Stand Off

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Reservoir Bitches

A series of bank raids has local police baffled: ‘The Executives’ specialize in slick, swift in and outs, never over-reaching themselves. They’re also very well-dressed, which might actually be a clue, since these four robbers are women, under veteran criminal Fox (Evans). But all is not well in this gang of thieves, with some seeking a bigger score. Matters come to a head when they find a cop (Lombardi) nosing around their headquarters, and a tracking device attached to their van – all signs point to an informant within the gang, Is someone seeking to take over from Fox? Or is Fox herself tired of her accomplices? Let the accusations – and the bullets – fly.

The obvious touchstone can be found in the brief summary above, though clocking in at a crisp 61 minutes, the script does avoid the rambling on about tipping, the meaning of Madonna songs and the other verbal diarrhea which bog just about all of Tarantino’s scripts down. It’s ironic – presumably deliberately – that the Executives explicitly state they take inspiration from the likes of Point Break, while appearing to be blissfully ignorant of the closest parallel for their actual situation. I note that Notarile’s Blinky Productions, as well as original films, make fan films using characters such as Daredevil or Snake Plissken. This feels a little too close to a fan tribute to Reservoir Dogs; given my general skepticism over Tarantino (Kill Bill 1 aside), that’s a mixed blessing.

However, there’s still plenty to enjoy here, even for a Quentinophobe like myself. Notarile has a very good eye for action, directing it with a crisp efficiency that clearly captures what’s going on, generating tension and urgency. The bank-robbery which opens proceedings, for instance, would not be out of place in any Hollywood movie, it’s that slick. Similarly, the gunplay never succumbs to the sloppily-shot mentality, where the only way to figure out what’s going on, is to count the bodies afterwards and see who’s missing. The performances are also solid, with Evans and Santiago the most impressive, though all the characters are drawn and fleshed out effectively.

On the down side, there’s some plot holes that stood out. For instance, why do the gang simply dump the cop in a room, not bothering to handcuff him to anything? And why does he attach a tracker to the van? He has an informant, just ask her where their hide-out is. Something also felt fractionally “off” about the editing of the dialogue. The pacing and rhythm was sometimes weird, as if the conversations were spliced together from multiple different takes, and as a result, don’t always flow as they should.

All told, however, these are small quibbles, and the bottom line is: we enjoyed it. Someone should give Blinky enough money for a proper movie – but I suspect, Notarile will likely keep on making films, whether anyone does or not! I’ll be looking out for them.

[Director Chris Notarile emailed us to say, “The reason why the tracking device was on the van at all was pretty simple. It was part of Cole’s plan. If he were to call the cops in, and ______ (spoiler!) was going to be his informant, it would be best if he made it look as official as possible. A tracking device seemed cooler than him just randomly knowing or popping up. As for him being locked up, the girls didn’t think he’d break free the first time, but he did – thus Fox cuffed him the second time.]

Dir: Chris R. Notarile
Star: Mandy Evans, Kim Santiago, Kerri Miller, Roberto Lombardi

Angel

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“Is for girls with guns, what Night of the Living Dead is for zombies.”

This and Yes, Madam were basically the Genesis and Exodus of the genre as we know it. Sure, there had been action heroines before, but never with quite the heft of their male counterparts. Madam showed they could kick ass with the best of them; Angel took this, and added about a billion bullets to the mix. Sure, it’s rough around the edges, with scenes that appear randomly inserted and characters so shallow they resemble a puddle. But its influence was massive, and if you can watch the final battle without wincing, as Lee and Oshima kick the utter crap out of each other, you’re made of tougher stuff than I [It’s the December 2011 video of the month].

