Breakaway

starstar

“Marginally better than having your kneecaps broken. “

breakawayAfter a brisk start, this gradually falls apart, the script collapsing under the strain of too much disbelief, as everyone whizzes around in search of $300,000 in stolen mob money. This was taken by Myra (Thompson), a courier for a gangster boss, Anton (Ray Dash). She wanted out of the business, but makes the mistake of telling him so, and her “last job,” delivering money to a hitman, is actually an ambush. Myra escapes with the cash, causing Anton to send a string of other killers after her, most notably Grey (Joe Estevez). Meanwhile she tries to avoid detection, with the help of both her two-timing boyfriend Carter (DeRose), who is cheating on her with a cafe manager Gina (Harding – yes, it’s that Tonya Harding) and a college professor Dan (Noakes), whom she meets at an art gallery. Everyone schemes, double-crosses and fights each other, to try and recover the brown paper-bag containing the cash, leading to a final battle at Anton’s.

Initially, it’s quite promising, with Myra being efficient and effective in her job, more than capable of taking care of herself. [Her character’s fondness for wearing a really short skirt doesn’t do any harm either!] However, it soon becomes apparent that her survival is equally due to the howling ineptness of everyone whom she comes up against. I don’t know if the aim was to make Anton and his minions out to be lovable buffoons, but if so, it only half succeeds: they nail the “buffoon” part in the bulls-eye. Which is a lot better shooting than can be said for the henchmen, since they couldn’t hit a barn if they were inside it. This starts off amusing, until you realize their incompetence is not a joke.

It’s the kind of film where, if everyone behaved with any morsel of common sense, things would be over in 10 minutes. Instead, you have frequently to resist the urge to yell at the screen, whenever the characters instead behave with the willful stupidity necessary to the plot. As noted, some of the elements here have potential, Thompson among them. It’s unfortunate that the makers did not apparently have enough confidence in her ability to carry the film, and chose to throw all the other plot threads on top. These don’t add depth or complexity, so much as unnecessary encumbrance. Grey is the only other character with any credibility, and the film would have been much better, if it had been stripped down to he vs. she. Junk the minions, junk Carter and, especially, junk Gina, because Harding’s performance serves solely as a demonstration of the gulf between professional actors and amateur ones.

Dir: Sean Dash
Star: Teri Thompson, Tony Noakes, Chris DeRose, Tonya Harding

Kate Bush, Action Heroine

katebush4It remains a matter of some small pride that the first album (kids, ask your parents!) I ever bought, was Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside. Unlike some artists from my days as a callow youth, she has stood the test of time very, very well, and over three decades later, despite many wannabes over time (coughToriAmoscough), there has still been no-one like her. I’ve been on a bit of a Kate Bush revival of late, inspired by her current return to live performance in London, after a gap of 35 years. Reviewing her work, both aural but particularly, the visual, I get the sense she had some action heroine tendencies of her own.

James and the Cold Gun

“It’s hot and sandy, the land is old and dry. Here rides a man with a sheet of ice by his side.”  Those lines were penned by Bush to accompany the sheet music for the song from her debut LP. I always presumed that it was inspired by James Bond, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case, Kate saying in an interview when asked if it referred to anyone in particular, “The answer is: nobody. When I wrote the song, James was the right name for it.” Her record company wanted this to be her first single, but Bush held out for Wuthering Heights. Good call, I suspect: this is a great deal more conventional, but lacks the drop-dead, “what the f—?” impact of Heights.

Still, Gun got its moment in the sun. An extended version of the song, over eight minutes long, became the show-stopper for the third and final act of her first, and until this week, only live tour in 1979, demonstrating the mix of music, ballet, mime and theatre in which she has been interested since the very beginning. Reviewing the show, The Guardian wrote “The erotically charged denouement of James and the Cold Gun depicted her as a murderous gunslinger, spraying gunfire – actually ribbons of red satin – over the stage.” Ok, I’m sold. Here’s the sequence in question, taken from the live VHS, so apologies for the mediocre quality – why it has never been re-released on DVD escapes me. Now would seem the perfect time…

