Superstarlet A.D.

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“Couldn’t put it better than the tagline: Apocalypse Meow!”

After civilization’s collapse, men have regressed to the level of Neanderthals, while women live in clans decided by their hair colour, with names like the FayWrays, Satanas and Tempests. Clothing is in short supply: lingerie, it would appear, is not, and nor are large, automatic weapons. Unsurprisingly, this leads perhaps to the finest opening five minutes in girls/guns cinema ever – “My name is Rachel, and I am a blonde. Blondes are extinct” – as our heavily-armed, suspender-and-stiletto clad heroines stagger round a post-apocalyptic landscape. This looks fabulous, and totally belies the fact that it cost $16,000 and was made in sixteen days.

Once the story kicks in, it’s less satisfactory, with a rambling tale involving brunette Naomi’s search for a long-lost stag film starring her grandmother. There are also a couple of utterly interminable musical numbers; whatever McCarthy’s talents (and he has a great visual sense), Rodgers and Hammerstein he most definitely is not. Mind you, it didn’t help that the actress playing Rachel quit two days in – as a result, McCarthy fabricated an “insanity” subplot, and used no less than seven different women to play the role.

In the end, 68 minutes is a blessing rather than a problem; this would likely have been intolerable at full feature length, despite great use of locations and (mostly b/w) photography. Instead, it’s a quirkily mad project that strongly suggests too much watching Russ Meyer films and hanging round strip-clubs – as one femme fatale says, “I pop pills like I pop culture.” Any similarity to how I mis-spent my own youth, is purely coincidental.

Dir: John Michael McCarthy
Star: Helen Heaven, Gina Velour, Kerine Elkins, Rita D’Albert

Savage Sisters

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“Bit of an exaggeration, but Fairly Unpleasant Sisters likely wouldn’t have sold.”

This Philippino phlick doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions, and is never quite sure whether it wants to be sexploitation or serious drama. The poster promises a lot more than the film actually delivers, which is a shame, as the performances from the three leading ladies are nicely judged – as well as refreshingly multicultural. Two of them (Caffaro and Ortiz, one Caucasian, the other “Oriental”) are sent to prison, but when their torturer (ex-Bond girl Hendry, who initially comes over almost like a Black Ilsa) discovers they may know the whereabouts of a million bucks in cash, she helps spring them, and the trio head off, along with a local hustler (Ashley).

Double-crosses abound, and it all ends in a massive gun-battle on the docks. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Black Mama, White Mama – also directed by Romero, and with Sid Haig as a slimeball – took a very similar route, two years previously. This is marginally more competent, though the attempts at comedy largely don’t work, and sit uneasily alongside the torture sequences, for example. But in the absence of Pam Grier, Hendry steps up nicely, in a role that could easily have been mere caricature, and delivers the right amount of amoral gung-ho.

Nobody’s going to mistake this for great art; even as exploitation, it’s not particularly…well, exploitative, earning its R-rating more through bad language than anything else. But it keeps moving, and is worth a look if you stumble across it on late-night cable.

Dir: Eddie Romero
Star: Gloria Hendry, Cheri Caffaro, Rosanna Ortiz, John Ashley

Bad Girls: season four

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“Back behind bars, and back on track.”

badgirls4The real strength of Bad Girls is the almost limitless possibilities of the scenario; if ever things are in danger of getting stale, it’s easy to lob in fresh characters to get the pot stirred up and create whatever angles you want. Exhibit A: new governor, Neil Grayling (Gadds), whose arrival gave the show a whole new direction, at least among the staff – and particularly Jim Fenner, who discovered a whole new viewpoint of sexual harassment. Not that it really made him see the error of his ways, of course.

Obviously, within the general prison population, life went on as before. Well, that’s if “as before” means murder, suicide and escape attempts, a birth… And – with the departure of Helen and Nikki at the end of Series Three – new lesbian couple, Cassie and Roisin, though their whining grew increasingly tiresome as the series went on. Truth be told, there also wasn’t a great deal of light in this season; after a while, you yearned for something to take the weight off. Even the two Julies seemed on a downward spiral.

However, the strongest point of the show this year was the full-flowering of Yvonne Atkins (Henry), who has become the focus around which the series revolves, and one of the best female characters in any TV series. It started with her being set-up for murder, but by the end, we were aware there was much more to this fabulously complex character, underneath the hard shell. Every scene with her in it was a delight to watch, and kept the show a shining jewel in the crown of British television. The cliffhanger at the end (who lives? who dies?) had Chris scurrying immediately for Ebay, and series five.

Star: Linda Henry, Jack Ellis, James Gaddas, Isabelle Amyes

Alias: season four

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“Fourth verse – same as the first.”

Poor Alias. Shunted from its Sunday slot to make way for Desperate Housewives – which proved successful beyond SD-6’s wildest dreams – this season felt as if JJ Abrams was more devoted to his second child, Lost (again, the owner of bigger ratings). By the end of the season it was Sydney, Jack, and their associates who found themselves both lost and somewhat desperate in TV-land, despite much-improved viewing figures – largely a result of following Lost, which got about 30% more audience.

Replacing the arcane beauty of Rambaldi and complex plans from the middle ages, was what seemed like an endless string of long-lost relatives and associates from the more recent past. Careless of Sydney to lose all these, wasn’t it? And somehow we went back to Season One: Sloan running operations, with Sydney sure he’s up to no good somehow. Abrams said it was a return to the core concept of the show, but it felt more like a shortage of ideas.

Not to say there weren’t moments; most tied to Sonia Braga, Isabella Rossellini and Lena Olin, a triumphant trio of femmes fatales whose scheming reached Shakespearean levels. [spoilers!] Sophia framed Irina for putting a hit on Sydney, and got ex-husband Jack to shoot Irina – only, was it really her? [end spoilers] In lesser hands, this could have been one step above “and it was all a dream”; these three magnificent actresses undoubtedly saved the day.

What the series lacked was any real enemy for Sydney, up until the later episodes. Anna Espinosa made a welcome return, but the show felt like it was marking time at best, with a final “twist” that seemed to have been made up at the last minute, and showed little evidence of advance thought. Plus, all the action scenes continue to be infected with the jump-cut editing that made it impossible to tell what is going on.

There was, however, just enough to keep us around for season five. Perhaps the biggest surprise – and the one with most potential – was the deft touch showed by Garner behind the camera; the episode she directed was one of the series highlights. Given the disappointments which have been her movies to date, might this show a possible direction for her future career?

Star: Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin