Hard Candy

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“More threatening than girls with guns: teenage girls with scalpels. Gentlemen: cross your legs.”

This is almost unbearably creepy, in two different directions: however, it’s almost impossible to discuss this film in any meaningful way without spoilers, so you have been warned. The danger of online predators is well-known, and when fourteen-year old Hayley (Page) agrees to meet photographer Jeff (Wilson), who is in his thirties, alarm bells are ringing. They reach a piercing level after she goes to his house, starts drinking vodka and flirting outrageously. However, the tables are abruptly turned: she’s spiked Jeff’s drink, and he wakes to find himself tied-up, and entirely at Hayley’s mercy. He soon finds out that’s a quality she is very definitely not inclined to provide.

So, who do we sympathize with? The paedophile? Or the psychopath? Pick your poison, and it’s the kind of bravely ambivalent film I love, for Jeff is far from the usual cliched portrayal of a child-molester: rather than a sleazy old man in a dirty mac, he’s charming, well-spoken and educated. Which makes him far more dangerous, of course. Though he meets his match in Hayley, and it’s a brilliant performance by Page. We have absolutely no idea whether any of what she says is true, regarding herself (is she 14, or is that part of her act?), her family or even the apparently-damning evidence she finds of Jeff’s paedophile tendencies. The last is perhaps an error on the film’s part, since it’s at its best when we’re less certain as to whether Jeff deserves the horrible fate Hayley has in store.

Oh, yes: horrible. Armed only with a medical textbook, a bag of ice and some sharp objects, she prepares to make sure that Jeff will not bother any other little girls again. Cue the film’s second, and most critical, mis-step, as it pulls a punch which would have made this an instant evil classic – you sense Takashi Miike, whose Audition this most closely resembles, might not have backed off. From here, the film does stray into implausible territory, with Jeff spurning several chances to escape, or overpower Hayley [who looks about 95 pounds]. However, that doesn’t really diminish from a film that has the guts to ask a lot of questions which seem to have easy answers, and then confront us with a reality that makes things more complex than we’d wish.

Dir: David Slade
Star: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson

Lady Gangster

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“An archetypal forties B-movie; a straightforward tale, briskly told.”

Having watched both Transformers and Miami Vice over the past week, it’s nice to see a film that doesn’t hang around: coming in at sixty-two minutes, Lady Gangster has hardly a line of dialogue that does not propel the story forward. Based on the play, Ladies They Talk About (previously a 1933 film starring Barbara Stanwyck), this centers on Dorothy Burton, member of a gang of bank-robbers. She takes the rap for one of their jobs, and goes to jail, but is also the only one who knows where the loot is hidden. Childhood friend Kenneth Phillips (Wilcox), now a renowned broadcaster, tries to help Dorothy get parole, but she has also made an enemy inside the prison, who is just as keen our heroine does not get released, and her former gang colleagues have their own interests, needless to say.

Made in 1942, there really weren’t very many films of that period which features female protagonists in this kind of role, and it deserves credit for that. The first half, in particular, is remarkably watchable today, though the plot does find itself badly-convoluted later on. There’s a lot to get through, and the film gallops on at such a heady pace, it feels almost like a trailer for itself. Made post-Hays Code, that obviously forced the makers to tone things down as far as content goes; despite the head warden’s protests that the jail is “neither a country club nor a concentration camp”, it’s certainly closer to the former. Emerson is great as the heroine – she’d go on to a long television career – and Jackie Gleason (The Honeymooners) also turns up as the gang’s getaway driver. Despite a daring escape from jail, she ends up taking a back-seat to Phillips and his two-fisted heroics at the finale, which is something of a shame, but undoubtedly a result of the era. Certainly remains a decent effort.

Dir: “Florian Roberts” [real name: Robert Florey]
Star: Faye Emerson, Frank Wilcox, Julie Bishop, Roland Drew

Rosario Tijeras

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“The film that could only be made in South America – where life is…very, very grim.”

Antonio (Ugalde) and Emilio (Cardona) meet the gorgeous Rosario (Martinez) at a nightclub in Medellin, Columbia, and both form a relationship with her – Emilio, a physical one; Antonio, a platonic but perhaps more deeply felt attachment. While information on Rosario is limited, not least from herself, they soon discover that she has a dark past (Tijeras isn’t her surname, it’s Spanish for “scissors”. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?) and a dark present (among the many rumour swirling around is that she has killed 200 or more, in her role as a hitwoman for the local drug cartels). Nor is the forecast for her future sunshine and rainbows, since the first scene has Antonio carrying a badly shot-up Rosario into a local hospital, with the rest of the film told in a series of flashbacks.

Medellin used to be a credible contender as murder capital of the world. During 1991, this city of about two million people saw over seven thousand homicides – there were less than seven hundred in all of England and Wales the same year. That may go some way to explaining the casual approach towards live, love and death shown by most of the characters here; why think about tomorrow when it might not arrive? Rosario’s job is more hinted at than actually depicted: while we do see her kill a couple of people, it’s far more for personal reasons, and despite the cover, this is less an action film than heavily-armed drama.

It’s a good performance from Martinez, however, and the hidden aspects of her character pull you in, to see what’s going to be revealed. Make no mistake though; this is downbeat material, through and through, with an unexpected cameo by Alex Cox [director of Repo Man] one of the few lighter moments. Otherwise, if you can think of something bad that might happen, odds are it will. Rosario’s psychology is also a little too conveniently pat – it was absolutely no surprise to discover she was abused as a child, even if the gap between that and mob killer seems to require more explanation. On the whole, this is solid and worthy, though it’d be something of a stretch to describe it as entertaining.

Dir: Emilio Maillé
Star: Flora MartĂ­nez, Manolo Cardona, Unax Ugalde

Hood Angels

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“You’ll be a right Charlie if you bother with this one…”

I think I can safely say that this films fails miserably on just about every level. Now, I am probably not the target audience for this unashamedly ‘urban’ movie, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the works of Pam Grier. This, on the other hand… Three women (Brown, Nurse and Sha – though I’ve my suspicions that one of them might just be a man) are arrested under dubious circumstances, but are bailed out to investigate the murder of one’s brother, a rising rapper. They get employed at his record-label, the questionably-spelled Murda Boi records, to scope out the suspects. Was it his partner in the label? The sleazy CFO? Or the mail-room man?

I can cope with bad acting, if the action makes up for it. I can cope with bad action, given an interesting storyline. I can cope with a pedestrian script, as long as the performances enliven proceedings. when each aspect is more hideously inadequate than the next…I was reduced, for entertainment, to seeing how far I could jab my thumbs into my own eyeballs, without making them pop. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. However, even the 99 cents I paid for this DVD would appear sufficient to have funded most of the production – with probably enough left over to buy acting lessons for the performers most in need of them [including two-thirds of the leading laideez – Brown is tolerable in this regard]

But I think it’s probably the action sequences which are the nadir of this film’s elements, carried out at the pace of a Vicodin-addicted sloth, and with the originality and fluidity of a Republican National Congress. The DVD cover and tagline are particularly wide of the mark, since only one of the trio holds a gun at any point, and that’s just to take it away from a villain. Okay, given the price, I wasn’t exactly expecting…well, anything. However, I haven’t been so underwhelmed by a movie in a very long time. That’s 85 minutes of my life I’ll never have back.

Dir: Paul Wynne
Stars: Kenia Brown, Allison Nurse, Kita Sha, Erica Goings