Babooshka

Her third album, Never For Ever, gave us one of the most iconic images of her career, as part of the video for Babooshka, a song about a woman who adopts a second identity to test her husband’s fidelity – only for it to be found wanting. In it, Kate adopts two personae, the staid wife, clad entirely in black, and with a veil, and the alter ego, who is dressed in a way much more befitting the heroine of a sword-and-sorcery novel. Which is not surprising, because the style was inspired by drawing from renowned illustrator Chris Achilleos. It wasn’t his first brush with the music industry, as the previous year, he gave the world the controversial cover for the Whitesnake LP Lovehunter, with a naked woman straddling a giant snake

This work was positively subtle in comparison, originally for the first book in the Raven, Swordmistress of Chaos series by “Richard Kirk” – actually a pseudonym for two writers, and not the noted industrial musician. Bush’s take, along with designer Pamela Keat, was somewhat more modest, as you can see in the side-by-side below. But I was fourteen when the song came out, and can still remember watching the video for the first time. My picture can be found in the dictionary to this day, beside the word “gobsmacked.” :)

katebush2akatebush2

The Wedding List

Kate was always extraordinarily well-versed in culture, right from Wuthering Heights: how many 18-year-olds can pepper a song with a sly reference to Armenian philsopher George Gurdjieff? But bonus points have to be awarded for her being inspired by a French girls with guns film even I haven’t seen, Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black. One of Truffaut’s contemporaries, Jean-Luc Godard is often credited with saying “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” (he was actually quoting D.W. Grifiths), and Truffaut’s film is a fine example. It stars Jeanne Moreau as a widow, who hunts down and kills the men responsible for the death of her husband on their wedding day.

katebush

It seems a clear influence on Kill Bill, even down to the “Bride” crossing of her victims’ names in a notebook. Quentin Tarantino denies having seen it, but then he professed unfamiliarity with City on Fire too. But the best part of a quarter-century earlier, Kate Bush took inspiration from Truffaut for another song on Never For Ever, about a wronged woman who seeks vengeance on her spouse’s murderer – in a particularly Bushian (Bushesque?) twist for additional tragedy points, the widow commits suicide, and is then found to be pregnant. Here’s a sample of the lyrics.

Now, as I’m coming for you, all I see is Rudi.
I die with him, again and again, and I’ll feel good in my revenge.
I’m gonna fill your head with lead and I’m coming for you!
And when it’s all over you’ll roll over the butt of my gun:
One in your belly, and one for Rudi.
You got what you gave by the heel of my bootie.
Bang-bang–Out! like an old cherootie,
And I’m coming for you…

Damn. Kate and the Cold Gun, indeed. While this was never released as a single, it was one of the songs which formed part of her 1979 Christmas special for the BBC, from which the image above is taken, and which is available, with a little searching online. There’s almost an old West feeling to the version here, along the lines of Hannie Caulder – amusingly, the target for her vengeance is played by Kate’s brother, Paddy. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and track down a copy of The Bride Wore Black. For now, here’s the trailer.

Running up That Hill

But before I got, mostly as an aside. Kate’s fifth release, Hounds of Love, is considered by many fans to be her best, and certainly, contains some of her most memorable songs. Running would be one of them, and remains to this day, her most successful song in the United States. The theme here is, how many relationship issues would be solved, if the people involved could just swap places and see things from the other person’s perspective. Not quite sure how the archery motif seen on the sleeve fits into that, but I note that the gesture of drawing a bow is also seen multiple times in the video for the song. It may be another reference to The Bride Wore Black, as the heroine does wield a bow during her quest for revenge.

katebush3akatebush3

S+H+E: Security Hazards Expert

starstarstar

“The Spy Who Loved S+H+E.”

s+h+eThis brisk TV pilot was apparently screened on CBS in early 1980, as a showcase for a possible series depicting the adventures of Lavinia Kean (Sharpe), the female secret agent of the title, as she jets around the globe fighting bad guys while immaculately dressed. Think of it as an early ancestor of Covert Affairs, perhaps, though there are aspects, such as the gadgetry, which have more in common with Roger Moore-era 007. That’s probably not surprising, since the writer here, Richard Maibaum, did a lot of Bond films, from Dr. No until License to Kill. The villain’s scheme is certainly a bunch of Cubby Broccoli: a plan to introduce a biological slime which eats oil into the world’s supplies, and hold UNESCO to an annual ransom, in perpetuity. In this case, it’s actually two villains, Baron Cesare Magnasco (Sharif) and Owen Hooper (Lansing) who faced off in a gold medal boxing match at the Tokyo Olympics, before deciding global terrorism is a better path to fame and fortune than punching each other in the face.

