Generally, though: so far, so good. The two teams came out, were introduced to the crowd (Phoenix were missing their captain, Anita Cocktail, with a torn rotator cuff), and battle commenced. Which is where things got weird. For from about two jams in, it was clear that something odd had happened. Any semblance of competitive edge vanished from the LA team quicker than air leaving a burst balloon. Arizona scored four points; then five; then four more. They won the first period 25-3, and the second by an almost equally wide margin; we also saw one thunderous body check which, save for the quick actions of one cameraman, would have propelled a Thunderbird head-first out of the track onto floor. The body language and apathy of the visitors clearly showed they were extremely pissed-off about something. But what?

During the halftime interval, we were entertained by cheerleaders and a display of swordfighting. The latter was kinda lame, but the cheerleading was acrobatic, though for some reason, as they hurled each other fifteen feet in the air above the bare concrete, all I could think of was the sound of necks snapping like twigs. All told, at least it wasn’t mediocre bands, so we’ll take it. The home team came out, and we waited for the LA Thunderbirds to return. And we waited. And waited. Finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing, their captain came out and launched into a tirade complaining about the track being waxed, and unacceptable. This didn’t seem to make much sense – the home team had no obvious problems skating – and I wondered if this was all some carefully worked angle to try and generate some heat. Except, if it was, it made little sense, and wasn’t very well executed.

Finally, after about a 40 minute delay, mutterings from LA about injuries, and amid threats of the whole team being suspended from play for a year, enough Thunderbirds came back to skate a few lacklustre jams, to give the bout some semblance of closure (the final score was round about 66-6). I’ve not had any official explanation, but I subsequently heard that a lot of the LA team were veterans of the old-school of roller derby – we did note they lacked the florid skating names of the Phoenix team – where the action was more choreographed, and were expecting something similar here. When they didn’t get it, they were peeved; if you imagine two combatants, one anticipating a pillow fight, the other a full-contact karate bout, you can get an idea of the situation.

It was rather disappointing – and hence the advantage is clearly with the AZRD, as far as the Phoenix roller derby scene goes. Though I don’t blame the Landsharks themselves for the chaotic events; they handled themselves with dignity and can clearly skate. If the above story is indeed the case, the fault is partly with the Thunderbirds (when AZRD were getting their asses kicked, they tried harder), and partly whoever it was that set the bout up, without ensuring the two sides were playing the same game. I do think, however, that starting at an 18,000 seat arena was a mistake. Selling out a 300-seat venue would have been more effective at generating buzz, and Saturday night’s events may actually have set back roller derby in Phoenix more than they helped.

The above piece probably generated more feedback and interest than any article in gwg.org history. :-) We subsequently received an email from Celeste Cooper (a.k.a. Alotta Trouble, captain of the Landsharks), giving their side of the story, while the T-Birds issued a press release. Here are both. Most bizarrely of all, at the time of writing this footnote – November 22nd – the T-Birds website says they have accepted a Landsharks offer of a rematch in January. This again raises the possibility the whole thing was artificially fabricated to generate ‘heat’ and foment a rivalry. I’m still not convinced this is the case, however – if so, it was one of the most badly-bungled angles I’ve seen in all my years of watching ‘sports entertainment’. 28th November: Alotta Trouble denies any such rematch is scheduled, though the T-Birds website still says otherwise. At this point, I throw up my hands in bemusement, and move on…

Oh, and two weeks later, Texas completed their sweep over Arizona in the Austin matches, beating Tucson 79-38, and Phoenix 72-51.

The Twins Effect II


“Film with the trajectory of a ski race; starts off high, goes downhill fast.”

I liked, and enjoyed the original film, and at first, this seems to have a great chance at surpassing it. The opening fight between our two heroines, one (Choi) a slave-trader, the other (Chung) an enforcer for the Empress, is a masterpiece that combines wire-work, CGI and gimmickry – camerawork from Azumi and what looks like a mutant Klingon batleth – to fabulous (if not fully convincing) effect. All this in a mythical kingdom where women rule, and men are reduced to “dumbbells”, while the cast includes both Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. Even if the connection to the original is tenuous at best, the potential here doesn’t need to be specified.

However, it all goes horribly wrong. Our heroines team up with a pair of jackasses, appropriately named Blockhead (Chen) and Charcoal Head (the talentless Fong, present only because he’s Jackie Chan’s son), and their presence sucks the life from proceedings. One of them – but nobody knows which one – is the ‘Star of Rex’, a future ruler who can defeat the evil empress (Qu Ying) with the aid of the sword, Excalibur. No, really; it must have been on loan from Camelot. As you can imagine, the film proceeds to implode with spectacular speed, a downward spiral that only briefly flattens for a duel between Yen and Chan – the former playing a character called ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. Oh, hold my aching sides. Even the finale is largely mundane, though the use of an icicle as a weapon by the empress did get our attention.

On the plus side, both Twins put in surprisingly solid performances – Choi, in particular, is much less irritating than before, though remains outshone by Chung. However, they still aren’t enough on their own to sustain a movie, despite the parade of celebrity cameos, especially when co-stars Chen and Fong are woefully short of the mark. With a $10.2 million budget, I just wish they’d spent a few more dollars on the script and some decent actors. Then, it might have lived up to the marvellous first fifteen minutes.

Dir: Patrick Leung, Corey Yuen
Star: Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung, Jaycee Fong, Wilson Chen Bo-Lin

Gun Crazy, Volume 1: The Woman From Nowhere


“Muroga reclaims for Japan, what Clint and Sergio borrowed in the 1960’s.”

If the inspiration for this one wasn’t clear, Goro Yasukawa’s score will soon enlighten you: Sergio Leone. A character with a mysterious past and equally obscure agenda comes into a lawless town, and kicks ass. For The Man With No Name and his horse, read Saki (Yonekura) and her Harley. Given that Leone basically ripped off Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo in A Fistful of Dollars to begin with, the irony is satisfying. She has come to Tsuson – surely a nod to Tucson, less than two hours down the dusty Arizona I-10 from where I write this – to take on Tojo (Tsurumi), the local mob boss, who commits his crimes with impunity from the safety of an American Air Force base. She gets his attention when she interferes with his robbery of a wages truck, and takes the money herself. The two had met previously, though Tojo doesn’t recognise Saki; you’ll probably work out the basic circumstances long before the film reveals them, but it does add a couple of unexpectedly nasty twists of the knife.

The Okinawan setting is interesting, given tension between US forces there and the locals, dating back to a 1995 incident when three servicemen raped a 12-year old girl. Hence, the scene where Yuki demolishes two leering US soldiers has an additional level of resonance for local viewers, and the tolerance of the Americans to a brutal thug on their territory become somewhat more explicable. Yonekura is impressive in her role, and Muroga wisely doesn’t bother to introduce any love interest; the film is barely an hour long, so there just wouldn’t be room. The inevitability of the final Suki-Tojo faceoff is perhaps only exceeded by its ludicrousness – the heroine expands the definition of “unarmed” to include other limbs too. However, for an obviously low-budget work, it’s busily energetic, and rarely slides much below entertaining.

Dir: Atsushi Muroga
Star: Ryoko Yonekura, Shingo Tsurumi, Takeshi Yamato, Takashi Ukaji