Goldengirl

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“Run Goldine Run”

goldengirlAnd Frankenstein Created Woman? That might have been an alternate title, with German scientist Dr. Serafin (Jurgens) in the role of the creator – he’s a man with a dubious past, and whispers of involvement in Nazi experimentation. Now “rehabilitated” to the US, in what may be a medical version of Operation Paper Clip, he uses an unholy mix of pharmaceuticals and extreme training methods to convert his own daughter, Goldine, into a 6’2″ athletic superwoman, with the aim of completing an unheard of triple crown at the upcoming Moscow Olympics, winning the 100, 200 and 400 metre gold medals. To fund this work, he brings in a consortium of businessmen who aim to capitalize on Goldine’s success with advertising, merchandising, etc. Brought in to advise them, as Goldine is prepared for her first public events, is agent Jack Dryden (Coburn), who gradually realizes the one person not wholeheartedly committed to the entire proceedings, is the runner herself.

This is a curious period piece, which almost feels like it’s set in an alternate universe – as history turned out, Russia invaded Afghanistan and the United States ended up boycotting those 1980 Olympics entirely. This does have some interesting things to say about parents who force their own ambitions onto their offspring, without considering their childrens’ desires, or even best interests, and also about the “shamateurism” of the Olympics. However, this is countered by some odd aspects such as Goldine’s vibrator-based press conference training, whose mere description appears to have strayed in from an entirely different movie. The film would also have benefited from a greater focus on the heroine, and what she wants out of life; that’s an area left almost entirely unexplored, with Goldine left more as a palimpsest for the demands of others.

Even if a couple of inches short of the necessary height at 5’11”, Anton, a former Miss California, certainly makes a striking figure, and the film wastes no opportunity to show off her… er., striking figure. Though when you see her competing, many of those against whom she races were actual athletes, and the difference between their, much more heavily muscled physiques, and her wispy frame is obvious. Bill Conti’s score occasionally threatens to overpower everything, most notably during the musical training montage number, also sung by Anton. However, even if its more of a “Good effort!” than an Olympic champion, it remains one of the few sports movies with a focus on the women’s side of the stadium.

Dir: Joseph Sargent
Star: Susan Anton, James Coburn, Curt Jurgens, Leslie Caron

Maisie Undercover: Shadow Boxer

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“Sucker punched”

maisieThis review is more in the nature of a warning than a critique, since it would be easy for someone to look at the cover (right) and think that this might be a movie about – oh, I dunno, boxing? It seems a reasonable expectation, given the following synopsis:

After her partner is mercilessly gunned down, sexy, streetwise cop Maisie turns in her badge and turns to the relative safety behind the bar of a hip new joint she names Dames. It doesn’t compare to the rush of danger she gets on the streets but it keeps her out of trouble – until trouble finds her in the form of a guy, a dead girlfriend and a probable Mob connection. Now that familiar adrenaline is pumping again as she goes deep undercover with the hot and hardened women who make up the volatile world of female boxing. Will Maisie solve the murder before someone else is “knocked out?”

While none of the above is technically a lie, I should probably have done a little due diligence, and perhaps noticed that the first word on the cover is “Sexy.” For this is actually soft-core porn, with the plot little more than a thin excuse to link together the sex scenes, which take place with such regularity you could set your watch by them. And you’ll certainly be checking your watch with a high degree of frequency. Not that I’m averse to pornography by definition – indeed, not too far down the line, I’ll be writing about a hard-core version of Nikita – but it’s all about expectations. I watched this one on a chilly Tuesday morning, fortunately when Chris was out of the house; however, I still had a somewhat tricky conversation with my son. “Isn’t 9:30am a bit early for porn?” he said sardonically. Why, yes. Yes, it is. Though I’m pleased at least to see he does appear to have picked up my tendency for ironic commentary during his college years.

I supposed I should briefly mention the film, which could have been interesting. White even has some potential, as former cop turned private eye Maisie Calloway [a character she played in two other films the same year, which I will not be rushing to see]. She has a bumpy past, separated from her cop husband, and whose partner was, as the synopsis says, killed – apparently in a previous movie, because it plays no significant part here. Indeed, the storyline is far more of an afterthought, treated as if its of no real concern. I suppose that’s fair enough, but if you’re going to make soft porn, you should at least have the honesty to promote and sell it as soft porn, and not pretend it’s something which the film most definitely isn’t.

Dir: J.W. McHausen
Star: Charlie White, Joey Ray, Nick Manning, Nicole Oring
a.k.a. Twisted Temptations

Wonder Women

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“On Her Insurance Company’s Secret Service”

wonderwomenRoger Corman’s New World Pictures weren’t the only ones using the Philippines as a factory to churn out B-movies in the seventies, as this 1973 entry, from Arthur Marks’ General Film Corproration shows. Dr. Tsu (Kwan) and her posse of henchwomen are kidnapping athletes, the not-so-good doctor having perfected the ability to do brain transplants. She’s now selling this as a service to rich, old people, who can become young again. However, after kidnapping a jai-alai star, the insurance company on the hook for the half million dollar policy hires Mike Harber (Hagen) to investigate. As he starts nosing around and making waves, first the local gangster boss, then Dr. Tsu, send their minions out to stop him. Needless to say, this is of limited success, and he is soon on his way to the remote island where Tsu operates, to take down her operation.

If this feels like a low-budget Bond ripoff, you’re just about right on the money, down to the “let me tell you all my plans before I kill you” scene – at one point, I expected Tsu to yell, “No, Mr. Harber – I expect you to die!” But it is highly refreshing to have a female mastermind, especially one that excels in the areas of medicine and technology, traditionally a male evil overlord preserve: I’m hard pushed to think of any equals of Dr. Tsu, particularly from the era. Maybe the closest would be Rosalba Neri, in Lady Frankenstein from two years earlier is the closest? Back that up with her multinationa, all-female associates and she’s definitely decades ahead of her time, socially as well as technologically. In comparison, Harber comes over as a bit of a Neanderthal, whose solution for pretty much everything involves shooting at it, hitting it over the head – or occasionally hitting it over the head with his gun.

In the supporting cast, de Aragorn gets the best role, as lead henchperson Linda, who gets to brawl with Harber, destroying a hotel room, before leading him in a car chase through the streets of Manilla – again, something you didn’t see women doing very often at all in the 1970’s. And it’s a heck of a chase, with any number of moments that suggest the makers pretty much blew off niceties like closing streets or obtaining official sanction for the sequence, and just shot around whatever happened to be going on. Mention also due to cult veteran Sid Haig, who shows up as what appears to be Dr. Tsu’s accountant, and decides at the end to get out while the going is good, after another quirky character performance. Accompanied by Carson Whitsett’s funky score, the net result is something that’s not actually much, if at all, less fun than the same year’s Live and Let Die, and treads a nice line between self-parody and self-aware.

Dir: Robert O’Neill
Star: Ross Hagen, Nancy Kwan, Maria de Aragorn, Roberta Collins
a.k.a. The Deadly and the Beautiful

Maidroid 2: Maidroid vs. Hostroids

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“Maid in Japan”

maidroidPart one was deemed by the qualification panel as falling short of the necessary minimum level for inclusion here, being a mix of poignant drama about an elderly man whose lifelong companion’s battery is running down, and porn. The sequel, however, just about does enough to qualify, albeit while retaining a hefty dose of the latter aspect – and you don’t need to have seen part one either. Here, disgruntled scientist Professor Uegusa (Horiken) hatches a plan to destroy the appearance-based culture of romance, and to finance this sends out his “hostroids”, attractive male androids, in a variety of guises, e.g. office manager, door-to-door salesman, etc. to seduce woman and bilk them of their savings. He also sends them to kill rival researcher Dr. Kouenji, who had been building a countermeasure, in the form of a maid android, Maria (Yoshizawa). Before his death, Kouenji sends Maria to geeky student Shotarou (Haraguchi), but she isn’t ready, needing her “love circuit” activated before she can attain her full potential needed to defeat Uegusa and the hostroids. Can Shotarou manage that final step before the hostroids take him and Maria down?

After a fairly wobbly opening period, where it looks like the balance is going to tilt firmly towards the fleshly, this recovers nicely, demonstrating a nice sense of absurd humour, and with good lead performances from Yoshiwaza and Haraguchi. Shotarou comes over as likeable but lonely, rather than dysfunctional, and (whether by accident or design!) Yoshisawa’s stilted performance is perfect for Maria – a name which is an obvious nod to perhaps the first cinematic female robot, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It poses an interesting moral question too: you would think Shotarou would be right behind Uegusa’s plan, but the moral appears to be, that there’s something for everyone. Admittedly, it is somewhat undermined by Maria being emotionally attached to whoever is the first person she sees after being activated, but let’s not get into a discussion of free will in artificially created life-forms, shall we?