The series never materialized, and its status as a pilot explains why elements – such as Lavinia’s Italian boyfriend – just dangle without resolution. It also features questionable science, with the heroine somehow pulling out of thin air, that freezing the slime with CO2 is the way to deactivate it. Mind you, with Anita Ekberg playing the bad guys’ top boffin, you know you’re looking at style over substance all round. Still, Sharpe has the air of a young Goldie Hawn and there are moments where things work, and you get the frothy entertainment at which this aims. For example, after Lavinia sprays a heavy with “knockout gas”, she is unable to drag the body away to hide it. Fortunately, there’s a trolley nearby, so she uses that… Until she gets to a doorway it won’t fit through…. When she just gives up, and throws a blanket over everything. Also a bit different from Bond is the dynamic between hero(ine) and villain, with Lavinia and Cesare having a sexual attraction that you never saw between Bond and Blofeld. It’s probably for the best, that.

Sharpe doesn’t have a great physical presence, so the fisticuffs require a fair bit as far as suspension of disbelief goes, and Michael Kamen’s soundtrack clings firmly to a touching belief that disco isn’t dead. However, the production values are good, with a lot of shooting on location in Italy.  Combine that with a decent cast, and the eighties could have done an awful lot worse than this becoming a full series.

Dir: Robert Michael Lewis
Star: Cornelia Sharpe, Omar Sharif, Robert Lansing, Anita Ekberg

Beach Spike

starstar

“Shaolin Volleyball.”

beachspikeSharon (Chau) and Rachel (Fu) have a pretty idyllic life, spending their days mostly on the beach playing volleyball, with occasional bouts of clubbing and very occasional work. But this relaxed approach to things is threatened by the Brewer family, who plan to turn the entire seafront into a megaresort, displacing all the happy local beach-bums. Leading the charge is family daughter Natalie (C, whom I can only presume was named by the same model-actress-whatever department to give us Maggie Q), who has a hatred for the “little people” and, along with her sister, kicks the arse of Sharon and Rachel in an early contest.

Through a series of frankly implausible events, and clouded by the blossoming relationship between Sharon and Brewer scion Tim (Law), the future of the resort project hangs on a rematch, the two teams making their way through a tournament to face each other in the final. However, anyone familiar with kung-fu movies will not be surprised to hear the good girls have been getting training from relatives well-versed in martial arts, and they won’t be such a pushover in the second battle.

It’s hard to work out exactly who the audience for this mess is supposed to be. Beach volleyball fans will hate the dreadful CGI, used to portray any protracted rallies, in lieu of actual skill, and likely find the heroines implausibly unmuscled (one in particular looks like she will shatter if dropped). Action fans will find little to remember here either, despite the presence of veteran heroine Yeung Pan Pan as Mrs Tao, and despite an obvious influence being Shaolin Soccer, there isn’t a trace of Stephen Chow’s wit. Even those looking for pleasures of a more exploitative nature will likely get bored, sitting through the lengthy comedic and romantic interludes.

I suppose those fascinated by Acting Performances In A Second Language might get a kick out of the Brewer family, who deliver lines in English about as well as I could in Cantonese. But I think the main intended market for this is a fetish one, and fairly specific at that. If you like seeing women hit in the face by balls, this is the movie for you. No, really. particularly during a competitive montage at the end, where it becomes a virtual barrage of ball-to-face action, including in slow-mo. Otherwise, the idiocy of the plot and blandness of the lead characters overpower much of whatever potential this had, and Wanted: DOA did a much better job with the sport. Probably, this needed either to be taken completely seriously or go over-the-top entirely and head into total parody (like Soccer did). Instead, this does neither, and the end results just sit in front of you like a beached whale for 95 minutes.