The plot sees the ‘Angels’ – a mercenary, extra-governmental group – called in to take on a drug-smuggling cartel which is killing off cops following success against their heroin operation. It’s led by the amazingly evil Madame Yeoung (Oshima, turned up to 11), who is planning something to recoup the lost income; what that is, is up to the Angels to find out. Of particular interest, the Angels include Moon and Elaine (Lee and Lui), the former sober, the latter flighty and apparently incompetent; they and their much less-interesting male counterparts have to uncover Yeoung’s plan, rescue captured colleagues from her HQ, in a blaze of gunfire, and then go to the factory that’s at the heart of the villainess’s operations, for the final battle.

Like Living Dead, it’s certainly something which has been done a good deal better since, with the non-action elements clunky to the point of occasionally cringe-inducing, especially during a first half that does take some time to get going – though spontaneously combusts whenever Oshima is on-screen. However, once it does, this is packed with meaty goodness, and a take no prisoners approach from both sides that makes for an all-out war. There’s some confusion over the directors: the DVD box gives it as Teresa Woo, the IMDB lists Woo and Leung, but I’ve gone with the names listed on the actual movie credits. Whoever it was, certainly had a great handle on the action, and time has not dulled that aspect of the film whatsoever.

Dir: Raymond Leung, Leung Siu Hung, Ivan Lai
Star: Moon Lee, Hideki Saijo, Elaine Lui, Yukari Oshima
a.k.a. Iron Angels

Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams

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“Not very delinquent, and certainly not much of a boss.”

This was my first true vintage “pinky violence” movie, though I had bumped against some fringe entries in the genre before e.g. Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, which I enjoyed and really must get round to reviewing for here some time. This one…not so much. It focuses on Rika (Oshida), who gets out of reform school, and gets a job as a ‘companion’ at a bar, where most of the girls have a similarly troubled background. The local Yakuza boss is sniffing around, and his path crosses Rika’s after she (semi-unwittingly) helps a colleague steal some drugs from them. As a result, the house mother/bar owner, is on the hook for three million yen, plus interest.

It’s hard to say exactly why I found this so disappointing. I did like Oshida’s performance, as she has a kind of breezy delinquence that carries the film. However, most of the other characters (particularly the men) are little more than caricatures: witness the comic-relief gay character, while the Yakuza boss could have strayed straight from a Victorian melodrama, if only he had twirled his moustache a bit more. The plot doesn’t go anywhere interesting, capping itself off with a battle in a pachinko parlour 0 and even here, the owner has to call on male help, in the shape of the man who murdered her father, but is now very, very sorry about it…

Including action sequences that are largely lamely staged and executed (the director would do a lot better when he got someone who could actually fight, like Sue Shiomi), plus just enough nudity to make Chris tut disapprovingly, without actually providing any cheap thrills, this looks and feels every one of its forty years. I suppose this might be the point, for a certain audience. But it fell far enough short of expectations that I was left suddenly rethinking my plans to have an entire section of the site dedicated to pinky violence.

Dir: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Star: Reiko Oshida, Tatsuo Umemiya, Yukie Kagawa, Bokuzen Hidari
a.k.a. Tokyo Bad Girls

Warriors of the Apocalypse

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“We watch this shit, so you don’t have to.”

And winner of ‘Least Accurate Movie Tag-line of 2011’ goes to this one, by a country mile. “Sucker Punch on steroids”? Well, let me tell you something. I know Sucker Punch. And Warriors, you’re no Sucker Punch. The drugs reference is fitting, though I’m thinking less steroids, and more likely an overdose of Vicodin. Everything about this, from martial-arts fights staged at the speed of a reluctant glacier, through lighting of scenes that’s so poor as often to be non-existent and obvious digital gunfire [as seen in an extended scrap-yard gun-battle, without any glass being shattered at all], to a painful, sludgecore metal soundtrack presumably made by some mate of the producers, combine into a deeply uninteresting viewing experience.