The action is limited, this clearly not being Yoshisawa’s forte, but is enlivened by imagination; for example, her maid head-band transforms into a lethal sword, and the hostroids have drill weapons that are… Well, I trust there’s no need for a diagram. After the film hits its stride (which takes maybe 15 of its 64 minutes), this manages to achieve a nice level, acknowledging the obviously prurient interests of the viewer, without pandering to them excessively. In a surprising twist, I actually found myself… Well, I wouldn’t go as far as “caring about”, but let’s say, “not entirely disinterested in” the protagonists and their fate, which is a rare occurrence in a movie of this kind. Maybe it’s just seeing this after the hell of Cat Girl, but by no means was this as terrible as I thought it might be.

Dir: Naoyuki Tomomatsu
Star: Akiho Yoshizawa, Daisuke Haraguchi, Hiroshi Hatakeyama, Horiken

They Call Her Cleopatra Wong

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“The biggest strawberry jam factory in this area is the Catholic monastery over the hill.”

Cleopatra-Wong-poster-1978-1“Cleopatra Wong is Asian Interpol’s answer to James Bond, Flint, Cleopatra Jones and Stacey.” Well, less an answer, more like a repetition of the question, since this is firmly in “cheap Asian knock-off” market, though has some charm in its first half. Wong (Lee) is an agent, assigned to investigate a flood of near-undetectable counterfeit money which is flooding the markets in Hong Kong, the Philippines and elsewhere in the far East. It’s happening in such volume, there’s potential to destabilize the entire economies of the affected countries. She takes down the Singapore branch of the operation, and then discovers the money is being transported in shipments of strawberry jam, emanating from a monastery north of Manilla. After finding them to be not exactly a social order, Wong takes pictures by flying over their compound, which shows that these nuns have some nasty habits – specifically, they’re brothers rather than sisters, and concealing automatic weapons under their vestments. Time for Cleo to assemble and lead a team of crack agent in a raid on the convent, take out the bad guys, rescue the real nuns and save the world for free-market capitalism.

First point. No, they’re not mispronouncing “Asian” throughout the film. They are actually saying “ASEAN countries,” with ASEAN being the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which is a bit like the EU for that part of the world. Never say this site is not educational. Now we’ve got that out of the way, what of the film? It’s very much a mixed bag. Lee makes a pretty and solid action heroine, especially considering she was only 18 at the time. She demonstrates martial-arts skills that are better than many films of its era (which would be 1978), and it’s largely free from the two most frequent flaws of the era in action heroine films. obvious body-doubling and undercranking. There are some cute moments, such as Wong getting her own back on her boss, after he has interrupted her lovemaking at four in the morning, by interrupting his love-making at four in the morning.

However, the plot is extremely basic, with aspects that are cringeworthily naive. For instance, Cleopatra’s way of infiltrating the Singapore gang involves spending their fake money until she gets caught – which surprisingly little time, given the “near-undetectable” thing mentioned earlier. When this make headlines news in the local paper (the local oligarchs must have paid for this encouraging depiction of low local crime rates), the real organizers of the fake money then bail her out and bring her back to their headquarters for interrogation. I dunno, maybe it was a simpler time for international supervillains. But the main problem is the horrendously over-extended attack on the convent, which is an apparently endless sequence of running, shooting and falling over. Part of the problem is that the heroine isn’t particularly heroic, becoming just one-fifth of the team, rather than standing out on her own terms, as was the basis for the first hour. While it does give us the iconic image below, which made the front cover of the iconic Mondo Macabro book, there is about 20 minutes of tedium to endure, until the final bit of sizzle, involving explosive-tipped arrows and a helicopter. This includes a long sequence, in which all five members climb up a wall, one by one, in what feels like real time. The lead character did appear in a couple more movies after her introduction here, and despite the failings of the finale here, I was entertained enough to add them to the “for future consideration” list.

Dir: Bobby A. Suarez (as “George Richardson”)
Star: Marrie Lee, Franco Guerrero, Dante Varonna, George Estregan

Cleopatra-Wong

Beauty Investigator

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“Beauties and the beasts.”

beautyinvestigatorEllen (Lee) and Grace (Kim) are police officers, who are first on to arrive when the latest victim of a serial sexual predator is found in a dumpster. After a brief diversion to catch a purse snatcher – really, how dumb must you be to do that at a murder scene? – they are sent undercover as nightclub hostesses, since that’s the profession of all the victims. While fending off both lecherous customers and employers, they stumble across an arms smuggling outfit, whose leader Bill (Tsui) has pulled a fast one over his Yakuza partners, with the help of a hired hitwoman (Oshima, whose character in the end credits is named as, I kid you not, “Japanese Jap”!). Rather than letting their superiors know, they decided to investigate themselves. Probably not the wisest of moves: as they’ll discover by the end of the movie, discretion is indeed the better part of valour…