Dir: Tony Tang
Star: Chrissie Chau, Theresa Fu, Him Law, Jessica C

Mercenaries

mercenaries11starstarstar

“Somewhat Expendable…”

Credit to The Asylum for getting off their ass and actually making a female version of The Expendables, while every other producer to touch the idea, has so far been nothing but talk. Certainly, it’s a cast to die for, with some of the most renowned action heroine names from both the past (Cynthia Rothrock, albeit kicking less butt than I’d like – but hell, she’s 57 – and with a hairstyle which has to be seen to be believed) and present (Zoë Bell, whom we will watch in absolutely anything. And occasionally have). The rest of the cast is an interesting mix of has-beens (Brigitte Nielsen) and names you’ll recognize from other genre entries (Kristanna Loken, Vivica A. Fox). It’s not a bad cast, though one wished, instead of Nicole Bilderback, they’d got someone like Rina Takeda or Yanin Mitananda. On the other hand, having an Asian that’s not good at martial arts is about as close as this gets to going counter to stereotype.

The scenario is basic but serves its purpose. The President’s daughter is kidnapped while on a trip to Kazakhstan by local warlord Ulrika (Nielsen). Her hatred of men leaves the best rescue solution to send in a team of women, hand-picked by CIA section chief or something Mona (Rothrock) from various prisons. There’s disgraced agent Raven (Fox), sharpshooter Kat (Loken), explosives expert Mei-Lin (Bilderback) and all-round bad-ass Clay (Bell), who is given the task of leading the group into the remote corner of Asia, infiltrating Ulrika’s lair and rescuing the “First Daughter”. They do so by faking Mei-Lin’s identity, claiming she’s the daughter of a rich industrialist, whom they’ve kidnapped, and offering her to Ulrika for the ransom possibilities. Of course, getting in is one thing: finding the President’s offspring, setting her loose, and then everyone escaping from the middle of nowhere back to the good old US of A is quite another.

Directed by Christopher Olen Ray, son of noted B-movie maestro Fred Olen Ray, easily the best thing about this are the characters. Nielsen may not have aged well, to put it mildly, but she’s still six foot tall, and looks like she could spit nails into floorboards. On the side of good, Bell and Fox, in particular, also capture the necessary spirit of marginally-restrained irritability, with Loken and Bilderback providing a little lightness for contrast. The banter between them is a bit of a mixed bag: I mean, “fucking George Clooney with a strap-on” sounds more like bizarre wish-fulfillment from writer Edward DeRuiter than anything a real woman might say. However, other moments do have a nice sense of authenticity, and you get the sense that each of the main characters have enough back-story to fuel an entire feature on their own. That’s in part because most of the actresses already are more than familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in action heroines. Even Bilderback, the least-known, was in the unaired pilot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so has at least a minor role in the history of our genre. It might have been fun if the script had played off their history more, riffing on Loken’s part in Terminator 3 in some way, or Fox’s in Kill Bill. After all, that’s why they’re all here, and I can’t think of a more loaded cast in GWG film history.

Unfortunately, what doesn’t work is the action. The most obvious problem is an excess of mediocre digital effects, particularly in the areas of muzzle flashes and blood. Few things work so well at taking the audience out of the moment, as when you start spotting things like that: generally, you are better off not having muzzle flashes at all, than doing them badly. But a much more egregious crime by Olen Ray is having a crown jewel like Zoë Bell, but taking her action scenes and running them through a cinematic wood-chipper. You need to do this kind of thing when you have an actress who can’t do her own action, and you need to hide a stunt double or to make them look better than they are. You do not need to do either when you have Bell: you stand back, point the camera in her direction – and might as well get some popcorn, since you’ll be there a while. What you get here instead, is like hiring Maria Callas, then having her lip-sync, and it’s aggravating as hell, with only a few flashes of the talent we know to be present. Compare and contrast the approach of Raze, which largely just got out of Bell’s way.

It’s a shame, because the film did so much right, from intent through to assembling a rock-solid cast, yet couldn’t finish off the process. The Asylum are notorious for their mockbusters e.g. Atlantic Rim, but this has enough fresh about it that it could have been one of the best films in their catalog (and, I should know because, dammit, I’ve seen far more of them than most people!). Hopefully, it’s still successful enough to merit a sequel, perhaps under someone with a better handle on shooting the action.