It takes place after the apocalypse, when society has devolved into an almost entirely feral state outside the cities, where a small number of the population survive, and jealously guard their privileges, restricting entry to their number. The rest of the country is left to fend for itself, desperately seeking for what it can to survive in the ruins. Through this blasted land drive Luca (Caine) and her two female friends, with the aim of getting into a city, and with no intention of letting anyone get in their way. This is clear from their first encounter, when a routine stop for water becomes the first in a series of confusingly-composed battles, against an already resident group of scavengers. As well as the locals, they also have to handle soldiers dispatched by city dictator Rollins (D), who is out to stop them reaching their goal.

The lead actresses aren’t bad, even Caine, a veteran of low-rent soft-porn like Lord of the G-Strings. That’s the only positive thing I can say about this, and they certainly deserve an awful lot better than this strictly-amateur effort [and, as we’ve seen already this month with Carlito’s Angels, I have a decent tolerance for microbudget cinema]. But I got bored very quickly with the poorly-staged action, and a cinematographer who thought he could regenerate the missing excitement by shaking the camera violently. How bad was this? I started playing with the Kindle application on my phone…and didn’t even have any books on it to read. Yes: a useless Android app was more engaging and interesting. World War III, as depicted here in copious stock footage of atomic bombs, would actually come as a relief.

[Update: January 2017] Goddamit. Slightly over five years later, I sat and watched this entire piece of garbage again, under an alternate title. I was about to start my review, and it was only when I went to the IMDb page, and saw I’d already rated it, that I discovered it was a rewatch. It failed to hold my attention on a repeat viewing either, and I once again started playing with my phone instead of watching the film!

Dir: Len Kabasinski
Star: Darian Caine, Pamela Sutch, Brian Anthony, Debbie D
a.k.a. Apocalypse Female Warriors

Carlito’s Angels

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“Do we really need a ghetto, microbudget version of Charlie’s Angels? But then, did we really need the TV reboot?”

In many ways, this is wretched beyond belief, crippled by near non-existent production values and likely only to appeal to those who live in the urban culture depicted. And yet… For every moment of wince-inducing idiocy [Agustin appears to be a big fan of Benny Hill, using speeded-up footage for “humourous” effect more than once], there were moments of surreal charm. For instance, “Captions for the Hispanic-impaired,” or the really terrible fight scene which breaks the fourth wall, turning into a “making of” segment which (and I can attest to this) accurately depicts the hell of being a microbudget moviemaker. Or that the large family of children belonging to one of the Angels includes a bearded midget. “He just showed up one day. Hey, he buys groceries, it’s cool” is her casual explanation.

As you’d expect, it’s a spoof, with the three leading ladies living in Harlem, and as in the original, getting their orders from Charlie by phone – except, here, that’s because he’s locked up in jail. While sent undercover at a strip-club, supposedly to track down some white girl whose sleeping with a local guy, they overhear their landlord Big Lou (Reynosa) getting a loan from the Mafia guy who owns the club. He promises to pay the loan back by fixing the “boleta,” the local numbers game. They’re not going to tolerate this attack on an integral part of their culture, so have to stop him and his associate, Triple Gauge, before they can bring this heinous plot to completion.

Credit the three leads for giving their all, attacking their characters with a great deal of energy, that helps overcome some of the obvious limitations. I’m pretty sure a lot of cultural references went whizzing way above my head, but as the kids say, I’m “down” enough [Phoenix is pretty Hispanic] to be able to get a good chunk. The plot is pretty awful, the action falls short of even the 1970’s original version, and there’s way too much yapping, of a style generally seen on afternoon talk-shows. But there’s a sense the people involved have genuine enthusiasm, and made it for the love of film-making. At barely an hour between (rather nifty) comic-book styled opening credits and (entirely unfunny) bloopers which close things out, it can hardly be accused of overstaying its welcome. I probably enjoyed it more than the grade above suggests, but I own the very substantial tolerance for poverty-row productions required; your reaction will likely depend on that.

Dir: Agustin
Star: Evly Pacheco, Alessandra Ramos, Jeni Garcia, Raymond Reynosa