Very quickly, the bar for this one is set low, with the creators’ idea of comedy gold being to have Grace throw up over the corpse on seeing it: oh, hold my sides, for I fear they may split. If you’d be thinking the only way to go from there is up, the next hour seems to take a sadistic pleasure in proving otherwise, with Ellen and Grace doing the “mismatched cop” thing, which was already about 20 years past its sell-by date, when this came out in 1993. Then, with about 20 minutes to go, the film inexplicably takes a far darker turn (especially considering how lightly the previous carnage has been played), with the mission become one of personal revenge rather than law enforcement. In cinematic terms, it’s like putting a sprig of parsley on a cow-pat, and calling it a salad: I was left wondering if someone had sloppily spliced on the final reel of an entirely different movie.

The only redeeming aspect – and even this falls well short of making it recommendable – is the action, which is quite frequent and high in intensity. Lee and Oshima are both in fine form, and watching the pair of them go toe-to-toe with each other is a joy, as always: that’s particularly so for the end battle, in which all the previously mentioned participants are involved, along with Sophia Crawford, who plays the villain’s mistress (she also takes an entirely gratuitous shower in some versions of the film). However, the truth is, you can see Lee and Oshima in any number of other movies, without having to endure the feeble efforts at buddy comedy attempted here. And you’d be well advised to do just that.

Dir: Tso Nam Lee
Star: Moon Lee, Kim Je Kee, Tsui Zen Aie, Yukari Oshima

Sweetwater

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“Sweet but mostly sour.”

sweetwaterLife in the old West was tough. It was particularly tough if you were a woman, such as Sarah Ramírez (Jones), struggling to make an honest living with her farmer husband Miguel (Noriega), having escaped life as a prostitute. This movie shows it to be especially tough, after Miguel has had his throat slit by batty preacher Prophet Josiah (Isaacs) – it doesn’t help he has the hots for Sarah, apparently taking the “love thy neighbour” line very literally, and runs the local area as if it were his own personal fiefdom. Fortunately, she has an unusual ally in Sheriff Jackson (Harris). The lawman shows up, looking for two people who disappeared on a journey which took them right across Josiah’s territory, and is about the only other person willing to stand up to the lunatic religious fringe. Finally, Sarah has had enough, and embarks on her vengeance against, not only Josiah, but anyone else who has wronged her, such as the shopkeeper who spied on her in his changing-room.

That final clause kinda illustrates the main problem here: an unevenness of tone which veers between the deadly serious and the ludicrously comic. That’s even the case for some individual characters, particularly Jackson; one minute, he’s waltzing by himself in the town’s main street, the next he’s carrying out forensic analysis, decades ahead of its time. While an intriguing character, the movie might have been better off concentrating on him or Sarah: they may share a common enemy, yet they hardly share a scene until the end, where Jackson’s sole purpose appears to be to provide a second firearm for our heroine. As for the ending, “Is that it?” will likely be your reaction, though in the film’s defense, I sense the emptiness of revenge is part of the point: once you’ve taken it, bringing to an end something which has consumed your life, what then?

I enjoyed the performances here, however: Jones’s understated style works towards her, while Isaacs and Harris both put over an unhinged air of barely-repressed violence. There are some fine moments, depicting Sarah’s willingness to use any means necessary, luring two of Josiah’s men to their doom by bathing in a river [pics from the scene “leaked” out: in no way was this a shallow publicity grab, I’m sure…]. The look of the film is also well done, with good use made of the New Mexico landscapes, and as the picture above shows, the heroine’s colourful garb is an interesting contrast – must have been hot and uncomfortable as hell to film in that. But the good intentions aren’t enough to overcome the lurches in tone and content, and the result is, frankly, a bit of a mess.