Dir: Christopher Douglas Olen Ray
Star: Zoë Bell, Brigitte Nielsen, Kristanna Loken, Vivica A. Fox

mercenaries4a

Lucy

lucy1starstarstar

“NOW there is a god…”

Besson has been making action heroine movies for almost a quarter-century, going back to Nikita, which remains one of the most iconic and influential genre entries. The Messenger and Angel-A are the most obvious members of his filmography, but even when they’re not strictly in our wheelhouse, they often contain those aspects, e.g. The Fifth Element or Leon. The prospect of him returning to the field was an exciting one, but the end result doesn’t quite live up to what I’d hoped. And that’s discounting the fact, trotted out by a lot of lazy critics, that the entire film is based on a shaky premise – the whole “we only use ten percent of our brains” things is pure myth. I have no real issues with that. There’s no evidence for the galaxy having guardians either, and the same premise was an integral part of Defending Your Life, currently 96% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.

lucy4No, my main issue is a failure to unleash the potential of the idea (rather than the human brain). The initial set-up is interesting and slick. Lucy (Johansson) is trapped into acting as a drug mule for a Korean mob-boss (Choi), but the package inserted into her stomach is breached, causing the contents to leak into her bloodstream, and triggering the gradual activation of the remaining 90% of her brain. Initially, she becomes self-aware, but her skills then increase exponentially, first to manipulating her environment, then the very fabric of time and space itself, before she vanishes entirely from our world. Freeman plays Professor Exposition Samuel Norman, whom Lucy contacts to… Well, I’m not really sure exactly why. Something about him being the guardian of the knowledge she acquires as her mind expands. Waked plays a French cop, who helps her get the entire global supply of the drug, needed for her to reach 100%. We get a literal score of her progression in this department, tabulated on screen between scenes.

I think this would have benefited from a more measured approach, rather than a headlong rush toward Lucy’s divinity: the journey is more fun than the destination. There’s a certain point here, perhaps half-way through, where she becomes entirely invincible, and that’s where this turns into an intellectual exercise, because no-one – least of all a bunch of Korean gangsters – is a credible threat any more. I would have had Lucy get a little taste of the drug, then spend most of the film exploring what life is like as a super-enhanced bad-ass, using her talents to acquire more of the drug. Perhaps have the film end as she cranks the proceeds into her veins, and only then quickly go all 2001 on the audience, as Besson does at much greater length here. That’s closer to what I was expecting, and may be the result of  publicity that seemed to set this up as an action flick with existentialist aspirations, when it’s really an existentialist flick with action aspirations.

lucy3While I’d have enjoyed the former more, there are no shortage of aspects to admire. Besson’s films are generally a lot of fun, and this delivers the level of visual style and polish we’ve come to expect from all his works, both directed and produced – the car-chase is particularly Bessonesque. Johansson is also good in the role, though Freeman seems faintly embarrassed to be there, as if he should instead be off narrating another Science Channel documentary. Credit is due too, for making an action movie which is not only R-rated, but with a heroine, a combination which has been a difficult sell in the past e.g. Haywire. Lucy has arguably become the first such to pass $100 million at the US box-office, depending on how you view T2, and I’m more than happy to see it succeed, even if any sequel resulting from its profitability is going to be answering some difficult questions!

Watching this, I was left with a frequent urge to yell the line at the top of the review, which is taken from a famous SF short-short story by Frederic Brown, about the perils of unfettered technology and artificially constructed deities. Lucy is the human equivalent, though according to Besson, “A simplified summary, which will conjure up the images in as few words as possible,” was that “The beginning is Leon: The Professional. The middle is Inception. The end is 2001: A Space Odyssey.” This overview probably explains why my entertainment level diminished as things went on, because I love Leon and regard 2001 as one of the most over-rated pieces of tripe in cinema history, containing spectacular visuals, but little or no heart. That’s what Lucy is sadly missing: you can see Johansson deliberately dialing back her humanity, the higher her percentage of brain function becomes. It makes sense, but you’re left with little reason to empathize with her; it’s like nothing so much as watching Superman being super, and there is no kryptonite in sight here to bring her back to the level of the audience.

Re-reading the above, it seems perhaps unnecessarily harsh. Make no mistake, this was a fun ride, and I was never bored. It may be a case of managing expectations here: if you’re happy with a film which builds to having the heroine sit on a chair for 20 minutes, before going all Neo on us for a finale, then this will be fine. But given Besson’s pedigree, combined with a trailer which made this seem more like the Black Widow film we’ve been promised than anything, I was anticipating something rather different. It’s not often I criticize a film for being too much brains and not enough brawn, yet this might be one such case.

Dir: Luc Besson
Star: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

lucy5

Guns & Lipstick

starstarhalf

“V.I. Warshitski.”

gunslipstickI’m not saying this was a film made, The Producers-style, as a tax write-off. But if a movie was made for that purpose, it would probably look as slapdash and amateurish as this. I’ll just give you one example. Near the end, the heroine is seen by a corrupt cop and he gives chase. It starts in broad daylight, up in the mountains. One cut later, it’s the middle of the night and they’re by the docks. WTF? Whether the makers didn’t notice, or didn’t care, neither says much about the quality of the product. Then again, the entire concept of a cougarish, blonde PI with a smart mouth was clearly ripped off wholesale – minus the shoe obsession – from Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, filmed four years before this came out in 1991.

Kirkland plays private detective Danielle Roberts, a former cop who was kicked off the force for having an affair with her boss. She has a job protecting Rose, a stripper who thinks someone is out to kill her – with good reason, because Rose turns up dead. As, in short order, do a lot of other people who cross Roberts’ path, and due to this she comes under the suspicions of her former colleagues. Turns out there Rose had come into possession of a jewel that an awful lot of people want to get their hands on, for one reason or another. These include crime boss Mr. Song (Hong), cop with a grudge Dimaggio (Forster), Rose’s brother, Andy (Lurie) and an albino, who can’t have been a “real” albino, because he doesn’t have pink eyes [Source: my numerical analysis professor at university was an albino] It’s a complete mess of a storyline, with little or no effort made to provide credible motivation, and the romance between Danielle and Andy is more creepy than anything, since Kirkland is literally double his age.

Things escalate to a ludicrous and entirely incoherent shoot-out at a ranch, where the bad guys prove they are literally incapable of shooting the broad side of a horse, before the time-challenged car-chase mentioned above. A potentially interesting B-movie cast, which also includes Wings Hauser for no readily apparent reason, is entirely wasted on this turgid mess of a script. Kirkland has been decent enough in other things, and gives it her best shot, but is woefully miscast here. Everyone involved with this should be very, very ashamed.

Dir: Jenö Hodi
Star: Sally Kirkland, Robert Forster, Evan Lurie, James Hong

Super Gun Lady

starstar

“Heroin with guns. No, that’s not a typo.”

Super_Gun_Lady_Police_Branch_82Based on a popular manga series by Tõru Shinohara, who gave us Sasori, I’m guessing this was also the inspiration for Police Branch 82, not least because the heroines in both work for a department by that number. I mean, what are the odds? Here, it’s described as “A secret department that investigates civil service crime,” and one of its detectives is 24-year-old Maki (Yokoyama), who has a reputation for not caring about the carnage she causes in getting her man. In an apparent effort to rope her in, she is assigned a new partner, Rin Kakura (Kaoru), who is rather less feminine, shall we say. This happens after Tajma, the executive Maki is supposed to be watching, ends up falling from a balcony in what looks like a suicide, but clearly isn’t. That turns out just to be the start, as the executive’s gay lover is trying to blackmail Takebe, an army buddy of Tajima who is now the chairman of their company. Adding even more complexity to a plot that was already groaning under the weight of all these threads, when the lover is stabbed on a city street, his killers are trailed by our heroines, back to a right-wing paramilitary organization. That’s when the trouble really starts, as Maki is kidnapped and pumped full of heroin…

It’s an extremely unsatisfactory script, which seems to rely too much on coincidence and doesn’t bother to explain itself at any point. For instance, Rin just happens to be hanging around outside a car-park when the kidnappers leave, intending to dump Maki’s body; similarly, one of the gang, just happens to find the car in which they are holding a suspect. And the second half of this diverts itself off into mostly being about a staged “false flag” operation, a bank robbery intended to distract the media from the blossoming political scandal. The villains liberate a trio of convicted killers from prison, with the hope of luring Department 82 into action – even though, as Rin herself says, it’s way outside their normal scope of investigation. The purpose and point of this is never adequately covered, and it seems as if the writers maybe had 30 pages of an unfinished script for another movie, and figured they might as well use it here.