Dir: Logan Miller
Star: January Jones, Jason Isaacs, Ed Harris, Eduardo Noriega
a.k.a. Sweet Vengeance or Sherif Jackson

 

Cat Girl

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“Claws for concern…”

catgirlI don’t review movies without subtitles very often. This would be a good reason why. I knew very little about this going in: there’s no IMDB entry, no other reviews appear to exist, and virtually the only Google hits are the range of more or dubious sites from which you can download the movie. Subtitles? Don’t make me laugh. That no-one has done so indicates one of two things: no-one was interested enough to do so, or it’s difficult to subtitle a movie with one hand, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Either way, it leaves me in a difficult spot: any or all of what follows may be wildly inaccurate. However, the chances of anyone ever correcting me are likely slim, so what the hell…

The heroine, it appears, has a flier for a ‘cyber cosmetic laboratory’, but it appears to be rather different from the norm – whatever that is – since the next thing we see, she’s tied up to a table, being oiled up (at some length) by the mad scientist in charge. Turns out this is just a front, to bring in an attractive young woman, on whom he can carry out his fiendish experiment. This involves infusing the target with feline DNA, which apparently causes them to a) start growling a lot, b) attack other people with stylized cat-like gestures, and c) wear skimpy lingerie, topped off by a mask which is complete with little cat ears. That must surely be the Nobel Prize committee, calling on line one to make an appointment.

But what use is a single cat girl? Another one, apparently a Western friend of our heroine (there’s a pic of them together) is also kidnapped and felinized, lead to a head-to-head fight between “Cat Girl” and the new “Cat Devil.” This consists of about 15 minutes of very bad pro wrestling moves, accompanied by more grunting than I’ve see since the last time Monica Seles played Jennifer Capriati. But, oh no! Cat Girl sees Devil Girl’s tramp stamp of a butterfly, realizes it’s her friend, and refuses to fight any more! After this, things get more confusing, with the two girls apparently swapping costumes for some reason, before eventually teaming up to take on a Cat Guy in the big finale. At least, I think that’s what happened, my interest had drifted off to do something else entirely by that point.

Cheap and poorly-staged, I don’t think it’s the lack of subtitles which are to blame for making this as uninteresting as it is. It’s more like a fetish video made for a curiously specific market, where furries intersect sadomasochists with an interest in sploshing – no other way to explain the length sequence where the scientist slowly hoses Cat Girl down with a nozzle dribbling green goo. Given the content would technically be no more than PG-13 – there’s not even a glimpse of a nipple – it’s all remarkably sleazy. The best thing I can say is, it’s not a film I’ll likely forget in a hurry. Which should save me from making the mistake of ever watching it again.

Dir: No clue.
Star: Even less idea.

Lady Dynamite

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“La donna è mobile”

la padrinaThe tenth wedding anniversary of Donna Costanza (Alfonsi) in New Jersey is rudely interrupted when her husband is gunned down during the party. For he was a Mafia boss who, it appears, had crossed the wrong person. Before dying, he whispers to his wife, “Giarratana from Palermo,” apparently fingering the man behind the hit. Seeking revenge, Madam Costanza flies to Sicily, and meets up with a loyal family employee, soliciting his help to plan the death of the local boss fingered by her husband’s last words. But things are considerably more murky than they seem, as Costanza has wandered into the middle of some shenanigans involving a corrupt local official, a police investigation and an arms deal, which are all leaving a trail of corpses in their wake. And someone wants Donna to join the dead bodies, first trying to blow up her plane, then sabotaging the brakes on her car. When a supposedly blind man guns down her contact in the street, it’s getting too warm for comfort.

I can see where this is aiming, coming out the year after The Godfather, and aiming to add an extra layer of Italian authenticity – while, of course, keeping a canny eye on the American market. However, by trying to cram everything into little more than 90 minutes, the net result is more confusing mess than epic drama, and particularly in the middle third, poor Donna is left little more than a minor supporting actress in her own movie. Things are not helped by a soundtrack and costumes which appear not so much stuck in the seventies, as repeatedly nail-gunned to the floor of the decade. Things get a bit more interesting when Donna finally meets the man responsible – he actually pays her a visit, doesn’t deny his role in proceedings, calmly explains he was basically doing what was best for business, and then invites her to join him, as the only way to keep the Costanza name at the top of the food chain. It’s a neat twist, further muddying the lines between organized crime and (semi-)legitimate business which have been blurred by the movie, almost since she arrived in Sicily.

So, will Donna take a pragmatic approach and bury the hatchet for the sake of her family’s future? Or will she follow through with vengeance on behalf of her husband? It’s somewhat diverting, while the ending is both decisive, and offers a nice commentary on life in 70’s Sicily, where Death apparently was an everyday occurrence. But getting there involves sitting through an awful lot of mobsters sitting around doing mob things, and Vari is definitely not Coppola.

Dir: Giuseppe Vari.
Star: Lidia Alfonsi, Venantino Venantini, Mario Danieli, Orchidea de Santis
a.k.a. La Padrina