For positives, I have to say, I liked Rin as a heroine, because she is not the willowy archetype often seen in this kind of film, whose top falls off at the slightest provocation. Instead, Kaoru genuinely looks like she could kick your arse, and would enjoy doing it; I haven’t been able to find any supporting evidence, but it would not surprise me if she was a pro wrestler – that’s the kind of look she possesses. The final shoot-out, as Rin and (the suddenly much better – I guess nothing kicks a heroin habit quicker than a good ol’ hostage situation) Maki storm the bank, is also fairly well-staged. However, I’ll be honest: it took me two attempts to get that far, the first having ended in an afternoon snooze on the couch instead. Never a good sign.

Dir: Chusei Sone
Star: Emi Yokoyama, Jumbo Kaoru, Kishida Mori, Yamatani Hatsuo

She Mob

starstarstarhalf

“Lethal weapons.”

She-MobReally, from the poster, I was expecting something utterly unwatchable, so on that basis, this rating should be considered something of a triumph. Oh, make no mistake, there are aspects of this that are truly dreadful. But it’s rare to find a film which so obviously does not give a damn about what the audience might want, and goes so relentlessly on its own way. After a rough week for your humble ewviewer – I’ll get to Super Gun Lady and, worse still, Guns & Lipstick, over the next few days – I’m inclined to look upon this with more favour. It does at least alternate elements of some interest with its mediocrity; for instance, there can’t be many thrillers of the era, even soft-core ones like this, which have only a single male speaking role.

The focus is a group of four women, apparently recently escaped from prison, under the leadership of Big Shim (Castle), whose picture can be found in the dictionary beside “diesel dyke.” When two of the group become hungry for male company, Shim dials out to gigolo Tony (Clyde), but when he arrives and tells them he is now the toy-boy of rich businesswoman Brenda McClain (Castle), Shim decides to “kidnap” him for ransom. Because of their ‘delicate’ relationship, McClain won’t go the police, so turns instead to private detective Sweetie East (Duval). She plays the part of her employer when it’s time to drop off the ransom, but hides a transmitter in along with the cash, and follows its signal back to the gang’s lair. This being 1968, the whole transmitter concept has to be explained in detail, I guess in case any of the audience hasn’t seen Goldfinger.

There’s a fair bit here of note, albeit not always in a good way. Firstly, having the same actress play both Shim and McClain is a striking choice, especially since this was apparently Castle’s one and only movie [though I suspect assumed names were heavily used here; there isn’t even a formal director’s credit!]. Admittedly, neither of her performances are exactly subtle, though that’s in line with the incredibly-pointed bra she wears, which would be rejected by mid-90’s Madonna as excessive, and with which she stabs Tony at one stage in proceedings. Then there’s “Sweetie,” an obvious knock-off of Honey West, though the budget here doesn’t stretch to an ocelot. And the rest of Shim’s gang are little less memorable, from Twig, the simple-minded go-go dancer, to Baby, Shim’s lover, whose main purpose is to remind us how far breast implants have come over the past 45 years.

The main downside here are the lengthy, frequent interludes where nothing much is happening. Mostly, these are what could best be called “scenes of a sexual nature,” though they are so completely unerotic they begin to feel like Dadaist sketch comedy. For instance, the film opens with Brenda taking a bath, yelling shrilly and repeatedly for Tony to join her. When he eventually does, they slosh around in the tub for a few minutes while the single camera watches with a complete lack of passion. Still, it’s a film that you will certainly remember, and is a pleasure to write about, offering no shortage of aspects worthy of comment. Though that may partly be my subconscious trying to put off having to write a review of Super Gun Lady.

Dir: Harry Wuest
Star: Marni Castle, Adam Clyde, Monique Duval, Twig